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”
YES. I KNOW. YET LOSING IT STILL GUTTED ME.
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.
NOT EVERYTHING WE SAY IS A VALUE STATEMENT ABOUT ANYONE ELSES EXPERIENCES.
k: a common theme on my blog shit is that in sporting and dancing places I’m not disabled, firstly
secondly, NOWHERE DID I SAY MY CHOICES ARE RIGHT FOR EVERYONE
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):

http://un-boxedbrain.com.au/2015/12/open-letter-to-the-mighty/

http://themighty.com/2015/12/editors-note-why-we-removed-a-story/

http://autistictimestwo.blogspot.com/2015/12/why-i-dislike-mighty-better.html

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.

Sincerely,
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.

03291501 (2)

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. 

behaviorism can kill you nbd

so dani shared this post on facebook and i read it and instantly messaged her to FEELS about it. we ended up talking for a bit, and i was like “THIS NEEDS TO BE A POST, CAN THIS CONVERSATION JUST BE A POST” and she agreed. so this is my (our) post of like…what “indistinguishable from peers” and “encouraging positive behaviors” can mean for autistic people…even those who don’t grow up with a diagnosis. 
EMMA: oh that piece you shared. its weird to me because i actually did the “split self” thing completely literally until i was like 21? i called emma before medicine “bad emma” and i just told myself that that was why people did bad things to smaller emma, it was because she was “bad emma” and she deserved it.
and so whenever i wasn’t sure i would have medication i would have huge panic attacks because i was convinced that if anyone saw bad emma they wouldn’t like me anymore. also why i wouldn’t let anyone in my room at college.
i also had a thing when i was a kid where i was terrified of singing or dancing around even when i was alone because i thought someone would see me. so i would run around the house and shut all the window shades and lock al the doors and then dance around for like five minutes until i thought i heard a car, and ran around to reopen everything and turn off the music so nobody would be able to tell what i was doing
DANI: I did that too. The dancing thing.
EMMA: okay NOW i’m crying
DANI: My “split self” thing was a little different. I actually have a whole separate character I play when I need to be in Automated Human Simulator mode. I’ve “known” for decades that people like her, not me.
now it turns out some people actually like ME (including Jason), and I still can’t even with that some days. HOW. HOW POSSIBLE.
EMMA: i think mine is just different because social talking wasn’t as big of a problem for me as like, daily living skills/cleanliness/impulsivity.
so like, i literally did ABA on “bad emma” starting when i was like ten,
DANI: whoa. ❤❤❤
EMMA: like “you forgot to make a lunch? no food for you then. you want to buy pens? no you spend too much money, you are not allowed any pens. you lost your bus pass? tell nobody, you need to learn bad consequences, use your lunch money to pay for the bus for the next month, no lunch for you. you forgot to get pain meds and now you are in bed with cramps? sucks for u, sit in bed and FEEL THE PAIN. you did a thing that people wanted you to do? good emma, you get candy today.”
i also wasn’t “allowed” (by my brain) to go to bed or eat food until i finished my late homework. that did NOT GO WELL in college.
DANI: “you need to learn consequences” omfg my brain still says this shit
EMMA: i told someone about that for the first time, and the person i told is like my gay mom, and she basically cried and was like “that’s horrible” and i was like sitting there completely chill like “but i mean how else will i ever learn? why are you upset?”
DANI: omg that’s the conversation I had with Jason. it literally blew his mind that I do that stuff to myself….
he was like “no, you don’t get it, THAT’S ABUSE”
EMMA: YEAH
she was like “that’s like fucking medieval torture what even”
DANI: and I was all “but…it’s teaching?”
EMMA: yeah
I WAS LIKE “NO I AM CONDITIONING MYSELF TO BE A GOOD PERSON.”
and she was like “YOU ARE ALREADY A GOOD PERSON” and i was like “wtf go home ur drunk”
DANI: “if I were good enough I wouldn’t do this stupid shit” is what I said to Jason. “That’s why I need consequences because I keep screwing up”
EMMA: YEP
DANI: I just. THE HELL.
EMMA: obviously if i were a good person, i would care about these things enoug to do them. so since i don’t do them, i must not care, and only terrible people don’t care.
DANI: omg that exactly
also in reference to what we’re talking about now, in case anyone is wondering whether or not this stuff fucks you up physically as well as psychologically YEP IT DOES. IT DOES. 

