An Autistic Parent’s Reaction to To Siri: Impact > Intent

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.

Confederate and Atypical Are Two Sides of the Same Bullshit

Mainstream media treats anyone who isn’t mainstream horribly. From shitty representations to reinforcing the oppressive systems of society today to imagining worlds where we literally don’t exist over and over and over again… We all know that when a mainstream media company announces a project “about” us or our struggles to buckle down for an at best naive and at work harrowing ride of misinformation, misrepresentation, and erasure.

And right now, we got a twofer. Two absolutely grotesque shows are getting talked about in two different parts of social media. Two shows that are getting ready to shit on two overlapping and already-struggle groups of people who don’t need any more shit in their lives. If you are reading this blog post, you’ve probably already heard of one of them—but many people haven’t heard about both.

Confederate and Atypical

Confederate is HBO’s white-supremacist fantasy of the South winning the Civil War. It is in development and had a chance to be seriously shut down. This past Sunday #NoConfederate was trending as people spoke out about why it needs to be shut down.

Atypical is Netflix’s painfully stereotyping and downright insulting autistic “representation” show. It is showing in early August–it’s too late to shut it down completely, but the #ActuallyAutistic community has gotten the attention of the show’s creators and this may be a chance to educate for better representation in the future and/or to prevent a second season.

An autistic character being the butt of jokes as he tries to lose his virginity is not comedy. A white-supremacist fantasy is not anti-racism drama. But that is what these shows are getting pitched as.

Two Sides, Same Bullshit

These are not separate issues. Both shows are the result of big media companies who can’t be bothered to listen to the minority groups they are portraying or even just do some basic research. They are the result of white neurotypical people thinking they can ‘teach’ about racism and autism better than those of us who are autistic and/or live everyday fighting against racism.

Right now, these shows are being addressed separately. While black activists and at least some non-black accomplices have been working to get Confederate shut down, we have seen no one in the autistic community make the connect to Atypical. And discussion of Atypical and its many problems has mostly stayed within the autistic community.

It doesn’t need to be that way. We can work together and support each other. We have a better chance of getting Confederate shut down and preventing more shows like Atypical by combining our voices and resources.

How to Help

If this is the first time you are hearing about one or both of these shows, here’s what you can do to help:

To support autistic people fighting against Atypical-style representation, hop on Twitter Friday, August 11th for the mass live-tweeting of the first episode of Atypical. Watch the #Atypical hashtag for updates and look for people tagging #ActuallyAutistic on #Atypical tweets to amplify the voices of autistic people.

To support black people fighting against Confederates, follow the #NoConfederate hashtag. Amplify black voices talking about why the show needs to be shut down and watch for additional plans for group activity. We’ve seen a few folks propose making a weekly #NoConfederate mass tweeting. Look for that, support, and amplify.

To support both, look for of protest and resistance activity on other social media sites and help activity jump to new areas of the internet. Storify tweets to share on Facebook or Instagram, promote mass tweet equivalents like mass posting or profile pic changes on Facebook to increase awareness and, as always, amplify the voices of people speaking from lived experience.

If you have a blog, website, podcast, or just a bunch of folks who follow you on social media, talk about both shows, how they are connected, and why they matter.

And if you know black autistic folks talking about either or both of these shows? Please amplify the shit out of that.