If you aren’t part of the autistic community online, you probably missed the many discussions over the past week about the autistic mommy memoir “To Siri with Love.” Discussions which spawned the hashtag #BoycottToSiri
Other people have done a great job breaking down the many, many problems with this book. Kaelan Rhywiol’s Storify of her live tweeting while reading the book is the most detailed break down I’ve found, but prepare to be highly disturbed and possibly triggered. Here’s a review of how this book came to explode on autistic twitter. You can check out #BoycottToSiri for more discussion and info.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. Not really. I want to talk not about why the book itself is bad, but about why it’s not “just” a book.
Defenders of the Indefensible
It’s not the book itself that really disturbed me. It’s the number of people defending it. The number of people who read it and gave it 5 stars as a loving account of being an autistic mommy and how they “don’t feel alone anymore.” It’s the realization that this isn’t just one woman being a horrible person, but thousands, perhaps millions, of allistic (ie, not autistic) people who think of autistic people this way.
Now I’m lucky. I can, most of the time, pass as neurotypical. Lately, I have been increasingly unwilling to pass, because it comes at a high cost to me. I am no longer willing to pay that cost for the comfort and convenience of other people. Still, most of the time, if I need to, I can.
But not everyone can. In fact, I have reason to believe that not all my kids will be able to. And this is the world I am sending them out into. A world full of people who question their ability to think. Their ability to have empathy. Their ability to have relationships and jobs. That people will treat them not as people but as inconveniences and robots. At best as pets who maybe likable and sweet but you can’t trust them to take care of themselves and not pee on the carpet.
There are several funny stories of being autistic in public that my family tells. But those stories… they aren’t very funny right now. See, the funny thing about them has always been neurotypical’s reactions to us. And now I’m wondering… who do I know, who do I interact with regularly, thinks this way? Who thinks being autistic makes me and people in my family unfit parents? Who questions if we can think. Who might see me one day, non-verbal and pounding a table in frustration, and instead of giving me space and offering help, calls 911 because I’m obviously “low functioning” and shouldn’t be allowed out on my own? (90% of the time “low functioning” means “can’t pass as neurotypical. The other 10% it means “we don’t want to bother giving the accommodation you’d need to function in society”.)
That’s one of the “funniest” things about the defenders of this book. They insist that those of us critiquing it and criticizing it have no idea what it is like to be “low functioning” based on the words we share online. It never occurs to them that if they met us in person, they’d think we are “low functioning” too.
But it occurs to me. And it scares me.
Impact > Intent
This book isn’t just a memoir sharing one (abusive, narcissistic, disgusting) person’s experience and views. It is actively harmful to autistic people. It tells that we are are not safe among allistics, that we have no place in your world unless we can pretend to be like you. it increases anxiety contributes to depression, and triggers PTSD from past run-ins with autism mommies. And makes the world we live in–not really your world, but OUR world less accessible to us, with every person who reads it and thinks it tells the truth of our existence.
This book, and others like it, are why we say #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs.
(And if you parent to an autistic kid, here’s something much better for you to read.)
This is a personal piece by Jess Mahler. The rest of Cuil Press firmly supports and endorses the opinions and position shared here.