It’s Not Easy Being Variegated

Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’

 

“Why is she doing that – stop it! You’d better stop it right now or else!”

If I had a dollar for every time my mother had told me, “I don’t know why you’d want to do that,” I could buy a plane ticket to Helsinki. Mind you, she never asked why I wanted to do whatever the particular “that” was at the time. If it wasn’t important to her, then it wasn’t important at all. (This is so selfish and one-sided it slides into the realm of the pathological.)

All behaviour provides some kind of communicated message. The onus of burden on communication does not belong to either the autistic or to the people interacting with them. Rather, it belongs to both. Communication is a result. It takes two to tango, sender and receiver each way. Communication can happen in many ways. But unless both parties can find a way to share the message, and are willing to try, it won’t happen.

To make communication happen, we must be able to think outside of the usual verbal box. We have to really observe what is going on, and figure out why someone is doing what they are doing. A lot of people seem to have difficulty understanding the concept of cause and effect – they want to react to the effects, rather than figuring out the causes. It’s easier that way, I suppose; it doesn’t require any thinking.

Let me tell you a garden story as an analogy. In entomology we have a concept called the “pesticide treadmill,” where people find it easier to either spray pesticides on a calendar basis, rather than assessing the actual need for such and what is causing problems, or they wait until problems reach catastrophic levels and then spray. Both of these approaches are both a waste of time and money. Regularly scheduled “calendar spraying” increases pollution, and only pushes for greater pesticide resistance in the pest populations. Not surprisingly, waiting until the pest population blows out of proportion does not yield effective results either, either in terms of pest control or in benefit to the crop.

Sometimes people go around spraying insecticides on their plants, when what they really have is a fungus problem, or a nutrient problem, or an insufficiency of light. Amazingly, the insecticide doesn’t solve the problem! So, they keep on spraying … why? Because the first dose didn’t work. So they think they need more doses, and it should work if you keep giving enough doses. Hmn…

In much the same manner, some people want to do the equivalent thing with their clients or family members — treat symptoms with treatments, instead of figuring out what is causing the problem. Give them tranquilisers, or neuroleptics, or megadoses of vitamins, or chelation, whatever — some “treatments” are far worse than others, but it’s still trying to treat the symptoms rather than figuring out what is causing difficulty. (Amazingly, more doses don’t solve the problem!)

Or indeed, sometimes it’s easier to give “treatments” than to determine if there truly is a difficulty – not all different behaviours are problem behaviours.

“Help!” says a gardening class student, “my plant has yellow leaves! What’s wrong with it? Does it have bugs? Should I give it some Miracle Grower drops?”

“Um, ma’am, this is a variegated ginger. It has green and gold leaves. That’s the way it grows. It’s okay – it’s supposed to be like that.” Student looks dubious. “Your plant is just fine. Really. Enjoy it. There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s naturally variegated from its genes, and that’s what makes it different.”

Student still looks dubious, and says, “I don’t know … it looks sick to me. It’s just too weird – I want my plants to all look nice and green.”

“If you don’t like it, then take it to the office, or to church, or whatever. There are plenty of people who love special plants like this.”

But it takes extra time and effort to observe, monitor, and assess your plants for pest problems. A good IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program will save money in both reduced applications of pesticides, and increased value of your plants. But all this takes learning, observing, and thinking. Likewise, it takes learning, observing, and thinking to analyse the functional cause and effect of various behaviours.

Too often the child (or even adult) is perceived as being a problem, rather than as having a problem. Instead of figuring out what is causing the problem, the reaction is focused upon the effect that is the child’s behaviour. This has to be stopped right now; the child is being bad, children should not talk back, and children should not win arguments! (There’s a recipe for disaster; simply give orders without listening to others and taking their concerns seriously.)

Punishing the child for misbehaving should stop the behaviour, right? Possibly. Unless the child perceives that the punishment (such as an out-of-school suspension) is better than the problem that is distressing them (being bullied). Punishment can sometimes stop a behaviour (depending upon what’s going on), but it doesn’t often change the behaviour because it does not teach a person what to do instead. As long as the behaviour gains something for the person, it won’t go away. That “something” doesn’t always have to be an optimal result, merely a less-bad result. In other words, the behaviour serves some kind of function. When we’re untangling the problem, determining what that function is will be very important, because that’s the key to figuring out what is needed in the way of determining the true problem and a better solution.

 

 

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Our Hidden Power

Much of the pain we find in situations is what we bring from our own suffering, and we keep re-projecting that suffering into the situations. We carry with us the compilations of confusions like luggage, and masses of delusion like garb that fill the luggage. These weigh us down and weary us. Yet we are convinced that we must have some luggage, and that the luggage we have is supposed to be good luggage, or luggage that we are supposed to improve or trade for better luggage. We feel “eternally cheated” because we aren’t carrying the kind of luggage that we thought we wanted, or that were told was the best kind of luggage. But the luggage and everything in it is the actual problem, not the kind of confusion-suitcases we have, nor the kind of delusion-garb in the suitcases.

The reason we are dragging all this luggage is because it is meant to distract from our own power. Surprisingly, because autistics and other people who are atypical already work outside the social paradigms, they have a certain access to power. It is for this that there is so much fear of the differences – the ability to see the artificiality of the social norms and to work outside of the normalizing influences. But as long as we are unaware of this, we will be stuck where we are.

