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On the Autism and Vaccine Debate Piece by Maurice Frank

This was a collision between 2 meanings of autism. The word’s meaning has broadened and shifted balance since able autism, asperger’s, has become recognised, and as another level of a condition whose severe versions had been recognised sooner. While more severe autism is a clearly visible condition, social deficits autism in folks of average ability had more struggle to be recognised, against interpreting as just part of character or of mental health.

Spectrum in a prism

Society is mixed up, some folks learned autism’s severe meaning first and have stuck with it and never learned beyond it, others more interested in laughing at socially awkward characters only see autism by its higher ability meaning. It is important for all of us affected by autism to remember that the other end of its spectrum is just as real as our end.

When I saw Mike’s spec, I recognised it as being focused on severe autism and prevention of distress, naturally foremost in mind for anyone with that in family. He was asking to share a studied case addressing those things.

l But it was written referring to autism as a whole as if it came within the severe and negative picture, which it importantly does not in the experience of the able spectrumites like me whose differences are social rights needing accepting. I know we existed before the 1970s, our history tracing back to Isaac Newton as one of us.

So I posted the first comment under the piece, saying take care to make the distinction, able v severe. I flagged that up to be heeded in the discussion.

That, peacefully, amicably, was all I needed to do. Mike’s theory still addressed real distresses that need causes and remedies discussed in the spirit of scientific enquiry – a spirit that should be under public scrutiny not entrusted to corruptible elites. Forbidden Science by Richard Milton, 1994. So he was entitled to share and most importantly discuss it.

locked door

That needed emphasising most in the billing – discuss, not lay the law down, is ths nature of RU as a platform. Discussing a theory of causes was not going to make forced cures happen: the posts arguing that it would were logically absurd.

Having said my bit on types of autism, the event was no threat to me as an able autistic at all. RU has been a key outlet of medical free speech for me, and all scrutiny of science of autism keeps our self-understanding tested in fact.

When the pursuit of venues started, I felt: attack on a beneficial outlet, and group momentum already run ahead of reasoning. Never a phenomenon on the side of knowledge. Online the posts by folks going after the venues were just taking for granted that was right to do.

They could have held a campaigning protest outside the meeting, like I held one on destroyed child authors outside Autistic Intelligence’s Dalmuir conference 2015. Then Lighthouse bookshop gave (on Facebook) well reasoned grounds for pulling the event from there without saying it should not take place at all:

Just said that the impact they could see it having meant that to host it specifically there would fail at being comfortable and safe-feeling space for their autistic customers. So not a no-platforming position, that’s good, but a line clearly taken from reacting only to the protesting side rather than both sides. So suppose the position taken is right: then it becomes right for them to pull an autism event entirely because a hurt and protesting side exists. Then it has to be consistent: and I had an item for them to bar hosting too. Any events that endorse Autistic Pride Day.

This was a topic I had already disagreed with AMASE on. Autistic Pride Day was invented by a high-control authoritarian organisation, thankfully now gone, “Aspies For Freedom”, led cult-like by one couple, who were notorious for purging members very easily. “Dozens, think about that, dozens,” according to American group FAM in 2005. The inventors are still around seeking infkuence for other projects.

To support Autistic Pride Day and brush aside its origin is an offensive exploitation of all autistic folks who have any care or vulnerability around social injustices and rejection situations, all associated with potentials for suicidality, all making it a duty to safety and vulnerability not to endorse or do the pride day. It ethically must not be done.

That is clearly a far practically stronger moral case than the case to gag Mike’s RU talk. It must be determined by the existence, at all, of folks hurt by the pride day’s holding or by AFF – not by peer pressure or the balance of who has the loudest voices on it !! But when I posted presenting this to Lighthouse, both of the couple leading AMASE posted interpreting this move as hostile to them.

AMASE had fixed up its own event at Lighthouse for the vacated time slot, so clashing with RU, and they interpreted my action as hostile to that event. But my action was totally impartial, against events promoting Autistic Pride Day by anyone at all. Because AMASE’s event was not going to promote Autistic Pride Day, and thanks to them for telling us so, it follows that my action had nothing to do with their event.

