This online panel discussion from 9 June 2021 is the third in a series of discussions within the autistic community to progress towards a ban of all forms of autistic conversion therapies (including ABA) – in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond.
- A.W. Peet, trans, queer, disabled, and autistic Professor of Physics, Canada
- Kim Crawley, Cybersecurity Researcher, Hack The Box, Canada
- Star Ford, Divergent Labs Inc, United States
- Tania MeInyczuk, Autistic Strategies Network, South Africa
Jorn Bettin, activist, Autistic Collaboration Trust, and knowledge archaeologist, S23M, Aotearoa New Zealand
Unfortunately a local power outage prevented Tania MeInyczuk from participating in the interactive discussion. She did however manage to upload a recorded introduction to the important topic of the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).
We are looking forward to an interactive discussion with Tania on related questions in an upcoming panel discussion. You can use the form on this page to submit any questions that you would like to see covered, and also to register interest in participating in or viewing future discussions.
Topics and questions explored
- Globally, where are we at in terms of banning conversion therapies? What are the best examples to point to?
- How do we shut down derailing arguments about “new” ABA that primarily serve ABA specialists who don’t want to stop, not the people who are on the receiving end of conversion therapy?
- What strategies do we have for dealing with existing ABA providers? Can we help to “convert” some of them to anti-ableist thinking, lest they simply go underground, or move to other abusive therapies? This would be part of the transition management.
- Since conversion therapies such as ABA and PBS already violate many of the human rights stated in the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), what gets in the way for this Convention to be a legitimate supraconstitutional document that ensures said rights are protected, instead of the afterthought it seems to be in these situations?
- Which CRPD clauses and comment notes are most relevant?
Any questions that we did not manage to cover in the online panel will inform our online advocacy work on blogs, social media, etc.
In case you have not already done so, please also sign the current petition to ask the New Zealand government to investigate the consequences of all forms of conversion therapy, including conversion therapies that target autistic children, which are often branded as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) or Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).
Note: all international support is welcome as well. Those who don’t reside in New Zealand can sign the petition with postcode “0000”. This allows us to easily distinguish the level of local support from international supporters.
Let’s start with a round of introductions. This is the third panel in our series and we’re not short of questions. We were anticipating Tania to join us from South Africa but she informed us they’ve got a power outage that’s now happening exactly at this time so she won’t join us, but she’s recorded related material that she’ll make available and I’m sure we’ll meet her on a future panel. As a way of introduction, you have probably seen me somewhere on the Autistic Collaboration Trust website. I tend to write mainly about this topic and other topics related to autistic collaboration. I’m not an expert on ABA. I’m here as a facilitator and otherwise I can offer just autistic lived experience. Kim, do you want to briefly talk about where you’re coming from.
My name is Kim Crawley. I’m a cyber security writer and researcher. I currently work for a company called Hack The Box. I’m 37 years old now. I was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age 34 after a childhood and adolescence and young adulthood almost getting diagnosed with things and then being prevented from diagnosis. It was suspected that I was autistic since I was a toddler but I didn’t get formally diagnosed until I was 34. And, learning more and more about how neurodivergent people get abused and about how the vast majority of the so-called treatment for us is abuse and it doesn’t help us and it just traumatises us, and to not trust anything that people who aren’t autistic say about autism, because frankly it’s all bullshit, all this, and like the history of abuse and conversion therapy behind ABA and all that. It’s so disgusting and I’m willing to fight and to use my relative position of power to be very vocal against how autistic children and young adults are being abused now. That’s all I’ve got to say.
Thank you. Star, it would be great to hear a little introduction about you. We’ve communicated with each other for a whole number of years and I recall coming across your book many years ago and that was such a delight to read, so introduce yourself to the audience.
