Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Should autistics wear a sign around their necks?

I have read an interesting story about some persons with an autistic child who were given a hard time by their neighbors. They filed complaints claiming that the child may have been a menace of some sort and he might come out with his father's firearm. The father, a commercial airline pilot, is required to have a firearm as part of his work due to 9/11 and part of the homeland security act. They tried to get a court injunction to get these neighbors to stay on their driveway. They called 911 on the people when the man stepped out to talk to another father about his autistic son being picked on by another boy in the neighborhood. They have reported these parents to child protective services. They called the airline where the father worked and complained about him. All of these complaints were unsubstantiated and dropped.

The solution to this problem was to post a sign on the street warning people that there was an autistic child in the neighborhood. I am not sure what this is supposed to accomplish. Apparently, there was a lot of notoriety revolving around the case and all the people in the neighborhood know that he is autistic. It seems that having the sign in the neighborhood would be bad for the child and the family as there would be a certain stigma attached to it. How having a sign there would benefit the child, the neighbors or anyone else who may happen to drive or walk on that street in an apparently isolated residential area is beyond me.

One devil's advocate argument that could be made is that autistic children often have problems with elopement. Some of them have drowned or been run over by cars, etc. But sometimes typical children play in the street also. I know of one typical child in my neighborhood who was hit by a car at age 4. I also remember from my youth signs, saying "children at play" on one or two streets. Certainly a sign like this could be put up rather than the sign singling out the autistic child and the same result would occur.

However, there may be something I am missing. Perhaps there is some other reason to warn people about an autistic person. If that is the case why stop at having a sign in the child's neighborhood. Why not require the child (or possibly even adult) to wear a sign around their neck saying, "Caution, I am autistic (or Asperger's), I may do something bad". They are not going to just be confined to their neighborhood. They will end up going out into the world. Regardless of whether they just stay on the street where they live or go out to places, autism will cause them and the people around them some sort of problems. Prejudicial attitudes won't be just confined to one's own neighborhood. So what of the idea that autistics should be required to wear a sign around their neck at all times. After all at one time people with leprosy had to wear a warning sign and shout "unclean" when approaching persons not afflicted with the disease. Diabetics and epileptics wear medic-alert bracelets to warn people. Of course Leprosy, epilepsy and diabetes are quite different from autism since Leprosy is an infectious disease which was contagious (and at one time incurable) and diabetics can go into an insulin-induced coma and persons with epilepsy can have seizures and be rendered unconscious.

Disclosure is given as a quick fix solution to some of the problems of autistics, claiming that for the autistic who wants to make a living and not be fired or have problems with the employer that they should be upfront with their employer (or prospective employer) about the disability and then there won't be problems on the job. As this has not been the case with me, Stephanie Keil or Michelle Dawson (all three of us have lost jobs in spite of disclosure) and others that I know, I really don't think disclosure works. If we teach acceptance, the NT world will learn to tolerate differences and autism won't be a problem, at least according to neurodiversity. In fact, I remember something autism diva wrote someplace (though I don't have the link handy) that neurodiversity was about getting people like Rick Rollens to stop calling autistics "train wrecks" or "toxic waste dumps" and Jon Shestack to stop saying they are "empty shells", then employers will be more inclined to hire persons with autism.

I sort of worry about what might happen in light of this neighborhood sign. I can't think of how humiliating and degrading it would be if autistic children (and adults) were required to wear some sort of sign around their necks. Simple solutions to hard problems like autism are always tempting; however, I hope that neither I nor anyone else will ever be forced to wear a sign around our neck.


John Robison said...

I think disclosure works in the case of one-on-one relationships - at least is has for me - but when dealing with the public I think it hurts more than it helps. At least that's my observation.

Who knows what Joe Public conjures up in his mind at the words "autistic child?"

farmwifetwo said...

An autistic child sign is effective if you have problems like we do with traffic that goes a high rate of speed. Toss is construction out on the highway and this road has turned into a racetrack and is becoming a "nightmare waiting to happen". Hopefully, people would realize that if they see a child near the road there's a good chance that child does not understand safety. We don't have an "autistic child" sign just a "watch for children" sign and I can guarantee you... it's not working... so I suspect the "autistic child" one wouldn't either.

