These are the "whatever" moments of writing, especially of blogging.
I write a monthly column for a regional magazine. The column has nothing to do with autism or special education. I write on technology issues. But, as any technologist will affirm, technology preferences and biases are accompanied by a religious fervor. Armies of zealots, the true believers, will descend on any writer daring to question their beloved operating system, hardware, application, or programming language. A good tech writer might be accused of being an Apple Fanboi one month and a Microsoft Apologist the next. Someone is always offended; the same people upset this month were probably praising my column last month. That's how it works.
Expounding on economics and political rhetoric is interesting because the debates are often circular. Those topics include people arguing 180-degree points of view, simply based on whether it is "their side" politically taking a specific action or uttering a specific phrase. The "other side" is always evil, a demonic group with no concern for the future of the United States or the world. The notion that people (especially economists) simply disagree? That can't be. If you disagree with "my side" you must have an ulterior, villainous motive.
Generally speaking, I don't receive death threats or the worst kind of hate mail based on what I write on most topics. The exceptions: religion and philosophy; those topics are as personal as living with a disability. Yes, writing about autism leads to a special kind of hate mail and personal attacks. The attacks often appear on other websites or public forums, so I only see them when I am told about them.
Writing and speaking publicly on my experiences, my research, or simply my opinion on something is certain to lead to conflicts with various people and groups. There are many "whatever" moments in autism blogging.
Everyone knows there are some topics certain to excite a response. Blogging about them drives traffic, but doesn't often change opinions. The controversial topics include: vaccinations, genetic screening, various therapies, school supports (and costs), and insurance coverage (again, costs). You question some things or defend others with the knowledge people will be angry and/or defensive.
Then, you have topics that I never imagined would be controversial.
I've written about being disabled. How controversial is it for someone (me) diagnosed with Erb's palsy, Jacksonian seizures, base membrane dystrophy, and a cane to describe himself as disabled? Apparently, pretty controversial. I learned of a post claiming I wasn't disabled several months after the comment was posted. Pretty strange, but that's blogging for you. If you are even slightly more "able" than someone else, you can't self-identify as "disabled." I had never expected that reaction to an essay or blog post.
I never imagined writing about relationships and ASDs would offend anyone. Clearly, I was not and could not be writing for the most impaired children and their families. No disrespect intended, but if I'm writing about dating, I'm obviously writing about a very narrow sub-group within the autism community. Not every topic I write about or speak on is going to address every individual diagnosed with "autism." I couldn't believe it when parents and educators wrote to complain that writing about relationships was "mean" or "dismissive" of their children. I do advocate for the severely disabled, but a guide to relationships isn't going to address every imaginable cognitive capability.
This leads to the next topic I never anticipated engendering anger: post-secondary education. Yes, I admit once again that not every child with a disability will someday go to college or vocational school. Heck, not every "normal" child has the opportunity to pursue his or her intellectual capacity in this or any other nation. There's much I could write about assuming every child will go to college. However, when I write about how to help college students diagnosed with autism, it should be clear (again!) that I am addressing a very small, unique group of individuals with a challenging mix of intellectual capabilities and physical challenges. How in the world could this upset anyone? But it does. I have been told writing about college ignores the children who will not attend a university. Of course it does. I'm sorry, but every topic does exclude someone.
Finally, I've suggested, drawing from my research, that the definition of "autism" is problematic. I imagined this was somewhat self-evident. There is no way that we can compare a successful professor diagnosed with any "autism spectrum disorder" to a young girl with Rett Syndrome (generally now considered something other than autism) or anyone with a cognitive degenerative disorder. What we call "autism" is unlikely to be one thing and the notion of a "spectrum" doesn't help -- it confuses people by implying there is a single set of underlying causes and one set of treatments. Most autism researchers will tell you there are "autisms" just as there are "cancers." Cancer isn't one thing with one cause and one solution. Autism is at least as complex. But, to suggest my "autism" is different, with different needs? That seems to upset more readers than anything I've written.
I don't intend every post for every audience. I write what comes to mind -- my mind. I also try to answer questions, so visitors are able to suggest future posting topics. If you aren't interested in a post, you can skip to another one or leave this site to read another. But, some people just have to write an angry or even threatening e-mail.
Sometimes, I can only respond with, "Whatever."