Autism Science: The Original Trash Fire, Feat. Noxious S.B.C.

In addition to his two most famous psychological measures–the “Autism-Spectrum Quotient” and “The Reading The Mind In The Eyes Test”–Simon Baron-Cohen has also produced two other, related, kinda niche/cult psychometric questionnaires. Titled the “Systemizing Quotient” and the “Empathizing Quotient,” these two Autism Science Trash Fires form one cornerstone of SBC’s “Extreme Male Brain Theory” of autism.

Part of Baron-Cohen’s theory (and of a number of other noxious scientific fail-theories) is the assumption that “systemizing” and “empathizing” must be two diametrically opposed areas of cognitive functioning; people whose brains are good at “systemizing” should be correspondingly bad at “empathizing,” and vice versa. That assumption is, of course, empirically and historically absurd, but that hasn’t prevented theory from becoming obscenely popular over last 10+ years, so it’s kind of beside the point.

My brief summary of how “systemizing” and “empathizing” are generally defined by researchers in this sub-sub-sub-field goes as follows:

  1. Systemizing is like, logical things, and real stuff, and knowing shit about shit, you know, because testosterone is a magic substance capable of transforming today’s perfectly normal, white, male fetuses into tomorrow’s iconic, idiosyncratic, white male STEM geniuses! But also sometimes autism. Autism is underrated because white men are the most underrated ever. So like, sometimes a person being super good at systemizing means that person is also autistic, and that’s unfortunate. But sometimes that autistic, systemizing-brain person is also a rich white boy, and that makes up for the autism part.
  2. Empathizing is like, that stuff women do where they just know things. You know? Women know all these things, and I’m like, “Wow, women are so much better at dealing with my emotions than I am as a dude…” Empathizing is also how some people can tell what other people need without even asking, and also how some people just know what’s socially appropriate in their gut, like…via hormones or something. Shopping with groups of females, taking care of sick people, and having unreasonable emotions because of PMS are other things related to empathizing. When women’s brains get too good at empathizing, those women basically turn into witches who destroy their boyfriends’ lives. In clinical contexts, “hyper-empathizing” is often also referred to as “schizophrenia,” “bipolar disorder,” or “some bitch lying just to get attention.”

Whenever I describe this shit, people always think I am exaggerating how blatantly ridiculous, unquantifiable, stereotyped and sexist this actual, widely-read, peer-reviewed science is. But I’m not exaggerating. And I’m damn tired of people never actually considering the implications of the fact that I am not fucking exaggerating. So I decided to take both the SQ and the EQ, extract all the scored questions (as opposed to the filler questions which don’t count towards your total SQ/EQ score), and then basically convert all the questions into a kind of list-style character description of what a “Systemizing” person, or an “Empathizing” person, does, feels, thinks, etc.

I’m now pleased to introduce you all to Mr. Systemizer and Ms. Empathizer. Every fact about Mr. S and Ms. E that gets recited below is either a direct quote, or very close paraphrasing, of an actual question from the SQ, or the EQ, respectively. And both paragraph-list-litanies are directly followed by one italicized paragraph of critique from yours truly.


Mr. Systemizer

Mr. Systemizer listens to music and notices its internal structure, he buys a car and wants information about its engine, he looks at a painting and thinks about the artist’s technique, he fixes an electrical problem in his own house, he reads articles about new technology, he enjoys games of strategy, he is fascinated by machines, he is intrigued by the patterns in math, he understands instructions for putting together household appliances, he looks at animals and wants to know which species they belong to, he buys a computer and wants to know information about its hard drive, he cooks and thinks about how “methods and ingredients contribute to the final product,” he organizes his collections of CDs/stamps/coins, he looks at a piece of furniture and notices how it was built, he learns about history and focuses on exact dates, he reads the newspaper and feels drawn to box scores and stock market indices, he learns a language and becomes intrigued by its grammatical rules, he learns his way around a new city, he watches science documentaries, he buys a stereo and needs to know about its precise technical features, he grasps exactly how odds work in betting, he carries out DIY projects meticulously, he looks at buildings and becomes curious about their construction, he keeps up with all election results, he understands the investment information his bank sends him in the mail, he travels by train and wonders about rail network coordination, he buys new appliances and thoroughly reads their manuals, he reads any given thing and he will notices whether or not it is grammatically correct, he listens to the weather forecast and is interested in meteorological patterns, he looks at mountains and thinks about how they were formed, he visualizes how the motorways in his region link up, he travels by plane and thinks about aerodynamics, he walks in the country and becomes curious about the differences between types of trees, he knows the entire courses that rivers flow through, he reads legal documents carefully, he wants to understand how wireless communication works, and he cares about knowing the name of every plant he sees.

Because it’s literally 1960, and Mr. Systemizer is a quintessential forward-thinking product of generations-of-white-male-property-owners, cultivating an erudite perspective on the world while making sure to stay hands-on when it comes to every bit of his material wealth. He travels, he treks across the countryside (with his dog, we know there’s a fucking dog, there has to be a super #authentic man’s dog walking alongside), he taxonomizes, he tinkers, he barters, he invests, he buys (four separate questions about buying things) he drives and refuses to ask for directions, he has probably mansplained every single thing he’s ever had even the slightest opportunity to mansplain…except we can’t call it mansplaining, because it’s 19-fucking-60, and Simon Baron-Cohen just wanted to make clear to everyone that the only real way to do jack-shit in life is to do things the manly way. You’ll know that you’re doing adulthood right when you can feel box scores and the Finance page tugging at your heartstrings from the first moment you set eyes on your morning newspaper clenched in the honest, soggy mouth of your loyal Rottweiler, Bud.

