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Comments: June 9, 2008

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1. As Andrew Solomon documented in his story about the debate over whether people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome suffer from an affliction that calls for a cure or represents a different way of being (The Autism Rights Movement,” June 2), the issues surrounding the “neurodiversity” movement are deeply personal and often provoke a great deal of anger. But Solomon received high marks from many readers for presenting a fair look at all sides. “Excellent article,” wrote a commenter on nymag.com. “It’s nice to see someone at least trying to take a balanced look at the different factions in the autism world today. My autistic children are now 12, and by far the most frustrating part of it for me is navigating through all of the bitterness and factionalism of the autism world to try to help my kids live the best lives possible.” Many other parents also weighed in, discussing how their particular experiences caring for autistic children influenced their positions on neurodiversity. “There is a huge difference between the ‘neurodiverse’ and a person with a severe disability,” wrote one reader. “My child is 5 years old and cannot tell me when he is in pain or hungry or sad. He does not understand that the parking lot at a shopping mall is different from a doctor’s office—so he cries in fear when all we need is a new pair of shoes for him. I love him more than anything!! I do not care about social acceptance. I just want for him to have a life beyond mine.” There were also many comments from people who are either themselves autistic or have Asperger’s. “I am autistic and have difficulty with speech, and when younger took much longer to learn toileting and dressing and at 18 still have many life skills to learn,” wrote one. “Autistic self-advocates don’t say autism isn’t a disability, or that the reason we’re valuable is because some are good at science. None of us think it’s wrong to stop a kid from head-banging or to help them to acquire new skills.” Criticism of Solomon’s story tended to be from readers who felt that the author included opinions of advocates they disagree with, and on nymag.com there was a series of vituperative posts from one reader, apparently well known in autism circles, who is convinced that mercury from vaccinations causes autism and that anybody who doesn’t accept this is an idiot. Solomon’s characterization of severe autism as a “ghastly affliction” disturbed a few readers, including the author of the Autism Vox blog, who wrote, “I am very wary of making too much of a distinction between different ‘types of functioning’ of autism. My son is on what would be called the ‘severe’ end. There are real differences but also many overlaps. For us, there’s more to be gained in understanding autism as a spectrum, and I just don’t see my son as having a ‘ghastly affliction.’ ”


2. “Amazing!! The What is famous!! Go dude!” That was but one of many posts—and most decidedly a minority view—on the Brownstoner blog concerning Adam Sternbergh’s story about the mysterious, doomsaying commenter on the site who gives voice to the anxieties of the new Brooklyn (The What You Are Afraid Of,” June 2). Because Sternbergh’s story relied so much on the Brownstoner community, we thought it only fair to devote this space to its reaction to the story, which started with a post from the blog’s proprietor, Jonathan Butler, who wrote that our story contained “some interesting thoughts about what the commenting culture on the blog says about the collective psyche of Brownstone Brooklyn. Our only major gripe was that it played up the importance of one egomaniacal commenter over some of the more constructive aspects of the community. In the end, though, it did include one belief of ours that we’ve clung to from the beginning: That as messy as many of the threads get, the tough issues that underlie much of the change that Brooklyn has experienced in recent years—class, race, gentrification—are at least getting discussed, and often among people who wouldn’t otherwise be mingling offline. The conversations could be a lot more polite, but at least they are happening.” And then came the comments—fast and furious. “New York Mag has always been suspicious of the outer boros. They needed to find someone who could validate their insecurities about Manhattan no longer being the center of the universe … and they found their muse in The What.” It got worse from there, the consensus being that The What is a hopeless crank who represents nothing significant. A few Brownstoners did break from the ranks, though: “I got a kick out of the article. There is no doubt that The What adds a certain je ne sais quoi to this place! His over-the-top style makes it easy to dismiss him as a nut job, but the growing truth of at least some of what he has to say is hard to ignore. Plus, he has added ‘asshat’ to my vocabulary!!” And yes, The What himself (herself?) offered his own assessment: “I think that you Asshats are upset that I got notoriety! I see some of you trying to achieve the same thing but, this is not about The What. It’s about my life, witnessing this Mutant Real Estate Asset Bubble! Very soon we will pay for our folly! BTW I hate the illustration! It’s like I’m a Ogar or something, Whatever!” It was appended with his customary sign-off: “Someday this war is gonna end…”


Owing to an editing error, a quote from Lewis Miller of LMD Floral Events Interiors regarding Zezé (“The Strategist: Everything Guide to Flowers,” June 2) was mischaracterized as a “warning.” Miller made no such warning.

Please send e-mails to: comments@nymag.com


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