Sure, its neutral applying to all events included theirs, but that is only equal and equivalent to, that their no-platforming took away the liberty of all including of ELAS, the older autistic local group that I’m in, to hold any event on Mike’s proposition. They had done that first, and I had not called it hostile nor ended our groups’ amicable coexistence. So they showed a disliking of disliking getting sauce for the gander.

They ignored this common sense response and to date they have never withdrawn the stance of deeming hostility. To ignore a response is unjust, and to infer hostility from a difference of opinion on 1 item is a controlling line of hostility itself. I posted on RU about it publicly inviting them to withdraw it, and inviting the public to see evidenced in whether they withdraw it, whether they are a good or bad group, a temperate or a controlling leadership.

If the militancy of no-platforming is the same miliitancy as a group’s leaders promptly declaring hostile and pushing away folks who have a single issue difference with them, then it’s not the voice of autistics who follow evidence rationally. To discuss a proposition’s pros and cons does not oppress us: we would not have not gone into that meeting tied to take a negative view of autism. To let self-appointed peer pressuring voices, even in favour of an abuse like Autistic Pride Day, have a veto over what science we can engage with, now that oppresses us.

Scotts monument

So come the move to an outdoor park venue, I still favoured holding Mike’s meeting itself there, for the liberty’s own sake. When we assembled instead to discuss the experience, one of us announced that she wanted to see the clashing presentation by AMASE, in the spirit of scrutiny, and would report back on it. Agreed to be a good step.

What she reported back, was a lack of evidence for things said, that does not sit well with no-platforming someone else’s offered evidence. 4 articulate and educationally successful aspies all aged 20s-30s had given talks asserting “autistics do this”, “autistics do that”, without citing sources of evidence for it. It rested only on that the speakers were autistics and said so: but they were not demographically representative of us, most’s backgrounds are not like that. It had been a presentation rather than a discussion, too.

Knowing there was hotheaded emotion around, and knowing that autism can carry computing and hacking skills, I find it too impossible to be coincidence, that on that same evening of Jul 10 I got home from our meetup to discover an attack on my email system. It was wholly retrievable, no loss, but I reported that concerning conjunction of circumstances. Anyone scrutinising the social forces in the whole story, look into that too.

hot cauldren getting stirred

The date also marked the unexplained end of a peacemaking effort. In the preceding week an AMASE member with a declared keen personal interest in peacemaking and peer support, had contacted me, asking to fix up a personal meeting, on safe ground, to hear fully my side of it. I had agreed to it, but then he never fixed it up and never mailed back.

Dropped it in the middle without any explanation. A guy who writes about being saddened to see energies expended on conflict and “disconnect”, must realise that behaving like that will only increase conflict and disconnect ! The pot more stirred than if he had never done that. Again where is the rationality, or was he nobbled out of it? It cut short his search for the situation’s root facts.

The whole story was of lightning quick wieldings of groupthink. It has left nobody feeling educated factually, and an imperative for all interested in autism to keep the local scene scrutinised that no voices who behave group-excludingly shall become routinely taken as speaking for us.


John Stone

There is a lot of context in this article which is quite hard for an an outsider to follow, however I find little evidence that in recent times the rise in autism numbers has been driven by wider definition (though it has often been said). For instance, in the children’s mental health survey of 1999 (National Statistics) the rate of Pervasive Development Disorder (the widest possible definition) was 0.2 for secondary children and 0.4% for primary.The children were being monitored by the same services who could perfectly well recognise Asperger Syndrome, moreover, the older children will have had longer to obtain a diagnosis, while the more able children often only get into trouble in secondary – so that looks like a steep rise. By 2005 National Statistics both groups were hovering around 1%.

Fast forward to 2018 and the the Northern Ireland data provided by their Department of Health. By now autism is running at 2.9% for the province, but there are variations according to whether people live in the town or the country and according to economic class: in Belfast the rate is 4.7%. But note also that 60% of cases are “Stage 5” ie the most severe level of disability. So, now we have a rate of 1 in 57 severe autistic disablement among all children for the province and 1 in 36 for Belfast. These are not levels of disability which could have been overlooked in the past, and definitions have not changed significantly at all for at least a quarter of a century. Even in the 1990s it was quite clear which children just had learning difficulties and which had autism.

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