What’s the Motive, SpectrumNews.org?

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?

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9 Responses

  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.

  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. 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. @“Mild” and “Severe” don’t exist!:

    I wasn’t saying that Lutz is right in any way, much less agreeing with her. I was only pointing out that she’s someone who claims to speak for the so-called ‘severe’ end of the autistic spectrum as though the spectrum is linear and uni-faceted, and as though we can’t speak for ourselves.

    @Jonathan Ferguson:

    Actually, the ND movement is still going strong in the UK, thanks mainly to bigots like you necessitating it. And as for identity politics, do you honestly think that only autistic people have a need to follow them? If you can’t say anything that contributes positively to the debate, then keep your neo-Nazi mouth shut!

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