I was diagnosed as an adult. My reaction was to find other people like me, so I found out about Autreat and went to that for a few years in a row while that was still happening in the United States. I started a support group, first one in my state and wrote that book and then my next big project was the autistic run retreat center where I am now, which is why I’m on satellite on top of the mountain. That retreat center is in progress and I won’t say I guess I don’t need to waste time saying any more about that, but also I’ll also raise the topic of social media and the way that autistic people are organized these days has been very marginalising for me, because I can’t effectively communicate and contribute in that realm, so I felt like before social media took over, I was fairly active and was thinking of myself more than an activist, and now I just am not any of that. So, that’s all for me.
Thanks very much and I think the last thing you said is a very important message that of course these days a lot of activism happens on social media and this is just not something that many of autistic people can sustain. I know this from myself. I am active on twitter to some extent but it’s it’s painful to be forced to interact on that type of platform because as far as I’m concerned it’s the opposite of the way that I would usually want to engage with people, and the only way that works for me is, I just only interact with people that I can relate to and I just cut out any anything else, but still, these platforms are not made for us and I think it’s one of the ways in which society shows us how little we are appreciated and how little our needs are recognised.
To start off here with these questions that we’ve got, I thought perhaps a good question to start is to ask:
Where are we at globally in terms of banning conversion therapies and where do we have good examples to point to?
As a way of introduction, what’s got me thinking and basically triggered this series of panel discussions and also the related petition we’re running here in Aotearoa New Zealand is, I noticed last year in a very positive way that more and more jurisdictions have talked about and are now starting to enact legislation against conversion therapies for gender non-conforming people, and I found that to be extremely encouraging and so this made me think that the timing is right to do something about this, and I think those are the examples that I’m looking towards.
In the process of starting this petition here in New Zealand I looked around to discover a few petitions that I could find easily on the internet in other jurisdictions now also towards banning conversion therapies or ABA as it’s mostly called for autistic people. And since our petition went live about a month ago I’ve noticed further petitions have sprung up. I think we are at the beginning of the autistic community now recognising that perhaps this is the time to become more vocal and and very visible about where we stand and how it relates to these bans on other forms of conversion therapy that are already active and being enacted. Kim and Star all back to to you, what are your thoughts?
I’m very very happy to hear about gay and trans conversion therapy being banned in Canada. Unfortunately our politicians which are supposedly leftist politicians declare we have banned conversion therapy, as in, all conversion therapy has been banned, like, as if the government paying for ABA isn’t conversion therapy, so it’s very very upsetting. I know a lot of autistic people are gay and a lot of autistic people are trans, but to just say that banning gay and trans conversion therapy in general is banned, is infuriating infuriating, and like our are supposedly leftist politicians in the NDP the New Democratic Party in Canada supporting funding for ABA and shouting from the rooftops, congratulations, we banned conversion therapy, it’s just the most angering thing to me. I’m very very happy for the gay community and the trans community when their conversion therapy gets banned, but too many gay rights organisations and transgender rights organisations are completely unaware that ABA is conversion therapy, and we get left in the dust, even by organisations that exist purely to ban conversion therapy, like a number of the twitter accounts that have user names like ‘stop conversion therapy’ and stuff like that, they completely ignore that ABA exists and that autistic children are subjected to it. I’m just really pissed off.
One of my biggest points of confusion about this is that there’s two historical trends that are both happening at the same time and I don’t know which one is more powerful or more indicative of the future. One of the trends is the one that everyone talks about which is that you know a long time ago we had institutions where there were just rows of beds where all of the people who society throws away go and basically just get fed but otherwise ignored, so there’s the sense of advancement there’s a sense of civil rights moving forward. The United States and many other countries have gay marriage and so that’s like a sort of a theoretic that’s like an ideological viewpoint that I think is partly true, but it’s partly false, because the other thing that’s happening is that the industries that take care of different people, whether it’s disabled elderly children, teaching, summer camps, you know just the whole range of the sector of our economy that takes care of people is carving out more and more exceptions to people who are not accepted. It used to be that more people’s way of being was okay, and now there’s just more and more labels and more and more types of therapy and more more and more and more basically conversion therapy. My fear is that that second sort of ideological historical trend is the more powerful one and that we are actually losing the battle even though there’s certain cases where, you know we did get marriage equality and we got a few things like their civil rights things that have happened but I think we may be losing overall, so I’d like to know what everyone else thinks about that.
