That Tony Attwood Controversy

Monday, July 13th, 2009 | Oddpod

Following the recent incendiary theatrics surrounding international autism expert and author, Tony Attwood, I invited him to a Skype interview. I recorded the hour long interview in which I asked Tony about his involvement with FAAS, his take on CAAD, his view on autistic culture and the autistic pride movement, about the concept of hate groups and whether he does farcical characterisations of non-spectrum people too. The result was an amusing interview nearly an hour long.

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34 Comments to That Tony Attwood Controversy

Alyson Bradley
July 14, 2009

Hi Donna, the history you talk about in this I feel would be brilliant if you put in writing, the beginning of the autistic community and how your views have changed over the years…

Like you I do not see myself as one of the herd and guess will always be on the outside, but I do feel the autistic community is like an extended family, there is that common factor being on the autism spectrum.

Yes we are all varied in a way, and some because of varied associated conditions “fruit salad” as you say may, do suffer because of that, but the autism part I feel each autistic individual shares the very core of who we all are, as I see there autism heart.

Unfortunate unintentional or not autistic individuals living a life exposed to a society that often is not understanding, especially to sensory and other differences can cause us extreme stress and anxiety, pushing some to the edge.

I feel a lot more real understanding and awareness is needed worldwide, which is difficult with so many conflicting views, yes bridges need to be built and guess we can all only do our own bit, but for real change I so agree with “nothing about us, without us”

As I feel it’s time autistic individuals were embraced, encouraged and allowed to be themselves, not a stereo type imagine of what the media often imply. The times I have been spoken to like a 2 year old “if you act this way” as if I didn’t know or had not tried in the past, but over the years realize I can only be the unique individual I was born as, just wished others were a little more excepting.

But having individuals like yourself speak out does make a difference, enjoyed the discussion thanks Alyson

Oddpod
July 14, 2009

Hi Alyson,
yeah, that history was capture in the revised intro to Nobody Nowhere in the new edition which came out last year. :-)

Alyson Bradley
July 14, 2009

Still feel would make a brilliant article sometime…

Like you I feel I can only be myself, but finding more and more especially parents not on the spectrum can be quite defensive and was thinking about this and maybe partly until recently many had only spoken with organizations with none autistic individuals advising and partly not wanting to be wrong as a parent, and at times I feel parents are frustrated at often differing views, almost an overload of information, but not easy when few good professionals still out there in relation to numbers on the spectrum.

and good to see Tong quite protective of us, wanting to do the right thing, and guess not easy when gets caught up in the crossfire of politics of rights and wrongs, but in away I can understand the build up of anger and frustrations within the autistic community, far to little support still for so many…

Socrates
July 15, 2009

I’m quite surprise my comment here has disappeared. Any ideas why Donna?

Oddpod
July 15, 2009

this is the first comment from you that has come through socrates

Alyson Bradley
July 15, 2009

Socrates did you add any links as this site auto blocks anything it thinks is spam, or simply try again!

Homer
July 15, 2009

Donna, You aren’t autistic but you are a fruit loop.

Oddpod
July 15, 2009

Homer, it is narcissistic to seek from your armchair to undiagnose someone diagnosed by Australia’s leading autism diagnostician. Obviously, someone diagnosed with autism, language processing disorder, a visual perceptual disorder, gut, immune, metabolic disorders and medicated for mood, anxiety, compulsive disorders, who is from a family with others diagnosed with Aspergers, Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD, Bipolar, OCD and Agoraphobia, is not autistic enough for you. So be it. Anyway, your comment is off topic.

Zakkie
July 15, 2009

I just wanted to address a few things from the interview:

Firstly, I’m a bit concerned about the characterisation of this campaign as “militant” – after all, the most dramatic thing to come out of the campaign so far has been a petition.

I for one always attempt to remind people that this is not an attack on Tony as a person – it is solely about his name being used to promote FAAAS. Even this wasn’t out of the blue – many people in the autistic community attempted to raise the issue with Tony long before the petition was launched.

Secondly, I’m very concerned about the characterisation of autistic forums to be both “militant” and “herdlike”. Autistic forums have a wide variety of expressed opinions – even this current petition has been hotly debated (including everything from “it shouldn’t have happened” to “it didn’t go far enough”).

The wide support for this position is the result of entirely valid concerns about the ramifications of Tony Attwood endorsing FAAAS – and that’s all.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this petition is not directed at Tony’s association with FAAAS, it’s directed at the use of his name to endorse the positions of FAAAS.

At the moment, Tony Attwood’s name is listed as being part of their “Professional Advisory Panel”, implying that their positions are guided by his professional advice. His name also appears within the article urging discrimination against AS people in custody and divorce hearings, implying that he endorses this position.

He could change these things with a word, but has chosen not to. As a result, people visiting the site will assume, from the context used, that Tony Attwood endorses the group.

There is a world of difference between an association and an endorsement. If Tony wishes to associate (i.e. talk to and discuss issues with) this group, then that’s entirely his personal business – it’s the public endorsement that is the sole concern.

Thanks for your time,
– Zakkie

Oddpod
July 15, 2009

Thanks Zakkie,

a clear, concise, straightforward setting out of the issues.

agreed, not all forums are militant.
I’ve just found that I largely won’t even dare visit them because ultimately someone has a hissie fit over something minor. I don’t cope with high emotionality.

Donna *)

Homer
July 15, 2009

Oddpod,
I’m the leading autism diagnostician in the world. My name’s not really Homer. I’ve researched you and find that you suffer from an abusive childhood but that does not add up to autism.

Oddpod
July 15, 2009

Homer Simpson, yes, you really are the leading autism diagnostician in the world. And you obviously work psychically seeing as you have never met me. I guess your need for anonymity must be because your are so super famous given you are so world renowned.

Homer
July 16, 2009

Donna,
I have read a lot about you. I could not find any clear evidence that you have a formal diagnosis. From listening to your voice though, I can be certain that you do not have autism.

Did you diagnose yourself through one of the quacks who puts out online tests for Asperger’s?

Oddpod
July 16, 2009

considering you claim to be the leading autism diagnostician in the world, your research is very poor. Aged 2 I was assessed as psychotic in a 3 day hospital assessment in 1965 at St Elmo’s hospital, Brunswick, Victoria. At age 12 I read on my school records from my primary school ‘Donna Williams is a disturbed child’ which was apparently an assessment by the visiting psychologist team ‘Psych & Guidance’ who would see me regularly over 7 years. At age 9 I was still being tested for deafness and my parents were informed I could not understand language (they then slowed all speech, simplified it, used objects and gesture and I acquired functional speech by age 11). At age 10 in 1973 a teacher who had taken me home then told my parents she felt I was autistic. In 1991 I was formally diagnosed with autism by Dr Lawrie Bartak, of Monash Medical Centre, Australia’s most imminent autism diagnostician. In 2007 I had a further diagnosis of language processing disorder by Dr Leslie Tan of Listening Works, a woman with 40 years experience working with language processing disorders. I was also diagnosed with gut, immune and metabolic disorders starting with exploration for leukemia at age 2, being put on supplements at age 9, on antibiotics much of the year from age 6 months to age 25, treatment by immune specialists from age 25-38. As for my voice, I’m 45 years old and 20 years on from treatment for my health issues and I use fluent gestural signing to keep up with incoming speech and being a singer (I’ve sung since age 2) gives me far more expression than a non singer and anti-anxiety medication has allowed me to be ‘in my voice’. I have been a public speaker for 15 years and the thousands who’ve heard me over those years know the transitions I’ve made. So your simplistic judgments are archaic in terms of todays knowledge of the spectrum and I don’t think you have any idea how naive you sound. Your comments are also off topic so unless you’re going to discuss the topic, your baiting has no place here.

Socrates
July 18, 2009

Donna, I don’t think you have to justify, evidence your diagnosis to anyone. The arguments you put forth in the podcast aren’t necessarily predicated on the questioner having an ASC. Ignore the troll…

The point I was trying to make in the comment that didn’t make it was simply that Tony had refused to discuss this matter further than beyond the circular he sent out.

This frustration at him not listening to us is what’s caused the temperature to rise so high.

FAAAS, Aston and their ilk have, and will continue to do significant damage to the autism community, until they are stopped. They are peddling quack science with Tony’s name all over it. And they’ve been doing it for a decade.

Many people have said “it’s not about Attwood”, well yes it is. Without his endorsement, FAAAS and Aston would’ve been exposed as the quacks they are years ago.

The Autism Community isn’t a circus for him to perform in and the [READ THIS BIT CAREFULLY] money he will generate for a group of out and out profiteers over the course of this tour will be well in excess of US$1,000,000 – none of which will be benefiting the autism community.

And finally, the Spot the Aspy stand-up routine? Just say NO! It’s not on to do impressions of disabled people – no matter what the justification.

