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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Don't Get Too Cheeky

Okay, you've all seen the inevitable materialize. Autistic basketball player goes to Hollywood.Don't get too cheeky, don't get too critical...we still need heros. I like the fact that he says that he is just who he is. The last line in the article says it all, doesn't it?

If he didn't get this publicity, (and yes, there is a lot more to his story than a two minute frame),the world might not be seeing the positive, way of being, aspects of autism. A Hollywood story isn't always that bad. The public really does have a TV attention span, you know.


Blogger ballastexistenz said...

I don't see those stories as showing anything positive about autism itself, at all, though.

They just show something positive that happened to an autistic person. And they show nominally positive comments by people who know him. (People who tell him when to laugh and when not to laugh, which is why I say "nominally" positive, also people who just try to minimize the fact that he is autistic, including him.)

That's different from the positive side of autism (which might include describing how being autistic contributed to his success that day, or something, which so far nothing has relaly done -- it's all an "in spite of autism" sort of story).

1:43 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

My point is, he said what he had to in the last line of the interview which I liked:

"I'm not really that different," he said. "I don't really care about this autistic situation, really. It's just the way I am. The advice I'd give to autistic people is just keep working, just keep dreaming, you'll get your chance and you'll do it."

I see the article, the story, the Hollywood movie a chance for the rest of us to build on positive messages and get the ultimate ones across.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Lisa/Jedi said...

I have such mixed feelings about how this story has been approached... I live in the community where it happened & so have been peppered with queries from friends & family about how we feel about it. I worry about how this sort publicity might affect a family with a special-needs kid, partly because we had a similar mini-experience. Our son was briefly in the news a while back for having an essay published in a book by Harry Potter fans- he was the youngest participant & so newsworthy- at least locally, so I know how B's brief brush with fame affected him- he hated it. I would never want my life to be given the "Disney" treatment because I value truth & honestly too much to be seen through the Hollywood lens. From my kid's point of view... well, he's not at all interested in sports, so his reaction has been kind of "so what" :) I think it was wonderful for Jason to realise his dream, no question about that! I also found his lack of self-consciousness on the court similar to my own kid's ability to get up in front of a crowd of people & sing solo- perhaps this is an advantage autistic kids have over the NT population :)

5:10 PM  
Blogger not my blg said...

J-Mac's story is positive for autism because it challenges the fear and low expectations of people who don't know anything about autism. His story helps to disabuse people of their stereotypes about autistics. Anytime a child with a disability does something that challenges ingrained negative stereotypes, its a good thing. Autistic children are so very often treated as a pathology by the general public. This manifests itself in low research dollars from the government, poor educational services, exclusion by schools, churchs, preschools, doctors who could care less about our children and on and on. J-Mac burst some bubbles out there. How is that not positive?

7:08 AM  
Blogger ballastexistenz said...

It's not positive because, historically, this kind of story has not helped any group of disabled people. It looks on the surface like it does, but it really reinforces the attitudes that view us as incapable of anything and so forth. The disability community has studied extensively the effects of these stories on disabled people, and the overall effects are negative: Disabled people who achieve things are viewed as the exception to the rule, the forces that keep us from accomplishing things are not discussed (and assumed to be neutral), and overall people kind of get a warm fuzzy feeling of "Awwww... how sweet," and go on their way with their perceptions not changed one bit.

That is not to say that coverage could not have been positive. But it was not approached in a positive way, and the effect of this story will be, like many "inspirational" and "supercrip" stories before it, not to change prejudices but to further entrench them.

I'm not making this up or coming up with this on my own:

False Positive

Eli Clare writes a lot about it in xyr book, Exile and Pride, which I'd highly recommend to anyone curious about these issues. (You can also read a lot of what I mean about what xe has to say about "supercrip" if you do "search inside this book" and search on "supercrip" and read the "front matter" stuff. But it makes more sense if you buy/borrow the book from somewhere.

The Story Goes On And On (how disabled athletes are really viewed)

Inspiration contains this great quote, "Indeed, in order to inspire, Helfgott must embrace the very norms which first oppressed him. Rather than having his difference banished and controlled in a psychiatric hospital, Helfgott now overcomes his own difference, on behalf of the normals. He overcomes his otherness, he triumphs. They need only clap. Here we see the contradictory essence of this form of inspiration: Helfgott offers "transport" away from everyday social boundaries toward an imaginary brush with true meaning while simultaneously reinforcing those same boundaries by overcoming his difference for those who made him "other" in the first place." and "This is the bad faith of the inspirational story: that which we overcome is what has been done to us in the first place."

And that last one is the most comprehensive article I can find about how these stories only appear to be doing good, but actually reinforce more harmful things than they do right.

There's also an article out there for journalists on how to cover disability stories: From "Special" to Substantial. The author of that article says, in part: "Here's what the story didn't tell us: Did Jason's high school accommodate him and educate him properly? How was Jason treated by his teammates -- as an equal or more like a mascot? Is the guidance office at Jason's school helping him plan his post-high school education in the same way as the other students? Of course, the story that moved on the wires wasn't meant to do anything other than cover that game. But it does illustrate how easy it is to go after the "inspirational" piece and how much more reporting is required to tell the fuller, more important story."

Stories like this one are a dime a dozen. They are not positive. They only appear to be. They're around all the time. And they don't make anyone see us as more capable, let alone expose any of the real problems faced by the people in the stories (exposing those problems would ruin the "feel-good" air of them).

2:00 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...


This is the most compelling argument against this story that I've encountered thus far.

I see your point now...making autism more accpetable, palatable. These stories are a dime a dozen, you're right.

My question now: Is this story one that has provided a window of opportunity to build your message upon or is it all beside the point?

I suspect you feel the latter. However, what it did do is give you and others to express another side.

Keep doing it. You've converted me ;)

4:04 PM  
Blogger SquareGirl said...

I have been so torn about this story and ballasexistenz makes the best argument why. So many people e-mailed me links to this story and I could not figure out why it didn't sit well with me...yet now I think I know why. It feels like we are celebrating behavior because it is stereotypically NT rather than accepting and celebrating differences. I think that people are looking for a way to feel good about autism and are taking this as a substitute for really getting to know, undestand and love diversity...At the same time, I am truly proud of and happy for J-Mac as basketball is clearly a pssion of his.

5:52 PM  
Blogger not my blg said...

I too see that ballasexistenz argument is very valid. But, what if J-Mac's story caused one person to look up what autism is, if just one child saw the story and it made him think that perhaps he shouldn't bully or tease the austic child in his school. What if it gives one autistic child a chance to participate when he wouldn't have been given an opportunity? What if it gave a parent of a child an opportunity to feel happy for another child with autism? What if one parent was involved in the IEP process during the height of the J-Mac story and it softened the heart of the school administrators to allow more services? Did anyone read the link from my blog about the ESPN story on J-Mac? They go into more depth which Ballasexistenz is advocating. I don't believe these questions invalidate ballasexistenz argument as I don't think this was what she was addressing. The story did make me happy in a sort of "f-u normal people" way.

6:28 PM  

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