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Tell Tony Attwood to End the Hate: Autistic People Deserve Equality in Family Law and Relationships

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We, the undersigned, wish to express our grave concern with the choice by Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Isabelle Hénault to affiliate themselves with groups devoted to spreading hate and pseudoscience regarding the autism spectrum. By choosing to lend their professional credibility to Families of Adults Affected by Asperger's Syndrome (FAAAS) and similar organisations that seek to alter legal infrastructures and practices in family law and social work in order to deprive autistic adults of equal rights in divorce, child custody and other family law proceedings, Drs. Attwood and Hénault have gravely damaged the autistic and cross-disability community. There exists a long history of discrimination against parents and partners with disabilities in the context of family law proceedings, and FAAAS and similar groups have attempted to advance, through legislative efforts and professional journals, a series of stereotypes and falsehoods about partners and parents on the autism spectrum. Autistic adults deserve the same right to marry, to raise children and to be judged by their actions, as opposed to outdated and inaccurate stereotypes, as any other citizen. The most recent example of said affiliation comes from Drs. Attwood and Hénault giving presentations at a conference in Sydney, Australia, on the topics of "Asperger's Syndrome in Adolescence and Beyond" and "Asperger's Syndrome in Couple Relationships." The workshop was organised by a group called ASPIA, which claims to be a support group for partners and spouses of autistics, and is part of a loosely associated network of groups promoting the concept of "Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder," invented by British psychologist Maxine Aston. Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder, a condition developed by Aston and which serves as the basis for much of her marketing and income, is claimed by Aston to be a depressive disorder caused by romantic involvement with an autistic person. CADD is based entirely upon pseudoscience, personal grudges, and stereotypes rather than any form of accurate research or evidence. CADD has never been recognised by any psychological association and is not supported by any peer-reviewed scientific research. Aston and others involved with such groups have purported to diagnose clients with CADD, despite having no legitimate authority for doing so. In CADD support groups, clients are encouraged to "vent" about the failures of their partners and to characterise autistics in general as unsuitable for family life. This was only the latest in a long string of appearances by Attwood and Hénault at Cassandra-related events. Over the past decade, both Attwood and Hénault have been regular presenters at events sponsored by FAAAS, which actively promotes the Cassandra concept. Attwood and Hénault are closely associated with FAAAS through their membership in the FAAAS Professional Advisory Panel. The founder of FAAAS, Karen Rodman, has publicly described autistics as randomly violent and has suggested that autistic children ought to be excluded from public schools. Through its activities, FAAAS has sought to influence social workers and family law courts to make biased decisions removing custody of children from autistic parents and discriminating against autistic adults in other family law contexts, as detailed in a paper by FAAAS member Sheila Jennings Linehan, who also has levied this libel against other neurological disability groups. Several articles by ASPIA founder Carol Grigg appear prominently on the FAAAS website, and the content of Grigg's articles clearly shows that she also promotes the false accusation that autistic people and others with disabilities are likely to abuse their family members. She explicitly makes this claim in an article entitled Asperger's Syndrome in Adults: Potential for Abuse Though autistic adults now face discrimination in family law settings, all credible research on the topic suggests that autistic people are far more vulnerable to being abused than the general population and have no natural predisposition towards abusive behaviour. By promoting a libel that places autistic people at a disadvantage in family law contexts, FAAAS, ASPIA and other promoters of CADD have decreased opportunities for autistic people to seek protection against abuse. Due to the presumption of fault promoted by these groups, autistic adults are at risk of being discriminated against if they attempt to terminate abusive marriages and other relationships. Drs. Attwood and Hénault, by lending your credibility to Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder, a pseudo-scientific diagnosis, you are aiding FAAAS, ASPIA and other such groups in promoting their claims that autistic adults are disproportionately likely to be abusive partners and that family law and professional practice should be altered to presume fault on the part of the autistic partner. Rather than working to foster communication and understanding between equal partners with different methods of social communication, these groups seek to propagate stereotypes that falsely implicate autistic people as a whole as abusers and serve to increase stigma, prejudice and fear. If a person acts in an abusive fashion, then— regardless of his or her neurology or any other personal characteristic — the fault and blame should be placed upon that person and action should be taken. However, to generalise abusive behaviour to a whole community of individuals based simply on a common trait like neurology is to create a damaging and unethical stereotype. If you wish to maintain a professional reputation as psychologists with a genuine desire to improve the lives of autistic people and our family members, then you must respond to the concerns of the autistic community and to avoid giving aid and encouragement to those who would harm autistics and other people with disabilities. We call upon you to pledge to avoid all future involvement with Cassandra hate groups and to make a prompt apology to our community for your past associations with these groups. Though we recognise your history of positive contributions and look forward to working with you to increase understanding, support and acceptance of autistic people across society, we cannot tolerate prejudice and misinformation as the voices of our community. Please do the right thing. Nothing About Us, Without Us, The Autistic and Cross-Disability Community


The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is a non-profit organization run by and for autistic people. ASAN's supporters include autistic adults and youth, those with other distinct neurological types and neurotypical family members, professionals, educators and friends. ASAN was created to provide support and services to individuals on the autism spectrum while working to change public perception and combat misinformation by educating communities about persons on the autism spectrum. Our activities include public policy advocacy, community engagement to encourage inclusion and respect for neurodiversity, quality of life oriented research and the development of autistic cultural activities and other opportunities for autistic people to engage with others on the spectrum.

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