~//~

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important, whether I am afraid.”
~ Audre Lorde

“Power” has many meanings. I consider power to be ability, strength, and creativity. Power as ability allows you to do things to take care of your needs (or the needs of those whom you are responsible for, such as children). Power is also strength, not in the sense of force, but as potential and endurance. The potential comes from the ability to avoid being “for” or “against” existing ideas (and expending great energy either way), but from simply stepping outside them and transforming energy. Companion to (but not opposite to) strength is gentleness, an acceptance of energy. Creativity is the experience of personal power when forming or transforming new understandings/ visions/ feelings, and often shaping those into a transmissible or translatable form to share and change others’ experiences. Personal power comes from the eternal change of the person. Like love, power is inexhaustible. Power can be shared, rather than just given/taken.

Power is an understanding that every organism must by necessity, be self-centered and care for itself, without the assignment of value judgements that self-care is “selfishness”. One must self-care before being able to care for others, literally or in the positive emotional sense. “Poverty” results from powerlessness, when you (for whatever reason) do not have the options in life that allow you to meet your needs.

Popular conceptions of power (such as one finds in dictionaries or history stories) include an authority (in the sense of both the judging-deciding and the expert-wisdom source), that is able to control-command what others do, and is able to control-command what others can have, by influence and/or force. Power is often considered to be a “right”, meaning the accepted covenant that gives collective individuals powers to a person or position. The word “right” in itself has a messy complexitude of meanings, including privilege, propriety, and correctness.

You can see there is an essential difference here. The popular conception of power usually include assumptions about top-down regulation as an inherent, unavoidable, required and necessary form of power, with the assumptions about the inevitability of that process, the necessity of power-by-a-few, and the inherent correctness of that situation. Power is seen as an inevitable form of giving and taking, with inherent weakness on the part of the individuals. It assumes that there is a scarcity of power, and that everyone selfishly competes for power. Political systems are officially designed to structure those interactions, and implicitly to maintain a status quo of the power paradigms. Government and education (and education about what government “is”) are not the only sources of power regulation; there are also strong nets of inter-related cultural memes that actively work to enforce the status quo.

This concept of power seeks to prevent change; it wants things to “be” a certain way, and thus like a bridge trestle in the middle of a river, is always working against the flow. It takes great energy to work at resisting change, and that energy is drawn from the multitudes of individuals. They must be convinced to give away part of their own power to this futile effort.

Within that conceptual framework, personal power is seen as personal ability (usually requiring competency that is assigned by authority) and strength (force of will or body – an ability to resist something). Personal power is rarely understood as ability from the ease of self-authority, strength from potential and endurance, and the experiential transformation of creation. Therefore, most people are quite unaware of the powers that they naturally have. Many of the power paradigms work to maintain that lack of awareness, by limiting people’s understandings of how power works, and by meting out the “punishment of reward” to those who are willing to (or unwittingly) perpetuate more of the same system.

Power can only be given, not taken. Many people do not realize that they have any inherent power or that they can create power. Instead, they are taught to think rather that power is given to them. (Two-year old children are an exception; because they are still in the process of being “socialized”, they are fully aware of their own power when they demonstrate that well-known response, “NO!”)

The transfer or giving up of power requires that one accepts or believes that others’ purposes/ goals/ methods are more important that one’s own. Doing this diminishes and defers one’s own needs (our needs are “selfish”), and also devalues or denies one’s own sense of wisdom that is one’s perceptual forms and understandings of the world. Institutions of many sorts teach these assumptions to guarantee their own persistence.

When we ignore these givens, we become agents in the system that are untouched by the cultural covenants. When we express our abilities that rise from ease of self-authority, we create puddles of null-effect in the power paradigms. The “aberrant” individuals fail to comply by deferring their time and efforts to “selfish” works, instead giving their energy to others.

Focus is a power, and one that is rarely considered as such. Focus is the ability to maintain the strength of one’s drive. Part of the power of strength is endurance, the ability to follow the unique concepts by perseverating upon them. Many autistics naturally do this, and a system that seeks to Normalise everything is therefore threatened. This is because focus creates “hot spots” of power in a system that seeks homeostasis by minimising the power apportionment to individuals.

Disregard for Normalising influences (e.g., peer pressure) is a power. The power game only works if we play it; ‘nuf said. Those who recognize their personal power ignore the requirements for requesting recognition of expertise. They follow their own strengths and wisdom. Indeed, what else can a person really do? How one perceives and understands the world is unique.

The person whose perceptions and interactions with the world are skewed from the norm will never be able to completely fit within the accepted parameters. We have seen that trying to fit into some of those required perceptions repeatedly ends in failures, and censure. Trying instead to assert our different perceptions can result in others’ denial that things could possibly that way, or results in others’ assertions that these things are done “wrong”. Being expected to “know” what is correct and then demonstrating that in social interactions, without necessarily having the ability to discern those messages or those rules is the illogical “catch-22” that makes us insane or depressed.

Wisdom is impossible to gain if so much energy is expended trying to reconcile what we know intuitively to be true from our perceptions of the world, with what others (stuck in their dichotomous view of the universe) insist is the only correct understanding. Instead, we regain personal power when we can realize that we need neither accept nor deny these social constructs, but rather to ignore them and instead work with our personal strengths. Strength creates potential, the ability to not be constrained by customary thought.

