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Jonathan Mitchell is an autistic author and blogger who advocates for a cure for autism. An opponent of the neurodiversity movement, he is one of the most controversial figures among autistic bloggers because of his hatred of autism, his view of autism as a disability, and his deluded, desperate desire for a "cure". He opposes the anti-vaxx movement.
Mitchell has described autism as having "prevented me from making a living or ever having a girlfriend. It's given me bad fine motor coordination problems where I can hardly write. I have an impaired ability to relate to people. I can't concentrate or get things done." Despite this, he has a degree in psychology and has found a job in data entry. He describes neurodiversity as a "tempting escape valve".
He writes as a hobby, having written three novels and 25 short stories, and runs a blog called Autism's Gadfly. He was interviewed on Studio 360 on one of his novels, The School of Hard Knocks, and another novel of his is The Mu Rhythm Bluff. Notable essays written on his website include Undiagnosing Einstein, Gates, and Jefferson, and Neurodiversity: Just Say No.
Arguments Against Neurodiversity
In Neurodiversity: Just Say No, he talks about how neurodiversity cannot accommodate the needs of "low-functioning" autistic people, and autistics that have to live on welfare provided by others, relating it to his own personal experience. He makes the argument that most neurodiversity advocates can pass for neurotypical in everyday life and can hold down a job. He also refers to his other essay Undiagnosing Gates, Jefferson and Einstein about the debated link between autism and genius. In that essay, Mitchell argues that none of those figures were in special education. He says that Bill Gates had strong entrepreneurial skills, and that Thomas Jefferson needed good social skills to be president. For Albert Einstein, he uses the claim of the economist Thomas Sowell that Einstein actually had a condition that Sowell himself termed Einstein syndrome[note 1] and was not autistic.
In reality, the neurodiversity movement does not pretend all autistics are the same, nor does it seek to cure the condition. The neurodiversity claims do not assert that all autistic individuals are equally socially effective, but rather that autistics can be (more) socially effective if society changes to accommodate their differences. Individuals with high support needs may need more of this accommodation than others, and the society they live in must provide that accommodation. "High-functioning" individuals--including, ironically, Mitchell himself--can provide for some of this accommodation themselves but still need society to change in order to be fully accepted for what they are.
In 2008, the Autistic community-centered forum WrongPlanet published a story saying that Autism Speaks forced a blogger to take down a T-shirt from his website. Jonathan Mitchell contacted Autism Speaks to verify; unsurprisingly, Autism Speaks claimed the story was made up. Later, Zach was advised by Zazzle that Autism Speaks had contacted the company about another shirt altogether, and that it had nothing to do with it. Jonathan Mitchell then took what was confusion (or lies) on the part of Zazzle and attributed it as some grand victory against Zach/WrongPlanet in true crank form. Unlike what Mitchell claims in his blogpost, Zach never stated the story was made up.
In 2010, WrongPlanet allowed Autism Speaks to underwrite its Autism Talk TV series, stating that allowing underwriting did not affect editorial content (and making it plain they needed the money, natch). This naturally caused a bit of consternation amongst its users. Mitchell decided to conflate this into a wholesale selling out of neurodiversity advocates to Autism Speaks in a flurry of conspiracy theory. It appears that Mitchell's ire against WrongPlanet/Alex Plank stems from his forum ban.
Views on conversation therapies
Mitchell is also a critic of Steve Silberman, a neurodiversity promoter and author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. Silberman makes the standard neurodiversity claim that the label of "low-functioning autism" is a misunderstanding that can result in people being underestimated. Mitchell's obsession with autism-as-a-tragedy led him to twist Silberman's claims as being dismissive of high-support autistic people, despite being the opposite.
Jonathan Mitchell's sites
- Autism's Gadfly
- The Mu Rhythm Bluff
- Undiagnosing Einstein, Gates, and Jefferson
- Neurodiversity: Just Say No
- Jonathan Mitchell: A thread on the person at WrongPlanet
- A typical example of Mitchell's attacks on people who do not agree with him.
- Respectful Insolence: Autism quackery: Try, try, try, and never give up
- Sowell states that Einstein syndrome includes delayed speech development, intellectual giftedness, and no dramatic impairments in mental functioning during adulthood. Sowell is also an economist and philosopher with no experience or education in pyschology, meaning that he pulled his syndrome directly out of his own ass. For Sowell's epic fail at psychology, see Sowell, Thomas (2001). The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late. Basic Books. pp. 89–150. ISBN 0-465-08140-1.
- Hayasaki, Erika. "The Debate Over an Autism Cure Turns Hostile". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- Robison, John. "I have decided to take a more active advocacy role . . .". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- The Debate Over an Autism Cure Turns Hostile
- Autism and Thimerosal: Is there really a correlation?
- Shortage of Brain Tissue Sets Autism Research Back
- Mitchell, Jonathan. "Autism: Still Waiting". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- They Don’t Want an Autism Cure
- Autism Speaks Intimidates yet another Autistic Blogger – Chilling Effects
- The Zach T-shirt saga: Autism speaks' side of the story
- neurodiversity faux pas acknowledged: But will they learn their lesson
- Autism Talk TV - Ep. 6 - Steve Silberman - Pt 1
- Alex Plank: The Sycophantic Saga continues
- Before Autism Had a Name
- 'NeuroTribes' Examines The History — And Myths — Of The Autism Spectrum
- Why you shouldn't buy Neurotribes: Silberman trivializes "head-banging" and "diaper-wearing"