long post

In which I respond as a Jew to an anon telling me off for using the word “Jew”.

Content note: This is a response to a hostile anon. (I normally don’t post hostile asks. When I make an exception, I post a content note so that people who avoid hostility can skip the post if they want.)


Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
That awkward moment when a social skills blog calls people of the jewish faith “jews”


realsocialskills said:

I’m about to be ordained as a rabbi in a few weeks. 

I’ve been in an intense graduate program for the past five years, I went to yeshiva before that, and I majored in Jewish history undergrad. I think I’ve earned the right to an opinion on this.

And since I’d rather procrastinate than work on cleaning my apartment for Pesach, I’m writing a long reply to this about why I have the language preferences I have:

I’m not a big fan of ideological commitment to person-first language in any case. I identify as disabled and autistic rather than as a person with autism. For similar reasons, historically-popular euphemisms like “people of the Hebrew persuasion” and “people of the Mosaic faith” make me really uncomfortable, and insistence on “Jewish people” over “Jews” makes me mildly uncomfortable. 

That said, I try not to get too fussed over language disputes, for reasons that are captured well in Amorpha’s “On Language Dickery”. I think that what matters most is respect, and also respecting the language used by members of the group you’re talking about. (Including respecting a legitimate range of preferences within groups you’re part of.)

I don’t know anyone who refers to themself as a “person of the Jewish faith”. I’m sure there are some people who identify that way, but it’s very much not the norm in any communities I’m part of. There are people who have strong preferences about “Jewish” vs “Jews” as ways of referring to themselves — personally, I use the terms interchangeably. (Depending on which words make for the most clearly understandable sentences.)

In my experience, Jews do not define ourselves solely as a religious group, and it’s pretty weird to insist on referring to us as “people of the Jewish faith”. There’s a reason why “Jewish studies” is its own subject and generally speaking not a subset of “religious studies”.  Judaism is a religion, and that’s an important part of Jewishness and Jewish culture, but it’s not the *only* important part.

One way I’ve encountered this in my work is that when I did a chaplaincy rotation, when I’d introduce myself to Jewish patients, they’d usually start the conversation by saying “I’m not religious” — and we’d still have a lot to talk about. People who come from minority cultures have all kinds of experiences and perspectives relevant to that, regardless of what they believe about God and religion.

You can also see this on the level of Jewish organizations and Jewish movements:

For instance, BBYO is a Jewish youth organization that has much more to do with being part of a minority culture and learning to be a strong leader than it does with religion. 

Similarly, the National Yiddish Book Center is a Jewish organization, but it’s not a religious organization. It’s an organization dedicated to the preservation of Yiddish and Yiddish literature, a language which is endangered because a high percentage of its speakers were murdered by Nazis, and a high percentage of speakers in other countries were forced to stop speaking it.

Similarly, Zionism was initially an avowedly secular movement, and the rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken language was not religiously motivated. (And in fact met fierce religious opposition.) Jewish literature in Modern Hebrew is not an intrinsically religious thing. It runs the whole range of perspectives, just like any other language. 

There’s even a Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, which has the mission of giving secular Jews access to the skills to read traditional Jewish texts *as secular Jews*. I don’t think “people of the Jewish faith” describes this group particularly accurately. 

Nationality and language aside, there’s also a strong tradition of Jewish humor (some of which is pretty dark, because our experiences over the centuries have been really dark and sometimes laughing is better than crying). Here’s a page with a large collection of it. Some of the jokes have to do with religion, some do not. One iconic Jewish joke is:

  • A violent antisemite stops a Jew in the street and demands: Who is responsible for the war?
  • The Jew replies: The Jews and the bicyclists.”
  • The antisemite replies: “Why the bicyclists?” 
  • The Jew replies: “Why the Jews?” 

And many of the Jewish jokes that address religion are decidedly irreverent:

So it seems that these four rabbis had a series of theologicalarguments, and three were always in accord against the fourth.   One day, the odd rabbi out, after the usual “3 to 1, majority rules” statement that signified that he had lost again, decided to appeal to a higher authority.

“Oh, God!” he cried. “I know in my heart that I am right andthey are wrong! Please give me a sign to prove it to them!”  It was a beautiful, sunny day. As soon as the rabbi finished his prayer, a storm cloud moved across the sky above the four. Itrumbled once and dissolved. “A sign from God! See, I’m right, Iknew it!” But the other three disagreed, pointing out that stormclouds form on hot days.  So the rabbi prayed again: “Oh, God, I need a bigger sign to show that I am right and they are wrong. So please, God, abigger sign!” This time four storm clouds appeared, rushed toward each other to form one big cloud, and a bolt of lightning slammed into a tree on a nearby hill.  "I told you I was right!“ cried the rabbi, but his friends insisted that nothing had happened that could not be explained bynatural causes.  The rabbi was getting ready to ask for a *very big* sign, but just as he said, "Oh God…,” the sky turned pitch black, the earth shook, and a deep, booming voice intoned, “HEEEEEEEE'SRIIIIIIIGHT!”  The rabbi put his hands on his hips, turned to the other three,and said, “Well?”

“So,” shrugged one of the other rabbis, “now it’s 3 to 2.”

That joke is actually based on a story in the Talmud.

Every rabbi I know makes jokes like this; nearly every Jewish person I know makes jokes like this. 

I could go on, but I have a thesis about Jewish liturgy and Jewish ritual to write, so I think I’ll stop here.

