When you belong to an oppressed group, talking shit about that group to normal people is a good way to get attention. Normal people like it, because they don’t have to feel guilty if the targets of their prejudice agree with that prejudice. Then it’s not prejudice anymore, it’s just common sense, the way things are.
Jonathan Mitchell has discovered this about autism. He got himself profiled in Newsweek for being the autistic guy who agrees with autism warrior parents instead of neurodiversity advocates. Just recently, he published this essay in The Spectator, about the “dangers of ‘neurodiversity'”. Scare quotes needed after 20 years.
This is how he introduces himself:
I’m an American man affected by the disability autism. As a child, I went to special education schools for eight years and I do a self-stimulatory behaviour during the day which prevents me from getting much done. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I have bad motor coordination problems which greatly impair my ability to handwrite and do other tasks. I also have social skills problems, and I sometimes say and do inappropriate things that cause offence. I was fired from more than 20 jobs for making excessive mistakes and for behavioural problems before I retired at the age of 51.
His argument depends on portraying himself as worse off than neurodiversity advocates, who aren’t autistic enough for our opinions to count. But this is how Newsweek describes his circumstances:
Mitchell knows he is lucky. If not for his mom, a retired lawyer, and dad, a retired engineer, he believes he might be homeless. They give him $26,000 a year and also bought him a condo years ago. Later, he sold the condo to buy his current home: a spacious West Los Angeles house, where dozens of pencils with shoelaces tied to the ends fill his desk drawers and clutter his tables. Though he spends much of his days rocking back and forth, twiddling the pencils and shoelaces around and around, he can also drive, play poker and shop for groceries. He can cook one or two simple meals, and goes out to dinner regularly—by himself. At Italy’s Little Kitchen, where he gets a table for one every Friday, the staff knows his order as soon as he walks in: spaghetti and meatballs. Mitchell is also a prolific writer. He has penned three novels, 25 short stories and several hundred blog posts. There are some on the autism spectrum who might be thrilled if they one day woke up with Mitchell’s abilities. And there are some parents of children with severe autism—those unable to communicate or survive without constant supervision—who would do anything for a drug or treatment that would help those children grow up to be self-sufficient and fulfilled.
In other words, he’d be labeled “not autistic enough” to have an opinion if he were a neurodiversity advocate. But he’s not:
Others with autism spectrum disorder have it worse than I do. People on the more severe end sometimes can’t speak. They soil themselves, wreak havoc and break things. I have known them to chew up furniture and self-mutilate. They need lifelong care. Given this, could any reasonable person think autism is not an affliction? Could any caring person try to prevent sufferers seeking a cure? Common sense dictates the answer should be no. The reality is that identity politics has become so deranged that there is a group of people (both here and in the UK) who seek to prevent autistic people getting help, on the nonsensical grounds that it’s insulting to suggest they need it.
It’s intellectually lazy to point out those kinds of “problem behaviors” without trying to understand why they happen. Are they self-injuring because of trauma? Are their caretakers driving them crazy? For example, this kid is uncoordinated and doesn’t seem to speak very well, and his mom says all the standard complaints:
His mom also appears to waterboard him regularly, and invited TV to the house to explain in front of him that he’s a burden put there by God to test her.
Mitchell sounds like any other angry rich white guy when he talks about “deranged identity politics.” Deranged? People with psychotic disorders can’t help it either, y’know.
Two paragraphs after saying the neurodiversity movement doesn’t want to help people, he admits they’re calling for society to accommodate people better.
Many parents of autistic persons and some autistic persons themselves (myself included) have expressed a desire for a cure for autism. This causes outrage among neurodiversity proponents. They equate a cure for autism with eugenics and genocide. Research has shown autism has a large genetic component and those who endorse neurodiversity cite selective terminations of Down’s syndrome pregnancies. They insist that the purpose of genetic research in autism is to develop a prenatal test to abort autistic fetuses. The only cure we need, they say, is an end to discrimination, which would solve, or at least greatly mitigate, the challenges and poor outcomes accompanying autism.
Here, he’s appealing to a social norm that it’s always wrong to invoke eugenics and genocide. But then he admits that those concerns have a very reasonable basis: prenatal testing has caused Iceland to nearly eliminate the entire class of people with Down syndrome. The same thing would probably happen with autism, in no small part because of all the articles equating it with shit-smearing and general burdensomeness. This easily, straightforwardly meets the dictionary definition of eugenics. Eugenics has always enjoyed healthy levels of support from the general public.
