Life, laminated

The most exciting thing that’s happened this week is that I came up with a new way to organize our growing collection of picture cards for Monkey’s visual supports. Ta da!

picture cards organizer 2

I had previously tried organizing them with paper clips or rubber bands, and sorting them in envelopes. They have velcro on the back, so they don’t stack nicely, and both of these methods, at their most functional, created too much clutter. I considered something like a binder but then I came up with this lovely system, which is more readily accessible and better suited to what we are using them for. The stickers can be easily peeled off to change categories as needed, and there’s plenty of room for more cards. Yay!

We first started using picture cards with Monkey about a year ago, maybe a little more than a year. He was around 18 months. We started with photographs of different foods that he would eat and a choice board. At the time, he had basically no speech that we could understand, so we used the board and pictures like a rudimentary PECS system that allowed him to tell us what he wanted to eat or drink.

Fast forward to now. Monkey is HIGHLY verbal, and we are steadily increasing our use of visual supports. But why is that needed, if he can talk?

It’s not – I just really enjoy laminating stuff.

Just kidding. Although Monkey can offer up such complete sentences as “I wasn’t exactly expecting to see a dragon in my backyard today”*, he often can’t answer the question of whether he wants milk or juice. He has a delay in processing other people’s language. If you offer him a picture of milk and a picture of juice, then he is able to process what his options are, make a choice, and tell you (or point to the picture, but he usually also says the word).

He is much better able to process visual information than auditory information. (His hearing has been tested and is great, by the way. He loves the sound of birds outside.) The more words you use and the more complicated what you are saying (eg. a sequence of steps or events, two-part commands), the less likely he is to understand. And since he has anxiety around transitions, we started using picture schedules shortly after his second birthday, to let him know what’s coming and what’s expected, and to give structure to his day.

Right now, there’s a corner of our living room that is basically a shrine to visual supports. In addition to my lovely organizer pictured above, there’s a daytime schedule and a bedtime routine schedule, both with velcro so we can change them. Then there’s an activity schedule for structured play-time, an activity choice board for unstructured play time, a first-then board (“first wash hands, then snack”), and I am in the process of making a very simple token board. I’m also considering making some cards to put on a key-ring and carry in the diaper bag – for instance, one that says we’re “leaving soon”.

The activity schedules are fairly new and it’s amazing how his play has changed already. The bedtime schedule has been particularly helpful with his anxiety about bath-time. He was getting hysterical every time we put him in the bath, to the point that we couldn’t wash him at all. Apparently, this was because he never knew if we were going to wash his hair or not. If I told him “We are NOT going to wash your hair,” he didn’t understand, especially since he was already upset. But now he knows that if the picture of a bathtub on his schedule is replaced with a picture of a kid having his hair washed, it’s Hair Washing Night. That takes out the element of uncertainty, and now he climbs happily into the tub himself.

Every time I add a new system like this, there’s a part of me that thinks “Aren’t you taking this therapy mom geekdom a bit far? Your son is smart and verbal, do you really need a gazillion laminated pictures to communicate with him?”

But the more we use the pictures, the more it’s clear that, yes, we do. His ability, or inability, to understand and process spoken language at a certain speed has nothing to do with how smart he is. He is a picture kind of guy, and I’m learning to embrace that.

Besides. Anything that makes my life feel more organized and manageable right now is very, very, very welcome.

 

*This is from a TV show and is called delayed echolalia.

Note- I use LessonPix.com to make my cards. It’s a great website, user friendly, allows you to use your own photos, and the pictures they provide are nice – definitely recommend.

Pass the acceptance, please

Apparently this Saturday is the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. (It’s also my local library’s spring book sale, but that’s probably not as exciting to you all as it is to me.) Or, better yet, Autism Acceptance Month. Because people are already aware of autism, aren’t they?

People are aware of autism as something so horrible that it’s better to let their child die of measles or be paralyzed by polio than risk the (scientifically dis-proven) vaccine-induced onset of autism. They’re aware of autism as something so horrible that it excuses a parent killing her own child. Does this kind of “awareness” help autistic people function in society, form meaningful relationships, find employment, live rewarding lives?