That’s a very interesting observation and it relates to what I often refer to as the hyper-normalisation in our society. I agree with you, the trend so far has been increasing hyper-normalisation, the growth in unspoken standards that people are supposed to conform to. We can look at western industrialised culture, right? There is only one acceptable life path for all humans in this society and that starts when you’re born then there is an entire education system mapped out for you with very little choices usually then you’re expected to get a so-called job and then when you’re no longer useful, then you society basically retires you. That is a concerning symptom of the kind of society we find ourselves in and increasingly anyone who diverges from this very standardised path is pathologised. To elaborate a bit more, especially the the world of jobs is hyper normalised. I mean yes it’s like in a supermarket; there are choices but you have to basically pick one of those cookie cutter choices and then society dictates what’s acceptable what’s not acceptable and that makes life very hard if not unbearable for increasing numbers of people. Kim, what do you think about this this broader framing?
Sorry the can you can repeat what the broader framing is?
Well that we live in this hyper-normalised society where the expectation of conforming to the one standard acceptable life path is the only option that’s available to people.
Like, you go to public school and you graduate high school or whatever the equivalent is in your country and then you go to college or university and you get your degree and then you go on to get a career with that degree. Yes, it does fail neurodivergent people. I dropped out of school just before I turned 16, the earliest I could do so legally. Because I wasn’t diagnosed with anything when I was in public school and I tried, I tried so hard, and all the bullying and being given horrible grades once I was in the gifted program and everything although, all the ableist components of the public education system in Canada, which is probably similar to other countries in the west, it was just brutal for me, I had to leave. I was very lucky I’m in a position now that you would normally need like a bachelor’s or a master’s degree to get into. I’m a cyber security researcher, I’m a tech company blogger, I write books about cyber security. I never graduated high school and I never formally went to college or university. To this day the extent of my formal education is grade 10 which is what they call 10th grade in the United States. I don’t know what the equivalent is in the U.K or in other countries, but my formal education stopped when I was 15 pretty much. The fact that I eventually became “successful”, is a total fluke. I was incredibly lucky. I spent the entirety of my teens, my 20s, and my early 30s deep in poverty, and it wasn’t until my cyber security writing and research took off that I was saved, like, I make very good money now. but it was a total lucky accident. The system is not supposed to work like that. you’re supposed to get like a master’s degree to get the kind of career that I have now. But there are so many, there are way more autistic people and people with other neurodivergencies who will fall through the cracks than there are people like me who has lightning strike them, and oh you’re successful now. And I truly do believe that my professional success, yes I did work very hard, yes I am talented, but luck is 90 percent of it, because otherwise you’re not supposed to succeed if you don’t get a university degree or you don’t have rich parents funding you, that’s basically it.
