From Two Ends of the Spectrum, Hate and Ignorance About Autism AboundsJoslyn Gray
An incredibly hateful, ignorant letter has gone viral in the last 24 hours. Received by a Canadian family, it recommends that their autistic 13-year-old be euthanized. It was shared on Facebook by the boy’s family, and sent out on Twitter by Canadian musicians Lennon and Maisy.
At the same time, an article on Newsweek’s website The Daily Beast — with fewer grammatical errors and misspellings — alleges with absolutely no scientific back-up that autistic men are drawn to child pornography.
The letter is signed “one pissed off mother!” — an angry, ignorant neighbor. The article, on the other hand, is written by Temple Grandin’s mother.
What the hell.
Temple Grandin is one of the best-known autistic women in the world, a doctor of animal science and a professor at Colorado State University. She is a best-selling author, an activist, and a public speaker. Her mother, Eustacia Cutler, is a writer in desperate need of a science editor.
The letter, left for the family of Max Begley, complains about sounds the 13-year-old boy makes while outside in his grandmother’s backyard, which the letter-writer refers to as “noise polluting whaling [sic].”
Despite being unable to find a dictionary to determine the difference between making sounds and hunting marine mammals, the letter-writer has managed to locate both the caps lock and exclamation point keys:
“That noise he makes when he is outside is DREADFUL!!!!!!!!!! It scares the hell out of my normal children!!!!!!! When you feel your idiot kid needs fresh air, take him to our park you dope!!!”
In an interview, Max’s mom Karla Begley breaks down in tears as she tells us why Max plays in his grandmother’s fenced-in backyard each morning: Mrs. Begley has Secondary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, and can no longer walk and run with him.
Among the most disgusting portions of the letter:
- “Personally, they should take what ever non retarded body parts he possesses and donate it science.”
- “Go live in a trailer in the woods or something with your wild animal kid!!!”
- “Do the right thing and move or euthanize him!!! Either way, we are ALL better off!!!”
We know that ignorance and hate exist in all sorts of forms, and I take comfort in the fact that Max’s neighborhood has absolutely rallied around him. A local news video shows the neighborhood surrounding Max with love and high-fives, Max jumping and flapping in happiness … just like my autistic son and daughter would do.
I actually find Eustacia Cutler’s “article” on The Daily Beast more troubling. It’s easy to identify the hate and the ignorance in the anonymous letter. It’s far more insidious in Ms. Cutler’s writing.
The article is preceded with this introduction:
“It’s a disturbing trend we cannot ignore. Eustacia Cutler, mother of autism advocate Temple Grandin, on why autistic men are viewing child pornography — and being labeled sex offenders.”
No data is provided as to the nature of this “trend.”
“While in the throes of compiling a history of the social impact of autism, I came upon a story that I wish weren’t true,” she writes, and then goes on to relate an unsubstantiated anecdote about a young autistic man who takes his computer in for repairs. When child pornography is found on it, the young man is arrested.
She does not cite the source of the story.
“Because of autism’s skewed neurology,” Ms. Cutler writes, “those with Autism Spectrum Disorder take in the world around them physical object by physical object—floor, ceiling, table, chair—with no sense of the whole picture, and no understanding that along with the chairs and tables there’s a non-physical reality.”
She doesn’t quote an expert, she doesn’t cite a study, she doesn’t back it up in any way.
What she’s writing about here is Temple Grandin’s own explanation of how she herself thinks, as told in her best-selling book Thinking in Pictures.
But that type of thinking isn’t true for every autistic person. As Brenda Rothman points out on Huffington Post, “Even Temple Grandin admits she based this idea on how she thought, not how other autistic people think and has updated her presentations to include other ways of thinking, including what she calls word thinking’ and ‘pattern thinking.'”
Ms. Cutler goes on to make leaps, trot out stale theories, and generally talk out of her ass, leading up to her primary — and still unsubstantiated — point:
“Though now equipped with a full-grown body and full-grown sexual drive, many ASD males are stuck emotionally at a prepubescent age. They look like grown men, but inside they’re only 10 years old. They don’t want adults to show them how sex is done; they want 10-year-olds to show them.”
At this point, Ms. Cutler quotes a psychologist named Gary Mesibov to support her argument. However, she doesn’t give the origin of the quote. Does it appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal? Did he say it in a speech? A personal conversation? We have no idea.
This isn’t science, and it isn’t even journalism. Ms. Cutler fails to even show that such a “trend” exists, and the editors of The Daily Beast fail utterly to uphold any semblance of standards whatsoever. The fact that The Daily Beast ran this story as fact is incredibly disturbing, because it shows exactly how much prejudice and ignorance about autism still exists: no one even thought Ms. Cutler’s statements were worth fact-checking.
If anything, the straight-up hate of the anonymous Canadian letter will serve to rally support around the family of Max Begley. It shows us how far we have to go in terms of autism acceptance. But crap like Ms. Cutler’s will make life harder for my two children with autism, because it’s cloaked in the mantle of Newsweek and “science.”
(Photo Credit: Twitter/Lennon and Maisy)
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