Welp, I’m not surprised to see Temple Grandin’s latest round of fuckery. Apparently, she’s been featured in a recent blog post on The Art of Autism (here’s the donotlink.it reference to that post if you want to see it in all its glory), and she directs Autistic adults to “get your butts out of the house, and get a job.”
Before I realized how problematic Grandin was years ago, I read her materials. I even bought into some of her theories. Nevertheless, I ran into other Autistics who discussed what was wrong with her outlook and philosophies. It was after this that it became clear to me that she was problematic, primarily for her ableism.
In this instance, it’s important to remember that when Grandin says what she says, she is speaking from a place of unchecked privilege. As a White upper-class woman with ableist assumptions, her blanket statements are not only inaccurate but have the capability to do a lot of damage. For many people reading this post, I may seem as if I am “preaching to the choir.” However, I think it’s necessary to break down this statement to point out why it’s so shitty.
“Get Your Butts Out of the House…”
Let’s talk about the “getting your butts out of the house” bit first. Some people can find themselves confronted with barriers to leaving their homes. With many physical disabilities, having a reliable mobility aid is necessary, along with good access to transportation and possibly assistance in the form of people or service animals. Those who must deal with agoraphobia, PTSD, anxiety, depression or other challenges may find the prospect of leaving their residences worrying at best and impossible at their worst. For example, I spent much of the period immediately after the 2016 Presidential election refusing to leave our apartment, after hearing countless stories of violence and harassment against racialized people, Muslims, immigrants, women and QUILTBAG folks. Finally, those with chronic illness also find themselves budgeting spoons for self-care and other daily activities.
It’s not unusual for adult Autistics to end up dealing with other health issues and disabilities. For instance, I have a PTSD diagnosis, along with diabetes type 2 and arthritis left over from a bout with Lyme disease over three decades ago. In fact, PTSD is rather prevalent in our community, given that many of us growing up were subjected to some form of abuse—er, I mean “compliance training”—with the end goal of making us “less Autistic” and obedient. This may have come in the form of ABA, if one had a diagnosis, executed by a so-called “therapist” and cosigned by the family. In my case, I was not diagnosed until age 34, but my family crafted its own version of ABA through physical, mental, and emotional abuse. When you also take into consideration that many of us were also subjected to bullying in school, work, and other environments, it’s not hard to see why trauma is a shared commonality among us.
Besides these potential issues, access to transportation can also become a problem for those struggling with poverty. When buying food, keeping your lights and heating on, paying for medical care, and purchasing other essentials eats up most of your income, you might not have much left over for transportation. Bus passes can cost far less than a monthly car payment and insurance. The flipside of that, of course, is public transportation’s often inadequate reach of services and accessibility. The Detroit Free Press cited the Motor City as one glaring example in a 2015 article, revealing that its public transit system does not go to many areas where the best paying jobs can be found. I remember my own experience taking public transit in Columbus to some of the jobs I’ve held, with hours sometimes spent on city buses each day.
“…And Get a Job”
As Amy Sequenzia has pointed out before, Grandin has very awful views about nonspeaking and/or so-called “low-functioning” Autistics. Evidently, Grandin looks down on people who aren’t “productive,” as she seems to value people based on their ability to work and produce. (This has tones of Ayn Rand to me, but that’s me.) There are terrible moral and ethical implications of determining the value of peoples’ lives based on these criteria, ones that lead very quickly to realities in which powerful despots and fascists decide who should live and who should die. I avoid giving specific examples of where this philosophy leads, but if you know your history, you’ll fill in these blanks for yourself.
Now. With that being said, we also need to examine why “getting a job” isn’t a simple affair for everyone. There are inequalities present that make it more difficult for marginalized peoples to secure gainful employment. I’ll address primarily those specifically related to being Autistic, but will also focus on intersectional aspects such as race, queerness, and gender.
Let’s face it: for Autistics, a job interview is a very NT-based social situation to navigate, and you’re more likely to be judged on how well you perform socially than on your actual qualifications for the job. (Any wonder why our rates of unemployment and underemployment are much higher?) Additionally, many of us face on-the-job social bullshit, whether in the form of supposedly subtle shade or outright bullying. Speaking from personal experience, I spent as much energy trying to avoid the hidden daggers in people’s words and intentions when I was still conventionally employed as I did trying to do the jobs themselves. From what I know, my experience is not unique.
And what if you’re an Autistic person of color, or a queer Autistic? Some POC job seekers have resorted to “resume whitening” in the form of altering or outright removing information that could give clues about their ethnic backgrounds. It can be as subtle as changing “Keisha Johnson” to “K.E. Johnson” or as drastic as removing achievements earned because some aspect of them would give away your race. Similarly, it’s been found that resumes with LGBTQIA+ ties also have a reduced chance of job callbacks. And what of transgender Autistics? Transgender Americans are four times more likely to live in poverty, partially due to employment discrimination.
Remember: I’m Autistic, transgender, and Black. Put it all together. Now you know why I’m a freelancer writer and editor at this stage in my life.
A Few Closing Words
Whew! If my word count in MS Word is correct, you’ve read 1,098 words as of the end of this sentence. So I’ll end this as short and as sweet as I can. To sum up, there are ways to communicate the importance of honing one’s skills and gaining experience if one wishes to trade their labor for compensation without resorting to ableist, classist, and potentially racist assumptions. To “get your butts out of the house and get a job” may not be simple, or may be impossible, for some people, for a variety of reasons. I would ask Dr. Grandin to unpack her own position of privilege, but I am uncertain she would listen.