Saturday, December 31, 2005

How's This for a Radical Idea?

"You're such a lawyer," I said to my young son, my firstborn, when he was about five. He had been negotiating a deal with us about something: some punishment, some decision, something we were discussing that wasn't going his way. He has always had this way of seeing something just a little differently, or arguing something in such a way that everyone else ended up feeling slightly foolish and he ended up getting his way. Some would say he was rather spoiled. Maybe.

I wasn't even that mad when I said it, but something about the way I said "lawyer" made my son think I was insulting him, as if I were saying, "You're such an idiot," or "You're such a brat." He got very red in the face and started screaming, "I am not a lawyer! I am not. No, I'm not a lawyer. Don't call me a lawyer!!!" My husband and I just looked at each other and started laughing, and this made my son stop screaming long enough to ask, "What's a lawyer?"

Then we really busted out laughing.

By now my readers might be thinking, there is no way this firstborn son (if he even exists at all) could have said so many memorable things over the years, let alone things worthy of writing about or things relating to bigger and more important issues than what they were originally about. Frankly, it makes me wonder, too, but it's all true. Just this morning, I asked my son, who is now 14 years old, to verify that he was the author of yet another statement; it was one I had mentally attributed to him, but I wasn't sure if he was the one who had said it.

He smiled and told me he did remember saying it.

This was years ago, back when I was adrift--again--looking for that ideal church that doesn't exist anywhere, but thinking I would start by trying to find a church that most closely resembled the way the first century church was described in the Bible. I thought, maybe the problem with churches today is that they don't model themselves after the biblical ideal, but rather have splintered off into hundreds of sects and denominations, all with different sets of doctrines and forms of church government, all believing they have it all figured out, many believing they are the only door to salvation, and most of the members of each church feeling rather proud to be a [insert church denomination]. I thought, I need to find a church that isn't an "-ist," "-an," "-al," or "-ic," but is just a plain old church, so I announced one day in my son's hearing that what we really needed to find was a nondenominational church.

He paused for a moment and said, "Yeah, but isn't 'nondenominational' a denomination?"

I fell through the proverbial floor. These are the kinds of kids that teachers tend to either love or hate. My son has had both kinds of teachers. On the far extreme was a kindergarten teacher who literally couldn't stand him, traumatized him, refused to challenge him academically because of his disruptive behavior, and refused to believe me that he was being disruptive because he wasn't being challenged. I pulled him out of kindergarten in October of that year and put him in a private school in a new kindergarten class. This new kindergarten teacher also had some difficulty handling his behavior, and the following year his first grade teacher told me at a parent-teacher conference that my son was a teen-ager trapped in the body of a six year old. She said she never had a kid like him in her class before. In second grade, I put my son back into the public school system. He floundered around for the next few years until his last year, when he had Mr. Parsons, a bald scary teacher that nobody wanted because they were afraid of him. This was his best elementary school teacher, and this is the one who told me at the end of the year that he never had a kid in his class like my kid, and this teacher was close to retirement. He said my son was like an adult trapped in the body of a ten year old.

I'm not yammering on about my neurotypical kid in order to brag about him, although a certain amount of parental bragging is completely natural, as I pointed out in my last essay. Most parents do brag about their kids on some level and to somebody, somewhere. What was at issue in my last piece was not parental bragging per se, but the impetus behind the bragging and pedestal-raising (both self-imposed and imposed by others) when it comes to autistic people. Neurotypical people do not have to prove that they are worth something and/or deserve to live. If they happen to be particularly good at something, that's great and they will be applauded, especially by their parents. If they are Average Joes, however, they are still considered fully human and fully worthy of just "being." Nobody is sitting around in some laboratory pondering the cost-benefit analysis of allowing future NTs to be born. Nobody is wondering if aborting NTs might be a mistake because maybe in the process of global NT annihilation, there might be a genius NT aborted by mistake. When people are opposed to abortion in general, it is because they believe life begins at conception, and they believe it is murder to end a human life. When people are opposed to future abortion of fetuses identified as autistic, it could be for any number of reasons: (1) all abortion is immoral, (2) autistics as a minority group should be allowed to live (even if they don't think abortion in general is immoral), or (3) you might just kill the next Bill Gates by accident, which would be a crying shame for the world.

The reason I keep recording my son's sayings is that, for whatever reason, they keep seeming so relevant to my thoughts these days on all kinds of issues. And to suppress these things he's said for the sake of some self-imposed modesty would just be silly. When my ideas about an issue start percolating into an essay, it tends to be someone's random comment that will push my thoughts over the edge to the point where I am actually ready to sit down and put my thoughts to keyboard. A lot of these comments have literally come from the mouth of a babe, my babe.

