Harold L Doherty – at it again

26 Feb

Harold Doherty last week built himself an army of strawmen in order to demoinse the neurodiversity movement. I and many people left comments that were never published so I wrote the above linked post to demonstrate to Mr Doherty how illogical, ill-thought out and just plain old wrong his points were. He never responded but it seems Mr Doherty is never one to let a little thing like accuracy cloud his opinions.

Today I see a post entitled ‘Is The Neurodiversity Movement Ashamed of Lower Functioning Autistic Persons?’ to which the short answer is ‘uhhh, no – whatever gave you that idea?’

Luckily Mr Doherty proceeds to tell us what gave him that idea. Strawmen ++

It seems at times that the Neurodiversity Movement is ashamed of the lower functioning members of the autism world. Autism is defined by the ND movement as simply another natural variation of human wiring.

No it isn’t. That is one _aspect_ of what autism is.

“Autistic intelligence” is defined as a different, perhaps even a superior form of intelligence.

Might be. There seems to be good evidence for extraordinary mental skills in some autistic people.

Doubt is cast on whether lower functioning autistic persons even exist by the more strident ND’ers.

Really? Where? Who says that?

Even autistic persons who have demonstrated no communication skills, engage in seriously and repetitively self injurious and dangerous behavior should not be treated or cured in the view of the ND movement.

Ditto. At some point Mr Doherty you’re going to have to start _providing some sources_ – all this alarmist arm waving is mildly entertaining but ultimately just silly and self defeating.

Recently CNN’s Dr. Gupta featured the story of Amanda Baggs, diagnosed as being a low functioning autistic person, but clearly very intelligent and, with the aid of technology, an excellent communicator. The implied message – even low functioning autistic persons are really quite intelligent and do not need a cure or treatment.

Nothing at all was implied. It seemed quite clear to me. Amanda does not need a cure. I believe she has had some treatments of mixed efficacy at various points in her life. Your implication seems to be – and feel free to turn up and correct me if I’m wrong – that silly old Amanda can’t possibly know what’s good for her and she can have no empathy with other low functioning autistic people, whereas the Great Mr Doherty knows all. He knows for example that silly old Amanda doesn’t know what’s good for her.

Unfortunately Dr. Gupta played into this denial of the existence of truly low functioning autistic persons by continuing a long history of media focus on autistic savants and other high functioning autistic persons while ignoring the sometimes brutal realities which confront low functioning, seriously disabled, autistic persons.

Yeah, or maybe we could discard the conspiracy theory and conclude that this particular piece wasn’t about that aspect of autism?

My autistic son, Conor, is a low functioning autistic person who brings me great joy. I delight in talking about how happy he makes me every single day. But, unlike members of the Neurodiversity I am not ashamed to admit the severe challenges he faces in life and I am not afraid to talk about them publicly.

I wonder how Conor feels about that and whether Mr Doherty would care?

Anyway, the point is that no one I know is ashamed to admit the severe challenges autistic people face in life. In fact, that’s kind of the point. To highlight these kind of things. Here I’ll say it in the plain English that I reserve exclusively for people incapable of appreciating shades of grey:

Autistic people face severe challenges in life. I am not ashamed to admit this publicly. I am however, afraid to talk about them publicly because when I did, various people who wanted to cure their kids were vicious about her. So now I and my wife talk about her in a private closed access blog which is open to friends and family only.

Unless such public discussion takes place there will be no improvements for Conor and other autistic persons like him. Of course that is exactly why the Neurodiversity movement attempts to censor such discussion.

I love accusations of censorship that come from men like Mr Doherty who actively censor their own blogs and refuse to participate in debate. Its always good for a chuckle.

I _think_ Mr Doherty is alluding to the revulsion some of us have for Autism Speaks and their one sided propaganda piece ‘Autism Every day’. We don’t want to censor it Mr Doherty. We (all 748 – so far – of us) want to expand it to truly reflect the reality of ‘Autism Every day’. Not just the self pity bits. If you don’t want these parts included then I think you need to carefully look at how that holds up against your accusations of censorship.

