Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#AutisticWhileBlack: What Happened To Kennedi High?

In the midst of the national media attention on D.C.'s missing African American girls, one young woman. Kennedi High, 16, Autistic and African American, left her High School in North Baltimore upon school dismissal on March 8, 2017, and disappeared for six days. She was located by the Baltimore Police and returned to her family, but the mysteries of how she disappeared, what befell her while she was gone, and who was responsible remain.

Kennedi has no history of running from home and would never stay out overnight. After talking with Kennedi, her mother is convinced she was the victim of human trafficking. The police initially dismissed the idea but are now investigating.



Autism organizations, disability rights organizations, parents of autistic youth, autistic activists, in short, every stakeholder in the autism conversation should be following this case and demanding answers.

They aren't.

1. Kennedi described to her mother being passed to different men each day in six different locations. She is quite clear on what happened to her.  Police consider her diagnosis first and therefore have a presumption of her incompetence. They did not take her account of events seriously until her mother repeated Kennedi's statements to the press and remained adamant that she believed her daughter was victimized and harmed.

2. Kennedi supposedly left voluntarily with someone she met on the Internet. Kennedi doesn't own a cell phone.  How did she meet this individual? This is critically important. Was someone allowing her to use their phone? Is someone from her school or community complicit in what happened to her?

 Right now, the therapeutic standard in Maryland for 'treatment' of autistic people from early intervention onward focuses on behavioral compliance applying ABA first and foremost. Years of this resulted in teens who comply with the demands of any authority figure. In short, we are allowing our children to mature into easy prey for predators by acquiescing to their submission to a compliance reward structure that can be perverted and abused to harm them. We are so caught up in extinguishing behaviors in our offspring that we erase their ability to say no or defend themselves. This system of autism behavioral management doesn't teach recognizing and avoiding predators, bullies, and abusive people. This has to change.

3. Particularly for autistic families of color, the demand placed on us to allow our autistic children to be made passive and compliant to all is enforced viscously. If autistic male students are labeled "combative" or "aggressive" by any authority figure who simply doesn't feel like dealing with them they are immediately criminalized and suspended or expelled from public school. It is not unusual for schools to call the police to arrest students for school-related minor infractions. All of these potential risks that their children might be disenfranchised from school activities, aftercare, and community participation pressure parents of autistic students of color to accept extreme compliance in their children as "therapy" and "improvement," and "success" of ABA intervention.

4. Everyone in the autism conversation needs to step up now and follow the investigation of the case of Kennedi High. She deserves to be believed and heard. The lack of comment, interest, and mention of her case in our community is typical of the erasure of autistic people of color that I constantly write about, to no avail. What happened to her needs to be investigated and resolved and those responsible for kidnapping and harming her need to be arrested and punished. I am calling this a kidnapping because she was taught to comply and therefore her ability to object was stripped from her.

Focus on finding solutions to the cyclic victimization of intersectional autistic populations in general and African-American autistics, in particular, is largely absent from the annual month-long awareness and acceptance events of Autism Month. The entire purpose of #AutisticWhileBlack was an attempt to spotlight issues like this one and people from our own community who are victimized yet pass quickly by our newsfeeds, a single soundbite that blips out of sight and out of community thoughts. Meanwhile, bloody online battles are being waged on the merits of blue hair dye, causation, and puzzle piece lapel pins.

Autism month is meant to be for and about the lives and needs of autistic people of all ages and demographics.

Make Kennedi matter. She's alive, and she'll need help recovering from this. Someone has to care. Where are the autism organizations who are supposed to be fighting for her? The fact that I must continually remind our community to not erase our victimized youth is beyond unacceptable.

 #JusticeforKennedi.

Resources:
The Story of Kennedi High, #AutisticWhileBlack
http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2017/03/17/mom-believes-daughter-was-trafficked-while-she-was-missing/

http://wtop.com/maryland/2017/03/baltimore-police-seek-help-in-finding-missing-teen/

http://www.theroot.com/baltimore-police-requests-publics-help-in-search-for-mi-1793210175

Friday, March 31, 2017

Against the Erasure of LaVonnya Gardner

Image of LaVonnya Gardner's AAC board with the written
 and PEC symbol sentence "I use AAC everyday and I Love it"
written on the display panel above the PEC images and wordsin orange, pink, red, green, and light blue squares. Credit
LaVonnya Gardner, Twitter. 
 Black, deafblind autistic activist LaVonnya Gardner died suddenly in late August of last year. She was someone I was proud to call a friend.

Her death was particularly heartbreaking to me and mine. To understand what LaVonnya simply existing meant to me and my son Mustafa, you have to realize a few important details. LaVonnya understood what being blind meant, so we had that common ground because I was once blind for a time and it was assumed I would wear a prosthetic left eye and be blind permanently. LaVonnya understood what it meant to a Black disabled parent to an autistic child in the DMV (the District, Maryland, and Virginia) because she was the mother of an autistic daughter. LaVonnya understood what it meant to be a nonspeaking autistic who used AAC to communicate because she was a nonspeaking autistic adult who used AAC to communicate. LaVonnya knew what it meant to navigate the world as a Black nonspeaking autistic adult, and she had good, practical advice for my autistic nonspeaking son about survival as a Black autistic male in a hostile world.

