Other People's Words

Transcript: Tony Attwood's July 21 appearance on the AWA Podcast (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in Uncategorized by Tera on July 23, 2009

Here’s a transcript of Tony Attwood’s appearance on the Asperger Women’s Association podcast at Blogtalk Radio. This is only roughly the first half of the podcast; Part 2 is here. If you’ve noticed any errors I’ve made, please let me know:

Sharon daVanport: Greetings everyone, and welcome to AWA radio: Asperger Women official talk time. I am your host, Sharon daVanport, and today is Tuesday, July 21. We have as our guest this evening Dr. Tony Attwood:. Dr. Attwood is a bestselling author, a practicing psychologist for more than 25 years and a recognized expert of Asperger Syndrome. We have a great deal to cover this evening, folks, so, here on AWA Radio we’re gonna have to really be on top of things. If you have questions in the chatroom, we hope we can get to those. I can’t guarantee it, because Dr. Attwood does have a limited window of opportunity to be with us this evening. And, as a lot of you do know, after Dr. Attwood’s interview, we will be joined by Ari Ne’eman. Ari is the president and founder of ASAN–that is, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network–and as many of you already know, there are many people in the autism community who have recently questioned Dr. Attwood’s affiliation as an advisory board member for the organization FAAAS, and boy, that’s gonna be a tongue-twister for me tonight, folks.

Anyway, for the first time since this controversy began, Dr. Attwood and Ari do want to speak to one another publicly this evening with regards to their respective positions on this matter. So, let’s move right along, since we have a lot to cover this evening, and start the show by welcoming our guest, Dr. Tony Attwood:. And, are you with us, Dr. Attwood?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Indeed I am with you, yes.

Sharon daVanport: Well, thank you, and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us this evening. I know that last we spoke, you were just getting settled in before the start of your workshop tour, which…actually, you’re here in the United States right now for that, and you’re going to conferences and workshops for Future Horizons, is that correct?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. At the moment, I’m in Butte, Montana, and next stop is Portland, Oregon.

Sharon daVanport: Portland, Oregon, so…and you started out where?

Dr. Tony Attwood: On the East Coast.

Sharon daVanport: Oh, my, so, yeah, coast to coast, isn’t it? [Laughter]

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes.

Sharon daVanport: Okay, so, I was wanting to know, are the topics which you cover in your workshops and public addresses mainly about Asperger’s?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Mainly about Asperger’s, but some of the ideas are relevant to autism as well. But it’s more on what we would call Asperger’s Syndrome, high-functioning autism, or sometimes PDD-NOS.

Sharon daVanport: Okay, all right. And I have a question also, which is something that has been brought up here on AWA Radio. In fact, last week we had a couple of parents who joined our show, and they were in the chat room, and they were expressing their disdain over the fact that autistic adults refer to themselves as being on the autism spectrum. I wanted to ask you: In your professional opinion, do you believe that Asperger’s should be identified and diagnostically identified separately, and not as autism?

Dr. Tony Attwood: I view it as part of the autism continuum or part of the autism spectrum. So it does exist as a description of a person’s abilities and qualities. And so, from my point of view, it does exist as part of the continuum of autism.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. That makes sense, and that was kind of the consensus of most all of us in the chat room and on the show last week. It was very difficult for the parents who have children who are non-verbal and who have a different set of challenges than those do with Asperger’s. It was very difficult for them to grasp that concept. They didn’t want us to identify ourselves as being on the autism spectrum, so as a professional in autism, I did want to get your viewpoint on that and express that on the show, and I thank you for that.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay.

Sharon daVanport: I also wanted to take just a quick moment here to ask you a question from one of our listeners. The people in the chatroom, you will know Lindsay as “Autism is a rose” on Twitter. She e-mailed me, and she has a question for you, Dr. Attwood. Her question is actually on the same line of what we were just speaking about. She wants to know if there is a difference between high-functioning autism and Asperger’s, because she is an adult who was identified and diagnosed at a very young age with autism, and even though she’s very high-funtioning and she tours and gives public addresses at conferences about autism, it is still of the belief with people in her life and the professionals in her life that she is not anywhere being identified as someone with Asperger’s. They completely say she is diagnosed with autism. Can you explain to our listeners the difference between high-functioning autism and Asperger’s, if there is one?

Dr. Tony Attwood: The main difference is in early development, before the age of 5. Those who are usually diagnosed as high-functioning autism would have the features of classic autism in their preschool years. For example, major problems and delay with speech, may have been very socially withdrawan and may have had very limited play skills. However, there are changes that may occur between the ages of about 3 and 6 years old.

