Home > Uncategorized > Video has a controversial and disturbing, but important message about autism

Video has a controversial and disturbing, but important message about autism

Several advocacy organizations for people with autism have produced a disturbing video that conveys an important message.

The message, which is actually controversial, is that autism can be a debilitating condition for some people. Contrary to what has become a politically popular ideology, there are people with developmental disabilities who cannot function in mainstream society.

The video, sponsored by Act Now for Severe Autism, the VOR, the National Council on Severe Autism (NCSA), ICF Advocates for Choice, and other organizations, displays severe autistic behavior in graphic detail, and therefore may be difficult for some people to watch.

Many people, however, may not be aware that autism is a “spectrum disorder,” which the Autism Research Institute (ARI) describes as appearing “in a range of forms and levels of severity.”

The video shows children with very severe autism engaging in violent behavior, mainly against themselves. They scream and hit themselves repeatedly in the head, or bang their heads against hard objects – hard enough to cause serious injuries such as detached retinas. They physically attack caregivers and family members, leaving them injured as well.

It is difficult to watch, but videos like this are necessary to convey an inconvenient truth about developmental disabilities to the public and to policy makers and journalists, and even to misguided activists for the disabled. Many of these policy makers and activists have promoted the mistaken ideology that every individual has unlimited potential for achievement in mainstream society, and that autism is not even a disability.

As the NCSA stated in a letter to The New York Times, this viewpoint even led one author to advise parents of children with autism that their children are “perfect.”

And as noted below, this ideology has been associated with the closure and privatization of congregate care facilities for persons with developmental disabilities and with efforts to end guardianship of those persons by family members.

But as Lee Elizabeth Wachtel, medical director of the Neurobehavioral Unit at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, wrote:

When an autistic child has permanently blinded himself from self-injury, broken his teacher’s arm, or swallowed multiple toothbrushes and required emergency surgery, there is nothing perfect or magnificent about it, and it must be remedied.

What the video is getting at, in our view, is the importance of distinguishing between different degrees of disability in setting policy for people with disabilities.

We think the failure to make those distinctions is what is in common among the movements to further deinstitutionalize and privatize services to the disabled, end guardianship, and close sheltered workshops, among other programs and services.

Those movements have had a major impact, causing policy makers and the media to overlook the needs and, in some cases, even the existence of people with the most severe levels of autism and other disabilities.

Attacks on guardianship

The failure to recognize different levels of disability is behind a growing movement to replace guardianship with Supported Decision Making (SDM). SDM is an arrangement in which individual guardians are replaced by teams or “network supporters,” who enter into written agreements with disabled individuals to “help them make decisions” about their care, finances, and living arrangements, and in other areas.

In typical fashion, SDM bills currently pending in the Massachusetts Legislature (H.272 and S.124) avoid the question whether everyone is really capable of making their own decisions in those very important areas. SDM proponents don’t appear to recognize that there are some individuals who do not have the cognitive skills necessary to make reasonable decisions. Those people need guardians – preferably guardians who are family members.

It should be clear from the video on severe autism behaviors that the children engaging in those self-injurious actions are not in a position, and may never be in a position, to be able to make their own life choices.

Yet one of those SDM- promoting groups – the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network – states on its website that:

People with disabilities usually get put under guardianship because other people think we can’t make choices. This is bad. People with disabilities want to keep the right to make our own choices.

Integrated employment

The ideology that everyone can function in mainstream society led to the closures of all remaining sheltered workshops in the state in 2016.

The charge was that the workshops limited the potential of the clients by keeping them out of the mainstream workforce. But the result has been that hundreds if not thousands of clients of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) have been left in DDS day programs with little or nothing to replace the work opportunities they previously had.

For a potentially significant number of DDS clients, mainstream work settings have never been a viable option. Those persons aren’t able to function in those settings or don’t desire to do so.

It’s all about money and privatization

The ideological position that the community-based system of care is working perfectly for everyone fits with a decades-long push by successive administrations in Massachusetts and corporate providers for more privatization of the DDS system. According to the ideology, all persons with developmental disabilities can reach their full potential in the community system, unlimited by institutional constraints.

But as the video narrator notes, people with severe autism need “a continuum of care that includes intensive and specialized services that are usually provided in disability-specific educational, vocational, and residential settings.”

As the narrator says, parents of persons with severe autism are looking for a “seat at the table” when it comes to setting policy for caring for persons with developmental disabilities. They want policy makers to recognize that given the wide range in the severity of autism and other developmental disabilities, one-sized policies don’t fit all.

  1. Anonymous
    October 8, 2021 at 12:49 pm

    Eyes are wet now. Thanks for continuing to put a spotlight on these issues. My 41-year -old son is not severely autistic but how many times over the years have I said to myself “I just cannot do it anymore.” Imagine how tough and heartbreaking it is for those families. They desperately need the help that a continuum of care provides. Whatever it takes, give it to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gael79
    October 8, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    Please keep helping COFAR
    Folks, if a fellow with autism kept asking you if he could be an airplane pilot while experiencing personal stress, what would you think?
    Quiz for those who think autism is no big deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia Norton-Paliwoda
    October 8, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    I think maybe we should bring our sons and daughters to go sit in offices of those who don’t think they need services. They can find the jobs they say our kids can handle! Don’t they think we would love to see our kids work in the real world? I would! I believe my son would, too. People who don’t think our kids need places that meet their needs have never spent time with them. I would be happy to introduce my son to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. October 9, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    Patricia Norton-Paliwoda why are we so isolated? We do not even have the names of all those who used to WORK in the Workshops so that we can find out what their lives are like now. The ISOLATION I feel is hopelessness that the LIES are not being systematically challenged. What will it take for ACCSES and VOR and TFC (Together for Choice) and now the NCSA (National Council on Severe Autism) to take on the LIES of the National Disability Rights Network. Because they are Lawyers they have a duty to the truth and it is very easy to demonstrate the LIES – one size fits all and segregation and exploitation etc are ALL LIES.

    Peace Tom Spellman

    Liked by 1 person

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