Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Call my bluff

Here are some things I've witnessed over the past week. One scenario is made up. Can you spot the fake?

1) I’m on my way out to dinner with a friend. We are talking about general stuff, or she is, politics, work, the weather. Suddenly, out of nowhere, in reference to a conversation from the previous day, I hear that “some autistic people just can’t function in the real world”. Don’t I understand that such people may have to be institutionalized?

2) In a work setting, four of us are discussing ways to help people with disabilities find employment. A presentation I’m working on comes up; it concerns autism and employment. Services for adults are scarce, we all agree. Someone interjects that the main issue regarding autism is “finding out what causes it”.

3) In class this week, we are discussing ethical dilemmas that might occur in the practice of social work. All members of the class are seniors and will soon graduate with social work degrees. One student describes an event at her practicum agency, concluding with the statement, “I felt like such a retard”.

4) At the grocery store, a mother and son are in front of me in line. The son is pacing and counting to himself, not causing any trouble. He seems to be around ten years old. The mom sees me looking at him, leans toward me, and whispers, "he’s autistic”. I understand she is used to being judged, and does not necessarily mean to indicate that this is a terrible secret. I tell her I am autistic, too. She glares at me, pulls her son closer, and whirls around to face the front of the store.

5) I am working on a paper with an autism professional I know. In the first paragraph, she describes a time early in her career when an autistic man explained to her why he found person-first language inappropriate to discussions of autism. “I am an autistic man”, he told her. She goes on to talk about how other autistic people she knows are helping her to learn more about respect and self-determination. Throughout this same paper, she has used the term “person with autism” no less than twenty times.


  1. What a set of sad stories. I can imagine each of these happening actually, but I'm going to guess that the person making the 'retard' comment didn't happen. You did say this person was about to graduate in social work, and the conversation was about ethical dilemmas, so hopefully wouldn't say such a thing.

  2. I'm hoping that the mother in the grocery checkout line is the fake. How miserable her son's life with her must be if she hates autism so much that she doesn't even want to look at an autistic person.

    Sadly, I think she's probably real...

  3. The mom in the checkout line made me sob outloud. But I bet she was real. I wish they were all untrue but sadly, I bet they could all be true somewhere. How can I be a better advocate in everyday life? How can I reach th emom in the checkout line? Missy

  4. Sharon, abfh and Missy,

    Thanks for playing "Call my bluff"!
    In case any others might choose to participate, the answer will be posted here on Thursday.

  5. Unable to detect any deception with a mind that continuously 'attempts honesty'

  6. They all seem pretty dang realistic. I'm hoping the grocery line story is the fake, too. But I can totally see it happening . . . and I can totally see the mother's rationale for behaving the way she did being "If you can say you're autistic and stand here in the grocery line all by yourself, you're not autistic -- or at least not as autistic as my son."

    The "retard" comment actually seemed about the *most* realistic to me. :(

  7. And Bev, this better not be one of those "trick" exercises in which they're all true, or all fake, eh? ^_* In any case, they're all beautifully straightforwardly written.

  8. I'm going to go with the presentation/cause example for no apparent reason really because they all seem exceptionally realistic. I'm completely sure the "retard" comment happened because I hear it at least weekly from my peers about to graduate with clinical psych doctoral degrees.....so frustrating.
    I've seen a similar mom/grocery store event and I also relate to the last story with the professional. My specific disability's foundation website just announced a new page about self-determination, independence, and social/emotional health for young adults with OI...what's FIRST on the page----"How parents can deal with a child with OI"?
    I don't get it...
    good bluffing game:-)

  9. Ugh. I'm sure the "retard" one happened too. And like other parents here, the check-out line one made me gasp. I hope that one is a fake. If I met you in the check-out line, I'd resist my urge to hug you. How I would love to know someone like you "in real life."

    karen in ca

  10. Like others, I'm sincerely hoping that the "mom in the grocery store" story wasn't real, because that would break my heart. But unfortunately, they all sound like they could have happened.

  11. I hope someone called the woman out on the retard comment.

    I'm finding the "autistic/person-with-autism" issue increasingly hard to sympathize with. Around here people seldom say "Jew", which they've been taught is rude, I guess (and I suppose in some contexts and tones of voice it could be, and has been). So I get these painful Christian constructions like "person of the Jewish faith" (inaccurate, I'm an agnostic Jew) and "people who follow the Jewish tradition" (inaccurate, once you're born that way you're stuck, no active participation required, and that's before we get to defining 'tradition', and good luck with that). But as much as these things grate on the ear, the people tiptoeing around that way are only ignorant and trying to be respectful. Fine. I take it in the spirit it's meant. They don't get it anyway, and they don't want a crash seminar in modern Judaism (and if they did, they probably still wouldn't get it).

    Bottom line, they're trying to be nice. Let them. It's like telling someone why they got you the wrong present. Besides, in ten years the loudest spokespeople for autism will have decided that "autistic" is marginalizing, and you'll have to retrain the white people all over again.

    I see another way of reading the supermarket story, btw. Imagine you're a mom who's trying to take care of an autistic child, and under constant accusation of making things up in order to cover for the child's behavior. Autism, sure, right. So she confides in a normal-looking stranger, who then says, "I'm autistic too." She hears: "Sure, lady. And I'm autistic too. People use all kinds of excuses, don't they."

  12. All of these stories seem true to me. Please tell me that the "mother in the grocery" one didn't happen. Somehow, I think it did. Sad.

  13. I can't guess, they all seem equally realistic.

  14. Today is Thursday, and as promised, here is the answer to the Call My Bluff contest. The checkout line Mom is indeed the fake. This was the scenario mentioned by most commenters, though most of you only "hoped" she was the fake. No one actually stated a belief that she was the fake. Therefore, I am unable to declare a winner.

    The "retard" comment also drew several mentions, though nearly all assumed it to be true. Very sad.

    Thanks to all who participated.

  15. "I see another way of reading the supermarket story, btw. Imagine you're a mom who's trying to take care of an autistic child, and under constant accusation of making things up in order to cover for the child's behavior. Autism, sure, right. So she confides in a normal-looking stranger, who then says, "I'm autistic too." She hears: "Sure, lady. And I'm autistic too. People use all kinds of excuses, don't they.""

    I doubt that that makes the kid feel any better about it. The scenario is shocking because, even if that WAS her internal thought process, she certainly didn't check her assumption, and what a lot of us battle everyday are assumptions. Assumptions do an incredible amount of harm to us in every situation.

    It showcases that she unaware of what possible manifestations autism can take, and the fact she assumes someone saying they are autistic would be dangerous hits it home. Many of us are assumed dangerous everyday. It's not a pleasant experience. In fact it's kind of scary.

  16. I'm a person of Jewish blood, on my mom's side. But, I'm also of many many other bloods. So what am I? Am I a mutt? Or a person with muttism? idk


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