She built a library of YouTube videos and AAC related social media posts, knowing her own import to nonspeaking autistic Black youth. She, activist Lydia Brown, and others were the founders of The Washington Disabled Students Collective. My hope was that her body of work would live on should she pass away and that she might also leave the legacy of her intellectual property for her daughter and others it might help.

We had an agreement to meet in the Smithsonian gardens with our kids in the Spring. You really don't understand the impact someone has on your life until they are suddenly gone.


LaVonnya Gardner.  image of a Black woman with long braided hair
wearing a pink blouse credit LaVonnya Gardner
I realized in February that the Amplify Autistic Voices project, which I had decided to end, had LaVonnya speaking about herself in her own words. I stopped my plans to delete the blog. I could not erase her. After her death, a relative she did not get on with insisted a name she left behind to move away from an abusive past was her name. That person disregarded her final wishes and tried to collect money from LaVonnya's grieving friends and colleagues. Dozens of her instructional and advocacy videos are erased from her YouTube channel, and only two videos on her Beautiful Unicorn channel remain.

LaVonnya helped many parents and autistic children, both independently and in support groups. She had a patience with parents that I sometimes do not have. She was an activist who stepped up as much as her health allowed. She was excited and looked forward to working with my son and spending quality time with him because they were so similar. I cannot begin to express what the loss of her AAC instruction videos means for those who can't call or message her anymore.

If you have any photos, videos, digital content of LaVonnya's please post it on her memorial Facebook page. I don't know anyone else like her, and I doubt I ever will.

LaVonnya Gardner was my son's role model. She was the living proof that nonspeaking deafblind persons could live, love, produce and parent disabled children, live autonomously, and speak up for themselves.

She was a beautiful Unicorn who should not be erased or forgotten. Help me make certain she's remembered.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Justice for the Dietrich, Idaho Assault Victim, Neurodivergent and Black

Mr. and Mrs. McDaniel with four of their 20 adopted children
©Washington Post/Getty Images
I'm going to mention a violent rape. I will try to be as brief as possible but please don't read on if this topic will upset you. 

I learned today that I can be disgusted, angry, and horrified all at once.

The victim, 18, psychiatric disability community member, one of 20 adoptees to the McDaniel family whose parents are white and live in an area with a predominantly white school, was abused by his own football teammates over a period of months and no one in the school administration or coaching staff acted to stop it. the victim was eventually lured into a locker room by three assailants where his teammates beat him and raped him violently with a coat hanger. 

The McDaniels have an additional five children born to them. I'm not certain how they are able to manage the safety of disabled children of color in a family of 25 children. But there is something more urgent here and that is that Judge Randy Stoker handed down a sentence of 3 years probation to defendant John Howard the main perpetrator of the assault, at the behest of Prosecutor Hemmer. The prosecutor explained to the Judge that the assault was not a rape, hate crime, or any category of sexual assault, but in face a case of bullying, and let the rapist off without jail time. Of course, because Howard was allowed to plead to a charge that was not rape or a hate crime, he will not be a registered sex offender and will be free to assault other African American victims. Co-defendant Tanner Ward's charge of forcible penetration with a foreign object was reduced to a lesser charge and he is being tried as a juvenile. The court and prosecutor also decided Wards actions were not a hate crime. 

When is the disability community going to fight for justice for the Black disabled victims of ableist hate crimes? Are they not aggressively pursuing this because these victims are not white? This is a very sore point for me. I'm tired of seeing this happen time and again with victimized disabled youth of color.

Judge Stoker should be removed from the bench. I will be including links to the Change.org petitions calling for his removal at the end of this blog. Moreover, Prosecutor Hemmer, (who orchestrated the plea deals and reduction of charges, used the victim's disability as justification for why the final horrific assault should not be classified as a sexual assault or a hate crime) should be held accountable. David Perry explains this very clearly in his excellent article on the Dietrich assault in Pacific Standard which you can read here.

The victim never had a chance. He is the victim but being both disabled and Black in an all-white town with parents who cannot teach him about racism because they are white and do not experience it means he was unprepared and also emotionally violated by the judicial system, the school where he should have been safe, and the football team coaching staff who encouraged this abuse. According to the Superintendent of the schools' disclosure of the district's investigation, one teammate tried to stop the attack but was threaten with the same treatment if he interfered. No other classmates fought for him. This is what it means to be Black and disabled in America.

The question is, are there people in the wider world who believe that justice is the entitlement and human right of every citizen in every nation on this planet? Are there people who believe hate crimes are hate crimes when the victim is Black and disabled? 

If you are one of these good people,  please help me step up now and make this right. Because this is an abomination. And if this judgment stands, all disabled children could be next because disabled teens are easy targets and we are living in a time of inflated hate. 

If those families with white disabled loved ones believe that because their children aren't Black, they won't  be targeted next, they are in for a very unpleasant surprise. Once people know they can abuse disabled youth without serious repercussions they will escalate and not stop at Black disabled youth. Our children are just the first targets. They are never the last.

