By Jake Crosby
Many readers at Age of Autism have a good idea of what Neurodiversity is. For those who don’t, however, it’s an ideology that states that autism is merely “diversity” rather than a disorder that should be treated, cured or prevented. Followers of this viewpoint do not see autism as a disability, at least not according to the standard meaning of the word. This is a viewpoint that would not sync up with a lot of people’s in the autism community, yet within the past year, followers of this belief have gained significant coverage from Good Morning America on ABC, Newsweek, TIME, and New York Magazine. Unfortunately, their influence on the media and press is also spilling into government. It began with them testifying for the IACC. Now they are becoming a part of federal government.
I have recently heard from my friend Jonathan Mitchell, an adult with high-functioning autism, that neurodiversity advocate and founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Ari Ne’eman, has been nominated to the National Council on Disability. Jonathan has played a very important role in my coverage of Neurodiversity on AoA, having previously alerted me to the article Newsweek was running about Ne’eman.
That, however, was miniscule compared to this. Jonathan has just alerted me to a link from the pro-Autism blog, Leftbrain/Rightbrain, which links directly to the white house website. (HERE)
On that website, a press release entitled, President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 12/16/09, names a list of 10 nominees for positions in his administration. Second from the bottom is Ari Ne’eman. After the list is a quote from President Obama: “I am grateful that these fine individuals have chosen to serve in my administration. They will bring a depth of experience and valued perspective to their roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”
Well President Obama, this “fine individual,” Ari Ne’eman, who you are nominating to a position on a disability council, was quoted as indicating that autism is not a disability. In an essay he wrote about autism, Ari concludes by saying, “Difference is not disability.” Furthermore, he told Newsweek that autism is not a medical mystery that needs solving, he said on Good Morning America last year that being anti-cure is not anti-progress, speaking above a superimposed caption that read, “There’s nothing wrong with us! Autistic and proud!”
Not only does he impose his views onto others based on his limited experience, but even on no experience. Ari Ne’eman has made comments about employment, speaking before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, despite having no work experience of his own whatsoever. (This was confirmed in an email from him to Jonathan Mitchell.) Ari stated that social pleasantry should be eliminated from the workplace. As a person with an autism spectrum disorder who has job experience and suffered as a result of having a very abusive boss, I take great objection to what he said, given his non-existent work experience.
Is this the kind of person we want serving in the new presidential administration? Do we want him on a council on disability policy when he does not even see autism as a disability, at least not in the classic sense of the word?
It is very possible that Ari Ne’eman’s involvement with the government is related to family ties. His mother, Rina Ne’eman, was Hebrew translator for former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. So it should not be surprising that such a connection would lead to Ari having a foothold in our government.
This should not justify someone with views that simply do not represent the autism community, and most of all, do not represent the majority view of other people on the autism spectrum such as myself, serving in a position representing the autism community. His lack of work experience combined with a set of beliefs that he will readily apply to others based on his own self-identity that he has crafted for himself makes him completely ineligible for this government position. He should not under any circumstance be appointed to the National Council on Disability. The amount of undue attention he receives from a media and press that is seemingly blind to those on the spectrum with oppositional views is unacceptable as it is.
Jonathan Mitchell, who is as discontented with this nomination as I am, has left a message at the White House to President Obama voicing his disapproval. With Ari already being nominated, it seems like a moot point. However, nominations into the administration, at least according to Jonathan, have to be confirmed by the Senate. I feel it is essential for everyone to contact their senators to voice disapproval and ask them to reject this nomination outright. Everyone - parents, siblings, people on the spectrum - should get involved and protest the addition of Ari Ne’eman to the National Council on Disability. Tell your senators that he does not represent us and that they should reject his nomination!
Jake Crosby is a history student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University and a contributing editor to Age of Autism.