19 Responses to “Harold L Doherty – at it again”

  1. Estee February 26, 2007 at 23:34 #

    Mr. Doherty does not yet understand acceptance and I find it intriguing, and sadly too common, that he calls his son a joy “but not the autism.”

    One view is that no matter what disability, all our children are a joy and deserve to be referred to with respect. Mr. Doherty prefers a movement which has used death-talk and references to autistics, including his own child, as a devastation. We know what this kind of rhetoric does to autistic people and to the ways in which disabled members of our community are treated (often badly).

    As I always mention, Adam works so hard and the world does not work as hard to understand him, and his autism. It is too easy to pity him, to write him off, to believe that he should be like others and then deliver a poor quality of “service” that results from that belief. I want for him the best education, the best understanding, the best accomodations ever. We will never achieve this if parents refer to autism as a devastation — which clearly it is not because even those parents can find the joy in their autistic child (it seems).

    Acceptance is acknowledging everything — the disability and the ability together. Acceptance does not mean a denial of disability, like Mr. Doherty is now attempting to imply. Quite the opposite. It is acknowleging the disability and STILL accepting the disabled as whole and entitled members of society who have something to contribute to not only society, but to the way that they are accomodated and educated. Everyone has potential — even if the potential is different in everyone.

    Acceptance is acknowledging our collective responsibiltiy — that our most vulnerable need us and we as a society are measured by how we treat the most vulnerable members of our society — hopefully with dignity, meaning their right to be regarded as aware, sentient, and better “experts,” in this case about autism, than non autistics.

    This needs to be honoured by us all and we need to let this guide us not only in the way we serve, but also to create accessible accomodations — from education to self-advocacy.

    Mr. Doherty, despite the fact that Connor looks like a great kid and he must feel blessed by him, does not yet accept autistic people because he does not listen to them. It is sad because Mr. Doherty and all of us have so much more to learn.

  2. Prometheus February 26, 2007 at 23:45 #

    I think that the distinctions, “low functioning” and “high functioning” are also not helpful in the discussion of autism. They tend to “pigeonhole” people who are much more multifaceted than the simple terms “low functioning” and “high functioning” would imply.

    The “treatment” strawman is particularly vexing, since the term (“treatment”) is never defined. Treatments that help autistic people have the greatest quality of life possible are not controversial in the “neurodiversity” community. Treatments that claim to “cure” or ameliorate autism are more controversial, but not just in the “neurodiversity” community.

    Clearly, much of the angst directed at the “neurodiversity” community (whatever that might be) is merely displacement of the anger and frustration that many parents feel about the failure of the “autism cure” community to deliver on its hyperinflated promises. Despite grandiose assertions, conspiracy claims, and much generalized spraying of spittle, none of the much-touted “autism cures” have produced the expected hordes of “cured” autistic children.

    If even one of the oversold “cures” had worked even one-tenth as well as their purveyors had claimed, the debate would be over. The hordes of “recovered” children would be all the proof needed.

    Instead, they vent their anger on the very people they claim to care so much about. If they had an effective treatment for autism, they wouldn’t care about a group of autistic people who didn’t want it. If, on the other hand, they didn’t have a treatment that was unambiguously effective, then the presence of autistic people who opposed “cure” or “treatment” would be very threatening.

    Res ipsa loquitur.


  3. Lisa/Jedi February 27, 2007 at 00:40 #

    I recently encountered Harold Doherty in the comments section of Kristina’s Autism Vox site, & tried to explain to him why I found his perspective to be disrespectful of autistic people… to which he replied, essentially, “Am not!” As long as they keep confusing their anger, grief, frustration & magical thinking for logic, compassion, & care, we’re not going to get through to these folks, I’m afraid. I’m tired of being called defeatist because I’m not interested in a cure for my son, when in reality the dead-end obsession with a cure is the true defeatism…

  4. Joseph February 27, 2007 at 01:35 #

    Mr. Doherty makes stuff up, plain and simple. When you point this out to him on his blog, he will not approve your comments. He won’t. Don’t even bother.

