Director of Wretches & Jabberers At York University Tomorrow Night!

Filed Under (Communication, Critical Disability Studies, Film) by Estee on 06-11-2013

Hi everyone…sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but this is well-worth visiting at York University in Toronto tomorrow night:

Narratives on Ability with
Geradine Wurzberg, Director of the Film, Wretches & Jabberers
November 7, 2013 4-6 p.m.
York University
Nat Taylor Cinema
North Ross Building 102

More Details Here: Narratives on Ability

The Co-Production of Autism in the film Wretches and Jabberers

Filed Under (autism, Autism History, Communication, Critical Disability Studies, Critical Disability Theory, Film, Language) by Estee on 30-09-2013

Well, I finally posted my Master’s Research Paper that I completed in August and defended in September. You can read it here. Much more work will be going into this as I now pursue my PhD in Critical Disability Studies. I have to say, that a 65-page limit on this topic was extremely challenging. I look forward, as well, to presenting on October 12th in Denver at the Autism National Committee (AutCOM) conference.

Back to School 2013

Filed Under (Acceptance, Adam, Communication, Identity, Joy, Love, school) by Estee on 03-09-2013

It was back-to-school day. Adam started his new inclusive school today. It was not unfamiliar; he had been there two years ago. He had a great day and was typing very well. Adam was happy when I picked him up and was apparently glad to be back with the big kids at lunch and recess. In the meantime, I’m up to planning the rest of his programs, and my own. I am due to defend my thesis this Thursday and if all goes well, will start my doctorate and teaching assignment next week.

As I opened Adam’s bag this evening I got a new kind of homework that I was most delighted to find – I was asked to tell the teacher about Adam. I was asked to write in a circle about what Adam likes to do as well as answer questions such as: Who is he? What does he mean to you? What are the things about him that I should know? I was just thinking again the other day how, just because are kids have this label we name autism, that our children inherit an identity that does not belong to them. I mean, how often are we asked to talk about our children in positive ways (for lack of a better word)? Aren’t we typically asked by therapists what our kids like for the sake of using them as reinforcement as opposed to knowing who our children are? And what about knowing our children as people first? In thinking about the year ahead, I’ve spent much time over the summer pondering all the things that Adam is, what he loves, what he is good at, and what he brings to his family and to the world. Then surprise! I got this “homework” in his backpack today. Needless to say, all that thinking about what Adam is, as opposed to what he isn’t, helped me to fill the circle quickly. I’m so glad someone else sees the value of this too.

I Am In Here by Mark Utter

Filed Under (Acceptance, Communication, Community, Computing/iPad) by Estee on 08-08-2013

We met Mark this year; he was so sweet to Adam. Mark also wrote the script for this movie I Am In Here. Mark answered many questions after the filming of this, and Adam listened. Thank you everyone for your hard work. I believe we are getting to know how difficult it can be to learn how to type, to translate an experience into a language. Thanks to many autistic typists, so many kids are accessing AAC or learning how to type, and support workers are learning what support means in terms of autonomy. Thanks to typing, Adam is becoming a two-handed typist on some days. Some people will become fully independent and others will always need some form of support, and I certainly hope with a greater understanding of interdependent relationships, that support becomes better understood and accepted. I suppose the main message I would have for people would be: do we support people and enable autistic people by mitigating our proclivity to normalize (and over-value independence)? I think many of our practices are the taken-for-granted normate methods and attitudes that erase many autistic contributions. Are we supporting autistic people in order not to be frustrated, to self-advocate? I won’t go into the “system” which lays out how we value people and for what (such as productivity, independence) – in fact, I think these mechanisms are universal, except they are more difficult standards for disabled people to achieve, especially when they are not accommodated. I suppose any method could be used for normalization, and this is what we always have to be troubling; by thinking about autistic self-advocacy and autobiography as valid and primary information about autistic experience, and thinking of how our treatments, attitudes and supports can even affect these experiences. By thinking and talking about such topics, perhaps we can better support the community instead of rushing in to say how autistic people ought to be in society.

To Order the Film, Visit VSA Vermont By CLICKING HERE. Thank you, Mark!!!

Communication as a Human Right

Filed Under (Aides and Assistants, Communication) by Estee on 24-07-2013

Every morning since returning from The Communication Institute in Syracuse, Adam has been typing. I’ve realized that he actually doesn’t need the levels of support that I thought he did, when given the right equipment at the right angles, and when I present opportunities for communication that are for now, more constructed. I don’t tell Adam what to write, I’ll suggest it. I’ll begin by asking him to get a book we can read or talk about together or he’ll get a toy on his own. We’ll start to write a story – this morning we wrote one about a green dragon. When he seems stuck, I’ll say we’ll write the story together and I’ll write a line. We’ll read it together, then he’ll write the next line. When he types for things he wants, he is a two-handed typist now, and reading his own sentences assists with his verbal speech.

For someone as literate as Adam, as are many non-verbal autistic children, often labeled with hyperlexia when they were very young, with-holding communication technologies with the proper teaching and support people who are trained becomes a discussion about human and legal rights. I dread thinking of all the days many autistics are taught to label and verbally “mand” without access to other supports. People, we’ve got to change the way we rethink literacy and autism, AAC and supported typing!

In the meantime, I’m writing a paper on this dealing with the discursive tendencies to think of communication as normative, and typical language is, but also how autistic individuals have a right to this access to level the playing field.

“Is it normal to use only spoken language as the accepted currency for exchange of interests? It is certainly usual or normal for talkers to talk, but if you are not a ‘talker’ you might use other methods to converse.” (Lawson, 2008). I’m certainly aware of the work it takes for Adam to translate his experience, if you will. I’m in no way undermining it by suggesting that to write and type is the only way to be a person. He is already a whole person. He just lives as a minority in a majority world of talkers and he has a right to communicate in his own language as much as is his right to be able to have access to translation and interpretation. When I think of support workers for communication, I think to my lectures, where a deaf individual is supported with two translators who must translate normative speech to deaf sign and vice versa. It takes two sign language interpreters to support this person in a three-hour class.

Why should the standard be any lower for the non-verbal autistic person in terms of support?

Intelligence Redefined

Filed Under (Communication, Intelligence) by Estee on 20-07-2013

Yep, yep…that’s how I felt reading a review of Scott Barry Kaufman’s book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. Dr. Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist from New York University claims that he was dismayed by IQism: “I would look into textbooks and look at these charts that said if your IQ was this score or your IQ was that score, these were your chances of obtaining various things in life. I just didn’t accept it.” (Globe & Mail, Focus Section, p. F3, July 20, 2013). He cites our definition of intelligence conflating with speed and efficiency. Yet, a question I always ask myself in reading such books is if it is achieving recognition and transformation in the way we provide opportunity for all people.

