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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.


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.


Jul. 30th, 2012 08:55 am (UTC)
I've been on the sharp end of this. I can cite you incidents in which I was handled, followed, persistently approached, backed into corners, stalked, bullied or coerced into contact I did not want, emotionally blackmailed and, on one occasion, forced into a car. Most of these men were just a-holes, though they probably wouldn't admit that. Two pulled emotional blackmail stunts on a huge scale. Two used the 'ASD' defence, wielding it as a weapon into trying to force me to comply with their wishes -- they were *special*, I owed them, because women are so rare in their lives that they had a right to me, I was hurting them with my nasty, inconsiderate behaviour...
They did not get what they wanted, though they did probably get more of my time and attention than they deserved. I was accused by mutual friends of callousness and cruelty when I finally cut off contact -- because didn't I understand that these two were different and had a right to me?
Neither one has Aspergers or Autism. I've been clear on that since the ASD defence first appeared over here. I went and researched the conditions, given that they were being cited at me to defend and excuse truly objectionable behaviour towards me.
I think you are wonderfully moderate about this. I'm not a little bit tired of seeing self-diagnosed ASD used to bludgeon people their own way. I'm furious. These self-centred b*stards are making life unnecessary difficult for others (especially women). They are using the problems of real people as a smokescreen for their behaviour, and adding to the difficulties those real people already face. They can, frankly, go and take a long walk out of the nearest airlock and stay out in the vacuum.
It's one of the geek fallacies, I think: to someone who does not have ASD and doesn't know someone who does, it looks like a way to make themselves more interesting, to justify bad habits and to avoid working on improving their public behaviour. I've seen self-diagnosed 'bipolar' used in the same way. (The ASD self-diagnosers are usually male, the bipolar self diagnosers are usually female.) I know several people have genuine diagnoses of ASD (and one person who has high-functioning autism) and two very close friends who are genuinely bipolar. None of them use this in the way the fan bullies do.
End of rant: apologies. I have had so much harassment over the years that it's beyond funny and my tolerance ran out a long time ago.