Ms. Empathizer

Ms. Empathizer can easily tell if someone else wants to enter a conversation, she explains things to others, she enjoys caring for other people, she knows what to do in social situations, she is bothered when she is late to meet a friend, she always makes the effort to maintain friendships and relationships, she can judge if something is rude or polite, she focuses on the thoughts of others when engaging in conversation, she picks up quickly when someone says one thing but means another, she sees why some things upset people so much, she easily puts herself in someone else’s shoes, she easily predicts how someone will feel, she quickly spots when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable, she gets asked her opinion on other people’s haircuts, she sees why someone should have felt offended by a remark, she is upset by seeing people cry, she is told by others that she’s good at understanding their thoughts and feelings, she talks to other people primarily about their experiences instead of about her own, she is upset by seeing an animal in pain, she is influenced by other people’s feelings when she makes decisions, she can easily tell if someone else is interested or bored with what she’s saying, she gets upset when she sees people suffering on news programs, she often has friends bring her their problems because they say that she is very understanding, she can sense if she’s intruding even if the other person doesn’t tell her, she tunes into how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively, she easily works out what another person might want to talk about, she can tell if someone is masking their true emotion, she doesn’t have to consciously work out the rules of social situations, she is good at predicting what someone will do, she tends to get emotionally involved with her friends’ problems, and she appreciates the other person’s viewpoint even when she doesn’t agree with it.

Hello everyone! I’d like to introduce you to Simon Baron-Cohen, your friendly neighborhood emotional-labor inspection officer! He’s here to help all ye non-cis-men keep up on your daily “Giving Lots Of Shit About Everyone Else’s Shit” deadlines and quotas. I know, I know, maybe some of you feel pretty confident that you can tell when people want to talk to you…But honestly, it’s still imperative that we determine whether or not you can tell when people want to talk to you easily enough to meet normative behavioral standards. Sure, sure, maybe after a lifetime of people violently demanding your time, energy, and emotional wherewithal you have finally developed a basic sense of when people are and aren’t likely to flip the fuck out at you…But actually none of those learned skills matter or count unless you’ve gotten them assessed and certified by a Patriarchy-Certified condescending cis dude. Simon Baron-Cohen feels this so strongly that he includes 6 different survey questions asking about how other people feel about your emotional labor.

With all this in mind, I would like to politely request that, in the future, whenever you are considering whether or not to write a post, or share a link, about how gee, golly, gosh, autism just presents differently in “girls”…Don’t fucking do it. You know why? Because we cannot, for the love of god, keep pretending like gender biased diagnosis rates are the kind of thing you solve by just science-ing, and diagnosing, “harder” or “better.” Call this shit what it is: institutionalized, normalized discrimination, deeply rooted in our society’s history and culture of violent oppression.

Remember our old friend “The Reading The Mind In The Eyes Test”? That other Baron-Cohen test that some other radical autistic broads and I epically parodied just over a year ago? The original article that test was published in has racked up 1,477 Web of Science database citations since 2001. The article in which the Systemizing Quotient was originally published? 305 citations since 2003. And the original Empathizing Quotient paper from 2004 has been cited 890 times, as of today. For the sake of comparison: Leo Kanner’s original article on autism has accumulated a total of 3,607 Web of Science database citations over the past 73 years. And Eugene Bleuler’s famous article describing what he referred to as “dementia praecox” back in 1911? Web of Science indicates that it’s been cited by just 626 articles in the entire WoS database over the past 105 years.

This shit Dani and I parody again and again isn’t fringe, and it isn’t pop science (well, it is, but in this case it’s both pop science and academic science). It literally serves as the foundation for this entire subfield of psychology/psychiatry. For fifteen years, academics doing research in developmental and abnormal psychology have read Baron-Cohen’s horseshit–not to mention bucketloads of other researchers’ related horseshit–and the overwhelming majority of them have gone on to employ, cite, and further develop his ideas in their own related research.  In the world of autism literature (and developmental psychology literature, and gender-differences-in-psychology literature, and social cognition literature) Simon Baron-Cohen’s work is canon. So no, I don’t want the canon of “autism science,” as it stands right now, to shuffle around so that my quirky, little “presentation” of autistic-ness can finally be included. I want the canon of “autism science,” as it stands right now, to literally go fuck itself.

Yes, changing the diagnostic criteria for autism to better reflect the diversity of autistic experience would likely have a noticeably positive effect on currently-super-biased diagnostic ratios (gender ratios, race/ethnicity ratios, etc.) But there’s pretty much zero fucking chance of those criteria changing for the better so long as huge numbers of people–lay people and scientists alike–harbor such fucked-up beliefs about gender (not to mention race and class) that Baron-Cohen’s ideas actually end up sounding reasonable and scientific to them.

Coming up next (I cannot say with any certainty when the fuck this will be, but I mean, probably it’ll be what I post next?): SPAWN OF SEXIST PSYCHIATRY XY-PLANE GRAPH DIAGRAM HATCHES FROM BERNARD CRESPI’S STOMACH JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE “ALIEN.”



Stuck With A Jackass: 25 Tips For Hating Life in A Capitalist Heteropatriarchy

So Dani posted a link and tagged me, saying that she found us a new chew-toy. And therefore, we are pleased to introduce you to the next installment in our “Autism and Gender (Fuckery)” post series. The text of the chew-toy list-post is provided in bolded italics, with our commentary provided below each item in the list (Dani took odd-numbered items, I took evens, and I’ve added our initials before our comments for clarity). Please also enjoy Dani’s parody post on Field Notes On Allistics here.


