So I mentioned this paper here before a few times, but I didn’t actually say anything coherent about what I thought of it (as far as I can remember.)

Today I started re-reading it, so here I am.

I’m not having quite as many feelings about it this time around. But it’s only “less feelings” in comparison to the first time I read it, when I cried happy tears at multiple points. After having read so much awfulness dressed up in scientific clothes by autism experts, it’s an incredible relief to see those ideas taken apart in the same thorough, scientifc language.

The main thesis of Towards a Behavior of Reciprocity is that because autistic people are labelled as lacking “social and emotional reciprocity”, as well as social awareness and empathy more generally, some people blame all failures of understanding between autistic and non-autistic people on autistic people’s deficiencies, with no recognition of what the non-autistic people involved might be doing wrong.

Or, in other words–

If you’re autistic, and every time something goes wrong a social situation you feel guilty and blame yourself? Even when “something goes wrong” = being bullied or abused?

You don’t have to feel like that. Being autistic doesn’t make it all your fault. Social interaction is a two-way street, and other people also have a responsibility to you, to reach out to you, to try and understand you. The responsibility isn’t all on your shoulders.

One of Gernsbacher’s first examples is a checklist for identifying a lack of “social reciprocity,” which includes questions about whether a possibly-autistic child’s peers bully or tease them, or consider them weird. Gernsbacher says:

This item appears to measure other children’s lack of social or emotional reciprocity. Regarding another child as odd or weird implicates the regarder—not the target child—as lacking in empathy or understanding.

It’s simultaneously totally groundbreaking and necessary, and completely ridiculous that this has to be said this way. This is such a basic thing! “Victims of bullying are not at fault for having characteristics the bully thinks are weird.” That shouldn’t be revolutionary.

It certainly shouldn’t be revolutionary enough that it has to be said in clinical language in a psychology paper, but it is, it really is, because the playground bullies have other scientific papers already on their side! And a lot more of them!

How did we get in this situation?


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