People are also apparently aware of autism as something that has a particular “look” – hence the often made comments “You (your child) doesn’t look autistic!” (I guess autistic people are supposed to be green??)

Forget about awareness. All it does, as far as I can tell, is make people think they know something when they actually don’t.

You know what I would like? I would like to be able to take my almost-three-year old son anywhere in public and not be glared at, told I shouldn’t be there, or hear muttered unkind comments. I would like to be able to take him to story/craft time at the library and not see him excluded by a particular parent volunteer because she doesn’t understand his behavior.

((Do you know how much it hurts, after a lifetime of being excluded by neurotypical people, to see your son (who is totally sweet and awesome) being excluded before he’s even three years old? It’s easy to say to someone who’s been rejected and excluded by other people, “Well, you’re such a cool person, that’s their loss.” It’s even true, but it’s incomplete. Because when you reject and exclude me, that’s my loss, too. When you reject and exclude my son, that’s his loss. That’s our pain and our anger and our loneliness, every freaking time.))

I shouldn’t have to put a big sign on my kid that says “I have special needs! Be nice!” in order for people to treat him with kindness and respect. Maybe I’m being overly idealistic here, but it would be cool if people could treat him that way just because he’s, you know, a PERSON.

What I want for him is acceptance. Acceptance, understanding, and support. I want people to see his awesome personality AND his differences, his challenges AND his gifts, not one or the other as if they’re incompatible. Because it’s all rolled up in the same human being.

Sorry, being a cruel and hateful person doesn’t make you mentally ill.

Trigger warning: saneism and hate crimes. Also I use the f-word.

There’s a sentiment that I see and hear a lot, often expressed by liberals who have an unjustifiably optimistic view of humanity, that offends me more than any number of slurs against people with mental disorders. This is the idea that “anyone who could do something like that to another person must be mentally ill.”

“Something like that” could be any number of things. Killing someone. Torturing someone. Being racist or fascist. Today’s example (which actually happened several years ago but just came back into the news because a judge in Florida decided it wasn’t actually a crime) is several prison guards locking a black man with schizophrenia in the shower and running near-boiling water on him for hours until he died. I’m not going to provide a link to any of the articles because it’s that disturbing; Google if you want the grisly details.

So I came across this story last night, and because apparently it wasn’t upsetting enough to read about another hate crime against a mentally ill person being dismissed as not worthy of prosecution, I read the comments. And of course there was that person (there’s always at least one) saying, “Who really has the mental illness in this situation?”

To which I respond, THE PERSON WITH FUCKING SCHIZOPHRENIA.

Let’s get something straight. Mental illness is an actual thing. There are specific symptoms that lead to specific diagnoses. There are detectable brain differences that can be studied. Genetics play a role – often a very significant role.

You don’t just get to decide that anyone who displays behavior you don’t like or don’t understand has a psychiatric condition, any more than you get to decide that anyone who takes a long time in a public bathroom has a colostomy bag. I mean they could, but unless you have actual concrete evidence of that, you probably shouldn’t assume it or assert it as a fact to other people.

This includes, by the way, Antisocial Personality Disorder. Many people are in the habit of casually diagnosing everyone with despicable behavior, or anyone who’s an asshole, as having APD (or “psychopathy” as they’re often not educated enough on the matter to know the current diagnostic term). Nope, sorry. Unless someone has actually been diagnosed with APD by a professional, you don’t get to decide that they have it just because you don’t like or understand their behavior.

The assumption that people are fundamentally good and thus all cruelty must be caused by a psychiatric condition is 1) delusional (though not in a technical diagnostic sense) and 2) saneist. It perpetuates stereotypes about mentally ill people being violent horrible human beings while letting all sane people off the hook for their behavior – even when they commit a hate crime against a person with a diagnosed mental illness. It makes “mental illness” itself a slur.

In reality, there are many cruel and hateful tendencies in human nature. These tendencies are not the same as mental illness. Many people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and the like are very gentle and empathic people. I speak from experience, of which I have plenty because I know a lot of people with these conditions and I am one. While we may have violent outbursts when symptomatic, it’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s not who we are in our day to day lives.

