Linux, politics, and other interesting things
The AEIOU Foundation  is a support and advocacy organisation for people on the Autism Spectrum, note that they clearly say Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on their About page, some of what they write would be less wrong if it was claimed to apply to only non-verbal Autistics or people claimed to be Low Functioning Autistic (LFA). But in regard to the Autism Spectrum they just don’t seem to know much about it, a lot of their web pages seem to be based on the assumption that anyone who is on the Spectrum will be lucky if they can ever live independently. However it seems that most people who can be diagnosed with an ASD have typical social skills by the standards of the IT industry and can get by without any special assistance. The entire site seems to be written about people on the Spectrum by people who know little of their experiences and contains hardly any information that matches what I’ve read from various people on the Spectrum (of course there are a wide range of experiences that differ greatly).
They have a link to “Autism Related Sites” which starts with “Autism Speaks” (the Wikipedia page about Autism Speaks is worth reading – note the section about immunisation research which has been repeatedly debunked and the section about legal action against a young autistic blogger). There are many good reasons why Autism Speaks is so widely hated among people on the Spectrum. I think that recommending Autism Speaks is a sign of willful ignorance of almost everything related to Autism.
In their page about describing Autism to NTs they say “Imagine if you suddenly woke up in a foreign country, did not speak the language and had no way of effectively communicating with the people around you“. I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome by a psychologist who considers that to be the same as High Functioning Autism (HFA) and I’ve visited more than a few countries. I find the comparison of the Autistic experience to visiting another country to be so strange that I don’t even know where I would begin if I was to comment on where it went wrong.
Finally they have a scrolling bar listing their advertisers at the bottom of ever single page on their site. If someone was going to design a web site specifically to annoy people on the Spectrum then such a scrolling banner would be a good place to start.
Now they probably do some good things to help families with children on the Spectrum. But their ability to do good is really hindered by the lack of input from people on the spectrum, Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg (leader of the Vermont Chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network) wrote an interesting post about AEIOU and noted that none of the people who run AEIOU are Autistic .
Someone got the idea that Neuro-Typical people (NTs) should try and understand what it’s like to be on the Spectrum – which is a reasonable idea. But they decided that the way to do so is to have them refrain from Internet based socialisation and not use Facebook and Twitter for one day. It seems to me that most people on the Spectrum primarily socialise via the Internet, so ceasing Internet based socialisation is likely to make their experience less like that of people on the Spectrum. I’m getting a mental image of a bunch of NTs deciding to go to a night-club for their Internet free evening and then imagining that they are somehow empathising with the experience of people who can never enjoy a night-club.
As an aside, a web site which has anything at all related to disabilities shouldn’t rely on Flash – the Communication Shutdown site totally fails in this regard.
No Stereotypes Here has an interesting analysis of this situation, among other things they comment on the irony of having someone ask them to stop using twitter as part of this campaign . One thing that they suggest is for NTs to have a day without any communication at all.
As a communication exercise, try going shopping without speaking, just use hand gestures. For bonus points try doing so in a foreign country where you don’t know the language so you need bidirectional non-verbal communication – with some luck you can complete a transaction without the shopkeeper realising that you are a foreigner. This won’t actually give you much of the Autistic experience, but it’s a good exercise in understanding how communication works.
Someone who wanted to know the down-side of being on the Spectrum could find a sports bar where most patrons support one team and then enter the bar while wearing a jersey indicating support for an opposing team. I don’t recommend doing this because it really wouldn’t be fun, but for a quick approximation of the experience it would probably work well.
It seems to me that paying $5 to a charity and then boasting about doing so on your Facebook page for a day is an easy thing to do. A harder task would be to spend a day reading about the experiences of the people in question and then giving $5 to a charity that is well regarded by the target group.
Another possible way of gaining some understanding would be to have a party where everyone brings their laptop and uses only electronic communication – no speaking at all. This is in fact fairly close to what some of the Geekier (possibly Autistic) members of the IT community do.