How would ending discrimination NOT improve the lives of autistic people, whether you think autism is a legitimate way to be or not? Is Jonathan Mitchell denying the existence of discrimination against autistic people? Autism can be a “disease” and still face discrimination (e.g., HIV). So we’re arguing about which factor contributes more to the misery of autistic people.
Many of those in the neurodiversity gang claim to be autistic and to speak for others on the spectrum. They use what a friend of mine called ‘the royal we’. They state ‘we’ don’t want to be cured — as if we all feel the same way. But in fact they are very different from the majority of autistics. Many on the spectrum can’t speak or use a computer. They can’t argue against ‘neurodiversity’ because they can’t articulate their position. They’re too disabled, you might say. In the wider group of autistic people, there’s a 4:1 ratio of autistic males to females, yet the majority of neurodiversity proponents are women. Many of them have no overt disability whatsoever. Some of them are lawyers who have graduated from the best law schools in the United States. Others are college professors. Many of them never went through special education, as I did. A good number of them are married and have children. No wonder they don’t feel they need treatment.
Sure, I don’t speak for Jonathan Mitchell. He doesn’t speak for me. But both of us are autistic. He includes his autism in the very first sentence introducing himself, so obviously he agrees that gives him standing in the debate. Neurodiversity people are mostly at war with non-autistic parents, who we see doing cringeworthy things because they don’t know what it’s like to be autistic.
There are, in fact, “low functioning” autistic people who support the neurodiversity movement. They’ve typed about it themselves. The disability rights movement in general should make us cautious before deciding other people’s lives aren’t worth living because of various inconveniences they endure. Autism has made things harder and easier for me. It’s lonely, but I’d be sad to give up the inner life it gives me.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
Is it really true that the majority of neurodiversity advocates are women? If the 1:4 ratio is also real, which I doubt, that would imply an extraordinary split of opinion across gender lines. Men would have to skew strongly towards wanting a cure, and women the other way, for the absolute number of female neurodiversity advocates to be higher. I have no idea what you’d find if you polled autistic people. But if gender doesn’t affect opinion in that way, it’s interesting that he sees himself as being at war with women.
“Many of them have no overt disabilities whatsoever.” He’s not really keeping up with the conversation about autism in a few ways. Masking/camouflaging and the under-diagnosis of women are current hot topics in autism research. Keeping up the appearance of not having disabilities is actually bad for mental health.
Mitchell is a good writer, but he’s not a lawyer or a college professor. Could that be because he was segregated into special education, denied opportunities on the basis of his disability? I was labeled “gifted” instead, and that sure seemed to help.
Having loving relationships doesn’t have to be a function of autism severity.
They don’t seem to think they need common courtesy either. In their crusade against treatments and discrimination, these individuals are frequently less than cordial to those who disagree with them. They often equate their opponents to Nazis. Parents of autistic children who search for a cure are accused of not loving their kids. The movement argues that autistics, such as myself, who desire a cure were taught to be self-haters by their parents and society. They protest at fundraising walks conducted by Autism Speaks, (a charity they loathe) and regularly harass its supporters. They have compared Autism Speaks to the Ku Klux Klan.
We can’t call people names, but he can call us “crusaders.” Got it.
Eugenics really is foundational to Nazism. Everybody should read Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors on this topic. Parents like the one in the video embedded above really don’t love their children. Jonathan Mitchell really is self-hating. Autism Speaks really is hateful towards autistic people.
It’s also very telling how he responds to criticism:
He still gets bullied, he says—but now it’s by members of the neurodiversity movement. When not blaming his mother for his behavior, some have written mean-spirited songs about him. “They’ve called me turdball and buttwipe. One girl said I was like a Jew that sympathized with Nazis and I would gladly jump into [a] crematorium.” Others have called him a quisling, or traitor. Mitchell barks back. “You are homeless,” he wrote to one critic. “You don’t even have a loo to crap in…. The only girls you had sex with walked on four legs and are in a dog pound.”
This is why we diagnose his problem as self-hatred. He believes he’d be homeless if not for his parents, but “homeless” is the go-to insult. Incel problems.
The neurodiversity movement is threatening to him, because it suggests he has some responsibility beyond waiting around for a cure.