Married To An Aspie: 25 Tips For Spouses

If you are about to embark on a marriage to someone who has Aspergers (high functioning autism), there are a few things that you may need to know (some good, and some not-so-good, perhaps):

D: Wait.  Sometimes, parts of a marriage are NOT SO GOOD?  Why didn’t someone TELL ME THIS before I got married?!?!?

1. Although Aspies (i.e., people with Aspergers) do feel affection towards others, relationships are not a priority for them in the same way that it is for neurotypicals or NTs (i.e., individuals without Aspergers).

D: Technically true.  As measured by the amount of time we spend talking about them and gathering advice from one another, relationships of all kinds are actually a much larger priority for us than they are for NTs.  And I mean all kinds: our relationships with our own thoughts, our projects, our pets, and our environments are important in a way it’s tough to even explain.  Either you get it or you don’t.

2. A relationship with an Aspergers partner may take on more of the characteristics of a business partnership or arrangement.

E: Putting aside the fact that marriage as a social contract arose as, quite literally, a kind of kinship-based subsistence arrangement, I would like to inaugurate a new cliche: Blaming Things On Autism That Are Actually Because Of Capitalism and/or Because Someone Is Being A Jackass. This, to be clear, would qualify as an “AND” example. In that this is blaming something on autism that is in fact because of capitalism AND because someone is being a jackass.

3. Although he genuinely loves his spouse, the Aspie does not know how to show this in a practical way sometimes.

D: Non-Aspies, on the other hand, are eminently practical in their demonstrations of affection.  Cut flowers: practical.  Candy: very practical (especially for dentists who want to stay in business).  Cramming a note into your locker that reads “do u like me yes no sircle one”: practical and alluring.  Standing under your bedroom window with a boombox: USEFUL AF.

4. An Aspie is often attracted to someone who shares his interests or passions, and this can form a good basis for their relationship.

E: Unlike neurotypicals, who only experience attraction based on phenotypical markers indicating that a prospective mate will make a tasty meal after they successfully engage in coitus. Like spiders.

5. An Aspie needs time alone. Often the best thing the NT partner can do is give her Aspie the freedom of a few hours alone while she visits friends or goes shopping.

D: All “Aspies” are introverts.
All women are extroverts.
No women are Aspies.

*disappears in a puff of nonsense*

6. An Aspie often has a particular interest or hobby. While this may border on obsessive, the NT partner would do well to show interest in it. It may even become something they can do together.

E: Neurotypical People: The Original Robots. Interests are for babies. Hobbies are for freaks. Tolerate them at your own risk. Perhaps over time, your subroutines will adapt to the presence of inefficient, yet focused, behaviors. At that time, the Marriage Unit may fully engage with their Marriage Partner Unit’s Random Bullshit Actions (™) at their discretion.

7. An NT partner needs to understand her Aspie’s background in order to work with him on their marriage. She will need patience and perseverance as well as understanding that he functions on a different emotional level to her.

D: Every time I think you non-autistic tragedy cases are starting to make sense, you bork the system again.  There are emotional levels now?  Where?  How many?  How much XP do I need in order to level up?  Can I trade some Pokemon for a level or two?  Did you ever stop to consider that perhaps you started the game a few “levels” up not because you’re actually better at it or you played it in utero, but because the system is rigged to privilege your emotional priorities and expressions over those of neurodivergent people?

Still looking forward to “embarking” on that marriage?  Or would you prefer a nice non-autistic partner, whose “background” you can blithely ignore and who will never require you to practice patience or perseverance?

8. Aspies do marry, and while NT partners can be frustrated by their lack of emotion and physical contact, their Aspergers spouses do bring strengths into the relationship. If there is open communication, the NT partner can help her Aspie to improve in areas of weakness and encourage him in the things he is naturally good at.

E: So the historicist in me literally cannot–CANNOT–get over how much of this stuff reads like something straight out of a fin-de-siecle eugenics handbook for young ladies. “Deviants do occasionally enter into legal unions when they are capable, but we cannot recommend procreating with a deviant as it will likely continue the defective strain.” Oh, and in case anyone wasn’t clear, “open communication” is code for both 1. “The NT tells the autistic person how they are a failure,” and 2. “The woman does all the active emotional labor.” Depending on context, of course.

9. Aspies often has a specific area of weakness in marriage. They often do not feel the need to express love, and the NT partner can help them understand that this is important. Discussions about how to display affection, holding hands in public and buying small gifts can be beneficial, but don’t be surprised if the results are amusing.

D: “Aw, look at that Aspie trying to play marrieds!  That’s so cute!  It thinks it’s husbands!”

Seriously: Tip 8 above encourages “open communication,” but Tip 9 here seems to think that communication should only ever go one way.  PROTIP: your autistic partner is probably expressing love just fine (and if not, consider that we live in a society that pressures men, in particular, not to express anything that isn’t gun-toting rage) – just in a just-fine autistic way.  Rather than condescendingly “teaching” romantic gestures that appear in every cliched rom-com ever written, try noticing how you’re already loved sufficiently that you agreed to marry this person.

10. Aspies typically mature later than NTs. As young adults, they are often emotionally immature and have poor social skills. As time passes, however, they can develop to a point where they are able to enter into a relationship with the opposite sex.

E: This is a humdinger. Really. So many layers to unpack here.

Part of the historical conflation of queerness and developmental delay arises specifically from the conflation of femininity (deviant AFAB femininity, or AMAB “effeminacy”) as cognitive and emotional immaturity. And another part of it comes, I think, from the way in which contemporary society ramps up the punishments/negative consequences for social deviance as you grow up? Maybe you didn’t date dudes during high school–you were just focused on school! Maybe you didn’t date dudes during college (we won’t talk about the ladies you dated during college)–it was a phase, you were young and carefree and rebellious! But then, the older you get, the more your options for social and economic support get narrowed down, until a fundamental message becomes entirely clear: People who are really serious about not entering into traditional het relationships are not the kind of people that society feels invested in supporting. Whatsoever.

