[I started writing this post more than a month ago, in early May. There’s a longer version — yes, really — that’s still a work-in-progress, but today seems like a good day to share at least part of it.]
Back in May, I made another attempt to get help for my PTSD. Found a therapist who listed trauma/PTSD as one of his areas of specialty. Scheduled an initial session over video.
During that initial session, the therapist informed me that I’m autistic. (More about that later…) I told him that I already knew that, and that I wasn’t seeking any sort of “therapy” for autism. “I just need help for PTSD,” I said.
Therapist didn’t want — or even allow — me to say anything about any past experiences that may have resulted in me having PTSD. “The past doesn’t matter,” he said. “The only thing that matters is right now. What traumatic things are in your life right now?”
None, I said. I’m seeking therapy now because I’m able to seek therapy now, for old problems that have never been properly addressed. I have decades of old problems that are still making my life difficult and painful even though those problems are not happening now.
The response I got to that was less than helpful.
I was told to read Thinking in Pictures… or watch the movie based on it instead, if reading a book was “too difficult” for me.
(I asked why he wanted me to read this book… and was interrupted with, “We don’t use the word why.” And then, “Just read the book — or watch the movie, if that’s easier for you than reading — and after you do, I’ll tell you my reason for telling you to read it.” Spoiler: A week later, I was informed that the reason for this therapist wanting me to read Thinking in Pictures is that he was certain I’d see myself in the person the book is about, that I’d see how I’m just like her in how I think and behave.)
I didn’t want to do either. I already knew the basics of what the book is about, and although I’m sure the acting and such is excellent in the movie version, I did not want to see and hear it.
The intro to the 2006 edition of Thinking in Pictures, written by someone other than the author, is insulting to autistic people: ‘Ohmigod, y’all, it’s so amazing that this woman with Asperger’s was, like, able to learn how to be human even though she’s afflicted with Asperger’s and people like that aren’t really human.’
That’s not the over-the-top hyperbole (I can’t use hyperbole, remember, because it’s non-literal language — so say the “experts” on How Autistic People Think) that it appears. Here’s a quote to illustrate:
It is said by cognitive psychologists that autistic people lack “theory of mind” — any direct perception or idea of other minds, or other states of mind — and that this lies at the heart of their difficulties. What is remarkable is that Temple, now in her fifth decade, has developed some genuine appreciation of other people and other minds […] But many sorts of humanness have become available for Temple in the past ten years. Not least among these is a capacity for humor and even subterfuge which one would have thought impossible in someone who is autistic.
…And I’m supposed to see myself in this. I’m supposed to ‘learn to understand’ that I have no sense of humor and no ability to even think about saying something that isn’t one-hundred-percent factually true and literal.
A few days later…
At no time while I’ve been reading this book have I not been angry.
I wonder whether any of the people who talk about Temple Grandin as some sort of folk hero for People With Autism have actually read what she has to say about autistic people.
She writes favorably about ABA (huge red flag there), even saying that a minimum of twenty hours a week of this “therapy” is required for even the most high-functioning autistic person to learn how to speak/communicate. (Fun fact: I never had any “therapy” for autism and somehow managed to be far better than most “normal” people are at using words.) She writes favorably about Lovaas’ “therapy” for autism. (In case you’re unfamiliar with this, it’s ABA: applied behavior analysis, the goal of which is to make autistic people ‘not act autistic.’ ABA causes a high percentage of autistic people subjected to it to develop PTSD.)
I had an intense anxiety attack when I got to the part of Thinking in Pictures where the author discusses the “squeeze machine” she daydreamed/fantasized about as a child. I knew this part of the book would be bad for me — it’s the primary reason why I didn’t want to watch the movie version — but I never thought it would be this bad. I cannot tell you, O Reader of my blog, exactly why it was bad for me, not because I don’t know or because I don’t have the words to explain it, but because I very much should not tell anyone the details. I did tell someone, however, because the person I told already already knows the specifics: “Based on her description, it’s a lot like the machine, just without the air-pressure aspect. When I read the words inflatable rubber lining, I practically threw the book across the room just to get it away from me, and I haven’t been able to look at it since.”
That anxiety attack is in no way the fault of the author of the book. For one thing, I at least sort of knew what I was risking when I chose to read this book. I’m just… angry, that so many people are apparently using one autistic person’s experiences as proof that literally every autistic person would benefit greatly by being subjected to pressure over their entire body while in an enclosed space because it would somehow make them not feel anxiety.
