Friday, November 17, 2017

My Future

OK, parents of autistic adults who can't live independently.

You think it's scary, imagining what will happen to your child when you die? Imagine how scary it is for them.

I'm 28 and I live with my parents, because although I'm smart and capable in many ways, self-care is not one of those ways. I have severe executive dysfunction, and I work so hard with so little result.

I see how much I'd need to do to live on my own, and I know how far I am from being able to do it. And it terrifies me.

I can't find help, because I'm smart and talkative and articulate, and no one believes that a developmental disability can make you as disabled as I am without affecting intelligence or communication skills. Even if I could, most of the programs available don't pass the midnight burrito test, and I barely survived the public school system. I can't live like that.

And you know what, parents of autistics? Most of you aren't helping. You're complaining about what a burden your children are, you're calling them low functioning and saying people like me don't need help and people like them don't need choices, you're focusing on early intervention and quack treatments and pretending that your kids will stop being autistic if you try hard enough, you're setting up the programs that don't meet the burrito test, you're putting your heads in the sand and pretending it's not a problem, and a few of you are even talking about killing your children so they don't outlive you.

There are a few parents who are standing by us in the fight, and I appreciate you guys. But it's not overstating things to say that some of our worst enemies, as autistic people, are parents of autistics.

And it makes me so furious, because you guys have so much power. I'm a disabled adult who doesn’t know how to run things myself or convince others to help. I have very little power to help myself, much less others. But you guys are strong. And instead of being our biggest allies, you're our worst enemies.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Couple Privilege Does Exist: A Response to Lola Pheonix

I recently came across this article, Five reasons 'Couple privilege' doesn't exist. The writer of this article, Lola Pheonix, seems to be coming at the question of couple privilege from a polyamorous perspective, which is different from the experience of aromantic people. I'll try to address both perspectives, although it's important to keep in mind that I'm not poly and I have essentially no experience with poly relationships. I also bring up disability quite a bit, because my initial learning about privilege was largely in the context of disability.

They* quote Franklin Veaux saying privilege is "any advantage that one person or group has over another that hasn’t been specifically earned", and go on to disagree with that definition, stating that privilege has to be based on a societal system that deliberately benefits a certain group over others.

I disagree with both definitions, actually, but I like Franklin Veaux's definition better. I'd simply amend it to say that this advantage results from social systems, not purely from biological differences. For example, being able to walk isn't a privilege, it's just a biological reality. But being able to count on buildings having entrances designed for people like you to enter easily is a privilege given to people who can walk (we don't have any buildings with entrances that assume the ability to fly, for example).

Lola Pheonix's definition of privilege, meanwhile, is overly narrow. It excludes discussion of privilege systems affecting groups that are not widely known & recognised to exist by society.

For example, many buildings have flourescent lighting, which can be an accessibility issue for people with epilepsy, migraines, or sensory processing issues. I have yet to encounter anyone who deliberately choose flourescent over other options because of a hatred for people with those disabilities. Instead, the vast majority of flourescent lights were installed by people and organizations who simply didn't consider the potential accessibility issues that could be relevant to their choice of lighting.

I, personally, see being able to design and visit buildings without worrying about the lighting causing seizures or similar negative effects as an example of abled privilege. But Lola's definition wouldn't count it.

They then discuss 'couple's privilege' as if it consists solely of how poly relationships are treated in personal relationships. Setting aside the question of whether systematic patterns of being insulted for a certain identity can count as oppression by itself, that's far from the only effect of couple's privilege. There's a reason gay couples pushed so hard for legal recognition of their marriages, and that's because it comes with a long list of legal benefits. These benefits are not available to unmarried partners, including all but one of a polyamorous person's partners. Nor are they necessarily available for the primary relationships of aromantic people.

