Monday, June 15, 2009

ASAN Responds to Dr. Tony Attwood

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recently created a petition and a statement to the community regarding the need for Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Isabelle Hénault to disassociate themselves from hate groups that use stereotypes and pseudoscience to incite discrimination against Autistic people in family law and relationships. We received a reply from Dr. Attwood consisting only of a form letter, sent to numerous recipients, which wholly failed to address the central issue of his and Dr. Hénault's associations with Maxine Aston and FAAAS and the ongoing harm to Autistics and others with disabilities resulting from these associations. We consider Dr. Attwood's reply grossly inadequate and have set forth a point-by-point response below, with Dr. Attwood's statements in italic formatting.

Dr. Attwood: I would like to state quite clearly that having a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s syndrome does not render a person automatically incapable of being a good partner and parent. Indeed, many of the people I know with autism and Asperger’s syndrome as clients and friends are exceptionally good parents and partners. Should a separation occur between partners and a Court examine the issue of custody of children and access then in my opinion, any decisions should be made on the basis of the abilities of each parent and not simply assume that a parent with autism or Asperger’s syndrome is incapable of being a good parent.

ASAN: In addition to the possibility that an Autistic person might be assumed to be automatically incapable of being a good partner and parent, which is the most extreme danger posed by false stereotypes of family violence, these stereotypes have given rise to more subtle forms of discrimination in family law. FAAAS has explicitly urged family law courts and social workers to view Autistic partners and parents as more likely than others to be abusive. An article by Sheila Jennings Linehan on the FAAAS website, entitled Representing Cassandra in Matrimonial Law, characterizes the non-Autistic spouse as "a normal individual subjected to prolonged moral distress" who is not believed when she "accurately predicts future harm to her children." Along with Maxine Aston, the article specifically cites you, Dr. Attwood, as authority for such statements. FAAAS member Harriet Simons presents seminars for social workers in which she makes similar claims. Your continued association with FAAAS suggests that you endorse these false claims and, as such, increases the risk that Autistics and others with neurological disabilities will face discrimination within the family law system.

Dr. Attwood: The term “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder” has been coined by Maxine Aston. It is not an official diagnostic category. I do know that stress within a relationship between an adult with Asperger’s syndrome and their partner can lead to the neurotypical partner having signs of a clinical depression. Effective relationship counselling by a counsellor knowledgeable in the area of autism and Asperger’s syndrome can significantly improve the relationship and help alleviate the signs of depression.

ASAN: By failing to acknowledge that stress within a relationship can contribute to depression for either partner, Dr. Attwood—and by your repeated endorsements of Maxine Aston in books and interviews—you are perpetuating the false claim that being in a relationship with an Autistic partner is psychologically harmful to a non-Autistic partner. There is no scientific basis whatsoever for suggesting that depression affects only the non-Autistic partner or that it is caused by affective deprivation related to the Autistic partner's responses. Several recent research studies specifically examining the affective dimensions of empathy and alexithymia found no impairment in the affective responses of Autistic individuals. (Rogers, Dziobek, Hassenstab, Wolf, & Convit, 2007; Berthoz & Hill, 2005; Silani, Bird, Brindley, Singer, Frith, & Frith, 2008.) Rather, cognitive and linguistic differences lead to misunderstandings. Thus, a presumption that the non-Autistic partner suffers from affective deprivation is unwarranted. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recommends that those who counsel couples with one Autistic partner should adopt a nonjudgmental approach to identifying and constructively addressing misunderstandings that have occurred.

Dr. Attwood: According to my knowledge, there is no research to suggest that people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome are likely to be violent in a relationship to any greater degree than a typical person in the general population. I do know that a significant proportion of the clients that I see in my clinical practice express to me their concern in their ability to manage their temper but we now have programs such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help those with autism and Asperger’s syndrome manage feelings such as anger. Problems with anger management also occur in the ordinary population but the nature of the treatment of difficulties with anger management must include an appreciation of the different experiences and cognitive profile of someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

ASAN: Research studies have established that Autistics are no more likely to commit violent acts or violent crimes than the general population (Murrie, Warren, Kristiansson, & Dietz, 2002; Barry-Walsh & Mullen, 2004). Notwithstanding the scientific evidence, however, FAAAS has repeatedly and falsely stereotyped Autistics as likely to be violent and abusive toward family members and others. When interviewed in July 2008 for a Canwest News Service article, Karen Rodman, founder of FAAAS, asserted that Autistics often lose their temper for no reason. In a local news interview with the Cape Cod Times in February 2007, Rodman argued that Autistic students should be put into segregated schools because their presence purportedly could endanger other students. Dr. Attwood, by continuing to associate with FAAAS and by serving on its Professional Advisory Panel, you are in effect endorsing and lending your credibility to these harmful and prejudiced assertions. In this context, your discussion of clients seeking help for anger problems, who clearly are not a representative sample of the Autistic population as a whole, serves only to muddy the waters further.

Dr. Attwood: I have presented workshops for FAAAS for couples where one of the partners has a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and in all my presentations, I have approached the issues in a very positive way examining strategies to make a successful relationship.