Now, just to speak historically on this topic, the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” was first actually coined by Lorna Wing, in her paper in 1981 to describe the children that she saw at 2 and 3 years old who were the classic, Leo Kanner’s “silent, aloof” autistic child, and then through early intervention and programs improved to such a degree that they were no longer silent and aloof. In fact, the best description of the profile of abilities was made by Hans Asperger, and that’s how the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” came into the English-speaking countries.

Sharon daVanport: Okay, so, basically the diagnostic criteria to diagnose someone with either high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome would be based upon early childhood, or development in early childhood.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. But by the time the person is about 10 years old plus, many of the strategies we use for Asperger’s Syndrome would also be appropriate for the person with high-functioning autism.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. That makes so much sense, it really does. I get that. I had that explained to me one other time by a doctor of psychology and they put it in a similar way. I appreciated the way you typically identified…

Dr. Tony Attwood: [There are?] two…two pathways to a similar outcome.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. Nice. I like that. Now, I also wanted you to speak a little bit this evening about the recent book that you collaborated with I believe it was 7 other authors including Temple Grandin. It is the book Asperger’s and Girls.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes, indeed. Most of the work is known in relation to boys and men, and very little known about girls and women. And yet, at our clinic, we’re getting more and more girls and women referred, and gradually, as time goes by, more and more information on how autism or Asperger’s Syndrome can be expressed in girls compared to boys.

Sharon daVanport: And is that basically what this book addresses, is those distinct differences and qualities which a female with Asperger’s has, as opposed to the opposite gender?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes, and also different expectations from society. Society has certain expectations of boys that can be different from girls, and certain expectations in relationships in particular that are more likely to be faced by girls with Asperger’s than boys.

Sharon daVanport: Can you name a few of those?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Well, there’s an expectation in terms of relationships and maternal skills, etc., that are expected in girls and women, and some girls and women with Asperger’s Syndrome are unsure quite what society expects them to be, and whether that is their true self.

Sharon daVanport: Right. I know as an adult female with Asperger’s and speaking with so many of other females on the spectrum through the AWA, that is probably the one topic of conversation which we just could never find enough information on to address and to express in all of our unique ways, because we’re all individuals first. However, we find we come back to those same set of challenges and those same set of gifts and qualities that help us to rise to the occasion, like you said with motherhood and being able to parent our children and have motherly instincts and just being a female, you know, basically.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes, okay. For example, Temple has chosen a celibate lifestyle. My sister-in-law Penny with Asperger’s Syndrome made a very conscious decision not to have children. And so, society usually expects mothers–women–to have or want lots of children.

Sharon daVanport: Right. I do know that I’ve asked myself more than once, if I would have known before I started having children that I did have Asperger Syndrome, would I have chosen to have children or not? I-I can’t answer that fairly, you know, because how could I say “no” when I have four beautiful children [laugher] you know?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes.

Sharon daVanport: However, you know, it’s a fair question. And I do undertstand where Temple Grandin and, like, your sister-in-law, I understand where they’re coming from, because when you have information before you that helps you to understand the pros and maybe the challenges thta could accompany that. However, I do know as a female with Asperger’s, I don’t let those challenges hinder me. I know many others who feel the same way. I say to myself every day that: “Well, all people have challenges, not just people with Asperger’s,” you know?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Indeed. And I also want to state that women with Asperger’s can be exceptionally good mothers.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Dr. Tony Attwood: And I really do applaud many mums with Asperger’s Syndrome who are superb mothers of their neurotypical or Asperger children.

Sharon daVanport: Well, I thank you for saying that. [Laughter] I know that other mothers out there, who are diagnosed or identified with Asperger’s appreciate hearing that. It’s something that I know that you’ll probably touch a little bit about later in just a few minutes when we bring Ari on, because that kinda leads into something I’m not an expert on, and that’s the Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder, I believe it’s called?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes.

Sharon daVanport: And I’m just not an expert on that, so I know that there is some controversy on that there that I’ll let you guys, you know, express how you each view that when I bring Ari on, okay?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay. But I…I’d like to–

Sharon daVanport: Oh, go ahead, I’m sorry.

Dr. Tony Attwood: I was just gonna say, there’s another issue that some women face with Asperger’s Syndrome, is that sometimes because of negative feedback and teasing from others, they have low self-esteem. And they have low expectations in relationships, and may not be good at what I call the “inbuilt radar to spot the bad guys.”

