Happy Pride! My mum sent us this beautiful card the other day. Thanks to her and to the amazing Alice Oseman for their work on Heartstopper which I will watch/read one day, I promise.
This year’s Pride Season kicks off with a catch-up on one of the most important blogs I wrote last year: the one on ABA/Conversion Therapy. I don’t want to just depress you, so I’ve added a Blindboy song at the bottom of the blog. He’s recently been diagnosed autistic, which impacts the work he made in previous years, so I’ve included Blindboy’s own (2022) updated description for the song. Don’t let the title put you off, it’s wonderful autistic art.
Before we start, let’s get some topics out of the way:
Where were you?
I’ve been taking off the past few weeks since I’ve been busy getting my brain to calm down a bit. I struggle with not overworking (as you know all too well) and not having things that require my immediate attention is weird to me. I also finished 6 months of personal training, which is a significant change; from 3 days a week to none at all. I’ve also been working behind the scenes on important things. Trust me, once I can share, I absolutely will.
Please fill in this survey about language preferences and neurodiversity. Trust me, it’s important. That’s because there still so much of the Autism sphere that’s represented by mostly parents of autistic people. The discursive marker that marks these groups out is “person with autism.” In the 1980s and 90s, the UK NHS moved towards describing “people with (health issue X),” in order for staff not do dehumanise patients and restrict their identities to a diagnosis. Of course that point is ultimately moot. Language cannot prevent cruelty while it can communicate cruelty by specific usage. Unfortunately, that paradigm doesn’t apply the other way around.
However, when applied to autistics, person-first assumes that there is a person “underneath” the autistic, waiting to come out. This is the main reason Actually Autistic activists baulk at the term. Despite intending to view us as full people, person-first language does exactly the opposite. Most of it, though, is due to who uses it, and for what purpose. For instance, in the Netherlands, where the movement towards person-first language within healthcare settings wasn’t as present in the UK, it is almost the opposite; autistic people slightly prefer “persoon met autisme” instead of “autist,” mostly because the latter term, rather than the former, is congruent with what we call “cure-based” attitudes in that country. In any case, Dr Amy Pearson is part of this survey and she’s a hero. Tell her I sent you.
I will be doing a closed event for Edinburgh University Press when this blog goes live. On Sunday 12th June, I will be speaking at University of Bristol SU for Dramsoc’s Edinburgh Fringe fundraiser on Autism and Intersectionality. I will amend this blog once I get the all-clear from the organisers.
Simon Baron-Cohen is still at it
Please have a look at the great Liam o’Dell’s current investigation on the infamous Spectrum 10k research, which seeks to isolate the “autistic genome” – as if Autism Speaks hasn’t tried to do that for the past twenty-five years without a scintilla of success. The only reason to want to isolate autistic genetic codes now is to prevent more of us from existing in the future – or, simply, to advertise to us. Other groups involved are have been receiving backlash from the autistic community. O’Dell’s investigative journalism is a vital part of that.
Yes, happy Pride. Though it’s a bit of a mess this year. We have collectively decided that Covid-19 is over now, though there are still plenty of people sick and seriously disabled due to long covid. Tens of thousands of people have died unnecessarily. But hey, let’s instead cheer that the police is wrapping themselves up in rainbow colours as their colleagues in the US are gearing up to enforce the Supreme Court’s striking down of Roe v. Wade and, soon, Obergefell v. Hodges. Here on TERF Island, transphobia has infected the political centre and centre-left just as badly as it has the right. I stand with trans and gender non-conforming queers, a huge number of whom are neurodivergent.
Last year’s blog on Conversion Therapy/ABA/PBS/WhyAreWeDifferentiatingTheyreAllTheSameAnyway was a great success. If you need a refresher on what ABA/PBS/Conversion Therapy are, please find it here: https://www.jorikmol.com/monday-7th-june-2021-pride-season-conversion-therapy-and-aba-spoiler-alert-they-are-the-same/ At the time, I spoke to Stonewall about having greater autistic inclusion of the conversion therapy ban that was, at the time, stalled in parliament. We will come back to this.
Why Advertise This To Me?