Socrates
July 18, 2009

And some further questions for Tony (I hope these are quite moderate and reasonable):

Now that Attwood has dismissed our complaints about our mannerisms and behaviour being used to get a laugh in a room full of more than a thousand people, as part of the symptomatology of Autism, let us ask some simple questions, that perhaps Ari Ne’eman will put to Attwood later this week:

i) would it be acceptable, regardless of circumstances, for Attwood to do an impression of low function autistics, as a mechanism for generating “laughter [as] a tension release mechanism”?

ii) if not, can he tell us in simple terms, where exactly does the boundary between Asperger’s Syndrome / high-functioning autism and low-functioning autism lie?

iii) if a high-functioning autistic shares similar behaviour with a low-function autistic, i.e. stimming, would it be acceptable to use this aspect of an “Aspy’s” behaviour in his routine?

iiii) would it be acceptable for Attwood, regardless of circumstance, to do an impression of someone with Down’s Syndrome as a mechanism for generating “laughter [as] a tension release mechanism”?

v) was Attwood actually, as we have claimed, in the words of Donna Williams “taking the piss out of autistics” for cheap laughs?

vi) does Attwood feel that by making this ad hominem attack on Autistics, dismissing their concerns as a pathological excrescence of their malfunctioning minds, he has apologised for the very real offense that he has caused?

Oddpod
July 18, 2009

I don’t know which groups his talks raise money for. I tend to talk for schools, residential and parent groups. I don’t like the autism circuses. They are far more common in the US than in Australia or the UK, and mostly that’s where I do talks. The talks I’ve done in the US were largely for parent groups.

I certainly characterise non-spectrum people when I do talks. They take it very well :-)

Oddpod
July 18, 2009

hmm,
I’m not Tony but 1) I don’t think he was doing the impressions as a ‘tension release’ mechanism. As he put it in the interview, he was making a point, and points are best remembered when people’s guard is down about that point, ie through humour. 2) I think your question re characterising severely autistic people versus Aspies… its a good question… I characterise everyone, anyone, in my talks, but only those I have known or worked with, and this can mean non-spectrum and spectrum alike, those who are severely autistic and those with Asperger’s alike, and of course myself. But its still a good question, same re Downs. And its a CULTURAL question. Because in traditional indigenous Australian culture it is natural to characterise what you are telling, to SHOW IT. So, in the US this is perhaps far more comedic, perhaps more at risk of being non-PC than in Australia. We are definitely known to show a story, not tell it. And I’d keep an open mind on that. 3) I certainly have seen no side that Tony dismisses the concerns of those offended at his characterisations. Certainly no evidence he feels this is any sign of them having malfunctioning minds… in the interview he was very respectful of Aspie equality.. but I do feel its possible he may be missing that there is a cultural take on characterisations which may make them more non-PC in some cultures than others.

David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction)
July 19, 2009

Homer:

“Donna, You aren’t autistic but you are a fruit loop.”

“I’m the leading autism diagnostician in the world. My name’s not really Homer. I’ve researched you and find that you suffer from an abusive childhood but that does not add up to autism.”

“I have read a lot about you. I could not find any clear evidence that you have a formal diagnosis. From listening to your voice though, I can be certain that you do not have autism.

Did you diagnose yourself through one of the quacks who puts out online tests for Asperger’s?”

Content and style analysis suggests very strongly that ‘Homer’ is none other than that New Hampshire fruit-loop John Best Jnr… yes, Donna… your observation of something narcisistic was spot on! The man thinks he’s the dog’s bollocks, but the rest of the world knows he’s just bollocks!

Incidentally, Donna, I have read Nobody Nowhere, and I have a qualification at an advanced level (Master of Education degree) in an appropriate subject (educational psychology – mainly the psychology of special education) which specialises in autism. From your book, it is clear that you are indeed autistic. You know that, and I know that, as did the person who made the diagnosis.

The day he’s anything of a person with innate worth, I’ll be moving to another bloody planet. He still hates it that a bunch of the Neurodiversity-ites managed to stop him from getting a job where he could have used his (limited) influence to make life worse for autistic and other developmentally disabled people in New Hampshire.

I’m not anticipating moving.

Socrates
July 19, 2009

Yes Donna, I must give him credit for saying some very positive things during the interview and I sincerely hope that these are reflected in his public work…

And I would really, really like to see him doing some rigorous academic work on autistic relationships, and give equal weight to the many problems WE have in relationships, caused by NT behaviour.