As time passes, however, those of us who truly believe that we cannot emotionally or socially conform to society’s expectations for intimate or familial relationships realize that we’re being forced to choose between entering into a relationship with the opposite sex and being cut off from the majority of all social and economic supports necessary to sustain life.

11. Because Aspies tend to talk and act differently to NTs, they commonly attract a specific type of partner. Their spouses are often caring and nurturing and have strong protective instincts. In many ways, they become a link between their Aspie and society.

D: This is not a tip.  I think it’s some kind of horoscope.

Also, watch out for men named Chad.  That’s not a horoscope.  Just…watch out for them.

12. Because the Aspie does not have the same relational needs as the NT partner, he may be unable to recognize instinctively or to meet the emotional needs of his partner. Marriages can thus form some dysfunctional relationship patterns.

E: Marriages can be dysfunctional, and when they are, it’s because of THE AUTISM.

13. For NTs who had normal expectations of the mutuality of marriage, there may be a sense of betrayal and a feeling of being used and trapped while in a relationship with an Aspie.

D: This is really not a tip.  It’s some kind of anti-tip.

It’s also particularly indicative of the trap this list has embedded itself in, which is assuming that the only relationships worth discussing here are cishet ones in which the man has the autism and the woman does not. In a cishet relationship, any woman runs the risk of feeling “betrayed,” “used,” and “trapped.”  “Normal expectations” of marriage are in no way “mutual” – they typically involve the woman doing the vast majority of the emotional labor and the man doing most or all of the breadwinning labor.  The relationship may be complementary but it is not mutual.  And “my partner doesn’t do his fair share of the emotional labor” is not an Aspie-NT problem – it’s a heteropatriarchal one.

14. In marriage, the Aspie often displays great devotion to his partner and is reliable, honest and faithful.

E: Do you know what cracks me up? In the midst of all the negative traits that people seem comfortable assigning to “Aspie men,” from “excessive rationality” to “lack of displays of affection,” I struggle to find a single fucking thing that in any way seems related or correlated with “great devotion…reliable, honest and faithful” behavior. This is one magical myth that we’ve been fed throughout the decades: that men who ignore the basic emotional needs of their female partners are, somehow, showing fidelity and honesty via this effortful ignorance.

15. In the privacy of their relationship, the NT partner may become physically and emotionally drained, working overtime to keep life on track for both of them.

D: Again: you’re doing all the emotional labor.  Stop.  This is not an autistic problem; this is a heteropatriarchal one.  Go read this monster Ask Metafilter thread on emotional labor. Then read this post on doing emotional labor at Brute Reason.  Repeat to yourself: “This is not an Aspie thing.  This is a “society has wildly different expectations for women and men that have nothing to do with their innate abilities” thing.  We can change this together.”  Ask your partner to read the above links.  Make a joint commitment to balancing the emotional labor in your relationship.

16. It’s important to look at the Aspie’s motives rather than his actual behavior.

E: New joke/catchphrase:

A lot of the stuff they say is “autistic stuff” is actually “dude stuff.”
And a lot of “dude stuff” is actually bullshit.

17. Lowering expectations will make the marriage more predictable and manageable, if not easier.

D: Ah, the soft bigotry of low expectations.  PS: “lowering your expectations” of dudes falls under the general heading “Bullshit, Stuff That Is.”

18. NT partners may begin to feel that they are entirely defined by the role they fill for their Aspie partner. There can be a sense that there is little mutuality, equality and justice.

E: This is like, the fucked-up, ableist, hetero articulation of an actual fundamental issue within disability politics, gender politics, and a shit ton of other politics: the relationship between care work as a feminized, devalued, and currently often economically exploitative job, and the importance of care work and care workers within the lives of disabled people of all kinds. There is no reason why caring for another person, or even just taking into consideration that person’s access needs, must be a “full time job,” or a life-defining activity. Care work is demeaned not because care work is demeaning, but because we demean feminized labor, and by demeaning it, justify our society’s exploitation of the majority of care workers (women of color, especially immigrant women of color). And taking into consideration someone’s access needs is not a life-, or role-defining activity. It can only become life- and role-defining in an ableist society which is not structured to support or adapt to different people’s access needs, and in a sexist society which continues to restrict the social and intellectual spheres of many women to those activities considered “domestic” or to low-wage, “service”-related jobs with extremely long hours.

19. NT partners may feel that they are daily sacrificing their own sense of self to help fulfill the priorities of the Aspie partner.

D: THIS IS NOT A TIP.  For a list that promised us tips, we sure aren’t getting very many tips.  Worse, this “tip” appears in a list that nominally promised to be for NT people thinking about marrying an Aspie, which basically means it’s just poisoning the well.  

Don’t tell people their marriages are going to fail.  That’s a shitty thing to do.  And especially don’t tell them their marriages are going to fail, then refuse to give them a single idea as to how to avoid that trainwreck.

I don’t care what your neurotype is: if you feel like you’re sacrificing yourself in a relationship, that relationship needs fixed.  Don’t blame autism for it; work on it.  (Or leave, if that’s what you need.)

20. NT partners may resent the reality of living on terms dictated by the needs and priorities of the Aspie partner.

E: Numbers 20 through 24 are literally just different fucked up hetero rephrasings of 18. So I’m going to keep referring back to my response to 18 over and over and over again because I’m not re-responding to this bullshit.

21. Positive traits such as faithfulness and reliability are bonuses, and the NT partner can encourage her Aspie by praising him for these.

