Parents, do not infantilise your teenage and adult disabled children

If you’re a parent of a teenage or adult child with a disability, it’s important to avoid infantilising them. What is infantilisation? It’s treating people who are no longer children like children in a way that restricts their ability to be fully integrated with their age-peers. It’s talking to them in a condescending voice, dismissing their ideas and opinions, acting as though you will always understand them better than they understand themselves, or going out of your way to shield them from everything you think may be even slightly dangerous. It’s treating your child as though they will always be a child, no matter whether they’re 5, 15 or 35. Infantilisation is different from recognising that disabled people have support needs. That’s part of what being disabled means: being at a relative disadvantage compared to non-disabled people because we require specific supports to help us live within the community, whether that disadvantage is related to physical health, cognition, mental health, sensory processing or perception, mobility, or something else people find disabling.

It doesn’t matter what kind of disability your child has. This applies to people with chronic illnesses and intellectual, mobility, psychiatric, learning, developmental and sensory disabilities, or a combination. People with all kinds of disabilities deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect. A teenager or an adult with an intellectual or developmental disability is still a teenager or an adult. Accommodating the support needs of an autistic 17-year-old or a 30-year-old with Down Syndrome does not mean that you should treat them as though they’re younger than their actual age. You can support people without condescending to them.

Disabled teenagers and adults are just that: teens and adults. Teens and adults may be interested in relationships, sex, college/university, dating, alcohol, parties, mature subject matter in films, TV or books, and other activities and experiences that other people their age are interested in. Pretending that disabled teens and adults don’t have these interests does them a disservice. If you don’t recognise their autonomy, they may seek out predatory people who pretend to respect them and may lead them into more danger because you didn’t talk to them about sex or drugs or relationships and realise that they, like other people their age, may want to try things out. I’ve seen other disability activists, like Cal Montgomery, talk about allowing disabled people the right to experience ‘dignity of risk’, or allowing them to try new things and potentially fail at them or learn from their mistakes. I think that’s important. Young people of all ages should have the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t work for them. I understand the desire to protect one’s children from harm. If I had children I would want to avoid them from being harmed too. Unfortunately, you can’t always control what happens to people throughout the lifespan as much as you may try. The inherent uncertainty of life requires that parents allow their children to adapt and respond to that uncertainty. There is no such thing as a permanent cocoon, and you’ll find that your teenage or adult child is probably more resilient than you may expect. We deserve the right to try.

Infantilisation is very familiar issue to me. I myself have a developmental disability and my parents—my father in particular—infantilised me as a teenager and as a young adult. I wasn’t allowed to do what many of my peers were allowed to do; my parents claimed that I ‘wasn’t ready’ for many of the things everyone else my age seemed to be allowed to do, like going to school dances. My parents restricted what I read, thinking that I wasn’t mature enough to handle heavier themes in books, TV and films despite encountering similar subject matter in my assigned readings at school. They would force me to attend church even when I’d told them clearly that I was no longer religious; they justified this by claiming ‘in our house, we serve the Lord’, even though I was only going through the motions of practising Christianity. I was also a legal adult when this happened; I didn’t tell my parents explicitly that I was no longer Christian until I was eighteen. The appearance was what mattered, even if it was clear my beliefs had changed. When I was nineteen years old, my parents installed parental controls on my Windows account. (I found a way to disable them a few days after they installed these controls without their noticing, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they still treated me like a small child even though I was an adult.) I was old enough to vote. In fact, I had voted when I was eighteen; I distinctly remember being eager to vote against George W Bush in 2004. My parents didn’t always give me the right to try, or if they did, they would do it begrudgingly and blame me if whatever I tried didn’t work out, instead of listening to me and working with me to identify strategies that did work for me. For them, supporting me entailed controlling me.

I should also add that recognising that your teenage or adult child with a disability is, in fact, a teenager or an adult is different from using their age as a weapon against them. You can respect their autonomy and recognise that they may need support in certain areas. Just because somebody struggles with housework and certain kinds of planning, as I do, doesn’t mean that you can tell me ‘why, you’re 32! If you want to be treated like an adult, you should be able to muster up those non-existent executive functioning skills!’ Yes, I’m an adult. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have support needs. Rather, it means I should be able to share what my support needs are and direct the means by which I receive support. Autonomy in adolescence or adulthood is about being able to make decisions about one’s own life and enlisting support to make those decisions and implement them. It is not about having to do every single thing by yourself if your disability prevents you from doing so.

Again, teenagers and adults with disabilities are still teenagers and adults. We have the right to make decisions about our lives and receive support to help us make and carry out those decisions. Having a disability doesn’t mean we’re children, or that we don’t have the right to learn by trial and error. We should be allowed to learn and grow from our experiences. Your children are not an extension of you; they’re autonomous human beings who will eventually develop their own goals and priorities in their lives that may or may not coincide with yours. Your job is to help guide and support them, not to use them as proxies for your own desires. Respecting disabled people’s autonomy helps us live healthier, more fulfilled lives.

Worst Practices: The Discrediting of Autistic Narratives through Pathologising Constructs

The one positive of my neuropsychology horror story was the series of existential, epistemic and personal revelations that proceeded from it. I knew that after that experience, I had to move forward in rejecting the politics of shame and pathologisation and move towards a more holistic framework to understand myself and the way I gather and express knowledge. Since that incident, I’ve been thinking about how professionals’ ideas of autistic epistemology (people’s relationship with knowledge, how it is gathered, and the validity of that knowledge) and ontology (ideas about existence and what it represents) are rooted in the idea that marginalised people’s self-perceptions and -knowledge are intrinsically invalid because of who we are.

A few days after I received the letter from Beth Israel’s patient relations department standing by the neuropsychology department’s poor methodology, I came across some writing by the disability scholar and activist Alex Haagaard about how the voices of people with chronic illnesses are routinely discredited by doctors because these doctors have either consciously or unconsciously adopted an attitude towards marginalised people that renders their words unreliable. Their writing reminded me of some of my own ideas on how medical professionals discredit the self-perceptions of autistic people and treat us as though our self-knowledge is either non-existent or reliable; we are Hans Asperger’s ‘intelligent automata’, even if they may not directly refer to us as robots rendered in flesh in their reports. People who do not feel a fundamental tension between their self-knowledge and the ways others view them—the fraught relationship between the subjective ‘I’ and the objective ‘me’ that George Herbert Mead refers to in his work—will not appreciate the level to which this subjective/objective tension affects people’s lives. For people whose life is blissfully absent of this tension, there is a clear distinction between Normal and Abnormal, between truly human and monstrous. Furthermore, the tension that we feel is inherent to us, a flaw that must be corrected, rather than a reflection of the complex interplay between individual traits and social structures. It is a form of victim-blaming applied to people who find themselves on the wrong end of a power differential; if you’re not powerful enough to matter, your problems are your fault. You are the problem. (Incidentally, this is why I am generally indisposed to refer to neurodivergent experiences as being disorders instead of disabilities except in specific circumstances; being disordered implies that the problem inheres within the individual and exists separate from a broader context, whereas disability implies a more complex state of affairs in which people experience both internal disabling experiences and social disablement. It’s even worse in languages like German, in which disorder is translated as Störung, or disturbance.)

When your clinical standpoint requires that ‘disordered’ people must be discredited, then it is far too easy to reject or distort patients’ experiences. After all, our existence is a flaw in the human design. Anything we produce must be flawed by extension. This is magnified if autistic people also experience intersecting forms of marginalisation, like misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia or classism. The discrediting experiences that women, people of colour, low- and moderate-income people, and LGBTQ people encounter reinforce and magnify the disablism we face. People like me cannot be reliable narrators under this framework. The idea, for example, of a black, queer, disabled person being intelligent enough to question the underestimation of their intelligence and to question the idea that the methodology used to evaluate me would accurately describe my cognition, is unfathomable. Recognising that a black, autistic man was capable of being empathic would destroy the very foundations upon which his faulty framework of autism was based. After all, aren’t black men all brutes and autistic people unfeeling robots? Had I come into that office with the same level of education – at the time I was a semester away from finishing my master’s degree and had mentioned being interested in doing a doctoral dissertation – and work experience as a white, non-disabled man with unconditional male privilege, I doubt I would have received the same treatment.

This neuropsychologist had a clear ontological framework of Being Autistic: restricted interests, poor social skills, unable to have legitimate insights into one’s own intellect, knowledge-gathering processes, or background. This pattern of traits was his foundational definition of being autistic within the world. I suspect that he had an absolute, reified version of autism in which it exists as a solid entity with clear boundaries, rather than a socially constructed phenomenon or set of phenomena that is defined primarily for its utility, not its concrete existence.

While I refer specifically to a professional who was immured in a particular kind of thinking and applied it to me, this is certainly not limited to him. It’s the entire foundation of how autism is viewed within traditional medicalised practice. Please note that I’m not a strict adherent of either the social or medical model; rather, I view disability as a combination of social and medical factors. I admit that I am more hostile towards the strictly medical model than I am the strictly social model; I find the former profoundly dehumanising and Othering in ways I do not see the latter. I am generally opposed to models that view people as entities entirely deracinated from the social and cultural contexts in which they live, work and learn.