In short, I think that insisting that we should refer to ourselves as solely as “people of the Jewish faith” amounts to erasure of every aspect of Jewishness and Jewish culture other than religion. I think it also amounts to erasure of our history in which people have responded to us as a racial and ethnic group in ways that had very little to do with religious. These things are vitally important components of who we are, and I am not ok with erasing them.

tl;dr A hostile anonymous person sent me a message telling me off for saying “Jews”, and insisting that I should use “people of the Jewish faith” instead. I’m Jewish. I disagree. Scroll up to find out more about why.

On trauma aftermaths that don't advance the plot

The way TV shows trauma can lead people to expect every reference to trauma to be a plot point. This can be isolating to people coping with the aftermaths of trauma. Sometimes people treat us as stories rather than as people. Sometimes, instead of listening to us, they put a lot of pressure on us to advance the plot they’re expecting.

On TV, triggers tend to be full audiovisual flashbacks that add something to the story. You see a vivid window into the character’s past, and something changes. On TV, trauma aftermaths are usually fascinating. Real life trauma aftermaths are sometimes interesting, but also tend to be very boring to live with.

On TV, triggers tend to create insight. In real life, they’re often boring intrusions interfering with the things you’d rather be thinking about. Sometimes knowing darn well where they come from doesn’t make them go away. Sometimes it’s more like: Seriously? This again?

On TV, when trauma is mentioned, it’s usually a dramatic plot point that happens in a moment. In real life, trauma aftermaths are a mundane day-to-day reality that people live with. They’re a fact of life — and not necessarily the most important one at all times. People who have experienced trauma do other things too. They’re important, but not the one and only defining characteristic of who someone is. And things that happened stay important even when you’re ok. Recovery is not a reset. Mentioning the past doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in crisis.

On TV, when a character mentions trauma, or gets triggered in front of someone, it’s usually a dramatic moment. It changes their life, or their relationship with another character, or explains their backstory, or something. In real life, being triggered isn’t always a story, and telling isn’t always a turning point. Sometimes it’s just mentioning something that happened to be relevant. Sometimes it’s just a mundane instance of something that happens from time to time.

Most people can’t have a dramatic transformative experience every time it turns out that their trauma matters. Transformative experiences and moments of revelation exist, but they’re not the end all and be all of trauma aftermaths. Life goes on, and other things matter too. And understanding what a reaction means and where it came from doesn’t always make it go away. Sometimes, it takes longer and has more to do with skill-building than introspection. Sometimes it doesn’t go away.

On a day to day level, it’s often better to be matter-of-fact about aftermaths. It can be exhausting when people see you as a story and expect you to advance the plot whenever they notice some effect of trauma. Pressure to perform narratives about healing doesn’t often help people to make their lives better. Effect support involves respecting someone as a complex human, including the boring parts.

The aftermath of trauma is a day-to-day reality. It affects a lot of things, large and small. It can be things like being too tired to focus well in class because nightmares kept waking you up every night this week. TV wants that to be a dramatic moment where the character faces their past and gets better. In real life, it’s often a day where you just do your best to try and learn algebra anyway. Because survivors do things besides be traumatized and think about trauma. Sometimes it’s not a story. Sometimes it’s just getting through another day as well as possible.

A lot of triggers are things like being unable to concentrate on anything interesting because some kinds of background noises make you feel too unsafe to pay attention to anything else. For the zillionth time.  Even though you know rationally that they’re not dangerous. Even though you know where they come from, and have processed it over and over. Even if you’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with them, even if they’re no longer bothersome all the time. For most people, recovery involves a lot more than insight. The backstory might be interesting, but being tired and unable to concentrate is boring.

Triggers can also mean having to leave an event and walk home by yourself while other people are having fun, because it turns out that it hurts too much to be around pies and cakes. Or having trouble finding anything interesting to read that isn’t intolerably triggering. Or having trouble interacting with new people because you’re too scared or there are too many minefields. Or being so hypervigilant that it’s hard to focus on anything. No matter how interesting the backstory is, feeling disconnected and missing out on things you wanted to enjoy is usually boring.

When others want to see your trauma as a story, their expectations sometimes expand to fill all available space. Sometimes they seem to want everything to be therapy, or want everything to be about trauma and recovery.

When others want every reference to trauma to be the opening to a transformative experience, it can be really hard to talk about accommodations. For instance, it gets hard to say things like:

  • “I’m really tired because of nightmares” or 
  • “I would love to go to that event, but I might need to leave because of the ways in which that kind of thing can be triggering” or 
  • “I’m glad I came, but I can’t handle this right now” or
  • “I’m freaking out now, but I’ll be ok in a few minutes” or 
  • “I need to step out — can you text me when they stop playing this movie?”

It can also be hard to mention relevant experiences. There are a lot of reasons to mention experiences other than wanting to process, eg:

  • “Actually, I have experience dealing with that agency”
  • “That’s not what happens when people go to the police, in my experience, what happens when you need to make a police report is…”
  • “Please keep in mind that this isn’t hypothetical for me, and may not be for others in the room as well.”

Or any number of other things.

When people are expecting a certain kind of story, they sometimes look past the actual person. And when everyone is looking past you in search of a story, it can be very hard to make connections.

It helps to realize that no matter what others think, your story belongs to you. You don’t have to play out other people’s narrative expectations. It’s ok if your story isn’t what others want it to be. It’s ok not to be interesting. It’s ok to have trauma reactions that don’t advance the plot. And there are people who understand that, and even more people who can learn to understand that.