Indeed.com is a website that advertises roles to me. As a freelancer, I scour repositories like this to find customers and organisations I can work with. Unfortunately, I still am approached for ABA and PBS roles, such as from this company:
Headstart ABA is run by people with the best of intentions. That’s exactly why their business practices are so dangerous. These people seem to genuinely believe that conversion therapy is what helps our community. I will link descriptions of both ABA and PBS below, so you hear it from the people who sell this stuff.
The following is from the FAQ page:
What is the difference between non-evidence and evidence based interventions?
ABA is an evidence based intervention, this means all the methods to teach your child are scientifically tested and proven to be effective in changing behaviour. Your consultant makes decisions in the programme based on what is tried and proven to work.
There are also a lot of other interventions that claim to be effective, backed by a very plausible theory but lacks vigorous scientific testing to prove its effectiveness. These interventions may work, but they are not guaranteed. We have the ethical duty to advise you to approach these interventions with caution.
The procedure of a non-evidence based intervention may interfere with procedures in our programme and affect its effectiveness. It also takes away time and money from an intervention that is proven to be effective. Some of these interventions may also cause physical harm to clients.
Therefore, if you consider other types of intervention for your child/ young person along-side an ABA programme, please discuss this with your consultant before you begin.
There is an awful lot of gall in this statement, particularly the points where they refer to an “ethical duty” to point away from alternative sources of support. The worst part, for me, is this: “Some of these inventions may also cause physical harm to clients.” They are telling the truth. But they’re talking about themselves here. Conversion therapy is abuse. The evidence does not take trauma and PTSD into account. Because it doesn’t benefit those who provide the interventions, or those who fund research into it.
Note: please, under no circumstance call out these people on their website, on social media, in the street or in another context. Starting a flamewar does nothing but play into algorithms and reinforce the other side’s bigoted viewpoints. Yes it is shameful that all these councils and NHS CCGs have allowed their details to be used as advertisements for child abuse. But that won’t help our battles now. Instead we need to organise, create a groundswell. We will win our battles in other ways.
Instead, They Went With The Churches
So, yeah, news happened. The Conversion Therapy ban, as announced by Theresa May’s minority government in the summer of 2018, was going to be scrapped in its entirety. The reason was religious concerns within the Conservative party. The Tories have a great deal of connections in the religious sphere and they are highly sensitive to discourse within reactionary religious communities. As not enough people know, the House of Lords reserves seats for unelected clergymen to represent nobody but the church of England and its interests.
Sure, LGBT+ rights are useful as political battering rams against Muslims and other foreigners, or to ‘modernise the brand.’ But our rights are conveniently left out of the conversation when it’s about Christianity. Then, it’s freedom of religion that trumps all. Below is a video of theologian and Bath-based local hero Nik Jovčić-Sas explaining conversion therapy. Please watch this video, it’s only 7:33, plus the students who shot it deserve the views.
What is so vital about Nik’s words here is that they’re explaining how the people who were providing conversion practices did not care about who will need exorcism. Drug addiction, PTSD, abuse, neurodivergence and/or being LGBTQIA+; all enough reason to receive this torture. It was also expensive, which underlines the abusive business practices.
If you’re autistic, you might be pushed to be exorcised for being autistic and being queer – which, of course, a considerable majority of us are.
Follow Nik on Youtube, here: https://www.youtube.com/c/OrthodoxProvocateur and Instagram, here: Nik Jovčić-Sas (@nikjovcicsas) • Instagram photos and videos. I am looking forward to speaking to Nik about his research and activism, as well as to get some intel for my book. I will pay them for that – which all writers must do. Research demands expertise and expertise costs money. Got that? Got it.
More bad news
Back to the news. The day of the leak, the cancellation of the ban was, indeed, cancelled due to pressure from Conservative MPs. Instead, the ban would apply only to cisgender gays, lesbians and bisexuals. That means that transpeople, non-binary, genderqueer, intersex and asexual people all are not protected. It doesn’t protect anyone else. Additionally, it happened on Trans Day of Visibility. That’s the point. It was insulting and played into the TERF lobby that has taken its seat at the centre of the Tory party and, of course, the far-right.
Unfortunately, my attempts to move the overton window to the left on conversion therapy has been scuppered by a government pulling the window all the way back to the right. Because of course it has, we live in the worst of all worlds. So, instead, I used the conversion therapy ban call-out from Stonewall to contact my MP, who was happy to speak to me at her surgery.