This systemic devaluation of autistic self-knowledge and existence has real, palpable effects: self-hatred, depression, anxiety, free-floating existential angst. They lead to a construction of an oppositional self-concept that internalises those messages. Whenever I think about my experience with this doctor and and other ‘experts’ like him, I fall into spirals of self-doubt, wondering if my perceptions can be trusted or if my memories are real. I start tearing myself apart, constantly trying to psychoanalyse myself in an effort to find out why I view myself the way I do. I feel a nasty chill running up my spine and a metallic tang in my mouth. I can feel my thoughts starting to scramble and introjected voices taunting me and trying to discourage me from scholarship and intellectual inquiry. I’ve had lifelong mental health struggles because of this kind of devaluation. I know I’m mostly talking about it from a theoretical standpoint here, but it goes beyond that. Remember that even the most abstruse academic theories about identity and selfhood attempt to address internal experiences and social structures that can and do affect real people.

If this happened to me, somebody who does have educational privilege and can engage critically with academic literature, imagine what might happen to someone else who doesn’t have those external markers of credibility.

A Neuropsychology Horror Story

(content warning: disablism, possible racism)

If you are in the Greater Boston area and are trying to get a neuropsychological evaluation, do not go to Dr Tyler Zink at Beth Israel if you can possibly avoid it. I had a horrible experience with him in late 2017. My psychiatrist referred me to Beth Israel’s neuropsychology department to look into some attention-span and executive-functioning issues I’d been struggling with. I don’t typically engage in callout posts or name-and-shame campaigns, but this experience was bad enough that I feel the need to warn the community about Dr Zink as a public service.

During the October 2017 intake appointment, Dr Zink repeatedly tried to elicit stereotypically autistic answers out of me. He was priming me to give him the right answers. For example, when I was talking to him about my interests, he seemed to be trying to push me into saying I had restricted interests when I had told him I had a broad range of topics I found fascinating. I clarified this by saying that I was interested in particular sub-topics within those disciplines. If I were in an environment in which I felt I could be autistic and have multiple interests, I wouldn’t have responded that way. It was clear that he had a specific model of what an autistic person looked like in his head, and he was determined to fit me into it regardless of what I actually told him.

A graduate student, Melanie (I don’t think I got her surname) actually administered the tests in November 2017, though Dr Zink was responsible for choosing the set of tests she used to examine me. Part of the diagnostic battery for autism he used included questionnaires by Simon Baron-Cohen, he of the ‘empathising and systemising’ and ‘extreme male brain’ hypotheses. I felt as though, yet again, I were being primed to give autistic-sounding answers. In this case, I was filling them in silently, but the nature of the environment seemed to have that effect on me.

I received my final report in December 2017. Some of it was helpful, like its identification of my fine-motor and executive-functioning difficulties. These brief moments of lucidity were marred by stereotyping and mechanistic approaches to the interpretation of my results. The two particular conclusions I took the most issue with involved intelligence and empathy.

Dr Zink tried to tell my intellectual functioning was between ‘high average and superior’ (roughly IQ 115-120, I think). I was horrified, because being within that range would represent a twenty- to thirty-point decline in intellectual functioning compared to the Wechsler tests I had to take to receive special-education services. (Never mind the fact that ‘superior’ just reeks of eugenics; some practitioners are shifting towards ‘advanced’, but he didn’t get that memo.) I remember seeing one of my IQ scores, and was told about others later on. He was trying to butter me up, telling me that I was ‘so smart’ and was in the ‘top 10%’. I scored in the 99th percentile in the past. For example, when I was 11, I qualified for gifted education in a district that had a strict IQ cutoff of 130. I was identified as gifted extremely early. I told him I’d scored higher when I was younger, and he said that ‘things may have changed from when you were a kiddo’, and proceeded to mansplain to me about how he took into account age and other factors. Yes, he said ‘kiddo’. I’m 31 years old, for god’s sake. He implied that I should be totally fine with a twenty- to thirty-point decline in intellectual functioning. Also, I know damn well that modern IQ tests are based on rankings within a given age band. A twenty- to thirty-point drop is severe, though. This is like telling someone who earned an IQ score of 100 – average intelligence – at the beginning of secondary school that it’s acceptable for them to now have scores that reflect a mild intellectual disability or borderline intellectual disability. Also, why are we talking about ‘premorbid intellectual functioning’ when I’m being assessed for lifelong conditions? It turns out that he derived this IQ range from a quick-and-dirty IQ test called the Wechsler Test of Adult Reading, or WTAR. It can’t even get you a score of 120, but he didn’t tell me that. He just ‘splained to me and gave me false reassurance. Nor did he explain the other limitations of the testing. I was supposed to just accept what he said as given. Of course, I think there are flaws with intelligence testing and don’t think that IQ tests always work well in neurodivergent people in the first place. But his dismissal was ridiculous and not in keeping with researchers’ findings on the consistency of intelligence-test scores throughout the lifespan. Intelligence tests can be compared across different life stages; a British/Australian longitudinal study by Howlin et al (2013) compared autistic people’s childhood Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) scores with Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) tests. Most of the studies I’ve seen about changes in IQ scores in autistic people across the lifespan involve increases, not decreases. Of course, there are exceptions, but when there are exceptions, then clinicians should understand their patients’ concerns. I suspect that his dismissiveness may have stemmed from unconscious racism and disablism. Who am I, a Black disabled person, to question his judgement of my intelligence? I imagine that if I were white, he would have been more receptive to the idea that either his testing methodology was questionable or that I had experienced a decline that merited addressing. Intelligence tests are ostensibly objective, but examiners have an incredible amount of leeway in interpreting those tests. He chose to believe I was of slightly above-average intelligence; if I hadn’t told him I was a grad student, I suspect he may have claimed that I was of average or below-average intelligence. These complaints aren’t a means for me to go, ‘why, look how intelligent I am!’ as much as they are to point out exactly how dismissive and condescending Dr Zink was.

To add insult to injury, the report also claimed that I had ‘reduced empathy’, based on the ridiculous Simon Baron-Cohen questionnaires I took during the evaluation. I didn’t internalise it as badly as I did the intelligence assessment, but I felt that it was distorted and not in keeping with who I actually am as a person. I actually do feel empathy very strongly, but I sometimes have a harder time expressing it. Honestly, I lean more towards the ‘intense world’ interpretation of autism, in which I feel so overwhelmed by stimuli that I have to shut down or disengage to protect myself from dealing with all the intensity. It’s not a matter of ‘reduced empathy’. Baron-Cohen, and by extension Dr Zink, have conflated a superficial external expression with an internal reality; it’s like the difference between an extension and an intension in the philosophy of mind. To see the complexity of one’s thinking collapsed into horrific, dehumanising stereotypes is a painful experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. This was a common theme throughout my interactions with Dr Zink and within the report: a routine tendency to flatten, minimise and pathologise.

The report contained blatant errors and distortions of things I had told both Dr Zink and Melanie. The clinical recommendations also seemed to be based on stereotypes, rather than anything I had actually talked about having trouble with in my intake. Dr Zink suggested joining local social skills groups run by the Autism Asperger Network. I do not need social skills groups. When I showed my therapist the report, she thought that suggestion was ridiculous. I have a decent network of local friends that I’ve met through various sources. When I do attend groups facilitated by non-autistic people for autistic people, I tend to feel out of place. I’ve never attended any AANE groups, but I did go to some similar groups back in San Francisco and didn’t get much out of them. Dr Zink was operating on the premise that autism is primarily a disability affecting social skills when my primary complaints were about executive functioning. I left him a phone message to see if I could talk to him further about my report, but he never returned my call. Clearly he expected me to get my report and get on with my life and not question it. He was so enamoured of the idea of my being limited that he didn’t recognise his own limitations.

What happened was not a case of what the intelligence researcher Alan Kaufman calls ‘intelligent testing’, in which clinical judgement takes precedence over mechanistically interpreting scores. This was thoughtless testing that didn’t take into account qualitative factors, self-reported case histories, or any other factors that might have affected my outcomes.

The worst part about the experience was how it warped my sense of self and reality. I wondered whether I had made up or imagined all my memories. I even wondered if I actually existed at some of my worst points after receiving the report. It also dredged up a number of childhood triggers that had lain dormant for years. It took me several months to recover from this experience. You’d think I’d have decent defences against this sort of thing, but it’s difficult when a supposed expert is telling me things about myself that don’t match my internal experiences or what people have said about me. It bordered on gaslighting, though I don’t think it was a deliberate attempt to fuck with my sense of reality. Rather, I think it was Dr Zink’s rigid adherence to stereotypes and his mechanistic interpretation of my results that caused him to treat me the way he did. I understand why he did it, but that doesn’t excuse his behaviour or his methodology. Nor does this mean that I have to forgive him. His intransigence and refusal to recognise that there may be flaws or exceptions to his methodology make me worry that he will continue to upset and traumatise autistic and other neurodivergent patients who come in to be evaluated.

After a few days of fighting off depression, I went through the report again to see the sources for his ‘intellectual functioning’ claims, since I’d only read it cursorily beforehand. I knew he hadn’t given me the full WAIS, only a few subtests from which a clinician can’t derive a full-scale IQ, so there was no way he could have derived a score from it. The WTAR on its own can only produce scores between 70 and 119, meaning that it may underestimate the abilities of people who historically scored higher on IQ tests (Macniven, 2016). The test designers themselves indicate that it was designed to measure people’s intellectual ability before an acquired condition like a traumatic brain injury, dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. My reason for seeing Dr Zink had nothing to do with acquired conditions. Yesterday, I also found out that not only was this test inappropriate for what I was being examined for, it had also been discontinued nine years ago. The WTAR is no longer available for sale on Pearson’s website; the Test of Premorbid Functioning (TOPF) is the current version of the test. The TOPF was released in 2009. Considering that Dr Zink only started practising in 2013, there’s no excuse for his using such an old test.

