A Defense Against Libel

I know it’s been a while since I posted. The reasons are about evenly split between life happening, and being threatened with doxxing over my Stapleton post. My life has calmed down somewhat since, but I still had to debate posting this. Eventually I decided in favor of posting it, because frankly, it needs to be said.

London McCabe was a six year old boy living in Oregon. His mother murdered him last week by throwing him off a bridge. After the murder, NBC reached out to “autism experts.” They found Dee Shepherd-Look, who is a professor of psychology at Cal State Northridge. She had this to say. (Very triggering, be warned.)

““I’m frankly surprised this doesn’t happen more often. These children are really unable to be in a reciprocal relationship and the moms don’t really experience the love that comes back from a child — the bonding is mitigated … That is one of the most difficult things for mothers.””

I and most of the autistic community was appalled. This is the e-mail I sent to her. -cec

Professor,

I am an attorney in Illinois, practicing with a focus on immigration law. I am also diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

I was horrified and appalled by your unenlightened, incendiary comments that appeared on NBC after the murder of London McCabe. At the time, I questioned whether you had actually ever encountered an autistic person, because that is the only possible rationale I could come up with as explanation for your callous Othering of a minority population. Now that I have been informed that you obtained your degree in 1970, it makes more sense – I can only assume you have done no research since. Professor, when you make statements that imply that autistics lack the ability to bond with other human beings, you wrong us all, and you do so in three ways. 

Firstly, you perpetuate a disgusting calumny against a population that is already suspected and mistrusted. To imply that any human is incapable of love or bonding is to put them in the realm of sociopathy, which is tantamount to declaring open season on us. Sociopaths are (perhaps justly, depending on the case) ostracized from society, and seen as dangerous. Autism is not sociopathy. The bulk of us want desperately to connect with other human beings, to be loved and accepted, and what prevents us is societal ignorance, not some kind of broken empathy gene. We want friends. We don’t know how to get them. And no one will teach us. You would rather eye us with suspicion. But those of us who have no interest in connecting with others are not sociopaths by definition. We are autistic. We have been abused enough by normal people to distrust you. You do not get to judge us for justified fears.

Secondly, because you subtly associate our neurotype with sociopathy and Otherness, you lessen the tragedy of our deaths. Your comments were dismissive in the extreme of us as a people. You intimated that we really should, by statistical average, die more often, because we can’t or won’t see the world in exactly the same fashion as our parents and caregivers. Whether that was your intention or not, are you capable of grasping the offense inherent in such blithe declarations of our subhumanity? That by drawing “communication problems” out into “can’t bond”, you get a toxic cocktail of frustration and resentment directed at us for our stubborn refusal to be normal? In some extreme cases, for existing? Or are you secure in your antiquated knowledge that you can libel us however you see fit, because we are too “broken” or “defective” to grasp that we are being libeled?

Professor, google articles about Scott McMillan (TW: child abuse). Scotty was a three year old neurotypical boy who was killed in a horrific fashion by his parents not long after London McCabe’s murder. Read the comments on the articles. Notice the outrage, the grief for Scotty. Notice the sympathy for Jillian McCabe, when there is none whatsoever for the McMillan parents. Killing London was “understandable,” while killing Scotty was monstrous. It may be a novel concept, but in a just world, I assure you, no one deserves to be murdered simply due to their neurology.

Thirdly, you undermine any trust whatsoever in the mental health system and in academia when you speak about us so cruelly. If you talk to a cross-section of autistic adults, you will find autism, yes, but you will also find epilepsy. Anxiety disorder. Panic disorder. Depression. PTSD. And most of it is entirely untreated, because stories of misdiagnosis and accusation are much more common than help, acceptance and understanding. Autism Speaks is the biggest autism organization in the United States – and its founder openly talks about making autism a “thing of the past,” about how we as autistics are “missing,” “lost” or “kidnapped.” Services for adults are nearly nonexistent. If we speak up for ourselves, our needs are ignored, and if we cannot, our potential is ignored. Your comments are one more nail in the proverbial coffin of the autistic community’s trust in the non-autistic. You are a professor of psychology! Is psychology not the study of the human mind, of trying to bridge gaps in understanding? It should never be used as a complicit tool in veiled and not-so-veiled eugenic suggestions that our lives and deaths simply do not matter as much as yours. It should never be used for evil. 

And reacting with general indifference to the murder of a six-year old boy is, Professor, certainly evil to me. 

If you are of the mindset that I think you are, your reaction to this e-mail will be either dismissiveness or scorn. You may see that I can type and hold a coherent conversation and think I am not qualified to speak up for the nonverbal, that I’m “not really autistic” or “too high functioning” to grasp their struggles. You would be incorrect – functioning is not static, it never has been, and it never will be. Most days, I can indeed speak. I can drive, hold a conversation, and practice law. (I passed the bar exam in one of the most difficult states in the union, without any disability assistance.) However, there are days I am nonverbal. There are days I do not get out of bed. Where the world is overwhelming and the mere act of conversation is too much. Am I still “high functioning” then? Autism is a spectrum, but our places on it are not fixed in stone. And if you do not know that, that is the place where your remedial autism studies need to begin. 

I and many others in the autistic community roundly condemn your libel. I would ask that you do something that appears to be novel to you: to listen to us, instead of the martyr parents reeling from the death of their dreams for a perfect child. Listen to our struggles, our insights and our abilities. See us as equal-yet-different partners, instead of a species of subhuman that you try to study like rare insects. And maybe next time that a disabled child is murdered – because, I assure you, there will be a next time, with rhetoric like yours in the sad majority – you will be able to understand why blood is on your hands. 

[My Signature]
Chicago, IL
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