    What’s this, for instance, about neurodiversity advocates denying the existence of low-functioning autistics? But at the same time he claims neurodiversity advocates say that low-functioning autistics should not be cured either. Is anybody able to make sense of that?

    Perhaps he’s confusing criticism of the low-functioning and high-functioning classifications with denial of the existence of impairments.

  5. Kassiane February 27, 2007 at 01:41 #

    In all the time I’ve interacted online, I really have never seen much better from ‘cure or die’ parents, so I don’t really expect much better from them.

    I just feel bad for their kids.

    And I know the disabilities that can come with autism, far more than Mr Doherty does, between my work and personal crap. But rather than fighting through brick walls my job was always to find ways around them or over them. To ‘indistinguishable from peers’ folks this is nausea inducing but living life is better than worrying about what you (or kid you know) can’t do in life.

  6. alyric February 27, 2007 at 01:46 #

    Harold is such a nuisance. I’m getting rather fed up with his “Ill print this but I won’t print that” censorship. There are at least three comments that didn’t make it past the jaws of Cerberus. As for the ‘we advocate a do nothing policy’ yada yada. It’s about what you expect from Harold. My son is extremely low functioning… The logical follow on seems to be that everybody needs ABA because Conor needs ABA and it goes without saying that Conor is representative of a vast swathe of autistics and much more so than Amanda. Funny that – one of the comments that didn’t make the cut through the gates of hell was one where I recommended that Harold read Amanda’s blog on a regular basis and that a few days before the CNN interviews. Talk about prescience! Naturally, Harold is far more interested in downplaying Amanda’s relevance to his son’s perceived function level than actually learning from what Amanda is showing. But that’s to be expected when your prejudices are just so rampant that reality doesn’t get a look in.

  7. caseofthevapours February 27, 2007 at 02:12 #

    _ in reality the dead-end obsession with a cure is the true defeatism …_

    This is the real heart of the matter; thanks for pointing it out so beautifully.

  8. Tera February 27, 2007 at 02:53 #

    It’s ironic when people who adamantly refuse to understand what neurodiversity is accuse us of ignoring people they decide are “low-functioning,” only to show “awareness” by using them as fodder for their argument. (“You people are nothing like my low-functioning child, who smears feces and bites himself and yada yada yada”)

  9. kristina February 27, 2007 at 04:15 #

    The “cure” people (which sounds very odd, now that I have written it) get more than wrapped up in their own pronouncements and rhetoric, and lose sight of the child, the person, there before them: They need to be cured of their need to cure.

  10. jypsy February 27, 2007 at 11:32 #

    It appears to me that Mr. Doherty would be a whole lot happier if I (and others) did a whole lot more whining about our kids. It seems that’s what he’s telling us & challenging us to do. Well, I just recently found this post I made to an autism list a dozen years ago – before Mr. Doherty’s son was even born – and judging by my attitude then and where I’m at now, it’s not likely I’ll ever be the person Mr. Doherty wants me to be. I have always been an optimist and likely always will be. I will always point out Alex’s abilities when people are face to face with his disabilities. I always did openly discuss (on my web page, on lists and in real life) his disabilities, though Mr. Doherty seems to imply the opposite.