Certainly when I was growing up, IQism was hammered into us – our fates seemed sealed by childhood – supposedly. Poor at the time in math (primarily because of the way it was taught – I graduated an Ontario Scholar from high school after finding the right tutor in math), I remember my grade four teacher announcing to the class that I was a failure. I’d like to tell her now that I’m a doctoral student, and how long it took me to get here, and how devastating her words were for me that I remembered and had to fight against for the rest of my life. Subsequently, of course, I had other teachers who felt I should be a writer, or an artist – thankfully. The question I have now is how these transformations can take place for people with the autism label in recognition of disability and various intelligences. Again, what kinds of support must we all provide to enable autistic rights and well-being? When I say rights, I believe education is but one of them.

While we all work having to prove ourselves throughout our lives, I believe it is more exhausting when a severely disabled, particularly a person with a communication impairment and movement/sensory differences, is confronted with daily prejudice about their intelligence. When it takes a long time to get out a few words by typing or speech, you are more discriminated against. Stephen Hawking can only type about twenty words per minute and we speakers utter about 157 words per minute. In other words, there’s a lot of work that goes into having to communicate for many people, and by the time people finish a basic greeting (unless it is preprogrammed into a device) most people will have walked away.

C.F. Goodey

I’d highly recommend that if people are interested in the history of this prejudice, and how we’ve come to view intelligence in terms of speed, to read C.F. Goodey’s, The History of Intellectual Disability. It seems to have informed Dr. Kaufman’s work, and this is a promising step in shifting the manner in which we support people’s potential throughout their lives, for as Kaufman writes, “Potential isn’t something that’s fixed at birth. Potential is a moving target.” While I’m not sure about his concept on ability grouping – I’m always wary of the power imbalances at work in our society and how we favour some abilities over others – I do support the idea that people have many different types of potentials and types of contributions throughout the life-span. In summary, this kind of popular book may create more dialogue about how we are coming to understand intelligence, but our challenge is to transform the way we accommodate it.

“We Are A Critical Mass of Wretches” – Larry Bissonnette

Filed Under (Acceptance, Adam, Communication, Computing/iPad, Development, Inspiration, Joy, Uncategorized, Writing) by Estee on 16-07-2013

I am blissfully tired after our second day at the Communication Institute in Syracuse. This is Adam’s first autism conference and all that stuff that was happening beforehand has abated. He is happy here and spending time in a workshop in the mornings learning more skills, and sitting in talks for the rest of the day, and taking small excursions for his breaks. He has watched other typists here intensively and this always inspires him to do it. I’ve learned that he needs less support than I had been giving him, given the right tools, keyguards, anti-glare screens… I’m learning about iPad apps that will change his life and change the way we “do” school…not that most schools (most using ABA/IBI for autistic kids) in Canada understand or provide as of yet. Adam can’t be normalized but he is a very bright, very autistic, very wonderful and intelligent person.

One thing that really gets my goat, however, is the notion that there is no real purpose in teaching autistic people how to type, use AAC, or engage in an academic curriculum. It blows my mind that these things are under threat for autistic people – that communication tools risk being taken away in favor of verbal behavior, which, of course, harkens back to Oralism – when the deaf culture were denied sign language and were forced to speak and act in normative ways. We can look at Victor of Aveyron (1788-1828) for this under the tutelage of early behaviorist Dr. Itard who later abandoned Victor (although Victor could read and use text). Alexander Graham Bell also favored Oralism and it existed well into the 20th century. Today autistics face a kind-of Oralism in Verbal Behavior programs. It’s not that we don’t want our kids to speak if they can, but most autistic folks can’t speak for a full day or not at all and need other reliable sources of communication. These tools for autistic people are a right as sign language is for the deaf, and considering we are asking autistic people to communicate normatively, and autistic people say that they need this means to articulate their thoughts, it’s a complete mistake to even think of taking this away from people.

Society, in the general sense, doesn’t find that many autistic folks are economically productive enough to invest in them, so instead they are called the burdens on society. I’d like to invert that notion of what a burden it is for all of us to be underestimated and only be taught for the purposes of being the cog in a corporate wheel. May I suggest that we all be creative in thinking about the various kinds of purpose and contribution that humans can make, and rethink “productivity.” Then, I’d like to suggest that parents of autistic children who want their children to be accommodated, educated and literate as autistic people to adopt the mantra of those who doubt our children, “so what?” In other words, I think we need to develop a sense of entitlement when it comes to supporting autistic rights to communication tools, access and accommodations. We have to say “so what?” to being autistic, or our children being autistic. It’s a material reality that normative culture is a majority culture to which autistic people work so hard to adapt, and I think of the terrible injustice it is that autistic people have to prove their value and competence every single day of their lives (and often get held back because of it). I think the mantra “So what?” helps me to keep going against ignorance when people ask me why bother educating Adam as opposed to remediating him (before the right to participate or inclusion) or just teaching him functional skills. We are here, literally, among the “wretches,” and there are quite a few here, folks. The critical mass is growing and we ain’t no epidemic. I don’t care what you think of Adam and his going to school or later, university. Just don’t take away his right to it. As for the wretches, they are doing a magnificent job in advocating for this right, and we have an obligation to support them.

Now I will turn my post back to Adam. He was proud of this little story he wrote today which was read aloud to the class – I can’t remember when a teacher presented Adam’s work to the class for such a long time now:

“One day two leaves fell early in the morning. They weren’t happy because they wanted to stay up on the beautiful branch. A nice boy called Adam found them and stuck them up for the rest of the day.”

A few minutes later he typed to me: “Real useful ideas.” Then, “The joy love you mom.”

Thank you my little one. I am your devoted wretch-in-arms.

What Adam Said This Morning

Filed Under (ABA, Acceptance, Adam, Communication, Movement Disturbance, Sensory Differences) by Estee on 11-07-2013

Adam and I sat on the stoop as usual this morning for his bus to camp. Yesterday, Adam was content and happy and then his assistants reported another sudden biting incident, to which Adam didn’t seem to remember. It lasted but a few moments, then he happily moved along. Of course, I’m in a newer territory now with his, new concerns and am back to re-reading.

When I asked Adam about remembering it, he said “no” in several formats, including pointing to his chart, typing it out, and also saying it (which came first). He was happy and contented last night, jumping on his mini trampoline in the basement, which is now partially repaired after the flood. After I gave him his ten minute warning that it was nearing time for bed, Adam came upstairs.

This morning, though, my heart broke a bit, but I am also determined to do my best that Adam has a positive self-esteem. Let me preface this by stating that when a person like my son doesn’t speak very much, people don’t tend to listen as they refer to speech as “psychotic” and nonsensical. I never take Adam’s words as such.

“I don’t know anything,” he mumbled.

“You know lots of things and you will learn lots of things. You are really smart,” I replied.

“Teeeea-cher,” he sang melodically. Then again, “Teacher, teacher.” He climbed into my lap to be cradled.

I’ve asked his ABA school of late to teach him to his age-level and invoke the Ontario Curriculum, to which Adam is entitled, and they have agreed. I am devoted to making sure that education is Adam’s right. I am working this out with Adam’s team which may include part integration, part home-school, getting out more into the art gallery, the museum (he enjoys such places) and the programs he has loved so much and integrating this into his own writing. In Canada, there’s little option but to make our own path at the moment, and families have a right to choose what suits their children best. In Adam’s case, he requires support, and this is also his right in order to participate in his community in the manner that he wants, needs and is able. It is great when teachers understand these complexities, and I encourage everyone to continue to learn outside of the behaviour paradigm, and to listen to autistic people. (I think you can sense how concerned I am about what is reflected back at Adam in terms of his person-hood and self-esteem as an autistic person – a complete and whole person).

Post-Blog Comment:

Thanks to an email that pointed out something important to me which I must write here – in it, the person mentioned that the Ontario Curriculum is “useless.” I want to extend how I appreciated the comment as important and hope more comments will come. My comment to extend on that one would be that I feel that education is a right, but the manner in which that education is delivered to Adam must be customized. He still has a right to it, and the reality is that’s what he needs to fulfill to move on to higher ed if he desires it. There are many tensions at play here – my own personal experiences as a normate which must always be questioned; the changing needs and nature of education overall; the normative linear developmental model that represents the mutually supportive notions of social and neo-liberalism; and this quest for a specifically autistic education that fits Adam’s learning style and abilities while also providing him with opportunities to contribute to society as an autistic person – and this is the ultimate challenge when society doesn’t value people with severe disabilities.

Autistic Freedom

Filed Under (ABA, Ableism, Acceptance, Activism, Advocacy, Anxiety, Art, Autism and Intelligence, Autism and Learning, Behaviours, Communication, Computing/iPad, Contributions to Society, Development, Language, Law, Movement Disturbance, Obsessions, Parenting, Politics, Safety, school, Sensory Differences, Transitions, Wandering) by Estee on 26-06-2013

I’ve been thinking and planning with Adam’s team the next stages of his learning and doing our map project. Every once in a while, I got down the dark whole of blog comments and blogs that consistently regard autism, even its many complications and struggles, as inherently “bad.” The issue we have with thinking in these terms, although safety is an ongoing concern for many parents including myself, is that we think we can shape behaviour without truly understanding it, and that what we are talking about is bad behaviour. Behaviour is something that we can control, impulse and many disabilities are not constituted by the will of a person. So when we talk about shaping behaviour and “positive” behavioural support, we always have to question our subjectivity and how we’ve come to make sense of autism.

Given many of our children are not provided access to alternative communication support, and cannot tell us otherwise, and that it takes time and care for many autistic people to learn how to communicate (if they can), the Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence (ABC) mode of tracking behaviour will remain problematic, and the very recognition of that can be helpful. There are often too many conflating factors that precede a behaviour so, while we do our best to interpret it, it is always difficult to claim one cause. Here I find that I’m needing to ask many different players in Adam’s life for information so that I can cobble together the best interpretation I can, bearing in mind that this is merely an interpretation.

So with recent events and noticing Adam’s propensity for visual memory, needing to know his environments, I continue to study maps and autistic art and will experiment how this might be useful for Adam. This is another example of the visual map I found by an autistic artist found at Drawing Autism: 50 WAtts. It’s part of my interest in helping Adam draw his own maps as a way of understanding his own environment. This means, I have to be careful how I enable and support him, and be in a continuous reflexive state of mind in terms of enabling versus prompting him which would therefore NOT be his own communication.

Felix: Imaginary City Map, Age 11

Here’s how the artist responded about the work:

What was the inspiration for this piece?

Generally I start drawing one street on different spots on the edge of my paper. I make the streets grow toward one another.

Who are some artists that you like?

None. I study road maps and atlases in detail and generally I scroll the full track of our trips on Google Earth.

I turn now to education in hopes to keep honing in and improving it when I think of Adam’s needs. Under the rubric of the Medicaid system in the US – a system that is already in existence – advocates seek more, or varied, habilitative services for autistic individuals. This is an important beginning within an existing system and we have to keep discussing the medical model and its effects on the way autistics are included and regarded as full citizens, or not, in society. In Canada, we also require more choices that fit with parental values and wishes for their autistic children, and this was addressed by Doug Reynolds in his paper for Autism Ontario: Looking Forward: Has Intensive Early Intervention Hijacked the ASD Agenda? The work of autistic people in this is valuable in how I think about Adam and his education and the extra supports and help he needs. Bear in mind, I write here a blog post, not an essay. Here are some of the ideas that I think about that I have not yet formatted into a paper.

To go on, if a parent wants an education for their autistic child, they should be able to work with a school to attain it using some key principles:

1) Respect for autistic identity and personhood;
2) Understanding learning at one’s own pace and an acceptance of it (as opposed to a linear model for learning and development);
3) Understanding and completion of complicated sensory profiles and the time it takes for accommodations to be put in place and,
4) recognition that accommodations frequently change and must remain flexible;
5) Recognition and acceptance of family-hired (which could fall under a direct-funding model from government support) support workers as reasonable accommodation in classroom – for transitions, programs, to help with accommodations and if needed, supported communication and whatever accommodation an individual and family might need to enable success;
6) Transparency by schools – to allow parents in for observation, to review class binders, etc. Considering many of our children are non-verbal, it would be good to not only communicate in binders, but to allow drop-in visits (even if a bit of arrangement is needed to respect others). This enables open-hearted communication and better accommodations.
7) Communication aides and technology and access to supported communication and devices as legal right to communicate as autistic people. As an example, an ABA therapist will often say “use your words,” thereby implying that an autistic child is stubbornly with-holding them. Considering the levels of frustration an autistic person has when they cannot communicate, do we not think they would use their words if they could?);
8) Recognition that most autistic people we name as “inconsistent” and “discontinuous” or “having regressed” is often a result of sensory issues and transitions, and that learning happens at unexpected rates. Sometimes, the teaching agenda must be put aside when an autistic person may seem “disregulated” and build back tolerance. An autistic person can often jump several grade levels in reading, for instance, and then appear to have regressed. This is not necessarily indicative of a regression so much as a need for a body to regroup. Therefore,
9) testing autistic people academically so they can advance grades must happen with re-presented formats, over many sessions, and then, the best result should be taken as an achievement of grade or pass so that the autistic person is not held back until they “recover” from autism to normalcy and thus never allowed to advance, or potentially restrict their pace and ability. To understand the seriousness of withholding education as a right, see Moore vs. British Columbia and the note that remediation may result in adverse effect discrimination because it assumes a person has to reach a certain level of normal performance before granted the right to be educated. Of course we want children to generalize skills and be as independent as possible or to achieve an 80% mastery, but often this concept of discontinuity is missed or misunderstood and education is held-back.

These have been my considerations of late and, and I support a variety of methods that befit a child and the combination of many may suit for different people and different situations, so long as they do not harm or torture an autistic person.

ABA is pretty much the only method which is used in Canada to remediate autistic people before granted access to education (particularly people labeled with Low Functioning Autism, who are non-verbal, or who have complex sensory systems). It can be a useful strategy also within a curriculum but it needs to keep examining itself from within and by studying autistic autobiography and potential effects of behaviourism on self-identity. I am suggesting that autism schools also need trained teachers in regular and special education and need to:

1) Be inspected by the Ministry of Education for meeting curriculum requirements (the adapatation and accommodation piece is an extended discussion);
2) Adopt other methods that we know help an autistic person learn through re-presentation of materials (see Judy Endow);
3) Be reflexive about the psychological effects of shaping behaviour and compliance may have on autistic individuals self-esteem and identity;
4) Learn creative methods and enable an autistic person to go on outings to educate not only life-skills, but other interests by using other methods and creative strategies. I remember one professor of an autistic child stating that when her son was interested (or people tend to label “obsessed” with asphalt), she took him to an asphalt factory.

Do schools undergo this kind of creative exercise for autistic children who, for instance, may bolt and may be so enamoured with routes and maps so as to learn something as opposed to controlling behaviour? Sure, we have to attend to immediate safety concerns, sensory regulation and building tolerance – these are important steps to an autistic person’s success. Yet my question persists – what can we do that teaches an autistic child to creatively channel their passions and proclivities? What are we telling an autistic child day-in and day-out about them when we ask them to “comply” to our agenda without enabling some of theirs? What is freedom if not mobility? Is an autistic person a slave to the performance of normalcy if they are not allowed to freely move their bodies in order to feel safe and secure? (See Judy Endow and Tito Mukhopadyhay). For instance, there is so much autistic autobiography about how autistic people need to protect themselves from over-stimulation – reverting to their iPad in order to be part of a group, squinting their eyes, or if they do not feel their bodies, they feel frightened and must flap their hands or lie on the ground in order to feel safe! If we are talking about “safety” how are we helping? To what extent to researchers and teachers use and take autistic autobiography seriously?

The other issue I need to bring up today is one of freedom of choice. What I find concerning about models of teaching for autistic people specifically is the judgement of some parents against other parents for choosing what they feel is right for their families and their children. It is not right to state that an autistic person has to undergo a certain drug or therapy or blame a parent or an autistic person. The freedom of families as well as autistic people is at stake, and while I wish to trouble this, I realize this has many angles and complexities within such a discussion. Some autistic people feel a parent agenda, if it is one of just becoming normal without critical regard, can result in problems when autism is seen as a disease that requires potentially harmful remedies. So by no means is this discussion an easy one, but there is no freedom if Canada only presents and makes available one kind of service. In short, Canada, with an autism agenda led mostly by parents, needs to consider what it’s building and its long-term effects. There needs to be choice for families, a respect for values and an invocation of substantive equality in our systems.

Here I wish to close with an opening – with the words of Melanie Yergeau, autistic, from her essay, Socializing Through Silence:

“My silence is in fact a compliment. It means that I am being my natural self. It means that I am comfortable around you, that I trust you enough to engage my way of knowing, my way of speaking and interacting.

When I dilute my silences with words – your words, the out-of-the-mouth and off-the-cuff kind – I often do so out of fear. Fear that my rhetorical commonplaces – the commonplaces that lie on my hands, sprint in my eyes, or sit nestled in empty sounds – will bring you shame. Fear that my ways of communicating will be branded as pathology, as aberrant, as not being communication at all…This isn’t to say that my use of your language is always a product of fear. There are times when I genuinely want to use it, understand it, and learn about and from it. I understand that speaking is how you prefer communication. I understand that speaking is how you best learn and interact…

But the burden can’t always rest on me. I have a language too, one that I take joy in, one that I want to share. And when you deny me that – when you identify my silence as a personality flaw, a detriment, a symptom, a form of selfishness, a matter in need of behavioral therapy or ‘scripting’ lessons – when you do these things, you hurt me. You hurt me deeply. You deny me that which I need in order to find my way through this confusing, oppressive, neurotypical world.”

— From: Loud Hands: autistic people speaking, pp. 303-4, The Autistic Press.

Now, how can we respond?

Personal Interest and Academic Reserach

Filed Under (Activism, Adam, Advocacy, Autism and Intelligence, Communication, Community, Computing/iPad, Critical Disability Studies, Living, Politics, Writing) by Estee on 28-05-2013

The end of the day of Adam healing from the croup and us both watching repeats of Wretches & Jabberers for my thesis. Adam can’t help laughing at the scenes of Naoki jumping up and down to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee – flapping his hands, moving the window blind from side-to-side, opening and closing doors, and running up and down the stairs to then, finally settling at his computer utterly focused and well, communicative. I can tell Adam’s feeling better as he giggles and then afterwards decided to do some puckered-lip kissing practice on my cheek.

Watching these clips from YouTube are also very important for anyone wanting to discuss it. I would imagine we’re all concerned about Tracy’s living situation and want that to change. As I write an academic paper about a subject that I am personally invested in, I also feel a responsibility to my son’s community. I am also selfish and grateful at the same time – selfish in not wanting Adam or anyone like him to have to be in Tracy’s position as well as inordinately grateful to both Tracy and Larry and their supporters for going out into the world to do this work. We are all motivated by personal circumstances which enables our emapthy. I am hoping to articulate my personal interests and vulnerabilities in my own academic writing, where one is otherwise supposed to be, in a traditional empiricist sense, emotionally removed and (supposedly) objective. Others have discussed this as well – Behar in The Vulnerable Observer, and Douglas Biklen in Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone and recently this new paper by Andrew Bennet in this issue of Disability Studies Quarterly discusses the possibilities of our mutual vulnerabilities – as researcher and research participants.

I really appreciate this clip that comes in addition to the film, as I wanted to know more about Mr. Thresher’s situation. I don’t live in Vermont, but I do think that the issue should be a politically active one here in Ontario as our autism societies take up adult autism issues. How can we enable autistic people to advocate on their own behalf for their own needs? How can we support them? This film should be shown at every chance in discussing positive living situations outside of institutions and segregated shelters.

I also work hard to get Adam to type and use AAC and seek people to support Adam. It is frighteningly slow for people to believe that Adam can understand, read, and have the ability to type and both of us need more support that is difficult to find here in Ontario. I’ve been writing this blog since 2005 and been telling people he could read words, numbers and book spines since he was 11 months old. I find it really frustrating if some verbal behaviourists teach him the word “cat” over and over again so he can say it correctly when he’s been reading it since before he could walk. The autism curriculum must change to include education and academics in its programs to be truly supportive of the autistic person’s right to education.

