Letters to Editors & Others

In response to Academic's triumph over autism offers hope to others
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12 September 2004

Temple Grandin's story enabled my husband and I to recognize autism in our family. This accomplished woman effectively addresses autism's challenges and has achieved worldly success. However, she has not "freed herself"; she will always be autistic.

Like the scientist Henry Cavendish, Ms. Grandin's inherited wealth is an unmentioned factor in her success in a one-brain-fits-most environment overwhelmingly hostile to autistic needs. Many do not enjoy financial advantage, and have difficulty finding employment, or receiving the support and services they require in order to manifest their gifts. Ms. Pecchenino's concerns are well-founded.

The statement that autism has "no known cause" is inaccurate; predisposition to autistic development is genetically encoded. Autism is ubiquitous, its past existence historically documented. It is not a thief that "steal(s) a person's connection with the outside world." Rather, autistic citizens have a unique perspective precipitated by an atypical pattern of neurological development. "Inward focus" might be a more accurate descriptor than "emotional withdrawal." Increased diagnoses are attributable to heightened public and professional awareness of autism. Not only are more autistic children being recognized; there are also increases in diagnosis and self-identification of autistic adults. This is not a crisis, but a positive development enabling parents and professionals to serve autistic children more effectively and identify appropriate educational and communicative strategies; and enabling autistic adults to hone their coping skills. Crisis-oriented descriptions of autism do nothing to increase respect for the many citizens who live every day with the challenges imposed by a society intolerant of difference.

13 September 2004

In response to Train snatcher's loco, says shrink
New York Daily News, 9 September 2004

I am the mother of a person with Asperger Syndrome and am deeply offended by the sloppy wordsmanship displayed in your headline, "Train snatcher's loco, says shrink." I sincerely doubt that any reputable psychiatrist or Mr. McCollum's lawyer would use the term "loco" to describe a person diagnosed with AS. AS and autism are developmental differences, not psychosis or sociopathy. Mr. McCollum may be naive and passionate about trains, but there has never been any indication that he is malicious. What might seem like a snappy, attention-getting headline is highly inaccurate, borders on libel, and perpetuates public misconceptions about the nature of autism. Autistic people need compassionate support and understanding of their social challenges, not this kind of sensationalistic slap in the face.

10 September 2004

To Dorn Schuffman, Director, Missouri Department of Mental Health
in response to Former Workers Allege Patient Abuse
ABCNEWS.com, 20 August 2004

Dear Mr. Schuffman,

I have recently learned of the allegations of abuse of residents of Bellefontaine Habilitation Center. The AP article, Former Workers Allege Patient Abuse, available at http://www.abcnews.go.com/wire/US/ap20040820_2329.html states:

"There are some mean people, and we want to find them and root them out," Schuffman said. He added that sometimes injuries are inflicted by overworked "good employees who have reached their limit."

I am the mother of an autistic person and I find this statement profoundly offensive. Abuse of patients is inexcusable and should never be minimized. Rather, abuse should be "rooted out" without reservation, with no specious distinctions made between "mean people" and "some" abusers who are otherwise "good employees." An employee who abuses patients in no way deserves to be termed a "good employee," regardless of their past performance or current level of stress. Violence is no less severe if it is inflicted by someone stretched to the breaking point by inhumane working conditions, than if it is inflicted out of malice by employees who are otherwise comfortable with their workload.

The article indicates that Bellefontaine Habilitation Center is a state run facility, and that you are the director of the Missouri State Department of Mental Health. If your "good employees" are overworked, it is probably due to insufficient staffing and training. You seem to be suggesting that abusive workers deserve sympathy because they are insufficiently supported by your own agency. You diminish the staff's personal and moral responsibility for inflicting violence upon the people in their care, and diminish your responsibility for enabling conditions that lead to the dehumanization of the people in your care, by casting abusive staff victims rather than abusers.

Perhaps if you regard this as an inaccurate interpretation of your intent, you might consider issuing a public retraction and clarification of your intent. This is a matter of interest not only to residents of the State of Missouri, but to people of all states and nations who are concerned with the welfare of ciitizens with developmental disabilities.

21 August 2004

Dear Ms. Seidel,

You are right. Abuse or neglect is never justified or exusable. Anyone who is found guilty of abuse or neglect is immediately terminated from our employment. The point I was making that did not get adequately reflected in the article is that there are conditions which led to the abuse. It is not enough for us to terminate the offender. We have to eliminate the conditions (e.g. poor supervision, poor training, inadequate staffing, etc.) that led to or allowed the abuse to take place.

27 August 2004

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