For example, although my brother and parents have certain rights by virtue of being my family, they could potentially lose custody of my child to my sperm donor if I were to die before my child grew up. This is especially true if I don't make the sperm donor sign papers beforehand. (As I wouldn't if the pregnancy wasn't planned, for example.) And only recently did Canada first allow a mother's best friend to undergo a second-parent adoption, representing the first time a second-parent adoption was granted to a non-romantic partner. Similarly, I shudder to think of the legal battle if a polycule had a custody dispute. My guess is that any partner who wasn't married to the child's parents or biologically related to the child would be at a severe disadvantage, no matter the relationship to the child.

And speaking of gay couples, next, they bring up how many of these couple's privileges aren't available to non-heterosexual couples. I'll acknowledge that point, although I'd argue it soon won't be true anymore. But just because a certain set of privileges aren't afforded to everyone with a certain identity doesn't mean that identity isn't privileged. After all, trans people can be straight, but they certainly don't access straight privilege. Similarly, gay couples (and other queer couples) being denied couple's privilege doesn't mean that heterosexual couples can't be privileged over single heterosexuals, polyamorous heterosexuals or heterosexuals who aren't able to marry for various reasons (eg threat of losing welfare or disability payments).

Next, they mention that many of these privileges aren't unique to couples. This, too, is not really relevant. There is a lot of overlap between different systems of oppression. Both trans and disabled people often get treated as 'self-narrating zoo exhibits' and asked overly personal questions by strangers. POC, women and physically disabled people all tend to get touched intrusively and nonconsensually by strangers. Both POC and invisibly disabled people (especially neurodiverse or mentally ill people) are at higher risk from police violence. Trans women, POC and disabled people are all at greater risk of being murdered and have our killers receive lighter sentences. Single people, LGBT people and disabled people are all likely to be denied the right to adopt for reasons that don't affect our actual ability to parent. The list goes on. If we excluded any oppression shared by multiple distinct groups from privilege discussions, we'd have virtually nothing to discuss.

They also mention that choosing to prioritise certain relationships over others isn't oppression. I agree. If you're treating your partner of 5 years who you live with as more important than your LDR with a partner for 3 years, that's just human nature. And if your friends prioritise your partners the same way, that's probably just because they know one partner better. We can't, and shouldn't, treat all people as if they were equally important to our lives, and that includes poly partners.

But there's a big difference between inviting your friend's spouse but not their girlfriend because you know their spouse better, or you don't get along with their girlfriend, and doing so purely because they're married. And similarly, there's a difference between inviting your own spouse but not your girlfriend because she's out of town, or doesn't like those kinds of events, or you'd simply rather bring your spouse; and doing so because you fear negative reactions to coming out as poly, or feel that she doesn't belong there because she's not the one married to you.

They then discuss binarism. As a mostly cisgender woman, I don't feel qualified to comment on whether or not binarism exists, although I will mention that I've seen a lot of disagreement among non-binary people about this question. I would also be interested to hear their thoughts on 'truscum', and how that relates to binarism. But I digress.

They also discuss how visibility doesn't lead to acceptance. As an autistic person, I have an interesting experience with being both hypervisible and invisible, and I can attest that both are terrible. Hypervisibility isn't the same as visibility, though. Visibility, to me, means being able to access positive self-representation and narratives that help you to develop a sense of yourself as a member of a category of people - being able to see yourself represented and included in society's construction of what 'protagonists' are like. And caricatures and stereotypes are no better than the complete lack of representation, and can in some cases be worse.

I also feel like their discussion of privilege treats it as a binary, which it certainly isn't. A nondisabled poor trans woman of color has abled privilege over me, but I have class, cis and white privilege over her, making me almost certainly more privileged overall. And the same could be said for pretty much any axis of privilege. People who are privileged in most, but not all aspects will generally be more privileged overall than people who are privileged in only a few aspects. This doesn't negate the reality of any one axis of privilege.

Overall, I get the feeling we probably agree more than we disagree.

* I don't know what pronouns Lola prefers, so I'm using 'they/them' as the most neutral option.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Autism, Homeschooling and Socialization

I came across this article recently. It's a parent of an autistic kid reporting on a conversation with another parent about why she doesn't homeschool.

First, let me say that the other parent in the conversation is out of line. Homeschooling or not isn't about how much you love your child, and accusing a parent of not loving their child because they won't homeschool is not acceptable.

However, this woman's reasons for not homeschooling really don't hold up, in my opinion. She mentions two reasons - one, she doesn't want to do it, and two, well...
Sam NEEDS more social interaction, not less
Ugh. This reasoning is wrong on several levels.

First, you totally can work in plenty of positive social opportunities while homeschooling. Extra-curricular activities, social groups, just going out somewhere to do something...

In fact, there's some research suggesting homeschooled kids have better social skills than regularly schooled kids.

My theory is that it's for the same reason that having siblings - but not a twin - boosts theory of mind. Interacting with kids of different ages than yourself boosts social skills. Regular schooled kids spend most of their time in age-segregated groups, while homeschooled children's social interactions tend to be in age-mixed groups.

Unfortunately, no one has studied the effects of these environmental factors on autistic kids, but in the absence of data, it's more reasonable to assume similarity than difference here.

Secondly, autistic kids are at high risk of being bullied. This study found that 63% of autistic kids had been bullied (roughly twice as often as NT children), with mainstreamed children being at higher risk than children in special education settings.

Bullying is never positive. Research has documented that victims of bullying are prone to low self-esteem, chronic anxiety and depression, psychosomatic health problems, suicidal ideation, poorer grades, greater likelihood of dropping out, self-injury and drug abuse.

The kind of social interaction experienced matters more than how much you experience overall. If your child is bullied, it could damage their mental health, hurt their physical health, impede their education, or even kill them. No one needs bullying.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Almost Human

Recently, I've been fascinated by human evolution, and the different species that were closely related to us.

We humans like to think we're special, so different from all the other species. We tend to see it in black-and-white – either you are a person, or you aren't. But in human evolution, it wasn't black-and-white. There was no one point in time when we became human. Instead, different traits of humanity appeared at different times, and depending on what you think is most crucial, you'd draw the line at different points. Compassion for others and basic tool use were most likely present before our ancestors split off from chimps and bonobos. Upright walking and smaller jaws distinguished Lucy and other australopithecines from the other apes, but their brain was mostly unchanged. Then brain sizes increased, and the first stone tools were found, skillfully crafted by homo habilis. At first, our ancestors only made one kind of tool, but then we had an explosion of tool-making diversity, and we started to make technological advancement, with a steady improvement in tool designs over time. Then, deliberate burials, carved statues and cave paintings began to appear, suggesting the birth of imagination and religion.

There is a lot of disagreement over when certain crucial human behaviours appeared. It used to be thought that homo habilis was the first hominid to make and use tools, until we discovered that many primates make simple tools, such as stripping a stem of leaves to fish for termites. There has been a lot of debate about whether creativity and deliberate burial were unique to homo sapiens or could also be seen in Neanderthals and our common ancestor homo heidelbergensis. (My impression, from the research, is that all three species did this, but homo sapiens did it more extensively.) There have been a lot of debates about language, when and how it first emerged. We used to think Neanderthals didn't talk, but genetic evidence suggests they did (and may have even used a tonal language!). Now, the bigger question is whether homo erectus could talk, and how well.

This debate, for many people, involves an element of looking for the crucial step, the crucial point at which we became 'fully human'. In this way, it mirrors how many people think about severely disabled people – where is the line between a person who struggles with X and Y and someone who is not really a person anymore?

When homo sapiens first appeared, we shared our world with four other hominid species – Neanderthals, Denisovans, homo erectus and homo floresciensis (nicknamed 'hobbits'). We're not sure where Denisovans fit in (one suggestion is that they were a cousin to Neanderthals), but both us and Neanderthals descended from homo heidelbergensis, which descended from homo erectus. Homo floresciensis, who were tiny little guys, were another branch off of homo erectus.

All of these species lived fairly similar lives, making tools, eating a mix of meat and plant products, living in small, tight-knit social groups. Two of these species were actually close enough that we could produce fertile offspring, although probably with difficulty. (DNA research suggests that only daughters with Neanderthal fathers and homo sapiens mothers contributed to the small percentage of Neanderthal DNA in all non-African people. Their brothers were probably infertile, and the reverse crossing may not have been viable or may have only produced sterile offspring.)

I sometimes wonder how we might see ourselves and other species differently, if those other hominids had survived as separate populations. If, as in many fantasy stories, we shared our world with other species who are different and yet so similar, would we see them as people, or as talking animals? Would we even see such a divide? Would we still think of ourselves as so special and unique, if our closest relatives were still around to show us how non-unique we were? Or would we just move the line over a bit?

It used to be that we did not see personhood in such a black-and-white way. In the medieval era, a nobleman was more of a 'person' than his wife, and both of them were more 'people' than their servants were. Their servants, in turn, were more 'people' than a different ethnic group would be. Personhood was a spectrum. Over time, this idea fell out of favour, mainly because it led to some vicious prejudice.

But in some ways, our current black-and-white divide isn't that good a concept to replace it with. I don't think the same ethical standards apply to me as to my cat. If we saw all species as having the same moral rights, then my cat would be no different from Jeffrey Dahmer – both of them killed and ate other living creatures, not because they had to do so to survive, but because they enjoyed it. But I think a cat killing and eating mice for fun is very different from a human killing and eating another human for fun. But where it gets messy is when the difference is less clear. If we didn't see Neanderthals as people, how would we see their children? How much Neanderthal ancestry would you need, before you weren't considered a person? (Incidentally, I have 3% Neanderthal ancestry, which is the same percentage I'd have if I had one great-great-great grandparent who was a Neanderthal.) Well, let's say we did see Neanderthals as people. What about homo erectus? They had an average brain size about 2/3rds of our own. There's no evidence that they buried their dead, or showed any sign of imagination. There's a lot of debate about whether they used language or not. If they did use language, they'd have conveyed much simpler ideas, and may have had a simpler language structure. And yet they made tools and may have used fire to cook their food. And they loved their families, cared for the sick, injured or disabled, and worked together to achieve common goals. It would be so interesting, getting to know a homo erectus. But for many people, it would probably also be quite threatening. They were so similar to us, but at the same time, they were so different. In speciation terms, there is no evidence that we successfully interbred with them – either we couldn't interbreed at all, or all offspring that resulted were sterile. But a homo sapiens and a homo erectus could certainly become friends, if both were open to the possibility. What kind of friendship would that have been?

Friday, September 08, 2017

Advice Is Usually A Trap

In my experience, as an autistic person with PTSD, a lot of the time, when someone gives me advice about how to handle a problem related to my disabilities, I get defensive. I've had people call me out on this and tell me that I'm just 'shooting down all of their suggestions'. People see giving advice as helpful and well-intentioned, and I should be happy about it

But if you understand the reason behind this behaviour, it makes perfect sense.

The thing is, for the vast majority of people, my problems aren't seen as real. Or else they're seen as the closest NT equivalent, which is very different and much easier to solve.

Throughout my childhood, over and over, I've had this experience:

Adult notices I'm struggling with something, or I tell them I am.

Adult offers The Solution(TM) which is supposed to Solve Everything.

I try their suggestion and it utterly fails, or works for awhile and then falls apart, or works but doesn't completely solve the problem.

Adult gets mad at me because clearly now the problem must be My Fault because I'm not using The Solution properly.

