How not to Science

[CN: Emotional Manipulation; Gaslighting; Unethical “experimentation”; mention of Hitler for some reason?]

Yes, I’ve used science as a verb. People are just going to have to deal with that because I simply don’t know what to call this post. I could call it How Not to Parent but I no longer know if the initial discussion that led to this post actually were a truthful reflection of someone’s parenting or whether it was all made up. I could also have called it How to be a Complete and Utter Flaming Bag of Dogshit (Thank you to the friend who provided me with those words because I ran out of ways in which to describe the person I’m about to write about.

This story might not be in chronological order because it’s still upsetting for me. There’s a Facebook status that explains what happened from the perspective of the perpetrator.

Transcription of the status:

I have spent many years advocating for those on the Autism Spectrum to be treated with respect and dignity. I truly believed that they were an open minded and accepting community. However, today I conducted a little social media experiment that proved my beliefs wrong.

I posted some things that were honest but cryptic. I fed them bits and pieces of data and watched as they formed their opinions. I watched them become just as belligerent as the group of NT people that I fed the same data. They argued that I was too harsh and had unreasonable expectations of my child. Meanwhile on a different forum a group of NT people argued with me that I was too lax on her. The only difference between the two forums was that I used the arguments of the Autistic group to answer the NT group’s criticisms and vice versa.

I have a beautiful loving daughter that is an Autistic person. I also have a beautiful loving daughter that has serious behavioral issues that she has learned from other children and from teachers allowing her to get her sought after rewards when she did these disruptive behaviors in a classroom full of thirty kids. She was the topic of the discussion. Maybe this was so volatile because she is a child. However, she is a verbal, outspoken, and highly opinionated 14 year old. The Autistic group treated her as if she was incapable of voicing her opinion. The NT group treated her like she was a monster with no developmental delays.

As an Autistic person, I was seriously disappointed in the members of the Autistic community that actually engaged in these behaviors. I hear them preach about tolerance and acceptance yet when they were confronted by a differing perspective they were just as hostile in their posts as the NT group.

So basically my newly formed opinion is that NT people and Autistic people really are the same at their core. People, in general, are closed minded. They form a first opinion and most can never walk away from that opinion. Even in the light of new evidence that was fed to them, both groups, stuck to their guns that their first opinion was right and that the new evidence was not important.

My little social experiment showed me just how set in our ways all people can be. We get an idea stuck in our heads and no matter how many times it is proven to be false we just won’t let go of the idea.

I feel for our world if this trend is true in all countries with all peoples. However, it does explain the dark ages, the holocaust, eugenics, slavery, the trail of tears, police brutality, mass murders, and the general ignorance that has led us to having to choose between two people, neither of whom, would know the truth if it bit them on the behind as the next president of this great nation.

May God help us all because the entire world is in a bad state and I truly feel that sometime soon we will see a person that makes Hitler look like a cream puff rise to power and no one will believe it is happening no matter how much evidence is put forward to prove it.

As you can see, this person appears to be quite proud of their ability to troll two groups of people, and seems to have wanted the recognition until she realised that maybe her little social experiment really wasn’t appropriate at which time she either deleted the post or changed the privacy settings on it.

As someone who was among the “members of the Autistic community” referred to in the above post, I have a few things to say:

1. This is not how you conduct experiments.

45-50 years ago, ethics guidelines weren’t really a thing when it came to social science experiments involving people, but a series of rather horrific psychological experiments led to ethics guidelines becoming very much a thing. These days, you cannot conduct experiments on people without their informed consent. People have to be able to withdraw from the experiment at any time and there needs to be a course of action that participants can take to ameliorate any distress their participation may cause.

You can go and collect data from public forums as part of your research into a social phenomenon, but you initiate and/or participate in those discussions. When you initiate or participate in those discussions, then you need to get informed consent from everyone involved prior to the “experiment”.

That said, I am not convinced that this person was conducting any sort of experiment because she wouldn’t provide the details of their professor or university, and she repeatedly deleted comments pointing out the above or requesting the details of the university responsible for such unethical conduct.

I believe the social experiment claim was made once this person realised that she had we were all truly horrified by her descriptions of the way in which she was parenting her daughter. I can’t write too much about those descriptions because they are incredibly distressing for me. They’re very similar to the way in which I was parented which involve a lot of control and manipulation on the part of the parent. She described her daughter in terms that were dehumanising, she seems to control every single aspect of her daughter’s life and wouldn’t for a second believe that her methods could be causing distress.

I would also like to note that the majority of the time, there were only three to four people involved in that discussion which is hardly an entire community. The reason why we engaged even past the point where we were getting distressed by her comments was because we don’t want her daughter to end up feeling as broken as we did/do.

It takes years to undo the damage of terrible parenting. For some of us, that damage can never fully be undone. You want to talk about damaged Autistic people? Consider how much damage has been caused by awful parenting first.

2. We didn’t say that autistic people can’t behave badly

This person seems to be stuck within the belief that we were maintaining that autistic people cannot behave badly. That’s ironic considering that is the same thing that we were accused of. We never said that her daughter couldn’t behave badly because she was autistic. Our point was that what she was describing (screams that sound like a cat whose tail has been stepped on, screams so loud the neighbours check to see if everything is ok, hours of negotiations to try and avoid doing a task, etc.) may not have been bad behaviour but might very well be a communication of real distress.

We also did not treat her daughter as though she was incapable of voicing her opinion because we were quite clearly saying that the things she was describing were her daughter expressing her opinion very clearly. We were not aware that her daughter was part of the discussion at any stage, although this person later claimed that her daughter and her had used this experiment as mother-daughter bonding time which I believe to be bullshit. If there is a daughter, I hope she can hang in there until she can get out. I hope she can find people who believe in her and don’t call her lazy or manipulative when she’s desperately trying to avoid doing something she finds distressing. I hope she survives.

Autistic people can behave badly. The person who wrote that FB status is autistic, and that status demonstrates that we’re perfectly capable of being complete assholes.

3. Acceptance does not include the acceptance of bigotry

Far too often, we’re accused of not practicing what we preach about acceptance because that acceptance is not extended to bigots. There are things that are unacceptable: intolerance is unacceptable because it can cause real harm to real people. We don’t accept bigotry because it is the polar opposite of acceptance.

I don’t have much more to say about that because it is one of those things that should be really obvious but isn’t.

4. Being autistic doesn’t give you a free pass to be a bigot

At one point in the discussion which led to the above FB status, this person revealed that they were autistic. I speak only for myself here but up until that great reveal, I hadn’t assumed anything about her neurotype. I was approaching the entire conversation from the point of knowing that I was speaking to a parent of an autistic child. I didn’t say anything about this person’s neurotype and neither did anyone else. We were addressing what she was telling us about the harshness with which she was treating her daughter.

Her being autistic didn’t make that harshness suddenly less harsh. Her being autistic didn’t make her overall bigotry less bigoted. Personally, I am probably more horrified when I discover that a bigot is also autistic because they should know what it feels like to have all that hatred directed at them. So, you don’t get a free pass if you’re autistic.

And with that, I don’t have anything left to say about this other than I was deeply hurt. I spent most of yesterday in a strangely dissociated but also weirdly very present state. It was not pleasant. Friends of mine were traumatised. A decent person would have apologised. I don’t think an apology will be forthcoming because this person doesn’t seem to think that people who are not her deserve to be treated with any amount of human decency.