Outside! (#336)
It's Not Contagious (#338)

Why This Is the Autism Reality Show (#337)

A few weeks ago, Katie Grant wrote an article in The Sunday Times, Scotland, Some ‘autistic’ children aren’t ill, they’re just badly behaved in which she suggested that it is "trendy" to get an autism diagnosis for one's child. Douglas Coupland author of the novels Generation X (1991) and Microserfs (1995), among many others, has a new novel, JPod, about a group of gamers who, according to The Observer,

define themselves, variously, through largely valid attempts to use humour and trivia to cope with mild degrees of autism. One, Kaitlin, has a lucid take on it all, musing on why so many 'creatives' should be in thrall to 'persistent low-grade autism'. She argues, fairly successfully, in a take repeated here by Coupland in real life, that it is important today to become comfortable with an apparent lack of personality, and that many of the traits we traditionally identify in people - from the babbling idiot, via the class clown, to the 'quiet', then 'aloof', then 'spooky', and then the frothing Unabomber - are simply inhabiting a sliding scale of minor autism, our ways of coping in a confused world with clusters of overlapping brain functions.

Coupland notes that he has "mild autism'" according to The Observer article. His notion of people "inhabiting a sliding scale of minor autism" strikes me as a reference to neurodiversity.

Autism is the "trendy" diagnosis; (mildly) autistic characters in a (mildly autistic) best-selling novelist: You get the feeling that autism has become the disease du jour, for better, for worse.

I am curious about JPod; it goes without saying that it is "all things autism" in our household. But still I wonder, how does it help Charlie that he has a "trendy autism diagnosis" or that some famous novelist has a new book with autistic characters?

Does it help to deal with situations like this morning's?

After Charlie had eaten most of a bag of frozen peas and carrots and I had told him that he had had enough for one meal and could have the rest at lunch, he ran smiling one moment into the living room, tripped on a toy, and then was screaming the next and banging his head on the couch arm.

Moments like that make the thought of "autism as the trendy thing to get for your kids" so absurd I would not be able to stop laughing, except for having to run to check on whatever Charlie is up to. Katie Grant's idea of autism seems pure fiction, indeed.

Nothing here on Autismland is made up: That's why this is the "autism reality show." I am no novelist. If I were, I do not have the stomach to make up scenes of an autistic child in full tantrum mode, frozen vegetables and couch cushions flying.
And the truth is, this Saturday started quite well. We were out of Charlie's favorite foods, so he and I made an early trip to the grocery store. We came home, Jim went to run errands, Charlie practised his writing skills, I read Go Dog Go and he pointed to the word "dog." And then the tantrumy mess happened, and then we sat around after we had shut the windows, and then Charlie and Jim sailed off for a mega-bike ride. I made sure to have a big pot of rice cooked for Charlie when he came home, and to have the picture schedule ready, and a pile of books to read: Hush Little Alien, Tar Beach, Polar Bear Night, among others. Jim made sure that there was no long line at the barber's and called me to bring Charlie over just in time to sit in the chair for a buzz cut. Charlie made sure to eat up every drop of his brown noodles--"Thai noodles with peanut sauce," we practised in the car on the way. And we all made sure that we had a sweet family Saturday night, with a lazy ride to "show Mom" the streets Charlie had biked through and a lot of music, from the Wiggles to "Song for My Father" in Sugarcane Harris' jazz violin rendition.

This is Autismland.

Autism is not some "excuse" for a misbehaving child, Ms. Grant.

If there is "minor autism," Mr. Coupland, is there also "major autism"?

What is autism fact and autism fiction?

I am wondering as I wander in Autismland.



Hi Kristina,
Can you believe this Ms. Grant character? She has really ticked me off. She sounds very very IGNORANT and I am going to try to find her email address write her.

Charlie is ever so handsome with his new haircut, of course he's always cute as ever!

mike stanton

The only email for Grant that I can find is a form on her website
I did respond to Grant's article. You can read my letter on my blog.
You will not find it published by the Sunday Times.

Kristina Chew

Thanks for the links, Mike, and for your post-----yes, Ms. Grant seems to be "out of control."

It's a pre-summer buzzcut!


One afternoon a couple of years back I was having a casual conversation about autism and special education with a woman I didn't know well.

She said, "Well if you ask me" (I hadn't) "these parents are just pretending their kids are impaired so they can get free tuition to private schools. Take my neighbors -- their daughter looks perfectly normal -- but she misbehaves and gets to go to private school -- for free!! Or rather, at your and my expense!"

It was one of those moments where breathing in slowly and out slowly you have to do some conscious raising. No one pretends their kid is autistic so they can let them tantrum, or get a state-supported private school education.


I find it very easy to differentiate those who are speaking/writing about the "reality" of autism vs. the idea of autism. Those who are not all that familiar about autism's realities tend to betray themselves when they talk about autism. In fact it's why I send people who ask me about autism and really want to understand it here. I often used to wish there was an "Autism Reality Show" not to exploit those with autism, but to help people really understand and yes, LOVE individuals with autism as they have been some of the most charming, endearing, pure-hearted, genuine people I know.


Ooooh--it is a good thing I do not have my daughter's martial arts skills, or some people would be getting flying roundhouse kicks.

Grant's burbling brings to mind two other ideas (memes, urban legends) flying around.

One is the fiction that legions of upper-middle class parents are getting their kids fake diagnoses of learning disabilities, in order to qualify for accomodations on tests such as the SAT.

The other is the fiction that legions of parents are forcing school districts to pay for underserved or unneccessary private school placements. (Charlie Fox wrote about it here
and here

What do they have in common--that some parents are getting "special treatment" and it is costing "regular parents" something.

It's a scarcity thought, an anxiety thought, an excluded-from-privilege thought. I can't get my brain around why it is happening now.


Just to irritate you all further, an article from 2000 by Katie Grant, well, the start, anyway.


I no longer wish the mental handicap wasn't there--Prospect Magazine, 2000

The mentally handicapped have always made me nervous. They make me nervous still. This is not a road to Damascus story. Nor is it a story about triumph through personal adversity. I have three perfectly healthy young children. But it is, nevertheless, a story about change.

Three days before my oldest daughter, now 14, was born, my cousin and his wife also had a baby, Mary. For no apparent reason Mary was born with Down's syndrome. After her birth, her aunt, the young writer Maggie...

I didn't feel like purchasing the rest of the article. Your mileage may vary.


"For no apparent reason Mary was born with Down's syndrome..."

For no apparent reason?
I don't understand.

Kristina Chew

I don't think Ms. Grant is through with being "nervous" (for rather apparent reasons).


oh my god, kristina, that was beautifully put. i am appalled at Ms. Grant and her outrageous statements. appalled.

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