I’ve never made a ‘thought post’ like this before, or a discussion post, or anything like this, simply because I haven’t come across something that I’ve felt I was passionate enough about to write about. But this week, I have found it, and it’s for all the wrong reasons.
If you didn’t know, recently, the autistic community has been outraged by a book called To Siri, With Love by Judith Newman. The book is a memoir from a mother of an autistic boy, Gus, and her thoughts on bringing him up. Sounds like a nice, uplifting read about a mother’s love for her child, doesn’t it?
It’s a disgusting, dehumanizing and downright dangerous book, perpetuating stereotypes and applying 1950’s thought to 2017. I have not read the book myself, only seen quotes from it, but the quotes alone made me feel physically sick to my stomach. If you want to see a live tweet from an autistic author, reviewer and editor reading the whole book, I would check out Kaelan Rhywiol’s twitter thread. This blog post is more of an explanation of just how wrong Newman’s thoughts are, and just how dangerous they can be.
You’re probably wondering what qualifies me to make these observations and explanations. I’m just a 21-year-old blogger, what qualifies me to comment and say that these views are wrong?
For starters, I’m autistic. Aspergers, to be exact. Secondly, I’m a writer myself, and hold a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. And thirdly, I’m a human being on planet Earth who actually has a shred of compassion for others with Aspergers, autism, and everything else to do with neurodivergence.
So, personally, I think I’m a little qualified to talk about this, even if I’m not, I’m putting my opinions out there because people need to see that this book is not in any way acceptable or correct.
For starters, the author has not gotten permission from her son to write this book, so he has had no control at all over the content of this book. This takes away his agency and his chance of privacy. The author happily writes about everything, including this child’s toilet training, and she didn’t seek his permission first.
She sought permission from her neurotypical child, but not her neurodivergent one. It’s not like either boy is a child either, they’re 13 at the time of writing, and 15 at the time of publishing, and therefore more than capable of knowing exactly what they want to be published for the world to read. If that doesn’t already warn you of her opinions on her autistic son’s agency, I don’t know what will.
Newman goes on to talk about how:
“One, every person with ASD I’ve ever met has some deficit in his “theory of mind.” Theory of mind is the ability to understand, first, that we have wishes and desires and a way of looking at the world—i.e., self-awareness.”
Now, I can immediately call ‘twaddle’ on that, because I know that we autistics are more than capable of being self-aware. In fact, we’re probably too self-aware. We all know that others have wishes and desires, we understand that the people around us are people, that everyone has thoughts and feelings and emotions. We’re not robots, we may not totally be able to read a person, but we damn well know that they have emotions and thoughts.
To say that we don’t is so dehumanising, it equates us to robots, to automatons with no understanding of the world around us. We understand the world just fine, and we understand that the people around us do not understand us and that we are seen as ‘outsiders’ because of our neurodivergence. And guess what? It makes us feel awful, we feel scared and anxious, because people actually think that we do not have self-awareness.
This is also followed by the so-called conclusions of an undated study, which states this:
Several brain-imaging studies on autistic kids show a pronounced difference in blood flow in the areas of the brain that are thought to be responsible for certain kinds of story comprehension—the kind that allows us to know what the characters are feeling, and predict what they might do next.
Which is such blatant ignorance and so utterly wrong I want to cry. Do you know how many writers out there are autistic? How many autistics love stories, TV shows, films, and theatre? You’re reading the words of an avid writer and reader, one who loves the written word loves guessing what’s going to happen next and loves writing about character emotions.
Every autistic I’ve ever known loves to read, or loves watching things on TV and generally loves storytelling. Some other people on my creative and professional writing university course were autistic, and guess what? We didn’t fail the course, we didn’t fail to comprehend the books we were reading, we were able to guess character emotions, discuss what may happen next. And we managed to write our own stories – using well-known characters as well as our own – and we were brilliant at it. I got a 2:1 personally, other’s got First Class Degrees. Could we do that if we couldn’t comprehend, predict and understand characters? I think not.
And, on another note, this study has no date, no additional information, not even a researcher name. So the audience cannot look this study up for themselves and see just how far the researcher was talking out of their backside. Never, ever trust a book which talks about scientific studies unless it has references you can look up yourself. That’s how the ‘vaccines cause autism’ myth still lives on to this day.
The author then goes back to the theory of mind rubbish, say that her son loves music, but can’t perform because:
It doesn’t matter how good he gets; I can’t imagine him performing in any way. Or, rather, before he does, he has to have that thing he has yet to develop, that theory of mind, so that he understands he is doing this for others, not just himself. You can’t be a good performer if you haven’t mastered the concept of audience, of playing for the enjoyment of others.
Excuse you, he does have the theory of mind, and would perfectly understand that he would be performing for others not just himself. I’m sure he could be an amazing performer if he wanted to. Ever heard of Mozart? Yeah, he was autistic. Tim Burton? Not a musician, but a writer and director, autistic. Dan Aykroyd? An actor, who has to convey emotions and have comedic timing, autistic. Screw you if you think autistics cannot perform well on stage and screen, or any other creative venture they wish.
Lack of theory of mind can, quite frankly, kiss my autistic ass.
A few chapters later, we come onto the more damaging rhetoric. The rhetoric I cannot believe was allowed to be published in 2017. I’ll only write about this one point and the most damaging part of this book, so I don’t go on forever, but these points have to be pointed out.
What could be worse than what’s already been said? I hear you ask.
Simple, the idea that autistics with ‘odd’ interests become criminals.
Yes, you read that right. This author, a mother of an autistic child, who she supposedly loves and understands, thinks that autism + odd interests = criminality.
