Friday, July 21, 2017

Don't Tell Me It Made Me Stronger

Recently, I had a disagreement with a new friend, and it's got me upset.

I shared some of my experiences and my brother's experiences in school, and how they affected me, and mentioned that I want to homeschool my children. And they started talking about how adversity can make you stronger, and suggesting my children might be deprived.

I hate this line of argument so much!

Firstly, it's not true. Yes, mild 'adversity', like not getting a toy you want or having to do chores, does make you stronger. But trauma injures you, and leaves lasting scars. It also makes you more vulnerable in the future.

There are also a pile of unfortunate implications to the idea that trauma can make you stronger.

First, as my friend shows, it can be used as an argument to avoid protecting people from harm. I have even heard abusers argue that they abused their child to "toughen them up". A woman in Courage to Heal describes sexually abusing a child she was babysitting, because she figured it was inevitable that someone would abuse that child, and she thought doing it first would help lessen the harm when someone else did it. From a social justice perspective, why bother fighting oppression? It just makes the oppressed person stronger, right? Your oppressors are basically doing you a favor.

Second, it blames the victims who aren't stronger. My friend hinted that they thought people use trauma as an excuse. If you're supposed to be stronger for your experiences, and you're not, then what's wrong with you?

Third, what about the people who don't make it? There are people who've killed themselves for similar experiences to what my brother and I have experienced. What to make of their deaths, if adversity makes you stronger? Were they weak? Unworthy? Did they use their trauma as an excuse? Are they an acceptable loss for the strength others gained from their experience?

Don't dare tell me my pain has made me stronger. I'm wounded and struggling. I don't know if I'll ever be as resilient as most people who haven't suffered trauma. I am most definitely not stronger. Nothing excuses the harm that has been done to me, nothing makes it acceptable. I was hurt, it was wrong, and the wounds will never completely fade.

Friday, July 14, 2017

I Am Not Straight

I see a disturbing tendency for people who hate asexuals and aromantics to equate aroace with straight.

While I support het aces and het aros, to lump me in with them is frankly inaccurate and disrespectful of my identity. I'm not straight. Nothing about me is straight. I actually feel closer to being bisexual, because I feel equal attraction to males and females. (On questionnaires with only three options for sexual orientation, I select bisexual.) But I'm not bisexual either. Het aces, bi/pan aces and LG aces have more in common with each other than they do with me; and the same with aro hets, aro bi/pans and aro LGs.

Het aces, bi/pan aces and LG aces share with each other the following differences from aroaces:

  • a desire for a romantic relationship, and tendency to seek out romantic partners, often leading to involvement in the dating scene
  • greater societal recognition of their most important desired personal bond (although allo allos, and especially het hets, get even more recognition)
  • a tendency to buy into and perpetuate stereotypes that equate romantic attraction with love and humanity, and not being personally hurt by those stereotypes
  • an increased tendency to be pressured into having sex they don't want or having sex more frequently than they want to
  • increased risk of corrective rape (since many corrective rapes of aces are perpetrated by dates or romantic partners)
  • an increased tendency to be accused of withholding sex, tricking their allosexual partners into a sexless relationship, or shaming or abusing their partners by refusing sex
  • an increased likelihood of having their identity be medicalized and targeted by therapy
  • an increased tendency to be treated or feel like they're just "bad at being" an orientation other than asexual, or that their ace identity reflects incompetence at sex
Aro hets, aro bi/pans and aro LGs share with each other the following differences from aroaces:
  • a desire for a sexual relationship, and tendency to seek out sexual partners, often leading to involvement in the dating scene
  • a tendency to be stereotyped as predatory and manipulative for wanting sex without romance, and sometimes to struggle with internalized shame for this
  • a tendency to be slut-shamed, even if they are not sexually active, because people equate aro allosexual with having lots of casual sex
  • a tendency to get drawn into unwanted romances or one-sided romantic pursuit by people they desire sexually
  • a desire for a sexual queerplatonic relationship, in other words, a relationship characterized by strong emotional bonds and sexual activity but not romantic attachment; and ongoing difficulty finding people willing and able to be friends and sexual partners without falling in love with the aromantic person
  • less tendency to have their identity medicalized, because asexuality is more often seen as a medical issue than aromanticism is
  • an increased tendency to be treated or feel like they're just "bad at being" an orientation other than aromantic, or that their aro identity reflects incompetence at romance
Aroace is a separate identity, with unique issues. We're not straight. We're not a subset of any other orientation. And the combination of aromanticism and asexuality creates a unique experience, that is not shared by allo aces or aro allos. We experience intersecting acephobia and arophobia, as well as unique prejudice against aroaces specifically. Conversely, among people who don't accept the split attraction model, we're the only a-specs whose orientation might be respected.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Sell Job: How Autism Professionals Milk Vulnerable Parents of Their Money

Vaccine conspiracy theorists say to 'follow the money'. But if you actually do, you find a very different conspiracy, one that they're actually supporting.

I see this conspiracy as something being done and supported by many groups, including traditional rivals. The goal is quite simple: to get as much money as they can from parents of autistic children. This is an incredibly lucrative thing to do, because many parents are willing to spend more on treating autism than they would on almost anything else. They are willing to open up a second mortgage, to travel long distances, to beg money from their communities, all for the promise of a cure. And they're willing to do this in large part because they've fallen for the marketing.

Autism treatment marketing is more often termed 'autism awareness'. People think the purpose is to make the public more understanding, but if that was the real goal, most of the autism awareness campaigns would be an utter failure. No, the real purpose is to create the image of autism as something that is devastating, something that will ruin your life if you can't stop it.

