Ari Ne'eman of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network recently spoke at Bloomfield High School in South Orange, New Jersey. Marcia Worth writes at The South Orange Patch:
Citing one renowned researcher, Dr. Ivar Lovaas, Ne’eman noted that rendering autistic patients “indistinguishable from their peers” – in other words, able to mimic ‘normalcy’-- was widely seen as "success” in the field of autism treatment.
“I don’t know many people whose goal, when they wake up in the morning, is to be indistinguishable from their peers,” noted Ne’eman wryly in his speech. “Lovaas’ studies weren’t measuring independent living skills or academic skills like science or math, they were measuringindistinguishability from peers. Is that meaningful?”
Designing treatment methods based on conformity to an opposing ideal automatically defines the starting point, "acting autistic," as "wrong," Ne’eman said.
Exploring the notion of different = wrong in a separate context, Lovaas conducted other studies, notably the “Feminine Boy Project” conducted at UCLA medical center in the 1970s, which ran concurrently with the UCLA “Young Autism Project.”
“The purpose of the Feminine Boy Project was “to rescue children from homosexuality. Now, we understand this to be an astonishingly disreputable undertaking,” said Ne’eman, noting that Lovaas’ treatment methods for the Young Autism Project have not been challenged in the same way in the intervening years.
“The medical model of disability was viewed from a perspective of charity but not from a perspective of civil rights,” he said. “Horrible things happen in our society to people who are not ‘normal’.”
“Acquiring social norms like hygiene are valuable because there’s a reason for it. It’s not like eye contact,” he said, referring to the difficulty many autistic people have with meeting other people’s gaze. “You have to ask, is this something that is a problem for the child or the people around the child? It’s perfectly legitimate to encourage skill-learning that will help children survive and get a job, etc. But hand-flapping doesn’t hurt anyone. It can be very important to us and very comforting to us.”