ASAN: In light of the clearly documented history of false stereotypes of violence and psychological harm promoted by FAAAS and other groups associated with the pseudoscientific affective deprivation concept, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network suggests that presenting couples workshops in different venues would be far more likely to result in positive and successful relationships. Dr. Attwood, we therefore reiterate our demands that you promptly disassociate yourself from Maxine Aston, FAAAS, and all similar groups and apologize to our community for the harm done by your past associations with them.


Yvonne said...

These are very valid and true claims by Ari Ne'eman. I hope Dr Attwood would consider the politics he is knitting into the fabric of autism. There is a fine line between neutrality for science sake and apeasement to get support. I have been happily married for 35 yrs to the same person and we have a loving and supportive family. I am an aspie. My child and my husband are my greatest supporters. Not one day goes by without a hug or a kiss (our family policy). We are a very close knit family. We don't slap or hit,however, the debate of pc vs Mac is forbidden discussion in our home :)... This is an interesting exchange and educational.

Yvonne Mikulencak, Executive Director, Asperger Women Association.

Sharon daVanport said...
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Yvonne said...

On a more personal note, last year my beloved mother in law died at the age of 94 yrs old. A week before she passed away, she phoned me with a quivering voice due to her failing health and stated, "I want to thank you for marrying my son"...This aspie can't get a greater endorsement than this. My family misses her.

Yvonne Mikulencak, Asperger Women Association, Executive Director

Sharon daVanport said...

Dr. Attwood, it is my sincere hope that you will choose to respond appropriately regarding this matter.

I have always respected your understanding of Asperger's & most recently I've been most pleased about your new book re: Aspergers & Girls.

No one should ever allow their good works to be tainted by their affiliations; and if you choose to continue your association with Dr. Isabelle Hénault & FAAAS, then your credibility as a leader in the autism community will be forever questioned. Dr. Attwood, please make the right choice & STOP THE HATE.

Sharon Davanport
Board Member &
Midwest Regional Director
Asperger Women Association

Yvonne said...

My fear upon reading Dr Attwoods assessment that aspies and auties are violent including women, which he proports himself as an expert as a psychologist (male) and not a medical doctor, is that Dr Attwood has open the door to justification of abuse of women and children on the spectrum. Some men will justify beatings, emotional abuse, financial abuse stating Dr Attwood has made fact that women and children on the autistic spectrum are violent by nature like feral animals. Abuse shelters ratio of spousal abuse is 80% women, along with children. I just hope that the lure of a private endowment is not at the heart of these statements by Dr Attwood from or through these two women with whom he shares philosophies.
One can only wonder why a man who proports to be an expert on women on the spectrum would make such a statement without more research since so many women are NOT diagnosed and usually those who are have co morbid issues. If you don't have the women respresented in full, you can't make a good case for any such study. Most of my friends who were late diagnosed in their 50s are not violent with anyone. They are too busy being successful as are their aspie children. Most women at an older age do not know they are on the spectrum , so women are not fully represented on any studies he may have. I would like to volunteer myself to Dr Attwoods next study. I am available at his beckon call.

I would hate to see his promotion of Aspie and autie women and children as violent feral humans, this would be open season for abuse of them.

Yvonne said...

Now, with time passing, and we have had a chance to think,reread, and try to comprehend the spirit of Dr Attwood's statement, instead of literal interpretation, as executive director of AWA, I feel Dr Attwood has been unfairly pressured by over active reactions. AWA does not support Ms Aston, her colleagues, or their organization, as it stands. We do feel,Dr Attwood deserves respect, because he has been a friend to those on the spectrum his entire professional life. If AWA contributed to any form derision, regarding Dr Attwood, we send him our sincere apologies...
Dr Attwood has our respect and we hope communication will be open between the spectrum community and him.
When people are well known ,as Dr Attwood is, it is not unusual for people to take advantage of his good nature. I would ask the community to refrain from poison pen emails, challenges,derisions, or attacks, and, instead, write Dr Attwood respectfully. Also, I would ask the community to focus more on these two women who make up this controversial organization, which easily can be interpreted as a hate organization, instead of a support group for NT family members and friends. Hate accomplishes nothing..It's a cancer. Hopefully, an indept insight into this organization, will help professionals see the mission and if it is a healthy one in their approach.

Respectfully yours,

Yvonne Mikulencak, Asperger Women Assoction, Executive Director

Yvonne said...
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Yvonne said...
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Yvonne said...

I found this to be an interesting blog about Dr Attwoods Behavior and association with FAAS

TITLE of the blog is "Tony Attwood's Minstrel Show "

Interesting read... a mimist now hmmmm

Yvonne said...

I found one of the FAAAS members book.

My husband and I , marriage of 35 yrs, looked at her book about spouses of those on the spectrum, we literally laughed at her conclusions, totally ignoring the women she was diagnosing as having multiple disorders from what we read, and psychological problems which had nothing to do with the autistic spectrum. Women of weak self esteem, poor judgement, and blamed others for the most part. None of their own behavior as to why they entered such marriages ever reflected them. I looked at her other books and here is a Lulu..

Do read this womans life story. I would never have a person like this advising me on anything ,not even what spices to place in my food.

As I said before, we need to look into these women who started this FAAAS organization..when you uncover their history of relationships often you find the key to their "hatred". Apparantly she assaulted another woman~ had an NT Temper, could not control herself, and labels it as something everyone should do at or by 60.. Hmmmmm Read it for yourselves... We need to learn about these women.