Also, there will always be those who are ignorant. Those kinds of people, would have found some reason to go after that family no matter what the reason. Best, just to ignore those and move forward. I remember those people when we lived in the city. We ran tame up and down the road except for the old man with the fences house. You didn't dare walk even on the concrete curb in front of his house. They exist everywhere.

Should those with autism wear signs?? Depends on what you're hoping for. Is the child/adult severely autistic and prone to wandering away... might be a good idea. Is the autistic child/adult prone to negative outbursts that could be construed as assault by the police... might be a good idea. Does the child "appear" normal at a glance yet if approached by police may appear to be sullen and uncooperative.... might be a good idea.

My children have medical alert bracelets with their dx's on them... is this not a "tag"?? I think it's a great idea if they are hurt anywhere that I am not around to talk for them. Also it has their name and address on them incase they become lost. Well, not on them, but all the police have to do is call medical alert and get all the info.

This also applies to those with other issues - like Alzheimers, and other mental health issues etc.

Why?? Because you can't expect police to look at someone and so "oh, they have autism??" How would they know??

Now, about discloser in the workplace etc. Why would you tell anyone?? Why?? Your health records are your business and ONLY your business. As long as you can conduct your business on your own, do your job on your own... why would you tell anyone?? Is it to be treated differently?? Did you expect someone to bend over backwards and give you special treatment vs another employee or are you using it as an excuse not to be able to complete your work. Why would you tell anyone?? IMO as long as you can do the job it's none of their business.

Stephanie said...

I, personally, didn't tell my employer I was autistic: it didn't even occur to me to do that. He discovered it after I gave him my Social Security # so perhaps it is in my file somewhere since I get SSI.

I didn't get fired because he found out about my diagnosis. I got fired because I couldn't do my job.

Michelle Dawson said that she worked 10+ years at her job and was good at it and she got fired for disclosing her diagnosis. That is quite different from my situation. I can't even hold a job, period.

Unknown said...

Wow, a neighborhood sign...that's a bit much...

Droopy said...

Jews had to wear a Star of David

and now this..

Neurodiversity would love this, they'd wear one or wrap themselves the damned 'sign' proudly in any way they could -- stand by it and wait for cars and walk in front of them with it, smirking all the while chirping "oh hey, you can't hit me I'm Autistic!"

A real poser's delight, and a real nice target (literally) for those of us who are autistic (as if we need one)

Droopy said...


I don't get a lot of people just approaching me to make pitiful comments about my autism (or even just my being disabled in general) the way it seems happens to you.

Maybe its some difference about where we live or in what manner you go out or where you go, I don't know.

I've lived where I live a very long time and I don't really go out of my apartment alone/without another person with me, and I tend to go to a limited number of places where I am known and perhaps even a bit protected, etc.

When I have to go to a new doctor's office or any any sort of new place, there's somebody with me (usually somebody carrying a gigantic calender/day-planner "professional person' type of thing and just wearing clothes and saying things that even I would recognize if I saw somebody else with such a person as being 'like a caseworker' or something) and maybe that's why. Maybe that wards off stuff I might get otherwise, I don't know.

I think people can see that I am disabled, but I don't know if they always know just by looking at me just what disability specifically I have. I don't think people are concerned or greatly bothered about it.

We also have a state hospital where I live and it tends to take people from many counties then let them out around town, so I think we might have an extra thing that comes from "under socialized people" a fear that if you say hello to a disabled person you're going to be eagerly in a starved fashion, really latched on to (some people take a "hello how are you" and run wild with that and don't stop, and I think maybe that is enough to slow some people who don't know 'what my deal is', down a bit),

and while I feel bad for people who do that and I think I understand somewhat why they do that, if a bit of a fear/reluctance to then approach engage (and be invasive) with me is a result of all that with them, then that's perfectly okay-fine (appreciated in fact) by me.

I can't hide that I'm disabled, but also I don't feel I need to make some sort of production out of it. I'm usually thinking about whatever I'm there to do or whatever, getting through something, what is goingto happen next, etc and I don't you know, with every step think some sort of chant in my head that "I'm autistic I'm autistic I'm AUTISTIC" or something (Not that I think you do that either, Roger)

but we both know there's people who have an obsession with Autism who do --

and its these very same people who have to announce their 'Autism" and I'm just going to be blunt -- when I see a person who has to announce they are Autistic,
when I see Ari Ne'erman, Donna Williams, etc etc doing this --

I just kinda think they look ridiculous (there really is no other way to say that)..

I may as well announce to people that I'm in fact secretly a very tall very athletic Black man...

"no really.. honest, I am!
I really have an inner athletic Black tall male person about me, its my inner real self, you just can't see it

and somehow expect people to not think that in addition to my other challenges, I happen to be completely out of my mind, (perhaps in the process even giving undue credence/question to the notion that I maybe am afterall after all, one of those unfortunate folks who's just fresh out of our local state mental hospital).

Droopy said...

PS, its occurred to me that some people reading this might not have seen me my videos, etc, so I'll explain

I'm a five foot (rather pasty) white woman with some 'gross motor control' issues

"but that's just my exterior! In reality I have an inner tall Black athletic man inside of me, really I do! You have to listen to me and understand and appreciate this! Pay no mind to the stubby spastic white woman you see before you -- I'm just passing, that's all!"

(Are you going "yeaaah riiiight" about now? You should be. That's what I do when I see these 'closet Autistics')

They'd love a sign like that alright.

(Now, where can I sign up to get my "Caution: Wilt Chamberlin at Play" sign?)

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" -- The Wizard, "Wizard of Oz"

Stephanie said...


I don't get very many pitiful comments, either. I don't think about my "disabilities," either, just how I can do what I want in the world. Unfortunately, my disabilities often prevent me from doing these things.

Ender said...

Wait... did you say autistic children can get hit by cars, but you told me that was impossible. :Sighs: make up your mind will you.

jonathan said...

No, Ender, as usual, you are not reading the post carefully. I said that having a sign specifically stating autistic child in the neighborhood would not be effective in preventing them from being hit by a car or that it would be no different than a generic child at play sign.

Ender said...

LOL but you have told me that no autistics ever get hit by cars, so naturally I am a bit confused. I mean otherwise it would be possible for an aspie to also have a tramatic brain injury right.

jonathan said...

Ender: I never said that autistic people never get hit by cars. You are confused. Though I don't know of an instance where an autistic child did get hit by a car, I remember recently, there was a boy in North Carolina who eloped and was hit by a train and killed, same difference.

I suppose autism and traumatic brain injury might not always be mutually exclusive. However, in your case, you admitted that you could not an AS diagnosis because your symptoms only happened during the TBI, so that would not seem to be the case with you. I think, I have another post you made on wrong planet that my source sent me where you basically stated that you attempted to get an ASD diagnosis and no one would give it to you, but I guess I would have to go through my old email files to verify it.

Ender said...

Can you remember what you were like when you were 5 or 6 years old. I can't, certainly not after the accident. So I admitted that its hard to determine what my symptoms were where I were 5 or 6. I do know however that I had been diagnosed with a few disorders before then. And I can remember a few times when I got terribly literal and confused and in trouble for it (not to mention frequent panic attacks). Far more then the average kindergardener or 1st grader. So therefore, it is probable that I had the disorder before then, but then again who knows. It is hard to diagnose someone 2nd hand from files written 17 years ago.

Anonymous said...

"Jews had to wear a Star of David

"and now this..

"Neurodiversity would love this, they'd wear one or wrap themselves the damned 'sign' proudly in any way they could -- stand by it and wait for cars and walk in front of them with it, smirking all the while chirping "oh hey, you can't hit me I'm Autistic!""

...and don't forget "oh hey, you cant treat me as if I mean what I'm saying and doing, I'm autie/aspie and you're intolerant of me if you don't like it no matter how intolerant of you I make myself sound" (see http://life-with-aspergers.blogspot.com/2010/02/some-thoughts-on-intolerance.html )