In January 2018, I wrote a lengthy negative review on Yelp about my experience with Dr Zink. I focussed specifically on the intelligence issue because I had more concrete evidence that the methodology was questionable; I reasoned that it would be more difficult to argue my case about the SBC questionnaires. A patient relations representative contacted me about it a few months later. I called their hotline and they passed along my complaint to the neuropsychology department. I received a letter yesterday afternoon from a different patient relations representative, telling me that Dr Zink was a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience working with people with neurodevelopmental disabilities. There was no admission of wrongdoing whatsoever; all they did was reiterate that he was The Expert. Keep in mind that I didn’t question his credentials. I questioned his methodology. When I wrote my Yelp review, I specifically said that he was the wrong clinician for me, not that he was a bad clinician generally. I called the patient relations rep who wrote to me and she reiterated what the department told her, said she didn’t have any expertise to evaluate what I said, and said that the department ‘respectfully disagreed’ with me. They completely dismissed the fact that I based my conclusions on research on books from reputable academic publishers and peer-reviewed scholarly articles. She gave me the impression that her hands were tied. I don’t think, though, that the department’s judgement was respectful. I think it was degrading and invalidating. If what they said were true, my life would make no sense. There would be no explanation for some of the things I can do and have done. Qualitatively it doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit previous quantitative assessments, either.

Because of this experience, I never want to have one of these evaluations ever again. One of my favourite quotes – a line from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America – comes to mind: ‘That it should be the questions and shape of a life, its total complexity gathered, arranged, and considered, which matters in the end, not some stamp of salvation or damnation that disperses all the complexity into some unsatisfying little decision.’

Again, if you are autistic, wonder if you’re autistic or are otherwise neurodivergent, I would strongly recommend against seeing Dr Zink or any other clinician who thinks similarly about autistic people. The damage has already been done with me, but I don’t want to see other people go through what I’ve gone through with him. The one positive thing I can say about this nightmarish experience is that I used the existential crisis I went through to help rebuild my self-concept and reject useless and facile interpretations of who I am and how I learn. Fortunately, neither my therapist nor my psychiatrist, both of whom have been working with me for the past two years, agreed with the worst aspects of this report.

References

Howlin et al (2014). Cognitive and language skills in adults with autism: a 40-year follow-up. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55:1, pp 49–58.

Macniven, J (2016). Neuropsychological Formulation: A Clinical Casebook. Berlin, Germany: Springer.

Moisse, K (13 May 2017). Many children with autism get significantly smarter over time. Spectrum News. Retrieved from https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/many-children-autism-get-significantly-smarter-time/

Please Get This Cat Out of Here!: A Eulogy for Penelope

On 17 July 2015, Penelope entered my life; on 29 April 2018, she left it. After I found out that she had severe kidney disease with several other complications and that there was no guarantee of her making a full recovery, I decided to have her put to sleep. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’d ever made in my life, but there was something in Penelope’s countenance that told me it was time for her to go. Sometimes you can tell when someone, regardless of species, wants to fight to keep living, but in Penelope’s case, it seemed that she was acquiescing to the reality of her own mortality.

I know some people may think she was ‘just a cat’, but to me, she was far more than that. She was a friend. Family. Though I’ve since adopted another cat, Calliope, she is not a replacement for Penelope. Every cat has their own unique personality.

The story of her adoption is quite a doozy. It all starts in July 2015, when my old apartment was starting to get a major mouse infestation after a previous housemate and their cat left. I am utterly terrified of mice in my personal space. No matter how many times I’ve lived in a house or apartment that has them, I still can’t get used to their presence and have a hard time sleeping unless there’s a cat or other predator in the house to keep them at bay. I already knew that I wanted to adopt a cat soon now that my finances and lease allowed it, and my housemates and I had already said in passing that we needed a cat, so I decided that very day to get a cat. I found a Craigslist ad that said, ‘Please get this cat out of here!’ The owner had been trying in vain to re-home her for over a week because she had apparently attacked the family’s dog. I texted the owner, asking if she was good with people. There was something in me that thought this cat deserved a chance if she was personable enough. The owner confirmed that she was indeed good with people, so I went over to visit her. She was staying with a family who had adopted her relatively recently. Penelope shared a one-bedroom apartment with a relatively young couple, their two small children and the aforementioned dog. Given the number of people and pets within that space, I don’t blame her for being stressed. (Since then, I’ve concluded that it was probably the dog that attacked Penelope and not the other way around; she got along perfectly well with a service dog that lived with her for a few months. It’s other cats Penelope had a problem with.) When I saw Penelope in person, it was love at first sight. She was a five-year-old, slightly plump, (mostly) black cat with large, luminous yellow-green eyes, described as being ‘healthy as an ox’.

I took Penelope with me along with a cart full of supplies and put her inside a carrier, which she clearly hated. She miaowed all the way back home and peed inside her carrier, probably because of the stress of leaving her previous household. Even though she had just arrived and was clearly stressed out from being in new surroundings, she was already affectionate to me and would rub her head against my hand when I extended it to her to sniff. She’d also rub herself against my laptop’s screen. After a few weeks of adjustment, she calmed down and started to regain her bearings.
Penelope was a gloriously agile cat. She could leap on to a tall table in a single bound. Even in her frailty she managed to get on top of bookshelves and ledges to survey the landscape. She was also an excellent escape artist, though she never dared go outside. When she was indoors, though, there was no telling where she would end up if you didn’t close the doors tightly. Relatively intelligent, she could slide her paws through the minutest cracks in doors to let herself in and out. That said, though, she’d often stand outside the door and miaow to be let in just because she wanted to. Like many other cats, Penelope had an uncanny sense of knowing which items I was about to use and promptly planting herself upon them. If I was about to read a book, she’d sit on it. If I was going to use my iPad or sketchbook, she’d plop herself on top of it. She would walk across my keyboard knowing full well it was an easy way to get herself attention. She was well-versed in the arts of feline manipulation.

Penelope was my constant companion during some of the most difficult periods of my life between 2015 and 2018, especially in 2016. When I heard that a good friend of mine had suddenly died on the floor of her condo, Penelope curled up next to me and barely left my side for the next few days, except when she needed to eat, drink or use her litter tray. After Trump was elected, she did the same thing, holding vigil over me while I mourned.

I only found out that she had advanced renal disease at the end of April. I’d noticed that her health had deteriorating and made a vet appointment, but wasn’t fully sure what was causing it. Kidney disease, I later found out, sneaks up on many cat owners unexpectedly because cats are experts at hiding their symptoms and will pretend nothing is wrong until it’s too late, or nearly so.

When I first adopted her she was slightly overweight at nearly twelve pounds; now she was practically emaciated at a scant four pounds. She was once charmingly plump but had been reduced to skin and bone, not for lack of feeding. In fact, I had bowls of food and water for her on both floors of our apartment. She simply wouldn’t touch her food after her disease became apparent. For most of the time I had her, she was at a relatively average weight, roughly nine pounds or so. A cat who had once taken to food enthusiastically, even new brands of food, now turned up her nose even at her favourite flavours. Over the course of about two weeks, I saw a normally agile and sociable cat become comparatively reclusive. She would miaow loudly, in a tone I was unfamiliar with, as though she were trying to tell me she was in deep discomfort and didn’t know what to do about it.

I wonder if there’s anything I did, even though both vets I spoke to and my friends have reassured me that it’s highly unlikely, given how common kidney disease is in cats.

I don’t regret ‘getting that cat out of there’ for a second. I wish my time with her were longer than the two years and nine months we had together, but I cherish the time I did have with her. I love you, Penelope.

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On autism, early diagnosis and identity

I suppose this is an unorthodox Autism Acceptance Month post, but so was my previous one. This is an expansion of a Facebook status I wrote about two weeks ago.

I have a difficult time relating to the accounts of late-diagnosed autistic adults who did not grow up with this label being used to marginalise, segregate and discredit them. I see so many accounts of unalloyed joy at being diagnosed with autism and having the diagnosis explain most or all of the difficulties they’d encountered throughout their lives. That’s not to say that late- and self-diagnosed adults don’t encounter oppression or stereotyping, especially after they receive a formal diagnosis and encounter stereotyping from misinformed practitioners, but that it’s of a different nature from what early-diagnosed people can experience. For me, though, it was a mark of Cain until I discovered the neurodiversity movement back in 2005 or so.

I was diagnosed before I started school and had my differences placed squarely within a pathologising framework. Deficits in social interactions. Lack of eye contact. Restricted interests. Deficits in personal organisation. I was wrongly thought to be intellectually disabled – to the point that a doctor declared that I would ‘never learn’ – because I was late to start talking, though this impression of me was mercifully very short. People like my parents and teachers would emphasise my weaknesses, either real or perceived, over my strengths. While I had two concurrent labels when I was at school – autistic (officially PDD-NOS and Asperger Syndrome) and gifted (I am not a fan of the word ‘giftedness’, by the way. I use it reluctantly to refer to an educational label and a neurotype, or a set of neurotypes, but the current language around it is not that great)- much of what I dealt with was pigeonholing, pathologisation and exclusion from opportunities that would have benefited me socially and intellectually. I felt like a ‘fake intelligent person’ because of my diagnosis. In fact, my methods of internalising and interpreting information were frequently treated as autism symptoms. I was forced to sit through boring classes that didn’t challenge me intellectually because ‘quiet hands’ and extinguishing ‘behaviours’ came first. While I did skip a grade and participate in gifted programming for the majority of my elementary- and middle-school years, I was still under-stimulated intellectually and often found myself disengaged from the general-education curriculum. There were also a lot of neurodivergent traits I had that couldn’t be explained by my being autistic, but made sense given my learning style, but people tended to subsume all of these traits under the label of ‘autism’ just because they weren’t neurotypical. My parents and teachers would often treat me as though I were a list of diagnostic traits instead of a person, and would ascribe stereotypes based on those diagnostic traits that didn’t actually match my own experiences or my internal self-perceptions. Most gallingly, my parents actually told me they understood me more than I did! I was wary of that statement then and I think it was utter nonsense now. If they’d truly understood me, I wouldn’t have severed contact with them nearly twelve years ago. 