D: Wait.  Is this tip saying that Aspies tend to have an abundance of faithfulness and reliability, or that Aspies have a dearth of them and that’s why they need ABA in order to practice them?  Either way, don’t “encourage” your “Aspie” with the praise and gummy bears schtick.  We’ve been through it before, and it’s gross.  This is your life partner, not a trained seal.

22. Sometimes a relationship with an Aspergers partner ends up being more one of practicality and convenience for the Aspie than for the loving and meeting of emotional needs of the NT partner.

E: Just literally shut the fuck up. Please see my response to 18. Oh, and my response to 8.

23. The Aspie can sometimes be emotionally and physically detached and become focused on a special interest to the exclusion of his partner.

D: Your NT husband, on the other hand, will never get so wrapped up in watching football, doing yard work, or tinkering with his vintage car that he ignores your needs or the time you spend together.

I mean, seriously?  This is a sitcom stereotype dressed up as a non-tip.

24. The NT partner may unwittingly fill the role of “personal assistant” rather than being an “intimate-romantic partner.”


25. Your Aspie partner may seem to be more focused on a particular interest, project or task than on the people around them.

D: O hai, Tip 23.  You’re back.

A typical marriage guide for young ladi- er, I mean “list of tips for spouses” – will also add that this is a Problem that a young lady of good deportment and fine breeding can take well in hand by guiding her husband gently back to the topic of conversation, and by not wearing her corsets too tight.  Or by wearing them tighter?  Whichever one makes him think “boobs” instead of “not boobs.”

In other words, boobs cure autism.

E: tl;dr








The End.

Why “This is just ableist; it’s not about race!” is bullshit.

I didn’t do the #NotBlackMirrors hashtag post thing in response to the New Yorker article mostly because I’d already written a thing, and because I have short arms and shitty fine motor skills/grip control, so I’m basically a one-woman selfie disaster. I’m not going to pretend like I instantly made a connection between (overwhelmingly white) autistic people taking pictures of their eyes and tagging them #NotBlackMirrors, on the one hand, and the various ways in which the “language” of ableism and autism stigma is historically rooted in the language of racism and colonialism. But when Neurodivergent K posted on Facebook and pointed out the issues with these attempts to talk back to the New Yorker article, her critique made complete sense to me.  I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading about the ways in which ableism, specifically the stigmatizing language used to describe and pathologize developmentally disabled people, is closely intertwined with (and often derived from) the language of racial hierarchy and scientific imperialism. And I think this is an important opportunity to talk about that stuff.

Obviously there’s a lot of positive work that can happen involving autistic people showing who they are, and how they live their daily lives, on the internet. But when someone says something gross about how they perceive autistic people, and your response is to say “But I’m autistic, and I’m not like that!” when there are autistic people who are, in the most basic/literal sense, “like that,” that’s not very constructive. When someone says that autistic kids have eyes “like black mirrors,” it’s not super helpful to be like “I’m autistic and I don’t look like that!” The issue in need of critique here isn’t that us autistic folks all actually have soulless eyes (like, obviously, we’re not fucking soulless). Instead, we should be asking ourselves and those around us “Why/how are certain faces, certain expressions, certain eyes, seen as inherently flat, reflective, incomprehensible, and inhuman?” Seriously though. Why the fuck is it a trope (and it is, really, a trope) for certain people to be described as having eyes “like mirrors,” and why is it that “mirror eyes,” specifically, are so often also described as black?

To try and answer some of that, I want to lay down some facts:

The first people in history to be described by Western European writers/intellectuals as “r******d” in their “human development” were people of color. Specifically, colonized and enslaved peoples. The language of development emerged as a language for describing racial and cultural difference during a time when disabled people’s disabilities were still primarily understood as the result of divine judgement, or supernatural influence.

The first people to have their sociality, their interpersonal interaction styles, and their language, described by those same Western European writers/intellectuals as inherently lacking, deficient, primitive, and impossible to understand were people of color. Mostly colonized and enslaved peoples.

I can provide ample evidence of this. Or you can take the time to find some yourself. I suggest searching for phrases like “black eyes” in GoogleBooks, or another database with extensive historical sources. I would also highly suggest that you take the time to possibly educate yourself on the history of anthropology as a colonial science. You will find that many of the tropes we are used to hearing in the context of “autism” rhetoric have their roots in scientific racism, and white supremacy.

The way people talk about autistic kids/adults (especially “savants”) displaying skills and expertise, but “lacking comprehension” or “true originality”? About how we might be good at certain kinds of “mimicry,” despite being obviously incapable of self-awareness or true knowledge? Yeah, white people have been using those arguments to discredit the abilities and achievements of people of color–and black people in particular–for centuries. When you see autistic people described as being “cold,” and “unfeeling,” socially alienated and lacking in basic human connection? That’s how explorers, colonizers, and their scientific brethren often described East Asian people, as well as North and South American indigenous peoples. As much as established scientists and psychologists (as well as the general public) work to convince us that the “social deficiencies” of autistic people are all inherently biological and pathological in nature…that’s simply not true. At the end of the day, autistic people may perceive other individuals differently than the supposedly “neurotypical” majority does, but any attempt to call our forms of sociality inherently defective is simply another example of cultural imperialism. The same cultural imperialism that has been primarily used to denigrate and forcibly erase the knowledges and cultures of people of color for centuries.

So like, if you’re white, you honestly shouldn’t go around telling people of color that they can’t get angry about the racist implications inherent in mainstream autism rhetoric. You especially can’t get angry when they tell you that by ignoring those racist implications in your critique of autism rhetoric, you are contributing to a disability culture that ignores and marginalizes disabled people of color. You’re not ever going to find some magical aspect/form of ableism that is completely uninflected by racism or colonialism, and that therefore you can claim as being directed solely at the “disability” aspects of someone’s identity, and not those “other” parts of their identity that have to do with race or culture. That’s not how it fucking works.