Sharon daVanport: Oh, that is a wonderful point.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. Many women that I’ve met with Asperger’s Syndrome have been prone to date rape, abusive relationships, etc., from neurotypicals who have been–shall we say–abusive of that individual: emotionally, financially, and sometimes sexually and physically as well.

Sharon daVanport: Right. And we’re actually working on….through the AWA we’re working on being able to have a forum that addresses that. That addresses the vulnerability that women with Asperger’s do typically have, for the reasons of our social ability to maybe read facial expressions.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Um-hm.

Sharon daVanport: Now, I know personally that that has happened to me in my past, where I found myself in a relationship that was very abusive, and when I look back after I was handed this list of all these signs that you look for in someone, and there was no way…now I can spot someone, because I’m very well aware of that. However, before I understood that, there was just no way that someone that manipulative who perhaps has that abusive kind of personality–there was just no way for me to do that; to you know?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yeah.

Sharon daVanport: I’m so glad I know now, you know, but you’re right. There is a vulnerability there that we do need to be careful of. What would you suggest, Dr. Attwood, for the AWA when we talk about having a forum for this? What would you suggest we–

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay.

Sharon daVanport: –we base our criteria on?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Well, one of the things that I would suggest that you may do is, actually, a very good idea from Liane Holliday-Willey, who, whenever she met someone new in her life, had a corps of friends or relatives that had that intuitive social understanding; that didn’t take people at face value or just what they said.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Dr. Tony Attwood: And so she would ensure that they would meet this person, and then [laughter] test them out in terms of suitability to become a friend–

Sharon daVanport: Okay

Dr. Tony Attwood: –and then, confidentially, they would say to Liane things like: “Oh, no, Liane, I just wouldn’t trust him,” and then she would close the friendship. Or they would say: “Yes, Liane, I think they’re okay. It would be appropriate to go to the next stage.” So it’s having a friend or a relative who is good at…I suppose, in a way, it’s like an interview for a friendship, as “Is that person suitable?”

Sharon daVanport: Right. Wow. So having a good support system–someone that, on your behalf, could really screen that other person.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. And before the relationship gets too serious.

Sharon daVanport: Right, okay. Wow. I really like that, Dr. Attwood. I just so much appreciate–I know that you are a…I cannot believe that we are already 15 minutes into the show, and you’ve only got [laughter] 30 minutes with us today.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay, well, we may have some sort of latitude in that, depending on how we go.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. That’s fine. And I do want to thank you so much for being a part of this show, especially in saying that you do want to speak with Ari about the recent controversy which is going on with FAAAS. Now, I am not gonna even pretend to know what that stands for. I had read it a million times, but I believe I’ve read two different things. One says that they consider themselves “Families of those Afflicted with Autism,” is that correct, or–?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Well, it used to be. It was changed to “Affected,” I think.

Sharon daVanport: “Affected,” okay. Those are the two that…I believe I did read those two separate titles for the organization. And I wanted to go ahead and bring Ari on in just a few seconds, and before I do, though, the two questions that we have received through the AWA over the past week for you, I wanted to go ahead…I thought they’d be great questions to lead into bringing Ari on, because they have to do with FAAAS. [Laughter] And I’ll just go ahead and read both the questions, then I’ll let you answer it and I’m gonna bring Ari on, okay? I think that’ll be a good starting place for both of you.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay.

Sharon daVanport: The first question that we’ve had is, “What is your role as an advisory board member with this organization?” and then, secondly, “If your personal beliefs differ from that of FAAAS, can you professionally represent them on the advisory board, and still remain a friend to the autism community who support neurodiversity?”

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay.

Sharon daVanport: So first, tell us what your role is as an advisory board member.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay. Well, one of the things I’ve done in the past for them is contribute to their conferences as a speaker.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Dr. Tony Attwood: And they had a number of conferences, but in fact they haven’t had one for several years. So I’ve been a speaker at their conferences with other colleagues as well.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Dr. Tony Attwood: And I discuss issues or concerns that have been raised on the forums, usually with personal e-mails with Karen–Karen Rodman.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Dr. Tony Attwood: She may send me an e-mail with reference to a concern that she has, or something that’s happening, and so I will give my opinions to her, and she may then pass them on to other people. But I’m not responsible for material on the webpage, etc. That’s up to the people who work on the Web itself.

Sharon daVanport: So, you are basically…as a member of the advisory board, you’re someone who renders your professional opinion and suggestions, and whether they take it or not is totally up to them, but that is probably why they call it “advisory board.” They’re just seeking different people’s advice, is that correct?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. It’s just, if they have a problem, there’s a list of people they can turn to for advice, and sometimes I will provide advice. But it’s based on what they send me.