Chia Pet Neuroscience

So a few days ago, my friend Julia sent me a link to an article on Disability Scoop titled “Miniature Brains Reveal An Outsized Secret About Autism.” Because Julia knows my tastes in science. Always a quality trait in a friend. The only other thing in her message, besides the link, was: “Enjoy.”

In that spirit, I decided to fucking enjoy myself. Please read the article itself (it’s relatively brief) before reading my comments, as they won’t make much sense without context. That said, once you’ve read the article, my comments were written in response to things in the order that they appear in said article. And I have done my best to indicate sarcasm where it occurs, especially since oftentimes I’m being sarcastic about science that I don’t expect every reader to already know. That said, please enjoy your lovely selves.

MY COMMENTS. AHEM.

  • When you’re looking for the origins of autism, it’s only natural to assume that you might be able to find said origins by growing miniature neuronal Chia Pets in your lab. Like, duh! Brains are just like any other organ; they don’t need to be part of an organism, inside some weird “body” thing, in order to perform their basic functional and developmental roles! That would be silly, and super inconvenient for scientists who like petri dishes full of cell growth media more than they like the actual people they’re supposedly researching. [this whole bullet point is sarcasm!]
  • “…[T]o rewind the clock to the brain’s earliest days of development.” I’m so glad someone’s finally focusing on those who are most impacted by teh autismz: autistic embryos. [also sarcasm]
    • Oh, wait. Sorry. I keep forgetting these “brains” were never attached to actual bodies, embryonic or otherwise…
    • Which means they like, never received, processed, or stored any sensory input ever?
    • Sorry, but I don’t think you get to pat yourself on the back for peering into the depths of early human embryonic development when your research included a total of zero embryos developing within zero uterus-type gestational environments.
    • TL;DR
      • A. There is no such thing as an autistic embryo/fetus, in case that wasn’t clear before, and
      • B. I’m gonna keep calling those model brain things “miniature neuronal Chia Pets” until someone manages to come up with a more accurate description of them.
  • ~~“DIABOLICALLY COMPLEX”~~
    • fucking demons sneakily replacing all ur normate babies with horned autisms! [sarasm]
    • (HIIIIII DANI)
  • “Organoids”
    • *Emma stares into the camera like she’s on The Office*
  • Clusters. Of. Embryonic. Brain. Cells. Smaller. Than. One-Tenth. Of. An. Inch. Across.
  • “[T]he autistic brain” ranks pretty high on my list of phrases that drive me utterly bananas.
    • We are not a Borg collective, nor are we some kind of super ineffectual clone army.
    • And the pedant in me can’t help but also point out that, actually, even drones in a/the Borg collective and “identical” clone soldiers wouldn’t all exhibit the exact same brain structures! They all would have had different experiences and/or been exposed to different environmental variables!
    • Were literally any of these freaking neuroscientists actually listening during the lecture(s) explaining the “Fire together, wire together!” principle?! (Jesus Christ Superstar, I swear. Neuroscientists these days, you know?)
  • They believe their results indicate that The Autistic Brain “overproduces the brain cells that act to quiet the cacophony of neural activity in the brain.” Science fail. Science fail. Alert, alert, science fail.
    • Please stop reducing the role of GABAergic and/or inhibitory neurons to just “the things that make ur brain quiet! :D” Please. Stop. That is not how. Fucking brains work.
    • You get some extra fail for having come to a conclusion about neuronal activity (“too many quiet-making cell things!”) in autistic brains that makes basically zero behavioral/phenomenological sense.
    • Oh, plus you get EXTRA extra fail for ignoring the fact that a huge number of the most common comorbid diagnoses among autistic people are known to involve atypical GABA/glutamate levels that are the literal inverse of the GABA/glutamate imbalances your article describes. Epilepsy? Schizophrenia spectrum? ADHD? Yup. Yup. Yup. Oh, just go home.
  • “[A]n imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory neurons.”
    • Wowzers, what a conclusive, specific, detailed description of neurological difference [sarcasm]. If you want to read me complain more about this particularly egregious oversimplification of neurological excitation/inhibition, see my two posts about “Intense World Theory.”