So this morning, after spending three days thinking about the Autistic Bitch From Hell website (one I'd categorize under the heading "radical autistic activism," because that is what it is intended to be), I was standing in my kitchen gazing at the back of my son's head when suddenly "The Lawyer" and "The Nondenominational Denomination" archives bobbed up to the surface of my thoughts. My ideas on labels and antilabelism started to come together, ideas that had been flying at me from all angles while I read through each of her articles (her real name is a mystery, but I'm going to assume the author is female, as in "female dog"). After reading through the entire site, I became mentally itchy and I spent the past few days trying to put my finger on why I had a problem with some of what she wrote. What gradually began to emerge was a sense that, the more some people try to avoid political correctness the more politically correct they can become, and the more they can become entangled in their own contradictions while seeming to have discovered something that nobody else has.

I just want to say before I go on that overall I did like this site. I thought it was kind of funny, kind of edgy, and kind of different. I thought the author made a valiant attempt to cut through a lot of BS currently going on in the so-called autism community, and I thought it was worth adding to my growing library of autistic activism. Now I will tell you what I didn't like about some parts of the articles, but not for sole purpose of ripping them apart. That would be pointless. I'm doing this because one of the things I truly dislike is the feeling that I am being told how I should think and what words I should say, even if the person telling me is someone I basically like and basically agree with. I don't think anyone should combat manipulation with manipulation, even for the purpose of achieving an end result that everyone agrees is a good one.

I Am Not Abnormal! They Are Not Normal!

In NT, or Not NT, the author uses what I consider to be a clever literary device. In the context of, "I'm angry as hell, and I'm going to invite you to kiss my ass--or at least introduce your ass to my steel-toed boot--if you disagree with me," she writes:
I [emphasis mine] don't use "neurotypical" or "NT" when discussing the non-autistic majority population. That is by design. Yes, it's a convenient shorthand term for non-autistic folks, and it's not as cringe-inducing as "normal," but it suffers from a number of very unfortunate linguistic woes.

Since the author introduced the term "linguistic woes," I'm going to take her own term and run with it. Here is the mechanism I see going on here:

    Neutral words (normal, abnormal) are interpreted as derogatory-->

    New words (neurotypical, neurodiverse) replace the old words in an attempt to correct their perceived offensiveness, but this is interpreted as a failed attempt to be politically correct-->

    The new PC words are revamped ("neurotypical" becomes "non-autistic"; the usage of "neurodiverse" is critiqued and the true definition restated) because they are considered inaccurate and/or insulting-->

    Nonlabeling is now considered "correct" and, correct wordage being at the very heart of political correctness, inadvertently a new PC word (non-_____) has been substituted-->

    More insults ensue because most people do not like being told what words they are allowed to use and what ideas about a given issue are, as if by majority concensus, "accurate" or "inaccurate"-->

    The person that the new uber-PC person is trying to empower and embolden is somehow left feeling like, to belong to the ass-kickers club, they must agree with all of this rhetoric.
Here's a news flash: autistic people are not normal. In the same way my son felt highly insulted at the word "lawyer" because it sounded offensive even though he had no idea what it meant, many people feel insulted by the notion that there are normal people and abnormal people, or that there is normal development and abnormal development. That is their problem. For those who don't already know, this is the primary definition of normal:

Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical: normal room temperature; one's normal weight; normal diplomatic relations.

This is the primary definition of abnormal:

Not typical, usual, or regular; not normal; deviant.

I am fully aware that some people use the words "normal" and "abnormal" only to signify "good" and "bad," but that has nothing to do with reality, and anyone who accepts that these are the only meanings has nobody to blame but themselves, not the people who misuse the words.

    It is abnormal (but wonderful) for a woman to have multiple vaginal orgasms.

    It is abnormal (but wonderful) for a woman to be able to conceive and give birth to sextuplets without the aid of fertility drugs.

    It is abnormal (but wonderful) for a pearl to develop naturally inside of an oyster.
Anything that does not usually happen at all or does not happen in the way that it happens in most other beings or things is actually abnormal, but that does not mean it is undesirable. It means it is rare. Autistic people are rare, and they are wonderful just like all other people and yet different from other people. Objects (like pearls) are considered wonderful because they are rare. Autistics are not wonderful because they are rare; they are wonderful because they are human beings. They are rare because they do not develop in the normal way, the way neurotypical people do, which leads to the next term that the author wants thrown out.