It’s possible to live a good life in the aftermath of trauma. It’s possible to relearn how to be interested in things. It’s possible to build space you can function in, and to build up your ability to function in more spaces. It’s often possible to get over triggers. All of this can take a lot of time and work, and can be a slow process. It doesn’t always make for a good story, and it doesn’t always play out the way others would like it to. And, it’s your own personal private business. Other people’s concern or curiosity does not obligate you to share details.

Survivors and victims have the right to be boring. We have the right to deal with trauma aftermaths in a matter-of-fact way, without indulging other people’s desires for plot twists. We have the right to own our own stories, and to keep things private. We have the right to have things in our lives that are not therapy; we have the right to needed accommodations without detailing what happened and what recovery looks like. Neither traumatic experiences nor trauma aftermaths erase our humanity.

We are not stories, and we have no obligation to advance an expected plot. We are people, and we have the right to be treated as people. Our lives, and our stories, are our own.

Responding to a question about Jews and race

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I really don’t want to be rude but can you explain to me why there is some sort of line between being Jewish and white? I keep hearing this sentiment that people should not compare the two because of religion and culture but that to me is like Russian people saying they aren’t white because of religions and culture. I don’t mean to hurt feelings but I’m black and Native and I’ve face discrimination based on my looks but I’ve never been able to tell when a person was Jewish just by looking them. Help?

Also I know that there are Jewish people of color but this goes back to my ask of what do people see on them, their Jewishness or their skin color because unless Jewishness is a part of color then we would call them mixed instead of Jewish poc because that skin and lineage mixes with another skin and lineage and produces someone with a dual identity. If I’m out of place, sorry but I’m confused cause I’ve never thought anyone was Jewish from looking at them unless they had a religious identifier.

Realsocialskills said:

The very short version: All Jews are affected by anti-Jewish racism. Some Jews, in some contexts, also have white privilege. Both of these things matter.

White supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. And other ideologies of racism have intensely targeted Jews. (Including Nazism, but not limited to Nazism.)

Most living Jews are very closely related to Jews who were murdered by anti-Jewish racists. (Grandparents, parents, great-grandparents brothers, sisters, spouses, cousins, etc.)

Many living Jews are first-generation refugees from anti-Jewish racial persecution, (or closely related to people who are). Jews have been repeatedly expelled from many, many places.

There are a lot of towns in Europe in which every Jewish resident was murdered. And a lot of Jews who were the sole survivors of those places, and who lost their entire families.

(There are few speakers of Yiddish today because so many Yiddish speakers were murdered by racists. The National Yiddish Book Center is dedicated to preserving as much literature as possible).

This isn’t just about culture and ethnicity. Converting to another religion did not save Jews from racial persecution. Neither did assimilating and acting like everyone else. And this isn’t a new thing, throughout history, Jews have been seen as racially suspect even if they convert to Christianity or another religion, regardless of actual behavior

Race and color are not the same thing. Color is a physical fact. Race is a social construct. And it’s socially constructed in different ways in different times and places. In the US, race mostly gets defined in terms of color. It’s defined differently in different times and places. In Europe, demographic forms have often listed “Jewish” as a race.

It’s also true that in the United States, light-skinned Jews have a degree of white privilege. Especially in liberal cities. Especially in comparison to black people and Native people. Jews are far less likely to face employment discrimination, and far less likely to face police violence. (It happens to Jews too, but it happens to black and Native people a lot more.) And any number of things.

But Jews are only seen as white some of the time. There are physical racialized characteristics associated with Jews. For instance, big noses.  There is also an antisemitic belief that Jews have horns, which used to be commonly believed in the US. It used to be fairly common for Jewish women to get nose jobs to escape from that racial characterization. For most white people, being seen as white has not required body modification.

When people look at skin color, they will probably see a white person. When they know that someone is a Jew, they may not see a white person anymore. It’s not about religious beliefs — Jews are seen as less white regardless of behavior and regardless of belief. (Jews who practice Judaism are often more *visible* as Jews, but anti-Jewish racism can’t be reduced to religious differences.) The novel/movie Gentleman’s Agreement is a good depiction of this issue. (It’s on Netflix, and your public library likely has a copy of the book.)

Related to this, white supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. As you know, white supremacy is still significant in the United States. Steve Bannon’s role in the Trump administration is causing Jews to fear for their own safety. People who are consistently seen as white are mostly not asking themselves “Do I need to flee the country?” (Unless they’re also gay or lesbian or trans or disabled or otherwise marginalized.)

There are significant numbers of antisemitic hate crimes in the United States. They’re reported as religious bias crimes, but that’s somewhat misleading. Eg: This article has an image of anti-semitic graffiti with a swastika and the words “Make America White again”  

Tl;dr The answer to “Are Jews white?” is “sometimes, and it depends on what you mean by white”. If you mean ‘light skinned people who have privilege over black and Native people in the US’, then yes, light-skinned Jews are white. If you mean ‘people who are safe from racialized persecution in the US and worldwide’, then no, Jews aren’t white even when they have light skin.

Light skinned Jews have some degree of white privilege in the US, but it only goes so far. Other white people can count on being seen as white. Jews can’t. Even in situations in white Jews are safe, Jews carry the effects of generational trauma from racial persecution, recent and ancient. The ways in which light skinned Jews have white privilege matter, and the ways in which light skinned Jews do not have white privilege also matter. In most contexts, both of these things are important, and both need to be acknowledged.

resources other than ABA?

Anonymous said:hello! I am a mom of a nine year old boy. I can tell he does not like ABA at all. I have taught him so much at home, and I am a first time and single mom. Schools only teach using ABA. My son does not like it one bit and is very behavioral.

I am desperate to try and find some other type of therapy for him. Do you have any suggestions? I so want this to stop. I feel it is abusive as well as being a waste of time. Thank you for reading this and for your blog!

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know what you should do specifically, because I don’t know you or your son or what the problem is. I do think there are some things worth considering.

Some thoughts about therapy specifically:

What is the purpose of the therapy?

  • Autism shouldn’t be seen as an indication that someone needs to be in therapy (particularly not many many hours of therapy), but it often is
  • Which means that a lot of autistic kids are spending time in therapy that they don’t need or benefit from
  • If that’s what’s going on, you might not need to find a replacement - it might just be a matter of stopping something that’s not needed
  • But sometimes there are reasons for particular types of therapy.
  • So, it’s worth asking:
  • Why does my son need therapy? What are the goals? Who are the experts who can help with this?

Some reasons that therapy can be needed:

Communication:

  • If a kid is having trouble communicating their thoughts and feelings in a way that others can understand, they need help with that.
  • Usually the best person to help with that problem is a speech language pathologist with experience with AAC.
  • SLPs with that experience can help kids with articulation if articulation is the main barrier, and can also help kids find ways other than speech to communicate.
  • Here are some resources for pursuing AAC implementation for your child.
  • ABA isn’t good for supporting communication because it assumes that the problem is lack of motivation, and because it’s biased towards doing things that make good data, which often interfere with communication development.
  • PECS isn’t good enough, because it doesn’t give people enough words. 9 year olds have more to say than requests.
  • For some people, the Rapid Prompting Method works really well. (Although I wouldn’t recommend it as a first resort; other communication support options are less invasive and allow for freer communication, when they work. But sometimes RPM works when other things don’t.).

Literacy:

  • Some kids have a lot of trouble learning to read
  • Kids struggling to read benefit from reading/literacy specialists
  • Literacy/reading specialists have specific training in teaching reading and troubleshooting reading problems. They have a lot of tools that behavior therapists don’t have. (Because behavior therapists are experts in training and modifying behaviors; they are not experts in teaching reading or figuring out what the cognitive barriers are.)
  • For some reason, this isn’t considered a special ed service, and it might not be offered to your kid if they’re in special ed (since people sometimes don’t think across categories)
  • But you can likely get it if you ask for it on their IEP.

Movement:

  • Some kids have a lot of trouble with fine motor skills or gross motor skills
  • Eg: Some kids need a lot of help figuring out how to hold a pencil
  • Or need to learn to move in safe ways: eg: some kids walk with a gait that will cause them long-term injury if it’s not corrected
  • Occupational or physical therapy can sometimes be helpful for this kind of thing
  • (Sometimes other things can also help, like general or adapted gymnastics or art classes and related things. Not every problem needs to be solved with therapy).

Emotional issues:

  • Being autistic is hard. Going through puberty is hard. Doing both at once is really hard.
  • Some kids benefit from psychotherapy to support them in dealing with this, or with other things
  • Finding a good therapist for kids can be very difficult, and I don’t really know how to do it well. But I do know that it can sometimes be a really good thing.
  • For some kids, animal-assisted therapy works better than talk therapy or play therapy

Psychiatry:

  • I want to be cautious about this because a lot of autistic kids and other kids with developmental disabilities are on inappropriate and dangerous medication
  • I’m *not* saying that your kid needs medication. I’m not saying that you should trust suggestions to medicate, or that you should cooperate with a school insisting on it.
  • What I *am* saying is that there are legitimate uses of psychiatric medication and that for some kids (and adults) it can be game-changing.
  • (Eg: Some kids gain the ability to understand school and do assignments if they take ADHD stimulants. For some kids, anti-anxiety medication opens up a lot of new possibilities.).
  • All that said, be careful about this. Some people might want to prescribe your child medication as a form of chemical restraint to control their behavior, and that’s not something that’s going to help them.
  • It’s important to have a clear sense of what the medication is supposed to do, what the risks are, and what side effects to look out for
  • And if a medication doesn’t seem to be helping or seems to be causing your child a lot of pain or distress, take that seriously and insist that it be addressed
  • (You can’t count on doctors to do this on their own initiative; you have to be proactive about making sure you understand the medication and the impact it has on your child.)

A general consideration: Don’t trust true believers and those who make excessive claims:

  • No approach works well for everyone.
  • True believers are not trustworthy. People who think their approach is 100% universally effective will not treat you and your child well if it’s not working, and will not know how to try other things or make good referrals.
  • No approach will cure your child’s autism. It’s probably better to avoid people who claim that their approach will be deeply transformative.
  • Therapy can teach your child skills. It can help them understand themself and the world better. It can help them communicate more effective. It can help them learn how to do things and troubleshoot. It won’t take away their disability or make them a different person.
  • Therapy is more art than science. Be suspicious of people who claim that their approach is strictly evidence based.
  • (They probably won’t treat you and your child well if your child has needs that their theory doesn’t predict. People who go on about being evidence-based tend to ignore the evidence of the real child they’re dealing with in favor of the ~evidence-based~ child they’re imagining based on their theory)
  • No therapist is a good match for every child, no matter how skilled they are or how good their method is
  • Be cautious of people who claim that all children like them, all children benefit from them, or that they just love all children. People who think that aren’t usually very good at seeing children as actual people, and are unlikely to be respectful. (And also unlikely to handle it constructively if your child dislikes them or finds the things they’re doing with them unpleasant).
  • There is nothing that all children like. (Consider the fact that many children hate chocolate and Disneyland).
  • The best therapists are people who are willing to be honest about what their skills are and aren’t, and the advantages and drawbacks of their methods. They will understand that match matters, and make a referral to someone else if it doesn’t seem like it’s working well.
  • Good therapists respect you as a parent and respect your child as a person. If a therapist is constantly making you or your child feel like a failure, something is wrong and needs to change. Therapy shouldn’t be like that. Therapy should be helpful and respectful.

Also, consider getting psychotherapy for yourself:

  • Parenting is hard. Single parenting is harder.
  • Learning to parent a disabled child in a world hostile to disability is also hard
  • Your own feelings matter, and it’s important to get support in dealing with them.
  • It can be hard to find a good therapist to help with this — a lot of therapists believe toxic things about disability and parenting disabled kids (because therapists come from the same culture as everyone else).
  • You may or may not be able to find someone good.
  • But if you can find a compatible therapist who shares your values, therapy can help a lot.
  • Just, generally — don’t forget that you are dealing with a lot of hard things and that your needs and feelings are important.
  • If you are miserable, something is wrong and needs to change.

Likewise psychiatric support:

  • Depression is common. So is anxiety.
  • Sometimes toxic support groups will encourage parents (especially mothers) to see despair and panic as inevitable results of raising autistic kids
  • But they’re not. Parenting an autistic child doesn’t mean you have to be depressed and it doesn’t mean you have to be constantly anxious and afraid
  • If you’re depressed or anxious, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed
  • And it might be something that requires medical treatment.
  • If you think that you might need help, take that seriously.
  • (And don’t try to treat your own mental health struggles by trying to fix your kid — it won’t work.)
  • I don’t know you so I don’t know if this is an issue for you. I just know that it’s common.

Beyond issues of therapy: can you get him moved to a mainstream class?

  • Being autistic doesn’t mean that your son has to be in an autism class. (Even if that’s where the school wants to put him.)
  • If he hates ABA, he might do a lot better in a regular class.
  • A lot of kids do.
  • Even if he can’t talk or demonstrate learning, he can still be in a regular class, and it can still be better than being in a separated ABA class.
  • You might have to fight for this in certain school districts, but the law is on your side if you want to do so. (And there are lawyers who specialize in special education issues).

More generally:

Don’t do this alone:

  • School systems and insurance companies and options are really overwhelming.
  • It helps a lot to get perspective and support from parents (and disabled adults) with more experience with the school system you’re dealing with
  • You’re probably not the only one in the system who has had to fight to get the school to do something other than ABA. (The Department of Education recently put out a letter about this problem.)
  • If you can find other local parents of disabled kids who are working to get their needs met respectfully, it will probably get a lot easier
  • They might be hard to find, because parent support groups are often toxic. For some reason, this is particularly true of autism-related parent support groups. A cross-disability group might be a better place to find good support.
  • (There isn’t any educational need or support need that is completely unique to autistic kids. Everything is shared by at least some people in at least some other disability groups.).
  • It’s also worth the effort. Even one person who gets it will help a lot.
  • Among other reasons: You get better results at IEP meetings if you come with a support person (even if they’re not an expert).

Other support issues:

If he’s socially isolated, the solution to that may not be therapy. It may be to help him find people who he connects with well. Which may or may not look the same as it looks for most other kids his age:

  • That may not be kids at school. Not all kids have friends at school, and that can be ok.
  • It may not be kids his exact age. Some autistic kids get along better with younger or older kids, and that can be ok too.
  • One thing worth trying is finding other kids who share his interests.
  • Or a non-theraputic class on one of his interests. Or something else you think he might enjoy. (Eg: An after school art class. Or a video game club.)
  • The Internet can be game-changing for some autistic kids. Eg: Playing Minecraft on a server. There are some kid-friendly servers that limit access to people who follow the rules. (Autcraft is specifically designed for autistic kids; there are other kid-oriented servers. Which someone likes is a matter of preference.)
  • Disability-oriented groups can also be a good thing, if they’re not about therapy or changing people. Eg: The Special Olympics, which is about access to sports in an environment that values people with intellectual disabilities, can be a very good thing for some people who are eligible.
  • Social skills groups are not good for this, because they’re not about friendship, they’re about getting kids to act out a certain script of what adults think kids should act like. That’s not fun and it’s not a good place to make friends.
  • But a social club for kids with disabilities (or autism specifically) to hang out with each other can be a good thing. It depends on the context.

Some other non-therapy considerations on how to help your son: It’s important to listen to and talk to your son:

It’s also important to talk to your son about his disability:

  • If your son knows things about his disability, he can make better decisions
  • If he knows what you think about his disability, your actions will make more sense to him — and he’ll be in a better position to correct you if you’re getting it wrong
  • This is important whether or not he can talk, and whether or not you think he can understand
  • I wrote a bigger post about that here

Just, generally speaking, it’s important to involve your son in these kinds of things:

  • I’m not saying let him decide everything; that wouldn’t be remotely appropriate for a 9 year old.
  • But, just like with other 9 year olds, when there’s a problem involving him, he needs to be involved in figuring out the solution
  • Or when decisions are being considered about him, or some change might happen that will affect him in a major way - it’s important to remember that he has a perspective and that his perspective matters
  • He will know things about his behavior and his needs and his feelings that you don’t know — for the same reason any 9 year old kid will know things about themselves.
  • Even if you can’t figure out how to have these conversations effectively yet, it’s important to keep trying
  • Whether or not you know how to find out what he thinks, whether or not his perspective changes the outcome — it will make a difference that you care what he thinks and make an effort to listen to him

Give him the right words for feelings:

  • Sometimes kids with disabilities are only given the emotional language of happy/sad/angry/excited.
  • But kids have more complex feelings than that.
  • Kids with disabilities also feel shame. And humiliation. And loss. And grief. And anticipation. And disappointment. And joy. And love. And embarrassment. And any other emotion that anyone else feels
  • Their feelings are important and need to be acknowledged.
  • Particularly - shame and humiliation are very, very frequent experiences for disabled kids, and they’re often not acknowledged at all.
  • It’s humiliating to be teased for being disabled. Or to have to do pointless repetitive things adults tell you to over and over. Or to be constantly told that your body language is bad and wrong, or to be treated as though you’ve done something disgusting when you flap your hands as an expression of happiness.
  • “You feel sad” or “you feel angry” does not begin to cover what that feels like.
  • Disabled kids have the same range of feelings as any other people, and their feelings need to be acknowledged and taken seriously.

In short: You don’t have to do ABA (even if your school system wants you to). There isn’t really a general approach that replaces it — because ABA makes overbroad claims, and there’s no approach for which those claims are true. Good approaches address specific issues and don’t take over your life. There are a lot of different things that a lot of different kids (and adults) benefit from. Which things will be helpful to your son depends on what his needs are.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What have you found helpful for your child (or yourself) other than ABA?

Responding to desexualization without hurting others

Content note: This post is about ableism and desexualization of adults with disabilities. It is highly likely to be triggering to some people who have experienced degrading desexualization, as well as to some people who have been sexually assaulted or otherwise had people violate their sexual boundaries.

Anonymous said to :

As an autistic person I often feel desexualised, and I don’t like it but I feel sorta uncomfortable stating it for some reason? How should I like, deal with this and enforce my sexuality without making people uncomfortable?

realsocialskills said:

This gets really complicated.

Being desexualized is awful, and it’s also really hard to talk about without sounding like you feel entitled to sexual or romantic attention from other people. Especially when you’re talking to people who’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of intrusive sexual attention and who aren’t aware that desexualization also happens and is also a problem.

Another complication is that many adults really are asexual or aromantic. That’s an ok way to be, and it’s important to acknowledge that those people exist and aren’t broken. Objecting to desexualization does not mean objecting to asexual people.

People who desexualize adults with disabilities in these ways aren’t recognizing asexual adulthood; they’re denying disabled adulthood and expressing it in sexual terms. (And this denial of adulthood expressed in sexual terms also hurts asexual adults).

I think that desexualization is when people refuse to acknowledge or respect some basic things:

  • That you’ve reached adulthood or you are a teenager
  • That you’re as likely as anyone else your age to experience romantic and sexual attraction
  • That if you are experiencing sexual and/or romantic attraction, it’s as significant and important as attraction anyone else experiences
  • If you want to, it’s completely appropriate for you to act on your sexual and romantic feelings (either with yourself or consenting other people)
    • You have the same right to physical, sexual, and emotional boundaries as anyone else

    People who desexualize you might treat you inappropriately in group dynamics, eg:

    • By assuming that you will never have a crush on anyone in your friend group
    • By assuming that you don’t date for real and will always be available to go to couple’s events with someone who is caught without a partner at the last minute
    • By saying things like “I hate men/women/whoever. You’re so lucky you don’t have to deal with dating them.“
    • Or like “It’s so great to talk to you about this stuff. I’m so tired of how everyone else is making the group awkward with their dating drama.”
    • Or venting to you about how hard it is for them to find a partner without considering that you might share this frustration, and that it’s probably harder for you than it is for them
    • Or making jokes about how you’re their ~boyfriend~/~girlfriend~, ignoring the possibility that you might want to be someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend and that you might, in fact, be attracted to them.

    People who desexualize you also sometimes don’t observe appropriate sexual boundaries, eg:

    • Assuming that rules of modesty don’t apply to you
    • Undressing in front of you (in a community in which it would normally be considered inappropriate for someone of their age and gender to undress in from of someone of your age and gender)
    • Touching you in ways that are considered inappropriately intimate in your social circles for people who are not romantically or sexually involved
    • Adopting suggestive poses or being inappropriately close (eg: by having their breasts or crotch way too close to your face)
    • (The rules of acceptable nudity, physical contact, and closeness are different in different cultures, and that’s fine. What’s not fine is having established rules of modesty/boundaries but ignoring them when interacting with disabled people)

    It’s ok to be angry about this kind of thing, and it’s ok to insist that people knock it off and treat you with more respect. It’s ok to expect people to respect your maturity, your romantic and sexual capacity, and your physical and emotional boundaries.

    For instance, it’s ok to say “I’m a grown man; you shouldn’t be changing in front of me,” or “I’m not your girlfriend; stop touching me like that,” or “I don’t want to go to that event with you unless it’s a real date,” or “I don’t like it when you make jokes about dating me,” or “I get crushes too you know.” This will probably make some people uncomfortable; and that’s ok. You don’t have to do all of the emotional labor of making social interactions comfortable; it’s ok to have boundaries even when other people don’t like them. It’s also ok to insist that people acknowledge and respect your age even if they’d rather see you as a child.