Yes and perhaps we just need to explain to non-autistic viewers or listeners why this hyper-normalisation is so toxic and unbearable or unsurvivable for autistic people in particular. Because I think many people in the western world experience extreme levels of cognitive dissonance, and they feel unwell, they feel under immense pressure. The distinguishing factor I think with autistic people is that we can’t maintain that cognitive dissonance, and so we have mental needs, we have physical needs, we have social needs and we can’t suppress those needs to the same extent as neuro-normative people, and that gets us into trouble with the system much earlier than most people. This relates to our cognitive processing, to our level of sensitivity. In many ways we are very attuned to what we need and what works for humans. In my case for example, spoken language is not really my first language. I think in these conceptual models and semantic links. I remember from a very young age I was attracted to mathematical formalisms and to the foundations of mathematics, not the numerical stuff, and and if you read about human cognition, well, we think in terms of metaphors, and the spoken language is a serialisation format that is a bit foreign I think at least due to some of us. I was lucky academically because in the academic subjects that wasn’t really a challenge for me and I just kept quiet, and so that worked, but I was never interested in getting any kind of credentials. I did go to university and I studied mathematics for quite a number of years but I didn’t get a master’s degree or anything. I embarked on these things but then when I started to feel pressured to do certain things that I didn’t relate to, I just said well this is enough, I don’t need this. I now talk about myself as a knowledge archaeologist because this is what I’ve become an expert in, taking in information, asking questions and then surfacing knowledge or shared understanding, and because in our deceptive western ideology and culture this is something that has fallen between the cracks. People in the professional world ,most of the time they’re not really working together, they’re competing against each other, but society pretends that that’s not the case, that everything is just nice and well. This now brings us back to the topic of conversion therapy because society pressures us into this very strange and inhumane level of standardisation, this game of pretending. Now coming back to the question, where are we at in terms of banning conversion therapy, so on the one hand side, as we just saw, things are getting worse, and but if we look at the bans that I’ve been able to find on the internet. I’m aware of the bands that have been enacted or that are in progress in the anglo-sphere and in all the same countries we can now see visible movements towards banning ABA for autistic people but I think what i’d like to explore also in this series of panel discussions and we won’t get to the bottom of that of course in this panel here, because we all will live in the Anglo-sphere, is, the rest of the world is a bit unknown from most of our perspectives, so if anyone here can point us collectively in the direction of sources as to what’s going on in other jurisdictions and other countries, that would be much appreciated.
I don’t have information on non-English speaking countries but a small point I would make about that is that when I read things about autism from the U.K. versus stuff from the United states, the tone and effectiveness is so different, and I think that the reason is that the money flow is very different. In the uk they sort of do things because they’re considered what needs to be done and then you find funding for it, whereas in the U.S. it’s you find a market and then you you’re an entrepreneur and then you like go into ABA because of the money, and then the money […] so it changes the time period between those two countries.
Yes, I think this commercialisation of ABA in particular seems to be something that has really taken off in the United States. I’ve been writing a couple of articles where I have these links to what I refer to as the autism industry. It really shows it’s seen as a business opportunity, as an investment opportunity, as something to make millions of dollars by convincing parents that their children need to be “treated”. But I think from what I have seen internationally, from talking to a few people some of which hopefully we will get to hear from in future panels, I think in other countries for example in Asia, also having visited some of those countries, I suspect that there the pressure for conformance on autistic people comes from a slightly different angle. This is maybe important to understand. In the Anglo-sphere, in the western world, I think one of the main challenges that we face is this continuous need to promote ourselves or as a professional to sell ourselves. I mean this is just completely unnatural for autistic people and that’s ultimately what disables us completely in in this society, whereas from the bits and pieces that I’ve heard from autistic people in Asia, I suspect the main thrust there may simply be the rigid norms within those societies, because in some ways in these Asian cultures there isn’t this demand to sell yourself, eye contact doesn’t have the the same significance or is even not appreciated in the western sense, so there are some aspects where you could say oh this actually could be really nice for autistic people, but I think then in other aspects of life there is still this enormous conformance pressure, and the economic system there of course the global economic system exerts additional pressure. I guess what i’m trying to say here is, in different places autistic people run into different types of conformance constraints, and in all cases this is challenging. What I’m starting to understand is that even in these Asian countries, some of these western techniques like ABA are starting to take hold with respect to autistic people, but the motivation for applying these things may be slightly different. The really shocking thing though is that it seems that people in Asian countries, they often seem to feel unsafe even to articulate the dark side of ABA. That means globally autistic people currently are in a very bad place. Here in New Zealand we are having discussions amongst activists about how to successfully ramp up a campaign against conversion therapy in a systematic way, and one of the topics that has come up here, also in online discussions internationally, is this question of how do we shut down derailing arguments about “new” forms of ABA. I mean the rebranding in terms of positive behaviour support that’s already out there and in the future I think we may expect similar approaches coming up under new labels, where all these approaches, really, they serve the established ABA practitioners who don’t want to stop, and not the the people who are on the receiving end of what’s what is being practiced. I’m keen to hear what your thoughts are on this topic
I think that the framing of it in terms of conversion therapy is one of the best things and that has really captured my interest when you first put it in those terms, and I think another term that could be used is colonisation just because that’s kind of a global catchphrase among activists in the english-speaking world and you know all over. But here’s colonisation of like land and territory and killing people like genocide but there’s also sort of colonisation of the mind which is part of that and that also was done a lot to indigenous people, but I think the type of colonisation of the mind that’s happening now, it’s almost just another way of saying conversion therapy, but it’s like the practice of either workplaces or schools giving people sort of no autonomy or leeway and how they do things and telling them they have to use a certain kind of pen a certain kind of paper to write a certain kind of way, and it’s just about performative, looking a certain way, right? Rather than actually learning something or completing your job, so banning conversion therapy and colonisation are terms that can kind of get around ABA just saying well it’s not ABA it’s something new but it’s really still is all of those things.
