Jonathan Mitchell (writer)
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Mitchell in 2015
September 7, 1955
Los Angeles, California
|Relatives||Melanie Mitchell (sister)|
|Autism rights movement|
Jonathan Mitchell (born September 7, 1955) is an American autistic author and blogger who advocates for a cure for autism. He is a controversial figure among autistic bloggers because of his resistance to the stated aims of the neurodiversity movement, his view of autism as a disability, and his desire for a cure. Mitchell is also interested in the neuroscience of autism.
Mitchell was born in 1955. As a toddler, he smeared feces and threw tantrums, and was fond of lining up his blocks across the floor and watching his parents' record player repeatedly spinning a disc. His parents took him to a psychoanalyst, who blamed his mother. Mitchell's parents considered but decided against institutionalization. At 12, a psychologist diagnosed Mitchell with autism. He attended mainstream and special education schools, where he faced expulsion for behavioral problems and was bullied by other students. He claims to have worked in the past doing jobs such as data entry, but was fired many times for being too loud and making mistakes. Mitchell lives in Los Angeles and is supported by his parents.
Views on autism and neurodiversity
Mitchell has described autism as having caused him difficulty relating to people, an inability to concentrate, poor motor control, loneliness and unemployment. He maintains that, compared with other disadvantaged groups, such as those around race, sex or sexual orientation, his deficits are fundamentally social in nature. He has attempted to join support groups, but always ends up lonely. Mitchell mentions "twiddling", or twirling shoelaces on his fingers, as part of his creative process.
He describes neurodiversity as a "tempting escape valve", saying that "most persons with an autism-spectrum disorder have never expressed their opinions on someone's blog and never will", explaining that neurodiversity has no practical solution for low-functioning autistics. Mitchell also claims that many neurodiversity advocates have stable careers and are married with children, and represent only a small segment of the autism spectrum. He points out that such individuals are greatly over-represented in national politics and autism organizations, and that many avid neurodiversity proponents are non-disabled, and most are female, whereas 80% of autistic people are male. He also believes that parents of severely autistic children have difficulty pushing back against the neurodiversity movement's influence, given that low-functioning autism is enormously time-and energy-consuming for caregivers. Mitchell also condemns attacks on the parents of severely autistic children by militant neurodiversity advocates, noting that such attacks often accuse these parents of supporting future eugenics or genocide programs.
In one essay, Mitchell says it is unlikely that Bill Gates has Asperger syndrome, citing Gates's extensive social relationships and substantial business accomplishments. He also has written that parents' expectation of savant abilities in their autistic children legitimizes autism professionals' fees, while encouraging false hope. Mitchell describes the work of autism spokesperson Temple Grandin as overly generalizing, maintaining that, unlike her well-publicized depictions of autistics, he doesn't have a "visual imagination", and that her easy generalizations trivialize his suffering.
Mitchell has been critical of studies which claim that autism is relatively underestimated in women, and which allege that undiagnosed autistic females are simply able to "camouflage" autistic behavior better than males can, pointing out that those studies employ an overly-broad definition of autism, while failing to explain why men are less likely than women to camouflage their autism.
Mitchell disparages the now-debunked theory of the "refrigerator mother" promoted by Bruno Bettelheim, claiming that it caused his family great pain by falsely attributing his parents' behavior as the cause of his condition. He also points out that psychotherapy based on this non-theory is extremely expensive.
Critical and favorable responses
Several other autism bloggers have severely criticized Mitchell based on his pro-cure stance. When Newsweek announced its intention to profile Mitchell in 2015, his critics responded, emailing the journalist involved and urging her not to write about him. Mitchell reports having received insults and outright hostility from members of the neurodiversity movement, who have reportedly compared him to a "Jew that sympathized with Nazis", and claimed, "[t]he man is a threat to the stability of the autistic community...he is a hater. He hates himself." To one attacker, he responded by writing "You are homeless. You don’t even have a loo to crap in... The only girls you had sex with walked on four legs and are in a dog pound." His father has described him as going overboard when he responds to hostility, yet says he cannot blame him for wanting a cure. Mitchell has also called those critics "neuro-thugs" in return. In a 2015 commentary in the Huffington Post, immunologist and autism community supporter Neil Greenspan declared: "The contradiction between [extreme neurodiversity advocates'] commitment to seeking acceptance for a greater range of personality traits and behaviors and their condemnation of individuals who deviate from their views is remarkable and... probably exacts a substantial and undeserved toll on [their] targets". He offers that Mitchell would be very unlikely to demand that others seek autism treatment, should it become widely available.
