ME/CFS Researchers Don’t Understand Autism

Content: This post includes mentioning of ABA, an autism cure and a lot of ableism.

 

 

Fellow autistic readers, I need your help.

The last couple of months, I’ve been made aware of that some researchers who are originally researching the disease ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), are now interested in autism. This is very troublesome because from what I’ve read, they don’t understand autism at all and their misconceptions can turn out to harm autistic people.

A couple of days ago an article called Treating Autism and ME/CFS: Could One Drug Do Both? was published at the Open Medicine Foundation’s website, and it includes a number of troubling statements. For instance this:

ASD is not chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) but some similarities exist. Both diseases affect cognition and sensory processing, cause problems with stimuli, cause significant social withdrawal, and are associated with increased levels of oxidative stress, reduced glutathione levels, and a Th2 immune response shift.

The rest of the article goes on as expected, with a number of biomedical facts about autism and ME, but with no further definition or accurate description of what autism really is. From what I can tell, the researcher and/or the person who wrote the article both seem to consider autism a disease defined by a number of behaviors, like mutism and social withdrawl mentioned in the quote above. There’s no sign of any awareness of how heavily autistic people have criticized this understanding of autism. There’s no recognition of all the other aspects of autism, like hyper-empathy. Autism is considered a disease and therefore something bad, and demonstration of less autistic behaviors is interpreted as improvements.

The scores indicated that the children’s social interactions, language, and restricted and/or repetitive behaviors all improved.

Further on in the article, we have parents to autistic children being interviewed about how horrible they find their children’s autism. The parent perspective is of the usual tragedy kind that tends to be standard from Autism Parents, but no actually autistic person is being interviewed in the article.

This is bad. Terribly bad. I fear that the researcher’s misconception about autism and lack of awareness of that historically, attempts to “cure” autistic people have turned into so much harm and will lead to us being harmed again. There are so many testemonies out there of how ABA, the therapy that is still widely used in attempts to teach autistic people to behave less autistic, gives people PTSD. Behaving more like allistic people doesn’t make autistic people less autistic, our brains are still wired the way they are. What it does mean is that autistic people spend a horrible amount of energy trying to fit in and be approved, instead of punished.

I’m devastated by this. I’m autistic and I have ME. I want to be cured from ME but I want to continue to be autistic, because I don’t want to change my personality. For a number of reasons, I’m drained and have very little energy at the moment. I can’t fight this on my own. Those of you who want to protest, please do.

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Open Letter To Autism Parents

This post includes mentioning of ABA, puzzle pieces and functioning lables

 

 

Dear Autism Parents,

We need to talk again. At least I want to talk to you.

Just like you, I’m a parent of an autistic kid. Yes, you probably prefer “child with autism”, but for once, let’s not focus on that. Let’s focus on autistic minds, and what your neurotypical perspectives do to all autistic people around you.

I’m a parent of an autistic kid, and I’m autistic myself. This means that every time you express how angry or sad you are about what you think that autism is doing to you, you don’t only assign blame to your child, you also tell all autistic people of all ages around you that you blame people like us. That you blame the way we react to food and noisy environments, how we process information and how we express ourselves, for causing you discomfort and pain.

You are entitled to your feelings, and so am I, and therefore I will tell you how I feel about your behavior.

Just like you many of you, I sometimes seek out other parents of autistic children in an effort to give my kid the best life i could possibly imagine. I might try to work with you to advocate for more accessible schools and healthcare, because just like you, I don’t want my kid to get PTSD just from going to school. However, I’ve realized that I’m not welcome in your world. When you talk about how autism has destroyed your life, you make it very clear that you are blaming autistic people, instead of focusing on ableist structures. What’s even worse is that you center neurotypical, allistic and ableist views and make me feel ashamed for the way I communicate. I know that you are doing this because you are suffering from knowing that your kid is suffering, but I urge you to think of this: When you are promoting ableist ideas, you are making life worse for your kid and all autistic people. It doesn’t matter how great your intentions are – when you call the need for accessibility “special needs”, when you use functioning lables and when you spread puzzle pieces and refer to autistic people as “mysteries to solve” – you dehumanize us. Dehumanization feeds ableism. We will never have an accessible society that respects autistic people as long as we are dehumanized.

But you know what? There’s another option. You have an autistic child, but you don’t have to see autism as a disaster. It’s totally possible for you to direct you anger and grief to the ableism that’s making life hell for your kid. Because you know – autism isn’t a disaster, ableism is.

I know that it’s hard. Just like you I have been fed all those ableist ideas about autism from healthcare professionals. Just like you I was told that I have to put my kid through ABA, “otherwise he could never grow up”. I’ve had doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers telling me all those lies about how meltdowns are just a way to avoid demands, that my kid has to be taught not to stim and that putting in a lot of time on behavioral therapies is necessary if I want to give my kid any chance of ever having a good life. But the thing is, none of that is true. You have the option of looking beyond ableist ideas and start paying attention to what autistic people are trying to tell you.

