#SaidNoMother: A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

“I will only dwell on what my #autistic child *can’t* do, #saidnomother 
[image: Leo, seen from behind, happily hiking on a verdant oak woodland trail.]
[Content warning for parents saying dehumanizing things to and about autistic people, including their own children. Also lots of autism pseudoscience.]

I haven't had to address the anti-vax Autism Mommy contingent for a long, satisfying while. After the 2015 Disneyland Measles outbreak, the world wised up to the fact that vaccine-preventable diseases were real and deadly, and that vaccines make them go away—and also that established science proves vaccines have nothing to do with autism. Which, no of course I didn't want diseases to resurge, but yes I am glad that I can focus on autism acceptance, education, and rights, instead of spending my time countering willfully, dangerously ignorant people who think having an autistic child like Leo is worse than having a child die from a preventable disease.

But there is still a small, angry, stewing knot of those awful autism-vaccine causation parents lurking on the social media fringes. And their latest effort is the loathsome #SaidNoMother campaign, bewailing all the ways in which the parents "suffer" by having "vaccine injured" kids. The pseudoscience bombs those parents lob about their children are dehumanizing, so dive in at your own risk; these people have no sense of their children as deserving, valuable human beings.

Because Twitter doesn't weight its hashtagged tweets, it may seem like this campaign is huge. But please know that, as an associate tipped me off, it only has one-seventh the impressions of a non-pseudoscience hashtag like #VaccinesWork. So, big hashtag/little pond. And many of those impressions are due to Autistic people and like-minded individuals taking on and infiltrating the hashtag, because even though #SaidNoMother is not trending that much, it's still really f***ing distressing and needs all the countering the Neurodiversity community can muster.

Since Twitter is so ephemeral and scattershot, it's hard to get a sense of how this scenario is playing out unless you experienced it in real time. Or, you know, unless you archive the tweets in a timeline. As I have below. Because so many of the people I countered blocked me, my responses might not make sense—but if they haven't blocked you, you can click through to their linked tweets for context.

If you care about autistic people like Leo and cannot stand to see autistic people used as collateral damage by pseudoscience-embracing martyr parents, please feel free to RT as many of the entries below as your clicker finger can stand. I included a LOT of links debunking just about any nonsense theory or concept they tried to throw at me, plus as many links to helpful resources as I could squeeze in. Because I hope that at least some of these parents, or the people who listen to these parents, will read what was shared, and consider what their children need from them, instead of waging a fruitless war against their own child's neurology.

Blurring & anonymizing courtesy Jay Edidin
[image: Photo of a mom kissing her child, whose
face is blurred out. A superimposed white text box
reads, "I can't wait for my 8 year old's diapers to
be delivered, said no mother of a vaccine injured
child, ever. #SaidNoMother.]

[image: Screenshot of a tweet from @TannersDad, featuring
a man with a black eye looking at the camera. The tweet reads,
"Let's have a real discussion this April. #ABA Autism Beyond
April. New movement of Mothers Fathers Grandparents Siblings
Rising Up above the noise of Pharmaceutical Propaganda explore
the truth Revolution Breaking MSM Silence
#SaidNoMother #SaidNoFather.]


To Siri, With So Much Disappointment

To Siri With Love author Judith Newman and her son Gus
[image: A white woman with long curly dark hair, snuggling with her teen
son, who has short dark hair, next to an image of the book To Siri With Love.]
It took me a long time to read Judith Newman's autism parenting memoir To Siri With Love, despite the author herself courteously sending me a copy. I had to nudge myself to keep going, because I don't like reading books that treat autistic people as inscrutable annoyances. I also dragged my feet due to more personal preferences: books written in breezy airport-bookstore-ready voices are not my thing, plus Newman's sense of humor put me off: Getting a discount on a hotel room because a kid was recently eaten by an alligator onsite is not amusing to me, for instance.

Others, including autistic writer Max Sparrow, have written extensively about why To Siri With Love is flawed, and you should read what they have to say. Because I'm not alone in noticing that one of the primary problems with the book is that, when it talks about autism, it recycles outdated and stigmatizing cliches. Despite the two years since the award-winning neurodiversity explainer and history NeuroTribes was published, and despite Newman being a journalist, To Siri features common misconceptions, like insisting all autistic people lack theory of mind (long-established research clarifies that the issue is actually one of “double empathy,” in which negative assumptions from non-autistic people about autistic people are most of the problem).

I am also put off by how little respect Newman's shows for autistic people. She writes passionately about how much a specific autistic adult needs support and understanding and (correctly) how badly society and systems have mistreated him—yet reveals second-hand information about his bowel habit demonstrations of distress. This actual lack of theory of mind is even more confusing given that Newman wrote Siri in part to bring more attention to non-genius autistic kids like her son Gus (who seems like the most awesome young man ever), a group she considers underrepresented. But, as as comedian and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu says in talking about minority representation in general: it can’t just be about the stereotypes; it has to be about recognizing real-life diversity and humanity. Yet Newman does nothing to expand autism understanding, bust negative autism stereotypes, or further her son's humanity; if anything To Siri With Love mostly illustrates how much her son's autistic traits annoy her.