This is not to say that we cannot suffer consequences from refusal to play the social games. This is due to the fact that a variety of people will be made very uncomfortable by those who “ought” to know what the rules are, but don’t follow them. They try to “fix” those who disregard this paradigm, for a variety of reasons. A variety of reasons are assigned to all this fixing: helpful, caring, altruistic, or corrective (sometimes punitively so). But frequently those care-giving reasons are nothing more than covert expressions of the need to maintain the power paradigm.

Bullies do not work within the power system(s), but with it; they recognize how it really works, and how manipulate it to their own ends. Those who are outside the power system but do not realize it, are then targets for bullies because the bullies can often make the rules selectively work for them. Those who are outside the power system and DO realize it confuse the hell out of bullies, sometimes resulting in the antagonistic fear-from-ignorance reaction. The problem of course is that many autistics are in the former, rather than the latter group.

~//~

Once we quit dragging around this luggage and everything in it, we can finally stand aright and see the joy that is the real world. But when we’re dragging luggage, all we can see is a world that is an endless luggage-carousel of pain.

We have neither succeeded because of the system, nor despite it. When we have succeeded, it is because we have found ways by learning paths that worked for each of us. How can we help others until we can find our own healing? This is not a problem, but an opportunity.

Our strengths are our assets.
Used properly, our weaknesses are our assets as well.

Too many people assume that to have any power, they have to have the ability to force others to do what they want to do. This is a grossly distorted vision, and one that is perpetuated by the system that relies on keeping people ignorant about their own generative and coöperative powers by convincing them that force is the only system.

In truth, divisiveness and scarcity and differences are artificial constructs meant to confuse the issues. People who continue to believe in such are letting themselves be kept “in their place”. It is when we realise our abilities and commonalities, and can show others that they share those as well, that we are able to do what we need to do to help each other.

“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” ~Betty Reese

“Who the hell are you to complain?”

While washing dishes I started off thinking about the things I was thankful for (the usual census: family, health, good weather, employment and so on), and then by the drying stage my thoughts had wandered off (as they are wont to do), and I realised that I had some things that were more on the Relief side of the bookkeeping, such as “I’m so relieved that my life isn’t full of bitter, angry, crazy-making people.” That wasn’t a very cheerful sort of relief, because it meant that my life used to be. There is also a sort of spiritual weariness that comes from being thankful for the bad things that aren’t happening to you.

Trying to figure out, “How does one get into those kinds of situations?” isn’t hard, because unfortunately, the world is chock-full of them. The blogoshere is rife with weary stories about people’s struggles. But later on while soaking in the philosophical font that is the bathtub, I realised once again that so many of these struggles revolve around the same faulty premises.

There is a pervasive myth of scarcity in our society. I’m not talking about physical resources, even though some of those truly are physically scarce, and many are actually badly shared. Rather, I’m talking about the myth of social scarcity. The fabric of the story line has these warp threads running through it, and given how obnoxious they are, we might call them Warped Threads:

There’s not enough caring to go around — if you get what you need, then I can’t get what I need.

Everyone is being judged, and if I can “prove” that my problems are “worse” than yours, then I win and will get the caring I need, and you lose and won’t get it.

If I don’t get the caring I need, then I can’t be held responsible for being upset, and acting out my frustrations by punishing others.

If I feel slighted because others won the contest, then I’m justified in doing what I feel I “have to” to get substitute needs met.

These lines are getting very childish sounding, aren’t they? And yet they form the foundation to a tremendous amount of infighting for resources or services, and blaming others for creating problems so they can be charged for restitution, and excusing abusive or murderous actions against innocent people.

Wow. There is in fact a deep level of social immaturity, selfishness, lack of empathy and pettiness to the whole scenario. I would call this a cultural immaturity, but it is hardly limited to one culture.

Indeed, these scenarios are widespread and are seen in every bureaucratic, legal, scholastic, and economic system. At these broad levels of pervasiveness, we don’t even notice the underlying errors so that they seem to be the natural order of things.

Underlying all of them is the wholly artificial concept of scarcity: There’s not enough to go around — it’s you or me.

This perceived scarcity even extends to assisting others. A strange virtue is sometimes seen in “guarding” the services-as-scarce-resources from people who would use them.

You’re not fit to judge what services you need, or whether or not you need the services.

We can’t give you these services because other people need them.

You’re not the worst off, so you don’t need them badly enough to get them.

You’re so badly off that you wouldn’t be able to really make good use of them, so they would be wasted on you.

You’re just being greedy, going around asking for services.

If you’re not failing, you’re obviously getting by okay.

Anyone who fails like that is just being lazy or noncompliant. We’re not giving you any services until we can see you putting forth enough effort.

(Bang head here.)

But it doesn’t do any good to whine and complain about how “unfair” things are, and how you “deserve” better. I’m not saying that you don’t deserve better, but rather that we all deserve better. The sad fact is that the people who are doing these things also deserve better. They perpetuate the problem because they don’t recognise the causes of it, and because they lack the tools to build something else.

Most importantly, we don’t want to punish people for having problems. This screwed-up social paradigm is certainly a great problem that besets us all. Instead of antagonism, we need to help each other. We need to quit staking out lines between Us and Them. We need to help by teaching each other how we can help each other. After all, the reason that humans are social animals is because we can work together to create solutions for problems that we cannot solve as individuals. We are all dependent upon each other for a multitude of things.

