My mom gets Reader’s Digest each month. In the October 2017 issue, they published an excerpt from Judith Newman’s book To Siri With Love. The excerpt piqued my interest, so I borrowed it from the library. On the exact day I started reading it, I saw a campaign on Facebook using the hashtag “#BoycotttoSiri” I read the articles about the book and was heartbroken. This mother can’t be this bad, can she? Spoiler alert–she is.
There is a type of mother in the autism community called the “autism mom.” This is a mother who sees herself as a martyr because of the “suffering” she goes through for her child. She will complain endlessly about how terrible it is to raise a child. They rarely, if ever, celebrate the joys of motherhood because they don’t see it as joyful. They see it as a burden. That is my first problem with this book. She even has the audacity to ask if her child is thinking and say she is unsure if autism should be cured. (The correct answer to that question that should never even be asked is NO! Not yes, or maybe, or unsure–NO!) The reason this is a problem is that these parents don’t seem to realize that EVERY parent has difficulty raising children, even the ones who aren’t autistic can be difficult! This does NOT make you a martyr.
My second problem is how she treats autism advocates. She is very condescending about them, almost as if she doesn’t value their opinion. In fact, when autistic YouTube personality Amythest Schaber called her out for calling her a “manic pixie dream girl” (a derogatory term for overtly cheerful women. Because autistic women can’t possibly be cheerful), Newman didn’t apologize–she gaslighted her! She made it seem as if, by not asking for her permission to be quoted, she was doing her a favor. A “nice surprise”, she called it. She then called her a brat because Schaber still persisted to criticize her dehumanizing book. In short, if you don’t share her POV, you’re not worth her time.
Third problem: her resources. Right at the top of the page is Autism $peaks! Mrs. Newman, you have a browser. You can go on Google, Bing, whatever, and read what the actual autistics have said about Autism $peaks, including myself. But no, we “don’t exist in Normal Land” (your words, Mrs. Newman), so again, we don’t count.
But I haven’t even talked about my biggest problem. On page 115, she says “I do not want Gus to have children.”
“If I had to decide based on the clueless [emphasis mine] boy I know today, it would be so easy: Gus should not be a parent.” she begins. “Because the solipsism that is so much at the heart of autism makes him unable to understand that someone’s needs and desires could ever be separate from his own, let alone more important.” Wow, you can use big words like “solipsism” that I had to look up. Bravo! “Solipsism”, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is theory of self. But that’s not all! She wants to force her child to have a vasectomy when he turns 18! “A vasectomy is so easy. A couple of snips, a couple of days of ice in your pants, and viola. A life free of worry. Or one less worry. For me.” She then goes on to call eugenics “the good birth”.
I found a blogger who has a site called “Some Girl With a Braid” who talked about this book. This was her response. (The full article can be read here) Let me just say it straight up for all the autism parents out there who think that sterilizing their children should be an option. IT. IS. NOT. YOUR. DECISION. Our bodies, our choice. Plain and simple. It is not your right to steal our potential from us.
The fact that any of you would even think it is your call disgusts me. We are allowed to have agency as individuals. And it hurts me deeply that you want to take that away from us. I’ve always wanted to be a mom one day. I’m getting married in less than two months, and if all goes well, in the next few years I’ll have a mini-me or mini-him. Whenever I’ve helped care for young children, I haven’t had any real problems. I’ve worked at summer camps before handling between three to easily a hundred kids at a time. I even just helped look after my year-and-a-half-old niece yesterday and we had a delightful time as she babbled adorable nonsense and took me on a tour of the backyard garden. There are plenty of autistic parents out there who do just fine – or even just mediocre, which isn’t a crime since there are plenty of mediocre neurotypical parents out there whose kids turn out alright. Autistic parents are hard to find online, because any googling of the words ‘autism’ or ‘autistic’ and ‘mom’, ‘dad’, or ‘parent’ automatically leads to an army of neurotypical people who’ve stolen our label to slap on themselves, but they do exist. There’s even autistics out there in the education system or helping out in daycares. In many cases, we are completely capable of being nurturing, loving, successful parents. Maybe when we’re five, ten, or fifteen we’re not at that point yet, but we can learn. Judith Newman’s son is a minor. He has the potential to perhaps become capable of parenting in the next few decades. She wants to rob him of that decision because he’s not as visibly mature in one way or another as current parents – as if people never change? The reason autistic adults are so different from autistic children is that we have learned. We’ve been often forced to adapt by society around us. And even if we haven’t, there’s always the chance that we will in the future. So just because you might look at an autistic boy having a full meltdown and think, “Oh god, he could never be a parent” doesn’t mean that in the future he won’t be fully capable of parenting well. You don’t know where the future will go, how he might adapt and evolve. You should not rob him of his choices by sterilizing him. Thinking differently and having difficulties in life does not mean we should be required to give up the human right that almost all other people on this planet have, whether you think we’re worthy of it or not.
Wow. Just wow. Judith Newman, you are awful, terrible, appalling, and a monster. I know autistic parents on Facebook. One in particular that I have known for quite some years actually has eight children, four of which are autistic. I think she’s capable of putting their needs ahead of her own.
There is a campaign to boycott this book. I normally don’t like boycotting or other forms of censorship, but I think this is an exception. This woman is a danger and a detriment to autistics everywhere, children and adults. And this book is on the New York Times Bestseller list! How can we have progressed so far as a society that a book by a mother who wants to sterilize her own child is getting four and five-star ratings on Goodreads!?
Do not get this book. Want a good book about autism? Go read Neurotribes or Rachael Lee Harris’s My Autistic Awakening, not this eugenicist garbage.