Yes. I hate it when people act all surprised like ‘how dare you call ABA conversion therapy – the only conversion therapy that happens is toward gay people or trans people’, and they’re like they’re totally ignorant about the history of Ivor Lovaas and how he invented both. One of my friends in the Toronto Canada community who’s younger than me, and who was abused by ABA as a child, tweeted today that they wanted to zoom bomb a session between ABA practitioners with footage from the Judge Rotenberg Center and I liked that tweet and I thought yeah that’s that’s great, and then I thought if ABA practitioners like most of the ones who punish and reward by taking a child’s favourite things away and only giving them back to them when they’ve “behaved” in some totally horrible way, they look at people being electrocuted at the Judge Rotenberg Center and they’re just gonna say, ‘wow we don’t do that, you’re not making a point here, we play with the kids, it’s interactive it benefits them.’ As independent adult, imagine if I had to beg and plead and do something bizarre, just to get a beverage or get a piece of toast in the morning or get to lay down in bed and watch tv or read a book, if I had to perform for every single thing that I do every day for comfort and for amusement and for rest, and my human rights to having those things. And autistic children, especially if they’re under ABA, they’re not supposed to be able to have free will and to pour themselves a cup of orange juice if they feel like it, no cup of orange juice until you’ve proven yourself worthy of it. A lot of autistic children are non-verbal or partially non-verbal, and to withhold their alternative forms of communication, to withhold um AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) from them unless they behave, you are literally taking their voice away from them unless they behave. The vast majority of ABA practitioners endorse that kind of bullshit ‘show that you’re worthy of a communication medium’. Okay we’re all adults here, f* them, like seriously, f* them. I am so glad, I used to think that my life would have been a lot better if I was diagnosed with autism as a child, but now you come to the dark realisation that I’m actually better off having been assumed to have been a a bright kid neurotypical when I was a kid, because even though ABA wasn’t really a thing in Canada in the 80s and 90s, there would have been some other abuse of practice that I would have been subjected to. I endured a lot of abuse in the public school system in society, but I imagine if I had an autism diagnosis, it would have been worse. The very concept of diagnosis is totally bizarre and fucked up because homosexuality and being transgender have both been in the DSM and the other diagnostic manuals at other times in very recent history, so it used to be a thing, like being diagnosed as homosexual, but in 2021 the idea of needing a diagnosis to be confirmed as homosexual is just bizarre. If you’re homosexual you will figure that out, right? You know if you’re homosexual. The idea that you need some sort of medical expert to decide that you’re homosexual, and the vast majority of people these days would agree that’s absolutely bizarre. So why with autism? We know if we’re autistic. We know if we’re ADHD or if we’re neurodivergent in some other way. Why do we need this so-called expert to tell us that we are or to deny us of that identity if we don’t fit some sort of rigid arbitrary criteria. It’s just infuriating. I’m hoping that by the time when I’m in my 50s or older, the whole idea of being diagnosed as autistic won’t be a thing anymore. It will be understood that people will know that they’re autistic, just like they’ll know if they’re homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual.