Sharon daVanport: Okay, so I have a question that just popped up in my mind since you said that. No doubt they probably have heard of the recent controversy with your affiliation with them as an advisory board member. What have they said to you about it? What do they have to say? And I’m not asking you to speak on their behalf, or quote them, or anything. I’m just asking you to tell our listeners, what is their position on knowing…I mean, I heard your interview with Donna Williams, and you laid out some very specific differences on how you feel, and on how they have approached different issues regarding people on the autism spectrum. Are they okay with that?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Well–

Sharon daVanport: Are they okay with you coming out and saying that and how do [they?] feel about it?

Dr. Tony Attwood: They’ve been very concerned about some of the accusations and vitriolic comments that have been on the Web.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Dr. Tony Attwood: And they’ve been very concerned that very personal comments have been made about me, etc., which they have felt for me in terms of how I could be hurt by some of those comments.

Sharon daVanport: Right. And do they professionally still respect the fact that you have laid out some very distinct differences?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Oh, yes, [unknown], yes, absolutely. There is no contradiction in that, we have free speech [laughter], and such–

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Dr. Tony Attwood: I have my comments, and they have theirs, and that’s the way it should be to encourage debates and information.

Sharon daVanport: So, as an advisory board member, it by no means in their bylaws states that you have to agree with anything that they–?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Oh, no. [Laughter] I’m not given a detention ever [both T and S laugh]. Or I’m not excommunicated if I commit heresy, etc. [laughter]

Sharon daVanport: Okay. I mean, are they taking into consideration the fact that you have been very specific about stating that perhaps their views–and I can’t say that I know exactly. I’ll let Ari get into that, you know, some of their views–are they gonna take maybe into consideration some of your ideas on how maybe to change the language which they use? Are they thinking about this?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes, indeed. That’s what I hope, that by being a part of FAAAS, that I have an opportunity to give guidance to them to hopefully ensure that certain statements or comments, etc., are reasonable and to act as a moderating influence in that situation, which if I’m on the board, I have a better opportunity to do than if I resign from the board, for example, or was dismissed from the board.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. Now, do you foresee that if, in the future–and I’m not saying like any given amount of time–that, in the future, if you see that absolutely they are not going to change their language, would you at that time reconsider, maybe, your position if they absolutely–?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. All options are open. If there are things that I don’t want to be involved with or associated with, then I have the right to do that, yes.

Sharon daVanport: Right. So, it’s not like you’re not saying that you wouldn’t step away from any organization, whether it’s FAAAS or anyone–?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Oh, any organization.

Sharon daVanport: You’re saying that…oh, go ahead.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. If anybody moves in a direction that I’m uncomfortable with, the first thing that I will do is express caution, and express my opinion, and–

Sharon daVanport: And you have done that with them, correct?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes, and of course, obviously, if my ideas are not taken on board, then I will question whether I would want to contribute. So I always have that option; I’m a free agent. I’m not paid by them, they don’t employ me, etc. I’m there really to offer what help I can.

Sharon daVanport: Well, I tell ya, I really appreciate hearing that, Dr. Attwood, as an adult with Asperger Syndrome and parenting a teenage son who has Asperger Syndrome, I can tell you that the language is one thing that as someone…and a supporter of the neurodiversity movement and someone–myself–who has considered you a friend to our community, our autism community, I really appreciate hearing that you will hold that option open as to whether to attach yourself to an organization if they don’t consider changing their language in the future.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes.

Sharon daVanport: I really appreciate hearing that.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. All I can do is advise. I have no authority to enforce–

Sharon daVanport: Well, let’s hope that your advice is not gonna fall on deaf ears. I really hope that as an advisory board member, Dr. Attwood, you can make a change. That you can make a difference, you know, because I know that you have expressed in an interview with Donna Williams that, you know, the language isn’t something that you condone 100 percent, you know, and I appreciate that, you know, as someone with–

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yeah.

Sharon daVanport: –you know, Asperger’s, I do. Now, I don’t want to end up not having enough time to bring Ari on so that you guys can speak, so I think this is a perfect time to bring Ari on. Is that okay, or did you want to add anything else before I did?

Dr. Tony Attwood: No, that’s fine. Just welcome Ari to the conversation.

Ari Ne’eman: Hello? Hello? Hi, Sharon. Can you hear me?

Sharon daVanport: Hi, Ari. Yes I can, I can hear you just fine.

Ari Ne’eman: Thanks for having me on the show.

