mrs cutler and the post i didn’t want to write

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Yours truly with Eustacia Cutler, March, 2012

[When you are faced with a moment with doctors or teachers or any other experts that shocks you, that renders you speechless or throws you for a loop] DO NOT ACT in the moment. Go home. Think it through. Run it into the ground. and then write an e-mail. But DO NOT ACT in the moment.

– Eustacia Cutler, better known as Temple Grandin’s mother

*

OK, so here it is.

I’ve been asked a number of times over the past few days for my thoughts on Eustacia Cutler’s article entitled, Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination in the Daily Beast. I’m not going to link to it. I can’t in good conscience.

And I couldn’t react right away. In part because I simply couldn’t find words, or at least string them together comprehensibly in the fog of toxic anger, but so too because it was, ironically, Mrs Cutler herself who taught me to wait before speaking when thrown for a loop.

I have immense respect for Mrs Cutler. Her love for her daughter, the widely celebrated and esteemed Autistic advocate, Temple Grandin and her dogged determination to raise her as she saw fit in the face of a community of ‘experts’ who didn’t know their arses from their elbows but argued against any and all logic, helped blazed a trail for those of us who can now feel justified in blazing our own. 

That run-on sentence was barely English, I know, but I trust you to translate. Quick version: she did a lot of good for mothers of kids with far more potential than the world was (and often still is) able to recognize.

Early last year, I met Mrs Cutler. I had the honor of joining her for lunch and talking – really talking – about the state of the world and our understanding of autism, about our faith in our children and their potential not despite but because of their differences. We talked about her book, A Thorn in my Pocket, and about how much of it resonated with me, how many pages I’d dog-eared and all the quotes I’d balled into my fists and written on my hands and held onto for dear life for the days that I would need to know that it could be done. Simply to know that it could be done.

I wrote a fawning post after that luncheon, gushing over the experience of meeting a woman I called a hero. I was humbled by the immense proportions of what she had done in a time before even the most remote understanding of the vast diversity of neurology had begun to dawn.

And then two days ago the questions began.

Umm, have you seen what Mrs Cutler wrote?

What was she thinking?

Dude, WTF?

I was afraid to look. My response to the first inquirer was, and I quote,

“Oh dear God. I haven’t read the piece and I’m not so sure I want to. And by not so sure, I mean I really, really don’t. Can I just hide here in my blanket fort for a while?”

Alas, one can only hide under a blanket fort for so long before needing to come out for a snack. And even more alas, it turned out that I had every reason to be afraid.

There’s no way to mince words. The article is awful. It is based on nothing but anecdotes, or *an* anecdote, really, with absolutely no data nor research nor even studies-in-progress to back up its horrific accusations. Its premise is irresponsible at best and its conclusions are nothing short of terribly, terribly dangerous. In one fell swoop, Mrs Cutler  inadvertently throws gasoline on years and years of hard-won progress and carelessly, without a shred of evidence to justify the impending flames, she tosses a match over her shoulder as she walks away to her next speaking gig.

There have been a number of rebuttals, but I am most impressed by Emily Willingham’s brilliant deconstruction of the piece in Forbes. It is precisely what I would have written had I had the time and wherewithal to do it justice. I will ask you to read it and then let it stand as my response to the article.

To Mrs Cutler, I’d say the following:

I am and will always be grateful for the example that you set for those of us who follow you on this road. I deeply appreciate (and attempt to emulate) your unvarnished honestly in presenting your story as Temple’s mother. You never tried to hide your mistakes, but instead held them up to the light to help us learn from them together.

With all due respect, writing an article that so recklessly (and baselessly) impugned the character of a population who is already saddled with a history of malignant misunderstanding was a mistake of epic proportions. Especially with a name as recognizable as yours.

Though I say all of this with a heavy heart, i don’t say it with anger. I say it with the hope that you will treat it as you have other missteps along the way. The ones that we all have made — the words we spoke in anger, the bridges we burned, the shame we internalized, the compassion we denied those who needed it most.

The ones that you never sought to hide, but to rectify, to teach us all not to repeat.

It is your words that come back to me today as I struggle with the visceral need to protect my child – all of our children, and my adult autistic friends who now struggle with one more albatross today.

“My rage is gone now; sorrow hits, and I ache to forgive.”

Warmly,

Jess

A Mom Who Desperately Wants To Continue To Look Up To You

22 thoughts on “mrs cutler and the post i didn’t want to write

  1. Jess, I have two sons and both of them are on the spectrum. Both of them have cell phones and one of them placed trust in the wrong person. The result could have been horrible but through connections we adverted the intrusion into our lives.

