Autism News, 2014/03/09

Great news! Last news post, ASAN and other disability rights organizations were campaigning for President Obama to include disabled workers working on 14(c) certificates in his increase to the federal contractor minimum wage. Those efforts paid off, and “sheltered workshops” employed by the U.S. federal government will now have to pay their workers the same wages as everyone else.

Obama’s minimum wage increase was only for a specific sector of the U.S. economy, though. Sheltered workshops in the private sector are still allowed to pay disabled workers less than a dollar per hour. ASAN and the other groups who achieved this are now hoping to have section 14(c) repealed altogether, so that the minimum wage throughout the U.S. will apply to everyone, abled and disabled.

In other news, the US’s Combating Autism Act is up for re-authorization. This act is more or less what the name implies: a research funding bill in which the vast majority of funded research aims to create a world without autistic people, not to help existing autistic people with the services they actually need. More details from ASAN here. You can also check out the hashtag #StopCombatingMe on Twitter.

Life issues:

  • S.E. Smith on why disability rights and caregivers’ rights should not be in opposition to each other. (The article is mostly about people who work professionally as caregivers, but a great deal of this also applies to disability parents and other family member caregivers.)
  • Saintgloria on social networks
  • Joeymom on parenting a child who is known to wander


Sad Things:

  • March 1 was an official day of remembrance for disabled people who are murdered by their caregivers. (Yes, there are that many.) If you forgot to mark the date on March 1, you might like to take a moment to look at Autism Memorial.
  • Avonte Oquendo, the autistic boy from my last news post who died after wandering away from school, is still in the news. People are talking about ways to prevent further deaths through the use of tracking bracelets and other forms of control; Lisa Daxer explains why it’s not that simple.
  • Also, here is a very interesting conversation from Tumblr about self-diagnosis and substance abuse.

Short Story Spotlight: “Twelve Seconds”

The Story: Tina Gower, “Twelve Seconds”, Writers of the Future 2013 (read in this year’s Campbellian anthology, which is free until Hugo voting closes)

Like “Touch of Tides,” this is a short story that I need to go on at length about in order to explain why it’s cool. It’s a clever subversion of the cure decision story, though one doesn’t find that out until a good ways in.

(Yes, there are going to be moderate spoilers here; I can’t figure out how to avoid it. I will try to avoid spoiling the ending.)

Before I read “Twelve Seconds,” I didn’t think the cure decision story could be subverted. Whether or not the protagonist decides to be cured, a cure decision story still revolves around handwringing over whether or not autistic people should be allowed to exist. How do you subvert all the problems with that, short of avoiding it altogether?

“Twelve Seconds” has an autistic protagonist, an older man named Howard working at a police station, who is conflicted about his autism sometimes wishes he could be NT. Meanwhile, some doctors elsewhere in the storyworld are working on a cure for autism which will soon be available.

However, the story does not revolve around Howard deciding whether or not to be cured. The cure isn’t even mentioned until partway through the story, when Howard is already working on some apparently-unrelated problems; so when someone mentions it to him, he brushes them off and goes back to what he was doing. Even though Howard fits the “typical cure decision story protagonist” profile, he does not find the idea of a cure interesting, and does not spend nearly as much time thinking about it as the NTs in his life seem to think.
This in itself is an important subversion, but there is more.

The cure doctors do, of course, become relevant to the plot – but not in the usual way. Howard’s main problem, throughout the story, is to investigate a problem with some of the data he has received in his job at the police station. The more Howard finds out about this problem, the more closely these doctors appear to be embroiled in it. They’re relevant, not because Howard is autistic and needs them, but because they’re part of the plot.

The cure in question doesn’t only work for autism. It involves radical neurological rewriting, so it is also touted as a cure for several other conditions – including PTSD. It is a traumatized co-worker, not Howard, who is most interested in these doctors and in being cured. (Which is understandable to me; I’m fairly sure that, unlike autism, most people with PTSD would like to be cured.)

Also, the cure technology is situated within a larger landscape of interventions available to people like Howard. These interventions have benefits and drawbacks, just as therapies for autistic people can have benefits and drawbacks in real life. Howard, for example, uses Augmented Reality goggles to mediate his sensory input. These goggles help with overload and prevent meltdowns, but they also provide intrusive commentary on Howard’s actions, shaming him for harmless behaviours which happen not to be what NTs expect, and they dampen the pattern-matching abilities which make Howard so good at his job in the first place. Moreover, Howard’s use of the goggles is sometimes coerced; wearing them in certain situations, for instance, is a condition of his employment.

Gower is not Meda Kahn, and her story is not polemic. She does not spell out how the problems with Howard’s goggles relate to ableism and social power. However, she shows the problems quite clearly, shows us how Howard’s insecurities develop around them, and allows us to draw our own conclusions. The result is a story which is sometimes uncomfortable to read, especially when one doesn’t know if it will turn out all right in the end, but worth reading.

And I said I wouldn’t spoil the ending, but just so we’re clear: in the end, Howard is not cured. The doctors with the cures are very definitely not good guys, and they don’t win. And the brief characterization given to the doctors, though they do not get much direct screen time, will have many autistic readers wincing and nodding in recognition.

The Verdict: Recommended

The Parable of the Supervillain

Annnnnd before I even catch my breath from that last poem, I have a new one up in the March issue of Apex Magazine! Wheeee!

(I’ve wanted to publish a poem in Apex ever since Catherynne M. Valente was the editor. *crosses things off bucket list*)

The Parable of the Supervillain

Fun fact about this poem: The first draft was written in February 2013. The line in which the narrator discovers her ex-husband “lazing in the U.S. Virgin Islands” originally said “lazing in Tahiti”… But then Agents of SHIELD came out, and using the word “Tahiti” in a superhero poem means something entirely different now. I’m used to revising poems in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons, but that was a new one. 😀

Now I’m imagining all sorts of crossover fiction, of course.

*spins in circles*

How To Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps, by Merc Rustad

In case you missed it on Twitter yesterday, I have to gush and squee right now about this story by my writing friend Merc Rustad.

I have a conflict of interest here because Merc and I beta (and alpha) read each other’s stories a lot, and are generally fans of each other, but this is my favorite story of everything I’ve ever seen from em, published or otherwise. I am glad Scigentasy picked it up, because it IS very much about gender identity, and about finding the people whose friendship and support will keep you alive.

There’s some other stuff in there. (Which is why it needs a Trigger Warning not just for gender/species dysphoria, but for suicidal ideation and  a brief scene of psychological abuse.) If anyone is in a reviewing/discussing mood, I would love to see someone analyze the story from a mental health / social impairment / disability perspective, because I think there’s a lot about that hidden in the story, too. Due to my conflict of interest & general lack of distance, I don’t think that person should be me this time around.

The Mermaid at Sea World

So I installed a plugin to let me crosspost between LJ and WordPress, and I was going to think of something SUPER AMAZING to start off my WordPress blogging with, but then life happened and now it is March and oh, hey, I have published another poem!

How about that.

“The Mermaid at Sea World”, a short poem of mine containing a human sacrifice of sorts, is now not only published in the latest issue of Niteblade, but they named the issue after it! Which is super cool and flattering.

Note: there’s a preview available, but it’s not the whole poem; to find out what happens to our eponymous mermaid, you will need to pay for an issue. (Or wait for donations to rise above $50, at which point I believe the whole issue will be released as HTML.)


Testing the new WordPress postie thingy.

(Yes, I’m a computer science grad student and I still say “postie thingy”. Bite me. I can dig out the official name/version number of the synchronization plugin I am using, if anyone cares. 😀 )