In terms of typing, his school will support him visually, and I think because of the time I’ve spent typing with Adam with support, that he is able to type to some extent at school without it. Yet I think with better support he could do better there and I’m trying to teach people myself. If you are a parent, you know this is a labour. However, I can’t understand any longer, as Adam and I have also been informally tested (yes, that’s the doubt people have about autistic people) that Adam’s communication is his own, and that with the right kinds of supports and teaching, he could communicate better by typing. This is seen in the same way deaf sign language was once denied to deaf people in favour of lip reading and speaking. Yet, communication is also a right. To deny a person with a communication disability such support and access will become an issue for law and policy, but our important work for now as activists and educators is to keep showing the work of autistic self-advocates, such as Larry and Tracy, as well as autistic people who are prolific bloggers and writers, and to keep breaking down barriers within our own homes, communities and schools, one person at a time.

My last thoughts for the evening: Isn’t it better to support an autistic person in their autonomy rather than to fret about what level of dependence they are going to have on their families or in group homes? In other words, isn’t the support of autonomy and our mutual interdependence a much more empowering prospect for us all? (I have to add, I am not intentionally favouring those who are able or have the desire to type or use AAC. There are those who are not able to use it and we have to consider the people missing from this dialogue).

Part of my work wonders why such doubt exists regarding Adam and why we’ve had to struggle with so much resistance with educators and clinicians. I do think that Adam, like other autistic people, will dispel the doubts. But I also wonder if we have to ask ourselves what or why we doubt, exactly? What do we fear if people with communication disabilities can communicate via other means? Is this the right question?

The Autism “Spectrum,” Assessed Identity, and Supporting Access…some thoughts

Filed Under (Acceptance, Adam, Autism and Learning, Communication, Computing/iPad, Identity, Spectrumism) by Estee on 16-05-2013

This photo is of Adam with his Grandma.

I know I don’t write about Adam that much these days. I’m always caught in ethical considerations about his right to privacy and protection versus the benefits of sharing stories. I work a lot with autistic adults theses days as well (am always grateful to have them in our lives and realize how sharing of information and differences of viewpoints benefit us all), and I also work and play every day with Adam. I juggle between my studies, re-growing work with TAAP and as his mom – teaching him after school when I can. Single motherhood brings it’s own worries – am I giving him enough? What would happen if I get ill?, among many questions. I do the best I can and I have to accept my situation. As usual, I digress…

Adam is typing on his own now, is becoming a trampoline champion with an excellent coach, and has a friend. The challenge and sorrow, when I feel any, is the isolation by comparison to other children, or quite frankly, the concern I feel when people ask me questions that are proliferated by the media about how “functioning” Adam is. When people ask me about Adam’s functioning level, I get to ask in return why that matters to them – I think it’s important to ask others in order for them to think about it deeply. I then usually respond that I love Adam as he is, and go on about what great person he is. Functioning levels are arbitrary assessments made by subjective observation – by an individual who thinks they know something about autism, but in fact, just follow a set list of criteria that continues to change. Frankly, the most valued professional advice I would receive is the answer “I don’t know” and someone who considers Adam’s unique needs and strengths. Also, permit me to meander, it should never be an assumption that autistic people prefer to be alone. This is not fair – all autistic people are different and most express a profound loneliness. As for spectrums and functioning levels, this discursive dialogue must end if we truly value all autistic people.

In other words, there are no prognostications that are accurate. Ask any autistic adult and read through their psychometric assessments and old IEP’s and they’ll have plenty of comments – none of them positive. In fact, I am very concerned about the material reality these stacks of binders (recording bowel movements and the like) get absorbed by an autistic child regarding their identity and later, their self-narrative. I often think of taking all the binders I’ve kept over the years, papers, assessments and do something with them – no not burn them – but make an installation regarding this question: Shouldn’t we as parents be concerned about a forthcoming identity crisis as our children are told what they are by a mere label that describes virtually nothing about person-hood and individuality? If I could turn the clock back eleven years, what would I change?

I support Adam’s development and person-hood – his right to access and individuality. Further, and I have to keep saying this, it disappoints me when autistic children are not allowed to go to various programs with an aide worker. An aide worker enables many to contribute, work, participate, and feel a more a part of our community. While I cannot predict what level of assistance Adam might need when he gets older, for instance, this is besides the point – the issue is the right to access. Our autism committees and charities and governments must start considering these rights as opposed to simply believing that autism can be cured and kids can become normal with enough therapy. Instead, when we consider the value of people, we have more chances of seeking education after the age of 21, opportunities for vocational training, college, and university. More creative strategies for living situations can be considered such as co-living, assisted independent living (therefore interdependent living), micro-boards and aide workers and educators can also be treated with more respect as valuable assistants to autistic individuality and right to choose. Strategies for the latter entail visual supports, AAC, extended time, patience, teamwork.

Back to Adam…he is partially verbal and this is growing every day now as I watch him also grow taller. He is enabled more as he types a first word which seems to prompt the rest of his sentence. Some days he’s more chatty than others, which seems to be common for many partially verbal autistics. Through patience and repetition, Adam has begun to take care of himself. Adam can talk on the phone a little longer, dial his grandparents, get dressed, brush his teeth, and ask me where and what questions verbally, that is, on the more verbose days. I guess I’m saying this for all the years of misunderstandings by parents that autism acceptance means just letting a child sit around all day and do nothing. This to me is also an ableist concept which presumes that autistic people can’t do anything at all when the truth of the matter is that everyone has a different situation and we address each child uniquely and with respect.

I think many teachers and coaches have enjoyed their own teaching successes with him. I also think parents must work harder to readjust their expectations to support education and inclusion. Teachers cannot succeed if we have unreasonable expectations of normalcy and, as parents, we should be startled at this word as it discriminates our families. As we accept this we should also not accept the unfair exclusion and segregation of autistic children and the lack or regard for their education! In this, education will also have to adjust and I expect it will as computerized learning is becoming more popular – where children can be taught online and monitored and facilitated when needed. The potentials of the Internet and computers have not yet been fully tapped and could change the face of individualized education as well as citizenship. As commerce takes place online, we are also looking to the Internet for online voting – the last bastion, arguably, of citizenship. It was Singer (1999) who said “[t]he impact of the Internet on autistics may one day be compared to the spread of sign language among the deaf (1999:67). Alas, however, let’s not segregate autistic children into a room full of computers. We all need human interaction. Also we need to consider this by Alison Sheldon (2004):

“There is a small but growing body of work within disability studies that emphasizes technology’s ‘double-edged nature’ (Oliver, 1990) and stresses that it can be ‘both oppressive and emancipatory, depending on the social uses to which it is put’ (Gleeson, 1999:104).” (Sheldon, 2004: 157).

Sheldon suggests that some of the barriers to access include its cost. “We must not be distracted…into denying the socio-structural origins of the problem. Access to technology is not simply a technical issue with technical solutions. The inaccessibility of technology is just one more symptom of disabled people’s continuing oppression.” (157).

Also, to balance this drive towards access to technology, Sheldon states:

“…in the current political climate, the increased use of Internet technology as a means of disseminating information may have adverse effect on other means of information provision. The unconnected majority of disabled people may find that accessing information (and indeed other consumer goods) in traditional ways becomes even more problematic as these facilities become available online. Thus, the Internet is not a panacea that many suggest. There is still a need for appropriate and accessible information to be disseminated to disabled people in other ways, or the disabled community may simply become yet more polarized.” ( 157).

As I suggested when the iPad became popular for autistic children in schools, we cannot expect it to replace teachers, parents, the knowledge to teach autistic people how to communicate by AAC and/or supported typing. Technology should not become another means to segregate.

Finally, to end today’s ramble, it’s time for us to reconsider the spectrum concept. It’s based on a hierarchical system of who is better functioning which is discriminatory in so far as it implies whose life may be more valuable than others. It effects the way we educate, include or exclude, and keeps autistic people from obtaining fair treatment and equality of well-being. And, after all, none of us can predict the future and autistic people do not “fit” neatly into the high and low functioning paradigms.


Sheldon, Alison.(2004). Changing Technology. Disability Barriers – Enabling Environments. (John Swain, Sally French, Colin Barnes, Carol Thomas, eds). Sage Publishing.

Singer, J. (2003). Foreward: Travels in Parallel Space: an invitation, in Miller, J.K. (ed.) Women from Another Planet: Our Lives in the Universe of Autism. IN: Dancing Minds, pp. xi-xiii.

Non-Verbal Autism, Identity and Power

Filed Under (Ableism, Communication, Uncategorized) by Estee on 14-05-2013

The Autism Acceptance Project (TAAP) will post a new announcement on its website about its forthcoming work and formation of a new board of directors. TAAP is an organization that is directed by autistic people, and facilitated by non-autistic supporters in order to reflect the concept of inclusion. As a mother to a child who has communication challenges, I am personally invested in autistic rights for the non-verbal populations. TAAP will encourage research and activities to enable the question of who is missing from autistic organizations and how might we reconsider the manner in which we organize in order to equalize power imbalances. For the aphasic community for instance, this is addressed. Yet the manner in which we have constructed (and essentialized) autistic identity remains problematic if we do not consider the broad scope of individual experience. For example, while some people (autistic or not) prefer to be on their own, other people do not wish to be. In autism, we tend to apply broad strokes to describe how an autistic person lives and thinks through labels. There are dangers in suggesting that all autistic people “prefer to be alone” as much as we assume autistic children need to be yanked into a neurotypical social world in order to be valued and included in society. The truth is in there somewhere, but usually between the two extremes. The point is, not every person is the same and we need to account for this in autism as we would for any person.

As part of my doctoral research, which will begin this fall, I will be studying emancipatory research and social organization for our community. With autistic folks, we hope to assist clinicians, therapists, educators, parents, caregivers to support autistic rights as one of our projects.

Allow me to share some extensive quotes from Carole Pound and Alan Hewitt’s Communication Barriers: Building Access and Identity for your consideration. I do hope that many others will engage and invest in research for our non-verbal/ communication-challenged populations:

“…an interesting additional challenge is that if language is the core of what makes us human, and the primary means of exploring new narratives of illness and disability, how do individuals negotiate personhood or the development of changed identities following sudden loss of speech, understanding, reading and writing? How does your own and others’ difficulty with understanding and using words impact on your ability to talk about and question fragile new forming identities with others who are also grappling with a concept at the edge of words? Given these difficulties, how much greater is the risk, as a language-impaired person, that your personal disability narrative will be hijacked by outsider stories constructed by families, professionals, researchers and the media?” p. 165

“Many people explore concepts of disability and identity by being exposed to and engaging with discussion of alternative representations of disability. New stories of disability can challenge internalised stereotypes offering a precious escape route away from the set of ‘tragic stroke victim’ or ‘courageous little fighter’ paths purveyed by mainstream media and disability charities. The means of accessing new narratives is not obvious when academic texts, articles, and website stories are hidden behind a veil of language.” p. 165.

“Meeting, supporting and just ‘being’ together are powerful experiences which, in many respects, transcend words. Meetings between people who share a common communication disability, but who each individually require different levels and types of communication support, are not without challenge. Negotiating communication support from non-language-impaired people, such as relatives, volunteers or health professionals, is an option but one which runs the risk of meetings being dominated and controlled by those who can speak and write. Notwithstanding these challenges, self-help groups remain a rare bastion of power and identity for many people with aphasia.” p. 165.

“Access to a sense of personal and social confidence, to a more certain identity, is for many people a pre-requisite to asserting one’s voice, to feeling you have a possibility and a starting point to interact with power. So language, identity and power become crucially interwoven. Without language, it is very hard to grasp the core of identity, and without language and identity it is virtually impossible to hold and interact with power. How, then, can those who possess intact language and power develop skills, environments and structural supports which acknowledge this imbalance and model more equal power relations?” p. 165

“Those charged with implementing communication access need to think creatively about ways of engaging people, processes, environments and infrastructuers with new communication practices, practices that attend, non-tokenistically, to the diversity of communication.” p. 166.

Some of the ways the authors suggest for assisting and organizing for those with communication disabilities are:

-training for those without communication disability;
– including ‘interpreting’ skills enabling non-communication disabled people to adapt their spoken and written language to make it accessible, and training in monitoring language for clarity and flexibility;
-supporters who offer one-to-one interface between people with and without language impairment. (p.166)

“At Connect, for example, trained communication supporters facilitate inclusion in meetings by going through papers at pre-meetings, supporting the person with aphasia to follow conversational exchange and ask questions, by taking notes on line and by spending time after the meeting to review ideas, concepts and decisions. Communication access training focusing on written documents is a further aspect of developing communication skills, supporting everyone in an organization to reword complex, abstract documents and information into clear and concrete language. Training also supports people to consider format, layout and use of pictures that most readily support communication access. The situation where everyone in the organization, from therapist to receptionist to researchers to finance director, takes responsibility for monitoring and changing their use and presentation of language is a healthy first step towards inclusive communication.” p. 166.

In the autism community, it’s just as important to look to other community’s that share similar challenges, and to read what they have to say. Often in our community, we tend to get locked into autism labels which confine us to consider that autistic people, with “different” behaviour, cannot be capable of understanding language, although we have enough research and personal accounts to seriously challenge that assumption. As researchers engage in ways to “enable” autistic people to communicate, which is important, we also have to consider the ableist dimensions of technology and language training. We have to consider that power comes from those who can communicate, and to rethink our organizations and the way we do and do not provide access. As suggested, communication seems to assure identity and power. In its absence, does it mean that an communication-impaired person is not a person? How accessible is current technology to autistic people? What are the barriers to access which include financial issues, attituidinal issues in AAC provision? What about the way we enable or disable a different way – perhaps we can coin it an autistic way – of information gathering and language construction (or any other kind of construction such as art, the way information is gathered, learned and expressed)? We tend to assume so much about how people should be and it may behoove us to think that neuro-normative ways could very well have its own limitations. Perhaps its time to cross borders.


Pound, Carole, Hewitt, Alan. (2004). Communication Barriers: Building Access and Identity in Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments. (John Swain, Sally French, Colin Barnes, Carol Thomas, eds). Sage Publications.

