It seems like every time an autistic advocate pops their head above the parapet and objects to some maltreatment of autistics, especially autistic children, somebody comes back with “but-what-about-the-low-functioning”, dragging in things like poop-smearing, meltdowns and head-banging. “You’re not like these kids, you don’t understand!”, they exclaim, again and again. As if we’ve never heard of such things, or done them ourselves, and as if ‘those’ autistics are a different species.
The ‘low-functioning’, in effect, have become the modern bogeyman. The stereotype that gets trotted out, time after time, cast as “the ones who really do need a cure”, and dragged out as defense against those of us who oppose things like bleach enemas, turpentine drinks, ABA, GcMAF, chelation, hyperbaric chambers and the like as false ‘cures’ for autism.
But I say casting them as this bogeyman is nonsense, a chimera, a false construct.
Why? Because –
1) It fosters a division that isn’t actually there. Functioning levels are actually meaningless. There aren’t any autistics, even adults, who are completely ‘high functioning’. Many of us were like ‘those kids’ when we were young - and some of us still are. But regardless of our apparent ‘functioning’, we can still totally support the neurodiversity perspective.
(There’s also a hidden threat in this - any of us, if we lapse in our ‘high functioning’, could also be subjected to these treatments – and sometimes have been. So basically, the underlying message is “let us do what we want to these kids, or we’ll do it to you too”.)
2) It presumes that the ‘treatments’ will actually help them. I’ve written about ABA before, it’s compliance-training, not a ‘cure’. And then there are the bleach enemas and so on. How anyone can think that these are a good idea to do to anyone is beyond me. How they think it’s going to ‘cure’ a neurological condition is even more perplexing. Yet people do so, causing huge physical and psychological harm to the children. Then they credit any advances the child makes to these bizarre and dangerous ‘treatments’, as though autistic children never grow and mature on their own.
3) It presumes that ‘extreme behaviours’ happen ‘just because’ of autism. We know this to be not true, but even when we try to explain the possible reasons for the behaviours, and offer advice and support, we’re often ignored or derided. Meanwhile, the autistic child/ren in question are indeed suffering - from lack of understanding, lack of supports, sensory overload, social stress, bullying, harsh ‘treatments’, falsely low assumptions of their intelligence, rejection, even institutionalisation and electric shocks… the list is a long one.
4) It presumes that the ‘low functioning’ are somehow different - to other autistics, and indeed other human beings. It casts them as virtually sub-human. They can no longer ignore the humanity of ‘high functioning’ autistics who speak up (though some still try), and so they focus on this group instead. But not only are functioning levels nonsense, as I’ve already said, I’ve read quite a bit of the writings of the ‘severely’ autistic, and I’ve never found anything in these that indicates their brains are radically different to other autistics. The differences are a matter of degree, not of kind.
5) It assumes it’s okay to treat even the ‘different’ like this. This is the crux of it really. Ultimately, it’s not even about whether the ‘low functioning’ really are separate/different from others, or whether the treatments prevent the ‘undesirable’ behaviour. It’s that it’s NOT OKAY to treat ANYONE like this. Ever.
It’s not okay to treat people like dogs, and browbeat, coerce, and manipulate them into submission. It’s not okay to shove bleach up their bottoms or down their throats, force them to drink turps or seawater, inject dodgy blood products into them, starve them with severe diets, give them electric shocks or subject them to chelation that leeches vital elements out of their bodies. It’s not okay to put handwash in a kid’s mouth for stimming, or forcibly hold their hands down till they stop flapping, or anything else that forces them to suppress their very way of being in order to be ‘acceptable’.
None of this is okay. And saying that it is okay because someone is a ‘low functioning’ autistic, is a breach of the human rights of ALL autistics. If even one of us is subject to these things, we are all at risk. And we know it. Even if we don’t think about it consciously, deep down we know it.
This is why we protest.
This is why we say ‘no more’, and ‘nothing about us without us’.
This is not just about preventing abuse, but about demanding our human rights.
So enough with the bogeyman. Enough with trying to scare us and parents of autistic children, enough with trying to silence us, enough with a false separation between ‘them’ and ‘us’, enough with casting the very children who most desperately need acceptance and understanding and support as some kind of demon or sub-human.