What. The. Actual. HELL is this woman thinking?! Who in their right minds decides to write, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever that autistics with odd interests become criminals? Honestly, who decides to write that in a book?! And what kind of editor actually lets it get through the editing process and allows it to be published?!
What kind of editor lets any of this get published?!
That’s an entirely different story quite frankly, but seriously, who thinks that autistics become criminals because of odd interests? What even counts as an ‘odd interest’ anyway?
Does this author have any idea how much damage she can cause by saying something like this? Does she have any idea how many neurotypical people are going to read this book, believe everything she says, and distrust everyone with autism for the rest of their lives? We are already misunderstood enough, let alone without having the idea of being criminals implanted in people’s brains.
We have special interests, some of them are not as ‘normal’ as others, so what? We like what we like, it doesn’t mean we’re going to start stealing things, murdering people, or anything of the sort. We’re probably going to research our special interest, and if we can, use it to make a career of it. I’m using my love of writing to create a freelance writing business, others may use their great interest in crime and criminals to become a police officer or a criminologist.
We’re not going to start stealing, or anything like that, we understand the damn law and the difference between right and wrong. We are not toddlers with no concept of how the world works.
Finally, I reach the worst point possible. The worst, most disgusting, heinous, part of this book. The most dangerous, abhorrent and vile part of this book. The part that made me literally want to throw up in disgust that someone could possibly ever think this, let alone about her own child.
I’ll put a trigger warning here – if you are at all triggered by eugenics, yes eugenics in 2017, stop reading now. This will do nothing but cause more damage to your mental health than this woman is worth.
Because, Judith Newman, mother of an autistic child she supposedly loves (and I highly doubt she actually loves him at all, judging by this book), wants to sterilise her son so he can’t have children. You read that right, this so-called loving mother, doesn’t think her child should have children, simply because he is autistic.
Don’t believe me, here are the quotes on the subject from the book. Go and get a sick bucket before you read them though:
No, the medical issue that really makes me hyperventilate is fertility. It’s a question all parents of special needs kids wrestle with, whether they speak of it or not. What happens when you discover a lack of social skills isn’t a surefire method of birth control? That the kid you think would be entirely unable to find a partner does just that, though his or her ability to understand what it takes to raise another human being is limited?
Not feeling sick enough? Try another one:
Nobody wants to visualize their child that intimately, but when I think of Gus in a sexual situation, it generally has a Benny Hill soundtrack. And anything with that music does not end well. A vasectomy is so easy. A couple of snips, a couple of days of ice in your pants, and voilà. A life free of worry. Or one less worry. For me. How do you say “I’m sterilizing my son” without sounding like a eugenicist?
You don’t. BECAUSE YOU’RE A EUGENICIST WHO SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED ANYWHERE NEAR ANY NEURODIVERGENT PERSON EVER AGAIN YOU AWFUL, DISGUSTING HUMAN BEING.
First of all – who the hell thinks about their child having sex? Second of all, who is this woman to decide whether her child should be allowed to have children? That is his choice, and his choice alone, it has nothing to do with his mother and her wishes, it’s about his. She has absolutely no right to decide to make that decision for him.
Judith Newman doesn’t think her son is capable of finding someone who could love him, capable of loving someone else, or capable of raising a child. She mocks the idea of her child having sex by comparing the idea to a Benny Hill sketch. It is dehumanising, abhorrent, and so utterly wrong it makes me want to throw up.
There are so many autistic parents out there in the world, so many autistic couples out there raising children. Neurotypical people are not the only ones who create children and raise them. Neurodivergent people do too, and they do it damn well. They certainly do a better job than Judist Newman does, especially when they too have neurodivergent children.
Neurodivergent parents are the best people equipped to raise neurodivergent kids, why? Because we understand what they’re going through, we lived through it ourselves when we were their age. We know how to get them diagnosed, we know what kind of help they’ll need if they need any, and we know how to support and love them just as they are. We do not neglect our children, we do not fail to love them, and we certainly do not need our choice decided for us.
Yes, some of us don’t want kids, I’m one of them, but some of us do. And we do a fantastic job at it. We certainly do better than Judith Newman, because we do not think any of the things she does about her autistic child.
If you got to the bottom of this mammoth post, I applaud you, and I hope you agree with me now if you didn’t already. At the very least, I hope you see why To Siri, With Love is a dangerous book. It is filled with stereotypes, outdated information and just plain horrendous opinions. It should not be on the shelves, it should not be read at all. Whoever greenlit this book, and everyone involved in it should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.
And Judith Newman, you should be the most ashamed out of everyone. How dare you think any of this about your child, how dare you spread this disgusting rhetoric in a world that already misunderstands autism, how dare you make it worse and profit from it.
And how dare you ever open your child up to such ridicule and bullying, you have given everyone he ever meets in his life the perfect ammunition to demean and bully him, to know all of his darkest secrets, and what you really think of him. You may have just ruined his life more than your awful parenting already did. Congratulations.
If Gus Newman or any other autistic person who faces this kind of prejudice ever reads this, I want you to know that you are brilliant. You are human, you are capable of love, you are capable of being loved. Everything in this book is a lie and should be completely ignored.
You can do anything you set your mind to, including parenting.
You are not a criminal.
You are nothing like what this woman purports you to be.
If anyone tries to tell you that you cannot be something, prove them wrong, if anyone tries to take away your autonomy, fight back, if anyone dares to stereotype you, show them exactly how fantastic you are.
There’s a lot of idiots out there in the world, and you are not one of them. You are loved, and intelligent, and a person. Never let anyone take that away from you.