Christina Bishop

What’s Autism Charlie Brown? Explaining Autism Speaks to My Dad

“Why is Autism Speaks Bad?”

On a bright Easter Sunday on the way to my Family’s Easter Brunch, there was a radio ad of a group of job seekers in my state of Michigan pairing up with Autism Speaks so they could hire more Autistic people. I asked myself why, why partner with Autism Speaks than with other local groups in Michigan or ASAN which ended their partnership after Sesame Workshop joined Autism Speaks. My Dad asked me, “Why is that bad?”.

I tried explaining it to him in many ways possible and then he said nothing until I moved on to another subject. To my Dad, the group may seem like they are good on the surface or may think they are being charitable by helping employers and writers in Hollywood. However, their message and mission say otherwise; instead of addressing Autism as a powerful gift in people that should never be exploited or abused by another person, it dehumanizes our condition as a disease that needs a cure or fix-all to make parents happy.

This is no different than Lucy blaming Charlie Brown’s chronic depression on him and telling him to fix it when no matter how hard he tries he can’t. Sadly, many businesswomen and therapists embrace Lucy without knowing her true character or how her actions harm and hurt others, which is something Linus is a constant victim of her harassment and selfish accomplishments.

In a series of strips, she uses Linus’s blanket like a science experiment and wins first place at a science fair and then parades it proudly and vainly. After looking and analyzing Peanuts from a psychological perspective I began to realize things my Mother could not understand, Charlie Brown is not a bully or uses his victimhood as an excuse. He is kind, perseverant, empathetic, honest about his actions, and some things bring him joy like when Snoopy mocks Lucy, Schoder plays his music, or Linus giving him a perspective on his level of understanding. If my interaction were a Peanuts cartoon Linus would quote the Beatude written in Mathew 5:5

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth-Mathew 5:5

By meek Jesus is refusing to people who are powerless or have power taken away by them from a culture of bullying, aggression, and stigma of who they are as a person. He says there is woe for the rich and people who laugh at the powerless in the same passage. Autism Speaks is nothing more than a group of billionaires and wealthy parents who are no different from faith healers and snake oilers and profit off of an invisible bottle of air that says Autism Cure rather than addressing the problem of ableism and stigma in education, media, jobs, and in places that are supposed to heal the pain and damage done to a culture of stigma and trauma related to mental health.

My Dad grew up in a world where stigma and trama around mental health were not talked about in a rural community, Autism studies were in their infancy laying the groundwork for ABA. In its early form, that goal was to reinforce normalcy and punish behaviors and emotions that felt wrong or out of place. If Lucy did pursue psychology she would be an ABA specialist; however when psychologists and therapists like the one I have saw institutions and schools practicing ABA on young children and adolescence they fought to free, accommodate and support them legally as individuals with rights. Many of the people that were free from institutions that practiced ABA, later on, became people with jobs, degrees, activists, and had and supported families with the next generation of Autistic children who now thanks to YouTubers know the history of their Autistic Parents and what they dealt with.

Temple Grandin grew up in a similar environment as my dad did; ashamed of seeing Autism as a gift and the trama and horror stories she told of ABA therapy. The stories my Dad heard as a child for German-Americans was of a person with mental issues in the village of Utzing being alive and working one day and then gone the next and the family and business not knowing where Mister Hisal went or where he was taken. This created a feeling of mistrust towards the police and doctors; could your pharmacist be giving relief by the day and be poisoning another the next?

Even when they came to America the fear and trauma from Nazi eugenics still lingered mentally to were taking meds in public was seen as taboo or showing weakness. Even the term for a psychologist shrink comes from a miss saying of the colloquial German name Kopfschrank or Head-Closet for a psychologist office feeling like you organizing your closet or your closet needs to be organized. My Grandmother Lill never said the word Autism to describe my Dad because of the stigma behind it, she would say instead, “Jimmy’s very quiet”. Germans have two ways to describe quiet and sensitive people but also think differently and are thoughtful; Gluckluft and Kukulander.

Gluckluft comes from a story in Heinrich Hoffman’s Der Struwwelpeter called Die Geschither vom Hans Guck-im-die-Luft. Where Hans distracted by swallows flying overhead falls into a river and then is rescued by a fisherman. Kukulander however is a trope that appears in many of the Grimms Tales to describe a person other’s see as a fool or just an old soul but has the wisdom that comes of as clever and even helps another character. The father in the Brothers Grimm’s story The Table, The Donkey, and The Sack would fit this mold as a Kukulander since his wife does not believe him or his sons when their goat plays a horrible trick on them. Before their mother sends them off to never return, the father gives one son a Donkey, one a Table, and one a Sack with no explanation as to how they work.

