Monday, March 24, 2008

Does Mercury Poisoning = Autism Have to be Vicious?

There is a significant subset of people, particularly parents of autistic children and professionals working with autistics, but also a few autistics, who believe that in some or all cases, autism is caused by mercury poisoning (this theory is not supported by most scientists in the field of autism).
The biggest problem I have with the people who support a connection between mercury poisoning and autism (hereby referred to as mercury-autism people) is not that they believe a theory which is unsupported by the evidence and make factually innaccurate claims, but that their view of autistic people is generally very offensive. Kathleen Seidel wrote an article called Evidence of Venom documenting hurtful ways that autistic people are described by members of the yahoo group EOHarm (I also joined that group to protest how they referred to autism, was viciously flamed, and then was asked to leave by Lenny Schafer, who runs this list, because I was 'being offensive'). Another person, 'Fore Sam', regularly posts offensive comments on autistic rights blogs. [Addition: an example here, Fore Sam described one person as 'jealous that he wasn't named as a co-lunatic' and referred to the neurodiversity movement with the phrase 'what a bunch of scumbags neuroinsanity is composed of'.]
My question, therefore, is this: Are all mercury-autism people vicious? The answer:

"I'm interested in the theory of mercury toxicity, whether it's true we're poisoning our children the way we flush poisons into fish and mammals in the sea. But to think of children as those downer cattle, struggling on their legs and unable even to be usefully slaughtered." (Susanne Antonetta, A Mind Apart, page 8, discussing Kathleen Seidel's outrage at autism being called 'mad child disease')

No! Susanne Antonetta is a bipolar woman and an advocate for neurodiversity. The worst she has said is that what she says only applies to high-functioning people, and she later apologised to Amanda Baggs about that (unfortunately, due to Amanda's blog move, her comment was lost). In the above quote, she expresses, at the very least, openness to the theory that mercury poisoning can cause autism. But her view of autism is quite positive, and she clearly is opposed to derogatory references to autism such as calling it 'mad child disease'. (Personally, her reaction to that term much better describes why I find it offensive than Kathleen Seidel's, considering how many people proudly call themselves 'mad' and refer to 'mad pride'.) She does not want to be cured of bipolar, and she agrees with autistics who oppose a cure for autism.

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Blogger shiva said...

I don't believe that mercury poisoning causes autism, because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for it, and it's fairly obvious to anyone who really looks into it (rather than just believing everything they're told from "reputable" mainstream news sources) that the whole thing is just a load of pseudoscience made up to exploit parents of autistic kids financially and/or to give ideological support to the curebie brigade. Also, it's just incredibly obvious that autism is at least partially genetic, because every autistic person i've ever met has had family members with either autistic traits or some other neurological oddity, and it's clearly linked to other genetic conditions (such as connective tissue/joint abnormalities).

However, even if, in some cases, autism *was* an acquired impairment, caused by some sort of poisoning (and acquired brain injury can cause autism-like traits, enough that some people with acquired brain injuries could be reasonably considered to have "ended up" somewhere on the spectrum), then my attitude to autistic rights and neurodiversity still wouldn't change one bit. The social model of disability does not regard the distinction between congenital and acquired impairments as having any political or ethical meaning whatsoever.

I have exactly the same views on sexual orientation (see this post)...

7:01 PM  
Blogger Athena Ivan said...

nobody HAS to be vicious, people CHOOSE to be, for the most part..........except I guess people on the receiving end of bullying and myths of this sort, feel they have to fight back......

Fighting back against idiocy like mercury poisoning=autism is necessary. very much necessary.

Ivan of athenivanidx

8:00 AM  

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