Speak out! Protest this verdict. Justice for the Dietrich, Idaho assault victim! Or sit silently now and wait until your loved ones are the newest targets and it is too late to fight.

My son is nonverbal. Had he been victimized in this sustained and escalated fashion, he could not have told us or defended himself. This is why I am so outraged and so horrified that months of sustained harm get a slap on the wrist. The victim of this sustained series of hate crimes will need therapy for the rest of his life. 

We must act to make this right or we have no purpose in advocacy nor can we call ourselves activists against violence to disabled youth. 

---------------------------------
Resources and Calls To Action
(with thanks to some incredible activists for research, updates, and support)

The Terrifying Story of The Dietrich, Idaho Assault Victim
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3616523/Rape-allegation-race-glare-national-media-divide-town.html

How a Prosecutor Decided That an Attack on a Disabled Black Kid Was Just Bullying
David Perry for Pacific Standard:
https://psmag.com/how-a-prosecutor-decided-that-an-attack-on-a-disabled-black-kid-was-just-bullying-51ab84a258a5#.nnt8yqcu4

School Superintendent Investigation Report of Details in the Case Heavily Redacted by School District legal counsel: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3115343-DIETRICH-MOTION-DISCLOSURE.html

John R.K. Howard was not charged with a hate for sex crime"
http://m.boiseweekly.com/boise/prosecutor-says-dietrich-high-assault-not-sex-or-race-crime-teen-pleads-guilty-to-lesser-felony/Content?oid=3948761

Co-defendant Tanner Ward not facing felony charges and case to be tried in juvenile court
http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/state/idaho/article104466831.html

Attorneys for McDaniel family petitioning court for unredacted documents. Willing to allow them in the public record to expose cover-up and actions of defendants in their civil case against School district:
http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/state/idaho/article104466831.html

Petitions about the McDaniel hate crimes in Dietrich, Idaho to sign and share:

Change.org Petition: IDAHO JUDICIAL COUNCIL: Remove Judge Randy Stoker from the bench for decision in John Howard rape case  https://tinyurl.com/zwc3zf

MoveOn.org Petition to DOJ: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/demand-justice-department-1?source=c.em&r_by=8228761.

For further public action:

Please direct public comment about this unfathomable injustice to:

Office of the Attorney General Lawrence Wasden
700 W. Jefferson Street
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, ID 83720-0010
Phone (208) 334-2400
Fax (208) 854-8071

Comments can also be submitted on  the official website here:

http://www.ag.idaho.gov/index.html

What else can you do?
Consider sending an email expressing your concern about the miscarriage of justice in this adjudication of this case. You can do so here:
https://gov.idaho.gov/ourgov/contact.html

Thursday, January 5, 2017

On Race and Hate Crimes Against Disabled Victims

Melissa Stoddard, light brown skinned natural brown haired
biracial autistic holds a mirror and smiles wearing a pink
two-toned sweater and a rainbow clown wig at McIver
Education Center, Greensboro, NC photo credit Herald Tribune
Melissa Stoddard, pictured on the left, is one of the murder victims who I keep writing about because I will always feel that she was ignored in the worst way by the Autism community after her murder. She is, to quote the Herald Tribune, “The Girl Who No One Saved.” A young and vibrant 11-year-old autistic girl, she was slowly starved, tortured, strapped to a board and left in an empty pool in her family’s backyard at all hours until she died.

I will always be furious about the fact that Melissa was happy with her mother and her school in Greensboro, North Carolina, and that it was the very stepmother who abused and murdered her who called Child Protective Services on her intellectually disabled brother, accusing him of molesting Melissa. I believe the acts of Melissa’s father and stepmother witnessed and related by Melissa’s white stepbrothers should have been adjudicated as hate crimes. The Autism community that continues to roar in outrage at the commuting of Dorothy Spourdalakis' sentence for the brutal stabbing murder of her nonspeaking autistic son Alex simply did not care enough to pursue this.

Could this be because she was not white but the perpetrators of her torture and murder were?

The abuse, neglect, and murder of Melissa Stoddard are sadder in that everyone in Florida, regardless of political affiliation or approach to disability, was equally outraged by her torture and murder. Only the Autism community casts Melissa aside, with the exception of listing her name among the countless numbers of disabled people murdered by parents.

Today, I'm reading in the news that there was a violent assault on a disabled white adult male presenting victim named in some news sources as Austin Hilbourn broadcast on Facebook live. The young woman who live broadcasted it and the suspects responsible have been arrested. The victim was taken to the hospital for treatment. The press seems to be spending very little time wondering about the state of mental and physical health of the victim. I have not seen the video of the assault nor read more than the barest details. But here is why I'm bringing this up today. Those arrested were charged with a hate crime. Should they have been?

Well, of course, they should have been charged with a hate crime! Yes, this is a hate crime against a disabled young man done because of his disability and should be adjudicated as such. Yes, it was made worse by the anti-Trump slurs but those slurs were added to justify the crimes committed and are not the hate crime in and of themselves and this is critically important. This is not about Trump. This is violence against disabled people.

