The Culture of Coercion

Ralph Smith

I am a diagnosed and 'untreated' autistic adult. In spite of not receiving ABA/IBI, I am able to speak for myself and have functioned in a number of very demanding environments. Because I do not fit the publicly and strategicially declared definition of autism, my views are excluded from organisations which claim to represent me.

One solution to the 'problem' presented by articulate autistic adults is to change their diagnosis. Or to deny us altogether. Through nine years in the Ontario 'autism community' I've noticed varying degrees of both. The autism industry has shaped a widespread and popular culture of coercion.

My first experience of this was diagnosis by Dr Mary Konstantareas, University of Guelph. Dr Konstantareas claimed to have "diagnosed" (her word) that I am not autistic based on my "comportment" on her answering machine. I've since learned that autistic adults have received not only 'diagnosis by answering machine', but also diagnosis by internet and diagnosis at first glance.

Autism Society Ontario publicly changed my diagnosis to "Asperger's" (Newslink, April 1998). I wondered about this change, but naively I did not object. The significance of it would become clear only after I'd joined the international autistic community (2000). Here I began to understand that coercion and denial of autistic spectrum adults is nearly universal, not only in the autism community but in every corner of society.

I have worked two consecutive summers supporting homeless autistic youth (one by request from Autism Society Ontario). When I suggested to the program director of Covenant House that an unknown percentage of those he serves are autistic, he responded by ending the conversation. In Waterloo Region the program director of Reaching Our Outdoor Friends (a United Way member agency) made clear to me that discussion of autism is restricted.

Addressing the Ontario government, I wrote to NDP Health Critic, Shelly Martel. I asked why autistic adults are not welcome to comment in public discussion about ABA/IBI. Ms Martel did not reply. Like many other government officials, Ms Martel had previously been educated about autism by organisations such as Autism Society Ontario and Autism Society Canada. In both ASO and ASC meaningful participation by autistic adults is not allowed.

I received a different kind of non-response from my local representative, Kitchener Centre MP and Liberal Party Whip, the Honourable Karen Redman. In spite of repeated objections to her error, Ms Redman refused to acknowledge that I am an autistic adult rather than the parent of an autistic child. In her mistaken service to me as a parent (I have no children), Ms Redman chose the subject of my inquiry for me and presented this on my behalf to the Minister of Health.

The methods detailed above have become internationally commonplace in what is generally referred to as the "autism community". Possibly the most agressive examples have been directed against autistic researcher Michelle Dawson. Rather than respond to Ms Dawson's exacting review of the science, representatives of the autism community have shown their preference for denial, emotionalism and defamation (see Related links).

A further example is shown in the recent Canadian 'switchback' between ABA/IBI as "medically necessary" (Auton) and ABA/IBI as not medically necessary (Wynberg). In the culture of coercion, the autism community would have its own way, both ways, all ways. And everywhere.

Related links:
Autistics Reject Disrespect and Defamation
In Support of Michelle Dawson and Her Work
No Autistics Allowed, Canada
The Autism Project, Ontario

May 16, 2004 | November 3, 2007