The hot new autism book that has recently come out is In a Different Key by Caren Zucker and John Donvan. It has some similarities to Steve Silberman's neurotribes in that they both give a lengthy description of the history of autism. Where they differ is that the latter portrays the neurodiversity in a sympathetic light, while the former treats it with some disdain.
About ten pages of this nearly 600 page tome are devoted to Ari Ne'eman. Ne'eman published a piece trying to refute what the authors have to say about him and the ND movement.
He starts off his diatribe by playing the murder card, one of neurodiversity's dirtiest tricks, claiming that Donvan and Zuckerberg on page 142 of their book tried to justify the murder of an autistic boy. They never justified his murder, only stating what the man's defense attorney gave as the rationale that he had killed the boy to put him out of his misery, followed by a distorted logic while profoundly depressed. His lawyer argued for a temporary insanity defense. The jury didn't buy it and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The authors then go on to quote a woman who wrote an article where she only said that the father was not acting out of selfishness as she believed the prosecuting attorney had implied, but had snapped, though she realized this murder could never be justified. At no time do the authors defend the murder. Of course, anyone interested can go to page 142 of the book and judge for themselves.
Ne'eman writes how parents can never understand autism first hand because they don't experience what their kids do. I'm very curious how Ne'eman has experienced autism, how it has debilitated him in any way. I realize he's stated that he's attended special education at various times for unclear reasons. That he was bullied for being different and would scratch his face out of frustration til it bled. He's also stated that he has a sensitivity to velvet textures, has a face recognition deficit, and in a recent blog post commented on a sensitivity to static from a microphone. Other than that, I have no idea how his autism spectrum disorder has disabled him in any way or how he can claim to relate to the experiences of having autism that I, Roger Kulp, and others have who are truly debilitated by their condition. He seems evasive when he's asked about this by reporters as Donvan and Zucker correctly stated in their book.
Next Ne'eman writes: And far from being about blaming parents, the neurodiversity movement is
about shifting the conversation to the real needs of autistic people —
to the benefit of parents and autistic children and adults alike.
In fact, neurodiversity has always been about blaming the parents, going back to Jim Sinclair's Don't Mourn for Us speech where he castigates parents for wishing that they did not have an autistic child. Not to mention Marc Rosen's calling my mother overbearing. Some of the nastiest members of ND have stated that the reason for my autistic disability is that I had a mother who taught me to hate myself and calling her a witch and a yapping shrew. Not to mention one individual's statement in the comments section of the Newsweek profile about me that one of the greatest threats to the autism community was my mother. As far as I know, all of these individuals are members in good standing at ASAN and their membership dues helped pay Ne'eman's $71,000 annual salary in 2013.
Ne'eman also disputes Zucker and Donvan's statement that neurodiversity argues that autism is not essentially a disability, though this is something he's repeatedly stated over the years.
In an NPR interview in 2008, Ne'eman stated: We're disabled by society, What disables us is, for instance,
an education system that's only designed to meet the needs of one kind
of student, or societal prejudices which say that autistic people will
never be able to live in a community.
Though Ne'eman does not explicitly state here that autism is not a disability, most people would take this statement to believe that he's saying autism is not essentially a disability, because Ne'eman implies that with acceptance and the proper accommodations autism would cease to be a disabling condition.
As older time readers of Gadfly remember, Ne'eman's words from several years ago, which I published after he denied on Lisa Jo Rudy's blog that he'd ever said autism wasn't a disability:
We see the world in a different way than our neurotypical peers
(neurotypical is a word in the autistic community meaning those of the
majority neurology). This does not imply a defect, but merely a
difference — one that we have just the same right to as those of a
different race, nationality or religion.The belief was that anyone
society labeled "disabled" could only go so far. Sadly, these
misconceptions had the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecies.
When the expectation is that people of a certain type can only reach so
far, they are not provided with the same challenges and opportunities
that educators give mainstreamed students....
In the last paragraph Ne'eman writes:
We should recognize what diversity of neurology has contributed to the human race and what it can bring to the future. Difference is not disability and someday, I hope, the world will recognize that those who think in different ways should be welcomed.
A reasonable person reading these words would seem to get the idea that Ne'eman is stating that autism essentially is not a disability.
We can also go back further in time to a statement Ne'eman wrote some years ago about whether or not Asperger's (which he's been diagnosed with rather than autism per se) is a disability:
I happened to stumble upon your entry on a Yahoo Search for
Asperger's and I'm glad I did. As a teen with Asperger's, I strongly
suggest you tell your son as soon as possible. The fact is he is
different. What's more, this is not a bad thing. Any individual who
accomplishes anything is different. It's his right and his requirement
to know who he is, and what makes him different from those around him.
Furthermore,Asperger's Syndrome is hardly what one would think of as a disability.
I recommend you take a look at Norm Ledgin's "Diagnosing Jefferson", a
wonderful book that suggests that one of the founders of our nation had
Asperger's. As I and the book can attest, it is not in spite of but
because of the characteristics that set us apart from others that
"Aspies", as the popular nickname goes, have the ability to do great
The day will come when Asperger's will be recognized for what it truly is: a difference, not a disability,
and in many ways an advantage. I think you owe it to your son to talk
to him about who he is and help him succeed as that person, not pretend
(or worse yet, force him to pretend) to be someone else. I'm somewhat
notably successful for my age and as a result I've occasionally been
asked to speak to newly diagnosed "Aspies" and at a few conferences
about Asperger's and special education in general. One of the things
I've always tried to stress is the vital importance of recognizing the
advantages of difference and not falling into the trap so many do that
different is defective.
I haven't bothered to provide the links, but I think the one to the last statement about Asperger's is still there and can be found in the blog post where I first posted this. ASAN deleted the article on their web page in which the difference is not disability statement appeared at the time I first blogged about it and the senate was still considering Ne'eman's appointment to the national council on disabilities.
Based on these statements, I would certainly concur with Donvan and Zucker that Ne'eman has stated that autism is not essentially a disability and this has been his belief all along.
Are autistic behaviors considered by some to be pathologic adaptive in nature? Ne'eman writes:
Many unusual autistic behaviors are important and adaptive in nature.
Hand flapping, rocking, and other forms of stimming serve as important
means of emotional and sensory regulation for autistic
These behaviors cause attention to be drawn to the individual resulting in bullying and discrimination in employment. While I agree that the bullying and discrimination should not exist, we still have to conform to society, so in that sense the behaviors are maladaptive. My twiddling (self stim) has made my life miserable. It prevents me from getting things done during the day and is incapacitating. It is due to a serious organic brain impairment and I wish something could be done about it.
I don't know anything about the run-in that Ne'eman had with Peter and Elizabeth Bell except for what I read in In a Different Key and what Ne'eman wrote about it in this article. However, I only hold Pete Bell in disdain for advocating for funding of Alex Plank's and Cubby Robison's Autism Talk TV when he was an executive at autism speaks, even though his son will likely never function at the level of Ne'eman, Plank, or Robison junior. If the Bells are still unhappy with the neurodiversity movement, I see them as part of the problem rather than the solution.
As the neurodiversity movement becomes more prominent, I do see them as a threat toward advancement in the science and research that could lead to a greater understanding and treatments that could help mitigate if not cure autism at some future date. I've now read Donvan's and Zucker's book and I'm glad they question the neurodiversity movement and I hope more in the media will continue to do so, since not too many people read my piddling Gadfly blog where I've been trying to take them on for years.