I realised that I couldn’t attribute everything different about me to autism after going through something of a quarter-life crisis at the age of seventeen. I started rebuilding my self-concept to incorporate a more holistic interpretation of my cognition, though admittedly I was still struggling with internalised disablism and wondered over the course of two years whether I was Properly Autistic because I didn’t match the Asperger Syndrome stereotype. Some of this was because most of the literature I’d encountered on autism characterised it as a disability that primarily affected social interactions, even though social interactions were and are not what I find the most disabling, especially after the age of 14 or so. My social skills difficulties were contextual, not global. Compared to many of the accounts I read in books and on blogs online, I got off pretty easily socially. I’m not saying that social interaction was necessarily easy for me – it wasn’t – but it was easier if I was talking to people who understood what I was trying to tell them, which my parents frequently didn’t. They’d shut down if I tried to explain my reasoning for my behaviour and preferred superficial explanations that didn’t address the root problem. Somehow *I* was the one who was impaired for having complex interpretations of my behaviour, though, since they liked to pin anything they didn’t understand about me on the autism diagnosis. I remember arguing with my mother when I was 18 and trying to explain myself and having her tell me ‘You have Asperger Syndrome!’ as though it invalidated the content of my argument. My executive functioning issues are vastly more disabling; in fact, I find them the most disabling (and expensive) part of being autistic. I have a reasonably active social life and have an easier time making friends.

For a period in my mid- to late twenties after I became more involved in public disability advocacy, I moved back towards attributing all my atypical perceptions to my being autistic, even if I knew multiple autistic people who saw the world very differently from me. Much of this was from indirect peer pressure from late-diagnosed and self-diagnosed autistic people. I was using it as a crude, brute-force method to identify and categorise anything that seemed to separate me from the general public, even if *there was no direct evidence* that the experiences in question could actually be explained using an autism-centric framework. I also felt that I had to do this to be the Right Kind of disability advocate, even though I knew plenty of other autistic people who didn’t have the same Weird Brain Things as me; it didn’t help that I had internalised the idea that using other interpretations for it might suggest that I was somehow expressing some form of disablism for not using a framework that centred on disability. I just felt crazy and isolated during that period. It is painful to read back from blog posts and private journal entries from between 2011 and 2016 in which I explain aspects of my thinking as being part of being autistic when they’re not necessarily autistic traits in and of themselves.

I still think I’m autistic, of course, but I no longer feel comfortable treating it as though it is the sole explanation for my divergent thinking. More specifically, I think the diagnostic label is useful for me to identify specific supports for the issues that I find disabling, and it is politically useful as a framework to advocate for the rights of a group of people with somewhat related experiences who experience systemic marginalisation for their disability. This is different from internalised disablism or claiming that I don’t have a disability at all; it’s just that when I was growing up, I had a disability-centric narrative and identity imposed on me against my will. People who were diagnosed as teenagers and adults and encountered less pathologising narratives about autism when they found out about it are more likely to see a politicised disabled identity as something of a revelation. I won’t deny being disabled. I’m not a Shiny Aspie. There’s a difference, though, between denial and recognition of the complexity of one’s experiences.

Moving towards a more holistic way of interpreting my neurodivergence seems to be healthier for me. I can’t do to myself what people did to me when I was growing up.

Communication and echolalia! (Echolalia? Echolalia!)

This is part of a series of posts for Autism Acceptance Month! Throughout April, I’ll be talking about experiential, theoretical and cultural aspects of being autistic, drawn from my own experiences and research I’ve done on autistic people’s cognition, identity formation and methods of interacting with the world. This post is about echolalia, a form of communication or self-calming behaviour that involves repeating words or phrases that’s common amongst some autistic people, including me. 

Like a lot of other autistic folks, I’m echolalic. I’ll repeat things I’ve heard before as a form of emotional regulation, humour and stock communication. Specifically, I have delayed echolalia, in which I repeat things I’ve heard or read in the past, like advertising jingles, amusing or ridiculous quotes, slogans from commercials, and random words I like the sound of. (Fake news! False and fake. Millionaires and billionaires. The doors are closing. Please stand clear of the doors. Red line, commuter rail and bus connection.) If I’m talking to other people, the delayed echolalia will mostly present itself as imitations of political figures or other people recognisable to my interlocutors. Even though echolalia is a classically autistic trait, it’s still affected by social context. If I’m using echolalia while I’m alone to calm or amuse myself, the pool from which I draw phrases is rather wider. I also have a set of stock phrases to make small talk without really thinking about the content of the conversation. That latter kind of echolalia is more tiring to use because I prefer to use low-content communication for humour and relaxation, not as a substitute for high-content communication, but I understand how important small talk is as a form of social grooming.

I also have a distinction between high- and low-content verbal expression, and there seems to be a major distinction between the two modes. Low-content echolalic speech and writing don’t look the same qualitatively as high-content speech and writing for me. I know that other people may have different experiences in which echolalic communication can also look like high-content speech or writing. For example, this post is a form of high-content communication. If I’m serious, it’s highly unlikely that I’m using echolalia to communicate with you. 

There’s also a kind of low-content communication I’ll produce when I’m being backed into a corner by somebody who’s stressing me out, but that’s usually more like a meltdown. In these cases, I’m using language – usually in the form of repeated supplication and apologies – as a way to try to get the threatening person to back off. This kind of communication is more connected-sounding than my echolalic speech, but it’s different from high-content speech in that I don’t have the same level of conscious control over it. The goal is to use just enough communication to make the other person to stop badgering me. This happened to me frequently with my parents, who were the kinds of people who liked to bombard me with shouted questions and criticism when they were upset with me. They’d overload me to the point that I’d start saying things I didn’t have time to consider because I just wanted them to back off and let me process. If they kept pushing I’d start stuttering and having difficulty even producing that kind of communication. 

When I’m emotionally overloaded, either for good or for ill, I can usually still think in high-content phrases, but have a more difficult time producing them in real-time conversation. While I can usually do well enough to handle shorter conversations, it’s still more difficult for me to continue the conversation for very long because of the amount of mental effort I have to expend. Conversely, it’s much easier for me to produce low-content speech. I can force myself to use high-content speech in moments like this, but I can feel a sort of internal friction when I do it and become more exhausted than if I’d just withdrawn from the social situation in the first place. During these periods I frequently withdraw from other people if I can and just keep to myself until I’m able to communicate again. 

Troubling disability activism patterns.

A colourful mural depicting stylised people, with the text EQUAL.

(Photo by Oliver Cole @ Unsplash)

I’ve noticed some troubling patterns amongst disability activists that have caused me to feel frustrated and alienated. Even though I may agree with these people conceptually—we all agree, for example, that disabled people deserve human rights and respect precisely because we are people—the approaches some people use feel needlessly reductionistic for me. I don’t mean to say that their approaches don’t have merit or that there hasn’t been significant thought put into their efforts, but that I find that they obscure the complexity of people’s individual and collective experiences. I’ll focus on two phenomena I’ve noticed: the fixation on lists of words as a way to combat disablism, and the idea that even discussing the ways in which people learn is a disablist concept.

The language fixation
I’m uncomfortable with the fixation on reforming language to the exclusion of other methods of activism as an effort to help dismantle disablist mindsets. Of course, I’m not saying that people should use cruel names to refer to disabled people. What I am saying, though, is that some people who tend not to think verbally or who have language-related disabilities may not be able to memorise the long lists of Words Not To Use that circulate on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. What I care about is people’s underlying attitudes towards disabled people, more so than I do the specific words they use. When people use metaphorical language, their brains may not process it in the same way they may an overtly cruel word directed at a disabled person. For example, There are also different historical contexts attached to words, but I don’t see that context discussed very often; everything is treated as equally offensive. For example, ‘r*tard’, ‘idiot’, ‘moron’ and ‘imbecile’ were formerly used as diagnostic categories, often connected with the institutionalisation and social exclusion of people with intellectual disability diagnoses. ‘Stupid’, on the other hand, was never a diagnostic category. Of course, it’s insulting to call someone stupid, but it doesn’t come with the same cultural baggage that the aforementioned ‘r*tard’, ‘idiot’, ‘moron’ and ‘imbecile’ have. The same goes for the -phobia ending; while phobia is now a diagnostic term, it’s also had a less specific, non-clinical meaning for years to refer to extreme fear or hatred. I have had disabled friends ostracised from groups that ostensibly exist to support people, but zero in on language to the exclusion of actually offering support.

