No Stereotypes Here

Archive for the ‘autism’ Category

Whew!! Things have been busy for me this summer!

I’m currently working on an essay on violence and disability for school, an article on functioning labels for AWN, and a piece on self-definitions of recovery for here.  Some of them, just when I think I have all the materials I need to finish them, someone mentions some very good resources that make me rethink some of my points or what to include more information. 

However, I’m also getting ready for Autistics Speaking Day 2011.  It was an overwhelming success last year, with such a small amount of planning and advertisement.  I’m excited to see the results of this year.  I’ve read some of the responses to ASDay last year, and it’s been incredible!! I am still blown away and amazed at people’s responses. 

So we’re doing it again!!! We’re a little bit more organized this year, got our Facebook event up in advance, and Kathryn and I have started an official blog so that we can compile everyone’s contributions in one spot.  It’s still under some work, but it’s up and running!

We’re also going to be looking for people to help us out.  Last year, we were a little overwhelmed by the flow of blogs.  Kathryn was incredible being able to keep on track of everything on Facebook, and I had my hands full on Twitter.  We’d like someone who is fairly familiar with social networking sites to help us out.  But more on that later. 

Yay!!!  Our blog is up!!

So yeah, both Glenn and Ted haven’t responded to me.  However, I’m going ahead in my plans.  I started a petition on Change.org!!!!   You can find it and sign it here!

I need to come up with an image, but I don’t know whether  I can do it until I can get back to my very old version of Photoshop.  Which won’t be until after my DST 501 Rethinking Disability course ends, next Saturday.

With the concerns about the Canadian Autism Bills, and the lack of response from Glenn Thibeault, I have decided to contact my own MP and address the issue with him.  The following email was sent Ted Hsu, MP for Kingston and the Islands, on the morning of July 5th, 2011:

