The 5 Point Scale for Brown OR Handling Racism When You're on the Spectrum


It seems to me that the core idea behind the statement, “Liberty and Justice For All” has all but eroded away since last Fall (2016). I had been keeping a mental count of the daily incites (environment, science, aged, disabled, education, ban’s, and so on) until it occurred to me one day that I had lost count. I knew that one, or rather, a good many of my well informed, highly intelligent friends were doing their best at remaining current and informed. I knew that if ever I needed data, research, or a good blast of reality, that I could turn to any or all of them. Then something happened--something so wretched and grimy that I don’t think even they have data or research on how to proceed.


A few weekend’s ago a young couple that I know, who live in the Bay Area (Silicon Valley to be exact), decided to go out for an early morning coffee. As they entered the coffee shop, they noticed an older “white” woman, (OWW) staring at them. They tried to shrug it off as they considered their beverage options on the menu. “Hey! Is he your boyfriend?” This is what the young woman thought she heard which caused her to freeze for a second. Then she thought, nahhh...this is the Bay Area, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen here. Again and this time in a much louder voice, OWW demanded, “Is he your boyfriend?” So confused was the young woman that she answered, “Yes he is. Why?” The OWW bellowed, “He’s so brown.” The young woman shared that she could see her boyfriend’s anxiety and anger rise by his breathing and by his stance. He ignored the comments and focused on the menu board. Yet possibly because he wasn’t fazed, the OWW sounded out, “Are you Arab?!”And again, “ARE YOU ARAB?!” At which point the couple ignored the OWW. The young woman shared with me that the OWW wasn’t having it because she continued to harass them, “You’re so brown you must be Arab.” There came a point however when the young woman’s boyfriend reached Level 4 on the (5 Point Scale of Anger, if you will); he turned and yelled, “I am an American. I was born and raised in New York!” Relentlessly the OWW responded with, “But are you Arab?” To which the boyfriend yelled (even louder this time), “I’m American”.The young woman looked around STARBUCKS. No sounds could be heard, not the hiss of the steamer, not the dripping of the coffee, everyone, barista’s included were frozen in place with fear. No one spoke up, no one supported them, no one did a thing. The young woman felt that if they didn’t leave, then someone would end up calling the police. She felt that her boyfriend, who is by all rights a genius, quirky, shy, handsome, Indian American not Arab (but so what), and aspy with anxiety, would end up being at fault because of his Level 4 upset and loudness which was set off by the racist OWW. They left STARBUCKS without their beverages.On that morning, they lost a piece of their liberty which is promised them.


This is a true story. As wretched and as grimy as it is, it has given me a renewed sense of purpose. For the past 15 years I’ve been teaching various lessons using Kari Dunn Buron’s Incredible 5 Point Scale, to my students on the Autism Spectrum. Lessons on frustration, silliness, vocal volume, the list goes on. With my older teens and young adults I especially teach the 5 Against the Law lessons. These are based on consequences for the actions of those 18 years and older.In my wildest imagination, I did not ever consider that I might need to create a 5 Point Scale for Handling Racists. But, here we are. I might not have imagined myself doing this, but I now know that this is how I will proceed with all of my clients and all of my students because--and to be very honest--we are all on the 5 Point Scale of Brown. And that is a truly wonderful thing.


Autism occurs in all colors, creeds, and socio economic stratas; in fact there are no boundaries where autism is concerned. And since apparently there are no boundaries where racism is concerned, being able to use self regulation strategies to keep one’s composure is an important skill to have.  

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