Saturday, January 19, 2008

Autism's "Royal We"

Autism discussions are often marked by the use of the "Royal We" (or its variation the "Royal Us") in which some persons with either Aspergers or high functioning Autism implicitly speak on behalf of all persons with autism. Wikipedia explains the Royal We:

Pluralis majestatis

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Pluralis majestatis ("majestic plural") is the plural pronoun where it is used to refer to a single person holding a high office, such as a monarch, bishop, pope, or university rector. It is also called the "Royal 'we'" or the "Victorian 'we'." The more general word for the use of we to refer to oneself is nosism.[1]

The idea behind the pluralis majestatis is that a monarch or other high official always speaks for his or her people.[citation needed] For example, the Basic Law of the Sultanate of Oman opens thus:

On the Issue of the Basic Law of the State We, Qaboos bin Said, Sultan of Oman…[2]

Famous examples of purported instances:

  • We are not amused. — Queen Victoria (in at least one account of this quotation, though, she was not speaking for herself alone, but for the ladies of the court.[citation needed])
  • The abdication statement of Nicholas II of Russia uses the pluralis majestatis liberally, as in "In agreement with the Imperial Duma We have thought it well to renounce the Throne of the Russian Empire and to lay down the supreme power."[3]

Arguably the most famous use of the Royal We is the essay by Jim Sinclair "Don't Mourn For Us". Apart from the title Don't Mourn For Us is rich in Royal We declarations"

I invite you to look at our autism, and look at your grief, from our perspective:

This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence.

This is what we hear when you pray for a cure.

This is what we know, when you tell us of your fondest hopes and dreams for us: that your greatest wish is that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.

But don't mourn for us. We are alive. We are real. And we're here waiting for you.

"King Jim" Sinclair went well beyond the Royal We in presuming to speak on behalf of all autistic children including those with Autism Disorder, some of whom lack his considerable intellectual and communication gifts. He also used his Royal Insight to tell parents of children newly diagnosed with autism what they were thinking and feeling in responding to the realities of their children's diagnoses. "We" were in fact mourning the child we should have had, wishing we could replace the people behind our children's faces with entirely new non-autistic people. Bad, bad parents, we should all be banished to the stocks. And if you can believe some of essays by parents of autistic children praising autism as a different perhaps better way of thinking and living, praising the joy of autism, it appears they at least heard the Royal message. Treatment bad, cure bad, ABA bad, autism good, autism joyful.

Of course no mention of Autism's Royal We would be adequate if it made no reference to another very high functioning autistic adult, diagnosed as an adult, who also uses the Royal We in her relentless anti-ABA campaigns before courts, Parliament and the media in Canada. In The Word Is Out About Autism, Canada In The Era Of Autism Advocacy Michelle Dawson also made extensive use of the Royal We, "Queen Michelle" told the Canadian Senate Standing Committee
on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology that:

There is no consideration of who autistics might be and what we might need. Either we are horribly sick or we aren’t, depending on what non-autistics need.

Either we are horribly sick or we aren’t, depending on what non-autistics need.

we are most reliably defined by our strengths, our innate autistic strengths, which exist in all autistics regardless of how our level of functioning is judged.

1. That this Committee, and the Senate as a whole, apologize to autistic Canadians, for using your power and resources to promote and distribute false and pejorative information about autistics which is likely to be damaging and dangerous to us.

3. That the above-mentioned final report make it clear that autism is not a mental illness; that autism is receiving a great deal of attention due to the efforts of autism advocates; and that this attention, because it arises from factually false and ethically indefensible portrayals of autistic people, has harmed and damaged us.

Apparently though, not all higher functioning autistic persons reside in the Royal Autism Courts of King Jim or Queen Michelle. In Autistic Blogger Jonathan Mitchell Says NO To Neurodiversity I commented on a blog, NEURODIVERSITY: JUST SAY NO , by Jonathan Mitchell, an autistic person who rejects the anti-cure, anti-treatment, ideology promoted by Sinclair and Dawson and who asserts that some autistic persons DO wish to be cured. That post prompted some hostile, personal attacks on Mr. Mitchell which prompted my follow up commentary "House Autistic" Or More Neurodiversity Trash Talk.

Mr. Mitchell challenged the assumption that the anti-cure ideologies of some autistic persons represented the views of all autistic persons and for that was decried as a "liar":

A number of high functioning autistics claim that there is a consensus among all autistic persons that finding a cure for autism would be a horrible thing. Autism is a part of who they are and to take away the autism is to take away the person. They go further to claim that autism is not really a disorder but just a different form of brain wiring--some call this philosophy "neurodiversity".

