Writing by

Tania Melnyczuk

#RIPDrSindi

I don't want her to be dead. Of all the deaths this past year, this one hurts the most. She will be so missed. She was so much more than her work. It was how she was with everyone. She was so kind. She was so good. She really was a good person. Many famous people died...

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When you’re autistic, they try to kill your questions

When you’re autistic, they try to kill your questions

Photo by Bruce Mars (edited)

A core feature of being autistic is enquiry, i.e. searching for understanding; asking why. Just because some autistic people don’t ask out loud doesn’t mean they are not wondering about the why.

If you are going to try to make an autistic person smile for the camera or smile when greeting people, you really need to sort out the rationale for those things in your own head before you embark on such a mission, so that you can explain properly why you need that to be done. In fact, workshop this with a few people. Include some autistic people in the conversation. Ask whether one should necessarily smile in these situations, and if so, why.

The whying in autism can be a good thing (unless it drives you into analysis paralysis; but there are ways of dealing with that). Whying can lead to learning, solving and inventing. While autistic people can be significantly disabled, honing traits like whying can be useful for everyone.

But

that’s

not

what

most

therapists

think.

ABA, PBS and PECS are designed to kill the why and focus on the what. (Read more about ABA here.) De facto, this type of ‘therapy’ also shifts focus to the who: whom must I please by doing what, to get relief. And then there’s the question of how much: how much of this must I do before I get a break or reward.

The how question tends to be underemphasised in therapy too; or it’s messy, because most autism therapists are unaware of the obstacles to execution, so their way of teaching gets the how wrong. (Here is an example of how therapists get their how wrong, because they don’t understand the problem.)

Much of autism therapy is why-starved. An analogy, albeit an obscure one, springs to mind from the work of Chandler Marrs on malnutrition among Westernised people who aren’t necessarily poor: Therapies like ABA are like an expensive diet which leaves you malnourished and leads to a complex cascade of sickness, fueled by industries focused on the what but not on the why.