Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Alyssa Reads Uniquely Human: Wrap-Up

I read Uniquely Human, and I went through it chapter by chapter, plus all that material that's not in a chapter. At the end of it all, here are my thoughts:

  • This book is still pathology paradigm/behaviorist model. It's just considering that there is, in fact, some rhyme or reason to the behavior and focusing on the cause of the behavior as a way to reduce it. (Same bad model, just using it to say better things.)
    • The descriptions of how and why we act are definitely behaviorizing, or at best partially behaviorizing. See Disability in Kidlit here for the explanation of what I mean by that.
  • For calling autistic people experts, he really doesn't pull much that's credited as being learned from "an autistic adult said this."
    • What crediting of autistic adults happens leans very white, cisgender, heterosexual, educated, and middle to upper class.
    • Even the chapter called "The Real Experts" has very little content that is what we say or how we say it. Most of it is anecdotes in which he shows our behavior.
  • He occasionally conflates tantrums and meltdowns. There is, in fact, a difference.
  • Dr. Prizant is far more trusting of therapies and professionals in general/by default than I can trust or endorse. He may have shared a parents quote about not being able to trust professionals as far as you can throw them, but his writing indicates that he himself does trust professionals.
  • I do not even vaguely trust the reader (or really trust Dr. Prizant) on what the "successes" we celebrate are. The goals described read too much like "acting less autistic" (but by reducing anxiety!) in ways that conflate "acting autistic" with "showing distress in autistic-typical ways."
  • This book minimizes some major problems: electric shock and other painful punishments are depicted as a thing of the past, Lovaas as one of the first autism experts (never mind that he's one of the people who used shock,) and similar.
  • There are times where a trait he mentions is relevant and makes a "lack of social X" argument redundant or unneeded, but he makes the "lack of social X" argument anyways.
    • One case here is a students refusal to complete an assignment that he can't make sense of being explained with not understanding that he should make an attempt anyways to please the teacher, rather than "Ok but this is so inaccessible that there is no attempt I can make."
    • Also there's the bit where we have a communication disability, and we're pretty explicitly taught not to express discomfort or displeasure, but apparently our not communicating when things are bothering us is because we lack this social instinct?
  • There is an overarching pattern where Dr. Prizant comes up with a good point but doesn't follow his own logic fully.
    • He writes his dissertation on functions of echolalia (and does research on functions of scripting,) finding that they have all the same functions as spontaneous language, but then aims to reduce scripted speech. His SCERTS model privileges "spontaneous" speech over echolalic and scripted speech.
    • He points out some issues with intervention "for autism" in the introduction but still supports plenty of things that are "for autism" later.
    • He points out that "unpredictable behavior" usually means that the person describing or observing us doesn't understand the pattern, but still describes things as unpredictable.
    • He points out that we might find different things challenging than neurotypical children. He misses that running out of gas faster under higher stress doesn't imply a lower threshold or a smaller tank.
    • He argues against portraying autism as a checklist of behaviors, but then tends to start anecdotes about children by... listing behaviors.
    • He talks about trauma but also says that our trauma and flashbacks are not PTSD for reasons that he never explains. (If it walks, talks, and quacks like PTSD... it's probably PTSD.)
    • He points out that there are good days and bad days, that abilities aren't static. He still treats selective mutism as if it's definitely not a "can't" talk in the anecdotes where it is mentioned, because the person can talk. I can generally speak, but when I stop it's because I can't flipping talk. Though to be fair, if I were to have a conversation with this guy I'd probably type for reasons other than "can't speak."
At the end of it all, there aren't too many people I'd suggest the book for. I wouldn't give it to a parent whose kid was recently diagnosed and who hadn't learned to be all behaviorist yet. I wouldn't give it to someone who knew nothing about autism and knew it. I wouldn't give it to an autistic person, OMG NO WHY.

I would, however, consider suggesting it to an educator or professional (or maybe parent) who had already learned to view autism as a checklist of behaviors and deficits, and who I didn't think was going to stop doing that any time soon. Maybe. Still iffy because of essentially the difference between 1984 and Brave New World: Yes, only one of these is torturing people to control them, the other is quite a bit more subtle in its control and using what people like (along with many other signs of dystopia), but these are both dystopias. One gets into a wrestling match to force eye contact while the other holds a desired toy between the eyes to induce it. Both are pushing for a neurotypical performance at the end of the day. The first is obvious in its abuse, while the second... it's not as immediately and obviously traumatizing but that could make it harder for people to realize the problems and can lead to trauma that others won't believe even was trauma. Both are still dystopias.

Dr. Prizant is teaching people to make a nicer-seeming dystopia and call it accepting autism. It's not neurodiversity, and it's not accepting autism. It is sometimes doing things that make us more comfortable and less anxious, but with the idea that this will make us appear less autistic because autism gets conflated with autistic ways of showing distress.

For folks who'd like to go back and read my more specific thoughts, here's the rest of the series. Note that the part number within my reading is always 1 more than the chapter number because I started with everything not in a chapter.

1 comment:

  1. I value your words so very much.

    (Mom of an autistic almost-three-year-old)


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