Friday, February 19, 2016

The Spread of Compliance Training

Recently, the New York Times put out an article under its health section titled, “Early Behavior Therapy Found to Aid Children with A.D.H.D.” Here is a choice quote from the article:

Behavior modification for A.D.H.D. is based on a fairly simple system of rewards and consequences. Parents reward the good or cooperative acts they see; subtle things, like paying attention for a few moments, can earn a pat on the back or a “good boy.” Completing homework without complaint might earn time on a smartphone. Parents withhold privileges, like playtime or video games, or enforce a “time out” in response to defiance and other misbehavior.

And they learn to ignore irritating but harmless bids to win attention, like making weird noises, tapping or acting like a baby.


The analysis did not account for the psychological cost to parents — in terms of a child’s tantrums, slammed doors and hurled tableware — of carrying out behavioral techniques.

If this sounds a lot like what is used on autistic children to extinguish stimming and reinforce “positive behaviors” and discourage “negative behaviors…” that’s because it is. What they are discussing is fundamentally Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). But wait, you say. Isn’t ABA good for Autistic children? Isn’t it evidence-based?

Yes, ABA is evidence-based in that it does what it’s designed to do – extinguish or replace certain behaviors. But it’s kind of like Jurassic Park, except no one gets eaten by dinosaurs, because people were so intense and focused on what they could do that no one thought – should we do it? B.F. Skinner and Ivar Lovaas would be thrilled that states are mandating private insurers pay for ABA for autistic children.

And that more children are falling under its scope. ADHD is often thought of as a “cousin” to autism by many – and with that comes the pathologization and attempts to erase all unwanted behaviors.

Let’s break this down further:

“And they learn to ignore irritating but harmless bids to win attention, like making weird noises, tapping or acting like a baby.”

I don’t know, I mostly made cat noises because I liked making cat noises. If they are harmless, why must they be extinguished? If they’re harmless, why are they pathologized? Irritating. I forgot that part. They’re “irritating,” and thus are seen as something to eradicate. Couple onto this the fact that most humans engage in “attention-seeking behaviors,” to be seen, to be heard. And adding a third objection to this, the “mental age” trope of “acting like a baby” is never an appropriate way to describe someone with a disability – in fact, I’d go further and object to anyone being told they’re acting like a baby. It is a complete invalidation.

“The analysis did not account for the psychological cost to parents — in terms of a child’s tantrums, slammed doors and hurled tableware — of carrying out behavioral techniques.”

And here we see the age-old “cost to parents” trope. What does it cost parents? What does it do to parents? My questions are: 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Community Organizing: Part One

Community Organizing: Part One

I have decided to blog about building up a support group with the eventual goal of advocacy for people with mental health needs, like my friend is doing about building a disability community at UGA. Fresh out of the hospital for mental health issues, I couldn't find a self-advocacy group for mental health in DC. I thought about starting an advocacy group straightaway, but thought that seemed a bit hefty to start out with – and made a Facebook support group page instead. It has eight members so far, and we are planning a meetup sometime next week or weekend.

I worry about the culture of tear-down-everything, and I worry about the seeming lack of direction sometimes in various communities. I hear some people talk about destroying things, and in the same breath admit they don't know what they'd build. I also hear some people talk about what dreams they have for change and organizing, and don't have the conceptualization of how to do so yet. Like my friend, I am documenting the building of my group to help give people a framework for maybe building their own group if they want.

Not everyone has the time or energy to build organizations and groups up, and it doesn't always give one the same rush as poking holes in people's arguments on the Internet and “destroying” opponents, but a built from the ground up organization or group can counter common narratives of oppression. It can give people attainable goals to work toward. It sustains community. It is something concrete you can do and know that change is happening, however incremental – and while incremental change might not feel good enough, when combined together, incremental steps form a leap forward. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Autistic and Killed By Police

This post focuses mostly on police reactions 

On February 2, 2012, police shot and killed Stephon Watts, a Chicago-area Black Autistic teenager, for panicking while holding a knife, in his home. On Thursday, February 4, 2016, police entered the apartment of Kayden Clarke, an Autistic trans man in Mesa, Arizona, and shot and killed him for being suicidal and holding a knife. In both cases, the officers knew full well of their Autistic identity, having been called to their homes before.

In Watts’ case, the police had shown up to “subdue” him, according to the news report, many, many times in the past. To have had such encounters with the police, which were undoubtedly physical in nature, would be traumatizing.  Even if Watts had not been panicking in the first place, to lash out from fear of being “subdued” again is the result of a fight or flight response. Undoubtedly, being Black and thus seen as even more intimidating also influenced the officers’ reaction. They shot Stephon Watts for being Autistic, Black, and in extreme distress. As a Black Autistic, Watts faced multiple marginalization from society, with ableism and racism as a reaction that killed him.

In Clarke's case, they had responded to a suicide call, found him holding a knife, and shot an Autistic person they knew was Autistic and in extreme distress. They had responded to a suicide call in the past for Clarke. Clarke, as an Autistic trans man, faced unique societal barriers and also clearly had mental health needs – and the police killed him for it. 

It makes me glad I was able to transport myself to the hospital for my suicidal thoughts in early January. It makes me scared of ever having the thoughts again, not just because it feels awful to have them, but because sometimes the cops kill people who are suicidal. It might be my instinct, too, to grab the nearest object to keep people from touching me or taking me away or whatnot.  

People talk in circles about the need for more training for the police regarding disability and mental health, or of having identification cards people can pull out to show the officers. It is my belief that all the training in the world won’t help what’s ingrained in society; the idea that certain people’s lives are less worth living. For instance, the police in *both* cases knew that Watts and Clarke were Autistic and in extreme distress. I don’t believe training or ID cards will fix the hair-trigger reactions of police. While we don’t know what de-escalation tactics they used, if any, before shooting Watts or Clarke, we know those people are dead because the police shot to kill. Training police could potentially save a few lives, but there have to be better solutions.