    “Sep 11 1995, 3:00 am
    Newsgroups: bit.listserv.autism
    From: janet norman-bain
    Date: 1995/09/11
    Subject: Re: Should diagnosis be communicated to acquaintances?
    Thing is, I am in awe of Alex, he
    is the most amazing, interesting, fascinating thing in my life. I
    think that’s what I go on and on about.” Can’t talk, but he has a
    notebook computer he types on……can’t ride a bike, but he could
    scale a tree up onto the barn roof and walk along the edge without
    falling when he was 3…..can’t go to school without a 1-1 aide at
    his side but, with her there he does grade level and above grade
    level work……………..”I don’t at all mind questions, even
    stupid ones or “hurtful” ones (I have never been asked something or
    told something that I found “hurtful”). I just accept that these
    people are truly ignorant on the subject of autism (and why wouldn’t
    they be) and switch on my education mode answering their questions.
    Many in my community, the school, bowling, T-ball etc. etc. will get
    a taste of what autism is about just by knowing Alex, having children
    who know Alex, or just seeing him around. I have never in my life
    attached a negative connotation to autism. I think that attitude rubs
    off on people I talk to. Like I said….I’m in awe if Alex and you
    can’t separate Alex from his autism.

  11. Anne February 27, 2007 at 18:04 #

    And ironically, jypsy, your positive outlook didn’t prevent you from obtaining needed supports.

  12. Ms. Clark February 27, 2007 at 19:55 #

    jypsy and I have discussed this before. I had a similar reaction to my ASD child, not exactly awe, but I used to say, and still do, that even just meeting my ASD child is a privilege. Maybe not everyone realizes it’s a privilege, but I still think it is. S/he has a fabulous approach to life that is encouraging and uplifting. S/he’s fascinating, too. And quite disabled, and needs lots of support(s) and has had lots of medical problems that many of the whiney parents of autistic kids never have to deal with. I’ve watched my child come near to death post-surgeries, I think what I’ve experienced *as a single parent* (with my own disability) would have buckled Mr. Dougherty’s knees a long time ago.

    It’s hard not to say, “Suck it up buddy, and stop whining,” to people like that.

  13. jypsy February 27, 2007 at 21:18 #

    And even if he couldn’t type, do grade level work or perform great climbing and balancing acts there would be a “but he can….”.
    And I don’t think it has hurt him one bit to have kept the focus on his strengths…
    I have no regrets.

  14. David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction) February 27, 2007 at 21:38 #

    “And I don’t think it has hurt him one bit to have kept the focus on his strengths…”

    Perfectly sound educational sense.

    “I have no regrets.”

    Nor should you have.

  15. notmercury February 27, 2007 at 22:40 #

    Hi Jypsy,
    Thanks for old post. I really enjoyed reading that.

  16. Estee February 28, 2007 at 15:50 #


    No one is saying our children don’t need supports…part of accepting the disAbility is providing them. The issue at hand is our attitude towards autistics — imposing “treatment” versus providing accomodations and what the difference in those terminologies entail. The first suggests that we know more about autism than autistic people. It assumes that autism is a bad thing, as many think about disability overall. The second view is that we value disabled individuals and what they have to say about their disability. We will do everything in our power to respect what they have to say about autism and let it guide us in how we view autistic individuals, how we can support them, enable them to contribute in any way they can and above all, value them as they are.

    It is clear that not everyone agrees about this view of disability. All one has to do is look to how many Down’s fetus’ are aborted every year (80-90%). Yet, The Down’s Syndrome Society of Canada does not call Downs a devastation, rather, it advocates for equal access and celebrates the lives of Down’s individuals.

  17. jypsy March 1, 2007 at 20:20 #

    I see over on Mr. Dohery’s blog he says
    “jypsy forwarded a link to the John Jopkins Medicine Department of Neurology which is very informative on autism and neuroinflammation and should be read by anyone following up on the topic:

    That’s his way of saying I forwarded A Hot Cup Of Jack Squat by Doc & Not Mercury to the Autism Canada list. That link he gives is in that blog post.

  18. Anne March 2, 2007 at 01:33 #


    My point was that being autistic-positive is not incompatible with advocating for and obtaining needed supports.

    But you said it so much better. 🙂

  19. jypsy March 5, 2007 at 12:19 #

    I see from Michelle today that Mr. Doherty is at it yet again…

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