Out with the old PC, in with the new

The author wants us to hate the word "neurotypical" for this reason:
The chief problem with the word "neurotypical" is that it abjectly concedes what ought to be a huge point of contention—that there is such a thing as a typical human brain. Let's do a thought-exercise here: Imagine what it would be like if other minorities used such terminology to describe the majority group. Can you picture Muslims referring to Christians as religion-typical? Black activists calling whites color-typical? Feminists speaking of men as gender-typical? Hispanics describing Anglos as language-typical?

The absurdity is obvious in all of these contexts. In today's multicultural society, the concept of diversity means that there is no standard human template against which all other groups are measured. Society regularly exhorts us to celebrate our diversity and to respect others' differences. Most of us wouldn't dream of asserting that our particular group, whether racial, religious, or whatever, ought to be
described as the "typical" human.

I'm forced to point out the obvious absurdity here, but it is not with the word "neurotypical." The author uses two fallacious arguments to prove that the word "neurotypical" is inaccurate:

1) There is no such thing as a typical human brain: At issue is not whether there is a "typical human brain," because by "brain" (following this author's line of reasoning and examples given) one can mean gross anatomical architecture, personality, sexual orientation, religious persuasion, learning style, food preferences, and any number of things. I believe the word "neurotypical" refers specifically to physical, social-emotional, and language development and behavior, and I thought it was understood that those called "neurotypical" are those who exhibit the pattern of development of the vast majority of all human beings. They gaze, vocalize, walk, talk, pretend, and socialize when and in more or less the same manner as most other people do. That is all it means.

2) Multicultural diversity and neurodiversity are analogous: Abnormal development in the form of autism crosses both genders and all religions, races, and ethnicities. It is accurate to say that autism is an typical (i.e., abnormal) form of human development. What the author is positing is that we should not call normally developing people "typical," just as religious and racial minorities should not call their respective majorities typical. That is utterly ridiculous, even though I believe I understand the motive behind the author's impassioned plea for acceptance and tolerance. Religion (e.g., Muslims, Christians) and political idealogy (e.g., feminism) do not follow a genetically encoded path of neurological development from birth to adulthood. They consist of ideas and choices, and they can change or be abandoned at any time. Autism cannot. Race and ethnicity happen to you at birth but remain static, not subject to development; citizenship is another story. The common thread between autism and these other examples is that all people need to be treated with respect and tolerance, but the reason why autistics need to be treated with respect and tolerance is that they are human beings, not because it is offensive to suggest that their development is abnormal (i.e., the way it might be considered offensive for an American Christian to suggest that this is a Christian nation founded on Christian principals, even if somehow this could be proven to be true). The concept of civil rights for all is a good one, but we need to make the distinction between groups formed by choice, place of birth, race, and religious affiliation versus groups that came about through variations in biology. What we need to change is the commonly held notion of what abnormal means, rather than denying the fact that something is abnormal by playing around with words and definitions. In other words, in my opinion, true civil rights for autistics will come about when abnormal is okay.

Imagine no neurological labels

The author sets up this strange analogy:

autistic:Muslim as neurotypical:Christian

The author then goes on to say that there is no neurotypical person, and that the meaning of the neurodiversity movement has somehow been perverted as follows:

Let's take a look at what the word "neurodiversity" really means. (This definition comes from Word Spy.)

"The neurodiversity movement is based on the belief that there is no such thing as normal when it comes to the human mental landscape. The neurotypical person simply does not exist. Together we display a wide variety of neurological behaviors and abilities..."

Now go back and read that quote again.

Okay, I have gone back and read that quote again, and here's what I found:
1) The term "human mental landscape" is meaningless because it is vulnerable to any interpretation and can be used to promote any agenda, as I already demonstrated above.

2) The term "neurological behaviors" is also meaningless because it is nonspecific.

3) The flip side of this definition is that there is no such thing as autism.

If "autistic" is to "Muslim" as "neurotypical" is to "Christian," and if the word "neurotypical" is an artificial construct (i.e., "there is no such thing"), then autism doesn't exist either. Here's where her theory begins to unravel. On her homepage, she writes:
A brief explanation of neurodiversity: It basically means that people with neurological differences are sentient human beings who should be treated with respect and should have the same civil rights as anyone else.

Hmm..."People with neurological differences."

