“To Siri, With Love” is a memoir written by Judith Newman about her life raising an autistic boy. It’s a New York Times best seller, with rave reviews from people like Jon Stewart. The book has been described as moving, honest, and funny.
My feelings on the book started at zero. I’d heard about the book, but I had no interest in reading it. Like most of my fellow advocates and activists, I became interested when I saw the #BoycottToSiri tweets from Amythest Schraber.
I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen snips and clips. Those clips and snips have been horrifying to read. It’s enough to make me question how the book got published.
The common theme of those excerpts is that she continuously makes fun of the autistic experience at the expense of her son.
It’s not so much that I’ve been hesitating to speak on this. Ask my husband, it’s all I’ve been talking about.
It’s that I’m angry, and when I speak out of anger I usually set the conversation on fire with insults, disrespect, and overall meanness. That’s a weakness of mine that I’ve been working on.
I don’t want to hurl insults. I don’t want to disrespect anyone.
I want something to be done. I look around, and I see my neurodivergent family being affected with me that this book was allowed to be conceived.
Think I’m exaggerating? Check out these links. Go ahead, I’ll wait:
It’s a lot, right? Is it overwhelming? It should be.
I myself have been hesitating to read the book. I’ve been actively taking part in the boycott and haven’t emotionally invested in obtaining a free copy yet. I’ve been repeatedly triggered with clips and snips in the #BoycottToSiri tag on Twitter though, and it’s shaken me to my bones. When I read it, I’ll do another post/book review.
This book is peppered with insults and bad ideas disguised as humor that read a lot like subliminal messaging: “How do I say, ‘I’m sterilizing my son’ without sounding like a eugenicist?” By itself it’s disgusting, but read the passage that follows and one could almost think that this line of thinking is acceptable and not actually eugenics (except she’s only lying to herself because it still totally is). Eugenics. In 2017. That’s incredibly dangerous, especially to the easily influenced who might explore sterilization options in their states or other countries.
There was another bit that struck me; it’s the part where she describes Gus’s reactions to thunderstorms. She tells us how he hides in the closet.
I felt a pang of recognition, I used to hide in the closet during thunderstorms! All the way up until 11 or 12! It wasn’t so much that I was scared of being flooded on, or anything like that, it’s that thunderstorms are LOUD. It was much quieter in the closet and less stimuli. That much sound is bound to wake up fear in a person who’s brain responds to the environment.
Anyway, she follows up that tidbit about her son’s fear with saying that every time he does it she wishes she had done pregnancy yoga.
Cue the sound of a stricken nerve, and a series of questions: Did my mom ever feel that way about my unreasonable fears? Is that what goes through the minds of people when an autistic person is startled by the environment, apathy? Is that apathy toward autistic people the reason this book is a best seller? Why isn’t the reaction to help Gus not to be afraid of thunderstorms?
I feel that way about every line that I’ve read that’s been posted by someone else. I question what empathy means to those people. If we can be seen as unfeeling, unworthy of consideration, unable to comprehend exclusion, how are we the ones who are unempathetic?
I look around and I see waves of people scurrying behind the anti-bullying movement, with no real, emotional understanding of what bullying is.
It’s not just physical fights. It’s not just emotional abuse. It’s pointing and laughing. It’s giving negative attention. It’s writing a book about autistic people, without autistic people, at their expense.
It’s devastating to me that this book is a best seller. It’s not just the author’s fault. She’s a product of autism propaganda, a mouthpiece for the neurotypicals who think they need a translator for autistic people. No, this is bigger than her.
This is a social failure. Neurotypicals already think negatively of autistic people.
To write a book about how hard it is to deal with your autistic son, detailing and dissecting his “weird” habits as though he were something to be studied. Then to say “[the book] wasn’t written for autistic people”. The nerve! Doesn’t she understand that this is a DIRECT EXAMPLE OF SOCIAL EXCLUSION? This the worst type of bullying!!! And to add that it’s supposed to be funny and we don’t get the joke…
Sit down. I’m about to rap some knowledge.
The number one killer of autistic adults is suicide. As many as 67% of us have experienced suicidal thoughts. For most of us, they generally stem for a desire to be accepted for who we are: flaws, special interests, and all. Acceptance is a basic human need, even in autistic people. How does this book, which normalizes neurotypical negative thoughts about autistic people, make room for acceptance?
Why is it that neurotypicals don’t understand that they are just as perplexing to us as we are to them? Why don’t neurotypicals understand it’s harder to ACTUALLY deal with excess stimuli and allistic nonsense that it is to WATCH somebody deal with excess stimuli and allistic nonsense?
One has to wonder what the agent, the editor, the publisher, were thinking when they allowed this travesty to waltz out of their publication and into the hands of hungry readers curious about a love letter to a machine. Dollar signs, probably. Autism is a hot topic, with Atypical, The Good Doctor, Matthew Mcconaughey, Jon Stewart, Night of Too Many Stars.
The platform is seriously lacking autistic voices. It’s lacking autistic women’s voices. It’s lacking autistic people of color’s voices. It’s lacking autistic LGBT+ voices. We don’t need books written by people like Judith Newman.
We need to tear down the social construct that allows for people like Judith to speak over autistic people, and rebuild it with autistic voices front and center.
Autistic voices need to be in the media, politics, comedy, literature, Hollywood.
Are you autistic and thinking of running for office in 2018 or 2019? Do it.
Start writing, start speaking. Accommodations, be damned! Whether or not it’s too loud, too bright, too much, we are stronger together than we ever are apart. We need to boost each other up, and demonstrate how to respect an autistic person for who they are, regardless of “functioning level”.
Autistic people need to create the status quo. Get involved, speak for yourself, and then listen. We need to amplify each other’s voices. We deserve to speak about how we get treated, where we want research to focus, how we can be included in society, how we’re portrayed in the media and television.
Our siblings, parents, lovers, spouses, friends, we need you now more than ever. We need you to be better than Judith. We need you to appreciate us for who we are, respect our special interests, respect our autonomy, love us, stand with us, and give us the mic instead of answering for us.
It’s our time to speak now.