As I got wise to this, I started refusing any solution that I wasn't 100% sure would work, as long as there was any chance the person could blame me for it not working. And I started to automatically mistrust anyone who tries too hard to solve my problems for me.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Pedophilia, Age-Specific Attraction and the Split Attraction Model

I've been thinking about how pedophilia relates to the split-attraction model, particularly since some pedophiles feel romantic attraction to children as well. Specifically, which types of attraction should be age-specific, and which ones are fine being directed towards any age?

This is a personal question for me. I'm aromantic and asexual, but before I figured that out, I was briefly afraid I might be a pedophile, because the feelings I'd inaccurately labelled as 'sexual' (aesthetic, sensual and emotional attraction) were just as likely to be directed towards younger children as towards my peers. (In fact, my first ever squish that I can remember was towards my 2 year old brother, when I was 10.)

I know that most people don't feel sexual attraction until puberty, and are attracted exclusively to people of broadly similar age. Romantic attraction seems to have an onset around the same time in many people, though I've heard some people claim to have 'crushes' well before puberty. And if anything romantic attraction seems to be more age-specific than sexual attraction - judging from the many older adults I've seen who admit to being sexually attracted to young adults but don't seem to feel limerence for them.

I have no idea what is normative for other forms of attraction, though. I had my first squish at the same age as sexual attraction usually starts, but was that because I'd entered puberty, or because my brother had finally gotten old enough to start expressing his wonderful personality? Who knows?

But really, does it matter what's normal? No. It matters what's healthy.

Being sexually attracted to children is considered unhealthy for one simple reason - it motivates you to do something that would harm someone else. The negative impact on children of having an adult do sexual things with them is very well documented. It's been linked to a wide range of mental health problems, including depression, suicidal ideation, self-injury, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, dissociation, somatization, and personality disorders. Obviously I know this from personal experience, and my own abuse has resulted in me experiencing many of those issues myself.

Romantic attraction is probably also a problem, for similar reasons. Although it's less widely studied, there is evidence that non-sexual adult-child relationships that involve many typical markers of romantic relationships are often unhealthy for the child. There's a book, The Emotional Incest Syndrome, that discusses parents using their children to meet the same needs that a romantic partner typically would. This is reported as causing emotional problems, primarily because the parent is expecting a level of emotional maturity that isn't appropriate to the child's developmental level. A couple of research studies have discussed the same phenomenon as a subtype of generational boundary dissolution, linked with psychological problems, such as depression.

But what about other types of attraction? What are the implications of aesthetic, sensual, emotional or intellectual attraction when felt by an adult towards a child?

Aesthetic attraction doesn't seem to involve a desire to really do anything about the attraction, other than admire the person's appearance, or if you're artistic, presumably making art inspired by them. Neither of those things seem particularly harmful for a child target. I doubt any children will be harmed by having an adult enjoy looking at them or drawing pictures of them.

Sensual attraction is the desire to engage in non-sexual, non-romantic touch, such as hugging or cuddling them. Not only is this a normal healthy part of interaction between children and the adults close to them, but it's actually essential to a child's emotional well-being. From observation, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of parents feel sensual attraction to their children, particularly right after birth, feeling drawn to hold and stroke their newborn. And not just parents do it - think of the ritualistic 'passing around the baby' that many new parents do with people they trust. Obviously, as in any relationship, consent is important, and even hugging and cuddling can be intrusive if the child doesn't want it at that moment. But because children have an innate need and craving for touch, it's quite possible for an adult to act upon sensual attraction towards a child in a way that the child experiences as unambiguously positive and beneficial - especially if you're the child's parent.

Emotional attraction is the desire to get to know someone better, and to be their friend. Although most children prefer same-age friendships, intergenerational friendships don't seem to be harmful. I, personally, was friends with several adults as a child, and I found most of those relationships beneficial. Research, similarly, suggests a positive impact of intergenerational friendships - this study reported that children who were sent on visits to elderly care homes described feeling worthwhile, having fun and enjoying the elderly people's company, while their parents described them as having increased empathy, understanding the cycle of life better, and being better at communicating with elderly people. Based on this, I'd say it's fine to feel drawn to befriend a child.

