In response to "My Name Is Autism," by Marty Murphy

I am the mother of two adolescent daughters, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum. I am intimately aware of the practical and emotional difficulties faced by parents of autistic children, and by autistic people themselves. I live with such challenges every day.

However, no extent of individual difficulty can offer any moral justification for broadcasting the sort of denigrating generalizations about autistic lives and perspectives that are offered by Marty Murphy in her widely-circulated essay, "My Name is Autism," viewable online at http:/www.hcqa.wa.gov/news/documents/May2004.doc and http://www.asohalton.org/My%20Name%20is%20Autism.pdf, among other places. I find Ms. Murphy's personification of autism as a gloating demon profoundly offensive. Please note in particular the following passages:

"I affect one child and 'infect' the entire family."

Our family is just fine. Understanding autism has improved our family life immensely.

"I rub my hands with glee at the problems I can cause to children, their families and to the society at large."

This is classic, histrionic demonizing. The reference to "society at large" echoes the sentiments of Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, who in the 1920's wrote of people with disabilities: "Their life is absolutely pointless, but they do not regard it as being unbearable. They are a terrible, heavy burden upon their relatives and society as a whole."

"I taketh away and give nothing but bewilderment and loathing in return."

I have to ask here, who is doing the loathing?

"If I am allowed to flourish, I take away all but their physical life." "What I leave behind, is almost worse than death."

These two are perhaps the worst of all. How many other categories of disability continue to be described as "life worse than death"? How can our children possibly benefit from such a tragic view of their existence?

"I fear the day I will be eradicated from the planet."

Rather, I hope one day that intolerance towards autistic difference will be eradicated from the planet.

"I am looking for new children to consume and new lives to destroy."

Autism is a neurological difference, not a devouring monster.

Ms. Murphy has represented this piece as the work of two authors, herself and an "Omri Fiman," described as a 25 year old nonverbal male. This person is fictional. The only conceivable point in creating a fictional co-author would be to boost Ms. Murphy's credibility before parents and professionals who contend that autistic people who are currently "high-functioning" are not capable of any insight into the experiences of autistic children or adults deemed to be "low-functioning."

I cannot be certain what Ms. Murphy gains by describing autism in such a catastrophic way, and by suggesting that she was assisted by another person in writing the piece. However, I do know what she accomplishes -- the escalation of an overwhelming public climate of resentment and disrespect towards autistic people. How can autistic citizens live with dignity in a society where people are not only moved to speak with such venom about cognitive difference and sensory challenges, but are publicly praised and rewarded for doing so?

It would be one thing if Ms. Murphy were to write about her experiences in first person. She has, however, sought not to speak honestly, from her own experience, but to misrepresent her identity, make gross generalizations about all autistic people, and suggest that she speaks for all autistic people and their parents. She certainly doesn't speak for my autistic daughter. And she certainly doesn't speak for me, or my husband, or my oldest daughter, or for any of the other people who have put our names to the online petition "Our Names Are Autism, Too" (http://www.isn.net/~jypsy/AuSpin/ournames.htm).

I am one parent who is grateful for my daughter's autism diagnosis, and who regards the increase in recognition of autism not as a tragedy, but as sign that the human race is heading towards a greater understanding of the variety of human experience, and of children's developmental needs. Understanding my daughter's autistic difference has enabled our whole family to support her continued personal growth and educational success, to communicate more effectively, and to improve our relationships with each other. Our daughter's self-esteem is rooted in self-acceptance, and is bolstered by our acceptance of her as an autistic person. Our life together is not always easy, and my husband and I have experienced many of the frustrations common to parents of autistic children. Understanding the fundamental cognitive characteristics of autism has helped us to put these frustrations into perspective and deal with them better.

I am convinced that society must work to discourage the proliferation of dehumanizing characterizations of autism and autistic people. We have got to continue to work to develop our understanding of autism, to work to improve the quality of life for all autistic citizens from childhood through adulthood, to continue to identify means for autistic people to gain the skills and knowledge they need to get along in the world, and to learn to interact in a respectful way.

I hope that you share this goal. Thank you for being willing to hear my concerns.

Kathleen Seidel
15 September 2004

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