Sharon daVanport: Sure. Can you hear him, Dr. Attwood?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes, indeed, I can.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. Well, Ari, I’m sure you’ve been listening to everything thus far, so I’ll go ahead and let you say your hellos and take over from here and I’ll just jump in if I need to, but I think you guys are big boys and you guys can play nice and so go for it.

Ari Ne’eman: [Laughter] Absolutely. Well, thank you, Sharon, for having me on the show. Thank you, Tony for coming on the show. You know, we’ve been hoping to talk to you about this for some time. I know we had the opportunity to communicate with you last week for the first time on issue. But this has been a matter that’s greatly concerned many in the autistic community for many years now.

Now, you’ve been a member of the FAAAS advisory board for multiple years, and what we’re concerned about here is that at some level, your involvement–because you are a man of significant reputation, and I think the good things, the many good things that you’ve done that we’ve supported you on, that our community has supported you on have helped create that reputation–and the fact that you’re attatching yourself to an organization, which, in the minds of so many of us who you are speaking about, and in our minds, have some accountability to–with a group that, when considered in the totality, is one that preaches discrimination against our population is very concerning. So, what I’m here to talk to you about, Dr. Attwood, is: what does it take to get you to see this organization as those you speak about see it? As an entity which has consistently advocated for discrimination in family law against autistic people? Which has organized itself to represent only the most negative depictions of the autism spectrum? What is your standard for when it becomes too much to associate your professional reputation with an organization? And then I suppose the question that we have to ask is: How has that standard not yet been met by an organization of the type and that spreads the sort of vitriolic and hate-filled message that FAAAS has consistently spread in its policy, advocacy, activities?

Sharon daVanport:Okay, Ari, the first part that you want Dr. Attwood to address is what, specifically, is the criteria that would have to be met for him to disassociate? If he sees that his advice is not being heeded by this organization?

Ari Ne’eman:Not just advice not being heeded, because, quite honestly, Dr. Attwood, I have to say, you’ve been on FAAAS’s advisory board. You’ve leant your reputation to FAAAS for many years now. So, to our minds, you know, that ship has sailed. I guess my question here is: What kinds of standards do you have personally–as a man of substantial reputation, and I think as somebody who I would hope believes in some level of responsibility over how that reputation is used–what standards do you have for how you make your associations? And also, the second question is: What level of accountability do you believe you owe to the people that you’re talking about?

Sharon daVanport:So, what’s the first–? So, just say the first question, Ari, and we’ll go from there.

Ari Ne’eman: Well, what are your standards for breaking off an association with an organization? Dr. Attwood, as you said is a big boy. I’m sure he can answer–

Sharon daVanport:[Laughter] Right.

Ari Ne’eman:–without moderation.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Have you finished, Ari?

Ari Ne’eman: Yes. By all means.

Dr. Tony Attwood:Okay. It’s up to me.

Ari Ne’eman:Don’t you think that at some level that the people that you’re talking about, the people who live with the consequences of how they are depicted by these organizations are people that you should at some level be responsible to?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Ari, what I’d like to refer you to is the actual FAAAS webpage. On the FAAAS webpage in the section on “News,” there’s a section on “Tony Attwood, Ph.D: A Word from Tony.” And it is a quote from me, and this is my quote:

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.

Now, that is what I say, and that is actually what’s on the FAAAS webpage. What objection do you have to that?

Ari Ne’eman:Well, I don’t have any objection to that. You know, I have objection to some of the other comments that have been made. For instance, when you referred on the Autism Hangout webpage to the process of being involved with an autistic spouse as often leading to, if memory serves, “an infectious sense of depression” which turns the spouse into becoming someone they wouldn’t want to be. I have a problem with other aspects of the FAAAS page, where they state that in the event of a high-conflict divorce, the assumption should be that the neurotypical partner should be believed over the autistic partner. I have a problem with, for instance, the statement that [unknown] in the book by FAAAS’s founder, which you wrote the foreword to, referring to us by the words of: “his or her inability to respond to you,” “emotionally robs you of your self-esteem, friends, family, confidence in yourself, and your confidence in others. It steals a normal life away from normal people. Those born with the affliction of Asperger Syndrome survive at the emotional and psychological expense of others.” So, I don’t have a problem with the statement you just read. I have a problem with–

Dr. Tony Attwood:Ari, [unknown] a moment and let me get a word in, okay? Did I write those words that you’ve just mentioned?