I understand, on the other hand, that many autistic people and people with similar disabilities tend to use and interpret language literally: what they hear is what they see, and it is difficult for them to associate a meaning with multiple contexts. I am not one of those people; while I can often have a literal visualisation of a word in my head, I tend to see words in a holistic way that combines literal and figurative meanings, translations, shades of meaning, subtleties and historical contexts. I actually have a hard time with overly simplistic, decontextualised explanations and will start tuning out or growing frustrated if people do that with me. That’s been the case since I was very young. I don’t just see a thing; I see the processes, ideas, concepts, history and relationships connected with that thing. I have a hard time understanding overly concrete thinking. I think this issue is complex and can’t be collapsed into a list of dos and don’ts. If you have a hard time juggling multiple meanings of words and have an easy time with rote memorisation, then those ‘ableist word profiles’ may work on you. For me, things intrinsically have multiple meanings. I’m also very poor at directed rote memorisation, even though my long-term memory is excellent. This isn’t a universal approach, though, and people should recognise that when constructing these profiles.

Learning ability: throwing the baby out with the bathwater
I’ve seen some disability activists claim that the concept of intelligence – meant here to refer to differences in the ability to learn, recognise patterns and interact with with information, and the neurological differences that are associated with these differences – is disablist in and of itself. I disagree with this idea, but I understand why people may say things like this: they may know about the sordid history of IQ testing to determine people’s right to live within the community and to raise a family, or racist interpretations of the achievement gap that insinuate or claim baldly that black and brown people are inherently less intelligent than white people, or other ways in which hateful people have misused the concept of learning differences to marginalise, abuse and punish. Some advocates for gifted education have expressed disablist or elitist attitudes towards people with more typical learning ability or people with intellectual disabilities, too. I’ve also seen non-disabled people use the intelligence of some disabled people as a bludgeon: ‘if you’re so smart, you should be able to manage a bank account / work a 9-5 job / clean your house every Saturday / make meals’. Sometimes this is even an institutional requirement; some developmental disability organisations and government agencies will only serve people with an IQ below 70, even though developmental disability encompasses other conditions besides intellectual disability. The assumption is that disabled people of average or above-average intelligence can fend for ourselves without help. Of course, things aren’t so simple; there are many disabled people who learn with great facility but have a hard time with certain activities of daily living. These things are not mutually exclusive and can coexist in the same person. I get why people say things like ‘intelligence is a disablist concept’, even if I think that that conclusion is too reductionistic and flattens the complexity of people’s internal experiences and the outward expression of those experiences.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed some patterns amongst the people who make ‘intelligence doesn’t exist at all’ or ‘the concept of intelligence is intrinsically disablist’ claims that make me uncomfortable. Nearly all the people making these claims would be considered reasonably intelligent themselves. More specifically, it’s a kind of intelligence that allows them to do well in school and doesn’t isolate them from other people because of their divergent thinking. Things come to them easily and they are easily understood. They may be intelligent, but they’re not monsters. Some of the emotional abuse I endured growing up was for my kind of intelligence. I was treated like a monster when I wasn’t being treated like an invalid for being autistic. I generally passed most of my classes as a kid, but didn’t feel fully invested in most of them because I didn’t have the opportunity to really challenge myself intellectually in most of them. I scared my parents, who tried to suppress my curiosity by restricting what I was allowed to read. They also dismissed me when I tried to communicate with them in a more conceptual or abstract way; they’d often look at me as though I’d grown two heads or accuse me of being evasive or using ‘psychobabble’ or ‘woe-is-me stuff’ if I tried to give them nuanced explanations of my behaviour. They tended to perceive things very concretely and literally, at least relative to me. I know the common stereotype is that non-autistic people are conceptual, while autistic people are literal and concrete, but I don’t think that’s true.

I thought I was crazy for years until I read more about how different kinds of learning ability can affect people’s cognition and perception. I thought it was an autistic trait until I encountered autistic people, both in person and online, who thought more concretely and focussed primarily on immediately observable phenomena rather than their underlying complexity. For a few years, though, I actually internalised the idea that intelligence was a disablist concept and started wondering what the hell was wrong with me again. I attributed everything to my being autistic again even though I knew autistic people who didn’t see things the same way I did. To claim that these things don’t exist, or that they can be subsumed under another label that doesn’t necessarily come with those traits (for example, autism), feels like a form of gaslighting. I certainly felt different for being autistic, too, but these phenomena were separate from my being autistic. If intelligence is an unalloyed good in your life, it’s easy to see it as a privilege. If it’s something that isolates you from your own family, makes you grow bored and disenchanted with formal education until you start using it instrumentally as an adult, see things that other people can’t, and makes you doubt your perceptions because you confuse people, it is not the same thing. The idea of intelligence as an absolute privilege is wholly alien to me.

I’ve also noticed that the vast majority of these people are also white or East Asian. Neither white people nor East Asians are routinely associated with low intelligence in the same way that black, Latino or various indigenous groups of people are. This isn’t to say that East Asians don’t experience discrimination or oppression. They certainly do experience racism, but this is not a stereotype typically applied to them. As a black person, I’ve definitely seen people of my race routinely treated as stupid or incompetent just because of the colour of our skin. Entire books like The Bell Curve have been published to disparage us and our abilities. There’s a cottage industry of ‘researchers’ receiving money from the Pioneer Fund to ‘prove’ that we’re less intelligent than white people.

Of course, these anecdotal observations aren’t a universal statement; I’m uncomfortable saying that an attribute applies to the totality of a population for a number of reasons. It’s just a pattern that I’ve repeatedly noticed and that I find frustrating and deeply alienating.

If differences in learning ability did not exist, then we would not recognise the existence of intellectual disability and offer support for people who struggle with learning. I think that it’s possible to recognise that people’s ability to learn and interact with their environment can vary without attaching value judgements to people, institutionalising people, bringing down racist or misogynistic pronouncements, or treating IQ test scores as perfect reflections of people’s intellectual ability. We can use a more nuanced interpretation of intelligence and what it is without engaging in IQ fundamentalism or other forms of intellectual disablism.

Intelligence exists, but it’s more complex than you think

A blurred photograph of a silhouetted person on a blue background. They're standing behind some swirly lights. Via Joshua Fuller @ Unsplash

Via Joshua Fuller @ Unsplash

First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about what intelligence is and isn’t. Intelligence is a collection of mental abilities—pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, learning capacity, general knowledge and environmental adaptation—that mutually reinforce each other in most people. The mutually reinforcing characteristics of these abilities are the reason why researchers believe that a general factor of intelligence, or ‘g’, exists1. For neurotypical people of average intelligence – roughly half the population – the idea of general intelligence usually works. This set of traits is traditionally measured using IQ tests, which include a number of tasks that are thought to be related to the construct of general intelligence. It is a descriptor of how people’s brains learn, adapt to the world around them, recognise patterns and interpret the information they receive from their environment. Intelligence is not an indicator of human value. Everyone has the right to exist regardless of their learning style.

This general description of of intelligence holds true for the majority of the population. Of course, the reality isn’t so simple for some people. There are many people whose mental abilities may not reinforce each other to the same degree as they would for most people; they’re more atomised skills rather than the positive feedback loops associated with the typical model of general intelligence. For example, somebody can score very high on the verbal portions on one of the Wechsler intelligence tests and fare far worse on a section that requires a strong working memory, excellent fine-motor skills or visual-spatial ability. These requirements seem to penalise some disabled people and people who are simply more methodical than others. Some disabled people may receive enough high subtest scores on IQ tests to receive a high overall IQ score but have difficulty generalising their abilities outside the testing environment. The existence of savant syndrome gives the lie to the idea that extreme mental capabilities exist consistently in people. Many people with savant syndrome may have an overall intellectual disability but have strong skills in one or two areas, like calendrical calculation, word decoding, musical ability or drawing from life. Also, people who experience poverty, trauma or other difficulties early in life may not be able to develop their abilities as well as people who grew up in well-off, intellectually nourishing environments2.

Any thoughtful analysis of how intelligence works must be conscious of these exceptions. In a talk she gave a few years ago, Linda Silverman, a psychologist who specialises in advanced learning ability, emphasised that IQ tests are a diagnostic tool that should be combined with clinical judgement, not an absolute determiner of a person’s intellectual abilities that can be divorced from the context in which they live, grow and develop. The current incarnations of IQ tests are designed to be used as clinical tools to identify people’s relative strengths and weaknesses. They’re less accurate when they’re used to determine the cognitive skills of very quick or slow learners. Some quick and dirty tests designed for people with acquired cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injuries can’t even give people very high or low scores. Moreover, like other clinical tests, intelligence tests can produce false negatives or type II errors, especially in intelligent neurodivergent people whose abilities are more uneven and may have an overall score that appears average despite their intellectual, social and emotional differences from typically developing people. The history of IQ testing and the value judgements people place on intelligence tend to cause a lot of anxiety around IQ scores, though. Far too often I see descriptions of high intelligence that rely solely on IQ scores and do not acknowledge the existence of false negatives in testing. While these exceptions may be statistically rare, rarity is not the same thing as non-existence. People who describe the traits of highly intelligent people should be aware of these exceptions; since they are describing outliers, they should recognise that even these outliers have outliers. I fear that treating the most common representations as universal will cause people to feel as though their experiences cannot possibly be real. Mel Baggs wrote eloquently about the problems with IQ testing in neurodivergent people several years ago. I agree with hir to an extent; I think that the ways IQ tests are designed do not always capture the abilities or struggles of neurodivergent or disabled people. For some people, the tests are downright useless; some autistic people in particular have received ‘gifted’, ‘average’ and ‘intellectually disabled’ scores in their lives depending on the testing conditions, their emotional state and their ability to access their skills.

More holistic analysis requiring understanding people’s practical skills is required to give a person a diagnosis of intellectual disability; clinicians should use the same principle when determining whether somebody qualifies for gifted education, too. Mechanistically interpreting scores and believing the numbers uncritically without considering people’s backgrounds, subtest discrepancies, interactions with the test administrator, and potential disabilities is not ‘intelligent testing’. I actually believe that systematic qualitative measures of people’s intellectual abilities, based on people’s developmental trajectory, abilities in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, interactions with the interviewer, and answers to abstract questions should be developed and tested to be used in the field. These measures would be especially useful for people whose traditional IQ scores don’t seem to match up with their abilities or presentation.

When talking about intelligence, it is important to avoid being prejudiced against marginalised people. Unfortunately, the history of intelligence testing is fraught with racism, disablism, classism and misogyny; IQ tests like the Stanford-Binet scales, the British eleven-plus and the US Army intelligence tests were used to devalue the intelligence of women and racially marginalised people, consign poor and working-class people to sub-par educations, institutionalise disabled people and people erroneously thought to be disabled, and create Great Chains of Being in which more intelligent people were superior to people of average or below-average intellectual ability. I am strongly opposed to the idea that members of marginalised groups are less intelligent than those who receive more privileges within their society. Some people cling to these hateful notions and use IQ scores as a means to rank people, an idea I find abhorrent. In fact, some IQ tests, like the Wechsler intelligence tests, still use the category superior to refer to people of significantly above-average intelligence, a relic of the days in which IQ tests were used to rank people’s eugenic qualities. They may not be calling people imbeciles and idiots any more, but the old prejudices still remain. Also, there are some researchers and journalists in the intelligence field who have racist and disablist agendas, like Richard Lynn, Satoshi Kanazawa, Tatu Vanhanen, Steve Sailer, Philippe Rushton, Arthur Jensen, Hans Eysenck and Charles Murray. Linda Gottfredson’s research often falls into this category too. Moreover, IQ tests should not be used to determine people’s ‘mental age’. Mental age is a pernicious construct that is demeaning to people with intellectual disabilities and gifted advocates need to abandon it. The mental-age argument can be used to infantilise and devalue people with intellectual disabilities, or to take advantage of intelligent children and teenagers who are not emotionally prepared for things like sexual or romantic relationships. A five-year-old who can read Shakespeare is still a five-year-old. A 50-year-old who struggles with reading and needs support to understand paperwork is still a 50-year-old.

Intelligence, like other aspects of human cognition, is a deeply complex and multi-layered subject. It is disingenuous to say that it does not exist at all, but it is equally wrong to claim that it is easily quantifiable in all people or that it is a determiner of human worth.

Further reading

  • James Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model is a good overview of how Nazi Germany drew inspiration from American policies promoting eugenics and racial segregation.
  • Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All That Matters is a brief introduction to concepts related to intelligence and the history of its assessment.
  • ‘Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments’ (Nisbett, R. et al, 2012), an article from American Psychologist is a good academic overview of the current state of intelligence research.
  • Linda Silverman’s Giftedness 101 is a good resource for psychologists and curious laypeople to find out about assessing, working with and teaching students who need more complexity and intellectual challenge than the traditional curriculum provides.
  • Alan Kaufman’s IQ Testing 101 is a slightly more exhaustive introduction to IQ testing and its current uses, and emphasises an ‘intelligent testing’ approach that ultimately relies on clinical judgement rather than just spitting out a score and using that to determine a person’s intellectual ability.
  • The last few chapters of The Myth of Race, by Robert Wald Sussman, describe historical and current uses of intelligence tests to marginalise black and Latino people in the United States.
  1. Yes, I am familiar with the multiple-intelligence theory. Most Gardnerian ‘intelligences’ are better described as talents; see Stuart Ritchie, Intelligence: All That Matters.
  2. Nisbett R et al (2012). Intelligence: New findings and theoretical developments. American Psychologist, 67(2).

The false dichotomy between individualism and empathic ideologies

(image via Benny Jackson on Unsplash. The image contains a group of people standing together in a crowd.)

I feel profoundly alienated by discussions of individualism and collectivism that imply that individualism is the source of all bigotry and and that collectivism will resolve all social ills, or that collectivism is the cause of all social strife and the only means to ameliorate it is through adopting a strictly individualistic philosophy like libertarianism or Objectivism. I have seen other activists on the left decry all individualism in favour of a brand of collectivism that disregards individuality or de-prioritises it, which I find troubling for a number of reasons. First, this dichotomous view of individuality and collective identity seems primarily to be a Western construct and is not universal to human thought; individualism can indeed inform a philosophy that promotes respect and empathy for other human beings, as exemplified in the Southern African concept of ubuntu and similar worldviews from Western and Eastern African cultures. Secondly, my own personal experiences have made it intensely difficult to adopt a strictly collectivistic ideology.

Individualism and collective awareness and empathy can in fact co-exist with each other, even if prevailing Western ideologies claim they can’t. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to any pre-defined philosophy that describes the relationship between individuals and collectives, the ubuntu philosophy common in Southern African cultures is a reasonable approximation. Literally meaning humanity, ubuntu refers to a worldview that uplifts the individual and the community simultaneously. Individual identity is important, but individuals exist within a society that includes other individuals with different needs, backgrounds and priorities. Empathising with other people simply for existing and being fellow human beings leads to policies that uplift both individuals and the community at large. Existence is not, and should not be, a zero-sum game: both individuals’ and communities’ needs matter. Dismantling bigotry requires recognising others’ humanity and individuality; Michael Onyebuchi Eze (2008) describes ubuntu as a philosophy that indicates that ‘a person’s humanity is dependent on the appreciation, preservation and affirmation of other person’s humanity. To deny another’s humanity is to deprecate my own humanity’ 1. The individual and the community they belong to are mutually supporting entities that define each other.

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Being blunt doesn’t make you right.

There is a pervasive misconception, especially on the right, that using blunt, politically incorrect or offensive language means that an argument is intrinsically valid. Part of Trump’s appeal, for example, is his ability to ‘tell it like it is’, even though nearly everything he says or tweets is a half-truth or an outright lie. It’s less about Trump’s actual honesty than it is the appearance of honesty through his bluntness. If Trump had expressed the same sentiments using more academic language, then he would not have become the Republican nominee two years ago: even with the same ideas, Trump wouldn’t have earned the same reputation he has for being a ‘straight shooter’. I’ve seen other right-wing writers and activists doing the same thing. If they can word something simply enough, people will believe it even if it’s factually wrong or extremely biased. If you’re being politically incorrect, you’re being brave and sticking it to the Establishment, even if the ideas you’re expressing are representative of the status quo or status quo ante, before white male supremacy was seriously challenged in western society.

Of course, using simple language does not make you right, any more than using more complex language makes you wrong. It should be the substantive content of your argument that matters, rather than the delivery, but that isn’t how rhetoric works. This discrepancy between delivery and substance allows people like Trump to tell blatant falsehoods because they ostensibly ‘tell it like it is’.

Relatedly, I think that liberal and leftist activists should strive for clarity when conveying ideas. It’s important to distil complex interpretations of policy and advocacy into digestible chunks for the general public to understand. Public policy is indeed full of subtle interpretations, tangled histories and intricate relationships, but that doesn’t mean that explanations of these complexities must necessarily be convoluted, abstruse disquisitions on the nature of policymaking processes or political theories. In fact, it may take more skill for some political scientists, policy analysts and policy researchers to take complex ideas and make them accessible to a wider audience than it does to avoid code-switching and write solely for their fellow wonks in public-policy and political-science academic journals and websites. That said, however, I’ve seen countless liberal and leftist advocates, including disability activists, routinely framing their arguments in strictly theoretical terms that assume background knowledge that their listeners or readers may not already have.

This entry is not a defence of anti-intellectualism or the wholesale dismissal of expertise. I usually think in theoretical and conceptual frameworks when considering the nature of different public policies and the implementation of those policies. My default thinking tends towards abstractions, words, concepts and metaphors. There’s a difference, though, between the way you may see your field as an expert and the way the general public will interpret it. Unless the people you’re talking to also have a policy, political-science or related background, it’s unlikely that they’ll know about specific ideological frameworks like neo-Marxism, Keynesianism, paleoconservatism or utilitarianism, but they will know about how a policy will affect their ability to breathe clean air, send their children to a good school, protect them and their family from police violence, or work at a job that pays them a fair wage. You can base your explanations on deeper theoretical frameworks, but express them to the public in ways that are more immediately accessible.

Beat the far-right at its own game. Be clear. Provide solutions that are easy to understand. You don’t have to insult people’s intelligence and condescend to them, but it is important to make sure that the people you’re talking to don’t require a degree in public policy or political science to understand what you’re advocating for.

Trump, sanity, and intelligence

A protest sign featuring an angry Donald Trump inside a basket.

image by Samantha Sophia @ Unsplash.

It seems it’s time for me to address claims about Donald Trump’s sanity again. On 6 January 2018, Trump wrote this series of tweets defending his intelligence and mental stability against perceived Democratic and media attacks on his fitness as president:

The thrust of Trump’s argument, if you can call it that, is ‘I am intelligent! I am sane! Therefore I am qualified to be president and should be above criticism by either the “fake-news mainstream media” or the Democratic Party.’ This post is not about speculating about Trump’s sanity or intelligence–I am not qualified to make such a judgement and feel that it would be counterproductive anyway. I think he is wilfully ignorant, supremely arrogant, and consumed with hate for people he considers beneath him, but these qualities are not related to the constructs of sanity or intelligence. It is, however, a criticism of the idea that being considered sane or intelligent makes you an intrinsically better person. (No, it does not, by the way.)

