There are a number of different scare tactics and boogeymen I see people talk about out there, and they have a tendency to annoy me. This time I want to talk about chemicals.
I am increasingly finding that people talking about “chemicals” as though they are some kind of bad scary thing, and that going “chemical free” is somehow the solution. Of course, this is not isolated to issues on the autism spectrum, but we are a group that seems to be targeted by this message.
So here’s what bothers me so very much about it – everything is a chemical. It is absolutely impossible to be “chemical free” because it would involve getting rid of things we require to live. My favorite example is water – water is a chemical. Sometimes by hoaxers it’s called dihydrogen monoxide, and they will then list a bunch of scary-sounding facts about it as a way of saying “ooh, this chemical is so bad, we should get rid of it!” This website is a beautiful example of that. It’s important to note – the various facts they list are true. It isn’t just a bunch of made up stuff. It’s an excellent example of how even something like water can be made to sound scary if the right spin is put on it.
In my poking around to research a bit for this blog post, I found this interesting person who apparently has autism and “chemical sensitivity.” Wow did that send me down a rabbit hole. Ok, I am not prepared to discuss “chemical sensitivity” in any depth. All I can really say is that the name itself does not make a whole lot of sense what with how everything is a chemical. Now, I can say that it is possible to be sensitive to certain specific chemicals, such as my possible sensitivity to sucralose. The solution is not to be chemical free, the solution is to find a way to avoid that particular chemical.
In any case, my main point is that “chemical” does not imply bad, dangerous, toxic, or even man-made. If someone is trying to tell you about how you need to have a chemical free environment, they are probably trying to sell you something. More importantly, they are not saying something that makes sense in the real world. Don’t buy into it. If someone is trying to convince you about how evil some particular chemical is, keep in mind how easy it is to make something innocuous sound scary. Don’t just discount them, but definitely do your own research and find out for yourself.
Some chemicals (including many that occur in nature) are certainly bad and dangerous. Other chemicals are neutral, others are beneficial, and still others are required for us to live. There are already too many scare tactics surrounding ASDs, maybe it’s time to start reducing them, instead of adding more and more to the list.
(I have a small list of other scare tactics and boogeymen that I also want to write about, so I’m thinking about making this a recurring topic. as such, if you know of any you’d like to see posted about, please comment here or on my facebook page and let me know!)