Au-Ti, Autistic Community and Abusive Behaviour

[Image Description: the word autism surrounded by translations for “hello” in multiple languages, above a rainbow strip with text that reads “by autistic people for everyone”]

Au-Ti, known also as Autists, Autism @ Au-Ti, and on twitter as @AUTIGROUP is led by an autistic man from England called Adrie Cornelis, formerly known as Adrie Van Der Meer. The ideology behind the Au-Ti group is not progressive or supporting true neurodiversity. The group embraces the use of functioning labels and the term Aspergers, despite the numerous concerns raised by various autistic people over both the ineffectiveness of functioning labels and the links between Hans Asperger and the Nazis.

In June I resigned as an admin of this group and wrote an open letter giving my reasons. In light of further criticisms of the group from multiple sources, I wish to expand upon the contents of that letter and talk about the various experiences I had or witnessed within the group that ultimately led to my decision to publicly resign. I have wished to share this since leaving, but felt intimidated into remaining silent on many things.

While in the group, a new member joined and I was tagged as a person from Scotland they could speak to, as they were also from Scotland. This person, through repeated questions, managed to ascertain that we lived nearby to each other. They were in their 40s, I was 24 and presented at the time as a woman. He began messaging me privately less than an hour into our conversation, and asked me for a date. I blocked him.

Upon reporting this incident to Adrie and other admins, I was informed that he couldn’t be removed from the group as he hadn’t had three strikes. This was not the first incident of a man in this group private-messaging a female-presenting member with sexual or romantic comments or overtures. No previous perpetrators were removed from the group either due to this strict three-strikes policy.  

A week or two before I left, a group of three admins reported an Australian Aboriginal immigrant in the US to the police. This was, allegedly, a mental health call. The individual in question asked them NOT to call the police and explained that what he was experiencing were normal symptoms of an established long-term condition that he knew how to treat himself. Adrie, who was one of the three alongside Delia and Erin, brought Erin onto the call specifically so she, a US-based nurse, would be duty-bound to report the incident.

This was at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US following a number of shootings of Black people in the US. Calling the police on a person of colour who was begging you not to, in the US, at that time, is not acceptable. Mental health crisis calls to police, particularly for autistic people, particularly for people of colour, particularly in the US, have a history of ending badly for the person who is being reported. There is a very real risk of shooting or indefinite psychiatric detention.

The group, which is based across multiple platforms including WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook, alongside a Twitter account and, now, their own website, has allowed a practicing ABA therapist and an employee at an ABA school to remain part of the group, and to promote their work. At the time of my membership, openly opposing these viewpoints was called ‘political’ and shut down by the admins. Meanwhile, people were permitted to share pro-ABA studies on ‘early intervention’.

One admin, Delia of the police-calling incident, who is a doctor in Chile, made openly racist and Islamophobic comments in the WhatsApp group in June, calling Muslims “extremely violent” and claiming that Islam is a ‘political ideology’ and comparing it with Nazism. Adrie then ordered us, as admins, to remain ‘impartial’ when addressing racist comments in the main WhatsApp chat. He then accused those members who called out the racist comments of “bullying Delia” and demanded an apology.

After myself and numerous others left the group, a remaining member revealed to me that Adrie had told all members that we were working at the behest of a former member of the group and advised them to block all Cuban phone numbers. He previously removed this member from the group for criticising the Cuban government as it was ‘political’. After leaving, he accused myself and others of following the orders of this individual and claimed we had not independently chosen to leave. This was completely false.

He later accused those of us who left of setting up a group designed to harass members of their group and threatened to contact the police on members of a new WhatsApp group set up by former members of their group who wished to stay in contact. He implied that a formal international investigation was happening and that he was in contact with lawyers. This behaviour was clearly designed to intimidate former members into refraining from speaking publicly about their experiences. People have also been re-added to the group without their pemission.

Since leaving the group, it has rebranded from Autists to Au-Ti and has set up a news website on autism issues. The group continues to attack other autistic people who are not part of it.

The autistic community needs to speak up about the abuse in this group and at the hands of other autistic people. Bullying within the autistic community is, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence, and is often swept under the rug and ignored by many. Since joining this group and resigning my admin role, I have witnessed continual harm being perpetuated by this group and some of its leaders, and I can no longer stay silent.

Edit notice: this post was updated on the 23rd February to reflect a change in the Twitter username of the group following the publication of multiple articles and posts criticising the organisation. The post was further updated on the 15th March to link to screenshot evidence hosted on Twitter.

Social Media – Beneficial or Harmful?

Social media has had a lot of benefits for people, particularly in the autistic community. It is a way to talk to others and gain support without having to navigate the sensory hell that is our society. The neurodiversity paradigm has spread through social media, and many have become more aware of autism rights issues and more supportive.

For me, all this is true. But social media is also the home of trolls, cyber-bullies and those who engage in techniques such as gaslighting. Some hide behind the cloak of anonymity to spread hate and hurt others. And in my personal case, the negatives outweigh the positives.

The way companies try to manipulate others’ opinions on social media concerns and frightens me. The targeted advertisements are often creepy, seeming far too closely related to recent searches. And Cambridge Analytica is not the only company using our personal data to be manipulative – expect more scandals soon.

The humans are no better – spreading all their false information and contradictory stories. Everyone has an opinion, and all those who disagree are wrong. People often go to extremes with little regard for considering facts. For example, many people will either say Russia is the source of all evil or that Russia is the best and just unfairly demonised.

In 2012, a social media argument completely broke my heart, and it took years for me to fully get over that. 366 days ago, I lost most of my friends due to something that began on social media. It is the reason I am on antidepressants, and I am far from over it even a year later.

For all the good social media can do, it has done me far more harm. One of my favourite way to relax is to lie on my bed alone and spend hours imagining what my life would be like in an alternate timeline with one difference. Many of these timelines involve me quitting, or never using, social media.

If I had never used social media, the 2012 stuff wouldn’t have happened. Last year, things wouldn’t have fallen apart (if they ever began). I probably wouldn’t have ever had a group of close friends. Then again, I wouldn’t have felt the heartbreak over losing them. Whoever said it’s better to have loved and lost clearly had a very different personality to me.

At the moment, I do not have the choice to delete Facebook as so many have – I am on committees that use it as the primary communication method, and hence will not be able to get rid of it until July 6th at the earliest. On the 7th of July, I sincerely hope I will be able to wave goodbye to a platform that has harmed me.

Of course, for some people, social media is a lifeline. It can be fantastic, and it’s certainly not inherently bad. Certain companies have terrible policies, of course, but for some this does not outweigh the good. But for me, I can’t wait to get away.