If mental health and intelligence were conceptualised as value-neutral aspects of people’s neurotypes, then Trump would not defend himself by claiming to be sane or intelligent. He would instead defend his fitness for the office by citing specific actions he has taken that demonstrate that he is worthy to be president. Being perceived as intelligent (that is, having a constellation of abilities that correlate in many people to a markedly high degree) or sane (exhibiting no behaviours that seem distinctly out of place within a given society, and that cannot be explained by cross-cultural explanations) are viewed as more valuable forms of existence, while being considered unintelligent or insane renders a person a leper, an outcast, a debased kind of human less worthy of existence. I think that differences in neurotype exist, but that those differences do not imply that one neurotype is better than the other. This notion is disablist and harmful to people with intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disabilities.

As I have said repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, nobody is worth more or less than anyone else because of how their mind works. People’s value is inherent in their humanity. There are ways to defend one’s ability to hold office without clinging to the notion that having an intellectual or psychatric disability reduces people’s worth.

Focussing on Trump’s mental faculties presents the risk of disablist interpretations of his mentation and furthermore serves as a distraction from his real faults. His policies and those of his lackeys and worshippers are oppressive. He is mendacious in the extreme; he lies as surely as he breathes and lacks a concept of objective truth, only ‘truths’ that are convenient for him. He is corrupt and uses his office as a means to enrich himself further. Trump’s asinine tweets reveal that he is a man entirely lacking in scruples or common sense. He engages in morally reprehensible behaviour.

Trump is a terrible man, but that need not be attributed to his apparent sanity, intelligence, or lack thereof. Our criticisms of him must be predicated on his directly observable actions, not hypothetical conditions that we cannot objectively evaluate. We cannot determine from his tweets how sane or intelligent he is, but we can more clearly determine his incompetence from the effects that his atrocious presidency has exerted upon the US and the world at large.

Les périls de considérer les intelligent(e)s comme meilleur(e)s que les autres

(version française de l’article ‘The perils of attaching value judgements to intelligence’. Toutes mes excuses pour mes erreurs grammatiques ou orthographiques ; l’anglais est ma langue maternelle.)

(Avertissement : cet article contient des mentions du racisme et du préjugé contre les handicapé(e)s)

Il n’est pas mal, bien sûr, d’être intelligent(e) ou de s’interesser à l’apprentissage, mais on ne doit pas dire que les personnes intelligentes sont meilleures que les autres. La surévaluation continuelle de l’intelligence, ou l’apprentissage rapide, en comparaison avec les autres traits comme la générosité, est dangereuse.

Comme j’ai déjà dit dans un autre article, j’apprends vite et j’étais considéré comme «surdoué» à l’enfance, mais je ne suis pas du tout meilleur que les autres. Ma valeur vient d’être humain, et mon caractère moral vient de mon comportement, pas mon intelligence, ni mes autres caracteristiques innées. C’est juste que j’apprends rapidement. C’est ce que je fais avec cet apprentissage rapide qui compte. Je veux apprendre des manières de faire le monde plus juste et plus gentil.

Je me souvenais des dangers d’associer des valeurs morales et qualitatives à l’intelligence en découvrant le site de Paul Cooijmans, un soi-disant expert sur l’intelligence. Son site est souvent cité comme une source bien informée sur l’intelligence, la personnalité et des autres traits (tous les liens sont en anglais). Il est vrai que la plupart des gens qui le citent ne sont pas des journalistes, mais les articles du Spectator et de BoingBoing sont des exceptions. Je n’ai vu personne critiquer son contenu épouvantable ; donc, je me suis décidé de le faire. Ses articles ont l’air de venir d’un discours de Hitler ou un tract américain sur l’eugénisme du XXième siècle.

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Twice-Exceptionality: Autism and Fast Learning (1)

I was identified as ‘twice-exceptional’ growing up: I was labelled both autistic (PDD-NOS; changed to Asperger Syndrome in mid-childhood after the publication of the DSM-IV) and ‘gifted’. My learning differences and my atypical way of perceiving and interacting with the world made it painfully difficult to fit in. This series of posts describes some of my experiences growing up twice-exceptional, and what it currently looks like for me as an adult in my early thirties.

The Early Years

Funnily enough, before I was about two, professionals originally thought I would have grow up to have an intellectual disability. At least one doctor declared that I would ‘never learn’ when it was clear that I showed some signs of developmental delay. This perception changed, though, around when I was between two and a half and three. I taught myself to read between the ages of two and three. This was the point at which it was clear that I didn’t have an intellectual disability in the slightest. My parents historically said I started to read at three, but I remember knowing how to do it before then. Honestly, I can’t remember not being able to read. I managed to read through my collection of Golden Books and board books and soon graduated to my mother’s cookbooks – an Oster blender cookbook and Richard Simmons Deal-A-Meal cookbooks immediately come to mind – and a book about toilet-training, as they were the only adult-level books I wasn’t forbidden to read—my parents’ books primarily consisted of Harlequin Romances, Tom Clancy thrillers and sports books. Barring that, I’d read the labels on boxes of food or shampoo bottles. By the time I was six, I read at a twelfth-grade level.

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The perils of attaching value judgements to intelligence

Content warning: references to disablism, racism, misogyny, other hatefulness

The continual valuation of intelligence, or fast learning1, over other personal traits is dangerous. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with being a fast learner or being interested in learning, but there is a problem with attaching an absolute value judgement to intelligence. As I said in my most recent entry prior to this one, I’m a reasonably fast learner myself and grew up with a ‘gifted’ label, but I don’t see myself as being better than anybody else. My worth comes from my being human, and my moral character is determined by my behaviour, not any inborn characteristic I may have. I just happen to learn quickly. It’s what I do with it that matters, and I choose to study ways to make the world fairer and kinder.

I was reminded of the perils of attaching moral and qualitative values to people’s intelligence when coming across the website of the so-called intelligence expert, Paul Cooijmans. His website is often quoted as an authoritative source of information on intelligence, personality and other traits, and he hosts a number of tests and quizzes ready for social-media sharing. (Admittedly, most of the people citing him aren’t reporting for major media sources, but the Spectator and BoingBoing articles are exceptions.) I haven’t seen anybody else criticise his awful content, so I decided to do it. Are people not paying attention, or are they so ensconced in privilege that they can afford to ignore it? His material often sounds as though it could have come straight from a Nazi speech or an American eugenics leaflet from the early 20th century.

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Fast learners are not better than other people

(CW: ableist slurs.)

It is not nice to say that fast learners are better than other people. That is because it is mean to people who learn more slowly. It is not bad to learn slowly. It is not bad to be a fast learner either. Everyone can learn something. We just need different ways to learn things. That is OK.

But some people treat fast learners like they are better than other people. That is not nice. I am a fast learner. I am not better than somebody who learns more slowly than I do. I just have different learning needs.

Some people call fast learners gifted. There are many problems with that. Gifted is not a good word. Calling fast learners gifted is not fair. That is because it feels like people who learn slowly are not as good. People also say fast learners are intelligent. Intelligent comes from a Latin word meaning reading between. That means that we see patterns quickly. Other words people use for fast learners are smart, sharp, bright or clever. People think they are nice words. Sometimes they give a message that slower learners are not worth as much. Some people use these words to say it’s better to learn fast. This is unfair.

Some people learn more slowly than others. They can learn, but it takes more time for them to pick things up. That is OK. They are people and everyone is able to learn something. They just need more time. People say that slow learners have intellectual disabilities. This just means they take longer to learn. Sometimes people use mean words about slow learners. Some of these unkind words include retarded, idiot, stupid and dumb. We should not call slower learners these words. These words are hurtful. 

I think everyone deserves to learn things in their own time. I think that people can be good or bad no matter how they learn. We are all people. We should not judge people by how fast they learn.

Fonts & Typography Infodump

Fonts and Typography Infodump!

So you’re tired of using Times New Roman, Calibri and Cambria. You’d like to use something other than the fonts that come with Microsoft Office, MacOS, Windows or Linux. Here’s what I’ve learned about fonts and typography over the years – I’m a predominantly self-taught typographer who’s learned about text layout and type choices through trial, error and a lot of reading. If there’s anything missing from this guide that you’d be interested in seeing, please let me know in either the comments or via Twitter at @phineasfrogg.


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Why I’ve rejected many American standards in my personal work

I’ve consciously rejected a number of American standards in my personal writing: specifically, date formatting, measurements, punctuation and spellings. This isn’t an attempt to be fancy as much as it is my frustration with this country’s categorical rejection of international standards. Also, I lived in Western Europe for seven years and was influenced by my experiences growing up. At one point, my online social circle was primarily Australians and their tendencies rubbed off on me too.

Of course, I’ll adapt myself for work projects! I haven’t insisted on using British spellings in my work projects because that would look weird. I’ll write in whatever house style I’m using at the time, or something close to it if I’m being edited. I’m pretty good at code-switching between different styles when I need to. But when I write for myself, I avoid these Trumpy standards.

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Taxpayers First!

…Or why Trump’s budget, DACA repeal, trans military service ban and ‘health care’ plan come from the same ethos

CW: Trump, eugenics, Nazism/Hitler, classism, disablism, racism, anti-trans discrimination

Over the past nine months of his illegitimate presidency, Donald Trump has systemically targeted marginalised people under the classist, disablist, eugenicist principle that certain people cost too much. The idea that disabled and chronically ill people’s healthcare costs too much spawned the numerous failed Congressional Trumpcare bills and Trump’s executive order gutting the Affordable Care Act. Trump justified banning transgender people from serving in the US military through the claim that the cost of trans people’s care was a ‘tremendous burden’. When the Trump regime attempted to rescind DACA, the implication was the lives of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country at a young age cost too much. The proposed Republican budget, which Trump has touted repeatedly on Twitter and elsewhere, implies that the lives of rich people are more valuable than those of poor, working-class or middle-class people. We’re all nutzlose Fresser, useless eaters.

[An edited version of the pro-eugenics 'Neues Volk' Nazi advertisement that says 'Steuerzahler Zuerst: das neue Budget der republikanischen Partei', or 'Taxpayers First: the new Republican Party budget. I made this back in May back when the Republicans' budget was posted online.]

[An edited version of the pro-eugenics ‘Neues Volk’ Nazi advertisement that says ‘Steuerzahler Zuerst: das neue Budget der republikanischen Partei’, or ‘Taxpayers First: the new Republican Party budget. I made this back in May back when the Republicans’ budget was posted online.]

Trump’s policies recall those of repressive governments whose entire goal is to inflict harm on vulnerable people. The Nazis come to mind, though I’m speaking of the early Nazi years, not the more recognisable late regime that fell in 1945. Remember that the Nazis didn’t start off with death camps like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Treblinka. They started off by instituting policies that ostensibly allowed people they thought inferior to live, but that restricted their ability to participate in public life. When they did start killing people, again, they didn’t start with Auschwitz. Hitler’s first killing campaign was Aktion T-4, the ‘euthanasia’ programme that targeted people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hitler targeted ‘degenerate’ art and research like Magnus Hirschfeld’s transgender studies. The Nazis slowly stripped Jews of their civil rights before Hitler sent them to death camps.

A set of US posters promoting eugenics. Many of them combine racism along with disablism.

In turn, the Nazis picked up many of their ideas about eugenics from precedents set in the United States. There’s a long American tradition of persecuting disabled people. American eugenicists used IQ tests to segregate, sterilise and marginalise people considered disabled according to their test results. Lengthy genealogies of ‘degenerate’ families like the Jukes and Kallikaks connected disability to crime and poverty. Pro-eugenics posters claimed that disabled people cost too much to keep alive. Sterilisation of people deemed intellectually disabled was upheld by the Supreme Court in Buck v Bell.

Trump may not think of things in strictly ideological terms, but he has surrounded himself by people who certainly do.

  • Trump has affiliated himself with white nationalists, some of whom I’ll list here – Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and others. He has also associated with Religious Right ideologues like Jerry Falwell Jr, Paula White and James Dobson. These right-wing Christians come from a variety of theological positions. Some are classic hard-line fire-and-brimstone fundamentalists, whereas others are prosperity preachers. All of them, however, advocate against the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people. Many of Trump’s anti-trans policies are drawn straight from the playbook laid out by the Family Research Council, a Religious Right lobbying organisation and hate group.
  • Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller, all current or former official White House advisers, are ideological fascists. Fascism exists in ideological contraposition to disability rights. Fascism values the strong and disparages those they consider weak.
  • Mike Pence is an extremist evangelical Christian. Right-wing evangelicals like Pence believe that people who do not follow their religion’s strictures deserve to suffer. Pence may not be as shouty as Trump or as blatant as Bannon, but he is dangerous and needs to be watched. When listing out the dangerous people who increase the danger the Trumpocalypse presents, never forget Mike Pence.
  • Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, is an Ayn Rand devotee who would prop up Hitler himself if he could still slash benefits for poor and disabled people. Ayn Rand’s philosophy valued strength over weakness, and thought that people she found weak didn’t deserve to live. Though Rand wouldn’t have called herself a Nazi, many of her thoughts on poverty and disability are compatible with fascist ideology. Ryan’s transatlantic analogue is Iain Duncan Smith, the UK Member of Parliament and former Secretary for Work and Pensions who oversaw draconian budget cuts that caused the death and suffering of many British disabled people. Like Pence, Ryan knows how to couch his hatred of vulnerable people in socially acceptable rhetoric, but he’s just as dangerous as Trump is.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on record as claiming that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a burdensome imposition on teachers. He has also scaled back disability rights enforcement in comparison to Barack Obama’s Attorneys General, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. He has also pushed Trump to withdraw Obama-era guidance on trans protections in schools. As a Republican senator he consistently supported the needs of the rich, white and powerful over the needs of vulnerable people. Sessions is a predator. He’s more affable than Trump, but Sessions’ zeal in reversing the strides made under the Obama administration reveals the danger he presents.
  • Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch – a Trump appointee – also has a record of minimising and restricting the rights of marginalised people, including disabled people and LGBTQ+ people.
  • The House Freedom Caucus is full of Tea Party Republicans. Like Ryan, Freedom Caucus members are fixated on tax cuts and benefit cuts.

Related Reading:

  • Kit Mead’s Paginated Thoughts blog often discusses the history of disability, eugenics and bioethics.
  • At Shakesville, Melissa McEwan has written extensively about Mike Pence’s toxic history as a governor, congressman and vice president.
  • @EbThen on Twitter has tweeted quite a bit about the Nazis’ T4 programme and the American inspiration for many Nazi atrocities.

The scourge of Trumpiness

Despite the title, this post is less about Donald Trump, the man, and more about a form of American nationalism that he exemplifies. Trump is loud and obnoxious and obviously objectionable to decent people, but he’s a symptom rather than the cause. 

Trumpiness is the pervasive – and incorrect – assumption that American culture, people and politics are intrinsically more valuable than those of other countries. In short: ‘America First!’ It is about how one sees oneself in contrast with people from other countries. It is about how one believes foreign policy ought to be conducted. Trumpiness is an aggressive small-mindedness that arises from national solipsism. It is self-absorption to the point of wilful ignorance about the rest of the world. It’s the chauvinistic ‘America First!’ mindset that Trump crows about, even if the individual practitioner of Trumpiness doesn’t realise they sound like him.

I should emphasise that I’m not talking about people who are focussed on national politics because of Trump’s hateful policies. That’s not chauvinism as much as it is self-preservation. People can be marginalised within powerful countries; see: Flint, Standing Rock, Grenfell Tower, Tory disability cuts, French banlieues or the persecution of the Ainu people. Trumpiness is an expression of centrality, not marginalisation. 

Trumpiness can be either intentional or inadvertent. Sometimes people don’t even register that they’re doing it. That’s almost scarier than the people who deliberately adopt this mindset. I’ve pointed out Trumpy things and some people don’t see the problem, possibly because they’ve become so inured to it that it doesn’t register to them. 

What does Trumpiness look like in practice? 

  • CNN reporting on 10 Americans dying in a plane crash, but neglecting to talk about the 40 other people who died with them, or the impact of hurricanes on Texas and Florida, but not Barbuda or Haiti.
  • Thinking American things are objectively better just because they’re American.
  • American software companies neglecting to add spellcheckers for any dialect of English used outside the United States, or referring to their dialect as unmarked English in opposition to British English, Canadian English and Australian English. Yes, Trumpiness can be used to exclude people in influential imperial or colonial countries who are comparatively privileged on the world stage. 
  • Newspapers covering very little news about anywhere outside the 50 US states – not even Canada, Mexico or US territories like Puerto Rico, Guam or the US Virgin Islands. 
  • Destabilising the Middle East to get cheap oil.
  • Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement because you think climate change is ‘fake news’ and a hoax invented by the Chinese government to make US manufacturing non-competitive. 
  • Using an American flag to represent the English language. (You shouldn’t use flags at all.) 
  • Not following international standards on weights and measures and not realising that very few other countries use your particular standards. 

One of the saddest things about the entire thing is when non-Americans absorb Trumpiness. I’ve seen Trumpy attitudes from people who may not be American themselves, but are strongly influenced by American culture and fail to question certain assumptions they may have inadvertently absorbed from their American counterparts. I’ve come across cases where British or Australian writers contort themselves to write like Americans because of the Trumpy assumption that Americans cannot tolerate seeing or hearing other kinds of English. Developers in non-English-speaking countries (or even non-American countries, for other native English-speakers) are rarely able to work primarily in their own language. 

America, naturally, isn’t the only country guilty of its own kind of Trumpiness. Britain, for example, has its Brexit-supporting, Daily Mail-reading ‘Little Englanders’. They are convinced that leaving the European Union will bring sovereignty and prosperity. Brexit will instead bring economic and social decline owing to their wrong-headed idea that isolating one’s country from the rest of the world will restore the ‘greatness’ of the British Empire. These are the people who fetishise pounds and stones, inches and miles, and old-fashioned blue passports. The same could be said about French people, Japanese people, Chinese people, Mexicans or anybody else who pushes the ideology that their culture is intrinsically superior or more important than others’. It’s just that American chauvinism is the loudest and most powerful right now; there’s nothing intrinsic to Americans or any other group of people that makes them automatically more chauvinistic than others. Nothing is better just because it’s American (or German, South African, Russian, Chilean, Thai, Ghanaian, etc). 

For all that is good in the world, please don’t be Trumpy. Be aware of your biases. Watch for chauvinism, especially since it’s part of what brought us Trump and Brexit in the first place. 

50+ Autistic People You Should Know!

I recently published 50+ Autistic People You Should Know on NOS Magazine! I admit that the list is a bit US-centric, but that was mostly because I was listing people I knew personally or whose work I was reasonably familiar with. I didn’t just want to get a bunch of names and put a list of people there without vetting them. I’d actually like to work on a second follow-up list that’s less US-centric, since US-centrism is one of the things I make a concerted effort to try and avoid.