Some of them do acknowledge that autism is a disability. However, there is a distinction between a medical model of disability-wherein the person has a disease state and the social model of disability--the disabled person would not be at a disadvantage if society made accommdoations for them.

I am a diagnosed autistic, nonverbal, feces smearing at age 3, 8 year veteran of special education yet I do not share this view. I long for a cure for autism though a cure at age 52 is not the same as at age 3, even in the unlikely event of a cure being found in my lifetime. Somehow I got missed when they took the census. So they are incorrect about all autistics.

Mr. Mitchell is not the only autistic person who rejects the anti-cure ideologies of King Jim and Queen Michelle. There are in fact other high functioning autistic persons for whom they do not speak. And it is difficult to see how they speak at all on behalf of those autistic persons with whom they have very little in common.

People as eloquent as Jim Sinclair or as intelligent as Michelle Dawson do not share the same realities of life as a much lower functioning autistic person with limited communication skills and limited understanding of the world, someone like my son Conor. Like Ms Dawson I once worked for Canada Post, albeit as a lawyer. It can be a complex and challenging work environment regardless of one's position. To be a letter carrier or postal clerk requires signficant command of language. My son does not know what Canada Post is, he does not know what a PO Box or postal code is, or what it represents.

Jim Sinclair and Michelle Dawson are free, in democratic societies, to use the Royal We in presuming to speak on behalf of all persons with Autism. But my son Conor Doherty, diagnosed at age 2, with Autism Disorder, with profound developmental delays does not sit as a subject in their courts. If safe, effective, treatments and cures are found for him then I will not hesitate to seek their application for Conor's benefit, to improve his life, to help him experience life to the fullest.


Suzanne said...

I'm not mourning my daughter. I mourn the fact that she can't TELL ME about who she is. I DESPERATELY want to know what she thinks, how she feels, what she did with her day, what she'd like to do when she's older.

Autism impedes the expression of her self. It also makes her incapable of having relationships with her peers. I want other kids to know how great she is. Autism prevents that.

I'm all for leaving alone those who do not want treatment. It doesn't mean I think less of them. It's great that they can get along in the world without treatment and says something about their abilities. That doesn't mean everyone has them!

Anonymous said...

I have had enough of Michelle Dawson, and others of like minded-ness! I my 11 years of advocating and lobbying for ABA to be a necessary medical treatment, Michelle Dawson has done way more damage that good.
She does not, and will never speak on behalf of my son! She needs to get a grip that not all persons with autism are high-functioning, and will never reach a point of be indistinguishable from his peers.
Jenny McCarthy is another "way off the base" person. Just because of who she is, and who she is co-habitating with, does not make her a spokeperson for my son either.

Pardon the rant....I just have had enough with Michelle Dawson!!!!

jonathan said...

good post Mr. Doherty. As you mentioned the anti-cure autistics not only do not speak for your son, but as you noted they don't speak for me either.

Though I consider my problems grave, I don't think they are as severe as connor's and i would never attempt to speak for connor.

Jon Mitchell

Unknown said...

suzanne you hit the nail on the head. I wonder how many parents of newly diagnosed autistic children are misled by the Sinclair/Dawson rhetoric.

Unknown said...

Thank you jonathan.

I actually worked with a gentleman with Aspergers for several years in our provincial autism society. He has always been very supportive of our efforts as parents to do the best we can for our children with autism.

Suzanne said...

Jonathan, you raise a good point.

For the first while, I stayed the heck out of the politics of autism. I just wanted to get treatment for my daughter. I didn't care about the mercury theory, ABA vs. Floortime, neurodiversity vs. treatment, etc etc. I don't know if people know how political autism is.

All I cared is that my daughter had a problem, and that while I didn't want her to be a "full-time patient"-- i.e. living her life going from one specialist to another all day long, every day, I wanted to get help.

I'm for letting parents decide what they're comfortable with. I think treating autism is a personal thing. Some people have the time and money to go to experimental treatments in various parts of the continent. I decided I would not go for the "cure-at-all costs" approach. My daughter is a kid, and I want her to have the life of a kid, and I can't afford it anyway, and while I want my daughter to be treated, a non-guaranteed cure isn't worth sacrificing her whole existence. So I string together this therapy and that playgroup-- I don't think I actually did a LOT of treatment. I'm probably closer to the ND crowd in many ways. I did some ABA, some speech therapy,and some playgroup, (though she did go to a special kindergarten) I feel that I did a lot less than parents who sent their kids to ABA for 20 hours a week.

Treating autism is a really personal thing, and it depends a lot on one's circumstances and resources and the degree of autism. I don't think one size fits all. But you feel a lot of pressure, and sometimes you think you're failing your kid. But it's really personal though. You can only do so much.

I think newly diagnosed parents should be told this. I'm grateful my social worker did.