Friday, October 16, 2015

Trash Talk: Bullying Edition

When you search for data in a garbage can you're bound to get, well garbage. This idea is, not surprisingly, common knowledge among pretty much anyone who deals with any type of information processing. Programmers have for years used the adage “garbage in, garbage out” when referring to code. It makes a lot of sense then when science progresses and casts away old ideas to the scientific trash bin, that we file this old information and replace it with the shiny new, more correct data. After all, science's ultimate goal is to get as close to the truth as possible. But then there are those who are seemingly stuck in the past. This week, a garish example of such garbage reared its ugly head at the Autism Daily Newscast.

This past week, the Autism Daily Newscast published a pro-bullying article by speech and language pathologist and self proclaimed behaviorist Karen Kabaki Sisto, M.S., CCC-SLP. In her article, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto outlined the perks of bullying an autistic child; that is, the benefits the autistic child and a family get when the child is bullied at school. If that were not enough, she went on to defend her article on Twitter and Facebook (though she carefully never linked to her own article on these personal sites) by basically saying it was all about turning lemons into lemonade.

By her logic, we just cannot stop the bullies so we might as well get used to it and try to make the best of it; bullying is a learning experience. Since, there have been many analogies thrown at this scenario: rape, incest, murder, domestic abuse. One wonders if Ms. Kabaki-Sisto also feels these equally disturbing issues should be accepted as empowering experiences. You know, victims should actually be thanking their abusers for the PTSD. Really. In any case, you can read lots of responses as to why her dangerous assumptions are wrong at these links:

I began to wonder where Ms. Kabaki-Sisto got this very warped idea in the first place. I decided to do a little digging and ended up at her blog where I found numerous extremely outdated ideas about autistic people. One in particular was the idea that autistic adults had the minds of children.
“At the core of this argument is that for people of all ages with autism, the chronological or physical age of the person does not match the ‘mental age’ of their language, cognition (IQ; thought
processes), and/or emotional development.”
This is an extremely outdated view (like 1950s view) and in fact just wrong. It is now known that being autistic is not synonymous with having a low IQ. People on the spectrum tend to present with various levels of intelligence much like the rest of the population (Pickles, Simonoff, Chandler, Loucas & Baird, 2010). This timewarp does not seem to phase her, however. Throughout a lot of her writing, Ms. Kabaki-Sisto seems to want to infantilize autistic adults; that is, deny them the opportunity to be treated as adults.

Ms. Kabaki-Sisto also goes on to talk about forcing, physically if necessary, eye contact from autistic people. Not only is this known to be unnecessary, it can also be physically and psychologically painful for an autistic person. She defends her forced eye contact position stating that
...true feelings and intentions can only be seen when one looks at another’s face and body.

One might have guessed by now that Ms. Kabaki-Sisto has not been updating her research shelves because the latest data shows that eye contact can actually be detrimental to a conversation, especially if one is trying to be persuasive (Chen, Minson, Schone & Heinrichs, 2012).

So where is she getting all this old data from? This brings me back to my original thought of garbage in -garbage out. Ms. Kabaki-Sisto apparently gets her information from the garbage can. At the site where you can purchase her non-evidence based program (no efficacy testing has been done to date on her wares), you can find this little gem of a quote on her “Meet Karen” page:
“My persistence lead me to my speech-language department’s library. Of all the valuable information available there, the most influential item I found was - surprisingly - in the garbage can!”

Yes folks, you read it correctly – her information comes from the trash - old information that is no longer relevant. Concepts such like “Theory of Mind” deficits which has since become an extremely controversial subject and no longer presumed a deficit in autism spectrum disorders (Peterson, 2014), the idea that people on the spectrum also have severe cognitive delays or prefer child-like things from the early Kanner's autism years among many more questionable bits of misinformation. Oh, and of course lest we forget that bullying is a good learning experience for autistic children.

Science may not have all the answers, but I can guarantee you that using garbage as the basis for your “program” is not going to get good results.

Charman, T., Pickles, A., Simonoff, E., Chandler, S., Loucas, T., & Baird, G. (2010). IQ in children with autism spectrum disorders: Data from the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP). Psychological Medicine Psychol. Med., 619-627.

Chen, F., Minson, J., Schone, M., & Heinrichs, M. (2013). In the Eye of the Beholder: Eye Contact Increases Resistance to Persuasion. Psychological Science, 2254-2261. 

Karen's Straight-Talk. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2015.

Peterson, C. (2014). Theory of mind understanding and empathic behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 16-21.


Glee said...

Yep! :)

Stephanie said...

Thanks, its very clear and accurate. Now that this woman has been so discredited by so many and by so many autistic adults, sharing histories and the wisdom earned on the personal costs of bullying over many years, what happens next? Its very clear that this woman's views are abusive, immature and misguided at least. Autism Daily Newscast has decided to stand beside her and has offered no response or apology to the adult autistic community and parents, a behavior that mirrors Autism Speaks long time strategy. The question arise now is: has Autism Daily Newscast had a profound change in who they really support and represent. In light of their falling out over deciding not to give support to autistic activists over abusive treatments in the Biomed and the Alternative and Cult treatment business ;ie McGAF and CDAutism. Is Autism Daily Newscast now going with the money and off-loading the Autistic Advocacy movement because there is no money in activism and more in creating platforms for anyone who fancies a career selling 'treatments and therapies' some unregulated or quack to parents of autistic children only. If this was the case, its understandable that continued contact with the out-spoken adult autistic population is basically going to be a pain in the ass for them. Is their continued silence a silent goodbye as in "F*** Off Already? I am wondering if its best to confront them and ask them to clarify this. What is the next step, do you think?

Amy Caraballo said...

I sure wish I had some good answers. One thing is for sure - they are not getting away with it unscathed anymore. I do think the tides are turning in the favor of autistic voices. But like any civil rights movement, it is going to be a bumpy ride. As an allistic, I want to try to stay an ally and do what I can to help keep autistic voices louder than our own.

Dave said...

Typical behavior analysis. The feelings of others cannot be observed, counted, manipulated, or controlled. So behavior analysts do not do empathy, doing to others what they'd have them do unto them, or putting themselves into the shoes of their victims.

KateGladstone said...

After the site-owner of Autism Daily Newscast VERY suddenly sold the site (she documented this the other day, in an e-mail to all of her site’s subscribers), the new ownership brought in a substantially revised editorial policy, dated today. If you, like me, oppose their previous "professional" worship of "person with ______ " talk, read especially the paragraph including the words “Identity First": as this establishes that they now admit a variety of uses but will prefer "autistic person' to "person with autism" — …

AND (even more importantly) the “bullying perks”‘article has been COMPLETELY REMOVED from the Autism Daily News site. Its link now comes up “404” (nothing there), and it is GONE from where it appeared: the site’s Editorial section at — and likewise GONE from everywhere else on the site. There is no reference anywhere to it, anywhere on the site.