What Is This Shit? Douchesplaining The Spectrum

This dude read this one book about autism and then wrote about it for the New Yorker.

The world is full of journalists. A very small number of the world’s journalists get paid actual money to write articles in which they loftily explain things which they know virtually nothing–and probably couldn’t care less–about. Some people are perfectly comfortable reading these articles. I am not one of those people, because frankly, I was done reading half-assed hot air expelled from arrogant, old, white writers’ various orifices quite a few years ago. Unfortunately more self-congratulatory pablum is birthed into cyberspace each day, and “Asphyxiation by NYT Op-Ed-Meme Avalanche” has emerged as a leading cause of death among my age demographic.

This is the point where I would make some reference to how things were “back in the day,” if that were a reference that even made sense here. But I’m not going to talk about how things were different years ago, because asshats like this have been explaining my own fucking life to me in one form or another since basically the beginning of print media. Back in the day, we called the guys who write these articles “journalists.” Now, we still fucking call them “journalists.” And honestly, I can’t even keep this parody shit up anymore, because I’m so done.

Stating that someone has “eyes…like black mirrors” is a very nearly a verbatim Jack Donaghy quote from 30 Rock, not something you write in earnest about other human beings in a major print outlet.

conversations about disability and loss

this is not about parents or caregivers. end of story. this space is not for you, about you, or to you. it is about disabled people.
[me talking with dani alexis]
me: [i wanna talk about how] disability rhetoric/activism needs to seriously reckon with loss as an experience that is often intertwined with disability?
like, loss as an experience, not loss as a transaction that further determines the cumulative value of a life.
dani: Meaning like loss of abilities, memories, opportunities etc? And maybe how we make space for grief without reading it as grief at loss of *value*
me: yes.
dani: Like, I’m sad I can’t eat chocolate anymore because migraines, but that should not be understood to mean I am less valuable than chocolate-eating people
Super mild loss but example
me: and also, like, i think it’s important to talk about loss because without a language for it, we end up lacking in any language to discuss so much of what structural ableism/oppression puts us through?
dani: OMG yes
This seems to me akin to Margaret Price’s thing about we need to be able to discuss pain
Like, as experience not transaction
And how do we get around the common response “yes, see, your loss is what makes disability sad! It’s why you need curing so nobody has to have the sads anymore!”? I do not know the answer but that seems like a meaningful question….
me: yes. also how like, experiences of loss in which the loss is profound enough to make us struggle to even conceive of how we might continue to live in any way other than the way of living we have lost. and how a big part of ableism and stuff is that like….some crises of grief/loss are thought of as experiences, while others are seen as obvious losses of value/possibility? so like, if you lose a loved one, it’s normal to think “how can i possibly live without them?” and nobody says “well, i guess there’s no way to live without them so you should just die…” whereas if you are paralyzed then even though your “how can i possibly live on without x/y/z functions!” is virtually identical to “how can i live without my loved one,” people assume that like, since obviously you have lost some value/use as a person by losing your ability to move your limbs, it makes sense for you to want to die.
dani: Oo, also sympathy for a disabled person’s loss/grief vs empathy. Because I think sympathy leads down the “fix with cure road” faster
…that makes a lot of sense. I was in mental hospital with a woman whose depression after her husband and son died was killing her, and people kept trying to talk her out of it. Whereas maybe if she’d lost her legs instead….
me: and the ability to like…detach modes of functioning from quantitative “levels”, so that we can see how like…my level of executive functioning is not a loss of value for me, but losing executive functioning you’d had to end up with my levels of executive functioning is a kind of loss that someone else might grieve for.
dani: I’m down to merely “good” memory instead of “fucking savant” and docs keep asking why that bothers me. Because this.
And neither is a value judgment but both are real exoeriences
me: and it’s super connected to like, the way in which we basically…iron out, and ignore the cruelties we inflict upon disabled people (especially those who need direct or consistent support services) and how like….the way we do that is by dismissing the grief and loss of disabled people whose ways of life are being irrevocably taken away, since to an able-bodied person, many kinds of disabled life are so completely lacking in the stuff-of-‘quality-of-life’ that the idea that those disabled people might suffer from having their wishes and ways of existing taken away makes almost no sense.
like, how can we talk about the pleasures of disability and atypicality without a language for loss–for the loss we experience when our pleasures are erased, removed, outlawed, and restricted simply because they are connected to our difference.
(yeah, this is a very queer piece, in my head)
dani: And without that language, how can we ever talk about disability as anything but a diminution of value?
me: and how can we talk about disability as anything other than the kind of “empty label” that neoliberalism tells us “identities” are?
like, as if my “identity” can only be an identity and not a flaw so long as i make sure that said identity is bereft of any real experiential substance, and is connected to neither pain nor pleasure.
because if there are things that i love and enjoy only because i am autistic, then i’m making autism out to be “superior” and if there are things i am hurt and oppressed by only because i am autistic, then i am making autism out to be “inferior.”
and the whole reason that i’m only allowed to move myself either up or down on some scale of “quality of life” is because our language for pain and pleasure is so limited, and shaped specifically into a single vector over and above any other.
dani: I literally never thought of it this way but YES THIS
me: so much so that like, we literally end up thinking that our pain is a form of pleasure, and our pleasure is a form of pain (see: how good it feels to punish yourself, or how scary it is to enjoy things)
dani: When you’re taught that your pleasure us painful to others (see: stunning) or your pain is the only route toward a “pleasurable” (in the NT sense) life (see: ABA), this is inevitable. And ABA and its ilk are inevitable when we can’t talk about gain/loss except in one very specific way
me: i think it’s also interesting to think about how like, the spatialization and commodification of interpersonal and social relationships seems to produce our understandings of like…what it means to experience pain and loss.