From Lobby-Lorse to Lobbyist? God no!
Last week on Tuesday, I spoke to Wera Hobhouse MP. She’s my local Member of Parliament and equalities spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. It was useful, though a bit exhausting. She’s a great politician, which made the discussion with her a fierce one. She pulled out all the stops. I had to give as good as I got, which, hopefully, I did.
I needed to rest after that. It was pretty exhausting. But I hope to have at least started a conversation.
I spoke to Ms Hobhouse in order to bring this issue to the forefront wherever I can. Naturally, actually autistic voices are ignored when they say that the conversion therapy ban should include them, because the conversation we’re having right now is too narrow, too limited. I want to create a groundswell of autistic people and our allies. We only have so much time do eradicate this business model and save autistic people from the current epidemic from suicides, early deaths and medical abuse.
I am trying to work with my contacts in Oxford to create intersectional approaches to their current queer initiatives that are currently single-issue based. In normal people-language, that means they’re going to not put autism in a medicalised ‘disability’ box. Rather, they’ll see how being both queer and neurodivergent impacts those of us who are. A cishet autism movement denies the lived reality of the vast majority of our community. A neurotypical LGBTQIA+ movement denies that of a significant majority, who have fought for queer rights. We cannot let hate groups like the LGB alliance stop us all from being safe.
An Email Blueprint
I wrote this, which you can modify to send to your local representative. If you are writing to your local MP, please use the Stonewall website to find them.
I am now adding what I wrote in the same email as the one I sent via the Stonewall website. Please modify this to fit with your story.
I am an autistic activist and lived-experience advocate living in Bath. I work as a teacher, educator and writer on autism and neurodiversity. (change to fit who you are)
Due to the history of autism in our society, when we interact with any professionals, be they medical staff, social care, education, religion or any other sector, they will be trained in behaviour modification methods such as ABA, PBS or Teamteach.
All of these systems work on the basis of the ideas of Ole Ivar Lovaas, also known as the father of conversion therapy. Autistic people are far more likely to receive conversion therapy than our neurotypical peers, whether for gender, sexuality, sexual attraction or autism. The fact is that autistic people are overwhelmingly LGBTQIA+ and, consequently, a large number of LGBTQIA+ will therefore be neurodivergent. This shows the intersectional nature of our existence. We’re usually the same people.
The behaviourist model as a whole is at fault. We need to move away from Autism Speaks, from conversion therapy methods on the whole, from forced consent and the dehumanisation of autistic people, whether they are queer or not.
I am adding two blogs on the subject, one from last year, another from this year:
I look forward to hearing from you.
Then, I received an automated message back about conversion therapy that limited itself to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and (maybe) trans people. Your MP, too, will have an automated message in response to the email server at Stonewall. When I received it, I wrote:
Thank you, I really value and appreciate your swift response. I would be happy to discuss with you how the autistic and neurodivergent community are at an even greater risk to conversion therapy. As you know, we are at greater risk of medical abuse, partly because the Autism Act 2009 (only revised in 2021) fell short on nearly all of its intended goals.
I was at the Parliamentary Enquiry in 2019, led by Norman Lamb MP. I know how deeply the UK government had already failed in keeping my community safe, even before the 2019 elections, before Covid. This piece of legislation has only been gutted over the past few years, where it in fact needed strengthening. We cannot be safe until we are all safe. (again, personalise this to you)
I’d like to open out the discussion on conversion therapy to include autistic rights. We are up to 90% LGBTQIA+, depending on the survey results used. We are also systematically invalidated in our gender, sexuality and identities. This is still the norm. If we are sticking to a narrow definition of conversion therapy as being solely for gender and sexuality, we will be giving providers the opportunity to rebrand and slip through the net. That happened with ABA after the removal of homosexuality to the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. If we do not deal with it now, this will happen again.
It’s not religions that are the problem. They will be buying their conversion therapy methods from the same ABA providers you can get now if your child is autistic. Behaviourist intervention models are still the norm in the NHS. They don’t work, they just internalise the punishment. If you want conversion therapy for your queer autistic child, it’s right there on the open market.