Responding to Mitchell's commentary on neurodiversity in the US online version of the British magazine The Spectator, book author and father of an autistic son Jessie Hewitson noted that many of the difficulties associated with autism were co-morbid conditions, and, as such, might be better dealt with separately. He also stated that many autistic individuals who are able to "pass for normal" are forced to work diligently in order to pass, at a cost to their mental health. A second response, by a man with a stable career, diagnosed with autism in middle age, believed that discussing the difficulties associated with autism was important, while autism could in fact be celebrated, if accommodated properly by society. Mitchell's commentary was further debated on The Spectator Podcast.
Mitchell has written three novels and twenty-five short stories. He has been described[by whom?] as one of the most controversial voices in the autism blogosphere for wanting a cure and discussing the need to consider the longer-term effects of autism. He was interviewed on Studio 360 regarding his novel, The School of Hard Knocks. Another of his novels is The Mu Rhythm Bluff, whose protagonist is an autistic man who undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation. In a critique of the book, neurobiology professor Manuel Casanova wrote that he was impressed with Mitchell's scientific knowledge.
Mitchell's writing has been compared by the novelist Lawrence Osborne to the work of David Miedzianik, an autistic poet and writer in the UK.:154-155 He has occasionally traveled to the city of Rotherham to visit Miedzianik; he described being able to relate to his views. Both Mitchell and Miedzianik dislike being socially isolated.
Mitchell is also interested in the neuroscience of autism. In order to understand how his brain works, he has taken neuroscience classes and volunteered for MRI research studies. To assist future research for a treatment or cure, he has also volunteered to donate his brain to science. A researcher for whom Mitchell has served as an experimental subject is Eric Courchesne. Courchesne's San Diego lab performed two MRI scans on him, finding that certain parts of his cerebellum were abnormally small. This accorded with Courchesne's earlier study findings on the brains of autistics. Mitchell has exchanged emails with UCLA neurologist Marco Iacoboni since 2010, discussing mirror neurons. Mitchell is also interested in scientist and blogger Manuel Casanova's research. Casanova has described Mitchell's critiques as "more thorough" than those of his colleagues.
- Mitchell, Jonathan. "Upload of Paperwork from Eric Courchesne's Lab With ADOS Confirmation of Autism DX". Autism's Gadfly. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
- Osborne, Lawrence (2007). American Normal: The Hidden World of Asperger Syndrome. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 114–115, 155, 158–159. ISBN 9780387218076. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
- Mitchell, Melanie (1 September 2011). Complexity: A Guided Tour. Oxford University Press. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-0199798100. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
- Hayasaki, Erika. "The Debate Over an Autism Cure Turns Hostile". Newsweek. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- Andersen, Kurt (28 March 2008). "On the Spectrum". Studio 360. Public Radio International. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Hamilton, Jon. "Shortage of Brain Tissue Hinders Autism Research". NPR. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- Solomon, Andrew. "The Autism Rights Movement". New York Magazine. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- Mitchell, Jonathan. "Autism: Still Waiting". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
- Mitchell, Jonathan (19 January 2019). "The dangers of 'neurodiversity': why do people want to stop a cure for autism being found?". The Spectator. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
- Mitchell, Jonathan. "Parent-Blaming and Autism: Tragically Trending Again". National Council on Severe Autism. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
- Natcharian, Lisa. "Bill Gates, Asperger's Syndrome, and your gifted child". MassLive. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Baker, Anthony (29 November 2007). Autism and representation (Reprint ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-415-80627-5.
- Mitchell, Jonathan (3 September 2018). "Is Autism Really Underestimated in Women?" (79). Autism Parenting Magazine. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
- Greenspan, Neil (29 May 2015). "Neurodiversity Proponents Strongly Object to Viewpoint Diversity". The Huffington Post. AOL Lifestyle. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
- "Letters: my autism is a challenge, not an affliction". The Spectator. 26 January 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
- Thangarajah, Siva (9 February 2019). "The Spectator Podcast: technology and romance, neurodiversity, and the mystery of the raided horses". The Spectator Podcast. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
- Mitchell, Jonathan. "My Experiences as Eric Courchesne's Research Subject". Retrieved 28 February 2016.
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