Now is where I state emphatically, no, not every African-American teen in America is culpable for this crime. No, African-American youth is no more dangerous, hate-filled, violent or cruel targeting vulnerable victims than white American youth. We hear about horrific crimes of this nature against disabled youth every month. Many crimes go unreported because prosecutors won't pursue them or parents don't press charges against the criminals responsible. Let me digress a minute and give an example of another horrific crime against a disabled teen where the perpetrators also used a current event to draw attention to their act of violence and broadcast their crime on the Internet.


Remember the horrific ice bucket challenge assault on an autistic teen in Ohio? The perpetrators also filmed and broadcasted their horrible assault. The victim's parents insisted on allowing the broadcast to remain on the Internet, and their solution to this crime against their disabled son, evidence of their own ignorance and ableism, was to endanger more autistics instead of punishing the guilty by insisting the criminals perpetrating the assault be given community service to autistic people instead of prison time . Innocent autistic youth were placed at further risk of emotional harm from these individuals. The wrongheaded idea autism parents have that somehow those who visit physical harm on their children should get to know them in order to understand and possibly befriend them upsets me deeply. Our offspring are not hopeless charity cases so desperate for friendship that those who abuse them should be allowed to continue doing so.

The ice bucket challenge assault, like a similar case of months of torture to an autistic teen filmed by two girls who convinced him to go along by claiming they were his girlfriends, should have been adjudicated as a hate crime against a disabled person. But those who perpetrated the crime and filmed it where white, thus the language used for the assault was not assault but "prank gone wrong" and those who committed this crime were not labeled criminals but called bullies who just needed 'autism awareness.' Autistic youth was presented to the public as a pitiable group, to be looked down upon. This is a variety of victim-blaming as this young man's disability was made an excuse for the criminal actions of his attackers.

The demand for hate crime status in the wake of the Alex Spourdalakis murder presents a new set of ethical issues to our community. If the equally gruesome murders and assaults of countless nonwhite disabled victims like Gilberto Powell and Melissa Stoddard prompted no effort or demand for hate crime classification. and therefore were not adjudicated as hate crimes, then the outcry at this point for hate crime status is again, a matter of the racial makeup of the victims and the perpetrators rather than the severity of the crime. We need to define what we as disability rights activists will do when a crime against any disabled victim, white or nonwhite, should be adjudicated as a hate crime but is not. We must be consistent with our standards for calling crimes against disabled victims hate crimes regardless of the race of the victim or the race and position in society of the perpetrators.

Violence against every minority has increased in the aftermath of Trump's election. It is imperative for everyone in the disabled community to seek safety in new, united, ways not sought after before. Everyone caught up in this polarized glorification of hatred will seek to harm those who appear to be the most vulnerable targets.

To the African American perpetrators of this hate crime: hatred is not the way to hold the President-elect or the racist white supremacists' organizations who backed him accountable for anything. What you have done to this innocent young man is that much more heinous because it harms him as an individual and harms the disabled communities and the African American community. This horrific thing that all of you did and broadcast can now be used to justify all the excessive use of force by police against Black communities across our nation. It can be the excuse for Trump to do any manner of things to us, all from your ignorant act of naked hatred perpetrated on an innocent victim. You may wish to harm yourselves, and that is your choice, but you have no right to harm so many others.

In our rush to declare these acts of violence hate crimes, let us ensure that we are shouting with equal vigor for every member of our disabled community.

Remember, do not allow current racial polarization to hijack the case here. This is an act of violence against a disabled person, despite all the libelous attempts to brand it outlandish things like a Black Lives Matter kidnapping. More crimes like this should be tried as hate crimes, regardless of the race of the perpetrators, not only when the perpetrators are a racial minority shouting anti-Trump slurs.

Melissa Stoddard and Gilberto Powell deserve that and more, they deserve our continued remembrance and support. They don't get it. Let's hope that changes.

------------------------------------

Further Reading:
On Melissa Stoddard:
    As an Invisible Autistic Filicide victim:
http://intersecteddisability.blogspot.com/2013/12/autisms-invisible-filicide-victims.html
    Comprehensive story of her life/death with timeline in the Herald Tribune
http://extra.heraldtribune.com/2014/06/15/stoddard/
    Autistic Hoya on Melissa:
http://www.autistichoya.com/2015/01/black-lives-still-matter.html
On the Hate Crime against Austin Hilbourn, a young disabled man in Chicago
     CNN coverage of the assault along with explanation of what constitutes a hate crime
http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/05/us/chicago-facebook-live-beating/
The latest on the Murder of Alex Spourdalakis
     Emily Willingham, Ph.D. On Alex Spourdalakis /why disability is not an excuse for murder
http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2016/12/13/heres-why-you-dont-want-to-view-disability-as-an-excuse-for-murder/#607af248243d
Examples of other Assaults on Disabled Youth By White Peers Who knew them
      On the Ice Bucket Challenge Assault:
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/teens-dumped-bodily-fluids-autistic-boy-fake-ice-bucket-challenge-prosecutor-article-1.1974154
     Autistic teen boy tortured by two white girls who filmed their abuse
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/maryland-girls-tortured-autistic-boy-sheriff-office-article-1.1718983
     White high school football players in Idaho charged with sexually assaulting black, disabled teammate with a coat hanger
On the Checkered Career of the Cop who Assaulted Gilberto Powell
Miami-Dade cop Fernando Villa had problems long before his DUI
http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/miami-dade-cop-fernando-villa-had-problems-long-before-his-dui-6385652