Ari Ne’eman:No, but you’ve leant your reputation–

Dr. Tony Attwood:No. Ari, please note–

Ari Ne’eman:Actually, you did write about the–

Dr. Tony Attwood:I did not write those words. I do not refer to people with Asperger Syndrome as “afflicted.” I am not aware that I’ve ever written [about?]people with Asperger Syndrome being “afflicted.”

Ari Ne’eman:No, but you’ve leant your reputation–

Dr. Tony Attwood:Yes, thank you. Thank you, Ari, for agreeing that I did not write that. So please do not accuse me of making comments that I have never made.

Ari Ne’eman:I’ve never accused you of making comments you’ve never made. All I’ve said–

Dr. Tony Attwood:But you’ve just [unknown] a list of things that imply an accusation against me.

Ari Ne’eman:All I’ve said, Dr. Attwood, is that regardless of the excellent disclaimer that you’ve posted on the FAAAS website…as a public figure, and as somebody who’s benefited greatly, and who has benefited greatly, the autism and autistic communities, you have some level of responsibility for how your reputation is used. And if there’s an organization–

Dr. Tony Attwood:Ari, I want to take a point that you mentioned there. And I want to address that. That is in terms of relationships. And by definition, somebody who has Asperger Syndrome may have had a history of difficulty of friendships and relationships that may affect their relationship subsequently with their partner. Now, this needs to be addressed. My view is: should that occur, then both parties need help and guidance. My view is: should the characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome in a partner have an effect on the quality of the relationship, then what we should do is start to explore what the effect is, and my role as a clinician and relationship counselor is to help those two partners understand each other, and be drawn together closer.

Ari Ne’eman:Well, I think that’s a very admirable goal. My question to you then would be: How do you expect to do that with an organization which very explicitly is only partners from one side–is only neurotypical partners–and in fact has a history of rejecting from its ranks neurotypical partners who have not had sufficiently poor experiences with their autistic spouses?

Dr. Tony Attwood:Okay.

Ari Ne’eman:How can you work with both sides if only one side is at the table?

Dr. Tony Attwood:I am not responsible for determining who is or is not involved in a message board or chat. I do not know what that person may have said or implied that caused them to be removed from that chat line.That is not my responsibility. I have not tuned in to those communications to make a comment on whether that was appropriate or not.

Ari Ne’eman:Do you feel you have some level of responsi–Sorry. What’s that?

Sharon DaVenport: Well, go ahead. I’ll ask in a moment. Go ahead.

Ari Ne’eman: Do you feel you have some level of responsibility for how your reputation which you have willingly chosen to attach to this particular organization is utilized to promote ideas which threaten to write discrimination into the laws of the countries we live in?

Tony Attwood:I think the organization [FAAAS?] has helped many people. And through many years, there are many written testimonials of appreciation of how FAAAS has allowed them to express their thoughts and feelings in a forum that has been supportive. And in many ways FAAAS has been an extremely valuable organization, and I applaud it for the support it has given to those individuals.

Sharon DaVenport: To who and to what?

Dr. Tony Attwood:To certain individuals who find it useful to communicate with those who have shared similar situations and to seek advice and support.

Ari Ne’eman: But this isn’t simply a matter of advice and support. Every year in the Massachussetts legislature, FAAAS promotes a piece of legislation which would [mean that?], as the primary advisor to the state of Massachussetts on Asperger Syndrome related issues, charged with advising the state on changes in law and changes in policy. The fact that this organization can point to someone of such illustrious international reputation as yourself, who has chosen to affiliate himself and his reputation with their organization lends itself to those policy efforts.

This isn’t simply a matter of a support group. This is a matter of a political organization with a very specific political agenda, and that agenda includes discrimination in family law. Now, I ask you: How can you separate yourself from that when your reputation is used to promote that agenda?

Dr. Tony Attwood: My view is, and I have stated it before: that in family law, the court should decide who should be the custodial parent or the division of assets, etc., based on the individual concerned, and should not automatically use Asperger Syndrome as prejudicing their approach towards anyone [unknown]

Sharon DaVenport: Dr. Attwood, I have a question. Have you, as a member of their advisory board and because you are in a very unique position as a member of the advisory board: will you take the concerns within the neurodiversity community and those within the autism community–will you take the concerns and discuss this with them, specifically, like, about the laws and the dangers, because–

Dr. Tony Attwood: Indeed. There are many aspects of which I agree with the organization that I represent, that I am horrified that there should be suggestions of discrimination against people with Asperger’s Syndrome. I agree.

