Brilliant older daughter recently attended the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s annual conference. This is an odd convention, because about more than half of the participants are ABA practicioners, who work with autistic childfen, while many of the rest are people who study animal behavior.
A. was presenting the results of her research on dog behavior, and the response was tremendous! People were so impresssed that they asked whether she was a graduate student, a post-doc, even a professor–whereas in reality she is only a sophomore in college.
However, things changed after her well-meaning mentor disclosed to all her acquaintances at the conference that A. is on the autism spectrum. At that point, people began to walk up to A. and ask if she was that “sophomore with autism” they had been hearing about. She found this very embarrassing. But what really infuriated her was the difference in reaction between the animal researchers and the ABA practicioners. The former asked if she was “that sophomore with autism,” but then they continued to discuss her research and pose challenging questions (which she enjoyed answering). The latter, on the other hand, started talking down to her, and even ignoring her completely, directing their questions instead to her mentor. What does this say about their attitude towards autistic people–can they not even imagine the possibility of a smart, articulate autistic who might be able to teach them something?