    It’s ok to be angry about people treating you badly in areas related to sexuality, and it’s ok to insist that they knock it off. It’s ok to be upset when you’re single and don’t want to be, and it’s ok to be upset about the role that ableism is playing in making it hard to find someone.

    It’s also important to be careful that this doesn’t turn into anger at people for having sexual boundaries of their own. It can easy for some people to become confused about this when start realizing that it’s ok to have sexual feelings, and not ok that others treat you as though your disability means your sexuality doesn’t count. If you’ve been treated as outside of legitimate sexuality for your whole life, you likely have missed opportunities to learn about consent and appropriate sexual and romantic interactions. That’s not your fault; it is your responsibility to address. Being the object of discrimination does not give you a free pass to violate other people’s boundaries, even if you’re not doing it on purpose.

    It’s important to keep in mind that no one is obligated to date you, sleep with you, allow you to touch them, consider dating you, justify their lack of interest in dating you, or anything else like that. (And that it’s not ok to hit on people if you’re in a position of power over them).

    You’re human, so it’s likely that you’re having some less-than-ideal feelings about this stuff some of the time. You might feel jealous, or upset, or even angry at people who haven’t really done anything wrong. (Because they’re dating visibly and you’re lonely, or because you asked them out and they said no, or other things like that which can hurt to see but aren’t their fault.) It’s ok if you’re feeling that way; you don’t have to have superhuman control of your feelings to treat people well. What’s important is that you don’t feed it, and that you don’t act on it.

    In particular, it’s important not to cultivate offense when people you’re interested in dating aren’t interested in you. That leads nowhere good. (eg: I got an ask about how to stand up to a person who was using disability as an excuse to grope people a while back.)

    Rejection sucks, and it sucks more when you’re already really lonely, and it sucks even more when you know that ableism is probably a major factor in why some people you’re attracted to aren’t interested. It can be really tempting when things are that hard to take offense. It’s important to stay aware that people who reject you aren’t wronging you, and to find constructive ways to deal with it that don’t involve contempt for the people you’re attracted to. (In particular, stay away from pick up artist communities. Adopting that worldview makes it much harder to learn about good consent and have respectful relationships).

    It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s ok for you to be sexual and to express interest in dating people. (Even if you encounter people who are profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of disabled people having and acting on sexual and romantic feelings. Those people are wrong.) Your sexuality is not ever the problem. (It’s possible sometimes that things you’re doing might be a problem, but having a sexuality is never a problem in itself.)

    In particular - if you ask someone out or hit on them and they say no, that doesn’t mean that you did something wrong. It just means that they aren’t interested. Asking people who turn out not to be interested is ok; asking is how you find out. You don’t have to be a mindreader in order for it to be ok to ask someone out.

    All of this can be really, really hard to navigate. I hope some of this helped.

    tl;dr Disabled adults and teenagers are often treated like children. People often express this in sexualized terms by assuming that disabled adults are all incapable of legitimate sexual expression. It’s awful to be on the receiving end of that. It’s also hard to talk about or object to effectively. Scroll up for more thoughts on how to navigate this.

    Thoughts on asking better panel questions

    At panel discussions, there is usually a chance for members of the audience to ask questions. If you want to get good answers to your question, it helps to ask the question a certain way. These are not absolute rules, but these general principles often help:

    Ask one question:

    • If the panelists are interesting, you will probably have a pile of questions you want to ask them
    • It can be tempting to try to ask all the questions together in one long paragraph
    • That never works, because the panelists don’t actually have time to answer all ten of your complicated questions
    • And if your question gets overly long and complicated, they quit paying attention and just talk about what they want to talk about
    • If you want them to answer a question, you have to pick one.

    Make sure your question is actually a question:

    • The point of asking questions is to get the panelists to share their perspective on something you care about
    • The question you ask should be possible to answer, and you should be interested in what the panelists think of it
    • Otherwise it’s not really a question
    • Sometimes people who think they’re asking a question are actually presenting a long monologue about their views on something
    • That really annoys everyone.
    • The people in the audience came to hear the panelists, not you. If you monologue instead of asking a question, it will annoy them.
    • (There’s almost always at least one person who does this.)
    • (There are some exceptions to this: if you’re sufficiently popular in that group that people are likely to be just as interested in what you say, *and* the panelists hold you in high regard and won’t mind, sometimes it’s ok. That’s rare.)

    Questions to panelists should be specific, and easy for the panelists to understand. They should also be at least somewhat open-ended, so that the panelists will be able to give substantive and nuances answers. A few possible scripts for forming good questions (there are many others):

    Asking how something works, or how something will happen, eg:

    • “How will the new version of your app support VoiceOver?“
    • “How do you decide what to put in the parameters for casting calls?”
    • “How do you respond when the alarm goes off in the spaceship?“

    This can also be a short statement, then a question, eg:

    • “A lot of comedians tell offensive jokes. When you’re working on a routine, how do you figure when a joke you’re considering is crossing a line?”

    Asking them to expand on something interesting they referenced by starting with “Can you say more about…”, eg:

    • “Can you say more about the time you quit a job at the Very Highly Regarded Charity for ethical reasons?“
    • “Can you say more about your methods for attracting butterflies without also attracting wasps?”

    “What do you think about..?” or “Here’s a statement. What do you think about that?“

    • This can be good, but it can also be hard to make it specific.
    • Example of an overly vague question: “What do you think about pie?”
    • A better question: “What do you think of replacing cakes with pie on ceremonial occasions?“
    • Another example of a question that would be overly vague in most contexts: “What do you think about progress?”
    • A question that’s more likely to be answerable: “What do you think about the role of People in Our Field in making the world better?”
    • another example: “Some people say that if we wait long enough, things will get better on their own. What do you think about that?“
    • “What do you think about Other Person’s Theory? Does that seem true in your work?”

    “Do you think that…"

    • This can be a good way to ask stuff
    • The problem is that it’s prone to cause a question to be overly closed
    • Eg: “Do you think that you will enjoy your next job?” is very unlikely to get a good answer
    • This might get a good answer: “Do you think that other women are still facing obstacles in your field?“
    • Offering alternatives can sometimes make the question seem more open, eg:
    • “Do you think that standardized testing is a good approach to improving special education outcomes, or do you favor a different approach?”

    Asking about a rumor:

    • Make it clear which rumor you’re talking about, then ask about it (Asking “So, are the rumors true?” will not generally get an interesting answer).
    • “Is there any truth to that?” will often get a better answer than “Is that true?”
    • Example: “I heard that you’re working on a book of poetry about cats from a laser pointer’s perspective. Is there any truth to that?“

    Questions that start simple and also ask for an explanation. There’s sometimes another way to phrase these too:

    • Adding “why or why not?”
    • eg: “Did you enjoy being a voice actor on the Simpsons? Why or why not?“
    • you could also ask that question this way: “What were some things you liked and disliked about being a voice actor on The Simpsons?”
    • another example: “Do you think that there is life on other planets? Why or why not?“

    There are also questions that are challenges. These are harder to pull off. They still should be real questions, that it is actually possible to answer in a substantive way.

    • For instance “Isn’t it true that you’re an ableist and only care about yourself?” isn’t a good question because there’s no good way to answer it.
    • Asking that way makes you look like a jerk, even if you’re completely right in your assessment
    • It’s much more effective to challenge them on something specific, and to ask a question that it is possible to answer
    • (This can sometimes force them to consider the issue, or to reveal publicly that they’re getting it wrong.)
    • Example of a better question: “Why doesn’t the board of your Disability Organization About Disability have any openly disabled members?”
    • Or, you can push harder and say something like: “There are no openly disabled members on your board. What are you doing to address this problem?“
    • How far it’s useful to push depends a lot on context.
    • (The rule of only asking one clear question at a time is particularly important with challenges. If you ask a complicated or ambiguous challenge question, it makes it easy for them to evade it.)

    If possible, keep your question short:

    • Most people don’t like to pay attention to long complicated questions
    • If your question is short and easy to understand quickly, you’re likely to get a better answer
    • Short questions are easier to understand
    • They’re also harder to evade
    • If your question is 1-3 sentences long, you will probably get a better answer than if it is substantially longer.

    Think about your question before you start talking:

    • You will probably have to wait your turn to ask
    • While you’re waiting to be called on, it’s worth planning what you want to say and how you want to say it
    • If you wait and don’t figure out what you’re going to say until you start talking, it will probably be more verbose and less clear
    • If you can, it’s worth planning
    • (For some people, writing the question down first helps) 

    None of these things are absolute rules, but all of them are potentially helpful. If you can’t communicate this way, you still have the right to ask questions. These are suggestions, not rules.

    tl;dr If you’re at a panel discussion and want the panelists to give interesting answers to your question, there are things that make that more likely. Scroll up for some general principles and some scripts.


    clarifying ambiguous questions

    hollywoodontap replied to your post “Anonymous said to realsocialskills: I have problems with reacting…”

    I have trouble answering questions if the asker has not given me specific details. I feel like I can’t give them what they want unless I’m told precisely what it is they’re looking for. I tend to ask questions in return before getting to an answer.

    realsocialskills said:


    It’s ok to need details. If asking clarifying questions is working for you, I’d keep doing that. The important thing is to communicate effectively.


    Some thoughts on ways to make clarifying questions work:

    There are a couple ways to ask in a general way that work for some people:

    • “I need more words”.
    • “I’m confused; can you rephrase?“
    • “That’s kind of abstract - can you be more specific?”


    It can sometimes help to be more specific yourself, and offer options. Someone asking a question they think is easily understood might not know how to clarify.


    Eg:

    • Jane: What do you think of the foo?
    • You: In what sense? Are you asking if I like it personally, or if I think it’s marketable? Or something else?

    or:

    • Joel: What’s Applied Foo 101 like? Should I take it?
    • You: Are you asking about how hard it is, or how interesting it is, or something else?

    Another possibility: Guess and then ask if you got it right:


    eg:

    • Yosef: Did the thing happen?
    • You: The football game?

    or: 

    • Erica: Where are the things?
    • You: The supplies?

    Sometimes it is better to make your best guess, then answer the question you think they’re asking:


    Eg: 

    • Susan: How about that foo?
    • You: Do you mean the sales statistics? If so, they’re way up this week.

    or: 

    • Thomas: Did you do the thing?
    • You: Do you mean my entry in the bad poetry contest. If so, I submitted that today. I’m excited for my chances this year. It was a truly terrible poem. 


    tl;dr It’s ok to need to ask clarifying questions when someone asks you something, even if you need more details than most people need. The important thing is to communicate clearly.