Jon Mitchell, an autistic, says no to neurodiversity, ABA, and special education.

Jon Mitchell Jon Mitchell is a 53 year old male with a high-functioning type of Autism. He was born in Los Angeles. He has two websites, autism’s gadfly and a more personal website. He has quite a controversial view on the modern movements in autism treatment and education. Indeed, his blog’s tagline is “We don’t need no stinkin’ diversity.”
Taken straight from his website:

I am pro-cure, anti-neurodiversity, anti-special ed, anti-ABA. I have something to p**s off everybody!

Based on his article, “Neurodiversity: just say no,” this author interviewed him to get clarification on a few points after Mr. Mitchell submitted his website via email.
Question: What kind of Autism do you have?

Answer: I have high functioning autism with a speech delay, not Asperger’s.  I had loss of speech at about two and a half according to my parents and the person who was my therapist at the time (she was a psychoanalyst during the Bettleheim era which you have probably heard of). I think I recovered my speech at about age 4.  I also have a bad perceptual motor problem which makes handwriting and other fine motor tasks difficult and I can’t put puzzles together.  Other than that I am not sure what you mean by which kind.  Not sure what other kinds there are. ..“

{Note to readers: Bettleheim era refers to the time when autism was thought to be a psychological issue and caused by mothers.]
Question: What is ABA? I know it stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis and is used by teachers in the classroom for autistic children, but what IS it? What is it supposed to do for these kids versus regular education?

Answer:  ABA is applied behavioral analysis.  It is not really a treatment, but a science to understand behavior and learning in organisms (not just humans but rats, others, etc.).  The science is applied as operant conditioning which is a treatment for autism in which rewards (and sometimes punishments) are contingent on correct responses or on not doing a response.  I used to know a bit more about it when I was in college but that was a long time ago.  I do not believe that the principles of ABA can be applied to persons with autism as is claimed by some.  The Lovaas (1987) claims a nearly coin-flip probability of complete normalcy after this treatment if applied correctly.  However, their research was dependent on the use of physically hitting the kids and other so called “aversives” which are now outlawed where in California where I live, so this treatment is falsely advertised to people.  I don’t know what the laws are in Oklahoma where I think you are.

{Author’s Note: Based on Skinner’s experiment , Behavior Analysis was born. Aversive techniques are no longer considered appropriate in many educational systems, including Oklahoma’s school systems. In addition to physical punishment, these aversive techniques included loud noises and restraints. While restraints are still used in some institutions, it is not considered in use with ABA in a school setting on a normal basis.]
Question: Why are you against [ABA] and special education? Is it that you are against SpEd for autistics or in general?

Answer: I am not so much against special education as I am the way it is practiced with pie-in-the-sky promises being made.  It is also unpleasant being in a segregated school.  Sometimes children are not treated well.  I know this from being an 8 year veteran of special education.  Though I was a special ed student in the 1960s before we had IDEA.  We now have a very comprehensive Federal mandate that requires school districts to provide a variety of options to disabled children.  These involve huge court fights and other unpleasant things for treatments of questionable value.

Question: Do you think that being pro-neurodiversity is exclusive to being pro-cure?

Answer: Though I don’t agree with the overall concept of neurodiversity and I think their claim that it is a human rights movement is disingenous propaganda.  I am in favor of respect and good treatment of persons with disabilities and I agree those should not be mutually exclusive with wishing for a cure for autism.

It is this author’s belief that pro-neurodiversity has gotten a bad rap lately. It started out as a very political correct term to help remove stigma from all people who have neurological differences. It was about acceptance of difference and tolerance and has moved to the extreme of “we don’t need no stinkin’ cure.”  The pro side of neurodiversity points to a lot of famous “geniuses” who are suspected of having autism as a sign that everyone with autism is a genius and therefore should be left alone. It is Mr. Mitchell’s (and other’s) contention that that is not always the case. A child locked inside his own world, and unable to communicate, would probably like to be “cured” so he can share his “genius” with the rest of us.
Based on his articles, comments on other’s articles, it had appeared to this author that Mr. Mitchell seemed to think being pro-neurodiversity meant that all in that category did not wish a cure. That is simply not true.  For this author, it is simply that while we wait for a cure, let’s all just be a little more accepting of differences.
Mr. Mitchell may very well be one of the most controversial speakers in the autism community to date and while this author does not necessarily agree with some of the generalizations ( i.e. those with Asperger Syndrome and female have never attended a special ed class/school) that he makes in his posts, he does offer food for thought.

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Heather Johnson
I'm an autistic adult mom to two autistic boys.
Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson

I'm an autistic adult mom to two autistic boys.

0 thoughts on “Jon Mitchell, an autistic, says no to neurodiversity, ABA, and special education.

  • July 10, 2009 at 12:03 am
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    I would take an intermediate stance between neurodiversity and pro-cure. I think that every human being is both valuable and flawed, some to greater degrees than others. Certain traits have both positive and negative outcomes, and our task as psychologists and as moral human beings is to seek to maximize the positive and minimize the negative. Obviously children so intensely autistic that they cannot communicate need help; but on the other hand, it would be a terrible world indeed where we expected everyone to think and act the same way for fear of being considered “diseased.”

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  • July 9, 2009 at 1:16 am
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    @SarahAriella@xanga – I appreciate your comments! I am Heather E. Sedlock, the writer of the article posted here. I have made another commentary on this subject at my examiner page (http://www.examiner.com/x-10560-Tulsa-Special-Needs-Kids-Examiner ) and hope you will read it. We have similar views on this subject. There has to be some middle ground. Why should I give up my hope for a cure in order for someone else who doesn’t want one? 🙂

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  • July 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm
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    He has just as much right to his opinion as the next person…which is every right.  From time to time I come along people with ASD who would love a cure for themselves but they accept that there may never be one so they do the best they can. 

    I think what everyone on both sides of the fence needs to realize is that nobody is forcing a cure down anyone’s throat.  Also, many people’s idea of a “cure” are different.  Every parent I know that wishes for a “cure” are not unaccepting of their children.  They love their children and damn near worship them.  What they worry about isn’t embarrassment or burden.  They are worried about who will care for their children when they are gone.  They worry about abuse and neglect in assisted living facilities.  They worry about funding cuts after their own death, leaving their adult children without any advocate and homeless on the streets.  They worry about their kid dying from something like apendicitis due to the child’s lack of communication skills.  To the parents I know, a cure is anything that would let their child grow up and live on their own, advocate for themselves, and make their own decisions in life.  To vilify these parents is just wrong.

    The idea that a cure would turn someone with ASD into a shell of themsleves has no more basis in science than than many quackery “cures” being sold by greedy people and businesses.  Personality and intelligence are NOT exclusive to the spectrum.  Genetics and environment play huge factors.  Truth is, we have no idea what a cure would do becaue there isn’t one.  There are a variety of educational modalities that help those with ASD learn to work with their autism and around it and they do not seem to turn those on the spectrum into shells of themselves.

    The biggest shame I see in the ASD community (comprised of those on the spectrum and their caregivers/family/friends/advocates) is that rather than working together to gain support services at all ages, improved eduational rights (it can’t be appropriate if it isn’t effective), and better medical care…people would rather argue with each other over causes, cures, acceptance issues.  Society and government has us just where they want us…divided, hostile towards each other, and weak. 

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