A New Kind of Autism Lobby: A Proposal

Filed Under (Ableism, Acceptance, Activism, Advocacy, autism, Autism and Intelligence, Autism and Learning, Charity, Communication, Community, Critical Disability Studies, Language, Organizations/Events, Politics, The Autism Acceptance Project) by Estee on 09-05-2013

I’m writing my thesis and am hankering to blog – so many things on my mind with the recent Ontario budget proposal, the ever-so teensy weensy allowance for an individual on ODSP to take home a couple hundred bucks a month and the way we may have to reconsider how we advocate for support as autistic families. Can I say at least it wasn’t cut altogether as was the original threat? Also in the budget is a brief mention of autism services and a reduction of wait-list times for those in urgent need. I’d like here to write a post for all of us to reconsider what all autistic people and families need, and how we have to lobby.

I’m writing my thesis on autism advocacy, in particular, among non-verbal populations. There are wonderful contributions to this already out there to be cited. Also, The Autism Acceptance Project (TAAP) is in meetings, where the autistic population is setting the agenda and I am a facilitator/organizer (also we hope to announce an upcoming event soon). I’ve thought long and hard about the work of autistic folks and re-evaluate my role as a partner and ally to Adam and others. The most fundamental concern I have that will effect all autistic people and their families is autistic rights – to be viewed as valuable citizens; this means that the “spectrum” concept of functioning does not preclude rights and that all people are equal and valuable. This is addressed in substantive equality, where differential treatment must be sought for many to achieve equality (Rioux, 1999). In other words, many disabled people require support and accommodation to participate in their chosen ways in society. What is particularly worrisome to me as a parent of an autistic child, is the lack of access and lack of education. Yet, I also see our traditional education system crumbling, which to me, provides a new opportunity to finally give access to education for everyone. This post proposes not only services to alleviate families, but many opportunities for autistic people of all ages.

Here, I see potential for those who are also ABA lobbyists (I will specifically mention this group since ABA is cited in all government literature now and as I predicted in 2005, it would be the only service available to autistics) to change their drumbeat from tragedy to substantive rights. I’ve cited recently the Jefferey Moore case in British Columbia (2012) wherein it was stated that the notion of remediation risked adverse effect discrimination. I would argue the same – that when we believe we have to remediate an autistic individual, or any individual with a learning disability, before allowing them access to school, or to an education, then this is a fundamental oppression and devaluation. ABA schools can consider integrating academics into their methods as well as any other therapies out there, thus supporting, enabling, respecting (instead of normalizing) autistic being. That Augmentative Assistive Communication (AAC) and other supported communication techniques is not considered a right to communication should be an outrage to us all. At one time, the Deaf community was not allowed to sign! Now, the same thing is happening to the non-verbal autism community. The most fundamental right is the right to access communication. Yet, teachers also have to learn how to support an autistic person to use them, while also considering the autistic learning style (there is research out there you can find easily on this). There are enough autistic independent typists as well as teaching methods available. I could go on — video monitors, white boards, computers – these are fundamental for autistic learning and we all have a wonderful opportunity to learn to support autistic individuals! My question to educators and supporters, how can we change the way we do things to support autistic rights?

Back to the the right to education – music, art, math, science, geography – all of these are fundamental to an individual’s quality of life. Adam is autistic and has a curious mind. When he is introduced to new topics, they may be hard at first if they are taught in traditional ways, but as he learns he becomes more interested, proud and excited; doors open and he wants to learn more! Should an autistic person in a Verbal Behaviour or ABA program be denied access to academic material when they have read the same word since they were a toddler? Or, can this new material be integrated within a program? How creative can we be?How can autistic children be allowed access to their own interests and material and how can teachers facilitate their continued learning of what interests them? These are also fundamental rights – the right to choose and to follow one’s own path. While it has been cited numerous times that everyone – disabled and not – can benefit from an individualized approach to education – it as also been deemed difficult in the traditional system where teachers have been the gatekeepers of knowledge.

I was turned on recently to Sal Kahn, who has created a series of educational videos on YouTube which are utilized by some classrooms. Some teachers are reconsidering their role as facilitators instead of lecturers at the front of the classroom, monitoring a child’s work on the computer using Kahn’s lessons, and then stepping in to help when needed. Online learning can be very effective for autistic individuals and must be considered if we are to enable a future of autistic participation and contribution. This provides fantastic opportunities where video learning and technology – such as Mindcraft – are enablers – autistic people can build in this program, make art and new worlds, and this can be a monitored learning program (and many do which attests to innate autistic intelligence and ability). Online friendships and self-advocacy, as reported by many non-verbal autistic individuals, have also enabled better socialization skills in virtual and real time. How can rethink such spaces that are already at our disposal? How can we allow for autistic work to take place also on autistic terms?

We have to reconsider these spaces from traditional ones to creative ones where all people can participate. At the moment, I can say that while I work to have Adam included, he is mostly segregated – goes to school, goes to a few programs with an aide worker which thankfully enables him to participate. Within the system at our disposal, we work with Adam’s team to provide him the best we can and we are all learning. But this is what I ask of all Canadian society – at least give Adam, and others, the opportunity to participate. To-date, he is not allowed. Even trying to get Adam into certain schools is fraught with traditional testing – not allowing him frequent pre-visits or adapting work in formats that he can best respond to. All I can say is, the world is losing out too for Adam can give back so much.

As I consider my daily life as Adam’s mother, and how my heart wrenches for him – I at least want him to have choices. This drives my work towards a more inclusive future (which may require specialized education in the real sense of education for his future – not sequestering, normalizing and presuming incompetence) for our children and for families to support this, this also traverses to the arena of advocacy with such questions as: What of my role as his parent and an “autism rights activist?” How can I, as a non-autistic person who is used to traditional hierarchical boards, committees and organization, become familiar with an alternative way of organization and allowing a new space, or room, for autistic self-advocates? How can autistic people enable us when some of us are listening? What about virtual spaces and how might they be maximized? How can we allow for dissent and debate that reflects true democracy and recognize that not all autistic people feel the same way, not all people require the same supports, and not everyone will agree? What must we recognize in ourselves as neurotypical teachers, parents, therapists, caregivers and charity organizers in stepping aside and lending a hand to create this space? In speaking of charity and it’s historical role of “handing out,” how can we build communities that support self-advocate needs? In one sense, I truly understand the need for autistic people to have this space, and predominant “voices,” if you will, but we also all have to recognize the important role of allies and parent supporters and educate families about the history of the autistic self-advocacy, and its fragility. We cannot afford to lose the ground gained by autistic-self advocates! Autistic people also have to allow for us to become political facilitators alongside autistic people without us more verbally loquacious dominating the agenda or “speaking over” autistics. Autistic people can teach us patience and learning to listen without speaking over. Let me ramble here by making another comment – research teams and funders have to recognize this urgent need for emancipatory research that requires much patience and time, and make allowances for it.

