Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Autistic Girl Dangerous: When Big Magazines Promote Perilous Stereotypes

Our autistic son at a younger age expressing
"Oh No She Didn't!" Without Speaking © Kerima Çevik The Autism Wars
 I'm really disappointed with the editors of Good Housekeeping magazine. They managed to find an egocentric blogger to produce a self gratifying piece on why she'll never have kids. It was as self important as can be expected from the title, "Why I Couldn't Care Less About Having Kids".  I'm sorry I won't be linking to it in any way; it is traveling round social media. But that isn't what is bothering me. I'd normally dismiss such an article, even on a platform as large as GH magazine. Unfortunately the article includes the following paragraph:

"In my early 30s, I worked with children with autism for my Master of Social Work degree. I was assigned to work one-on-one with a 7-year-old girl who brought the violence and pain. Like a thug out of a Martin Scorsese flick, she held a pair of scissors up to my neck then attacked me with a tambourine. She'd ask for hugs then head-butt me. I terminated our relationship after she picked up a bean bag, tossed it back and forth, looked me square in the eyes and hissed, "Finally, I get to bash you now."

 "Between processing transference and countertransference issues with lil' Joe Pesci and years attending Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings where I learned if it's not one thing it's your mother, I came to realize it's not the children that I hate. My feelings were merely a symptom of growing up too soon."

I can't imagine the trauma this child went through to end up assigned a social worker and feeling she must defend herself from the  social worker candidate meant to help her.

Children should not be put at risk to add snarky bits to writing
 I have discussed the wrongness of disclosure of private health information, especially regarding young children, for edgy internet content, attention seeking or shock value.  I call it Digital Exhibitionism, and apparently parents aren't the only people tempted to flash the private lives of vulnerable children at everyone for hits online. Using any part of one's casework load for entertainment value of any readership is low and unprofessional, even if the author was a masters degree candidate at the time.

Promoting the trope of autistic children who are in a perpetual state of raging violence for  entertainment is bad enough. But including the word thug to describe a 7 year old girl whose maximum body weight might be roughly 50 lbs, then making comparisons with violent characters in mafia movies is not just unacceptable it is dangerous. (I hope, I truly hope, that she did not select the word "thug" to imply this child's race. Because if she did I will be finding a way to file a legal complaint.) If the author is an indicator of social worker standards here our society is doomed. There is no ethical compass here. Her young client, for whom she needed to provide assessment and generate therapeutic and support resources has been compromised and made a cautionary warning of why someone would hate children in general, and autistic children in particular. I am the mother of a nonspeaking autistic son who is already targeted enough without large magazines like GH allowing material like this to make him an even larger bullying and hate crime target. This is unacceptable and disrespectful to an entire community, to the social work professionals who don't disclose their "adventures" with caseload clients for their own gain, and to the autistic girl who is probably in her teens now and perfectly capable of reading this and putting two and two together.

I won't be asking GH to take it down. I am instead asking all of you not to share that  Good Housekeeping article on social media. Do not allow it to gain hits or become a topic of debate anywhere. This author shouldn't get to gain notoriety to make things worse for others by using our anger at her lack of professional ethics and her vicarious slap at our loved ones. I don't want to see her interviewed because we made her relevant. What I would like to see is an avalanche of open letters to Good Housekeeping about how they screen and edit their articles and ask that they don't approve articles that promote dangerous stereotypes of autistic children that can instigate further harm against them.

I am always sad when I see people given the privilege of a huge platform squander it on snarky, inane, writing that could have been helpful to so many by getting to the point with stronger rhetoric; she was the child of a substance abusing parent and she apparently was trying to address how ending up a child parenting an alcoholic adult and having to become the defacto mother of her younger sister dimmed her interest in parenting as she kept seeking ways to recover a childhood she felt she was deprived of. Why she needed to invoke the trope of the "evil autie child" God only knows. I'm trying to maintain my composure because I don't want to be her. She is part of a greater problem I've been writing about for a very long time. Someone who takes a person at their worst moments and skewers that person for the pleasure of a wider digital audience. We must find a way to address the problem itself and end it, rather than try countering every irresponsible opportunistic human jumping on the autistic child bashing bandwagon. And yes, those people have to recognize that careless words on a page can lead to harm for disabled children.

I love my autistic son, all his curves and edges, all his perfect imperfections as John Legend sings. I'm sick as hell of random people who are supposed to have the professional training to know better dissing those who share his neurology. It needs to stop. Now. It is up to our community to speak up but target those who decide what content is published. Digital Exhibitionists will always look for a virtual public park to stand in with their hands on their coats waiting for a good audience to flash.

Let's stop being part of the knee jerk process that gives them this power.

Resources and additional reading  for parents and educators:

"I Was One of The Scary Kids"

A Checklist for Identifying Sources of Aggression


ASAN Statement Refuting Media Claims Linking Autism and Violence

Autistic Academic on Media Misinformation and Negative Autism Tropes


  1. I understand your point but I have been on the receiving be of extreme violence in my ten years of teaching kids with autism. I've been relatively luck. Some of my colleagues have suffered concussions and other serious injuries. I have permanent injuries that I will suffer with for the rest of my life. Something has to be done to protect us from violent and aggressive children, not matter how old or what size they are.