Oddpod
July 19, 2009

Hi David,
ah, here in Aus you know nobody knows what bollocks means :-) They do think its funny when I say it though. If I’m correct, Mr Best fights for awareness of biomed. Whilst I’m not a chelation pusher, I’m one of the 20% of people with autism in the group with dx’d with gut, immune, metabolic disorders who is supported by and has made vast leaps because of treatment for those health issues, YET, I do not project that onto ALL with autism because I know we all have different ‘autism fruit salads’. Nevertheless, nothing can stop a hater who is determined to hate and narcissistically certain they have discovered the truth they are determined to see no matter what facts get in the way. That’s something that studying personality has taught me. http://www.ptypes.com/type_passions.html . Understanding personality disorders has helped me not take such things personally.

Oddpod
July 19, 2009

Agreed. I know there are wonderful, accepting, understanding relationships between spectrum and non-spectrum people, but I also know of those where the spectrum person is under constant pressure to act, to hide their autism, to ‘get better’ or are deemed ‘cute’ until the person realises they can’t earn brownie points being the star in-house therapist who helps their spectrum partner ‘recover’. And that’s about societal ignorance, stuff Tony is breaking down, on both sides. And we do need to consider CAAD, if only as a personality disorder some co-dependent non-spectrum partners can have a predisposition to develop… and there’s no reason why spectrum people couldn’t develop CAAD if they felt their non-spectrum partner couldn’t see or accept the real them! So perhaps take this irky concept and work it constructively to make it a tool of enlightenment. After all, the term autism we now accept once meant childhood psychosis, those with it were deemed psychotic children, it mean institutionalise this kid and get on with it, it meant the mother had caused it and should be ashamed… and we’re over that now, not because we discarded the word, but because we worked hard to dig out what it actually meant and all the diversity therein.

I think we should also hear more about spectrum women, especially those who, like me, are in the semi-independent group yet not in residential care. I ended up in 10 years of sexploitation because I had no ability to gage my feelings or read those or the intentions, motivations of others, yet without those men I didn’t have the independence skills (sequencing, sense of time, ability to process real time maths, juggle bills, interface with agencies, operate ticketting machines, even use the can opener etc). I believe some spectrum women live on the streets due to such things and others live with abuse and exploitation because they don’t have the skills to communicate or exit their situation or liase to get something healthier.

The field is very very classist. The focus is on those with intact families. We talk of the high homeless rate among people on the spectrum but we leave those people ‘out there’, especially if they also developed co-morbids so they don’t neatly fit tidy boxes.

Barbara Jacobs
July 20, 2009

Socrates,

I think it might help if you understood that Tony Attwood is not an academic researcher, but has always been a practicing clinician, who, contrary to what you say on your The New Republic blog, works in two clinics, his own, and Hearts and Minds, and sees approximately 30 referrals a week. He is adjunct Professor as he provides facilities for research students, and supervises them. His writing of books, and the conferences at which he is the keynote speaker, enable professionals and parents to understand Asperger’s Syndrome as he, as a practicing clinician, understands it. He is arguably the world expert in this field, and his dissemination of this information is invaluable, especially in the USA, where AS is less well known, having replaced, to a large extent, PDD-NOS.

He speaks at many parent groups, but his appearances for Future Horizons, are accredited courses for postgraduates.I know this, as I have also spoken at these conferences. The issue of how much he earns, or how much money the conferences generate, as appears to be a concern in your blog, isn’t an issue at all. He does a job. He does it well. He is paid for that job. He earns it.

The ‘alternative’ issue about autistic relationships is one I’ve interviewed Donna about, today, in an effort to reposition the debate in a more fruitful direction which does not demonise the AS partner and also is more inclusive of AS women. The interview should be live in 48 hours or less. However, research into that issue is unlikely ever to get funding. Unless, of course, anyone knows of a funding stream?

Oddpod
July 20, 2009

Hi Barbara,
yes, the distinction is really important. There are many who feel they are experts because they’ve studied spectrumites from the internet or in their heads or in a university office but have never actually been a practicing clinician. Then these people go out lecturing and claim all sorts of stuff about others they’ve never clinically experienced: ie all autistics think in pictures (the visually agnosic ones don’t), all autistics are techie (many with LD, severe cognitive impacts of dyspraxia or more artistically or kineasthetically inclined aren’t techie at all), all autistics lack empathy (only some have this as part of their personality), all autistics avoid faces (those who are meaning deaf will often stare at mouths) etc. Anyway, we should be asking who has the 5 star PhDs and who a professional qualification plus has years of clinical practice and then ask what we’re listening to in a lecturer. One can have a dozen 5 star PhDs and never have limited or no experience in clinical practice.