I think Newman has failed her son by writing this book. I think her book will make life harder, not easier, for autistic people including but not limited to both our sons. Because when it comes to the treatment of autistic people, the entire world is essentially bigoted bullies and complicit bystanders. Instead of defending her son, Newman has joined the side of the bullies in declaring, “Well yeah, I love him but I get your point and actually I agree that he’s weird.”

This deeply messed up attitude needs to be called out. While it’s common if not OK for parents to be ignorant and bigoted when they come from outside a community, once you find out your own kids are part of a margnialized community you are supposed to be like Amy Acker's mom in Marvel’s X-Men-adjacent series Gifted, and get 100% on your kid's side and do whatever is necessary to protect them. (I’m not recommending going on the lam, but allying with and learning from your kids’ community? Yes, that is actually a very good idea.)

And you certainly don’t join the world's bullies in smacking down all the other autistic people who come to your kid's aid because they are part of his community and get how much being bullied hurts. Instead, you ask your kid's people—who may not be exactly like your kid but surely understand what it is like to be constantly treated like subhumans yet survive—how they did it. You learn from them. Because you and those autistic people? That particular Venn diagram is all your kid has. It should be you, Autistics, and your kid against the fucking world.

This is why it is so infuriating and hurts so much to have a mainstream author like Newman choose the side of conventional shitty attitudes about autism and autistic people when her kid needs so much more from her. Yes, changing one's deeply ingrained negative assumptions about autism is hard. Yes, it's harder when society reinforces those assumptions. But if you’re the parent of a child from a minority group yet you yourself represent and have direct connections to high-profile media channels, and you not only shirk your power and waste the opportunity to change minds but then belittle and dismiss and sabotage your son's autistic community members for having opinions about your harmful book and the people it is hurting, including your own kid? You kind of suck.

People need to be aware that, despite Newman's insistence otherwise, autistic people generally don’t think they know autistic kids better than those kids' parents do. But autistic people assuredly do know what it’s like to be an autistic kid in a way non-autistic people never can. They have logical explanations for matters Newman considers autistic mysteries, like why autistic people have meltdowns over things that make no sense to outsiders, and why those meltdowns are not manipulative tantrums. They understand why Routine is Life. They understand that it's fully possible to have phenomenal skills in some areas while also having serious disabilities. They understand why training autistic kids like they're sea lions may result in some compliance and changed behavior, but it also results in kids being traumatized and not trusting their own right to say "no." They understand that when parents like Newman contradict autistic experience on these matters, and in doing so influence other parents to dismiss autistic insights, those parents' collective autistic children will suffer.

To Siri With Love also lacks informed empathy. If Newman had spent real time researching the history of reproductive rights for people with disabilities, she would have known that her blithely casual “maybe I will sterilize Gus, maybe I won’t” attitude reinforces the life-destroying notion that disabled people shouldn't have agency over their own bodies. Yes, she includes a few obligatory citations in related history. But her tone and sources omit the core histories of Black, disabled, and other marginalized communities, including why is it so inhumane to have had their reproductive rights forcibly stripped away. As Kerima Çevik writes, "Forced sterilization is part of a larger nightmare of systemic abuse of the black body we've survived but can't forget." Self-engaged and shallow approaches like Newman's, in my opinion, contribute to the ongoing atmosphere that allows the reproductive rights of people with disabilities to remain under attack.

People like Lydia Brown have already criticized how awful it is for Newman to muse about her son’s sex life, and equate it to a Benny Hill film, as though being autistic somehow turns sex farcical and fictional (she also once again disregards her son's privacy and dignity). I can't help but wonder: If she's so concerned about her son's sexuality, why she doesn’t include helpful information about sex ed for people with developmental disabilitiesavoiding learned compliance, or the increased rates of sexual abuse of people with disabilities? Anyone who has ever read The World According to Garp is aware that that sexual abuse of people with disabilities is not limited to women.

Newman has heard most of these criticism before, and was not pleased by them. And here's my final disappointment: Instead of listening, she went on the attack against her son's autistic brethren and their allies. While of course we all want our friends to circle the wagons for us, there is no excuse for Newman and her defenders silencing marginalized disabled people, or making fun of how people who (by definition) have communication disabilities express themselves. I am horrified by her willful abuse of her privilege, just as I was horrified by some autistic people’s calls for Newman to die, or have her kids taken away.

Siri: Please delete the book "To Siri With Love" from my Kindle app. Thank you.