Saturday, August 13, 2011
An interesting, and disheartening, conversation:
Writing About Autism: Not for the Autistic??
The thread on About.com represents what many of us know about the autism "community" and its coherence: there is no single community, and there is no coherence of purpose, ideals, or beliefs. Insults and attacks are the norm.
Now for the "good" news: this isn't really an "autism" issue at all. If you want proof, read the comments on any political, technical, medical, or even hobbyist website. The vitriol and hatred seems to be universal, not an autism issue.
You want anger? Discuss Windows vs. Linux vs. OS X. Mention your great experience with a Chevy truck on a Ford enthusiast forum. I believe that debate has raged since the 1940s. Even "IRL" (in real life) people attack and insult over silly things. I had someone say, out of the blue, "You drive a Jeep? Really? How can you own such a thing?" I can't recall why it was mentioned — I was simply parking to shop at Target.
What is it with people? From where and why has all this impoliteness appeared in daily life?
We don't merely disagree with people, we allow ourselves to "hate" and "despise" people with different views, values, or beliefs. We can't accept that different views might be honest differences of both opinion and experience.
I do dislike charlatans taking advantage of families and there are men and women I do believe are dishonorable. But not most. I might not agree with a parent's choices, but I do not hate the parent. In fact, I try to understand why the parent is desperate and how desperation, guilt, and misinformation mix to lead to certain choices. The right approach is to explain my views, not insult and yell (virtually or in person).
The "self-advocacy" movement has to be careful. Many adults and teens with ASDs have had challenging experiences and carry with them some anger and bitterness. They need to explain that carefully to the broader autism communities. Not everyone understands how being treated horribly by others can result in a defensive, argumentative stance. Trust me, I understand being angry at institutions and people — but anger doesn't always produce the desired results.
And I tire of some parents and advocates telling me the obvious: I don't understand their lives. No, I don't, but I understand that your anger and vitriol is also harmful, especially when you attack adults and teens with ASDs trying to stand up and explain their experiences.
If you don't like what I write or what anyone else writes online, you can stop reading my blog along with any other websites with which you disagree. What is so difficult about moving on and reading something else? Or, if you are mature and thoughtful, you can read the sites with which you disagree to learn about and appreciate the views expressed. You don't need to post a reply or comment to sites you dislike; you can simply read and observe.
I don't read many blogs or forums. I don't have the time or energy for most of them. I read Stuart Duncan's blog from time to time, but generally I only stumble upon other sites when I see something interesting on Facebook or Google+ that seems worthy of reading. There was a time I read three or four blogs a week, but I don't have the energy for all the anger anymore.
As I mentioned, this isn't merely an autism issue. I no longer read the comments on most news websites, technical sites, or hobby sites. I read the main posts or the news headlines and that's it. One reason I like reading using my iPod Touch is that many sites don't include comments on the mobile devices. No comments means no anger, no hatred.
At least we can't blame "autism" for the lousy attitudes of the online community. "Flame wars" are not only as old as the Internet, but as old as human communication. I can do my best to be polite and not use silly insulting names for groups or people, but even honest disagreements have a way of deteriorating quickly.
Try to be polite. We will all fall short at times, but at least make the effort to listen and consider other views. If you do disagree, try to be nice about it while expressing your viewpoint. That's the least we can do.