the same structures that teach us to personalize/individualize our difficulties are also saying “pain is what happens when someone breaks or takes away a thing from you. you help people in pain by putting them back to the way they were before they were broken, or giving them the things that someone took away from them,”
as if that’s actually how things work. as if like, people upset about colonialism are “just” upset about someone taking away their land so that they don’t have as much land anymore. as opposed to being upset that, along with the land they lived on, they have been robbed of a huge collection of diverse and interconnected ways of life, all of which were summarily eliminated as possibilities by colonizers.
and like, with kids and coping mechanisms: you do not need to “replace” bad coping mechanisms with good ones–you need to add to the pre-existing body of possible coping mechanisms a kid can access, and then understand that if you’ve done that, and the kid continues to employ the same coping mechanisms that they did before, they’re doing so for a reason?
dani: Is there a connection between the realization that a “loss” can’t be “made up” (with land, apologies, whatever) and its transition from an experience to a devaluing factor?
me: i don’t necessarily think it transitioned from being an experience to a devaluing factor…i think that our experiences of loss exceed those which are considered to reduce our value, and the situations in which our value is reduced are not necessarily ones that involve the experience of loss…so like, i don’t think there’s continuity between the two so much as a mutual process of restriction whereby loss ends up defining value (aka those who are less valued are less valued because they’ve lost/not gained something that others have), and value ends up defining loss (why are you upset about something that doesn’t reduce your value?/why aren’t you upset about having your value reduced?)
[this is me talking with neurodivergent k after she posted on her blog facebook page about her experience with losing her ability to do gymnastics, her main physical/social safe realm, after illness]
me: your thing that you wrote about the gymnastics things has re-gotten me on my thing about needing to write a piece about how we need to talk about loss and shit.
k: but we;re supposed to just cherish memories & not acknowledge loss 😛
me: yuuuup
because if you’ve lost things then obviously your life has less value.
because “loss” and “gain” are objective, quantitatively measured experiences that we can use to assess “how much” value someone’s life has.
ha. ha. haha. ha. hahaaaaa.
k: of course. everything is math
me: everything is math, and the most important thing is to calculate how much people are “worth”
k: because it just works like that
me: totally.
k: one of the reasons it took forever to write about the gymnastics thing is “well most people could never even do the shit you can still do”
me: UGH
which is just another way of saying “since you’re obviously someone whose life is happier than my pathetic sad child, then you are not allowed to have emotions.”
k: i also got, on my blog page. “well I’m old and disabled guess I should torch everything”. yes. because that is totally what I said.
me: like wtf.
k: a common theme on my blog shit is that in sporting and dancing places I’m not disabled, firstly
and third, i destroyed extremely painful things from ONE thing I’ve done. one. after lots of thought. I’m an adult i do what i want
me: like. EAUGH. i mean, part of the reason for me wanting to talk about the thing comes from like, my experiences with the whole trope in mental-illness spaces where like, having bad executive functioning for the first time is an example of how terrible being mentally ill is. and like…the way it’s discussed makes it clear that it’s the state of being someone with executive dysfunction that they’re repulsed by. which is VERY not cool. all that “ugh i’m so gross when i’m like this. this is why mental illness is terribleeeee” shit. but that doesn’t mean that anyone who has feels about a change in their ability to live their daily life is a shitty person for having those feelings!
k: all change sucks
me: like, not even “all change sucks” but like, THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING LIKE “i hate the way i am now because it makes me like THOSE people” and BEING LIKE “i’m really upset about this change because it means i can no longer live the live i used to live, and i loved that life!”
k: yes
me: i have a lot of feelings about “life ways” and like…struggling with having your way of living and your habits and stuff taken away from you.
k: With gymnastics I had my safe place ripped from me & tangible evidence that it was a thriving place can’t lead anywhere good
me: yep.
the idea that like, you’re just upset about like losing physical mobility or something is ridiculous (and also like ‘just physical mobility’ when that was/is such a source of pleasure and happiness for you). you lost an entire kind of life, a collection of resources and reliable connections and shit.
k: Yeah, it’s not just an adjusting to different disability thing. It’s more.
me: i know that i’ve had like REALLY INTENSE stress/trauma reactions to situations in which i assumed that by losing a certain status, or connection, i was losing all of my right to occupy a certain needed space, and all of my right to maintain connections with people i relied upon. like the “if i get kicked out of school, i’ll no longer be allowed to talk to my teachers any more.”
which seems like a “nbd” thing to other people, but to me, someone who doesn’t really talk to people (and NEVER. EVER. relied upon non-parent adults before i met certain professors), that was huge. it basically meant going back to having nobody around who i felt i could rely upon for anything.
so when you lose something like that, and you know that you’re someone that the world affords very little space to, and considers unnecessary and unincluded in the daily lives of most people, like…losing a connection to/right to exist in the one place that made you feel happy and safe is…everything, kinda.
it’s not everything forever, but it is everything in that moment.
k: Exactly that
me: yeah. i wanna write about that. because it feels to me like those are moments that lots of people have. but some people are more vulnerable to them than others, because they’re more marginalized. and some kinds of those moments (like losing a loved one) are considered like…things you will move past and eventually learn to live with, and other kinds of those moments (like losing your ability to do certain things physically, or not having people to look after you when you’re old, and so forth, are treated like “oh well, since you’ll never have another socially acceptable way of living, you might as well just kick the bucket!”
i can have conversations more often, and more easily, than i can write lengthy pieces. these are the kinds of conversations i have.
i want to talk about so many fucking things, y’all. this is my start. it is not everything i have to say. it’s not even 1/3 of what i have to say.
but it’s a start.
thanks to julia for chatting me up about this first–i would have included our conversation too if it weren’t for the fact that it was mostly us just allcaps-ing at each other, and if i thought it worth the time to bother you about getting your permission to include it here.

