hackily dismissing us in the media

In the media, autistic people typically don’t get to be the experts on matters of concern to us. Normal people have the privilege of writing inane, hacky things to speak over us.

First example, from The Conversation: DVLA U-turn over autistic drivers highlights the ongoing issue of autism discrimination. Everything was fine when it was just Nick Hodge summarizing what happened:

Without consultation or warning, the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) recently changed its website guidance for drivers with an autistic spectrum disorder. It stated that such drivers need to declare to the DVLA that they are autistic regardless of whether or not this affects their driving. And with no publicity for the change, this immediately put many autistic drivers in the position of unknowingly breaking the law by continuing to drive.

The change required autistic drivers to complete a form and detail levels of alcohol and drug use, name their doctor and specialist consultant, as well as what clinics they attend and when. Drivers also had to agree to these medical professionals being contacted for information – even though their doctor’s specific understanding of what it means to be autistic might be limited.

The declaration also meant that autistic drivers had to prove they were fit to drive or face a £1,000 fine and possible prosecution in the event of an accident – and in some instances have their licence revoked.

But thankfully, a successful challenge to the DVLA over the practice of treating autistic drivers differently was launched and the decision was overturned. The challenge centred on the idea that the requirement of disclosure is against the human rights of autistic people as it treats them differently.

Obviously, this happened because of haters with the attitude that “autism people can’t drive.”

From the title, you would think that’s what the article was going to be about. You’d be wrong.

But herein lies part of the problem, because it is the autistic community and its allies that have promoted this very idea of autistic people being different.

Many people, the DVLA included, use the term autistic spectrum disorder. It is unsurprising, then, that this raises questions about whether people who are considered to be “disordered” are safe to drive on the roads.

Autistic people and their supporters challenge the use of the term “disorder”, claiming it to be misleading, demeaning and an attack on self-esteem. Instead, many autistic self-advocates identify as “different” rather than “disordered”. The National Autistic Society (NAS) supports this notion of difference but also refers to autism as a “condition”.

But for autistic drivers, this is probably no more helpful than the term “disorder”, as the DVLA is as likely to be concerned about people driving with a “condition” as a “disorder”. Nor will the idea of being “different” be of any more help to autistic drivers – as it is not clear who or what autistics are different from. Difference therefore becomes just another term that marginalises autistic people. It sets them apart as “other” and makes them vulnerable to particular regulation.

Nick Hodge is allowed to be an official expert on autism.

Obviously, non-autistic people invented the category of “autism” to label people who are different in a particular way. Having been so labeled, we insisted the autism is a legitimate way to be, just different. Because it is different. For Nick Hodge, autism professor, it’s “not clear who or what autistics are different from.”

My own research has long been concerned with how this notion of difference has the potential to take those who identify as autistic outside of being human. In doing so, people who identify as autistic are then left without the protection of rights that are the entitlement of all human beings.

Fortunately, the DVLA has made a U-turn in this case and now drivers only have to declare that they are autistic if this will impede their driving. But this lucky escape should be a warning to us all to think more carefully about claiming difference.

I worry, though, that this regulation change from the DVLA is just one example of how being different can lead to being treated differently. The panic that has resulted from this action of the DVLA clearly demonstrates how devastating the effects of being denied the protection of human rights can be.

It is time we moved way from celebrating and promoting this concept of difference. We need instead to assert the humanity of people who identify as, or have been categorised as, autistic. This will involve the identification and celebration of the qualities and contributions that all its members bring to society as well as recognising the challenges and barriers they face.

We should, of course, highlight and protest against physical and social environments when they are constructed in ways that disable some people. But this happens because society often only considers the needs of some, rather than all, of its members. It is not because some beings are essentially and distinctly different. Along with the concepts of “disorder” and “condition”, the action of the DVLA has highlighted how “difference” can be an equally dangerous road to take.

This is ludicrous. Obviously, autistic people are treated poorly because society is fucked up to anyone who’s different, because society is fucked up. It’s not like my social life was unicorns and rainbows, then it all went downhill after I got diagnosed with autism at age 34 and became “different.” Somehow, Hodge doesn’t see the actual discrimination as a problem, or as an optional part of how we run society. It’s autistic people’s fault for labeling ourselves! The ability of normal people to avoid seeing the problem with how they run things is amazing.

You don’t have to be a professor to speak over us. Amazon just pulled some anti-vaccination movies and a couple books about curing your child’s autism by making them drink bleach or giving them dangerous chemicals to chelate the, y’know, mercury from vaccines out of their blood. It’s obviously bad to make money off promoting child-abusive quackery, and they should stop. A few days before Amazon actually listened, Daniel Moritz-Rabson had other ideas in Newsweek. Here’s his bio from the Newsweek site:

Daniel Moritz-Rabson is a breaking news reporter for Newsweek based in New York. Before joining Newsweek Daniel interned at PBS NewsHour Weekend, BBC Travel and NBC’s owned and operated stations. He graduated from New York University in January 2018.

Here’s his take on the situation:

Recent news reports that Amazon is selling books promoting cures for autism and conspiracy theories have focused attention on the range of texts users can buy on the site and the company’s responsibilities as a global vendor.

Wired reported on Monday that the website is selling dozens of texts that claim to treat autism, which has no known cure. Some solutions include yoga and veganism, but Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism tells parents told how to concoct a “Miracle Mineral Solution” of chlorine dioxide, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration.

Joseph Uscinski, an associate professor at the University of Miami and author of American Conspiracy Theories, told Newsweek that regulating such material posed thorny problems for the company. He questioned how Amazon would ensure it monitored censorship in a balanced manner.

“It’s always going to come down to somebody saying, ‘I know it when I see it,'” he said. “If we want to put Amazon or any other company in charge of what’s true, we’re not going to like the results. Because if a standard is laid out evenly, it’s going to exclude a lot of things we believe are true,” he continued.

Uscinski questioned how Amazon would define conspiracy and whether the company would have to regulate all forms of medical self-treatment that aren’t widely agreed upon. He also asked whether Amazon would have to ban books on vitamins and supplements if it began restricting content.

“Once you open this can of worms, you realize there’s a lot of worms,” he said…

Recently, a book promoting the conspiracy theory Qanon reached the top 75 of all books sold on Amazon, NBC News reported last week.

Uscinski said the high ranking of the Qanon book didn’t necessarily mean that Amazon was helping to promote the conspiracy theory. “The only people buying the book are people who already believe in Qanon and journalists,” he said.

Picture this: Daniel Moritz-Rabson has a deadline, and he sees the Wired piece, which has some discussion of Amazon policies in general toward the end. He thinks, “Conspiracy theory angle!” and finds an academic who’ll say quotable things he can print without further commentary. Won’t somebody think of the free speech?

For what appear to be entirely hacky reasons, Newsweek came out in favor of letting people make money off promoting the abuse of autistic children, because who really cares about them? The question of how Amazon can make consistent corporate policy and keep good PR is just so much more fascinating!