The fact that there are established forces that benefit from the current arrangement, that they work with this concept of diagnosis and then promote things like diagnostic services, it’s part of this colonisation of the mind, it’s about getting everyone including autistic people and their parents to accept arbitrary authority. In fact the parents tend to be already sort of indoctrinated in this idea and so this belief in arbitrary authority is so deeply ingrained that people feel compelled, yeah we must have a diagnosis from the so-called authority. The irony is that of course all forms of lived autistic experience in this context are sort of brushed under the carpet or deemed irrelevant. That’s so dehumanising in itself. I think the history however is very interesting with Ivar Lovaas. What we in our campaigns really need to emphasise and repeat again and again is that Ivar Lovaas started working with autistic people. This is where all these ideas in their modern form come from. It started with autistic people, only then did Ivar Lovaas and his collaborators start focusing on gender non-conforming children and it’s worthwhile for for the general audience to point out that, well, where did that come from? Well, that came from parents with strong religious convictions who had been indoctrinated in certain ideologies, who were concerned about their children, and this is where Ivar Lovaas and others then jumped on the bandwagon, because that’s what gave them funding for their research, and this goes back to the 1970s. Luckily of course the gay rights movement and the all these LGTBQ and so forth communities have made huge progress so that now we are seeing progress in that area, but all throughout, the same kind of techniques or equivalent techniques continue to be used on autistic children, and in fact as more of these so-called therapists or professionals, as their “market” is drying up in in one corner, it’s a logical conclusion for some of them now to focus on autistic children, which they still consider to be a market and they talk about that even in this context because it’s an industry, it’s a profit-making industry, it’s not about assisting autistic people. I’ve been thinking about how we can assist those people that are caught up in the industry. We could hope perhaps that some professionals also experience some level of cognitive dissonance about what they’re doing, but those who’ve been at this for years, they perhaps lack some level of sensitivity, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing this, but I think there in terms of a campaign, it may be worthwhile focusing on the parents because as we discussed at the beginning I think many people, regardless as to whether they are neuro-normative or autistic, they suffer from this cognitive dissonance as to what our society expects of people. You can hear this in parents when they say things like ‘ah well life is not fair and basically children have to get used to that and they have to learn how to deal with that’. This is where it sort of comes through and if we can find ways of encouraging parents to admit to those things and to start seeing that perhaps autistic people, they are simply hypersensitive in many ways and they can see things that are wrong in our society that other people simply don’t dare to point out.
Another angle that might be helpful is suicide risk, because one of my jobs once a week is suicide counselling for teenagers and there’s a very clear correlation from the people that I talk to, that the more clamped down their families are, the more hyper normalised they are to use your terms, the more likely the teenagers are going to actually commit suicide, so it’s just an impossible angle. And what about the others,I think it’d be okay to hear from everyone wouldn’t it?
Yes that’s right, if people here would like to talk and contribute, you’re welcome, too. I know we’ve got some people here who are listening in who may want to contribute to further panels, but I mean if you are comfortable contributing here and now, please do so, by all means. Just raise your hand or unmute yourself.
May I just circle back to a comment that I think Jorn made early on, or actually it might have been one of the other early speakers, about the fact that even what she would have thought of as progressive political parties in Canada like the NDP are so solidly in favor of the ABA industry. I feel very betrayed by that. I’ve gotten so betrayed by leftist parties in this country that I’m not a member of any of them, just so that my positionality is clear. I would love it if somehow we could try to figure out, diagnose why that is that they’re so invested in pushing for the ABA industry, and I think it has everything to do with capitalism and the fact that the NDP is really not an anti-capitalist party, if it ever was, it certainly isn’t in 2021, and they are so, you know, into all the money that’s associated with it, that they just can’t see the wood for the trees or refuse, I think. Maybe one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get a ban on autistic conversion therapy as compared to an LGBT one, which is maybe two-thirds achieved in parliament, maybe it has to do with the fact that to really, to treat correctly autistic people and more generally disabled people, you have to challenge the foundations of capitalism, colonialist imperialist capitalism, which is what this nation state runs on at the moment. That’s not a very helpful observation perhaps for figuring out how we change, this because we have to challenge all of capitalism in order to get autistic conversion therapy banned. One other thing that some people have raised, I think on kiwi twitter, is about how what we think of as good bans, even the LGBTQ, the tans and queer community conversion therapy ban, who is that legislation and that culturality of that system going to be focused on, is this going to be mostly communities of colour where people are going to be criminalised for wanting to do conversion therapy on their kids? So, even putting a ban in place legislatively doesn’t necessarily solve the problem entirely, there got to be other resources provided first for the affected victims. The people who were forced to do this conversion therapy should be the people getting the resources first, but also their families communities so that the urge to do it in the first place doesn’t happen somehow, I don’t know. I think I’m rambling, so I’ll just close off my microphone now ,sorry I’m a bit nervous.
