All, or nothing: Autism Civil Rights is not something you can just partially support (also, an open letter to Apple Computers)

As an autistic thirty-something who is having PTSD symptoms from all the “teh autismz is ebil!” bullshit from Autism Speaks For Normie Assholes, you cannot tell me this does not look (note the word “look”) like a step in the right direction.

In many, many ways, I feel old and worn out. But for some reason, my argument choosing and prosecution “cells” are still acting like I am a twelve year old boy. So I am in the midst of a bunch of people cheering what I call Googoo (if you believe in Google’s goodness, you are a mental baby), and it comes to my attention that Apple’s Autism Acceptance page has a rather unfortunate link to this page for ResearchKit And CareKit.

In retrospect, I should have known something was wrong. The link to ResearchKit on said Autism Acceptance page is described thusly:

Children with autism benefit greatly from early diagnosis and treatment. Find out how Duke University and University of Cape Town use ResearchKit to advance their autism research.

Note that these are Apple’s words, not mine. If you ever catch me saying “children with autism” with a straight face, you have my permission to shoot me dead. I genuinely believed that if I could sit with someone in the decision-making process at Apple, and told them why advancing anyone’s “autism research” (vague) is an alarm bell, as well as why “…with autism” is offensive, Apple would make policy changes.

Yes, Apple has a lot to answer for by sourcing iPhones from slave labour in China. But the fact that China actively encourages slave labour amongst its undercaste is the big crime in that instance. Sure, if I were running a company that manufactured mobile ‘phones, I would go elsewhere for my manufacturing. But just as I do not attack the reputation of Wes Craven for coming up with the concept of a child molester who becomes a ghost that serially murders adolescents when child molestation and murder are everyday events, I find it impossible to attack people for where they get the things they put into their products. We could talk for decades about what would happen if nobody bought things from China or China’s slave labour systems ever again. I would also be making my concerns about that known to Apple.

The key point here is that whereas Googoo has decided that partnering with Autism Speaks For Normie Assholes and collecting a bunch of “autism genomes” by means not openly specified is something autistic people should thank them for (hint to Googoo: it is not), Apple has made steps in the right direction. Apple has made professional videos affirming that acceptance, not pathologism, is the best way to deal with autistic people.

In that spirit, I want to address Apple for a second, and inform them of what they can do this year, and in all the years to come, in order to go all of the way in Autism Acceptance. In no particular order:

  • Employ autistic people full-time to determine how your relations with the autistic community will be conducted. What this means is that every time you so much as think about releasing something that includes the word “autism” in any context, you will have vetted it through at least a dozen different autistic people. Preferably a dozen different types of autistic people. The people who meet the Nerd Blackface Theory stereotype are not well-regarded by the kind who experience PTSD muscle-shakes when they hear someone say “…with autism” in front of them. Thus, a committee to vet autism-related material (which means anything that so much as mentions autism) must have at least as many of the latter as it does the former.
  • Issue a detailed retraction and apology for any materials you have posted in the past that autistic people such as the above-described committee deem offensive and inappropriate. A good example is the image above. I envision a future in which at least half of the children who are told they “have the autismz!” by this app are suing you for false diagnosis and the adherent consequences. There is a reason why the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria was designed to be exclusive rather than inclusive.
  • Further to the above point, by issuing detailed retractions and apologies, you set a precedent. A detailed retraction would elaborate the thing you did that was wrong (making an app that tells people they are autistic based on nothing more than their face), why it was wrong (this will lead to many false positives), and how you intend to make it up to the autistic people (one suggestion is to fund a school where people like Tony Attwood share how you properly, solidly diagnose someone as autistic). The precedent this sets is that autistic people will start to be seen as not just some anonymous talked-about group that anyone can shit on, that there are consequences and blowback from shitting on them. Another precedent it will set is that owning up to your mistakes and moving to correct them will be seen as the right, good thing to do.
  • Even further, a proper apology would begin with something like the following. “We, Apple, have posted materials and sponsored programs that autistic people all over the world find objectionable, and with very good reason. Effective immediately, we retract those materials, and rescind funding for those programs. We recognise that autistic people are entitled to control over their own lives, their own affairs, and how they are treated by others. We await their recommendations in terms of how we implement that.” And it would be immediately followed with naming what you will retract or take out of circulation, as well as an explanation of why.
  • Sponsor media programs in which autistic people talk to an audience. If Apple funded a project like AutTV, and it appeared the next day explaining such things as why Hugo Weaving’s “my nephew has the autismz! so watch me talk over the top of him for three minutes straight!” video sucks, that would send a very strong message not just to curebies, but also to autistic people themselves. The message as I would see it would go something like this. Apple cares enough about autistic people that it wants to give them a voice against the people that libel and slander them (presently without meaningful challenge). This is a message that you want to send, Apple, especially considering the perception people have of your products.
  • Set up a “hotline” (email, web, phone, maybe all of them) where autistic people can contact you and tell you what they think of what you are doing. There are fifty million of us in the world, Apple. You would think at least a few of them have something to tell you that you might benefit from.
  • And this list is by no means exhaustive, but it must be reiterated. Hire autistic people to vet your ideas. The ones that make Henry Fonda in Once A Upon A Time In The West look like Ghandi and the ones that make Ghandi look like Henry Fonda in Once A Upon A Time In The West would agree that the above-posted image is wholly unacceptable. When such diametrically opposed groups agree on things like that, that usually means you should implement their recommendations.

This is unlikely to be the last thing I write to you, Apple, but whilst you do deserve a pat on the back for not being Googoo, the praise you deserve is faint. I am talking comparisons between Windoze 95 and Windoze NT 4.0 levels of faint. And it hurts me to have to say things like that, because I know that a company that started out wanting to unshackle the home computer from its limitations would not want to be seen in the uncomfortable way I am seeing you at present.

My recommendations and calls in this document call for a response. Even choosing to not respond at all will say a lot about the content of your character as a corporation Apple. One day, in the future, a company is going to step up to the plate and say “autistic people are the only people we should be asking about how autistic people should be treated”. That company will be remembered with warmth and love by autistic people from then on, especially if they keep to their word.

You have the chance to be that company, Apple. Take it. It is right there in front of you.