CAN U NOT: A Twitter Ode From Me To The Mighty

I was pretty much done with their shit. So I said so. Multiple times. On Twitter. Eventually, after they posted their nonpology, I started tagging them in my Tweets. Now they are following me on Twitter? Entertainingly, the only tweet of mine they have Liked is the one where I’m like “If constructive criticism is what you want, you can fucking have some!”…As opposed to any of the tweets I wrote that actually contained constructive criticism? Whatever.

If you’re not familiar with this context/situation concerning The Mighty that I, and many other autistics/disabled people, have been talking about the last few days, please check out the brief list of relevant links that I’ve included at the end of this post.

(For anyone wondering why this post is just a post of my own tweets: When I go on a rant on Twitter about a specific topic or issue, I often like to turn that sequence of tweets into a single blog post so I have a single link I can share that isn’t to a Storify story, since the Storify format isn’t very accessible.)


List of relevant explanatory links (most helpful if read in order):

Dear Educators and Parents

In the last few years, I’ve noticed a significant increase in a specific type of article (and/or Facebook rant) coming from teachers, administrators and parents concerned with education reform and child development. In this article (or Facebook rant), an adult expresses concerns regarding the restrictive, developmentally nonsensical, and generally inhumane academic regulations and expectations currently being imposed upon children. The author then seeks to draw a link between the decrease in the amount of free time, outside play, and basic motor/social skills development, and the supposed increase in “developmentally immature” behavior in children over the last however-many years, suggesting that these under-developed, hyper-reactive children are the direct product of bad educational policies, and might be less prevalent were we to allow children more time to explore and develop as individuals before forcing them to conform to a rigid academic schedule.

I have a number of things I want to say in response to this:
1. Please get how not-okay, exclusionary and dismissive it is to use the mere existence of kids like me as a rhetorical tool to try and convey how wrong it is to treat children like machines built for efficient task performance and little else. Treating kids like that is wrong, period. And you really shouldn’t be using the “normalcy” of children’s behavior in class as the measuring stick for determining whether or not you’re allowing each child sufficient time to develop as an individual. Consider the fact that emotional outbursts, struggles with social and motor skills, etc. might be things that some kids experience no matter what, but that are exacerbated and made more frequent by stressful environments and rigidly enforced expectations. You need to be thinking of children as people with varying needs and temperaments, reacting to and adjusting to their environments as best they can, not as a pool of experimental subjects in which some may end up “damaged” or “delayed,” while others achieve peak normalcy.
2. Treating children and adolescents like academic computing machines is inhumane regardless of their developmental stage. There is no point in the life of a human being where it suddenly becomes acceptable, or developmentally appropriate, to force them into a situation where they have little agency, means for self-expression, or time/space for physical activity. I’m really tired of people decrying the way that early childhood education is being affected by the harsh educational reforms of recent years, while acting as if it’s somehow more morally acceptable to force teenagers to conform to similar educational structures, because they “need to learn self-discipline.” Apparently, learning self-discipline as a five-year-old means doing cute things outside in groups, and engaging in self-directed play activities, but learning self-discipline as a teenager means doing what you’re told, studying hard for the SAT, and not “getting in trouble.” What a crock of utter bullshit.
3. The next time you want to rant and rave about how distressing it is that “these days” there are so many more kids being “disruptive” and emotional and not-developed-enough in your classroom, or around your kid, I highly suggest you take five minutes beforehand to do some basic research on the history of institutionalization and pre-ADA educational exclusion of disabled children. Realize that much of the change you’re seeing is likely due to the decrease in segregated care/educational establishments and a decrease in children being pulled from school or declared unteachable (combined with more strict and conformist academic expectations for all children, regardless of their differences). Realize how many kids today are trying to claim their right to an inclusive, community educational setting because they belong to one of the first generations of disabled kids who won’t spend their whole lives in institutions, or lose lifetimes of opportunity because their segregated education was never meant to qualify them for personally meaningful employment. I don’t want to hear about how you hope x, y, and z reforms will make your class composition more “like it used to be,” because no matter how you frame it, that is fundamentally a hope for renewed exclusion.
4. Every time someone complains about the restrictiveness and rigidity of mainstream educational environments, but doesn’t have the time of day for those of us who are trying to bring attention to the wrongs inflicted daily on children in special education, and children in marginalized/poor/non-white communities, I basically fight the urge to set something on fire. Your developmental norms have always excluded us, and your frantic concern for the development of white, able-bodied, normative children often remains, at its heart, a fear that your children will “fail to develop,” and end up like “those people” (or, as I like to say, “us.”) This says a lot about how you view “those people” relative to “your people.” And this says a lot about the purpose and structure of “childhood development,” as you would have it understood.

I will not be your bogeyman. It’s time to confront the history of the arguments you use, because they are old, and fraught, and often violent. Kindly get your shit together.

A severely ADHD, autistic adult who had probably the most well-rounded and developmentally-flexible primary educational experience she could possibly have had, and loved it, and is/was still developmentally disabled.

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Caption: A picture of me as a toddler/young child, sitting at a kitchen table and staring down away from the camera taking the picture (as I tended to do, once I figured out how to predict when my photo would be taken). I’m a little tiny white kid with short, darker blonde hair, in a white shirt and dark blue jumper.