The frightening thing about behaviourist interventions is that they are a self-sustaining business model. Conversion therapy causes trauma, which leads to more meltdowns, which leads to more violently expensive interventions. The point is to clamp down on a business practice, not an ideology. Nearly all of the people doing this work will be doing so in good faith, believing genuinely that they’re helping the person involved. They are not. This is what good legislation can teach them
A useful blog about the topic can be found here: https://www.jorikmol.com/monday-7th-june-2021-pride-season-conversion-therapy-and-aba-spoiler-alert-they-are-the-same/
I look forward to hearing from you.
Then, there will probably be nothing at all, since your MP may support Johnson’s ban, so it’s not in their interest to listen to you. They might even be full-on proponents of conversion therapy, in which case it may be unsafe for you to speak to them. If they do respond and you’re not sure what to say to them, get in touch with me. I’ll happily help out.
One year on, we’re still fighting. I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. But I’d rather do something now and create a movement of neurodivergent people and our allies. We are autistic, just as we are queer. It is who we are. Ms. Hobhouse wasn’t convinced of this, indicating that some behaviour needed to be normatively taught. I said I did not disagree with that in principle. However, this should not seek to privilege some more than others. If some people, just by virtue of who they are, have to deny their own needs and sense of self, for the benefit of those already privileged, is that acceptable?
I notified her about the dangerous lack of NHS lower surgery for trans men, which was not available for a long time on the NHS. Apparently, since then, a London hospital has commenced providing this surgery again: What’s happening with NHS phallo and meta? — TransActual
I’m not sure what she thinks. I hope she may have moved in the right direction, if only slightly.
Happy Pride everybody! #thefirstpridewasariot
This video is from the amazing Peter Wharmby. He’s been uploading one-take talks on autism from his castle of lego in the top room of his house.
Song about Hawks
This song is by Blindboy Boatclub, autistic hero. Please read his updated description before you listen:
Blindboy refers to the song (and its problematic title) in a recent addition to the video description:
1,828,576 views • 5 Oct 2011 • Please read before listening to this song in 2022.
This song was written in 2010. It’s a short story about bullying which is told using music. I am Autistic. This song is about my experience as an Autistic person. I’ve only recently been diagnosed. I’ve also lived with mental health issues for a huge part of my life, and when I was a teenager and young adult I wasn’t managing these issues very well. I had developed agoraphobia, and I was experiencing derealisation and depersonalization. As a teenager, I was bullied because of how these issues influenced my behavior. I was treated as odd, weird and “stupid” by people who didn’t understand my situation. Peers and teachers.
In Limerick, where I come from, the word that was most often used against me was “spastic”. This song addressed my experiences of bullying, and learning to accept my intrinsic value as a human, and how I would escape bullying through my love of art and music. To do this, I used the simple story of a caged hawk, who is being excluded by the other hawks because he is different to them. I used the word in this song, to reclaim a label that had been thrown at me during bullying. In its Limerick specific context, and in the specific context of how it was used against me. The overall context and intent of this song is compassion. It’s a song about recognising and cherishing our own intrinsic value and the intrinsic value of other people to feel freedom from exclusion. It’s a song that demonstrates the harm of reducing someone to a label. The word “spastic”, is not used in this song, as a joke. It’s not intended to punch down. The word is spoken by the characters of the hawks who are being bullies. Even though parts of this song are humorous, it’s not a joke or comedy song. It’s just a song that happens to use humour and absurdity. When I wrote this song ten years ago, it meant a great deal to me. I felt a catharsis and freedom from the pain of being bullied when I was younger , through the healing power of making art. I was processing my experience of being Autistic, even though I didn’t know this about myself yet.
However, in 2022. I’d ask you to please take the above on board when listening to this song. Specifically around the word “spastic” I wasn’t aware at the time of writing the song, that the word spastic was a slur, which is directed exclusively against people with disabilities. It’s just not something that was in my awareness. “Spastic” was a word I grew up with in Limerick, and it was used to police who was behaving “normal” and who wasn’t.
I’m sorry to anyone who’s been hurt by the use of the word in this song. Please understand that the context and intent of this song is not to be hateful, or poke fun. It was me trying to navigate the harm of putting labels on humans, and reclaiming power from a word that had been used against me.
See you next week xxx