    I think her article is poorly written but if it can serve as a wake up call to parents of youth on the spectrum that sexuality is coming and we need the social stories to deal with it, then her poorly chosen words serve us all very well. I read the article yesterday and had a long and embarrassing conversation with my sons last night.

    • i’m glad that there was a positive effect for you, and perhaps will be for others as well, but i would have hoped that it wouldn’t be necessary to associate autism with the proliferation of child pornography to remind us that ALL of our children need to be taught (and clearly, as with anything and everything else, our autistic children in different, and often more explicit ways) the perils that the online world can present when it merges with sexuality.

      we live in an age where embarassing conversations should be happening every day – with our typically developing children and with our neurodiverse children. that’s our job as parents at a time when our kids have access to the world through their phones. it’s challenging as hell, and we can’t think of everything, which is why i think it’s really important to talk about this stuff without embarassment and offer one another guidance as we do, but i really find it hard to reconcile that this particular kind of incendiary article — rife with baseless accusations as it is, could ever be worth the cost. there are so many better ways, in my opinion, to do it.

  2. I saw Ms. Cutler last year also – on the same tour that you saw. She was delightful. Much of what she had to say that day resonated with me, and stayed with me.

    So yeah I was pretty gutted to read that article. It is as bad as you say, and worse.

    When the anger subsides (and it is justified) I hope cooler heads and compassionate hearts are able to repair the damage done.

    We can only hope the swift rebuttals of so many will squash this thing before it spreads to far into mainstream popular “thinking”. (I use the term loosely)

    Let this be a challenge to all of us to never permit our knowledge to ferment, to constantly re-educate ourselves on the latest research based science in the field of Autism and neurology. We should not be complacent and rely on presumption, guesses, anecdotal evidence or any other woo-woo.

    Demand facts, research, peer-reviewed results. Settle for nothing less, and yes, call BS when you see it.

    For the good of all, and the future of those coming behind us. We must never accept anything less.

    • Yeah, me too. I think I’ll duck into my blanket fort for a little bit before I do. I don’t want to be angry right now.

  3. As the mother of a male with Autism, this article makes me want to vomit. How dare she!? My concern is addressed by Emily’s statement “… the real risk for autistic people is being the victim, not the perpetrator–the one bit of correct data that Cutler does include in her article…” I have kept open communication about sexuality with my son, my concern is that he would be victimized because of his desire to be loved & accepted by others…especially men.

  4. I was waiting for your response and applaud Emily for her thoughtful response. As a mother with a young autistic son, Ms. Cutler’s words stung. Not because they held any truth but because of the damage that words can have on how my son is viewed by the world. It was irresponsible of The Daily Beast to publish something without an ounce of evidence supporting its claims. I get she wanted to discuss sex education and autistic children or sexuality and autistic adults. That’s fine. But when she makes a weak causal link like the one she made, and her words have the potential to hurt how the world views our children, our sons specifically, I cannot stand for it.

  5. My hands hover over my keys, a little shaky. I am still hiding under my blanket. I couldn’t finish reading the article. Like Charlene above, it make me sick. I also agree my daughter and son (both on the spectrum) are FAR more likely to be victimized because of their lack of social understanding. But they are young, I am vigilant, and I am hopeful they will learn the boundaries and skills to be safe.

    I couldn’t finish the article, so I don’t know if she actually wraps up by saying the proportion of autistic men watching child porn is the same as the proportion of non-autistic men watching child porn. I have no idea if that is true, but I would hope she would look into that before singling out autistic males as pedofiles.

    I feel sick. Please let this die a quick death in cyber space…

    Thank you for chiming in Jess. So glad to know you agree, although with hopeful sadness that EC will recognize her error and somehow atone.

  6. There are embarrassing discussions that must be held with our children in any event. My kid is pubescent. She is vulnerable and whether I like it or not I have to tell her what to look for so that she can keep herself safe. It’s either that or isolate her from the world which I know to be a grave mistake. This article was so, so wrong. In any population there will be some sexual deviance. It isn’t the neurology that is the cause of the deviance. Autistic men are no more likely to be pedophiles than any other man or woman. I am just sick about this.

    • they are, however, as Emily points out, far more likely to be VICTIMS of these types predators, which is terrifying, and, to my mind makes it that much more urgent for people to understand just how wrong this is.

  7. I was shocked by this. And as a mother of an autistic boy, pretty pissed off. I can see what she WANTED to say, but either she or the writer screwed up so royally, I can’t begin to believe how bad this article was. After reading some of the comments, I had to comment from OUR perspective on the reality of sex/sexuality/abuse and autism. Hopefully someone will stop and think and not have some stupid knee-jerk reaction – here’s the comment I posted on the Beast…

    **********
    “Honestly, I’m stunned by this article. Mrs. Cutler’s NOT a researcher (daughter is), she’s an activist. This is an irresponsible article and for a community that is already discriminated against, it’s another log on the fire.

