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As the mother of an Asperger child

I want to talk around the edges of the events at Readercon. I've never attended; I've only -- until now -- heard good to great things about it.

But in the wake of the events that occurred there, I've seen a few comments that crop up from time to time - always as an excuse or a defense of harassment: It's Aspie behaviour. He probably doesn't know any better.

Ahem.

This is, imho, garbage.

It is true that Asperger/ASD children often parse social signals incorrectly. The biggest indicator of this is their ability to monologue with great enthusiasm about their current obsessions. They glow with that enthusiasm and frequently fail to notice the way the eyes of their audience slowly (or not so slowly) glaze. This is not always fun for people who don't share their interests. It is not, however, threatening. I believe that most women can easily tell the difference between harassment and boredom.

Failing to notice boredom, however, is not the same as failing to notice that they are harassing someone. In the case of Genevieve Valentine and Rene Walling, Ms. Valentine made perfectly clear that she did not want to interact with Mr. Walling - at all, in pretty much those words. That clarity? Would come through loud and clear to any Asperger child I've met. She told him in no uncertain terms not to touch her or talk to her.

There is no way that my ASD child would fail to note this. Period. If Ms. Valentine had been polite, cheerful, smiling -- and had avoided Mr. Walling by adroitly disappearing behind a wall of friends without a single harsh word, it's possible that an ASD person might not understand just how unwelcome he was. But she told Mr. Walling to leave her alone. She used those words.

My oldest is now nineteen. It is true that he fails to notice things like flirting or active female interest in him. He tends to treat all of the people he meets the same way, regardless of gender. This can change, depending on their interactions, but he doesn't cross the boundaries of "stranger" or "friend" easily - and he has to be lead. I am certain he didn't initially notice that his girlfriend was interested in him as more than a friend, because she was always friendly and cheerful to everyone. He would not consider himself in any way an exception.

When he was five years old, he didn't understand personal boundaries. When he was seven years old he did. He learned them more slowly than other children, it's true - but he is no longer a child, and he did learn.

At nineteen, he would never do what Mr. Walling did. He hates to see people pressured. If his girlfriend says No to something, and the person to whom she says No fails to respect that answer, he can be a bit biting when he explains what that single syllable word actually means to the person who clearly doesn't understand it the first few times. This pressuring behaviour is one of the few things that makes him angry. Because he is sensitive to the application of pressure. It's not something he applies to people he's never met and doesn't know.

I get a little bit tired of having Asperger's brought up as an excuse for harassment. It's not. My son is fully aware that he doesn't always parse or notice social signals - so he is at great pains to observe, to try to understand; he errs on the side of caution in interactions with strangers. If my son is uncertain about social cues - he asks. There is no pejorative, to his mind, in asking directly. Holding someone else responsible for the "wrongness" of his thoughts would never even occur to him.

I would never, ever, ascribe the behaviour Genevieve Valentine was subject to to Asperger's or ASD. And it pains me greatly when people who aren't familiar with Asperger's or ASD do so, as if they are somehow exhibiting a greater and necessary tolerance. They are not. They are muddying waters; they are (unintentionally) condescending; they are (unintentionally) diminishing. I know this is not their intent--but that's the spillover effect.

Asperger children are often more careful about boundary issues, not less.

Comments

green_knight
Jul. 30th, 2012 11:35 am (UTC)
I have been that extremely clueless person who really wanted to talk to someone and didn't pick up on subtle 'not now' signs, so I can kind of understand how such a situation might come about _with someone you know_ (there's a different protocoll for strangers!), but a clear 'go away' is a clear 'go away'.

I expect an otherwise intelligent grownup to understand that, to accept it, and to remove himself from such situations if he has such poor impulse control.

As for the readercon board, who put the harassers's comfort over the perceived safety of attendees, well....