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Oh To Be Young, Black, And Autistic: The Ignored Murder of Charnice Milton

Image of Charnice Milton, a young African American woman
in braids pulled back neatly with a white tie, a gold loop earring,
wire-rimmed glasses and a white blouse. She is smiling. credit
Black Christian News.
It's been well over a year, and I've blasted social media about this twice, but no autism organization has bothered to even mention it. So I'm going to write once more about the murder of Charnice Milton because Charnice Milton was young, Black, talented, and Autistic.

Charnice was the victim of a drive-by shooting in the neighborhood she dedicated herself to getting voices heard about. She was used as a human shield in a violent exchange that had nothing to do with her. Southeast D.C. still mourns her. The police are asking the pubic's help in finding her murderer.

Her parents discussed her diagnosis, which at that time was labeled Aspergers, and how no one ever thought she'd complete school, much less end up with a masters degree in journalism. Like some African American parents, they spent the next months vacillating between the truth of admitting she was autistic and saying she "had Asperger's like symptoms" when the love for her work and for her by her peers and community overflowed such that her murder became the subject of articles in The Washington Post and The New Yorker.  They rethought their initial admissions and made efforts to mute her autism from the story of her life rather than celebrate the brilliance of her short career as a disabled journalist. But their initial admissions are there in interviews for local television stations.

Meanwhile, all autism organizations remained silent on her murder. There were neither statements of loss nor demands for justice. No hashtags flooded Twitter. The first anniversary of her murder was on May 27th. I was in the hospital and could not attend her vigil. To my knowledge, no representative of any autistic organization did either.

I used to write one of these blog posts each time a Black autistic adult or child was murdered simply to force attention on these events and make the deaths of autistic people of color matter as much as white autistic children. The hypocrisy of being an autism organization and ignoring the murders of Black autistic people but claiming to speak for autistic people of color is something I've hammered on for 5 years.

I shouldn't have to .

Remember Charnice Milton. Make her matter. Her parents, with their intentions of wanting her remembered for her journalism and not her neurodivergence view her success as being in spite of her neurology. They are not grasping how the neurology that disabled her also shaped her drive and her detailed approach  to becoming essentially  an embedded journalist in the most dangerous community in Washington D.C. They are doing her a great disservice by their indecisive attitude towards including her neurology as part of what made her a meticulous and excellent journalist.

But her autism community is doing worse. Because they are acting as if she is not a part of us, as if she doesn't exist at all, and her life and death are of less import than a white autistic person.

When every autistic life and death has equal merit, my need to write these heartbreaking posts will end. Until then, #JusticeforCharniceMilton, Young, Black, Talented, and Autistic. You were appreciated and I hope this small effort will ensure you are not forgotten by the disability rights community.

==============================

References:

The Death of a Young Black Journalist

The Washington Post Local:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/a-year-after-the-shooting-of-charnice-milton-police-plead-for-help-finding-her-killer/2016/05/26/ec2c09aa-2364-11e6-9e7f-57890b612299_story.html

The New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/death-of-a-young-black-journalist

NBC Washington:
http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Charnice-Milton-Young-Local-Reporter-Killed-in-Southeast-DC-305382571.html

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How Not To Endorse An Anthology

Tom Wiggins aka Thomas Greene Bethune, holding a copy of his composition
Rain Storm Photo By W. L. Germon of Philadelphia - tennis*elbow,
 Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25192531
A historic event in the timeline of the history of autism and disability rights activism is about to happen. The Autism Women's Network, probably the most diverse nonprofit organization in autism rights advocacy, is about to publish an anthology consisting entirely of nonwhite voices. "All The Weight Of Our Dreams" was edited by three powerful activists of color, Lydia X. Z. Brown, E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu. This may be the only anthology actually allowing the voices of autistic people of color to speak without validation or qualification of parents or professionals. This will be groundbreaking. 

I was therefore shattered when I read a piece by NeuroTribes author Steve Silberman giving the book a brief mention in a recent article entitled "The Invisibility of Black Autism." Why would a white best-selling author of a history of autism and neurodiversity's acknowledgment of an anthology on race and autism upset me? I wrote about the erasure of Black autistics from histories of autism, including Mr. Silberman's in the article "Autistic While Black: The Erasure of Blacks From Histories of Autism."

Since the message has not been understood, here's what is wrong with Mr. Silberman's article, and it is a primer about how not to write about race and autism.

1. Don't be a hypocrite.  If a white author excludes any mention of Black autistic historical figures in a comprehensive history of autism, he has no place writing about the topic as if he is an authority on it. Mr. Silberman excludes Black autistics from his history of autism, where Blacks, in general, are only mentioned to give scenery and import to the heroes of his book. He also applies the n-word in his book unnecessarily, as the use of the expletive adds no value to the narrative at all. Imagine my surprise when suddenly he's writing about the trials and tribulations of Black autistics.

