When Accommodation Becomes Segregation

 Sensory Friendly films where the lights are up and the sound is down?

There is a growing trend that attempts to change society to better accommodate the perceived proclivities of people with autism. Although I understand the good intentions behind the idea, by accommodating people with autism to absurd extremes, are we not shrinking their world so it becomes even smaller than it already is? Do we really want the ghettoization or segregation of people with autism from the rest of society? The unintended consequence of voluntary segregation is that it may eventually become involuntary. One only has to look at history to see past segregationist movements which argue “separate but equal.” I think I speak for a sensible majority that does not wish to see segregation for people with autism, or for anyone else with a disability.

So the question is, how do people with autism, some of whom may be disruptive, watch a movie or go on a merry-go-round? The answer is: systematic desensitization.

Using science, it’s a much better idea to help people afflicted with autism who may have negative reactions to loud noises or bright lights, or any aversion to something commonly found in society. Under the guidance of Behavioral Consultants who understand how to work with this group of people, we need to build up their tolerance and thereby, give them the ability to go anywhere, and see any movie that they may enjoy. For those who think that there is no harm in leaving people with autism to their idiosyncratic aversions, let me give you a few actual examples that may make you rethink the “re-engineer their environment” program and reject it.

Imagine a child who dislikes the music of a mega-star like Beyonce or Justin Bieber. At first glance, that doesn’t seem to be a big problem; however, we all know what eventually happens to those songs — they end up as Muzak, and can be heard virtually everywhere e. g., in elevators, restaurants, stores, office buildings. Or imagine a child who has an aversion to Mickey Mouse, or any of the Disney Characters. These symbols pop up everywhere in society, and it is unpredictable where you will encounter them next. Who really wants to take someone with autism out into the community when, at any moment, the person may become distraught at the music in a random elevator or the image on a stranger’s t-shirt? When the child is small, this is somewhat problematic. When the person becomes an adult, the situation can become very serious. If people with autism are not helped to cope with sounds, sights, and images to which they have an aversion, their world shrinks, becoming smaller and smaller by the year, until eventually they may prefer to never leave their home or, in some cases, their room!

Instead of re-engineering the world to fit people with autism, let’s commit to giving people with autism the tools they require to cope with the real world around them, and thereby give them opportunities to participate in all the wonderful experiences that society has to offer.

 

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D. on Twitter
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.
Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.

0 thoughts on “When Accommodation Becomes Segregation

  • December 14, 2011 at 11:13 am
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    I haven’t thought about this topic before reading this post, but I contemplated your question. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Because a desensitizing therapy is rather expensive, it is not an ultimate solution. Segregation, again is too extreme, therefore it is also not a good ultimate solution. But I don’t think these movies or places that cater for children with autism would make their world smaller than it is. It would be a mistake to limit their world only to these kinds of services, but it would also be ignorant to avoid them for the above described reason. In my opinion a combination of all aids one can give one’s child, would help the child to make the best of his/her life and be able to integrate into society as much as possible. For example, if sound is a trigger for the child and this makes him miss out on a movie, isn’t it a good solution to see it without sound so he could have the same memories and experiences as any other child? I am not an expert on this topic, so please don’t attack me for my opinions, I just had to express them, because the questions at hand really made me think. Best regards, Flora

    Reply
  • November 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm
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    A stupid and racist and offensive article shame on you , your one of those neanderthals who believe that caucasions are naturally better than Africans
    – more intelligent, more moral, more trustworthy, more beautiful, more
    hard-working and so on. Like if caucasions are Basically good
    while Africans are not, shame on you.

    Reply
  • November 25, 2011 at 12:47 am
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    I had one student with autism who would lose it almost every class (she was very violent) because everything was a trigger for her to go crazy. Even with a handler, she could never be part of the class since she couldn’t read, write or understand what we were doing. 

    It would have been better for her to be in a special education class than in a regular class.

    Reply
  • November 24, 2011 at 11:09 am
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    What I love or I should say hate about all of this is that when they try and get jobs, these accommodations wont be there and then what will they do? I deal with this teaching all day long and I only give accommodations to my students when they ask. They know they have to ask me for extended time or else I hold them to the same standards as everyone else. Because of this the students who have these accommodations try harder and try not to ask unless they absolutely need it. 

    Reply
  • November 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm
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    Expecting those on the autism spectrum with sensory issues to be

    fully

    integrated into society is unrealistic. Some, like me, were exposed as a child to everything in a regular environment with no coping skills. There was nothing to work with in the 1980’s. This lead to isolation and bullying depending on who the peer was. This created extra anxiety and social problems I am dealing with in therapy to this day. I have been treated for hyperacusis, which is a neurological problem of the brain. It isn’t psychological or behavioral in origin. I am blessed to have been able to be treated for this, as insurance doesn’t cover it. I still have to wear earplugs and industrial-strength earmuffs to cope with external noise, but with those and lots of intense psychotherapy, I am, even if on a limited scale, able to go out into the community. I have not yet achieved long-term employment status and cannot function on my own. I could not just live anywhere. A place that has kids running all over just isn’t going to work, as very high-pitched and loud noises have been and always will be a problem. I’m not trying to be cruel, but I wonder how good an understanding you really have of autism and sensory processing disorder.

    Reply
  • November 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm
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    Ok, all well and good.  These behavioral consultants are going to provide this out of the goodness of their heart, so that my son can go to the theater to watch a movie?  The schools are going to provide the therapy for this?  Yeah Right.  We as parents have to make a lot of choices. Autism is expensive, period.  Yes, our kids can be/should be helped, desensitized to stimuli to make their lives better, less stressful during everyday life.  All that takes time and money.  Maybe there will be some cross over to the out of the ordinary, maybe not. We, as parents have to pick our battles, and there are somethings that we have to concede and just go with.  When low sensory movies are provided and parents choose to take their kids to these so that they can do something “normal” they should not have another guilt trip laid on them.  We have plenty of those already.  On a related note, my son has severe autism and will always do better, learn more, have less stress in a one on one, low sensory environment.  We are gradually teaching him to participate in a group setting, to tolerate the noise and confusion that sometimes occurs, and including him in more activities with his gen ed peers, but I resent those, including his IEP team, that think he should be included just because that is what is expected.  We should do what is best for him to allow him the most progress.  Knowing my son, he will always have limits to what he can tolerate and benefit from.  I will not allow him to be put in a gen ed environment where he will just be there and get no real benefit (can’t learn or gain skills because the peers are so far a head of him and his abilities) from it other than proximity to others his age.                          

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