If you decide to start paying attention to what autistic people are saying, you will learn that our lives have meanings. That we connect with each other, we have meaningful relationships and we are able to experience joy and happiness. You will also learn that we are harmed and hurt by an ableist world trying to normalize us, and that will probably not be a pleasant reading to you. When you read about all the violence and abuse we experience, remember that you can be a part of putting an end to it. By refusing the ableist ideas that a lot of healthcare professionals are promoting, and instead listening to autistic people to learn about autism, you can make a difference.

It’s your choice.

Sincerely

the uninspirational

 

I’m Your Alien

I will never forget the first time I met with a nurse at a clinic for autistic children. Six months earlier my child had been diagnosed  as autistic and a referral letter was sent to this clinic. Now we were finally here, me and my partner. My expectations weren’t that high but I knew they had occupational therapists and I was hoping that they could help us make the preschool our kid attended more accessible. We had a fairly good cooperation with the teachers but it was hard work to do on our own, and I thought that getting some help to increase accessibility and support would improve my kid’s health by decreasing his stress level.

One of the first things that the nurse told us was “These children rely heavily on motivation to learn new skills”.

I froze. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why but there was something in this sentence that made me highly uncomfortable. Obviously a part of it was the motivation thing, since it’s a central part of ABA and that wasn’t something we wanted, but there was something more that made me react. There was something in how this nurse talked about autistic kids. “These children…” they were the Others. They were not a part of us.

During the rest of our meeting she talked about autistic kids in the same way, creating a distance between us parents and our autistic kid. At this point I wasn’t clear about that I was autistic, but I had my suspicions. I couldn’t articulate it but I was very uncomfortable and somewhere in my head a thought kept repeating itself: You are talking about me. These kids you are talking about like aliens, I’m one of them. I’m one those people you don’t consider a complete human being.

My Mom Is an Autism Expert and I Don’t Trust Her to Take Care of My Autistic Child

Content Notion: This post describes detailed practices that are often a part of ABA, ableist treatments for autistic people and ignoring of enbies.

 

After years of increasing problems with my mom, I’ve told her that I don’t want her to help out by taking care of my kid anymore. This is a very sad decision both for me and my kid, because parts of her time with my kid have been good. However, her lack of respect came to a point I couldn’t take and after many conversations with her, that totally drained me without improving the situation, I gave up. She constantly crosses my boundaries and she has no understanding of what my kid needs and this leads to her causing a lot of practical problems and poor health for my kid, me and my partner. This kind of ‘help’ is something I definitely don’t have room for. There are so many things that hurt us in this, and in this post I will focus on one of them: the brainwashing of Autism Experts™.

When I grew up my mom worked with something completely different, but around the time my kid was born she started to work with disabled (mostly autistic) children. She had no background in working with disabled people at all and I have no clue how this happened, but it did. Her employers have over the years given her some education and this is unfortunately the shallow kind of manuals based on ABA, because ABA-based approaches and ‘therapies’ are standard practice were we live. In the beginning she was worried about that she didn’t have a theoretical framework but after a while, this wasn’t a problem anymore.

During these years my mom has worked with autistic children in different settings. Mostly in schools and short term living facilities. These are the kind of places were this scenario regarding staff is very common, people without experience and education are hired because they seem to fit for some reson. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s reality.

The result of my mom’s ‘education’ about autism is horrific. Like most people working with autistic people (or as they say, people with autism), she doesn’t question ABA and its fundaments at all. She is critical to parts of it but she doesn’t seem to even be aware of the assumptions ABA is based on, like that autistic people aren’t real people. Further, she doesn’t engage with autistic adults as sources of information – as people who are experts on autism – and therefore she is completely in denial about how many autistic people who are adults today suffer tremendously from growing up with ABA.

The only reason for why I’ve allowed her to take care of my kid despite this is that she doesn’t really believe that he is that autistic, meaning that she treats him better than the autistic children she works with. Since she is great with him in some ways, I’ve tried to compromise. But, as good as parts of their time together might have been, it doesn’t justify some of the things she does. I don’t trust her, because neither does she respect our agreements, neither does she have an understanding of my child’s needs that is accurate enough.

So, what is my mom’s idea of how to treat autistic children?

First of all, she is very focused on observational behavior in the moment. She doesn’t show any understanding of that the consequences of lack of support and accessibility can surface after the actual situation or after participating in an activity several times. In my network of autistic families (both children and parents), it’s a fairly common trait that autistic people keep up the appearance in school or in public, and then collapse when we come home. There are plenty of testimonials about this delayed reactions out there, but my mom refuses to accept this.

The fact that a lack of accessibility and support consumes a lot of autistic people’s precious energy is something she doesn’t really acknowledge. There are tools to plan activity levels to make sure that there is enough of recovery time, but she obstructs my work with energy management for my kid by not asking beforehand if she can take my kid to an exciting museum or invite people over. She protests when I explain that these kind of activities are demanding and energy consuming to my child.

This brings us to the third point which is that she cares about observational behavior, or how similar to neurotypical it is, and ignores health. Because focusing on observational behavior in the moment and ignoring energy levels and a long term perspective on health means that my kid’s health will suffer.