2. Don't conflate the issue by choosing a misleading topic title. "The Invisibility of Black Autism" is a nod to a CNN article by African American Autistic music producer Mike Buckholtz you can read about here. The title conflates invisibility and what is actually happening which is erasure. Articles like "The Invisibility of Black Autism" actually contribute to erasure.  Black autistics are visible; the issue is how they are impacted by disparities in health care support, misdiagnoses based on presumptions founded in structural racism, disparities in educational and ADA supports and services, and research that excludes and abuses them (I disagree with Mr. Silberman that the exclusion of single parents is a factor, this is an example of how a generally known statistic about a socio-economic group within a racial minority is both overgeneralized and used to presume causation of factors that may correlate but not be relevant to the issues discussed). Invisibility implies Black autistics are not visible; erasure makes it clear that Black autistic representation, Black autistic voices, and Black autistic people are having their efforts appropriated, used for the benefit of others, and as a result wiped away.

3. Don't write if you don't know your topic. When an uninformed white author tries to write about race and disparities in research, inevitably the history of the use of the Black body as a human lab rat is excluded from the narrative, and cultural stereotypes like the single Black parent phenomenon and cultural limitations within our community are pursued as a cause for lack of accurate data. Black families are leery of studies with just cause, and when trust is given to researchers the consequences continue to be devastating, as recent events like the disastrous Kennedy Krieger lead paint study lawsuits continuing in Baltimore have made clear. Never discussed are infrastructure planning decisions resulting in toxic environments for disproportionately Black and Brown communities, and how such environments impact disability and Black and Brown attitudes about research as well. See the latest civil rights lawsuit filed against the state of Maryland about the building of an additional power plant in Brandywine, MD bringing the total of plants in one community that is 75 percent Black to 5. The impact of environmental injustice on disability and race would not be addressed by an author who would fail to realize its disproportionate impact on our community.

4. Don't plug an Autism Speaks supporting site in the same article you plug the anthology of three powerful autistic fem activists of color fighting for disability rights of intersected people.  The Color of Autism site promotes Autism Speaks' 100-day kit and the medical model philosophy of autism. While their documentary attempt to give voice to the need for services is admirable, it uses the autistic youth in the film in the same manner they are used in any Autism Speaks PSA and this is infantilizing, appropriative of their voices, and diminishes them. Mr. Silberman appears to be attempting to placate potential audiences for his book,  and straddling a fence to gain the good graces of parents rather than supporting a great anthology by disability rights activists who are experts on the topic. Numerous sites on disability and race exist, along with blogs from disabled disability rights activists of color, parent allies, and academics who write on the topic of disability rights and critical race studies. I can therefore only conclude that the choice to mention The Color of Autism was clearly meant to promote Autism Speaks supporting parents of color.

5. Don't begin an article with a slave trope presentation of an important Black autistic historical figure and force readers to read a degrading portrait of him in a racist oppressor's account of a man who spoke through his musical compositions, regardless of who that racist white person was. Mr. Silberman continues to use Black people as objects in their own stories by placing the emphasis on famous white people and their dissection and denigrating view of said Black disabled people. The presentation of Black autistics in this fashion relegates historically important people like Tom Wiggins to chattel and this serves no purpose but to limit the reader's view of African American disability history as beginning and ending with slavery. Wiggins, who earned enough money while enslaved to hire a composer to teach him to compose blind, then fought until he was granted the right to have his own name on his compositions managed a monumental accomplishment for a man who was declared 'non-compos mentis' simply to keep him enslaved. He created variations in his compositions that do not fit the stereotype of the blind autistic savant pianist as understood today, so his groundbreaking work and his successful fight to put his name on his intellectual property were the ultimate triumphs despite his unlawful near lifetime enslavement.  Listen to this piece, The Rainstorm. Blind Tom traveled extensively and his musical expressions and influences were the sum total of his world travels, not just his life as a slave child on a plantation, a life he left at age 5 to begin a life as a traveling performer.
The Rainstorm by Tom Wiggins:



6. Don't erase Black autistic people from their own stories. The shock of not seeing a photo of the historical figure mentioned in the article, but instead, in a long article about the invisibility of Black autistics, the only image in the body of the article is that of white Leo Kanner, who would never have included Blind Tom in his classification and studies of autism in the first place, speaks volumes about erasure that while I'm certain Mr. Silberman did not intend happened again and with impunity in his article.

7. Don't talk about autistics of color without them. This piece of writing should not have happened. Instead, Mr. Silberman might have used his privilege to interview Lydia X. Z. Brown, E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu about the history of autism and race in general, the reasons they embarked on this project, and their individual and organizational goals with regards to the promotion of the voices of nonwhite autistic people. This means proper representation beyond simply requesting a quote, or using references from sources without noting their origin, thus erasing the voices of marginalized people speaking for themselves. Instead, we are subjected to a graphic of bursting black puzzle pieces, so the subliminal message is hammered home that Autism Speaks speaks for all Black autistics when they most certainly do NOT.