Here, I acknowledge the independence via interdependence model that I write a lot about – that we tend to advocate for complete autonomy and independence that drives our therapies and expectations for autistic people before giving them full value and citizenship. Yet when we truly look at how interdependent we all are – on our families, on technology, on a service system, none of us are independent. This is the area in which we need to discuss when we talk about autism services – not a cradle to grave service where we put autistic people away, but a collective economy of support where autistic people can also contribute and where we do not view responsibility as something tragic. I can only think that in North America this notion is strongest – when I lived in Europe, families often stayed in the same home all of their lives and supported one another. Part of me can’t help but think that this notion of supporting our children into adulthood is a construction of the industrial revolution – where children were sent into factories to work. As we see those structures crumbling, I hope we can reconsider that supporting one another should be something to be grateful for, not a tragedy. Will our quality of life not improve when we know that all of us who need more support at various points in our lifetimes, will also be respected, supported and not be made to feel guilty or less than for it?

Finally, I can think of all the “job creation,” for autistic people and support workers alike when I think of Ontario’s new proposed budget. Yet as long as we are wedded to this false notion of “independence,” we might continue to build cities which isolate everyone. For certain, this is the ultimate paradox – I think we all feel isolated in many concrete jungles, and we need a call to building collectives and communities which utilize and respect the varying contributions of all citizens. To respect human variation and possibility for re-building, I draw on Jennifer Sarrett’s Autistic Human Rights: A Proposal:

“[H]uman rights are to be enjoyed based on fundamental frailty and vulnerability inherent within the state of being human. By focusing on vulnerability, a state that all people experience at various points in life, disability and difference becomes an experience that can tie all humans together.” (2012, Disability Studies Quarterly, unpaginated)

Also, quoting Eva Kittay, Sarrett includes that while not all people are equally vulnerable, that is, some people are more vulnerable than others, it does not mean that the more vulnerable are less worthy or entitled to justice, equality and human rights:

This principle, in contrast to the others, would not be based on our equal vulnerability, nor on our possession of rationality, a sense of justice, and a vision of our own good. Instead, it would be based on our unequal vulnerability in dependency, on our moral power to respond to others in need, on on the primacy of human relations to happiness and well-being.” (Kittay in Sarrett, 2012)

Sarrett further states that,

“human rights do not have to rely on a single doctrine – dependence or fragility or oppression or humanness or capability. The autism-based model described here is built on a foundation of dependence, individuality, and valuing human diversity, allowing for the inclusion of the entire sphere [note: she uses ‘sphere’ instead of ‘spectrum’ which she considers ableist] of cognitive, intellectual, physical and psychiatric traits within the human condition. Accounting for and respecting variations in the human state are central to the ongoing and dynamic process of developing human rights models most effective for any time and place. Any model of human rights should be in constant conversation with contemporary issues of diversity, medicine, law, and advocacy. Thus, all models…should be subject to alterations and updates to ensure the most acute and powerful application in every community and for every person.”

She notes that while some positive rights have been granted for education and health care, that the autistic rights model, fashioned after civil rights, has difficulty with the promotion of negative rights which includes the right to assemble. Sarrett says that negative rights are integral to this inclusive model of human rights, but self-representation and advocacy can be difficult for many non-verbal advocates who have assembled more easily online, and find real-time meetings and interactions very difficult. This asks us to reconsider how accessible our boards, committees and systems and how they enact as barriers to many autistic people. How might we re-organize our organizations? I, for one, believe that the Internet provides the future possibilities for the democratic process.


Sarrett, Jennifer (2012). Autistic Human Rights: A Proposal. Disability Studies Quarterly. Vol. 32. No. 4.

Verbose Adam

Filed Under (Adam, Communication, Computing/iPad) by Estee on 25-04-2013

I have to write so much for school that I don’t often get to write about daily life in a few rambling sentences. Spring is here, the pool is open and Adam, after his 11th birthday has had another burst of verbosity – forced out single words, a phrase, but lots of telling me about things at school or how he’s feeling. It’s particularly enjoyable when he says words I would have never imagined were in there. But like Anti says in Wretches & Jabberers, I think Adam is made of words, at least I think it’s neat to think of it this way; despite the difficulty of expression, he’s got thousands swimming in his head; it only makes sense since he was reading them, sometimes out loud, while hanging on the side of his playpen, reading the titles of the book spines on the shelf.

We’ve been typing every day – from stories, play and he types a lot at school on his own, and I want to keep showing others how to integrate this into most aspects of his day. My dad keeps a running video log when he sees us working, Adam’s Speech Language Therapist (SLP) keeps photographing us at work. I keep thinking I’ve got to put this together so that other people can also see it – and show how when Adam just begins typing a sentence, he can then get it out verbally just by typing the first letter. I’ll pull out my single-mom card now – my plate is so full and I’ve got so many projects on the go; this is one of them. Focussed, goal-oriented typing seems to have had an effect on his ability to focus and planning to say the sentence, and this is becoming like his own “prompt.”

I’ve just finished a long lit review for my thesis on Wretches & Jabberers and I’m reviewing a few articles for the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. I hope to spend more time coalescing the past few years on the topic of language, affect and typing and how I’ve played a part in Adam’s as well as how his autism school has cooperated when this method is not specifically integrated into their program.

In Support of Autistic People

Filed Under (Acceptance, Autistic Self Advocacy, Communication, Law) by Estee on 09-04-2013

Here is one video I want to share in support of autistic people with Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher. If you haven’t yet watched Wretches and Jabberers, you can access the entire movie on YouTube.

Here they are at a panel at Chapman University. As for my son, he is asked to type independently by his teachers for work. At home, I support him to communicate more complicated conversation. Some days he is fully independent and other days he isn’t. I believe that provided supported communication is a substantive right as it is for the Deaf community to have interpreters to interact in society. I view this only as a way to view how autistic people are not granted the right to supported communication or many forms of assistance or devices as a right because the ABA lobby in Canada takes the attention away from these rights.

(Also note: such a comparator group was not used in Auton v. B.C. because autism was cited only as a medical condition that should receive remediation under Medicare…which is very problematic on many levels for substantive equality, and which deserves more attention than I’m writing in this post. The Auton case is an example of adverse effect discrimination, that is, not recognizing the right to be different, but instead, simply put, that autistic people need to be remediated or normalized before having the right to be included and/or educated and/or to participate in society. The case is so problematic that I encourage people to read Michelle Dawson’s factum. I also drew attention to this in Moore v. British Columbia, 2012 where this adverse effect was acknowledged in the factum. I have also written a series of papers on the law which may be added to this website at a later date).

My son’s speech (the oh so important goal of most people for better or worse, and often to the detriment of some autistics) happens to become more fluent as he is supported. He’ll begin to type a sentence, and then more able to complete what he’s started by speech. This shows that it acts, for him anyway, very much as a prompt. An important one.

Enjoy watching this in support of autistic people:


About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.