A Me Problem: My First Real Hate Mail, Part 2

When I first read the aggressively critical reader comment which I re-posted in A Me Problem: My First Real Hate Mail, Part 1, my initial response was the following defensive volley of sarcasm:

First, thank you, Sulla Felix [the name used by the reader in question; I suspect it’s a pseudonym], for taking the time to think about all that and to go through the effort of writing it. Actually, I do have a “mental health professional”. She’s a psychiatrist at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, and I will certainly share your insights with her so that she can benefit from them and do better in her work with me and all of her other autism patients. She also trains Duke University medical students, so maybe she’ll even invite you to give a guest lecture to them. How much would you charge for that sort of thing? Oh, and if you give me your contact info I’ll pass it onto her. Maybe you two can co-author a paper together….

Now, to be honest, I’m actually quite pleased with that bit of sarcasm, such as it is. It makes me chuckle every time I read it, and it aptly illuminates the absurdity of the author’s pretensions to legitimacy. In many ways I think it’s a great comeback —

Such as it is.

But even when I wrote it I knew that it was probably the wrong way to handle the situation, so I continued with:

LOL. Sorry about the sarcasm, but you really lobbed that one to me.

Listen, I think it’s great that you’re at least thinking about the issues you’ve mentioned, but your ignorance is dangerous to everyone you care about and who has any sort of psychiatric disability, especially autism.

And although I do think that response is better, my sense is that it’s still fundamentally flawed. Most likely it will only serve to maintain or possibly augment the obvious ideological rift that exists between Sulla Felix and me. It’s also needlessly evasive, and it passes up a great opportunity to practice the craft of Diversity Acceptance Consulting.

Which brings us to the question: can I do better? And without pretending to offer the last word on it, following is what I would like to submit for your consideration; please let me know what you think in the comments:

Thank you, Sulla Felix, for taking the time to think about all that and to go through the effort of writing it. Actually, I do have a mental health professional. She’s a psychiatrist at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, an expert in autism and other developmental issues, and even trains medical students at Duke University. I see her about once a month to monitor my medications, and will certainly share your insights with her because I think you raise some valid points.

In particular, I agree that the issue of using autism as an excuse for inappropriate behavior is an important one, even though we clearly disagree as to whether doing so is ever justified. To briefly clarify my own stance: the question of whether autism is a valid excuse for anything seems to me quite equivalent to the question of whether autism is a disability. To the extent that one accepts autism as a disability, one must also accept it as a valid excuse, at least in some situations. By comparison with the Celiac Disease that imposes restrictions on what your niece can eat, autism imposes restrictions on what autistics like me can do in some, but clearly not all, circumstances.

Since neither of us is anything like an autism expert, I don’t see much point in us debating this issue, but I thank you for drawing attention to it, and as I said I will definitely bring it up with my psychiatrist.

Yeah, I feel pretty good about that, but it can probably be improved. Please post your suggestions below, especially if you are Sulla Felix! 🙂

 

 

 

11 Comments

  1. I have a problem with the word “excuse”. I think your autism “explains” why you are so hyper-focused on a perceived injustice. Many autistic people have very ‘black or white’ thinking. It’s right or it’s wrong.
    I like explanation better than excuse. Add some Autism Awareness to your response.

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    1. I agree that “excuse” is inappropriate. Just as poverty is not an excuse to commit crimes, it does explain why some poor people consider some crimes to be justified (for example, the need to feed their children).

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    2. Provided the person I’m speaking with has some understanding of autism and why it is a disabling condition under at least some circumstances, then I agree that it’s important and helpful to make the distinction between autism as excuse and autism as explanation. Otherwise I’m pretty sure it’s just useless semantic hairsplitting. I think anyone who flatly rejects the premise that autism is a disability is also going to reject it as both an explanation and as an excuse. I’m not quite sure how to handle such a person (suggestions welcome), but for now I’m inclined to ignore the distinction entirely and to use autism as my goto excuseplanation for pretty much anything that might stimulate discussion, such as my recent arrest and B&E charge.

      Yup, I said it: excuseplanation! LOL 🙂

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  2. It’s an excuse if it’s being used to avoid responsibility for things that you do have the ability to change. Attempting to reduce “excuse” and “explain” to a matter of semantics negates an important issue. Using semantics to absolve autistics of all responsibility for themselves isn’t exactly a step forward. Sometimes an excuse is just an excuse.

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    1. Thank you, Catana. I’m glad you shared your perspective. I agree that absolving autistics of all responsibility for themselves is a bad idea and that sometimes an excuse is just an excuse. How might you modify or qualify your position in the case of someone with an obvious physical disability such as being paralyzed below the waste?

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      1. No matter what the disability, it would depend on the circumstances, wouldn’t it? And on the attitude of the disabled person. There are certainly things that can’t be helped, but if you’re in a frame of mind where you can explain rather than make excuses, then everyone benefits. Granted that isn’t always easy because disabled people run into so much asshattery that patience and willingness to explain or put up gracefully with less than optimal circumstances can be in short supply.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, absolutely. It depends on the circumstances, I agree. Especially when it comes to any sort of psychiatric disability, which can vary widely in its symptoms and consequences.

        Also this: “Granted that isn’t always easy because disabled people run into so much asshattery that patience and willingness to explain or put up gracefully with less than optimal circumstances can be in short supply.”

        Nicely put!

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