Oddpod
July 20, 2009

Also, I agree, if spectrumites can celebrate Bill Gates being an icon, what hypocracy that they demonise anyone who chooses to charge $4,000 a lecture. That would be pocket money to Bill Gates.

Oddpod
July 20, 2009

And if leftists want to fixate on Tony’s lecture fee, then at least get clear that his fee is a capitalism issue not an autism issue. If they are angry at capitalism, then state that.

Oddpod
July 20, 2009

Also I think the desire to hate celebs needs to be separated from an autism issue. Gossip mags like Hello and the like encourage a culture of ‘humanising’ celebs generally through dehumanising them. If this is someone’s cultural choie, to join compensatory narcissism, so be it, but they need to be clear that this has nothing to do with being interested in or supportive of those with autism.

[...] Read the entire transcript of the interview or listen to the podcast at oddpod.donnawilliams.net. [...]

Andrew Levin
July 25, 2009

the whole problem with autistic spectrum is 99.999% are hashed reflections of their parents and society and never break free, indeed become robots for some impaired vision they have constructed, even tho its nominally anti-establishment

you have to look across the generations for autistic sanity, its so rare

catullus and charles bukowski, yes thats sanity

what has autism to do with groups?

well the endless maladpative infighing

Andrew Levin
July 25, 2009

who cares

about an autism diagnosis?

why this need for insane referents?

infinity cleans my shoes!

Oddpod
July 25, 2009

yes, Bukowski, so wonderfully sane.
I agree, I can’t see anything autistic about infighting and groups
political, yes, dogmatic, yes,
but I am a walking arts machine because arts is my own world, and mostly a solitary one
so I can’t see how anyone can stand endless political pedantry
but then I’m not Aspie.

Oddpod
July 25, 2009

I agree that given that autism and Asperger’s are SYNDROMES and in fact made up of different combinations of conditions – agnosias, aphasias, personality traits, dyspraxia, ADHD, mood/anxiety/compulsive disorders, sometimes gut/immune/metabolic disorders etc, the possessiveness and bitching and hatred and preciousness about the labels just seems an infinite pedantry. Also, what moves me, connects me to the world, or any human, is their MUSIC not whether their system is autistic or not. If they have freedom, equality, grace in their soul, I’ll feel it. Whether they are autistic or not says little of the music of their personhood. But what the hell would I know, I sense my world, feel it. I’m logical to the max, but I feel the music.

Andrew Levin
July 26, 2009

autism is a gift, it is a neurological adpatation that occurs within the womb

what has happened, especially with the dominance by the americans and thier horrendous vaccine scheduling from birth in recent decades is “like autisms that is damage that looks like autism without the gift

just crappy murderous social seeking

you have lived long enough to see how dumbed down everything is now

Oddpod
July 26, 2009

‘Autistic’ as a collective of personality traits can be a gift and Alexithymia, an Obsessive-Compulsive personality or Social Emotional Agnosia commonly taken as ‘Autism’ should not be demonised and should be recognised for some of their social advantages (and challenges). But nor should various personality disorders be confused with ‘autism’, particularly in those ‘self diagnosed’ because similar isn’t same, although one can have both autism and personality disorders just as one can have autism and co-morbids.

Autism as dyspraxias and agnosias associated with poor neurological integration can have some advantageous adaptations but is a disability, sometimes a severe one.
Minor neurological differences are important to society and can bring many gifts, yes. But when these are multiple and extreme the same gifts can be well outweighed by the level of disability.

‘Autism’ as a gut, immune, metabolic disorder effects a percentage and there are those predisposed to cellular disorders, we can’t escape that. (I’ve been diagnosed with and treated for 2 primary immune deficiencies, gluten intolerance, salicylate/phenol intolerance, severe milk allergy, functional B12 deficiency, severe magnesium deficiency, type 2 diabetes, systemic Candida, CFS so if anyone is NOT in this group, please don’t comment on life-threatening health conditions you’ve never lived with). This does NOT make this presentation of Autism that of others without neurologically impairing health conditions and nor should those without diagnosable health issues be put through endangering and expensive treatments designed to save those who do. There should be sensible screening at 6 mths of age (when the mother’s immunity wears off) for those with these health conditions so their health can be managed without dangerous chelation and their immunity improved so they can tolerate a sensible regime of vaccination which will avoid the disease epidemics which kill so many other children. We need to distinguish between ‘autistic’ the adjective, and ‘autisms’ as medical conditions and that some people can fit both.

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