We don’t need better ways of “beating” the system, because we are all part of the system, and the beatings must stop. (They haven’t improved morale yet.) What we need are ways of overhauling the system by sidestepping these terrible games and introducing different ways of working together.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change.” ~ Audre Lorde

Doing Things the Wrong Way

I was in my teens when my mother announced in a fit of supreme annoyance, “You know Andrea, all children rebel, but you’re doing it all wrong!”

This comment required some thinking on my part. Indeed, it rolled around in my head for hours as I tried in vain to make sense of it. Granted, I was continuing to have academic difficulties, but those did not stem from rebelliousness. What was I doing wrong? I didn’t date (so no sex), didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, didn’t even have my driver’s license to be engaging in reckless behavior, didn’t ditch school (wasn’t truant), and wasn’t grossly disrespectful. If someone had created a list of the Six Dreadful D’s that a teen could engage in, I would have been clear of the whole list.

The “doing something all wrong” part of itself wasn’t the difficulty; that was a sadly familiar refrain. It was attaching “all children rebel” to it. The words implied that there was a “right” way to rebel that I was failing to accomplish. But parents never wanted their children to rebel … what a double-bind! Oh, it made my head hurt. Finally by the next day I decided that her comment simply did not make sense. That would later prove to be the turning point of my tediously slow process of untangling an alarming number of double-binds that had for years tied my head up in knots.

Part of the reason that I had trouble understanding the nonsensical nature of that remark was that my mother was not the only person from whom I’d heard this refrain about “doing things the wrong way”.

I had inexplicably run into problems in art class (of all places surprisingly – this subject was normally a source of outstanding marks) because I wasn’t following the directions for figure drawing. We were supposed to be drawing the person perched on a high stool by creating a series of connected ovoids for the torso, limbs, and appendages, and then connecting those ovals and smoothing them to create the figure. That didn’t make much sense to me; it seemed like a lot of unnecessary work. I simply started at the top of the head and proceeded to draw the silhouette. Sometimes I would erase a small section to refine the line, but otherwise I would work my way around to the beginning point, and then filled in the interior details.

My art teacher however, was a stickler for “Process, process, process!” She had managed to get everyone successfully through single and double vanishing-point perspective by careful adherence to procedure, and she was determined to have all her students complete satisfactory still-life drawings of bottles, cow skulls, and humans by careful adherence to procedure. Initially we’d started our still-life work with the typical assemblages of fruits-as-Platonic-solids, but this class was right before lunch and the props kept disappearing. The bottles proved to be adequate subjects for learning techniques, but the cow skulls proved daunting. The system of Platonic solids and ovoids proved to be no match for the murderous complexity created by the mandible and orbital cavities. I was able to draw a respectable cow skull only by virtue of the fact that I could visualize it as a two-dimensional image and then transfer that mental image to my paper, fait accompli. I have no idea if her distrust of my personal process was related to the fact that I wasn’t complying with the given directions (and thus had succeeded in completing the assignment but left her with little to calculate in her grading rubric), or whether it was related to the fact that she had no idea how I could draw by finished silhouette. Even the token artistic genius of the class had to sketch and re-sketch lines repeatedly, for all her finished product was the most refined.

Trouble was constantly simmering over in my maths class, and boiled over every nine weeks as progress reports were sent home. Whereas beginning algebra had been a minefield of flunked exams, geometry was taking a much different turn, and not always for the best. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand geometry with all its angles and parallel lines and intersections of compass-drawn circles. Indeed, it was the first time I had excelled in understanding anything mathematic. I could consistently answer the homework and exam questions correctly. I just couldn’t consistently show the steps or name the proofs that described how I’d reached those answers. As far as I was concerned, the exam requirements of List the proofs and Show your work were the bane of my life. Generally there weren’t any steps to be had! The answers were obvious. So much so that I spent most of the class lecture time just doodling on the margins of my notepaper, creating recursive labyrinths, spiraling pursuit curves, or re-inventing Voronoi tessellations by marking the areas of influence around random blemishes in the paper.

When my maths instructor had taken me aside one day after class to find out just how I was getting my answers (there were suspicions of cheating), I then stupefied him by announcing answers by glancing sideways at the problems. He was totally flummoxed when he found that I figured sums of several numbers by initially clumping complementary pairs of digits in each column into sets of ten before adding them up, rather than starting at the top of the column and consecutively adding each digit. I couldn’t understand why my approach wasn’t natural to everyone, because after all, we were using a base ten system. At least he was satisfied that I was producing the correct answers on my own, no matter what obscure method I used to produce them.

When I sat and contemplated my place in the grand scheme of things, I found myself wondering just how it was that I could be “doing things the wrong way” and yet still be producing the right results. Were the processes really as important as the results? Apparently so, for I was increasingly finding that style was as important as substance when I found myself in social situations. You weren’t supposed to lie, you weren’t supposed to sit there and not participate, and yet you weren’t supposed to say what was really going on. Amazing how often one could be deemed rude for merely sharing facts or for being specific. I repeatedly found myself doing things the wrong way and thus going against what people were telling me to do. Maybe I was rebelling after all.