Conversely, there are many people who do NOT have a psychiatric condition, who are bullies in their day to day lives, who are selfish, who like to hurt others or at least aren’t very bothered by it, and who are very susceptible to peer pressure. Did every person who participated in slavery or the Holocaust have an undiagnosed psychiatric condition? Or for that matter, every person in middle school who threw rocks at me or jeered?

I volunteered at downtown shelters. Homeless people with schizophrenia aren’t the ones jumping people, they’re the ones getting jumped. Or boiled to death in showers. It’s usually the person with the mental illness who is bullied and hurt by the normal folks.

But people with psychiatric conditions can also be assholes. We can also be mean, and selfish, and petty, and cruel. Usually this is NOT because of our mental illness. Usually it’s because WE’RE FUCKING HUMAN. Yes, all the nasty stuff you normals do, we crazies can do too. But it’s not because we’re different from you. It’s because we’re the same as you.

Accept it.

Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: a problematic parody

I came across this book in the children’s section of the library last week. It’s called “Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: NT is OK!” The authors, Clay and Gail Morton, have a son with autism and are self-described members of the neurodiversity movement.

My first reaction to this book was delight. It’s a pretty clever parody of books that attempt to get neurotypical/abled children to be accepting of those who are different (a worthwhile goal but usually condescending in its execution). It’s refreshing and funny. It takes the point of view of the autistic child, a welcome perspective shift that needs to happen a lot more. Here are a couple snippets so you get the idea:

“Johnny has problems with communication. He will say that a math test was ‘a piece of cake’ when he really means that it was easy.”

“Johnny watches the same television shows that I do, but he never recites the opening credits word for word. In fact, I’m not even sure he has them memorized. He sure picks funny things to focus on, but that’s OK.”

There is also an entertaining “Note for Parents” at the end, which informs the reader that “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 67 in 68 children may be neurotypical.”

Despite my giggling, something niggled at me. I wondered if it would be possible to write a parody that similarly shifted perspective, but took the point of view of an individual who (for example) uses an AAC device to communicate and needs assistance to use the bathroom. I got particularly stuck on this line, when the narrator laments his friend’s lack of interest in hydraulic forklifts:

“He might never be a real expert on anything, but he’s a good person, so that’s OK.”

I thought a lot about why this line bothered me and finally determined that it’s because it attempts to subvert the ableist paradigm while still accepting it. There’s an implication that the autistic character’s value is shown by his expertise in a technical subject. Intelligence justifies his divergent neurology. Where does that leave autistic individuals who are intellectually disabled?

There are definitely connections between various forms of neurodivergence and certain strains of intelligence and creativity. This is part of the beauty of neurodiversity – of the wonderfully intricate, fragile human brain in all its variation. At the same time, these connections do not appear in every individual. Not every person with schizophrenia is a math genius. Not every person with autism is a programmer. Not every person with bipolar disorder is an artist.

The individuals who have divergent neurology without associated gifts are part of the pattern in the human race that produces those gifts, produces science, poetry, etc. But that is not the substance of their worth as human beings. For that matter, it’s not the substance of worth even for people who do have those gifts. It took me a while to learn this, because for a long time I thought that my literary abilities justified my mental illness, that my value as a person depended on how smart or gifted I was to balance out my impairment. Once I realized that that wasn’t true – that I have as much value as the Nobel Prize winning novelist, and also as much value as the homeless man who recites his poems in coffee shops, and as much value as the nonverbal intellectually disabled woman who’s never written anything at all, because each of them has the same damn value – I was able to enjoy writing for the first time in years.

But back to the book. I was curious what exactly the authors’ take on neurodiversity was, so I googled and found this interview , in which they are quoted as saying: “Why do people with high-functioning autism have a disorder while non-autistic people are ‘normal?'”

Note the deliberate exclusion of “low-functioning” autistic individuals from arguable “normalcy”.

In my opinion, this is the major issue that the neurodiversity movement needs to tackle right now. There are advocates who say “The neurodiversity paradigm is for everyone, no matter how affected and impaired; it’s for those on disability benefits, it’s for those with aides, it’s for those who communicate by nonverbal means”; and there are others like Clay and Gail Morton who say, “Neurodiversity means that mildly affected individuals should be fully accepted because they don’t really have a disorder.” Those are very, very, VERY different stances.

I have major problems with the second approach. It’s actually deeply ableist (I explained why in this post). It’s exclusionary. It’s also, I think, a teensy bit delusional. (If you really can’t figure out what you have in common with those “low functioning” autistic people, then maybe stop describing yourself as autistic?)

A neurodiversity movement that excludes those who are most impaired by their neurology is just another form of elitist garbage, and I don’t have time for that.

The neurodiversity movement that I embrace, that I want to be reshaped by, that I want to tell others about, is expressed by autistic activists like Amy Sequenzia (who is nonspeaking) and Lydia Brown. Instead of seeking inclusion as neurodivergent people within the dominant, able-bodied, neurotypical paradigm, they simply reject it. They refuse to be defined by it. Anything less than that, no matter how clever or well intentioned it may be, falls short.

Saneism and gun control

Possible triggers: This post discusses gun violence, psychosis, and stigma/slurs against people with psychiatric conditions.

If you’re trying to keep up with the sewage that’s been spraying out of the white house lately, you might have heard that House Republicans repealed legislation that prohibits some people with some kind of mental disorders from owning guns.

I am not sure of the details of this law, mainly because I was too upset by the tenor of the articles about it to read them very thoroughly. Thus I have no particular opinion on this law or its repeal. (My thoughts on gun control are complicated; I believe guns need to be better regulated, but that the regulating should be done by a non-government body accountable to local communities. Having the government solely responsible for regulating guns might be fine until your government becomes a totalitarian entity and then it should be somewhat obvious why that’s a bad idea.)

What I do have an opinion about is the comments I read on these articles. Mind you, these were on “liberal/progressive” web pages, not Breitbart. The comments included such slurs as “mental case,” “nut case,” “mental idiots,” “deranged,” and “homicidal psychopaths,” casually thrown about with absolutely no recognition that these terms were referring to actual human beings with diverse personalities and rights and feelings. They insinuated that all people with mental illnesses of any kind are incompetent to have guns, and that all Republican lawmakers are mentally ill. Because, you know, all people with mental disorders are potential criminals, and being a greedy jerk who lacks empathy can only be explained by mental illness.

Then there are the comments on the recent mosque shooting, claiming that Alexandre Bissonette is mentally ill. This of course happens every time a mass shooting is committed by a white person. I have already seen specific claims that he must have been psychotic. As far as I know, he has no psychiatric history or diagnosis. The only justification for claiming he is mentally ill is that he is a white American male (i.e. someone the commenters identify with) who did something with motivations they don’t understand. I’ve actually seen the claim made – many times – that anyone who shoots another person must be mentally ill.

OK. A few facts. (I will not post links to my sources because they include disturbing details that might trigger some readers, but my sources are all from PubMed and you should be able to find them easily with a search.)

– An estimated 5-10% of gun violence and homicides are committed by people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychotic depression. Put another way, 90-95% of gun violence and homicides are committed by people who are not pyschotic – i.e. by sane people.

– Of violence commited by people with these conditions, the vast majority are committed against relatives and friends. (Not strangers in public places.) Usually, the person who is psychotic believes that they are either acting in self-defense or are helping/saving/protecting the victim.

– People with these conditions are MUCH more likely to commit suicide than homicide.

– People with these conditions are MUCH more likely to be victimized by sane people or shot by the police than to commit violence against others.

If somebody does not have a diagnosed psychiatric condition such as schizophrenia, then DO NOT make that claim. DO NOT even speculate about it. It confuses people, and it contributes to stigma against the vast majority of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic depression who are far more likely to be victims of violence, or to use violence against themselves, than to inflict it on others.

The neurodiversity movement: it’s not what you think

Neurodiversity is short for “neurological diversity.” Basically, it’s the undeniable reality that there are variations in the way that human brains work. These variations can have a strong genetic component, as in the case of schizophrenia, or they can be the result of a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or other event. Some, like Rett Syndrome, result from a de novo genetic mutation.

You will note that all the conditions I just mentioned tend to be disabling – indeed, can be very very disabling. This leads me to the neurodiversity movement and what it does and doesn’t say.

I have, personally, never seen neurodiversity proponents argue that neurological variations don’t bring significant challenges, that they never interfere with activities of daily living, or that all treatment should be eschewed. I consider myself a proponent of neurodiversity, and I would never argue any of those things. These arguments generally show up as straw men being machine-gunned down by neurotypical people who are against the neurodiversity movement. Certainly, any neurodiversity movement that ignores severely affected individuals in favor of quirky geniuses is not worthy of the name; but this appears to me to be the image painted of the movement by outsiders, rather than its reality.

Too often, the positions attributed to neurodiversity advocates by critics betray the critics’ own ableism. For instance, the notion that folks with [the now defunct diagnosis of] Asperger’s Syndrome may be able to justify their social impairments (and thus existence) by being gifted with computers is often presented as the essence of neurodiversity. The critic then moves on to say that there are many autistic people who self-injure and need assistance with toileting,  and who aren’t gifted with computers to make up for that, therefore neurodiversity is bunk. Q.E.D.

That is ableism at its finest.

If you don’t see why it’s ableist, let me break it down. This argument makes the following assumptions:

  • Only people who are mildly impaired, or not at all impaired, by their neurological differences are worthwhile human beings.
  • Any impairment MUST be compensated for by some sort of extraordinary talent, in order for the impaired individual to be a worthwhile human being.
  • It is impossible to accept and embrace neurological differences that interfere with speech or with toileting and other activities of daily living, or which cause meltdowns, rages, self-injury, delusions, and other behaviors that may cause harm or make others uncomfortable.
  • The neurodiversity movement can’t possibly represent the people just described, because their form of neurological difference is clearly unacceptable.

Accepting a reality does not mean sanitizing or romanticizing it. In fact, if you have to sanitize something in order to accept it, then you’re not really accepting it.

I have chronic, recurrent, severe depression. I will be the first to tell you that depression sucks. Depression hurts and can kill. I don’t take psych meds for fun. On the other hand, I used to think that there was nothing good about depression, that it was basically pure evil; ironically, this intensified my sense of doom and self-hatred. I was terrified of the next depressive episode. (Hypomania, though it can be annoying, is much easier to make a case for than depression. Unfortunately for me, I only get hypomanic maybe once a year?)

Now, having lived with this condition for well over a decade, I have more or less accepted that it’s here to stay; that I will get depressed again, and that I will recover; that there will be days I can’t get out of bed, days I can’t talk on the phone, days I can’t see the point of living; that meds help, but don’t eradicate the symptoms; and that it is ultimately impossible to disentangle the depressive aspect of my brain from the rest of it. I like my brain, overall, and it’s quite probable that if I didn’t have a mood disorder, I would be a very different person. I don’t know what the trade-offs would be, and I’m OK with not knowing.

The human brain and mind is very complex. It affects thought, perception, interpretation of reality, sense, emotion, the things that most feel like one’s “self”. This is why people are particularly afraid of mental or neurological differences and disorders – because it seems to strike at the actual self – and also why many neurodivergent folks cannot separate out the things that they like about themselves from their actual disorder. It’s all deeply intertwined. One can want to mitigate certain symptoms without wanting to completely rewire one’s brain and be a different person. One can acknowledge the real challenges – even the accompanying suffering – of a neurological difference without demonizing one’s neurology. And by the way, “disorder” and “disability” are not dirty words on one side of the room, with “neurodiversity” and “rainbows” on the other.

