But, as so often happens in life, I soon came across something that reminded me that there is a lot of work left to be done.
Harold Doherty is the father of an autistic boy named Connor. Anyone who has read Mr. Doherty's blog will recognize Connor as the vibrant, tall, active young guy in many photos and videos. Mr. Doherty is an involved, doting, loving father as is plain for anyone to see. He also is a hard-working advocate for autism services - in particular, Applied Behavioral Analysis - in Eastern Canada.
So what, then, would motivate Mr. Doherty to write the kind of offensive, utterly pointless blog post that appeared on Facing Autism In New Brunswick today?
In the post, he first takes some potshots at Dr. Roy Richard Grinker and Dr. Kristina Chew ("some professors of cultural anthropology and classical literature") by virtue of assigning to them a position that neither has taken. Mr. Doherty claims that they
"...believe ...[that]... there are no environmental causes of autism and there is no autism epidemic. ALL of the dramatic increases in the numbers of autistic children and adults are due ENTIRELY to the definition changes in the DSM and to diagnostic substitution."This statement is patently and verifiably false. But not only does Mr. Doherty create a false position for Dr. Grinker and Dr. Chew, he also fails to even provide a decent summary of the evidence-based reasoning that they and so many others have used to determine that any comparison of today's autism prevalence figures to those in the not-too-distant past would be flawed and mostly useless. Even more egregious is Mr. Doherty's failure to point out why people such as Dr. Chew and Dr. Grinker - themselves parents of autistic children - choose to eschew terminology such as "epidemic". I can't speak for them, but I suspect it may be that they understand this type of rhetoric to be harmful to autistic people.
Having established in the first paragraph that this particular blog post will be yet another "hit piece" against 'neurodiversity' and anyone associated with it, Mr. Doherty goes on to underwhelm us with yet more evidence of his slippery slope into autism quackery. Let's select a few words he uses in his effort to convince the reader that epidemic-panic is justifiable:
"mercury", "lead", "pesticides", "exposed", "increasingly toxic bath", "triggers".
To state this another way, Mr. Doherty must convince you that there is an autism epidemic in order for you to buy his premise that an elusive "trigger" is causing all of this destruction. And, to establish this premise, he uses an ad hominem attack against people who disagree with him.
Dr. Grinker has applied his accumulated knowledge of autism study in numerous cultures and within a historical context as a means to help us understand some of the more vague and subtle factors that may be influencing prevalence figures. Mr. Doherty dismisses this body of evidence with the angry stroke of a key. Dr. Chew performs perhaps the most complete and thorough review to be found in the world today of day-to-day developments in autism media, research, and real life communities. Mr. Doherty huffs and puffs as a means of discrediting her careful, thoughtful commentary. Both Dr. Grinker and Dr. Chew are parents of autistic children, and have been so for longer than Mr. Doherty. Both have chosen to emphasize their child's strengths over deficits, and this is where they and Mr. Doherty diverge. That is where many of us and Mr. Doherty diverge.
Mr. Doherty goes on to summarize his rant by citing his pet term, the "Autism Knowledge Revolution". And yet he offers us no new knowledge, not even any original thought on the "epidemic". Perhaps he really means the "Autism Bluster Revolution", a battle front which he has engaged for quite some time now.
What amazes me sometimes, and was one reason for writing this post, is the ongoing spite in the autism community online. I was first "singled out" by Mr. Doherty one year ago, after I attended and blogged about my first University of San Diego conference. At that time, I was attacked for discussing the difference between "deficit model" and "dynamic systems model". I still recall being stunned by someone taking a negative view of what I considered to be a very appropriate and complex approach to understanding and supporting autistic people - especially those who have serious communication impairments. (Link -read the comments) Now it is a year later, and nothing has changed.
I also realize that I, and the Autism Hub in general, probably gained more than a few readers due to the exposure that was generated last week. It is important that people understand the range of mentalities that exist in relation to understanding autism, and people such as Mr. Doherty clearly approach the whole thing from an entirely different angle than I do.
So I will make the same offer again that I have numerous times in the past - to have Mr. Doherty engage in a calm, respectful discussion on any of the various points of disagreement. I'm not expecting a different result, but the offer is there for the taking, as always.
Aside from that, my return to "Reality" has been as discomforting as it has been ... expected.