Sharon daVanport: Will you specifically take this to the advisory board and to this organization, and will you discuss this with them and render your professional advice, because I believe that–and, you know, I wrote this in an e-mail recently to you after we spoke last week: that, you know, I really appreciate the fact that you are our friend in the autism community, and being on the advisory board for FAAAS, you are in a unique position to take these concerns that you have even expressed some of the things that you’re horrified over. Will you do that? Will you continue doing that?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Yes. Yes, indeed. And I think it is my responsibility, and it is very important that within the board there is somebody who is making those points, rather than there is no–

Ari Ne’eman: So, let me ask you, Dr. Attwood, you’ve been on the advisory board for FAAAS for–correct me if I’m wrong–I think it’s been 4, 5 years? Something of that nature?

Dr. Tony Attwood: It may be, but I’ve never attended a board meeting.

Ari Ne’eman: So, but you’ve leant your reputation to FAAAS, and, you know, one of the reasons you’ve provided for that is that you say you’re doing positive–you’re engaging in positive change from the inside, which sounds wonderful. So, I’d like to ask: what has your engagement with FAAAS, what has your lending of the gift of your reputation and your legitimacy to FAAAS, what has that brought on, and what has that resulted in in terms of change that you’ve personally been able to result from your position on the inside of that organization?

Dr. Tony Attwood: I was only asked for my comment on whether the organization should refer to those “afflicted” by Asperger’s, and I said it would be better if it was “affected” by.

Sharon DaVenport: And is that why they made that change in the language?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Maybe. I may have been one of many voices that made the same comment.

Sharon daVanport: Do you feel, Dr. Attwood, that FAAAS is taking seriously the concerns that have been raised? The points that Ari is making? Do you really feel, as an advisory board member, that they are taking you seriously and they are gonna look at these?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Oh, yes. They are taking them very seriously. But also, you must remember that FAAAS has been an organization that have helped couples and have helped individuals, and I want to give credit to FAAAS for the work that it has done in that area.


Ari Ne’eman: Well, Dr. Attwood, let me just ask you, though: isn’t there…and let me first say that I appreciate you contributing to that name change. It would have been my hope that in exchange for the somewhat titanic gift of a reputation of your size, you might’ve affected some further change over the last half a decade, but I think that’s a very positive change, and you deserve to be applauded for it.

But let me just say: don’t you feel that this isn’t just an issue of a support organization? Do you recognize that this is also a political organization, with a political advocacy agenda? A political advocacy agenda that your name is now associated with?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Okay. My personal view is that FAAAS should not be a political organization.

Ari Ne’eman: But it is.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Well, in that case, my view is that I would be very much persuading people as much as possible not to be a political organization. I see it as an organization that helps those who are in relationships understand [unknown] issues, and seek guidance and support. That was the original intention from my perspective of FAAAS, and that’s what I wanted to encourage. And that’s the information that I provide, should I be sent an e-mail, or I give an opinion of what may help in a particular situation. I have not endorsed political [unknown] who move FAAAS into a quasi-political organization.

Ari Ne’eman: Well, but you’ve endorsed the organization as a whole and let me tell you, as somebody who works in the field of politics, these things matter. When we are trying to determine–

Dr. Tony Attwood: Ari, if you are of a political persuasion…that you may in the United States vote Republican or Democrat, but it doesn’t mean that you accept everything that the Republicans or Democrats do.

Ari Ne’eman: Well, absolutely, but I think what you have to realize here is that, in the minds of what I believe at some level should be your primary constituency–the people you are talking about, Dr. Attwood–FAAAS is not equivalent to Republican or Democrat. FAAS is in the minds of our community equivalent more to groups like the Ku Klux Klan, or other organizations that have tried to–

Dr. Tony Attwood: Ari, that is [ahem] an extreme statement, and I resent that. That is an inflammatory statement, to equate FAAAS with the Ku Klux Klan. It is an extreme–

Ari Ne’eman: It is an organization which preaches writing discrimination into the law.

Dr. Tony Attwood: Well, I am not going to take this any further. That was an extreme statement, and I resent that.

Ari Ne’eman: Well, it’s an extreme statement used to illustrate a larger point. Nobody is saying that FAAAS is the same thing as the Ku Klux Klan or is as damaging–

Dr. Tony Attwood: But you just–

Ari Ne’eman: –or has as radical an agenda, but what I’m referring to here is that there are certain organizations that are beyond the pale. And perhaps that was an extreme statement, and if so I apologize for it. But there are certain organizations that I think…It’s right to judge to some extent people by the company they keep. If I were to choose to join the advisory board, for instance, of Voice of the Retarded, which is an advocacy organization in the United States which is the last group in the United States still advocating to keep institutions open, don’t you think you’d be able to make some judgement about my character, and about my choices as to who and who is not an acceptable political figure by that affiliation?

