Saturday, July 11, 2009

Silent Neighbors

Neighbors, the new video from Autism Speaks, calls for an end to "autism insurance discrimination." Exactly what this might mean is unclear. Certainly there is discrimination to be addressed. I have heard stories of people denied basic medical coverage because of an ASD diagnosis. The video states that "all children who need medical care deserve the same coverage. The same applies to adults. No one should be denied care because of a disability. The nature of the "medical care" implied here is another matter. While I agree that all medical conditions should be covered for all, the implication that autism itself is a medical condition for which there are standard "treatments" is troublesome.
More discussion of the video can be found here and here.
I found watching Neighbors with the sound turned off a more interesting and valuable experience.

In the first scene, two boys, both autistic, sit on the grass in their respective yards while a group of children plays.

Jason plays with a handheld video game.

Jack also seems to be playing a game.

One of the group approaches Jason and asks him to play.

Jason plays with the other children.

But no one has invited Jack.

He turns his head to watch the other children playing. Is he indicating he would like to play? He is at the very least showing interest in what the group is doing.

He expresses frustration, clenching his fists.

The story I see reveals the importance of inclusion. Each of the boys seems to choose a solitary game over the group activity. One is invited, encouraged to join in. The other is not, and becomes unhappy. It is a very simple, and very important story. Like many autistic people, Jack and Jason are willing to interact with others, but may have trouble initiating. In Jack’s position, I would not be able to tell whether or not I was welcome to join the others. I might not even be sure the others could see me. Personally, I would prefer to remain on the lawn with my video game, but knowing that you are welcome is important. Growing up “invisible” is confusing and damaging.

Of course, the story Autism Speaks is promoting is a different one. Due to his family's insurance coverage, Jason has had the therapies he needed. Jack has not. Yet left to their own devices, each sits alone. Their actions are identical, until one is noticed and included. There is no evidence whatsoever that Jack would not also respond to being invited into the group. But if he does prefer to be alone, as I did at his age, as I often still do, must this be seen as a tragedy?

Do the other, presumably non-autistic, children sense that Jason will be a better playmate than Jack? Have they heard their parents saying that Jason is “recovered” from autism? That Jack has been given a “death sentence?” Nah…most likely, they are just looking for one kid, any one kid, to even out the teams.


  1. the video implies that with "evidence based" treatments an autistic child will have more friends and not be rejected by others. IQ, completion of a regular first grade, and subjective analysis by teachers were the dependent variables in lovaas (1987), nothing about increase in friendships. If there is any study showing empirical evidence of a treatment that will enable autistics to have friends, I am unaware of it. This is what AS is implying in their disingenous PSA.

  2. "But no one has invited Jack."

    Good points, Bev. I didn't notice that when I saw it on the small YouTube sized version on my PC, but I just caught the ad on my large TV, and it was readily apparent.

    I wonder if it would be illuminating to know what ad agency AS used? They are Masters of Manipulation!

  3. Thanks for explaining this video so well Bev.

    I had the same frustration but had trouble putting into words why it bothered me. Now it makes much more sense.

  4. I would be offended if Autism Speaks was capable of making some kind of logical sense. This is a half-hearted insult. When they come up with something with more substance than 'Autism = No Friends' I'll rant and rave.

    Video games are WAAAAY better than soccer anyhow. Jack made the right choice.

  5. I prefered talking about science with the adults at Jack's age. I mean, football? What is the point?

  6. I liked to listen to political discussions, whenever I was dragged into "beer gardens" by either of my parents. There wasn't much argument though, everyone there were factory workers, thus were also Democrats and union members. I was sure that Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver were going to win...

    Yeah, soccer, football, hockey, basketball, and jai alai are all stupid. Just run back and forth, and do it over and over. Baseball I like, but was never any good at playing it.

    They're running that stupid ad pretty often on CNN today...

  7. So, I liked to talk about science, you liked to talk about politics.

    Just how are we sick and defective?

  8. Socrates said:
    "Just how are we sick and defective?"

    Well, to tell the truth, I couldn't play those games I mentioned, not only because of my not seeing "the point", (never having had the rules explained to me), they all moved too fast for me to react. Hell, I didn't even know who was on "my team" most the time, and that wasn't just because we didn't have uniforms. The other kids didn't seem to have that problem.

    I was never "face-blind", I knew my classmates by name, and could recognize them, but couldn't keep it straight in my mind to recognize what team they were on, on any particular day. And my reaction time was way too slow. Those experiences Did make me feel defective.

  9. While I was reading your description of the video, I kept wondering what the point of it was. I as surprised to hear that the idea behind it is that one boy gets chosen to play with the other children because he received a certain kind of therapy! I was thinking the point of the video would be that the other children should have been taught to be more inclusive, and that they should have tried to include him, or maybe one kid could have gone over and sat by him. That would have made more sense!


Squawk at me.
Need to add an image?
Use this code [img]IMAGE-URL-HERE[/img]