Intellectual attraction is feeling interested in how someone thinks, and wanting to engage in intellectual discussion with them. I'd argue that many child psychologists, including Piaget, probably have felt intellectually attracted to children. On the child's side, I see no harm in asking a child interesting questions and exploring how they think. Indeed, that probably provides beneficial intellectual stimulation. And as a gifted kid with intense interests, I've certainly had older people 'pick my brain' regarding topics of interest to me, which has pretty much always been a fun experience for me.

So, in conclusion, sexual and romantic attraction to children have the potential to lead you to harm the child they're directed at, and so feeling those types of attraction is a problem you should learn to manage in some way. However, other types of attraction lead you towards activities that are typically harmless or beneficial to children, and so are probably fine. Even if your interest in children might be unusual, if it's limited to non-sexual and non-romantic forms, feel free to seek out that kind of contact, provided that neither the child nor their caregiver (if they're not your child) objects.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Are Autistics More Often Bisexual?

I've cited this study several times in saying that autistics (at least AFAB autistics) are more likely to be asexual, but today, I'm focusing on another finding of theirs. In addition to finding that 17% of their sample was asexual, they also found 13.2% were bisexual.

So, is this borne out by other studies? Are autistics more likely to be bisexual?

This study compared autistic people of both AGABs with matched NTs, and found that autistic and NT AMAB participants didn't differ in sexual orientation, but AFAB autistics were significantly more likely than AFAB NTs to experience attraction to women. In fact, 64% of AFAB autistics were attracted to women, with all but one of them identifying as bisexual. (Note also that 33% of AFAB autistics in this sample had a gender identity other than female.)

This study looked at institutionalized AMAB autistic participants. Their methods are questionable, depending far too much on caregiver report and including what sounds like very subjective 'impressions' caregivers had of their charges' sexuality, but they did find that 13% of the sample were thought to be bisexual. Also, 25% were considered 'unclear', probably including a mix of asexual participants, those whose caregivers just didn't have any real information, and those who hadn't gotten enough sex ed to really consider whether/who they were attracted to. If that group is excluded, bisexual participants jump to 17%. (They also found two possible hetero-pedophiles and several who may have had fetishes.)

This study, which focused on romantic relationships in autistic adults (both sexes), found that 10% were bisexual, 7% homosexual and 14% couldn't label their orientation with the options given. (I'm guessing probably most were ace-spectrum, but some may have been multi-spec.) This was described as significantly higher than population norms.

This study screened binary trans individuals for autistic traits, finding elevation in autistic traits among both trans men and trans women. In addition, non-straight trans people (who they transphobically describe as 'non-homosexual') were more likely to be autistic than straight trans people.

This study assessed relationship functioning in a community sample of autistic people, and reported that 42% of their sample identified as sexual minorities, with 15% gay/lesbian, 9% bisexual, 12% unlabeled and 5% unsure.

This qualitative study of relationships in autistics of all genders found that in their sample, 25% identified as asexual, 17% as bisexual and 12.5% as gay or lesbian. They also commented on how many individuals identified with multiple labels, with the asexual and bisexual groups overlapping. Only 37.5% identified solely as heterosexual.

Overall, it seems that autistic people, especially AFAB autistic people, are significantly less likely to be straight. But, despite desexualizing stereotypes, bisexuality and possibly homosexuality are elevated too, not just asexuality.

There are a lot of possible implications for this. But one that immediately springs to mind is this: it's especially important for autistic kids to have LGBA-inclusive sex education, even more so than for NT kids. And yet, my impression is that sex ed for disabled kids, when it's offered at all, tends to be more conservative.

It's also important to remember that sexual identities shaped by autism are just as valid as sexual identities held by neurotypical people.