It’s just … that wasn’t my intent at all.

Novel Ideas

 

 

 

Modern Times

Survey question: Ever been absolutely bored to tears in a class?

Of course you have! We get bored from things that are too easy, that seem too irrelevant, or that are so familiar and routine that they fail to hold our attention (especially those of us for whom attention is a slippery thing to begin with).

A little novelty can be a wonderful thing in teaching. It can catch and retain students’ attention to present them with new material. It can invigorate familiar subjects with new perspectives. Used judiciously, it can raise the challenge to a manageable level that makes students reach to stretch their boundaries, without being so high they run the risk of complete failure.

Novelty can affect educational difficulties in different ways. Educational difficulties are frequently described as “learning difficulties”, although not all of them are expressed in “learning”, the acquisition and integration of new knowledge. Rather, educational difficulties can result from mismatches in teaching methods or in environmental factors. When we run into environments with high levels of novelty, we can run into educational difficulties. Take for example, field trips …

Field trips are chock-full of novelty! New places, new things to see, perhaps to handle, smell and taste, and hopefully new things to do as well. Novelty can help a person more consistently retain attention, especially those people who have problems with varying levels of attention. Please note that “more consistent attention” does not necessarily mean that your AD/HD or autistic student will be “better behaved” on a field trip!

This is because attention-switching can be more difficult when the novel thing has become a sudden, fascinating, all-absorbing interest. Thus, one has to “drag away” a girl from an exhibit on steam engines. Or, the novelty can be so overwhelming that the student hardly knows where to turn – everything in the Hall of Egypt is fascinating! This is the student that won’t dutifully follow the troop from one exhibit to the next in a quiet and linear manner. Instead, he is bouncing all over the place, “Hey, look at this cat wearing an earring! Wow, a real sarcophagus!” His attention is on the exhibit, but nearly all of it all at once. Either way, the teacher leading these “poky little puppies” or “bouncing kangaroos” despairs of keeping the class together, either in the literal sense or in the pedagogical sense when delivering explanations about the materials. (And that, O Best Beloved, is why teachers are always drafting additional adults to be chaperones.)

On the other hand, novel environments, or even familiar environments with highly novel activities, can be problematic for students whose coping strategies are dependent upon having a particular enabling environment, or dependent upon having particular way of approaching and processing work in different ways, either physically or cognitively. This can happen even if the concepts and methods being used are familiar. Sometimes (with strokes, other kinds of brain damage, pharmaceutical side effects, auditory or visual processing difficulties, or autism) students simply have certain processes that they won’t be able to access consistently, but those kinds of events will also happen when nothing has outwardly changed, which indicates that the difficulty is interior to the person.

But sometimes there is something so profoundly new in the system that it “throws a spanner into the works”. The mental gears come to a halt. Outwardly, it appears that the student is either being noncompliant, or else has forgotten what they learned earlier. But in the case of excessive novelty, no amount of cajoling, rebuking or of punishments & rewards is going to “make” the student comply.

In situations where the student gets profoundly stuck or shuts down, it helps to remember that everyone is an organism within an environmental system. Is there something different in the environment since the task was last accomplished? Is there something different in the methods being used? Is the instructor using a very different approach or verbiage? In cases like this, we want to go back and re-establish the previous situational parameters, and reinforce the abilities gained before. This may have to be done on another day; sometimes “stuckness” can be sticky for hours.

Having achieved the skill again, practice it with a single minor change. During the practices, modify the change in small increments, and do not try to introduce multiple changes. Don’t expect to make very many changes at once, either. Doing something differently three times may not be enough to cement it in, and when assaying the task again, it may take a few more tries to get things down thoroughly with all the new changes.

 

In situations like this, the difficulty can also be with generalising, or being able to apply familiar skills in unfamiliar situations. This isn’t the same problem of being unable to access the skills, but rather, of recognising that this new situation requires that particular set of skills.

Lest these problems seem absurd, and related only to students with cognitive disabilities, then think back to when you got an entirely new version of your computer’s operating system, or when you changed from one word-processing program to another. It’s not that you didn’t know how to use the “file cabinet” in Windows 3.1, or how to save files in WordStar, but rather that lurching into Windows 1996 or WordPerfect, and then later on lurching into Windows 2000 or Word, has changed all of your familiar cues and ways of doing things. You may have had the skills, but now you’re looking for the old things in new places, or using slightly different commands or names for things. Or if you’re a newbie to the world of computers, then think back to your second car, and having to switch on the windshield wipers or headlights with different controls, and of not having the radio buttons working in familiar ways. Somehow, even though it’s the same old thing you’ve been using competantly for a long time, it’s also all new, and every single task is fraught with a dozen little glitches to trap you. Or if you’ve traveled to other countries, consider the first time you stepped into a market and couldn’t automatically identify the packaged goods. The brands, label configurations, aisle locations, even what shapes of containers your items would be packaged in, are all different. It makes the head spin.

Such are the effects of excessive novelty: too much invigoration or too many inputs to sort. Think of it as “educational jetlag”.

P.S. Was the novelty of having the picture of Charlie Chaplin from his film “Modern Times” distracting when you were trying to read the blogpost?