Compared to whom, if there is no such thing as normal? If everyone is "different" then we are all the same. Yet the author believes the solution to this problem is to throw out the word "neurotypical" and replace it with "non-autistic." We can't do that if we cling to the nebulous definition of neurodiversity supplied by the author, because if there is no such thing as human normality we cannot be allowed to point out anything that is abnormal, and therefore labels can no longer be used at all.

And since "autistic" and "non-autistic" no longer really exist because they have been supplanted by "human mental landscape," we have just lost the left sides of our analogy, leaving dangling religions. I guess, then, we are left to imagine "no religion, too," all the while knowing that religions are very real, very distinct, very diverse, and just as vulnerable as autistic activism to new forms of political correctness. In his song Imagine, John Lennon admits that the things he imagines are idealistic and radical, but he suggests that these ideals are still worth striving for:

You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one,
I hope some day
you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.

What he does not admit is that if we could actually eliminate heaven, religion, countries, and possessions, we would not only live as one, but we would think as one. And that is a scary thought, not a radical one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Making the Case for the Boring Autistic

Many years ago my oldest son was heavily into action figures. In his room there were boxes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Power Rangers, X Men, and Marvel superheroes, to name just a few of the sets in his collection. He would spend hours posing them or making them shoot at each other. The best ones—the most prized—were the ones that had buttons on the back that allowed you to shoot the enemy with the least amount of effort. The buttons were spring loaded to give you a nice trajectory on your arrow, or whatever else you were trying to hurl at a villain. Not every figure of his had a button, but each had a special costume, firing action, or superpower—something that made him worthy of hours of playtime. Each Ninja Turtle could be identified on the basis of his mask color and preferred set of weapons. Spider Man could shoot out a red plastic web at the touch of a button, and Wolverine could alternately flex and retract his claws. He had a set of knock-off mini Transformers that could change from robots into dinosaurs and vice versa. They were all very cool, and they could all do something.

One day I came home from McDonald’s and brought my son some kind of figure: maybe an animal, maybe a hero. I wish I could remember what it was, but that’s not the point. The point is what he said to me when I handed it to him. He looked at it in a bored sort of way, turned it over to check it out, and then looked up at me and said, “Yeah, but what does it do?” I knew what he meant, of course, since we had spent plenty of time on the floor together playing action figures. I knew how important it was for there to be removable armor and an arsenal, and I knew how fun it was to push a button and see a javelin shoot across the room. But I pretended to be offended by that statement, putting on my Mom hat and trying to turn this into a teachable moment.

“What do you mean, what does it do? You are supposed to use your imagination and make it do things!”

Like I used to do when I was a kid ... I think.

Not surprisingly, my son didn’t buy this let’s-get-back-to-basics speech about how to play with toys, and he never did end up playing with the little figure from McDonald’s. A few short years later, he stopped playing with action figures, and they are all stored in plastic boxes up in our attic, alternatively melting and freezing with every passing season.

In the world of autism, if autism really is a world and not just millions of tiny worlds or multiple realities within the same world, there seems to be a strong drive not only from the outside but also from the inside, even among self-advocates and parent advocates, to make sure that autistics are described in terms of their special abilities, or what I’m going to term autistic superpowers. I have detected a new Seinfeldian sensibility about autism and autistic people that goes something like this:

“She’s autistic—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but she can ______!”
[sing, read from birth, play piano, mirror write, program computers, compose symphonies at age 3, paint masterpieces, recite all the state capitals in reverse alphabetical order, raise awareness of autism, talk to animals, be the “face of autism”…]
There is a certain political correctness that has creeped into the “autism conversation” these days, and to me it sounds a lot like an “ism” (e.g., multiculturalism, racism): Let’s just call it aut-ism. The problem with isms is the general tendency to downplay anything that is either negative or contradictory to the theory at hand, and to overemphasize anything that is, or seems to be, positive or “celebratory.”

I have been heavily involved in autistic advocacy over the past year or so, and in that time I have witnessed a tendency among some parents to publicly and repeatedly highlight the special talents of their autistic children. As a parent of two autistic children, I have demonstrated this same tendency, so in no way am I pointing the finger at others and not also myself. For example, I have found myself telling other parents, teachers—pretty much anyone—all the “amazing” things that one of my two autistic sons can do, such as playing piano and programming my mother’s VCR. The trouble is, these things are really not all that amazing. What am I trying to prove? I’ve seen other autistics described as “savants” because of their ability to read or compose poetry. Any autistic who can do anything they are not generally expected to be able to do based on their behavior or IQ is fair game for being called a savant, both by those who know better and by those who don’t.