Artist-Arthur Rackham

When the son with the table works for a carpenter he learns to say to the table, “Table deck yourself!” and it fills up with food and drinks. When the other works for a miller and says “Bricklebritt” to the donkey gold comes out of the donkey’s mouth. When thieves try to steal the Donkey and the Table the third son now a woodturner cried, “Cudgel come out of the sack!” and the Cudgel comes out of the sack to beat the robbers to a pulp. All three sons come back to their family being richer and wiser; as for the goat a bee stings her and she is gone.

The message is that our parents give us tools and gifts for us to learn and succeed in the world; compared to the stereotype that immigrant parents want kids to pull themselves up by their bootstraps which is a detrimental and harmful expectation of immigrant parents and immigrant children before and after the Greatest Generation and pre-Baby Boom. Later on, German-Americans who became adolescents and parents like my Grandmother Lillian began to come out of the prison of fear and assimilation of German culture and began to rebuild again. Prohibition was over, Rural farming communities benefited from government and state programs, people in the second world war came back for peace and prosperity, and my Uncle Gorge reclaimed his title as Jaggerkonig at Schutzenfest.

Burgermeister Misterberger is an example of the Gemulichkite stereotype in play even after the Greatist Generation's rebuilding and freeing of Germany during and after the Second World War.

However, much of the propaganda during the First and Second World culminated into a new classification of stereotypes called Gemulichkite where young frats without permission from a German family or community would don the Leiderhosen, Hute, and Drindl at an Oktoberfest themed gathering. The reason why we are vilely angry and blatantly honest when people do this on something that is considered a holiday of heritage, harvest, pride, and a celebration of our accomplishments; is that how you wear the clothing is also sacred and symbolic of personal identity to German-Americans. Nowadays some German-Americans have abandoned traditional clothing over the fear of being labeled, embarrassed, and mocked by xenophobic or non-immigrant families.

The only time I saw my Dad in traditional clothing was in a family photo wearing brown leather lederhosen as a small kid; the eldest child Uncle Bobby just wore dress pants. In German-American families, there are not only Eagle Eyes on the first child but a bell around the neck when the second child and upcoming children come. One time I asked my Dad why my Uncle Bobby called him Uncle Picker or Pickerhead (pickle or pick is German for zit); he told me that when he was a young adolescent he would get terrible acne after a haircut which made him feel embarrassed and horrible and would try anything to get rid of them. Even though he is bald now he asks me, “Did I miss a spot?”. When I tried looking and feeling for the spot, I still felt scars, bumps, and healing scalp leftover not only physically but emotionally and psychologically.

Late Boomers, Gen X, and even Gen Y adults are now realizing the damage of mental health stigma, aggression, ablism, tokenism, stereotypes, and demonization of psychology and effective therapy because of profiteers and empty promises from groups like Autism Speaks. Many of them now are parents, teachers, and doctors who work harder and stronger because they now know they have Autism and respect the children and students better who do have Autism. This has led to older adults and adolescents signing up for diagnosis in higher numbers than infants. Their psychological journey is very much compared to LGBTQ people coming out of the closet. Instead of saying, “Why can’t she do?” to himself, my Dad after the divorce is now asking himself, “what can I do to help my daughter?”. When I was diagnosed at five years old he went on a snowmobile trip to escape the truth about me and himself and because of a culture of stigma and fear that was very deep covered under the thick skin of denial that hid the wound until the divorce.

Me, My Dad, and a Large Mouth Bass I caught at Cedar Lake up north in Mio, Michigan, May 2019. Had to let her go because it was too early to keep Brandy the Bass.

For Autistic children going to a camp can be lonely, stressful, and hard to leave the family. If I had the money I would make performing arts, nature-based, and fishing camp for kids, teens, and parents with Autism and Special Need calling it Captain Jimmy’s after my dad teaching communication, community, coping skills, socialization, and courage through theater, music, hiking, fishing, cooking, gardening, and observing nature in natural surroundings.

There is also education in embracing and understanding Autism so that pre-diagnosis and after-diagnosed children and their parents can see the process of diagnosis as an act of courage and pride rather than fear, stigma, and dispair. The diagnosis of a child, teen, or parent should be celebrated no differently than a child's birthday, graduation, or a coming-out party for people in the LGBTQ community with positivity and should never be demonized or stigmatized at Captain Jimmy’s.

Autism Speaks wants people like me and my Dad to be afraid and ashamed of who we are, but who are makes us wonderful and amazing people. Some people don’t agree with the puzzle piece symbol for Autisum; I think it itself has a deeper meaning than most people think. Just one blue puzzle piece means we are weak and alone, but putting the puzzle together is not the job of billionaires, scammers, neuro-typical celebrities, and Inspiration Porn Stars. It should be the responsibility of the Autistic and Special Ed communities to hold these people accountable for their quackery and profitering off of the fear and stigma of others just like the Eugenics movement of the 1900s which only leads to Fascism and Genocide of a people rather than Humanity and Progress of a Nation.

This April donate and volunteer for these groups instead of Autism Speaks.

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra