Spectrum 10K: ‘Autistically handicapped’ organisation signposted by study says term is still appropriate ‘in a medical setting’

Trigger warning: Mentions of the r-word, heteronormativity and outdated disability terminology

The Society for the Autistically Handicapped (TSFAH), an organisation listed on Spectrum 10K’s website before it was removed on Friday, has told Liam O’Dell that ‘handicapped’ is still an appropriate term to use – in the context of disability and autism – “in a medical setting”.

The comments come after this website revealed on Thursday that Spectrum 10K listed TSFAH – also known as Autism Independent UK (AIUK) – as one of several organisations participants could approach for support in a draft Frequently Asked Questions document.

AIUK, along with the pro-Applied Behaviour Analysis charity Child Autism UK, were also signposted on Spectrum 10K’s website, before the ‘autism advice’ webpage was removed sometime on Friday.

In a statement issued before the page was taken down, a Spectrum 10K spokesperson said: “Under our ‘useful links’ section, we listed the largest autism-related charities in the UK. Entry in this list does not represent an endorsement by Spectrum 10K but we acknowledge that this may not have been clear and have decided to remove the page from our website.

“According to Google, Autism Independent UK used to be called The Society of the Autistically Handicapped. Clearly, this language is out of date. We do not use the term ‘handicapped’.”

Webpage on the website which reads: 'Autism Independent UK helps to increase awareness of autism and improve the quality of life for autistic people. Child Autism UK is an autism charity based in Ascot, Berkshire which provides information and support for parents of autistic children.'

Since Liam O’Dell’s latest report on Spectrum 10K, more information has come to light about TSFAH, including a report republished by the organisation on “sexuality and autism“.

A section of the TEACCH report, which an AIUK spokesperson says was “written by others” and “given” to the organisation, reads: “We think it is helpful to allow these individuals to have contact with the opposite sex. Even severely autistic individuals seem to know the difference between men and women and to be more attracted to members of the opposite sex.

“Providing heterosexual experiences such as classroom programmes, leisure activities, and residential living situations seem to, in some way, meet the sexual needs of these clients. The more of these opportunities we can provide, the more appropriate their sexual behaviour will be.”

When asked if AIUK agreed with this statement, the spokesperson – who later identified himself as Keith Lovett – said it was “not necessarily correct”. He answered “n/a” to a question about AIUK’s stance on LGBTQ+ people who may experience same-sex attraction.

In response to a follow-up question, Mr Lovett added: “I say this as it is dependent on the severity of autism and other cohabiting conditions. For example, most may understand or be attracted to the opposite sex, some may see you as a moving object that do certain tasks.

“I feel the higher up the continuum you go the higher the attraction is likely.”

Elsewhere, on a webpage titled “what is autism“, AIUK makes several references to what it describes as “mental retardation”.

It reads: “Several cognitive abnormalities are frequently observed in autistic youngsters: distractibility, poor organisational ability, difficulties with abstractions and a strong focus on details.

“Mental retardation is an additional cognitive disability in about 70% of autistic people and there is often an uneven cognitive profile with some skills being strong while other aspects of cognitive functioning are quite limited.”

‘Retard’ is now commonly referred to as “the r-word” within the disability community, with the Special Olympics writing in a blog post that the term “is a form of hate speech” and those who use the word “often do so with little regard for the pain it causes people with intellectual disabilities and the exclusion it perpetuates in our society”.

‘Mental retardation’ was later changed to ‘intellectual disability’ in the UK and US, with a 2019 document from the NHS showing a revision to certain medical terms. In America, Congress passed a law in 2013 – known as Rosa’s Law – which required existing federal laws to be amended so that the phrase was replaced with ‘intellectual disability’.

In response to a question from Liam O’Dell about whether AIUK still considers the terms ‘handicapped’ and ‘mental retardation’ to be appropriate within the context of disability and autism, Mr Lovett replied: “In a medical setting, yes.”

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This report is the latest in his series ‘The Spectrum 10K Files’. Read the previous articles in this series below:

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