Many thanks. Your commentary there is spot on.
A.W. and I, we’ve been chatting on twitter briefly just now and we just realised that we’re both in Toronto . I feel very similarly to A.W., the NDP has totally let me down. I know some autistic self-advocate activists in the community, one of which is working inside the NDP to try and make change for the benefit of autistic people and I’d love to connect them with my friend who’s doing that activism within the NDP. Me personally though, I’m in the process of joining the Communist Party, but I’m willing to do advocacy within the NDP with my friend Lulu. Fun facts with Lulu on twitter, if it helps, if it helps. I’m willing to compromise with social democrats when it can help people. and yes it’s absolutely disgusting to hear people who think it’s progressive to support ABA. There’s a prominent leftist in Canada who’s my friend, Andre Demise. He’s very active in the media and we’re friends on Twitter, and the premier of Ontario is a man named Doug Ford. Doug Ford is an absolutely horrible evil politician like most politicians basically, and the one good thing that he’s ever done, of course not with good intentions, but with good effect, was to cut a lot of Ontario provincial funding of ABA. Now, the supposedly left or center left of progressive media in our area looks at that as ‘he cut autism funding, he doesn’t care about children with autism’, because of course he wouldn’t say ‘autistic children’. My friend Andre Demise who is a member of the Communist Party, and otherwise he has absolutely solid ideas and wa very accurate world view, was citing Doug Ford cutting autism therapy as an example of bad things that Doug Ford has done, and I had to have a private chat with Andre about, ‘no, actually autistic children were accidentally helped by this right-wing politician being stingy’, and I had to give Andre a stern private talking to. I showed him the website of Autistics for Autistics Ontario which is a local, you’ve heard of it Jorn, it is a local autistic self-advocacy organization here in Ontario Canada, they do a lot of good research and papers on ABA funding in Ontario and why it’s bad, and I showed Andre their website and all the research they’ve done, and all of a sudden, enough to educate Andre, he changed course. He was like, ‘oh, oh, I’ve always heard that Doug Ford did something bad by cutting funding to help autistic children, but now I realise this isn’t something that the autistic community wants’. And that’s another thing, the general public confusing the ‘autism community’ with the ‘autistic community’. They don’t even know the difference, and you know, to see non-autistic parents of autistic children and so-called experts always having a seat at the table and we never get a seat at the table, it just it makes me incomprehensibly angry, like I’m willing to like take a sledgehammer and whack some shit into little pieces. Sorry I’m the probably the angriest participant here but I’ve made peace with my anger. It’s there.
One of obstacles I think is that all of the services that autistic people want and need cost less than all the conversion therapy. Yes we want certain services and things to happen for us, we want those things to be funded, but it doesn’t cost as much, so people are going to be out of work, so they don’t want to change because of that, I think.