  • I can’t believe nobody had ever thought of using miniature neuronal Chia Pets as model organisms before! [sarcasm]
    • I’m especially impressed with the way you boldly extrapolate your findings about Chia Pet GABAergic neuronal proliferation and apply them to the autistic brains of children and adults as well. [sarcasm]
    • Your experimental model clearly provides data that is generalizable to all stages of neurological development [more sarcasm], since GABA/glutamate signaling is:
      • 1. Definitely not shaped by pre- or postnatal environmental factors at all! [100% sarcasm]; and
      • 2. Also definitely not affected by any of the systemic neurochemical/hormonal changes that occur during human childhood and adolescence [prime, high-quality sarcasm].
  • Another hint on reading BrAiNsCiEnCeZ critically: If a neuroscientist (or geneticist, for that matter) ever claims to have “fixed” a complex neurological/cognitive Thing just by suppressing “a single gene,” there’s a really good chance that you don’t need to bother listening to anything else they say on the matter. See also: An article author/science person you’ve encountered sincerely likes behavioral genetics? DEAL. BREAKER.
  • I’m skipping over the next few positivist, pathologizing, vaguely eugenicist mini-crap-paragraphs because they’re not worth my time. Plus, I know there are a few TRUE GEMS waiting for me near the end of this…
  • Cool, cool, getting pluripotential cells from skin cells, big whoop, I’m bored.
  • Your. Autistic. Sample. Size. Is. Four.
    • yoursamplesizeis*F*O*U*R*
    • 4
    • four. BOYS.
  • AND YOU PICKED THE FOUR AUTISTIC SUBJECTS BASED ON THE FACT THAT THEY’RE ALL SUPPOSEDLY MACROCEPHALIC? ARE YOU SHITTING ME? LIKE, SERIOUSLY. I WANT TO KNOW. I WANT TO KNOW IF YOU KNOW THAT IT ISN’T 1995 ANYMORE.
    • They describe macrocephaly as “a unique characteristic typical of those with severe autism.” And, you know, determining which characteristics really define a high-prevalence, behavioral diagnostic category can be really tough. But you can’t go wrong as long as you focus on a trait that is consistent, diagnostically-relevant, and rare/nonexistent in the NT population–like “Having A Weirdly Big Head,” for example [sarcasm].
    • “Having A Weirdly Big Head” is a great choice [sarcasmz] because:
      • 1. Everyone who’s really autistic has a weird big head [whoa sarcasm];
      • 2. Having a weird big head qualifies you for an autism diagnosis [very sarcasm]; and
      • 3. While some neurotypical people might have heads that are objectively “big,” several research studies have confirmed that only autistic people exhibit weird big-headedness [peak sarcasm].
  • “To create a batch of typically-developing organoids, they used skin cells from the autism patients’ unaffected fathers.”
    • I actually laughed out loud when I first read this, and it will be funny to me forever. Forever funny. Forever.
    • “Do you need obviously, 100% NT control subjects for your autism research? Just recruit the parents of autistic children! They are all totes guaranteed to be super socially normal people who are not at all autistic.” [sarcasm]
  • Kudos to the researcher for clarifying that like, the cells they use aren’t completely pluripotent, and therefore they can’t actually produce all the tissues and structures that an actual brain would be made of…But like, I’m still waiting for the part where someone acknowledges that you can’t build, or “grow,” a decontextualized, disembodied brain, period.
  • I’m going to ask these people once, and only once: Slowly back away from the insulting computer/programming metaphors. Slowly. Back. Away.
  • “‘Sometimes you don’t see these things unless you look for them,’ she said in the interview.”
    • There are so many jokes I could make here. But I am so tired.
    • Though I imagine that it’s true: very few people would have looked at the state of autism science today and thought to themselves, “You know what this field needs? Miniature Chia Pet Models Of Embryonic Neuronal Growth Built On Three-Dimensional Scaffolding!”

Yeah, I’m just done here. That is all. I’m done with this thing. I have enjoyed myself, and now I am done.

(One last aside: Obviously, I have nothing against like, these kinds of research–those that either grow, or simulate the growth of, organs using three-dimensional scaffolding and pluripotent cells–in general. What I have a problem with is when researchers feel completely comfortable using this kind of research to make claims about entire groups of people diagnosed with one of the most diverse and socially-inflected “behavioral disorders” in existence.)