To do this, they use several tricks. First, they focus the public's attention away from the milder majority. I previously found several studies showing that 66-84% of autistic children have an IQ over 70. Therefore, a representative look at autism should have roughly 2-4 'higher functioning' children for every 'lower functioning' child - this is certainly not the ratio presented by most awareness campaigns!

Secondly, they misrepresent the developmental changes typical of autism. They focus on younger children, implying that most will have similar severity as they get older, even though roughly half of the 'lower functioning' preschoolers will be 'high functioning' by the time they reach school age. (Even in Leo Kanner's original paper, of the 7 children who had any follow-up done, 4 would be considered high functioning by most standards at the age they were last seen. Those four had adequate spoken language and were in regular schooling.) This allows them to take credit for any improvements, even if the rate of improvement is no higher than the rate among untreated autistic children.

Thirdly, they manufacture an increase in autism, by suppressing the existence of all but a minority of autistic adults, obscuring differences in rate of diagnosis versus rate of incidence, and outright claiming repeatedly that autism is on the rise. (It probably isn't, and certainly not nearly as much as they claim.) This has two effects - it manufactures more panic by implying that our society is headed for a new challenge as these autistic children grow up (when in reality we've been dealing with autistic children growing up for a long time), and it discourages parents from looking for lessons from the earlier generations of autistic people and their families, and therefore getting a more realistic idea of the prognosis of autism. For the mercury-autism branch, the claims of an epidemic are also used to bolster their claims regarding the cause of autism (even though this actually works against them as often as in their favour).

Once they've set up the panic, they offer the solution. This is where the different factions diverge. The two main groups I see are biomedical and psychoeducational factions.

The biomedical groups argue that some reversible biological state, such as mercury poisoning or exposure to certain foods, is the underlying cause of autism. As such, remove the proposed cause and the child will improve. Even if logically, the proposed biological condition should have caused permanent changes as well (especially with onset in early childhood, as it must have to cause autism), they will peddle hope in the form of their quack treatment.

The psychoeducational groups argue that specialised educational strategies, usually ABA (although SonRise and Floortime pull the same sell job with a different flavour), can literally rewire the child's brain to be more neurotypical. This claim, unlike the biomedical claims, actually has some support in the research literature, but it is distorted in two systematic ways.

First, the amount of change that can be reasonably expected is systematically exaggerated. This faction frequently presents higher functioning 'success stories' as if they were no longer autistic at all, benefiting from their lack of acknowledgement of higher functioning autism in awareness campaigns. Ivar Lovaas, generally considered the founder of ABA, defined an 'optimal outcome' as being in mainstream classes without an aide and having an average IQ - a characteristic that applies to many higher functioning autistic kids, including Kanner's four cases, while they remain clearly autistic. ABA research has also never followed up on recipients into adulthood, while anecdotal claims often describe adverse effects emerging as recipients of ABA or ABA-like procedures enter adult life (for example, excessive compliance leaving them vulnerable to abuse). In addition, they never acknowledge that the single biggest predictor of outcome in ABA is the child's initial functioning level, meaning that the 'optimal outcome' children were generally already the higher functioning kids when they started treatment.

Secondly, the importance of intervening early is overstated. To hear autism treatment providers talk, even waiting a couple months to a year before starting treatment could mean the difference between severe disability and normal or near-normal functioning. This is not true. The only research that finds a significant difference in outcome for ABA based on age at entry has 'early' and 'late' samples that differ by four years or more in age. And in most studies, age at entry and time in treatment are confounded. (And the lack of longer-term follow up makes it impossible to know if the difference carries on into adulthood.) The nice thing about this piece of the sell job, for autism treatment providers, is that it encourages parents to decide impulsively instead of carefully considering their options. It also increases the likelihood that the parents whose children would have improved anyway will get their kids into treatment before the improvement happens.

Thirdly, they emphasise intensive intervention, even though it's not actually more effective than lower intensity intervention. This high intensity intervention requires more hours of work from paid therapists (thereby increasing their profits), and also overworks the parents, keeping them in a state of desperation. Meanwhile, the stress and exhaustion results in more behavioural problems for the child, which the therapists use as evidence that the child continues to need the treatment.

If you're a parent of an autistic child, don't fall for the sell job! Seek out the stories of autistic adults and their families, and find out what worked for us. Look at their claims critically, and see if you can find evidence for and against what they're telling you. And always remember that your child is a child, not a crisis or a tragedy.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

I Finally Have Queer Friends

This June, I went to Pride, hoping to make some queer friends because I felt lonely. And I succeeded.

One of my new friends, C, is genderqueer and I think pansexual? They use all pronouns. They're super sweet and loving, Latino, and very fashionable, and I love the way their voice sounds. They're also the first AMAB nonbinary person I've met. We met because I complimented the Pride pin they were painting, and then they gave me advice on how to make my "Asexual Pirates Aren't After Your Booty" poster. At Drag 101, they gave me awesome advice and help getting dressed up, and I decided to exchange phone numbers with them.

The other new friend, D, is agender, panromantic and grey-asexual. (They have a more specific sexuality term which I've unfortunately forgotten, meaning cloudy, nebulous, hard-to-define sexual attraction.) They use they/them pronouns, and sometimes he/him. They're really smart and we have a lot to talk about, and they kinda impress me with how much they seem to have their life in order, including having a partner. (A, who is cisgender female and also ace.) I met D because I was talking about being ace and someone directed them to me, and we started chatting. Later, they directed two different events, Trans 101 and Drag 101 (they're apparently quite active as a Drag King) and I got a ride to my house from them a couple times. The second time, we exchanged numbers and they gave me an ace flag keyring.

Since then, I've met up with C and D together and separately several times, confessed things to them that I normally don't tell people in person, and generally been having tons of fun. I really hope we continue to be friends.