Uncommon Parallels: Gossiping And Stimming

In an article from the Social Issues Research Centre (out of Oxford), Kate Fox describes in her article, “Evolution, Alienation and Gossip” the functional rôle of mobile phones for promoting community by aiding gossiping. Apparently my text messages are rather humdrum and atypical, as they relate mostly to grocery expeditions, dinner attendance, and doctor appointments rather than gossip.

However, a particular paragraph caught my eye:

“Gossip is the human equivalent of ‘social grooming’ among primates, which has been shown to stimulate production of endorphins, relieving stress and boosting the immune system. Two-thirds of all human conversation is gossip, because this ‘vocal grooming’ is essential to our social, psychological and physical well-being.”

Grooming-talking (“phatic communion” for the psycholinguistics word buffs out there) is the verbal equivalent of grooming other apes.

Perhaps stimming fulfills many of the same functions, to “stimulate production of endorphins, relieving stress and boosting the immune system”?

I realise the comparison sounds really odd. Instead of being a social kind of functioning, it is a typically autistic kind of functioning. I mean, gossiping is a social activity of the highest sort. Rather than communicating in the sense of exchanging necessary data, it is passing along information as a means to promote peace and solidarity between people in the same “tribe”.

In contrast, stimming is an emblem attribute, the very archetypical sign of the autistic. It is pretty much a self-involved activity; one might stim upon something they’re seeing or hearing, but it’s not a social interaction per se.

Of course, nearly all people gossip to some extent, and nearly all people stim in some manner or another. People are people, whether autistic or neurotypical, and it would be erroneous to assert otherwise.

Nor am I asserting that gossiping and stimming are dichotomous states. Rather, that they are two activities that despite being other- or inner-directed, fulfill much the same psychosomatic benefits.

What is also interesting is that both gossiping and stimming are activities with negative connotations assigned to them. Fox brushes away some stereotypes by asserting that men gossip as much as women, about much the same subjects, and as often as women do (albeit more often with work colleagues). It’s not that men don’t gossip, but rather that they don’t like to own up to it because it seems trivial.

Fox says, “Whatever its moral status, there is certainly some evidence to suggest that gossip is a deep-seated human instinct … This would indicate that gossip, far from being a trivial pastime, actually performs a vital and socially therapeutic function.”

Stereotypical stimming activities like hand-flapping, rocking or finger-flicking have historically been actively discouraged and “trained out” because people don’t want to own up to the fact that they are or someone else is autistic. I am willing to bet that a lot of stimming actually still goes on under private cover, or has been translated into more socially-acceptable fidgets. It is too essential to the human condition to do what one can to reduce stress, one way or another. As a cautionary note, when people cannot use benign ways of dealing with stresses, they will sometimes end up using other stress-releasers that can sometimes be ultimately addictive or self-destructive.

In would be very interesting to run physiological testing to measure some of the state changes in stress levels that occur before, during and after someone engages in a bout of stimming. If we find that these activities do indeed aid people in reducing stress, we may then have further proof that attempting to stop or limit these behaviours is literally harmful to autistics (and others).

Just as people with Tourette’s should be able to function in everyday life without having to spend great amounts of energy trying to suppress their tics in order to pass for normal, autistics should likewise be able to function in everyday life without having to spend great amounts of energy trying to suppress their stims. (Of course, I’m not purporting that highly disruptive tics are going to be acceptable everywhere, nor that injurious stims are a good thing. Such blanket, extreme statements are merely strawman arguments.) As long as the tics or the stims are not going beyond someone else’s personal boundaries, then they ought to be considered acceptable.

Common, polite society needs to realise that not everyone moves, talks, interacts or waits in the same standardised manner. Spending enormous efforts to pretend that one is the same as everyone else does nothing to advocate for diversity and does nothing for one’s health. Disabilities and physical differences are a normal part of life, and so are neurological differences.

Classroom Audio/Visual: Spectacular or Just a Spectacle?

I’ve been teaching for 13 years, and have run into just about every conceivable technical glitch imaginable. Consequently, I’ve gotten picky over the years. I like machinery and environments that actually work!

VISUAL

Video projection problems generally fall within two categories: light intensity (lumens) and viewing angles. The projected image must be bright enough to compete with ambient room light, and must also not be compromised or blocked by either the angle of projection or the viewing angle of the audience.

To be able to effectively compete with any other light in the room, a video projector needs to put out 2000 lumens. (Watch out for those pictures in advertising brochures with their nicely sharp, color-saturated false images, because they don’t really reflect how the light reflects off the projection screen in real life.) It’s a false economy to buy equipment that doesn’t provide enough “muscle” to adequately serve the people using it.

When the image is from a projector that is bouncing the light off a screen (generally overhead transparency projectors, opaque projectors, slide projectors, filmstrip projectors and LCD projectors) there is a certain amount of loss of light intensity between the projector and the screen. There is also a lot of competition between the brightness of the image and the ambient amount of light in the room. Either we try to darken the room completely so the projection doesn’t get all washed out, or we try to leave some lights on for other simultaneous activities. This is problematic for teachers who expect their students to be able to take notes while also being able to see the projected image. Residual lighting in the room must be arranged so it is not shining or reflecting onto the projection screen. Unfortunately, lighting controls are rarely designed to accommodate this situation, despite the fact that projectors are often used in classrooms, and have been in use for half a century!

An alternative is an image from a projector that is mounted behind a translucent screen, or from a big monitor or plasma screen. In these cases, the projected image is emitting the light to the audience, so it’s less washed-out. Note that with rear projection, there will also have to be equipment modifications because the image has to be vertically flipped, meaning reversed left and right, or else everything will be backwards. There are but a limited number of students that can read backwards text, although they would derive great pleasure at being able to demonstrate such a rare and obscure skill.

Beware of using an ordinary television monitor, because any text (such as captions) on a standard 27” television screen will not be legible beyond a certain distance! Actually, this problem applies to all screens; text that is 1 inch (about 2.5 cm) is only legible for maybe 30 feet (9 meters). Frankly, that’s a bit difficult to read at that distance. Naturally, the larger the text is, the less text overall that can be put on a screen. And then, we have to be able to physically see all the text …

Unless you only work with preschool children who are sitting on the floor, projection screens need to be 5-6 feet off the ground, otherwise people’s bodies will block the view of the bottom of the screen to those in the middle and back.

Also, a ceiling-mounted projector should not be so low as to block the view of the top of the screen. It’s not always that the projector itself hangs too low from the ceiling, but rather the screen is so low that the image is partially blocked by people or objects!

In turn, the students should not sit more than 30-45° from the centerline of the screen, or else their viewing is compromised due to blurring and distortion from viewing angle. Please don’t try to squeeze two or three classrooms of children into one classroom, with the students crammed all the way to the walls. Go ahead and take everyone to the auditorium where there is a screen and seating more suitable to the program.

When placing projectors on a floor cart, the projection size must match the required magnification size, as well as the projection screen size for the students in the back, and don’t forget, the presence of the projector cart must not break fire codes for the student aisles. How do you do that? You make the aisles wider! Besides, you really don’t want someone sitting right next to the projector, because the machinery noise will reduce their ability to hear the program.

Overhead projectors can be problematic because if they are near the front for the teacher to change images or to write on them, then when the head is angled upwards to project high enough for the back of the audience there is often a “keystone” effect. Keystoning is when the projected image is wider at the top than at the bottom, and this is problematic because the words become distorted and blurry and thus difficult to read.

It’s not enough to stand in the center aisle by the back row and look at a screen and say, “Oh yeah, I can see everything okay.” Rather, sit in the back row at a corner, behind people and see if you can see all of the screen, and likewise can read the text without straining. Then sit in the front row at the other corner of the seating area and check to see if there is much text distortion from that position as well.

AUDIO

Audio projection problems often result not from the speaker’s ability, but from background noise. We can refer to the simple Shannon-Weaver model of communication which describes the communication between people as the “signal” between the sender and receiver, and the background problems that interfere with that as the “noise”.

Background noise from HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning), fluorescent lighting, and projection systems all figure into the noise-to-signal ratio. So do ordinary human sounds of paper shuffling, binder snapping, dropping things, pencil sharpening, pen scratching, crayon rumbling, people talking, muttering to themselves, whispering between each other, laughing, coughing, clearing their throats, eating, chewing gum, walking around, opening doors, their shoes squeaking, chairs scraping and so on. Then there’s the exciting outdoor world, including playground equipment, cars with booming bass, or even a work crew putting on fresh roofing tar on the school building.

The amount of background noise must be low enough that the signal (speech from the teacher and the other students) is intelligible without spending lots of mental energy straining to hear, decode, and process what is being said.

An adult who is conversing in their native language about a familiar topic has the skills to “fill in” periodic blips in the intelligibility of the conversation if the talking is 6 dB louder than the background noises. (Explanations of dB and Hz and how they relate to human hearing are below.)

However, children don’t have that high level of practice. Students don’t have the high level of background familiarity with the topics they are being instructed in (they are, after all, learning). People for whom English is not their first language don’t have the ease of decoding. Students with ear infections, hearing impairments or auditory processing difficulties will likewise not be able to manage, or consistently manage, at that level. A deficit is not the only way to have a problem – a student with acute hearing may perceive a greater range and volume of background noise than others, and students with attention problems will also find the environment difficult due to all the distractions. They all will need a 25 dB difference between signal and noise.

If people are having to strain to hear the words, they have less brainpower to devote to understanding the words, and less brainpower to devote to thinking about the concepts being discussed, and less brainpower to devote to remembering what is being discussed.

When rooms have the HVAC fans located within the room (instead of elsewhere in the building), such as window air conditioning units or equipment set in cabinets underneath the windows, then those fans are adding extra background noise. In-room ventilation is cheaper, but “cheaper” in this case only reflects the builder’s costs, not the cost to the people who are trying to use the room with varying levels of success.

A teacher who is talking while facing away from the audience, such as when writing on a board, is going to be difficult to hear. Imagine being seated between a thrumming window air conditioner and an LCD projector with its accompanying computer, both of which are emitting high-pitch whines. The student behind you is chewing gum with their mouth open, and another scratching out notes. Meanwhile, the teacher has turned away and is wrestling with the projection screen and says:

“The exam mumbleday is going to cover –“ tug, ziiiip, tug, rattle, ziiip, tug, clunk “—and page fiftee-.”