Dr. Tony Attwood: Life is not black and white, and there are various components. And all I can say is, in this situation, there are aspects of FAAAS that I do support, and people are tending to forget the value of FAAAS in supporting couples that need guidance and help in their relationship. I see that–

Sharon DaVenport: Hey, Doc–

Dr. Tony Attwood: –as the primary role of FAAAS, and that is my involvement with them, not to create a political agenda, which I can’t do, as I’m an Australian citizen.

Continued in Part 2

10 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Socrates said, on July 24, 2009 at 1:52 am

    Thanks for taking the trouble to do this. I’ll link when I blog…

  2. Hampers said, on July 24, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Watched the appearance. But it was nice going through your blog rather watching it, Keep it up the good work.

  3. codeman38 said, on July 25, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Thanks so much for posting this– I have a really hard time understanding voices transmitted over the phone.

  4. Lindsay said, on July 27, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Thanks for transcribing this, Tera.

    Also, I’m really glad Dr. Attwood made that point about autistic women’s special vulnerability to abusers! That’s a huge deal, and I’m not sure it’s on very many therapists’ Autism Issue Radars due to the misconception that we never have relationships.

  5. Nathanael said, on July 28, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    The problem is very simple in a funny way. Dr. Attwood is being excessively neurotypical!

    FAAAS are like the KKK in their political activities: advocating for legal bigotry. He disapproves. But he can’t just say that. He’s overreacting to emotional content, and underreacting to factual content. He wants to keep people calm and happy and not rock the boat. This unfortunately doesn’t work with the people who no doubt act very reasonable around him, while advocating heinous laws when he isn’t paying attention.

    He’s not reacting in a way which makes sense to someone with Asperger’s. Nor should it, because it’s essentially wrong; it’s an attempt to make nice, paper over things emotionally, and treat everyone as well-meaning when some people are doing genuinely dangerous things.

    The correct reaction should have been “I was not aware until recently of their unfortunate and wrong political activities, though perhaps I should have been. I will urge them to change these. I hope they will listen to my advice. If they do not, I would certainly not be able to maintain my association with them, but I hope that will not be necessary.”

    A good neurotypical politician would have come up with that one, but of course Dr. Attwood is a doctor, not a politician.

    However, his personal position is clear, and correct. He may actually be able to get FAAAS to change and cut its advocacy for bigoted laws. I would focus like a laser on that and give it a month or two. If he doesn’t disavow them by then, go lobby him again, and particularly collect examples of them using his reputation to prop themselves up. That will give him a face-saving reason to leave.

  6. Nathanael said, on July 28, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    By the way, very good interviewing/advocacy by Sharon daVanport. Impressed the heck out of me; she steered Dr. Attwood straight into a face-saving position such that if FAAAS doesn’t change, he can turn around and leave them in a few months without looking bad to their non-dangerous members. Mr Ne’eman unfortunately didn’t quite catch the smooth political move and accidentally drove Dr. Attwood in a more defensive direction.

  7. Lindsay said, on July 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm


    The problem is very simple in a funny way. Dr. Attwood is being excessively neurotypical!

    … He’s overreacting to emotional content, and underreacting to factual content. He wants to keep people calm and happy and not rock the boat. This unfortunately doesn’t work with the people who no doubt act very reasonable around him, while advocating heinous laws when he isn’t paying attention.

    He’s not reacting in a way which makes sense to someone with Asperger’s.

    This is an interesting idea, and certainly makes sense of something I thought I saw happen at the end of the transcript when Ari Ne’eman came onto the show. I was no longer able to follow a thread, it’s like something weird happened to the conversation and no new ideas were being developed while wave after wave of impenetrable verbiage continued to wash over me. I find that happens when arguments get really emotional — I am no longer able to follow them. And then I’m never sure why I can’t follow them, since I can’t really tell what’s changed.

    (And yes, Sharon daVanport is awesome).

  8. Lindsay said, on July 28, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Tera, there is one error I caught: near the beginning, right as Sharon is introducing Dr. Attwood, he mentions being in Butte, Montana.

    “Butte” has two T’s in it; you’ve only given it one.

    – The Spelling Police

  9. Tera said, on July 28, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Lindsay said:

    “[T]here is one error I caught…“Butte” has two T’s in it; you’ve only given it one.”

    Aaaand fixed! Thank you, Officer!

  10. […] this transcript for an example. Here we see Ari Ne’eman, President of ASAN, butting heads with Dr. Tony […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: