A BBC article has been shared across the community today regarding the Pearson’s A Level Psychology Revision Guide and its description of Autistic people (you can read the article here).
First, we at Autistic UK would like to commend George for speaking out about this. It’s heartening to see that the next generation of Autistic advocates and activists are already working to get injustices rectified and are willing to put themselves out there to ensure that positive changes are made.
Second, we note that Pearson are “investigating further” and “will be consulting with an independent expert” so that they can review the content of the book. We ask that Pearson consult not solely with an “independent expert”, but also with the Autistic community before publishing their revisions. We also ask that Pearson confirm whether their consultant is Autistic themselves.
Third, as this is aimed at students taking AQA exams, we feel it is crucial that the content of the course pertaining to autism is also reviewed. While they may not have written this revision guide, it is aimed at helping students pass their exams, and would be based on course material. We feel that as Autistic people are infantilised and outdated stereotypes persist in much of today’s literature, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the content of the AQA syllabus may not be too dissimilar. There are a number of Autistic professionals – including Autistic psychologists and independent Autistic consultants and trainers – who should be employed to conduct this review.
It is dismaying – yet unsurprising – to see autism being taught in such a derogatory manner. George will not have been the first Autistic student to have to read this content. These uninformed statements dressed up as facts contribute to the discrimination faced by Autistic people. This is not an issue which is only happening in academia, and attitudes like these (whatever their source) has an effect on how we’re treated as adults.
Mainstream resources define meltdowns by their external presentations – the behaviours displayed – and not from an internal perspective – what is experienced and felt by the Autistic person. They also completely omit the impacts they have on our health and wellbeing, and overlooks the root causes of meltdowns, mainly sensory overloading environments, unreasonable demands and expectations, and an outright refusal to meet an Autistic person’s needs.
These infantilising descriptions mean that ‘professionals’ will speak to whoever accompanies us to meetings and appointments rather than addressing us directly. Those who do speak to us often adopt patronising tones, or start to simplify their language/tone once they are aware we are Autistic. While it is reasonable to ask an Autistic person if they have any communication requests, assuming we need to be spoken to like children is not acceptable.
Autistic parents often won’t disclose their diagnosis or ask for adjustments due to the assumptions that we remain childlike and have ‘tantrums’, and how this perception adds to misconceptions about our parenting abilities. The same can be said for employment – is there any wonder we’re un/underemployed if this is what people are being taught?
It is also inaccurate to state that Autistic people “do not demonstrate imaginative or pretend play”. While Autistic people can play differently to their non-Autistic peers, this sweeping statement does not describe Autistic experience, and is (again) based on external observations by non-Autistics using a non-Autistic framework.
We also note (despite the blurred photo in the BBC article) the title of the page is ‘Theory of Mind’. Though we cannot read the full content, we see you have used a research paper from 1985. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that the information is out of date. More recent research conducted by Dr Damian Milton published in Disability and Society ‘On the ontological status of autism: The ‘double empathy problem’’ clearly presents how Autistic people do not inherently have ‘Theory of Mind’ difficulties, but rather both Autistic people and non-Autistic people struggle to understand each other’s point of view – the difficulty is just as marked in non-Autistic people when trying to understand the Autistic experience. We suggest that you read this research and use this as part of your toolkit when updating your literature.
We look forward to seeing the corrections following your consultations.