Dear Ted Hsu,
First of all, I want to congratulate you on your appointment to Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands.  I am very pleased to be represented by such an upstanding representative, and hope that together, much good will come of it.
However, I need to come to the main reason as to why I am writing to you.  Recently, Glenn Thibeault has re-introduced two Private member’s Bills, Bill C-219 and C-218, that has me concerned on many levels.  Before I get started, I do need to disclose to you that I am a person diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and consider myself an Autistic individual, as Autism is a part of who I am, how I think and interact with the world.   It is because of my identity as such that has me especially interested in these legislations. 
Bill C-219 is the National Strategy for Autism Spectrum Disorders.  To be honest, I am not sure what to make of it, since it seems a little vague.  I am worried about the potential misuse of a national surveillance program, especially with the ongoing research into pre-natal testing for Autism.  However, I am also hopeful for “the provincial government in providing education, professional training and other required supports for Canadians with Autism Spectrum Disorders”.  I do hope that this includes adults and students, as a university student myself finding it difficult to both work and attend courses on social assistance. 
What really has me and other Autistics worried is Bill C-218, the amendment to the Canada Health Act to include Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) as services “medically necessary or required… for persons suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders”.  In fact, given the language and potential negative consequences of the Bill, I strongly oppose it. 
As an Autistic individual, I can tell you that I do not suffer from Autism.  Both my-self and many other Autistic people will tell you that what we suffer from is a society and environment that is inaccessible, and unable to understand and accommodate our needs so that we can flourish as active and contributing members of society.  Part of this is the fact that often Autistic individuals are not included in local, provincial and national discussions about Autism, thus silencing our voices in matters that effect us and future generations.  In correction of this error, I hope that you will work with us to make sure that Autistic voices are being heard within our communities, with our social services and organizations, and in our government. 
The second part of language that I object to is the term “medically necessary”.  I understand that the term is a legislative term, apparently used to ensure “that such services cannot be withheld by any province or territory” (Glenn Thibeault, email Wed June 29, 2011 at 11:59am to myself).  However, it has the implications that Autism is a disease that is contagious and/or full of suffering and misery.  This re-enforces harmful negative stigma and stereotypes about Autism, and can hinder Autistics from gaining meaningful education, employment and involvement within our own communities.  This also gives a false impression as to the reality of our existence and our lives, making us out to be living lives full of tragedy, suffering and misery.  In some cases, because we are “diseased” and because we are disabled, we are seen as sub-human, and this justifies abuse, discrimination and even murder of Autistic people, usually in the case of relieving us of our “suffering” or else in plain cruelty towards perceived inferior individuals.  Thus, such language as “suffering” and “medically necessary” poses negative consequences on the lives of Autistic individuals and creates barriers for us to be a part of society and our country, if not outright threatening our lives.
And then there is the matter of ABA and IBI in terms of the legislation and in of itself. Glenn has tried to assure me that no one will be forced into ABA and IBI treatment, but both are early intervention treatments that focus on children, as young as possible.  This means that recipients of ABA/IBI are not always given a choice, or even an informed choice, about whether they receive treatment.  In the cases where they do object to the treatment, it is often taken as more proof that the child requires treatment.  This leads to a situation where the child’s wants are not being met, in favour for the wants and perhaps ease of the parents, and even for the benefit of ABA/IBI providers. 
There is a large community of Autistic individuals who object to ABA/IBI, because of how it traditionally treats Autistics, its philosophy and methods, and the possible failure for it to equip Autistics for life in the long-term. 
Applied Behavioural Analysis and Intensive Behavioural Intervention is often toted as an effective treatment for Autistic children, usually citing studies where treatment has been found to successfully render children “indistinguishable from their peers”, which is the whole aim of ABA/IBI.  However, such treatments suppress the natural coping strategies and communication styles of Autistic people, leaving them unable to cope with everyday stresses and situations.  Individuals then experience a melt-down when entering adult-hood and are unable to cope with being independent, a valued ability in our society.  This, combined with some of the dog-obedience-school like training of ABA/IBI treatment, leaves Autistic individuals completely dependent on caregivers.  It should also be noted that this leaves them vulnerable to various abuses at the hands of caregivers and strangers alike, including potential sexual predators.  It is noted that disabled people, men and women, are more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-disabled people.
There is also the issue of quality of life of a child undergoing ABA/IBI treatment.  Most treatments call for up to 40 hours a week of sessions, on top of a child’s regular schooling and possible other therapies such as occupational, physical and speech therapy (depending on the needs of the child).  Given the other stresses in a child’s daily life, 40 hours is a lot of work for a child.  It is comparable to a 40 hour job for an adult, and leaves very little time for a child to engage in other developmental activities such as one’s regular routines to de-stress, plus a child’s natural desire to play and simply be a kid.  Myself and other Autistic individuals consider this amount of time in ABA/IBI to be child labour, and is an inexcusable stress on a child’s life.
A counter-argument to the one I just presented is that ABA/IBI is worth it if it is effective in diminishing disabling aspects of Autism in the long-term.  First, I would question what would be considered disabling aspects of Autism, and whether it is really something that is disabling a person, or whether it is society’s inaccessibility that is really the disabling aspect.  In such a case, such arguments is then victim-blaming the disabled instead of working towards becoming more accessible and accepting of human diversity. 
Second, I question the actual sources of their success rates.  As noted by researchers such as Michelle Dawson, a lot of the studies concerning Autism do not meet quality standards required by other studies.  Plus data from such studies do not always meet the conclusions made about it and represent false impressions as to the long-term effects of treatments for Autism, including ABA/IBI.  I highly recommend Michelle Dawson’s work, as an Autistic individual herself with highly informative research at the University of Montreal, plus her experiences at the Supreme Court.  Her work can be accessed at her website No Autistics Allowed.
Looking into the studies, it can be seen that when comparing treatments for Autism, ABA/IBI scores no higher than any other treatment.  Even then, the treatments are not entirely clear as to the efficiency and success in the long-term, compared to no treatment at all.  There are even some suggestions that treatments for some Autistics are unnecessary, due to the fact that Autism is a developmental disorder, meaning that development may progress in an unique manner, but does occur.  It should be noted that this does not mean that Autistics do not require accommodations and supports in the classroom as disabled students, but rather that treatments to improve developmental milestones may be misguided. 
There is one study that does highly suggest success for ABA/IBI treatment, and this is often the study that all other studies reference or depend on for proof of success.  However, that study was done when ABA was developed, and uses the original methods designed by Lovaas in the late 1950s.  Studies to replicate the results are impossible, since the original Lovaas method included aversives such as electric shock, physical restraint, yelling and hitting, purpose exposure to unpleasant physical stimuli such as loud noises, smells, and various forms of pain. These techniques were used on children and teenagers in treatment for Autism (in most cases, ironically, to reduce self-injury behaviour) and homosexuality.  Since such techniques are now illegal, current studies are unable to replicate results, and thus prove that ABA/IBI is in any way effective or superior to other treatments. 
I will repeat, the goal of such treatments is to render children to be as indistinguishable from their peers as possible by suppressing Autistic behaviours, coping strategies and interests.  Given the long-term negative effects of such treatment, many Autistic people oppose ABA/IBI due to their own experiences upon reaching adulthood.  Also given the many advances in art and technology that Autistic people have provided, I wonder whether such disabling treatments are necessary, especially if our society is striving to become more accessible, accepting and inclusive of disabled persons. 
If our society is truly striving to be more inclusive of disabled persons, including Autistic individuals, then such legislation as Bill C-218 is a grave error.  While attempting to improve the lives of Autistic people, it servers to re-enforce negative stigma and stereotypes that creates barriers to accessibility and inclusion, if not outright threatening our lives.  I think that the Autistic people in Canada would be better served if we were included in discussions and conversations that ultimately concern us in our communities and on a national scale.  There are many alternatives to Bill C-218 that would benefit Autistics more than this very flawed and limited source to a particular treatment. 
Instead of treatments such as ABA/IBI, which are extremely costly with questionable benefits, Canadian Autistics would be better served with more teachers educated in teaching methods for an inclusive classroom, access to Alternative Augmentative Communication devices and assistive technology, education in inclusive classrooms that are designed to assist students to learning everyday living skills such as cooking and nutrition.  Post-secondary students and adults could benefit from workshops to learn living skills, support groups and more opportunities to funding for post-secondary education, professional training and employment that suits their abilities and meeting their needs.  There is a lack of supports for Autistic women in particular, in support groups, self-advocacy workshops and in women’s shelters.  Often Autistic women do not know whether shelters can support them, and will remain in abusive situations. 
This is just a brief list, limited in that it is only me thinking of alternatives.  But if there were more Autistic persons involved, I am sure that a more complete list of ways that Autistics can be better served by our government will be created.  I am proud to be Canadian, but I think that Canada can do better, and that Autistics deserve better than legislation such as Bill C-218.  To us, Bill C-218 does not properly serve our needs, and I hope that you will part of including Autistic Canadians to create an accessible and inclusive Canada, and help us to oppose this bill. 
Thank you for your time,
Corina Lynn Becker

Here’s hoping for a good response!

As you might have known from my previous post, there are two Private member bills being re-introduced that concern Autism, and I have been attempting to have a discussion with Glenn Thibeault, the MP who is doing the re-introduction.  Alas, his replies have been…. less than assuring….

Here’s the discussion, so far:

June 24
To Glenn

Hi, I would like to have more information on the autism spectrum disorder bills, especially on what the national strategy would entail and the reasoning for ABA/IBI, especially when there is very little good evidence that demonstrates that it is effective and beneficial for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.  In fact, many adults with ASD strongly disagree with ABA methods and traditional philosophy.  It would be beneficial for all people, children, teens and adults, if autistic people are included in the creation of legislation that ultimately affect them.

~Corina Becker

 To Corina

Corina,

I can assure you that I spent a great deal of time liaising with autism groups before bringing these bills forward, and I have personal experience working with individuals with autism as prior to being elected to Parliament, I graduated from the Developmental Service Workers program at Cambrian College in Sudbury and I worked as a behavioural consultation in Vancouver.

Neither of these bills would force individuals to use ABA/IBI; they would simply ensure that no individual who wished to have access to the treatments could be refused by their provincial health service.

The two bills can be found online at:
1)      http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=5091810

2)      http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=5092022

All the best,

Glenn

June 28

To Glenn

Hello Glenn, it’s very nice of you to provide links to the Bills. 

I am aware of your time as manager of Residential Programs for Youth and Adults with Disabilities.  It is conceivable that you had contact with some Autistic individuals there.  However, there is quite a spectrum of individuals and autism groups.  It would be beneficial to know which autism groups you have liaised with, as to be fully aware of your specific experiences.   This is especially important given the rather offensive wording in Bill C-218. 

Far from assuring me, you have deepened my concerns, and have not answered my questions.  So I will ask again, as an Autistic individual and voting citizen.  Upon which scientific studies and knowledge did you base your decision to make ABA/IBI as “medically necessary”, despite the numerous scientific studies that prove it to be no more effective than other teaching methods?  Why did you single out ABA/IBI specifically, even though the majority of the Autistic community is strongly opposed to its methods and philosophy? 

Why is it that you are not paying attention to the vast amount of Autistic citizens who oppose this bill, and persist to pass C-218? Especially when your own National Strategy for Autism Spectrum Disorders renders C-218 to be useless should ABA/IBI be an appropriate and safe method of teaching an Autistic individual? 

I would appreciate more specific answers.

~Corina

June 29

To Corina

Corina,
Thank you for your continued correspondence. I have worked with a number of autism groups – both provincial and national – over the past three years while I have been in Parliament regarding these bills. ‘Medically necessary’ is a legislative term used in the Canada Health Act to mean that such services cannot be withheld by any province or territory. It has no influence on whether an individual should or should not have any specific treatment. While I understand your criticism of ABA and IBA, Bill C-218 would simply assure that individuals who wish to received these treatments have equal access to them, and this was an issue that numerous groups brought to my attention and asked for legislative chances to rectify.
All the best,

Glenn

July 1

To Glenn

Dear Glenn,
You have still failed to answer my questions sufficiently enough to address my concerns and fears. As such, I feel as though my voice as a voting Canadian citizen is not being heard. 
I ask again, which autism organizations in specific have you worked with? 
This is so that I can have a better understanding as to the scope of your autism experience.  Some Autism organizations, for example, do not represent my concerns and needs as an Autistic adult. 

Also, which scientific studies do you base your decisions that ABA/IBI is deemed to be more effective than other teaching methods to warrant it being singled out for Bill C-218? 
This is despite the increasingly large amount of data that suggests that it is no more effective than other means of teaching, and various accounts that it might actually be harmful to individuals, as it suppresses their natural coping mechanisms and renders them unable to adjust to the realities of adulthood and independence.  Which then leads them to be vulnerable to being dependent on service providers, some of which take advantage of their state.  

I highly recommend reading the work of Michelle Dawson, an Autistic researcher at the University of Montreal who has covered numerous studies on Autism and has been involved with cases at the Supreme Court about ABA/IBI.  You can see her work at her website No Autistics Allowed

Plus, ABA/IBI are early intervention therapies; they are directed to young children who are often not given a choice about whether or not they receive these treatments.  When they do try to object, the manner in which they do so are often taken as more reasoning on why the children need treatment. 

Furthermore, why do you use the term “suffering”  in Bill C-218?  This is problematic because I can tell you that numerous Autistic individuals, myself included, do not suffer from Autism; we suffer from society and autism organizations not being able to meet our needs, and misrepresenting us in our communities and in our governments. 

Also, in terms of ” medically necessary”, while a legislative term, it suggests to the general public that Autism is a disease.  While medically, it suits the definition, Autism is not a contagious disease, which is implied by the “medically necessary”  and “suffering” terms.  It may not be your intention, but the connotations of these words matter a lot.  The connotations of these words support the negative stigma and stereotypes about Autistic individuals, that our existence is a tragedy full of misery and suffering.  At best, these stereotypes make it difficult for us to gain meaningful education, employment and interaction within our communities; at worse, these stereotypes justify the discrimination, abuse and even murders of Autistic individuals, as we are seen as sub-human and our lives so full of suffering that it is a mercy to put us out of our misery. 

With these connotations in mind, I ask that you rethink the terms that you use to create legislation, and not degrade the lives and experiences of Autistic people.   I would also ask that you be more specific with your answers, as to reassure me. 

Thank you for your continued correspondence,

~ Corina

Glenn hasn’t responded to me yet.  It could be the long weekend that has him busy, but I’m not entirely sure.  I wonder whether I will get a reply, or rather, having patted me on the head, he has dismissed the contents of my emails entirely.  Time will only tell. 

So I was on twitter yesterday, and a link in a tweet caught my eye. It was a link to this piece.

Curious and worried, I emailed Glenn Thibeault:

Hi, I would like to have more information on the autism spectrum disorder bills, especially on what the national strategy would entail and the reasoning for ABA/IBI, especially when there is very little good evidence that demonstrates that it is effective and beneficial for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.  In fact, many adults with ASD strongly disagree with ABA methods and traditional philosophy.  It would be beneficial for all people, children, teens and adults, if autistic people are included in the creation of legislation that ultimately affect them. (my signature)  

And he responded:

Corina,

I can assure you that I spent a great deal of time liaising with autism groups before bringing these bills forward, and I have personal experience working with individuals with autism as prior to being elected to Parliament, I graduated from the Developmental Service Workers program at Cambrian College in Sudbury and I worked as a behavioural consultation in Vancouver.

Neither of these bills would force individuals to use ABA/IBI; they would simply ensure that no individual who wished to have access to the treatments could be refused by their provincial health service.

The two bills can be found online at:

1)    http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=5091810

2)    http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=5092022

All the best,

Glenn

Now, as I’m not at home right now and am using my iPod, and it takes me a while to sort through and process what I’m reading on a bigger screen, I was wondering whether anyone had any more information on this? Or even thoughts and feelings about these two bills?

>Whew! I’m currently recovering from the end-of-school-year crunch. I had several papers due within days of each other, plus an online exam and a relapse in Panic attacks. PLUS I’ve been doing some work for the Canadian elections advance polls, because democracy is cool.

However, I just got this press release from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and since I’ve been paying some attention to what’s been going on, decided to share.



AUTISTIC COMMUNITY CONDEMNS PBS NEWSHOUR’S “AUTISM NOW” PROGRAM FOR IGNORANT REMARKS

Robert MacNeil claims needs and perspectives of Autistic adults today not an “urgent issue”

WASHINGTON, DC (April 27th, 2011) – An outpouring of widespread anger emerged from the Autistic adult community last night as journalist Robert MacNeil of PBS NewsHour claimed that issues facing Autistic adults were not “an urgent issue” and not important enough to merit coverage. Asked why his “Autism Now” series failed to include autistic adults amongst those invited to participate, MacNeil stated, “We tried to concentrate on what we thought were urgent issues, urgent problems. And a lot of adults with autism, particularly those who describe themselves as a kind of neurodiversity community, are high-functioning people with autism, who have busy and productive lives in the world, who serve a wonderful purpose of helping the community at large to understand and witness autism and be tolerant of it. But they speak for themselves. And we didn’t see them as an urgent issue, as urgent as the impending arrival into adulthood of hundreds of thousands of teenagers with autism.”
“Robert MacNeil’s comments last night displayed a level of ignorance that is shocking to hear for a professional journalist,” stated Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), “To ignore the widespread discrimination, lack of services, un- and under-employment, stigma and countless other issues facing hundreds of thousands of Autistic adults todayis unconscionable. Furthermore, to pretend that any comprehensive account of autism is meaningful without substantively engaging with Autistic people ourselves is disgraceful and offensive.”
The series had already attracted significant criticism from self-advocates and other community members, who were disappointed in comments MacNeil had made in promotional interviews claiming that Autistic adults were disproportionately violent and lacked empathy, popular and inaccurate stereotypes about adults on the autism spectrum. Numerous e-mails, blog posts, phone calls and other communications from self-advocates on the autism spectrum had expressed that inappropriateness of those remarks as well as failing to interview or involve Autistic people themselves in what was billed by PBS as “the comprehensive look at the disorder and its impact that’s aired on American television in at least five years.”
“I am an Autistic person who does struggle with daily living needs. I am really bothered by Robert MacNeil saying that people like me don’t have ‘urgent’ challenges,” said Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone, an Autistic woman and neurodiversity advocate in Utica, Pennsylvania. “By not talking to Autistic adults in his series, Mr. MacNeil is ignoring the unemployment, risk of homelessness and many other problems that people like me face.”
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is the nation’s leading advocacy organization run entirely by and for Autistic adults and youth. ASAN’s supporters include Autistic adults and youth, cross-disability advocates, family members, professionals, educators and friends. ASAN was created to provide support and services to individuals on the autism spectrum while working to change public perception and combat misinformation by educating communities about persons on the autism spectrum. The organization’s activities include public policy advocacy, community engagement to encourage inclusion and respect for neurodiversity, quality of life oriented research and the development of Autistic cultural activities and other opportunities for Autistic people to engage with others on the spectrum.

Note: The previous quote has not been edited by me. Other than font size, cause it was a little hard to read. Also, my general response to Robert MacNeil have not been nice, so I will refrain from posting them here.

>I love buttons, the pin kind that I have a small collection of, and the image kind for links and stuff.  I’ve been busy working on assignments for school, but I do manage to browse a couple of places online, and decided I need a button.  So I made one. 

Feel free to use if you link to here.

And in other news, April is Autism Awareness Month, apparently.  Huh, that time of year again.  I always have fun with this, because I’m in Canada, and usually we have an Autism Awareness week sometime in Fall….

April is a rough month for me, to be honest.  The demands of schoolwork aside, it’s an emotionally rough month.  April 1st is the anniversary of my Grandpa’s death, and that was an event that deeply impacted me.  Each year, when it comes around, I am always struck with great grief.  Some years are better than others, some years I can get by just fine, other years I am struck with depression and anxiety, which shakes me up pretty badly.

Hopefully this year won’t be so bad, but please excuse me if I’m a bit absent a while longer. 

I have written a piece for The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism for April.  I’m not sure when it’ll be up, but I’m pretty sure that it will be, and I highly encourage people to check out all the stories they’ll be posting for this month.



  • None
  • Corina Becker: Hi Anonymous person who apparently doesn't feel like giving me a name to address, and thus hides behind anonymity!!! I never said the federal gov
  • Anonymous: I think that it is about time something is being done federally to help those with ASD to get much needed therapies for their disability and YES I do
  • Corina Becker: Hi Janine! Melody reads here? Awesome. I honestly had no idea she was aware of this blog.And thank you so much, I'm glad both of you like the bl

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