The article Mr. Silberman wrote is symptomatic of the structural racism embedded in our society, perpetuates stereotypes on race and autism, and erases autistic voices of color while its apparent intent was to bring these issues to light. How can this article be believed to aide endorsing any book on race and autism?  The road to hell is again paved with good intentions.


The Weight of Our Dreams is a powerful anthology and everyone who worked on it deserves a better endorsement. I hope they get one.

Resources:

The Weight of Our Dreams information can be found here:
http://autismandrace.com/
The Autism Women's Network information can be found here:
http://autismwomensnetwork.org/?gclid=CKP6guSC5MwCFQ9ZhgodrSMMiw
Autistic While Black: The Erasure of Black from Histories of Autism is here:
http://intersecteddisability.blogspot.com/2016/01/autistic-while-black-erasure-of-blacks.html
Steve Silberman's article title was derived from Mike Buckholtz's CNN article interview "The Invisibles" which can be found here:
http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-768049
Steve Silberman's Mark Twain references on Wiggins came from a medical model narrative probably here:
https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/professional/savant-syndrome/profiles-and-videos/profiles/blind-tom-a-19th-century-marvelous-musician/
Steve Silberman paraphrases a reference I made to a scene from the documentary "Refrigerator Mothers" taken directly from my article where Dorothy Groomer discusses racial reasons why University of Illinois doctors refused to label her son Steven as autistic that excerpt can be directly accessed here:
https://youtu.be/DtKJ0PCz4QI
A JHU Kennedy Krieger Institute Lead Paint Research study which harmed disporportionately poor black community members in Baltimore, disabling children, is the subject of ongoing multiple lawsuits which can be read about here:
http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-06-07/health/bs-hs-lead-lawsuit-new-20140607_1_kennedy-krieger-institute-children-study
A Civil Rights complaint has just been filed against the state of Maryland for approving a new fossil fuel power plant in Brandywine, a community that is 75 percent Black, brings the total plants producing toxic output to the community to 5 and can be read about here. 
http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-05-12/energy-policy/civil-lawsuit-filed-against-maryland-over-power-plant-in-brandywine/a51868-1
John Davis Plays Tom Wiggins here:
https://youtu.be/A2Y-l0bsriE

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Autism Essays: Recalibrating Autism Acceptance


Poster of Mustafa Çevik taupe letters on a black field read: This
Neurodivergent Multiracial Adolescent is aware of his mother's
race is aware of his autism and their ableism Deserves Respect
Your Awareness if paving the road to hell
Presume his competence #Tone it down Taupe ©Mustafa Nuri ÇEVIK
and Kerima ÇEVIK
Fiat justitia ruat caelum.

Sometimes I use profanity when I communicate. This is going to be one of those occasions.

If the three branches of the federal government united tomorrow and declared that henceforth Autism Awareness Month would be named Autism Acceptance Month throughout the nation it wouldn't mean shit to me. Maybe I would have been excited about the meaning of such a possibility four years ago. I'm not now. You see acceptance without representation is not acceptance. What I have seen is an insufficient amount of representation, objectification of intersected populations across the entire autism community, whether medical model or disability rights and a great deal of ableism.

My lack of enthusiasm is rooted in the fact that autism acceptance is now defined differently by every stakeholder presently promoting the concept. Acceptance as it was originally presented by autistic disability rights activists like Paula C. Durbin-Westby, is being drowned out by people who aren't really receiving or disseminating the core message. They are simply trading one word for another without the foundational mind shift necessary to grasp what is meant by acceptance and apply it to their lives. Tolerance is not acceptance. Tolerance is putting up with something even if you don't like or agree with it. Acceptance is lending credence to something or agreeing with it. Right now, many parents, professionals, organizations, allies and famous autistic people with internalized ableism conflate the word acceptance with the word tolerance and that needs to stop. One's tolerance of nonspeaking people doesn't mean one accepts them. This conflated message is wreaking havoc on  the message and purpose of Autism Acceptance Month.

The way autism acceptance has come to be presented is very much the way equal pay for women has come to be presented. The voices heard were white and had large platforms from which to broadcast their message.  On those platforms, all intersected populations of women were used as poster children for the cause, while their voices were ignored or silenced. The equal pay act of 2009 was named after a white woman in a country where my intersected demographic, Black Latina women, earn 54% of what white males earn. Ms. Ledbetter and her peers earn 78%.  Despite the so-called victory of the Ledbetter act, that disparity is not being addressed. Because the conversation of equal pays only matters when the speakers are white, once pay parity between white males and white females is reached, the rest of the women, minority, disabled and trans,  women in poverty and abusive situations in which equal pay could be salvation from disaster, won't matter to society. So it is for the appropriation and skewing of autism acceptance.