Critics say that the neurodiversity movement wants you to think of Asperger’s Syndrome or mild autism as a positive variation instead of a disorder. Actually, the neurodiversity movement is asking something much more radical – so radical that these critics apparently can’t process it. It’s asking for a world in which AAC is just as valid as verbal speech; in which one can need toileting assistance and still have a right to privacy; in which one can have screaming self-injuring meltdowns and still have valid opinions; in which a schizophrenic homeless person can accept or refuse medication and be housed either way; in which it’s socially acceptable to talk to your voices in a coffee shop; in which it’s socially acceptable to rock and flap in class; in which neurotypical people’s need for you to appear “normal” doesn’t constantly take precedence over everything else; in which functioning without help is not the price of human dignity.

 

Further reading:

A typical critique: https://psmag.com/im-high-functioning-autistic-here-s-what-the-neurodiversity-movement-gets-wrong-b07bca1e2c86#.gjbr2qvwc  (The author describes herself as a “high functioning autistic” but clearly thinks that “low functioning autistics” and people with mental illnesses like schizophrenia are just soooo messed up, and she will tell you why, while attributing her own stigmatizing attitudes to the neurodiversity movement she’s criticizing.)

Refreshing rebuttal to the article linked above: https://autisticacademic.com/2016/05/26/im-a-pro-neurodiversity-advocate-heres-what-our-critics-never-get-right-but-dont-bother-to-correct-either/

A couple pro-neurodiversity parental perspectives: http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2013/01/why-did-amy-sf-lutz-attack.html and https://adiaryofamom.com/2014/09/04/what-neurodiversity-isnt/

An explanation and defense of trigger warnings

Trigger warning: This post discusses rape and suicide in the context of PTSD.

I came across this article (and this response to it) while looking up something else and, well, it pissed me off. So instead of writing a post about the election, which I don’t really want to think about right now, I’m going to write about why authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt are idiots.

First, brief background on where I am coming from: My mother has PTSD and I have terrifying childhood memories of seeing her triggered by certain things. I also have PTSD, and was actually triggered once by a book that we read and discussed in college (I mention this since colleges are the authors’ focus – I’d have appreciated a trigger warning on that book). I used to self-harm, and I still find certain content related to self-harm to be triggering  – in the sense of making me want to do it again – even though that was over a decade ago.

On to the article. Haidt and Lukianoff argue that college students nowadays are overly sensitive, that free speech is being suppressed on college campuses in the name of political correctness, and that trigger warnings are bad and are a form of coddling. I’m only going to address the trigger warnings aspect.

A trigger warning is a statement that something (often a book, movie, blog post etc) has content which may trigger acute psychological distress in SOME people. Now, people can be triggered by all sorts of things – smells, holidays, buildings. Life is triggering. You can’t put warnings on everything. If you know your individual triggers, and they are at all avoidable, you can try to work around them. For instance, I find Thanksgiving triggering, therefore I no longer celebrate Thanksgiving. I still get a little depressed in the week leading up to it, but it’s not as bad as if I had to actually go celebrate Thanksgiving with other people and pretend to be thankful when what I really want to do is cry and watch movies and sleep until the stupid day is over for another year.

But there is actually a big difference between a trigger like Thanksgiving – which is triggering only because of its association with traumatic events – and a trigger that is inherently triggering, i.e. it deals directly with the trauma itself.

Imagine, for instance, that there was a holiday called Rape Day. And on this holiday, everyone gets together and reads graphic descriptions of rape, and then stage rape scenes, while drinking pineapple cocktails. Rape Day is inherently triggering to rape survivors (which is not to say that there aren’t survivors out there who wouldn’t find it triggering, but for those who are triggered, it is because of the content of the holiday rather than its association).

No one is suggesting that associative triggers should have warnings; only inherent triggers. In the case of Rape Day, the warning is pretty much in the name. But now suppose it was called Pineapple Cocktail Day.

Now, imagine you’re a recent rape survivor. You are invited to a Pineapple Cocktail Day party at someone’s house. You assume, reasonably, that Pineapple Cocktail Day is simply an excuse to get together and drink pineapple cocktails. So you show up at this person’s house in the evening, and walk in, and there is what appears to be a rape going on in the living room with everyone watching and chatting, unconcerned… you are horrified. You are confused. You are suddenly reliving your own experience in the worst way. You were unprepared for this, you don’t understand what’s happening, you want to go home but don’t know if you can safely drive because you’re so upset, and you don’t have any plan for backup transportation …

Wouldn’t it have been nice if the friend who invited you had said, “Oh, by the way, at this party we’ll be reading about rape and staging rape scenes”?

