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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Tony Attwood Apologist

I've been following the events around Tony Attwood for a while, and I just found this post on Tumblr by Janna.  With her permission, I'm posting it here, since I think it says very nicely what I think of the entire situation as well. 

I’ve been at it for a bit now. Still having trouble understanding everything this person is talking about (have I mentioned before that taking Strattera for six months decimated my reading comprehension as well as messing with my typing?) but I’m trying to get through to them.

The post is here, if you want to see. I’m posting as karalianne, as per usual.
For those not up on this situation, a post was made to The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism blog, by an autistic person (who is very successful by NT standards), who attended a session by Tony Attwood while at an autism conference. During the session, Dr Attwood impersonated autistic people in a fashion that was exaggerated and taken as humorous by the allistics in the audience. Meanwhile, the autistic person was offended by this portrayal.

Dr Attwood was later pointed to the post, and he wrote to the author privately. In this e-mail, he explained humour to her and implied that she doesn’t understand humour because she is autistic.

More to the point, Dr Attwood has been doing these portrayals for several years, and many autistic people have asked him to stop. He obviously has chosen to disregard the opinions and desires of the people he supposedly cares about so much that his entire career has been spent studying them.

There is an autistic person who is posting long “wall of text” comments to the original post (they’re divided into paragraphs, but the paragraphs are really long and use a lot of big words; my current reading abilities don’t like this at all), supporting Dr Attwood’s continued use of impersonation in the face of complaints.
Here are a few of the things I’ve said so far:
My first comment to the thread:
I am writing just a general response about Tony Attwood in general.
He has written a bunch of books. He writes forewords a lot. He’s studied Asperger’s a lot. He has degrees and stuff. 
That is really cool, and it’s okay to like people who have done stuff like that. It’s okay to agree with the things they say and write if they are true for you.
It’s important to remember, though, that even the coolest people in the world say and do really bad things sometimes. Saying or doing bad things doesn’t necessarily make them bad people; a lot of the time, cool people who do bad things are just misinformed or don’t realize that those things are bad.
When cool people do bad things, other people need to tell them that those things are bad. Truly cool people might get upset at first, but after thinking about it they go, “Oh, wait, I get it. I won’t do that anymore, then. I’m sorry I did that bad thing.” Less cool people don’t stop doing the bad things. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still cool, and it doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it just means that they’re still doing bad things even though they’ve been asked not to. It’s okay to still like people who do that, but it’s also okay to stop liking people who do that. It’s also okay to criticize people who do that, because they need to be criticized.
If I am standing on someone’s toes and I don’t mean to be standing on their toes, I AM STILL STANDING ON THEIR TOES. I need to apologize and stop standing on their toes. My intent doesn’t really matter except that it was an accident. If I keep doing it to the same person, over and over again, at some point that person is justified in concluding that I am actually doing it on purpose and that I don’t actually care that standing on their toes hurts them.
This article is posted publicly. Anybody can see it, read it, and reply to it. Tony Attwood is perfectly able to do that here or at Karla’s site, I’m sure.
(Note: I wrote this the way I wrote it because this is about the level of complexity I’m capable of today. I’m not autistic, but ADHD impacts my communication sometimes, too. So I’m not “talking down” to anyone by using simplistic words and sentence structures, I’m writing the way I’m able to think about this right now. Just so everyone knows.)
In response to “not everyone has time to peruse the internet”:
Public figures should always expect to be called out publicly. It’s part of being a public figure. 
In addition, it takes about two seconds to type your name into Google and see what turns up. Once you skip to the third page (getting past all the stuff he’s actually written himself), you start seeing criticisms. I would assume Tony has an assistant who could use some time each day to check for such things, make a list of URL’s, and send them to him, with a short summary of each URL. 
Considering the fact that Tony has been spoken to more than once about this sort of thing and continues to do it AND defends it by saying that other people are okay with it is an indication that private communication will do no good and public callings out are now necessary to make it clear that this sort of behaviour is really Not Okay. 
Like I said, you can still like him. I don’t see why what he says about Asperger syndrome should be given more weight than what people who actually HAVE AS say about it, but that’s me. I don’t see why people who don’t have ADHD should be telling me how to “fix” myself, either. *shrug*
About the e-mail Dr Attwood sent:
1. I can’t actually understand all of this right now, so I might come back later, but I will probably forget to do that. 
2. Attwood has been approached by autistic people in the past and asked not to tell these kinds of stories, because they are offensive to autistic people. 
3. He continues to tell these stories. Ergo, he does not actually care what autistic people want and need. 
4. When responding to someone who has been offended by something you have done or said, talking about their perceptions is a way of putting it all on them. Basically, it is saying “I didn’t mean to offend you; therefore, you should not be offended. Since you are offended, it is obviously your fault that you are offended.” 
5. I know plenty of autistic MEN who are hilarious. My autistic friends are not all women. Nor do I know them all just online. 
6. Intent is not magical in any way. Like I said, if I’m standing on your foot without meaning to, I’m still standing on your foot and that is not okay. I need to apologize, get off your foot, and try not to stand on your foot again. Attwood has not done this.
About the difference between what Dr Attwood is doing and what autistic people themselves do sometimes:
Short note that autistic people poking fun at themselves/their own disorder is VASTLY DIFFERENT from people NOT on the spectrum poking fun at them/autism. 
I don’t like it when people who don’t have ADHD say offhandedly “I’m so ADD today” because IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. I don’t like ti when people who don’t have ADHD make jokes about how I take legalized speed, because THAT’S NOT WHAT I DO WHEN I TAKE MY MEDICATION. I don’t like those memes that are going around right now about trying to fall asleep and Old MacDonald Hey Macarena OR the really old ones about squirrels or bikes (though I grudgingly allow that people who HAVE ADHD have a right to use them if they think they are funny or pertinent or something). 
I still don’t fully understand what the heck you’re talking about for the most part, but I did understand the stuff I just said and I know it pertains to some of what you wrote.
In response to something that was basically “he doesn’t intend to respond, and anyway very few autistic people are statistically going to be at these conferences”:
Regardless of intent. (INTENT DOES NOT MATTER) 
A person who has a particular disorder can say things about their own disorder that it is insulting and inappropriate for people who do not have that disorder to say. 
If I were giving a talk about ADHD, I would talk about positives and negatives and describe my life and the lives of other ADHDers who have given me permission to share their stories. And it would be okay if me doing that made people laugh, because I would certainly play my own stories for laughs if they were funny. However, if a professional who does not have ADHD told funny stories about ADHDers losing their keys every morning or something, I would find that offensive. Someone who doesn’t have ADHD laughing about things that happen to me on a regular basis, that are incredibly frustrating to deal with, is degrading and offensive. 
In addition, doing this - even when no people with the disorder are present - indicates a callous disregard for the people who have the disorder. It also encourages other people to do the same thing. 
Basically, IT DOESN’T MATTER IF SOMEONE IS THERE TO BE OFFENDED, THERE ARE REPERCUSSIONS FOR SUCH BEHAVIOUR THAT WILL AFFECT THEM ANYWAY.

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