    Autistic people are logical, pattern oriented thinkers, NOT computers. Socially immature? Yes. Need to be taught social behavior and rules? Yes. WHO is responsible for this? THE PARENTS. If you’re going to write an article about TEACHING your male autitic children about sexuality and sexual maturity so that they are not lost and confused – write THAT article.

    THIS article conflates sexual deviancy with a lack of sexual education/knowledge and an abundance of inappropriate/illegal crap on the internet. Pedophiles seek SEXUAL GRATIFICATION from children, but – BUT – as Mrs. Butler (inexpertly) states, seeking INFORMATION from an inappropriate source is not seeking GRATIFICATION.

    THE REAL ISSUE IS Autistic children need to be taught about their bodies, their sexuality, appropriate/inappropriate contact because they need help to understand their bodies. And also, sadly because the world is a dangerous place; they are MUCH more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Just google “autistic victims of sexual abuse” and you’ll throw up at what you find.

    I really hope this doesn’t start some kind of witch hunt, because that would be downright tragic.”

    ***************************
    The only good that can come of this fiasco is realizing that as parents we CAN’T avoid teaching our kids about sexuality, even if they don’t seem “interested” like their NT peers. Ignorance definitely isn’t bliss 😦

  8. This is so irresponsible. If you (Mrs. Cutler) put yourself out there as a specialist/advocate, charging folks to hear you speak and read your words, you have a responsibility to bring accuracy to the table. This is an important topic for all of our children and she botched the opportunity so badly. I have such a hard time with people making money off of Autism or their Autistic children, it really makes me sick. I wish I shared your respect for her, but mine is lost. I had to stop going to these conferences because of the blatant merchandising and now here is one more example of it, blowing smoke to keep your name in the press? I will fight this battle my way with unpaid others who learn how to make it work.

  9. Well, I read the article and I was angry.
    I read the comments and am even more angry! I have to commend your for your level-headed response and restraint.

  10. Sorry that you were so disappointed in someone you so deeply admired and respected.

    It was a great response though.

    Love you,
    Mom

    • John, I saw it today but didn’t have the time or wherewithal to give it its due. I look forward to reading it tomorrow and then I’ll come back to you. Thank you for sharing it, and thank you, always, for your rational voice. Woof.

      • I was going to ask you what you thought of John’s response. I just read it and thought it was very well done. Maybe I was prepared for something different but I did not respond with the anger that do many did to Eustacia’s article. I didn’t think it framed those with autism as pedophiles but brought up that those on the spectrum are more easily brought into a difficult situation perhaps by not understanding the right and wrong. I think John’s article is far and away superior but it will still anger some because they don’t want to hear it. Getting in trouble with the law is something I worry about (a lot) and I have worried about my son stumbling upon something online he wouldn’t understand. Maybe it was written poorly but I think it’s an important subject.

    • Okay, coming back after having had a chance to read your take on this, John. And I have to say, it’s very typical of you and all that I so appreciate about your voice: it is reasoned, well thought out and, while based on your extensive experience, NOT presented as universal, nor some ‘troubling trend’ as in Mrs Cutler’s ill-conceived article. You say right up front what I believe is the most important part of this …

      “Autistic people ARE NOT by nature sexual predators of any sort. Multiple studies have shown autistic people are likely to be victims far more often that we are perpetrators of crime in general and sex crime in particular. Abuse of people with disabilities is a well known and tragically common situation. Let’s be absolutely clear on that.”

      And you go on to say, “it’s important to remember that most people— with or without autism—will never have an issue with porn. We are only discussing possible autism-related factors for those that do.”

      This matters. A lot. I have no problem with an honest discussion of causality in these rare cases, nor with talking about how we can help our kids to avoid pitfalls to which they might well be more vulnerable than their typically developing peers. Indeed, I think it’s vital that we have those discussions, particularly around sexuality and that we figure out how to arm our kids for survival in a world that, as you point out, is very different from the one in which we grew up.

      I appreciate your insight, your ongoing efforts to broadly understand and advocate for the needs and challenges of the autism community and your rational analysis of difficult subjects.

      Woof!

  11. her statements are just dismaying to read…so many negative stereotypes to work against…it’s already uphill, every step of the way…and mega-blunders like hers, where just very bad, ill-informed information is spread…painful to read, just so hard to understand. idk, it’s hurtful.

  12. No matter what I will forever thank Mrs. Cutler for her insights to help her daughter in those dark autism days.Reading her stories gave me the courage and inspiration to help my kid overcome his terrible diagnosis.We should take positives and eliminate negatives by all means in our daily living decisions

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