I’m not trying to give anyone holiday or party ideas. Obviously, a holiday about rape is a horrible, horrible idea and anyone who would go to such a party has some issues. But when you have PTSD, reading a book or a movie that relates directly to your trauma can be as alarming and overwhelming as showing up at a Rape Day party with no warning. And the casual response of other people to this thing that is so traumatizing to you can be just as disturbing. And it can have tragic consequences. I personally know of a college student who committed suicide immediately after watching part of Lolita with her roommates. She had survived child sexual abuse; something about the movie, or her classmates watching it perhaps, tapped into something that was too much for her, circumvented the means she had used to survive.

A trigger warning is not censorship. It is not the same as removing a book or movie from the library or from a reading list. It doesn’t say “Don’t read this” or “Don’t watch this.” It’s a heads up.  It’s information. It allows people to make an informed choice to read or not to read. Maybe you want to watch the movie, but you’re too fragile on this particular night. Since when is giving people information and letting them decide a form of coddling?

The critical letters from readers (who actually have psychiatric conditions) that are quoted in the response here all make excellent points. I am disgusted by the authors’ responses.

In one of these responses, Haidt says:

I teach in New York City. Suppose that part of my teaching was to take students on field trips all around the city. Suppose further that every time we went to The Bronx, we took along a police escort and an ambulance. Just in case. And suppose that I told students that they didn’t have to go to the Bronx, if it would make them feel unsafe. What would students learn? They’d come to fear The Bronx, and the people who live there.

OK, except this analogy is utter bullshit. Allow me to offer a better analogy:

You’re a teacher in NYC and you know that some of your students may be in a witness protection program due to a crime they witnessed in the Bronx. Of course, you don’t know which students they are, or even that there are any, but you know that a trip to the Bronx may expose them to being found by the people who want to kill them. Therefore, instead of the surprise field trip to the Bronx that you were planning, you tell your students the day before: “We are taking a non-mandatory field trip to the Bronx tomorrow. Let me know if you would like to be excused.”

That’s all a trigger warning is. Really.

Another response from Haidt:

I can see that trigger warnings would help some people, in the short run, to avoid painful memories. If there were evidence that trigger warnings were helpful in the long run then I would be much more sympathetic to their use in the limited way that Ms. Liddle suggests. But Greg and I think that the case is much stronger that in the long run, the use of trigger warnings is bad for people who have suffered trauma.

First of all, again, a trigger warning is not about “avoiding painful memories.” The memories are there, OK? And the associative triggers that I mentioned earlier are there. It’s about avoiding an overwhelming, debilitating psychological response that may make you a danger to yourself. Because being curled up on the floor of a bathroom, feeling like you are falling down a black hole and thinking of the best ways to hurt or kill yourself is an experience some of us would actually like to avoid, if possible. (Hard to believe, I know.)

Second, and in line with that, saying that trigger warnings help some people “in the short run” ignores the potential for suicide or serious self-injury as a result of trauma. Being helped “in the short run” is pretty damn good if it keeps you alive long enough to work through some of that trauma. Right?

Finally, when a person with PTSD says “I find trigger warnings helpful” and you respond with abstractions about what research shows, you are condescending to and patronizing this person much more than any trigger warning can do. You are saying, “You might think this is helpful to you, but you’re actually wrong. I know what’s best for you. I have a degree and I study this stuff. Now go work through your issues in a way that doesn’t require anybody else to think about them.”

It is, to use another term the authors despise, a big fat microaggression.

I know: it’s fun, and easy, to make people’s vulnerabilities look stupid by picking out the most egregious related examples you can think of and lumping them together as if they’re the same thing. “Silly liberal college students with their silly trauma. They’re good for a laugh and a bit of attention to our articles. Too bad they can’t take the joke.”