I mean this is what I described in general, within our so-called economic system, it actually optimises for busyness with a y, and this is one of these fundamental things that is wrong with our society, that any kind of random busyness is seen as valuable, which is absurd because this is what causes increasing numbers of people distress and harm, and autistic people are amongst those that completely get marginalised in the process. We’re getting close to the hour here, I think we’ve covered parts of that question already, but the next question here or the last one that we should perhaps briefly talk about is, ‘what strategies do we have for for dealing with existing ABA providers, can we help to convert some of them to anti-ableist thinking, lest they simply go underground or move to other abusive therapies? This would be part of the transition management’. I think we touched on that topic in earlier panel discussions and from my perspective, people have been involved in this industry for a long time. From an autistic perspective it is would be very difficult for for me to trust any of these people with for example autistic children. There I see a real challenge. Coming back to the framing I think it’s very important that we continue to use this framing of ‘all forms of conversion therapy’ rather than just ABA and to point out that what we’re really concerned about are the objectives, the level of blind obedience or conformance to arbitrary authority or rules, that these objectives are inhumane. They’re very detrimental to autistic people, and it doesn’t really matter what techniques are used to get towards these goals, so I think this would have implications on suitable framing for any effective legislation. I’m aware that this will not prevent some of these so-called therapies from going underground, but at least then from a legal perspective we would be in a position to then identify these things and start doing something about them once we identify these things going on.
I would rather that these ABA practitioners go underground then. I mean there’s all kinds of underground autism therapies, because even the general public realises that they’re bullshit, like chelation for instance and stuff like that and miracle mineral solution and stuff like that, and unfortunately it still happens and there are autistic children who are put through chelation and MMS and know all kinds of bizarre things like that. But it’s much better that those practices are shunned by the mainstream, even if we can’t completely eliminate it from happening. That being pushed underground makes it happen a lot less frequently. So I think accepting that, if we push ABA underground it will still exist underground, is something that we’re going to have to accept. The victory is making it not acceptable to the mainstream.
I don’t know if other people have solved this problem, but in my area, our state only has less than two million people and there’s there’s only certain people that are autism players, so I basically know their names, but I can’t touch them. You know, PTSD from this sort of thing is one reason I just can’t pick up the phone and talk to them, but also there’s there’s no forum there’s no place, the communication channels are just completely closed, even though I’ve been trying to be active in this sort of thing for more than 10 years in a fairly small state, so I don’t even know how or why they would talk to us, or how to get them to talk to us.
Thanks Star Ford for that comment which I think is very valid and probably applies in other places as well. That perhaps is a good way to close our discussion today. Picking up on what you were just saying about these local challenges that can exist. We can gain a lot by collaborating internationally across jurisdictional boundaries or within the U.S. across states, even if the local access or conversation between activists and politicians is impeded by various circumstances, it is very powerful if there is visibility of what’s going on in other jurisdictions, and any progress that is made anywhere in the world, we can propagate that and talk about that internationally, and this then ratchets up pressure, and as we have seen with gay conversion therapies, this may then have a catalytic effect, and it may enable our progress in other jurisdictions. That’s why it’s important to collaborate internationally on this from an activist perspective, and not just to myopically focus on what’s going on locally.
Yes that sounds good.
Kim, any closing words from you?
No, but Im so glad that Jorn you organise things like this, and I’m so glad for the autistic community, and it’s gonna take a lot of fighting, a lot of collaboration between us, but you know hopefully by the time I’m elderly we will see some societal progress. So, thank you very much.
Star, any closing words from you?
I don’t think I have anything else, I just also appreciate what you’re doing, thank you.
Well, I thank all of you including the listeners and the viewers, and thanks A.W Peet, for your courage to speak up as well. This is great to see. As I said in the previous panel, we’re only just getting started with this wonderful autistic collaboration project, and any autistic people who are watching this, either now or the recording, you’re all welcome to get involved and to contribute your lived autistic experience. Of course it’s very important that we hear from people who were directly exposed to ABA from various perspectives but we also need to hear these other autistic experience like many of ourselves who’ve been lucky enough never to have suffered ABA being imposed on ourselves, and to perhaps also talk about these alternative life paths that many of us have stumbled into, and as Kim was saying, there’s usually those who have carved out a niche somewhere, there’s been a lot of luck involved, and it’s only via the autistic community that we find the strength to keep going from day to day. Thanks all of you very much and this is an autistic collaboration. I would be incapable of doing any of this without that wonderful community, so thanks to everyone, and we’ll have further discussions.