What’s the Motive, SpectrumNews.org?2 min read

On April 24, 2019, SpectrumNews.org aired an article that gar­nered a lot of scrutiny.  Since that date, it has remained pinned to the front page of the web­site and as the pinned post on Twitter.

The article, “In search of truce in the autism wars” starts:

‘The fight between those who define autism as a med­ical con­di­tion and those who see it as a mere dif­fer­ence has reached vit­ri­olic levels’.

That… is not what has hap­pened.

This maneuver seems to be a part of a growing effort to bla­tantly, pur­pose­fully, and know­ingly mis­char­ac­terise the neu­ro­di­ver­sity move­ment.

For them to proudly leave this article as a pinned tweet for three weeks, while count­less autistic people and researchers patiently explain what’s wrong with it, dis­plays an arro­gance bor­dering on con­tempt for the pop­u­la­tion their mag­a­zine is all about.

It seems a prover­bial line drawn in the sand and a dec­la­ra­tion of Spectrum’s undis­closed loy­al­ties.

This is not the first time we’ve seen this, either.

“Mere dif­fer­ence” in the sense Spectrum implies is a very basic mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how any sen­sible person sees autism. If ‘mere’ is sup­posed to mean “just a simple dif­fer­ence, nothing else,” then that directly con­tra­dicts the stance of the vast majority of neu­ro­di­ver­sity advo­cates.

It’s a dif­fer­ence and usu­ally a dis­ability and some­times a gift. They know this. They even edited one of the later pas­sages to refer to “the sup­porters of “neu­ro­di­ver­sity,” who main­tain that the con­di­tion rep­re­sents a neu­ro­log­ical dif­fer­ence and a dis­ability,” but the straw-man of “mere dif­fer­ence” is set up right at the start and never really put to rest.

Despite a few apparent attempts at bal­ance, the piece overall is just shoddy in its failure to rep­re­sent the posi­tion of those arguing for neu­ro­di­ver­sity. We’re told:

There’s no one speaking directly for these fam­i­lies and about this severe end of the spec­trum.

This is just wrong. So wrong. Stop it.

We’re told that out of “a dif­fer­ence, a diag­nosis, a dis­order, a dis­ease or a dis­ability,” those in the neu­ro­di­ver­sity camp “see autism pri­marily as the first D‑word: dif­fer­ence.”

There’s a sense in which this just tripe, but also another sense in which it’s obvi­ously cor­rect. Autism is above all a dif­ferent way of thinking: that’s clear.

Sure, in that sense it’s ‘pri­marily a dif­fer­ence.’ But the kind of dif­fer­ence it is makes it a dis­ability, at least for most autistic people. There’s no kind of ten­sion there which is widely under­stood by advo­cates of neu­ro­di­ver­sity.

“Difference” just doesn’t imply “absolutely fine in every way.” Nothing about neu­ro­di­ver­sity implies any­thing like that.

A primate appears to be yelling in anger.  The image reads, WTF, Spectrum!?

This is where the opening claim of the article falls apart: if there’s a fight going on, it’s not really about anyone thinking autism is a “mere dif­fer­ence.”

Where I have seen vit­riol is between people who car­i­ca­ture neu­ro­di­ver­sity that way, and people who actu­ally have some under­standing of what neu­ro­di­ver­sity means. If you’ve ever had vit­riol directed against you for things you’ve never said, you’ll know how annoying that is.

It causes one to wonder, why is Spectrum News fab­ri­cating a divi­sion on purposefully-misleading, patently-false claims?  Why is it a pinned post for three weeks? What is the motive?

You’re searching for a truce, you say? Great!

Do tell: how do you make a truce with a straw man?


  1. I love you guys.
    I love you for trying to give a voice to those of us who are “sup­posed to” be “voice­less”.
    I love you all.

      1. Tony Cotton has

  2. So this is the second time I’ve seen Autistic dark web ref­er­enced. I had to look it up because I had no idea what it was. Like what the actual fuck?!!! My head was about to explode from all the mis­in­for­ma­tion on that site.

  3. I used to cite Spectrum News in wikiHow autism arti­cles at times when I needed a more sci­en­tific view­point. The overly med­ical­ized lan­guage wasn’t ideal, but it was only a nui­sance, not a serious issue, I thought.

    I’m recon­sid­ering it, though. I don’t want to use an overly biased source, espe­cially one that claims to write an article on “both sides” while only showing empathy and under­standing for one side, and so bla­tantly mis­rep­re­senting the other. I don’t want readers who are looking for accu­rate sources to get the wrong idea.

    1. Author

      Yeah, I wouldn’t rule out linking to the few notably good arti­cles they pub­lish, but their ter­rible ideas about autism (and the dis­mis­sive atti­tudes to autistic people that come with them) per­vade almost the whole pub­li­ca­tion.

  4. “There’s no one speaking directly for these fam­i­lies and about this severe end of the spec­trum.”
    I guess who­ever wrote the article you quoted was too lazy to do five min­utes’ research; even I’ve heard of Amy S.F. Lutz.

  5. Sounds a pretty fair char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the ND ide­ology to me. Fortunately, now that Corbyn has been demol­ished, in the polls, this will all become aca­d­emic. The UK have deci­sively rejected Neurodiversity, once and for all. We’re done with iden­tity pol­i­tics. Forever.

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