(Fact: That sort of pressure would “help” me with anxiety the way drowning “helps” with fear of water in someone who has already experienced almost dying from drowning — and no, I did not pick that specific comparison haphazardly.)
Temple Grandin seems to believe that all autistic people “think in pictures” (I know one person with an official autism diagnosis who’s also aphantasic: no thinking in pictures is possible for this person), that all autistic people have difficulty understanding that words even have meaning or are intended to communicate something (example to the contrary: Thomas Weaver Spence, who doesn’t even have trouble with prepositions, which Temple Grandin claims are just about impossible for autistic people to understand because they’re impossible to picture the meaning of in one’s mind. (** Relevant side note: I am so fucking tired of people saying I am unable do something that I do all the time — that they see me do all the time — and even teach “normal” people how to do when they, with their oh-so-superior non-autistic brains, can’t figure it out on their own), and that all autistic people have “flat affect” in speech and such. (I can’t even write with flat affect!) Temple Grandin says autistic people don’t feel complex emotions, nor have any ability to understand how another person feels from an experience without having experienced the exact same thing themself, so it has to be true, right? (Temple Grandin would probably say I was not being sarcastic at the end of the previous sentence, because autistic people are all so goddamn literal all the fucking time.)
Important detail: I was not the one who brought up the possibility of me being autistic; this new therapist did. During the first session… right before telling me that ‘I cannot have PTSD, because I have autism.’
I did make sure to state during the initial session that I don’t want “therapy” for autism. (“No one can force you to get therapy,” he said, “since you’re an adult and live alone, but it would be for your own good, and you should at least consider it.”)
A couple weeks later…
I cut the second session short, and I will never be talking to that therapist again.
I read the entirety of that damn book; I didn’t want to give the therapist an excuse to say that I “misunderstood” it because I hadn’t read all of it. (I’ll be blogging about Thinking in Pictures in much more detail sometime later.)
Some of the problems that arose during the three hours, total, during which I interacted with this therapist:
I asked Therapist why he’d wanted me to read Thinking in Pictures. He said, “We don’t use the word why.”
…So I reworded the question and asked again. “What was your reason for suggesting that I read Thinking in Pictures?”
“Because I wanted you to read it.”
“Obviously. What was your reason for wanting me to read it?”
“So you can learn that not every person thinks the exact same way.”
“Had anything I said or did given you reason to believe I didn’t already know this?”
“You have autism. People with autism don’t understand that other people don’t think the same way they do.”
“If that’s a requirement for someone being considered autistic, I’m not autistic.” (I know it’s not a requirement, by the way.)
“No one is autistic. Some people have autism.”
*sigh* “I know the standard arguments in favor of person-first language, but if it’s me we’re talking about, shouldn’t I have the right to refer to myself using identity-first language if I prefer that?”
“No. If you say you’re… you know, that’s saying there’s something wrong with you.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being autistic, any more than I think there’s anything wrong with being green-eyed. I have no strong personal preference between person-first or identity-first language, but I know that a majority of autistic adults prefer identity-first language, and I do not like some non-autistic person telling me that I must use the wording they prefer, as if I don’t have any right to choose for myself how to describe myself.”
Then there was some nonsense about how being green-eyed isn’t a bad thing… but that there was next to no chance of someone having green eyes and autism because both are so uncommon.
“Yeah, about two percent of the population for green eyes, and slightly less than that for autism. Nevertheless, there are three such people living in this house, in a town with fewer than twenty thousand people in all.”
Then I was accused of being a numbers nerd… and therefor of having lied about earning a living as a copyeditor (or “word nerd,” as Therapist called me). Because no one can be good with words and numbers, right? (And no “person with autism” can be good with words anyway, because we can’t understand that words have meanings. Obviously. *monthly sarcasm quota achieved*)
I was even indirectly accused of lying about having PTSD, because after all, no person with autism can feel intensely enough for a bad experience — someone trying to murder them, for example — to be traumatizing, right?
At some point during that second session, Therapist informed me that he doesn’t deal with PTSD/trauma. Nor does he have any training in working with autistic people “(people with autism”), either… but he has a colleague who works with “children who have autism,” and he thinks that makes him qualified to tell me that I’m just like some famous person who claims never to feel complex emotions and who has a lot of difficulty understanding that words have meanings.
** When I was in elementary school, some teachers explained what prepositions are as “anyplace a mouse can go.” Under, through, to, around, up, before, toward: those are prepositions. For people who need to picture something concrete in order to understand a word’s meaning, that seems like a rather useful explanation to start with.