Certainly you could argue that it’s just a natural instinct for all parents to brag about their kids, and that this doesn’t have anything in the world to do particularly with autism. You could be right. But if I thought parental instinct were all that was going on here, I wouldn’t be speaking out about it. I have one neurotypical child, and his friends' parents do not brag about their NT kids in quite the same manner or intensity as I have seen in many parents of autistics. My goal is not to assign blame, but to identify possible root causes of this behavior.

I believe that at least three things are going on here, and they might even be going on at the same time in the same individual despite the inherent contradictions:

1. Many of us have bought into the notion that if your child is autistic, you had better highlight (if it is obvious) or scramble around looking for (if it is not) what they are good at—what they can do—as if to make an apology to society for the fact that they are autistic. Some parents may also (or instead) have a tendency to play up and emphasize the supreme talents of their NT children. The motivation for all of this bragging seems to be the same, whether the bragging focuses on the autistic or the nonautistic children in the family: To offer up something desirable to the public eye as a peace offering for the autism.

2. Many of us have been encouraged by our peers in the autism advocacy movement to look back into history for role models and icons who were likely or even probably autistic, and we have on some level (fairly or unfairly) looked at our children against the backdrop of Mozart and Einstein, leaping at anything that our kids do that seems to continue along the path of our Autistic Forefathers.

3. Many of us are deeply concerned about our kids’ futures. By grabbing onto and emphasizing anything that they can do that we perceive could be made into a career or at least a living, we assure ourselves—and the outside world—that when we die our children will be able to live independently.

On some level, parents of autistic children are made to feel that they must make the case for their children’s worth—but by whom? Is society sending out these messages, or is this impulse to prove something merely the product of normal human insecurity and an effort to put a positive spin on a difficult reality?

The only "face of autism" that the general public sees is the face that is fed to them through the media. Coverage of autism is scarce, both in film and documentary, and of these there is little if anything that bears any resemblance to reality for most autistics. That is because autistic people are not the ones in control over the content and the message of what is being presented. Everything I have seen thus far in the media has sugarcoated autism by offering up something in return for the autism, something that makes it worth the viewer’s time to be watching anything about a “retard” in the first place. Take two movies, one pretty good (I have seen it several times) and one pretty bad (I have not seen it and don't want to): Rainman and I Am Sam. In both, the main character has something of conventional value designed to make the viewer laugh, or cry, or marvel, or wonder if autism really is such a scary monster after all.

Rainman is the tale of an autistic savant based mainly and loosely on the real-life autistic and savant Kim Peek. Sure, there really is such a thing as Savant Syndrome; and sure, not all autistics are savants; and sure, not all savants are autistic. That is hardly my point. My point is this: Imagine Hollywood making a movie called Rainman, about an institutionalized guy named Raymond Babbitt who had no special talents or skills, who rocked and talked to himself and made no eye contact. Period. Imagine the part about card counting in Vegas being edited out of the movie, but the parts about needing to buy underwear at K Mart and needing to watch Judge Wapner being retained. This wouldn’t make for very interesting viewing, would it? Raymond’s “annoying” habits and interests are endured throughout the movie because the payoff is getting to see Raymond’s other-worldly ability to count, memorize, and help his brother cheat at black jack. Don’t get me wrong: I still loved Rainman, especially the bathtub scene. I’m not knocking the movie as a movie. I’m trying to identify the underlying message that society seems to be both sending and receiving when it comes to autism and autistic people:

What can you do?

I Am Sam isn’t anywhere near the filmmaking caliber of Rainman, and Sam’s character couldn’t be more different from Raymond’s. So why even bother to mention this inferior movie? Sam is supposedly both autistic and mentally retarded, but he has superpowers too. He is portrayed as a father with a mental age of 7, who just happens to have a group of helpful friends and a lawyer willing to work pro bono to help him gain custody of his 7-year-old daughter. He is able to hold down a job at Starbucks, pay for his own apartment, and raise a child on his own. His daughter isn’t just smart; she’s precocious. The moral of the story is that love and will power conquer all…including reality, I guess. It is the stuff that comic books and fairy tales are made of.

It isn’t just Hollywood that is guilty of wrapping autism in a mantle of talent and virtue. There is such a dearth of anything remotely close to real life when it comes to autism on the screen, that the recent Nightline episode “A Place in the World” was met with acclaim even among autism self-advocates and parent advocates, including myself. We were all applauding the way the show was handled, but many of us failed to detect what for me is now the all-too-predictable set-up: Autistic subjects of documentaries also need to have a trick to perform. Otherwise, who will watch it? How will the show make money off of its advertisers?