    1. Hi Olga,
      Thanks for your comment but it sounds very much like you and your colleagues have not been trained in how to keep both yourselves and your students safe. Your idea, based upon your experience, of what autistic children are is wrong and if you truly feel this way it would probably be best to find another group of people to educate. You are not naturally aggressive. Neither are autistic children. Aggression is a reaction not something autistic children are born with. Nor is aggression present in every autistic child so I'm pretty worried about your school environment about now.I have a friend who works at what is called an alternative school of last resort for teens 19 to 21 who are labeled violent or aggressive by schools systems ignorant of how to understand the basis of aggression and thereby eliminate it. Her school has a success rate of over 90%, by simply assessing and providing students with a combination of communication supports, things like noise canceling headphones, training them in self calming techniques, and reducing environmental stressors like fluorescent lighting in classrooms that cause students the stress of a constantly dripping water faucet. My daughter is a special education teacher who specializes in nonspeaking multiply disabled students. Her autistic brother is massive compared to her 5'3" frame and she has never sustained an injury from him. If my son wished he could send me flying. He's that strong. He is gentle because his environment is adapted to reduce his stress. He is given ample communication pathways. He is happy. Nothing he eats or drinks upsets his IBS. It isn't as simple as "protect us from these violent kids". You aren't asking the right question. The question as an educator you should be asking, is what is triggering this degree of aggression. What precedes this? How do we teach the student not to harm his or herself and or others? That is the job.

    2. I couldn't agree with you more, Kerima. While I applaud teachers for their efforts, the correct questions need to be asked and regular training needs to occur.

  2. Alcohol is toxic and so is A$ and their indoctrination...it's gonna screw up mankind.

  3. If autistic children are getting upset with your behavior after 10 years of teaching, obviously you are doing something wrong and have terrible inability to figure out what that is. Get some training or try another type of profession.

  4. I don't think it is fair that this teacher is in turn getting no consideration. At least he is
    sticking with it. There is not the funding for such training everywhere and there is not funding for kids that need it. The reality is money talks. Governments accept that a portion of society falls by the wayside. How else can they decide and conquer. It is hard having children with extra cosidetation needs. Try it with 30 odd kids in the class. We should support those that at least keep trying and help them too as it helps us all.

    1. This blogpost is not about teaching autistic children or a teacher’s view on autistic classroom aggression. It is actually about using stereotypes about autistic children all being violent to gain attention. Actually there isn't a lack of funding for proper staffing, The special education teachers graduating from my state are highly qualified and already trained in retrofitting autism classrooms to reduce stressors and how to humanely teach autistic students to manage overwhelming stress that may lead to meltdowns as well as the meltdowns themselves without traumatizing the students without secluding the students, without restraining the students and by teaching the students self calming methods to manage their own upsets. I need to make it really clear here that if there is a classroom with a very high number of aggressive students there is something very wrong with the classroom and the staffing there NOT the students. It is amazing to me that if over 75% of a class fails a test the teaching staff would be held accountable but when students are autistic aggression is their fault and no thought is given to assessing the students’ home environments, the classroom, or the teaching staff. Every school including Title 1 schools, have a budget for staff training and schedule training days when the students are on breaks. Address the real problem. The problem is administrations are taking funds meant for special education and misappropriating the funding given for each of their special education student's individual needs on things that don't help the students navigate school. Teachers unions aren't lobbying against powerful administrator's lobby groups to demand federal and state funding and staffing support be placed in their classrooms. Teacher's unions need to fight the powerful School Boards Associations and the American Association of School Administrators on where student funding is going and put it back in the classroom helping the students it was meant to support.

  5. A teeny-tiny minority of autistic kids are sometimes very violent -- not unlike the teeny-tiny minority of NT kids that are sometimes very violent. There's an enormous difference between writing about a particular kid (autistic or NT) who happens to be violent for whatever reason and tarring all kids with the same brush.

    My daughter's BFF is a non-speaking autistic classmate (she has an iPad talker) and is the sweetest kid you'll ever meet. My elder daughter has an autistic classmate who is a jerk (not because he's autistic, but simply because he's, well, a jerk). A kid's disability is unrelated to their personality.

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  6. Human rights are not a meritocracy. Disabled students are entitled to equal affection and equal support whether they have behavioral challenges or not. Does your comment immediately jump to the conclusion that I must be referring to only sweet and compliant autistic stereotype? Is that what led you to imply I'm painting all autistics with one brush? My case is for the right to privacy not for making a case that a disabled child's right to privacy only applies to compliant autistic children or children who aren't as you put it, jerks.
    The jerks have human right's too.

  7. I;ve seen such schools with children that are violent and where things happen. The teachers transfer as fast as they can from that environment and are often happier and safe in where they end up. The kids are still stuck in that cesspool because they are poor, and yes, of color and that's all they are getting. No advocates for them there. Major cities, have this situation. Teachers assigned there stay to get toe hold in public school door and transfer to better situations.