Friday, 14 December 2018

Autistic People and Use of the Internet.

Generalising, the internet was built by autistic people, and it's run by autistic people.  The email systems, the smartphones, the computers, the software, the games, they're created and engineered,programmed and tested by autistic people.

Every time you use such a piece of technology, you can be thankful for autistic minds.  Their passionate focus.  Their creativity and design skills.  Their determination to create something that enables fabulous communication and that works (well, until the marketing people decide to sell something that doesn't work, so the design is altered against the advice of the autistic people...).

The photo above is to illustrate a typical pair of autistic people, both Doctors, logging onto the computer to share a Skype call with their autistic daughter, who is an international researcher now living abroad.  Are you challenged by that image?  Were you wanting to say, "Ah but surely they can't be autistic...surely they can't be typical"?  They're as typical as any other 'type of autistic person' you can imagine.

In the last few weeks, autistic people have used the internet to share collaborative working with me and the teams.  Work around conferences, research, family fun days, books, articles.  Some of those autistic people are non-speaking or only able to speak sometimes.  Sometimes I don't have speech and have to use technology to communicate.

Autistic people have used the internet to share with me, and with others, creative art, poetry, literature, cheering jokes, news articles.  Photos of landscapes and flowers, animals and stars, drawings and paintings, just so many fantastic things.

Autistic people have used the internet to share with me, and with others, their lives, their photos of their lovely friends and family.  Their interests and hobbies.

And autistic people support one another, online.  They also support endless other people online.  Sharing love, affirmation, empathy, ideas, wise advice.  Keeping a 'look out' for one another. Checking on people to make sure we're OK.

I owe my life to autistic people, who used the internet.  That's a debt I can never repay.

I attended a conference recently in which a person who isn't any sort of expert on autism stood up to make an embarrassment of themselves, by suggesting  *all* autistic people need to be supervised online to stop us being a nuisance.  

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  What an unprofessional thing to allege.  Is this from some myth that autism is all teenage or younger adult white males, sat in a quiet corner using a laptop in evil ways?  That stereotype represents a breathtakingly small fraction of autistic people. Do some imagine that autistic parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, business leaders, academics, Judges, lawyers, therapists, nurses, Priests, Rabbis, Imams and counsellors are all spending their time being a nuisance online, in need of supervision?  Truly?  If that is their belief, they probably need to seek some modern training.  

We need to stop stereotyping. 

Let's look at some reality:

Many autistic people are relentlessly bullied by mostly non-autistic people online.  (And indeed offline).  Mocked, jeered, insulted, targeted, lies spread about us. People sent hate message, obscene images, blackmail threats.  Autistic people falsely accused with the most awful things, just to get some fun out of watching the distress.  In the last couple of decades as a professional working in this field, and as a safeguarding expert, I've seen the sort of horrors that keep me awake at night.  And some of the autistic people targeted?  Well, we didn't manage to help them in time.  They're now dead.  It's heartbreaking.

Instead of looking for ways to conjure up more false hate against one of the most wonderful, and marginalised, groups, let's all find ways to do better.

If you are a speaker, speaking about autism and safe use of the internet, start with how autistic people can find safer spaces online.  How to keep themselves safe from predators online.  How they can keep themselves safe from people wishing to defraud them online.  How they can keep themselves safe from bullies online.  How they can seek support from services when they are pushed to want to take their own lives, because the bullies find ways to get into every space they're in, online.   80% of autistic people experience bullying and defrauding, often from people they thought were friends. Over 60% have thought about taking their own lives, so bad is life.  30% of autistic women report being raped.  I could go on.  I won't.

I worry about a world where we want to allege that autistic people are the primary danger.  Nothing backs this up, apart from prejudice.

Talk about differences in communication styles and cultures, alongside and with autistic speakers and specialists.  How autistic and non-autistic people can misunderstand one another.  How we can both learn to communicate well enough with each other.  How both parties can find a clear way to say 'stop' if they need to.  And how to seek help if anyone - non-autistic or autistic - isn't respecting 'no'.   Autistic people are no more likely to commit a crime than anyone else.

Then, talk about how so many autistic people bring so much to the lives of so many people, not least each other. 

Before you speak, think:  Is it kind?  Is it true?  Is it helping to improve the lives of autistic people?  Are you speaking with, and affirming, autistic people?

Hurrah for the absolutely brilliant autistic people around us.  May we all find ways to thrive.

Thank you for listening.