Monday, September 17, 2007

A Simple "I'm Sorry" Will Suffice

I came across a blog entry today that kind of dampened my mood. I am not nearly as deeply involved in autism advocacy issues as some of you are - I tend to leave many of the most serious issues to those who I feel have more credibility than I do in various contexts. However, this particular thing really irritated me and left me with an uneasy feeling.
The perspective I bring in this case is one of a father who wants to see all of his kids have great opportunities in life. Opportunities unspoiled by ignorant or selfish people. I realize that I cannot ultimately control my kids' exposure to things like this, but it still rankles me when I see the type of prejudice and lack of understanding that I just read.

I am referring to the following blog post: http://stanleybing.blogs.fortune.com/2007/09/14/the-guy-in-seat-12a/#comments

First of all, notice that in this post the author does not actually mention Autism. He refers to a guy who occupied the seat next to him on a flight who was overly absorbed in his Blackberry Device. He uses language such as this:
"Here are several things he did NOT do during the time we were confined together:
Talk;
Smile;
Respond to polite observations (”I wonder how long we’re going to be on the ground here”)’;
Get up, even once, to stretch his legs or use the restroom;
Watch a movie or use the personal in-flight entertainment system;
Eat the in-flight meal, although he does have a few hot nuts;
Drink anything except water with a bit of cranberry juice in it. "

In a follow-up post, he initiates the term "Blackberry Autism". Here is the link for that post:
http://stanleybing.blogs.fortune.com/2007/09/17/blackberry-autism-a-worldwide-phenomenon/

I know nothing about this guy - he may be the nicest, most thoughtful and well-intentioned person in the blogosphere. Based on what I read, which compares "The Guy in Seat 12A" - a Blackberry addict -with an autistic person (not otherwise specified), I am thinking he could use some impetus to stop for a moment and consider the effect his words have on a population to which I suspect he means no direct harm. But it is very inappropriate for him to use his personal (mis)understanding of a real disorder to coin a new phrase.
Let's draw some comparisons. In his list of the passenger's behaviors, he writes that the person did not "Get up, even once, to stretch his legs or use the restroom". But his ensuing post did not use the term "Blackberry Paraplegism." He writes that this guy did not "Watch a movie..." but his ensuing post did not use the term "Blackberry Blindman." If you read his tags, you will notice that he also refers to ADD, Alzheimer's, and Bipolar. It seems like a bit of a pattern is developing, though admittedly I have not taken the time to read those tagged posts.

I have never been an overly Politically Correct kind of guy. I do respect people's desire to be referred to in a certain way, and will adhere to that to the best of my ability, but am most definitely not a "PC" purist by any stretch of the imagination. But I also have a protective streak as relates to my kids. And I think this kind of reference specifically casts autism in a negative light - no talking? no smiling? no response to polite observations? These are textbook prejudices - ones that I myself held just a few years ago.
I encourage anyone reading my words - some of whom may be tempted to give him a piece of your mind, to sit tight for now and refrain from doing so. I have always found that the "let's attack the opposition!" approach creates more hard feelings than good ones. But it would be nice if this blogger noticed my comment (assuming it is passes moderation - still pending at the time of this post) and made some kind of response indicating that he has tried to understand the issue I raised. We'll see.

***Update: The blogger - his name is Stanley Bing - has responded to my comments and clarified his reasons for choosing to coin the phrase "Blackberry Autism" (see the first of the two links). He is allowing a link to here after reading my recommendation that he considers the issue further, which seems like a stand-up thing to do.
For anyone coming over from that site, I recommend that you visit the Autism Hub. The Hub is a central point for bloggers on the topic of autism, many of whom are autistic themselves. You may learn, by reading the thoughts of those who are immersed in the Autism community that Autism is not necessarily what you thought it was. Also see the link on my sidebar to The Autistic Distinction, which is a worthy treatise on Autism. In the sidebar you will also find a list of autistic bloggers - if you have time, I recommend reading them.
Thanks,
Steve

***Update #2: At the time of this update, over 24 hours after the previous one, Mr. Bing still has not actually posted the comment in which I put the link to this site. It is unfortunate that what could have been an excellent learning opportunity for he and his readers has been lost.

6 comments:

bullet said...

Maybe the man was nervous about the flight? Maybe he wasn't feeling well? Maybe he just wanted to have some time to think about things.

Bev said...

Well, I don't see your comment there yet, Steve, but thanks for making the effort. Seems it never occurred to this guy that his seatmate might actually have been autistic. And what's his diagnosis, I wonder? Counting the minutes of someone else's nap? Taking note of exactly what they had to eat and drink? This has to be in the DSM somewhere.

Alyric said...

Hi Steve

I asked the bloke if he would mind if I borrowed the post as I wanted to write something on obsessive socialisation patterns - and I do - really - just not in the immediate future. Lots happening with moving.

VAB said...

I think it was meant to be a lighthearted comment (in a deliberately cynical style) on portable technology. I don't think anyone who has not got a personal connection to autism would have thought about autism when reading that blog -- they would have though about Blackberries.

You are right, however, that using "autism" as a derogatory in his second post was rude. It's probably a word that is on a lot of people's radar at the moment, and the way we express ourselves has a lot to do with what is in our recently used linguistic memory, so it's not surprising.

Anyway, you've probably made one vocal person considerably more aware -- which has to be a good thing.

Club 166 said...

Nicely done, Steve.

A gentle guiding hand is better than a sledge hammer most times.

Joe

Gwenith (aka The Littlest Balloon Girl) said...
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