The premise of the show, “What happens when all these children grow up?” was definitely a good one. Autistic adults who are not fully independent, and are aging out of whatever system they are in, could end up returning home to their aging and perhaps ailing parents who may not be able to handle the physical, emotional, and financial demands put upon them by the transition. The point of the story was to expose the fact that autistic children actually do grow up to be autistic adults who continue to need services: they don’t just disappear. For that issue, the journalists who put together the documentary should be applauded. However, I can’t help but point out that the two autistic adults showcased in the documentary also just happened to have a talent or two:

Jamie Hopp is described as “profoundly autistic”…but she can sing, and in front of an audience.

Paul DiSavino is videotaped perseverating about a scene from Sesame Street, and his mother laments that the alternative to a group home for Paul would be “unbearable”…but he works and plays piano.

Take-home message: Autistics are good for something. They are not throwaways. They have something to give back to society. We as a society need to plan for their future.

Okay, I think we can all agree with that. Here’s the problem: Why don’t they ever show autistic people who don’t have any measurable or recognizable talent, employable skill, or something else that could at least fascinate or intrigue the viewer? If an autistic is presented along with a heavy dose of pathos—

"He [Paul DiSavino] will not survive it … it would be regressing back to the institutions, back to not caring, just doing, just warehousing them … not recognizing what's important, and just abandoning them."

—that pathos tends to be balanced by something good or positive so that everyone can walk away feeling better about what they just saw, or better for having been given a different point of view about something they thought they understood.

Autistic people can be just as boring and ordinary as anybody else, but boring and ordinary don’t make for good television or film. Autism is “in” these days, but not much has changed since Rainman debuted in 1988. The autistic mystique invented by the media can be considered as inherently prejudiced and damaging to autistic people as the concept of the noble savage:

The noble savage is inherently good, but he only transmogrifies from an animal state to a human state when he becomes civilized.

The autistic is inherently gifted with talents that normal people could never manufacture within themselves, but he only becomes interesting enough to talk about when his autistic gift is considered intriguing, useful for raising awareness (read: money), or marketable.

Several months ago, a bunch of us in the autism self-advocacy movement got together and made a poster simultaneously mocking those who thought the Autistic Liberation Front was an actual organization and having a good laugh at seeing ourselves dressed in costumes of all sorts. We were the “ALF Superheroes,” and my submission for the poster was an old picture of me dressed as the Scarlet Witch, my favorite X Men character from childhood. Someone was dressed as a character from Star Trek, and someone else was a giant M&M. The poster was truly hilarious.

In all seriousness, though, most of us are not superheroes let alone superhuman. And yet there are some people within the autism self-advocacy movement who are quite serious when they suggest that autistic people could be the product of an evolutionary change in humankind, leaving mortal NTs in the dust. The “proof” behind that theory is all the nifty things that autistics can do that ordinary NT people can’t. What about the “other” autistic people? What if they never learn to read, or write, or talk, or compose, or hold down a job? What about them? If all of the autistic superheroes out there are a step higher than their NT counterparts, what about the autistic leftovers: are they a step below NTs? Have they devolved? There can be no self-advocacy without solidarity. As it is, there is little solidarity between “Asperger’s folks” and all those hard-core autistics, as if the line were that sharp between the two allegedly distinct groups. It disturbs me, even pains me, to see a new elitism cropping up even among autistics who don’t carry an Asperger’s diagnosis.

Many years ago I gave my son a toy. He chose not to play with it because it didn’t “do something,” and playing with a toy that didn’t do something seemed to him to be more trouble than it was worth. It took too much effort for him to find something valuable in that little figure—whatever it was—and he lacked the imagination to try, not because he wasn’t smart or creative, but because the toys he had grown accustomed to enjoying had weapons and moveable joints. This new generation of toys was action-packed and exciting, so he ignored what he considered to be a boring toy. What he failed to realize was that the toy was only as boring or interesting as his own imagination, and that it was not limited by the number of weapons it could hold or the fighting force of the button on its back. It could go anywhere, do anything, be anything my son might have wanted him to be, had he only taken the time to consider its possibilities. Or, it could have been nothing obvious, nothing discernible. It could have just been incorporated into the other group of toys he was playing with, and yet out of the action…an onlooker, maybe a watchman.