In the autism conversation, the demand for acceptance is false if acceptance means the exclusion or objectification of people of every intersected population in any acceptance model. If acceptance means only those who speak, and those who speak insist that those who do not use verbal speech are less than their peers with verbal speech, then that acceptance excludes and is thereby ableist. If an autistic woman is presented as our autistic mentor because she is famous and goes from TED Talks to book sales to conferences telling people that nonspeaking autistic youths  don't merit the resources that autistic youths who use verbal speech do, then that is not acceptance. That is ableism. If famous white autistics insist that they wish to continue carrying the label of Asperger's syndrome because they don't want to be associated with their peers in neurology who will always be visibly divergent, that is not acceptance. That is ableism and to both declare that one demands acceptance while rejecting one's own divergent peers is hypocritically ableist. If someone is presented as a neurodiversity expert who is white, cis, male and knows nothing about the needs or crises of intersected and nonspeaking autistic populations, but is constantly placed above autistic activists of color and neuroqueer activists and presented in the media as our leader and our expert on neurodiversity, then neurodiversity is being skewed to exclude intersected populations that have helped to bring the movement to this moment in history that is benefiting primarily white, famous, mostly male autistics.

My son and his intersected divergent peers have the human right to be accepted not tolerated. I shouldn't have to take the entire autism community to task for styling themselves superior to him or his peers.Yet here I am having to do so.

If families whose children have assistive technology and intensive speech services to communicate  now expect their children to become indistinguishable from their peers, that is not acceptance. If it is not understood that the presumption of competence requires the acceptance of all autistics, regardless of degree of disability, but stakeholders are unwilling to accept autistic community members who will remain with a degree of disability that will make them visibly disabled for the rest of their lives, then the message of autism acceptance is failing.

Here are some truths. Some autistic people also have intellectual disability that is severe. They have health concerns that are extremely disabling. If that makes stakeholders uncomfortable then the stakeholders are ableist.

We have to recalibrate the term autism acceptance.  A clear definition of what autism acceptance is must be stated in such a way that once any stakeholder attempts to use this term they will be held to a standard in which bigotry and ableism will not be tolerated. Those styling themselves experts in neurodiversity need to first root out their own internalized ableism, ableism against nonspeaking autistic people, racism and ethnic bias, homophobia and transphobia. Acceptance means accepting everyone autistic. Acceptance does not mean a country club for autistics who have achieved success to the exclusion of those who cannot do so because the world currently favors white, cis, autistics who can pass for allistic.

In a disabled population where 90% of the adults are unemployed, having a tech job fair for those who are verbal doesn't mean shit to me. My son is the child of a software engineer father and a former database administrator and linguist mother. He is allowed free access to a computer with no protection of the operating system from inadvertent tampering on his part. He has owned more than one computer. His sister's operating systems have repeatedly crashed over the years and hard drives have been reformated mainboards rebuilt and replaced, new computers bought. Our son is 13. He has spilled things on his computers, both PCs, and MACs, but he has never crashed an operating system, opened a computer virus or malware. Think about that for a moment. Yet my son would not be considered at any job fair for autistic people because he has no verbal speech and his AAC support is not sufficient to have him communicate his own interests or talent on electronic devices. A vast majority of autistic youth and adults, some who use verbal speech and some who don't, are in my son's position. They are not considered worth the resources when they are worth every resource available. Until our community gets that and works to lift all its members up, we will stagger along every autism month of every year, bleeding as catch phrases and terms are leeched from autistic activist culture and absorbed by the mainstream autism nonprofit industrial complexes for their own use at the rest of the autism community's expense.

We need to reclaim the term autism acceptance. We need to declare that acceptance means the true inclusion of everyone in our community. A community effort must be made to hold a mirror to ableist community members and show them the harm they are doing, demand they mature enough to accept everyone, and give our intersected members the agency in this movement they deserve.
Silently watching this happen without taking steps to make it right is enabling it.

Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.

Post Script:
On the first day of Autism Acceptance Month, Paula Durbin-Westby wrote the following public service message, which needs to be emphasized and propagated throughout the autism community:

 "PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT. Remember, if you or your organization uses the words Autism Acceptance, Autism Acceptance Day, or Autism Acceptance Month, even if you also throw in "awareness," You are making a commitment to support NEURODIVERSITY because that's the essence of Autism Acceptance Day/Month, started by pro-neurodiversity, anti-cure Autistics. Please share. I think it is critically important that, as other organizations and people use the term "acceptance," that they use it in its original meaning for those of us who have worked hard to make Autism Acceptance an *alternative* to "I accept my child but I hate their autism..." rhetoric. Because I am struggling to keep my family supported, I can't be online every minute of April. Please think about this when you use it. It's Time to Take Back April! Autism Acceptance Day and Month. Pro-neurodiversity, pro-supports, and services, against "cures," AAD was started to counter April "awareness" stunts that demean us. It has expanded to become a way of viewing Autism in a positive and accepting way. Moving WAY beyond negative "awareness!" NOTE: NO cure-oriented posts will be accepted. This is Autistic Safe Space- nothing anti-autism or anti-Autistic. Thank you in advance! "

The Autism Acceptance Action by Paula Durbin-Westby can be found on Facebook at:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1693850024204283/

Tone It Down Taupe - the counter protest action to Light it up blue, is on Facebook at:
https://www.facebook.com/Tone-it-Down-Taupe-446945788708219/

Autism Acceptance Month's website is here:
http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/