As a consequence of not paying attention to health, she doesn’t acknowledge symptoms of stress, and instead she’s prone to explaining most problems with a lack of motivation. When an autistic kid is dead tired on a Monday morning and crying because the demand of brushing teeth and putting on clothes is too high, she explains this with that he or she (no other genders exist to her) isn’t being challenged enough. No matter how much information I’ve given her that explains that this can happen when the weekend has been too energy consuming, she doesn’t really believe me.

To some extent she understands the need for predictability, but she doesn’t accept that there is no universal model for this. Autistic people may very often need preparations to get a necessary amount of predictability, but how that is achieved varies greatly between different individuals. I have found ways to prepare my child (and myself) and adjust activities by preparing other people who will participate in them that work great for my kid, but since they are more elaborate than what my mom is used to, she doesn’t respect our ways. This means that she doesn’t fully respect the need for preparations and predictability.

My mom – a monster?

In the beginning of this post, I wrote that my mom lacks what’s often considered an adequate education, meaning she’s not a teacher, psychologist etc. However, the reason for why I’m writing this is because the exact same attitude and ideas are very common among the professionals* I’ve encountered, even those who are trained psychologists, teachers, doctors and what not with so-called proper educations.

As an autistic parent to an autistic child, it hurts me so badly to experience how my child is being disrespected and misunderstood in the same ways as I was as a child – by my own parent. When I see my own words in this post, my mom comes off as a horribel person, and all these issues that I’ve explained here make that true. But as with a lot of people, she’s not only horrible. She can be kind, caring and unconventional in a way that benefits autistic people too. But at the same time she does all these harmful things. This is an important lesson to me and something that I need to remember: people who treat autistic people like shit aren’t evil monsters. They are common people who may have great intentions but that doesn’t make the harm they are causing less harmful.

 


*I’ve made a correction here, before it was ‘experts’ instead of ‘professionals’. Since I consider autistic people to be the experts of autism, I made a correction.

Respectful Parenting in an Ableistic World

Content Warning: This post includes ABA and descriptions of children being abused.

 

 

Yesterday, I saw a twitter thread about parents being abusive to their autistic children. It’s a really important thread about how normalized abusive, ableistic parenting is, and how horrible it is to see parents talking about their autistic children as if they lacked humanity. As a response to this, some people claim “not all parents to autstic kids are like this”, and I want to write about that.

It is somehow true, there are parents of autistic children who aren’t abusive. Parents who don’t do ABA and focus on our children’s well-being instead of gettin them to pass as non-autistic. I want to think of myself as one of those parents. Still, I find it problematic to claim that I’m not one of the abusive parents, because I think it would be dangerous to state that and settle.

Being a parent to an autistic child means that I have to choose to not be the abusive parent every day. Sometimes, I even have to fight for it. Not because I want to be that parent, but because where I live, treating autistic children as dehumanized objects who should be corrected until they pass as non-autistic is what’s recommended by most professionals. It’s the core value that most professionals base their work on, because ABA is considered the only evidence-based approach. Almost every time I’m in contact with medical staff or somebody regarding my child’s school, I’m marinated in this horrible ideology. I don’t do what they want me to do, I know that they are wrong, but I think that being surrounded by this ideology can affect me anyway. As horrible as this is to think of, I think there is a risk that I at some point could be pressured enough by this ableistic society to give in to professional’s pressure. Let me explain why.

If my child’s school would become inaccessible or abusive to the point where he can’t attend school (very common where I live), I will be questioned as a parent. When social workers find out that we don’t practise the abusive parenting that is widely recommended, we could be deemed unfit parents and risk having our child taken away from us. I know parents who have carried their screaming, kicking, panicking kids to school, because if they don’t do that social workers have threatened to take their kids away, which would be even worse. Sometimes in these situations, social workers make parents take parent training courses in ABA-inspired methods, and make the parents practise this with their children in order to get them to school. So-called experts that teach parents to take away everything that their children like, and only give it to them when they have been to school. This is one of my constant fears.

I also think that given the fact that I grew up undiagnosed, I didn’t learn as a child what supporting autistic children means. Nobody helped me when I suffered from autistic burnouts as a result of lack of support and an inaccessible school. Nobody taught me how to deal with sensory overload or the tremendous confusion about everything, all I learned was to always try a bit more and work a bit harder. When I collapsed it was somehow my fault, not that I understood how. This means that I have to work harder now, and not do what adults did to me.

To not end this post in hopelessness, I want to mention what actually made me question the ableistic ideology, even before it was clear that my kid was autistic. Because despite these lousy circumstances, something made me say no and fight for my child already when he was a baby. It was the stories I had read in blogs by autistic adults, before my child was born. Stories teaching me that autism isn’t a tragedy and that meaningful, good lives are possible for autistic people. These stories were scary because it became clear to what extent autistic children are let down by parents, schools and healthcare, but they also gave me a certain amount of hope. For that I’m forever grateful, because the autistic bloggers probably saved me from being one of the abusive parents.