Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Snap Out of It!": The Savage Corollary

Great insta-cure for depression, isn't it?

Seems to work just as well for autism, at least according to radio host Michael Savage, who claimed that "99%" of autism cases were a matter of overly lenient parenting and said that autistic kids need to be told “Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.” (He later said that the 99% figure was an exaggeration for effect.)

The insurance giant AFLAC has announced that it will no longer sponsor Savage's program. Other advertisers may follow suit.

Let's start with the grains of truth. Since there are professionals dedicated to working with and treating autistic children and adults (there really is, at least presently, no cure for autism), there are people with an interest in expanding their clientele. Very few of them, to be sure, would knowingly give a false diagnosis to a child. But we all know about biased judgment and shifting perceptions and hammers and nails.

The same has been true of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I was one of those children diagnosed as "hyperactive" and given "school medicine" - Ritalin. Unfortunately, it didn't help. No doubt the doctor who prescribed it had only the best of intentions - we need to help ADHD children adjust to school as quickly and completely as possible, and we want to avoid neglecting any ADHD child. So, I got the diagnosis and the medicine. My parents and teachers got the false hope.

So, let's admit from the start that we need to guard against mistaken false positives.

Autism, and particularly AS, are difficult to diagnose conclusively. My own diagnosis was based on my work and relationship history (very many and very few entries, respectively) and my own knowledge of AS. There was no brain scan, blood test or any physical test - any more than for, say, clinical depression (which I have also suffered, though I have been symptom-free for a decade and a half now).

Savage seems to be concerned that some of us may be acting up and using it as an excuse. Fine: let's make sure diagnoses are as accurate as possible and give those diagnosed a definite treatment and adjustment program. Accommodations are necessary, but they cannot be excuses for misconduct and they may be tied to restrictions in privileges.

For example, if we believe that a given autistic or Aspie child would find it too difficult to behave well on an overnight trip (perhaps especially if it includes both sexes), we can, for example, give him strict monitoring and rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior. Or we can simply exclude him from such trips until he can learn appropriate behavior - and make sure he knows what's going on and why.

Let's keep in mind, by the way, that we are quite often victims, not (or not only) perpetrators. We are bullied, insulted, assaulted, slandered, stolen from, etc - and not just by fellow students, either. That definitely happened to me until my early years in high school. (I might add that it stopped only after a couple of fights on my part, one of which left my unlucky opponent hospitalized.)

Even many of the misdeeds we're accused of, such as disorderly conduct, harassment or stalking, may be matters of ignorance of social norms or subtle signals, or lack of judgment, rather than intent to do harm. We certainly need to be taught firmly what to do and not do in various situations, but taught the facts on what is accepted and how to read various situations, not "taught" manners as if all we need is motivation to do good.

We (perhaps especially Aspies, since we are more functional and tend to go out more without close supervision) tend to attract disproportionate disapproval because our issues are out in the open. We're tactless and blunt to the point of rudeness. We find it difficult to tell what someone else wants in a given situation, so we act in ways that others perceive as either selfish or condescending. We tend to bore and annoy people by talking on and on about our own special interests. We stare at and follow people around, understandably causing upset and even fear.

On the other hand, let's keep in mind that we tend to very strictly follow the rules. That can be annoying at times for those who work with us and just want to get the job done (though many jobs focus on following regulations). But you can be sure that we are less likely to engage in serious crimes or do things like cheat on our mates.

Sociopaths, who freely hurt or even kill people with no regrets whatsoever, tend to have very good PR as individuals. They are very difficult to detect precisely because they have the interpersonal fine-tuning, self-control and lack of conscience needed to present a very pleasing exterior. Specifically, they can be very charming, they are manipulative and they lie as easily as they tell the truth - whichever serves their purposes at the moment. (Ironically, misinformed people, irritated at our aberrant behaviors, may confuse us with sociopaths. Many of us do have some difficulty empathizing with others, but sociopaths by definition have no empathy, and hence no love, remorse, guilt, etc.) I respectfully suggest that almost anyone would rather have a classroom full of Aspies on her block or in her workplace than one sociopath.

I respectfully suggest that talking to autistic children and Aspies - or even NTs - in the manner Mr. Savage suggests is a form of bullying. Maybe that's how things are done in the military, but the family home and the school are not Parris Island. I can tell you that if that kind of talk worked, I would have been perfectly adjusted by the time I entered high school. Parents and teachers certainly get frustrated sometimes, perhaps especially by autistic kids and Aspies, but verbal abuse is unacceptable.

I'm sure Mr. Savage wanted to just stir up a little discussion. He just has a little difficulty empathizing with us and our families and other loved ones. Maybe he could also use a little training in how to communicate his concerns so he can please people, not annoy them.

Heck, he could be a repressed Aspie himself....:-)/2


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maddy said...

Ooo dear! Commented deleted! I do hope it was just spam? Anyway, I've forgotten what I was going to write now, so I'll just say that I think he only did it to up his ratings.