When’s the exam? What and page fifteen? Or was that something and page fifty; the two numbers sound very similar …

It’s easy to dismiss the problem and say that students can simply ask for clarification. But neither the teachers nor the students (or even the rest of the classmates) will tolerate frequent requests for clarification. Many students are unwilling to “bother” the teacher, or don’t want to attract attention to their selves. It’s also not helpful to wait until the end of class, for a variety of reasons. There’s the simple logistical problem that stopping to ask the teacher several questions makes it hard to get to the next class on time (then the student would be considered chronically tardy as well as inattentive). More importantly, it’s hard to remember everything that was unclear, and much worse, the content of a class depends upon being able to understand things in a sequence – lose parts of that sequence, and the flow of concepts or the steps in a process fall apart.

That teacher who is facing away from the students is also impossible to watch for those who actively (or unconsciously) lip-read. Although it is possible to equip the teacher with a microphone, this doesn’t help the students to hear each other. Worse, most speakers are designed to amplify music, not human voices. The range of tones for speech is narrower than for music, the range of comfortable volume is narrower than for music, and in contrast, the level of clarity for understanding speech is greater than that for music. If the clarity is not there, then amplification will not help – louder garble is still garble.

With the exceptions of students who need the more focused auditory input of an infrared system, or the echoic dynamics of a large lecture hall or auditorium, we don’t need to amplify the speaker, or blame the student for not trying hard enough – we really need to quiet the background noise.

* Explanations of dB and Hz and how they relate to human hearing:

Loudness is measured in decibels (dB): a whisper is about 20 dB, and a loud concert is 80-120 dB. Sounds over 80 dB for a few hours’ time can cause hearing loss, although the pain threshold is above that level, at 120-140 dB, so pain is not a good measure of danger to one’s hearing.

The tone or pitch of a sound is measured in Hertz (Hz; which is the number of sound waves per second): a low bass note is about 50 Hz

Human hearing is tested in a couple of different parameters; the tone (pitch) and the loudness. The normal speech range for humans is 250 – 1,000 Hz (Hertz). A tone of 250 Hz is a man’s low-pitched voice, and 1,000 Hz is a woman’s high-pitched voice. Good human hearing is 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz ( = 20 kHz, 20 kilohertz).

It’s interesting to note that a regular hearing exam only tests within the 125 – 8,000 Hz range, so a person can pass a hearing exam and still not have a full range of hearing up to 20 kHz. Normal hearing is considered to be in a range of 0 to just 20 dB of hearing loss. Mild hearing loss is 20-40 dB, moderate hearing loss is 40-60 dB, severe hearing loss is 60 to 80 dB, and profound hearing loss is 80 dB HL or more.

Recess: Fun With Words

 

Recess means we take a break and play. It’s important to do that once in a while.

DID YOU KNOW …
that there’s a German word for “that song stuck in your head”? Ohrwurm. Literally, an Ohrwurm is an earwig insect, and I have no idea how that bit of entomological etymology evolved. (Earwigs really don’t crawl into people’s ears, despite their names – they do happen to be beneficial predators of insect pests in greenhouses and orchards). I’ll be polite and refrain from mentioning which songs get stuck in my head – they’re usually the really obnoxious pop-music sort.

An Ohrwurm could also be That Word Stuck In Your Head. A lot of us have run into this perseverative phenomenon. You don’t have to be autistic or have OCD or Tourette’s, although it helps.

Repeating a word over and over is a called palilalia, which in an exquisite twist of cosmic irony, is a great word to repeat or play with as well: pali-lali-lali-lali-lalia! One of my favorite words to repeat over and over is “smock”. Say it several times quickly and it becomes quite silly sounding: smocksmocksmocksmocksmocksmocksmocksmock
Repeating that word very many times also tends to turn your lips to limp rubber, so be careful.

Smock is odd for being on my list. Usually the really good stim words have several syllables: Fescennine, balderdash, interlocutor, reticulated, knee breaches or isoflavinoid. I can play around with the syllable stresses on i-so-fla-vi-noid for a goodly number of blocks of rush-hour traffic driving. “Knee breaches” seems anomalous, but for reasons unknown odd clothing names will suction themselves to my consciousness. A couple of months ago, “dickey” was very sticky. (That’s a false blouse front, an absurd article if ever there was one.) This spring past, “galoshes” sloshed repeatedly around my cranium. The inside of my head can be a noisy place, tinnitus notwithstanding.

Instead of, or addition to engaging an autistic stim, you could have a Tourette’s phonic tic if you go blurting out some random word for no damn good reason at all. Although dramatically used in the media, it’s actually rather rare for Touretters to have coprolalia, where one unintentionally says taboo or cuss words. In real life, most of us really mean to when we say those words.

Speaking of stimming, one really has to wonder about chanting mantras …

Lexilalia is when you repeat words aloud after reading them. I run into this with scientific terms and names, many of which have such wonderfully theatrical sounds, like arcane incantations. (Turn on your mental Roll-of-Thunder and Great-Echoing-Chamber sound effects here.) My favorites are:

Cumulonimbus!

Paradichlorobenzene!

Chrysanthemum leucanthemum!

Gosh, isn’t that fun?

The first is a cloud form, the second refers to a common ingredient in mothballs, and the latter is the garden daisy. Horticultural pedants will note that the taxonomists (bless their wicked hearts) have renamed the daisy as Leucanthemum superbum, which isn’t quite as much fun, although I had a horticulture professor who instead of saying su-PER-bum pronounced the species as SUUP-er-bum.

For a while I would burst into uncontrollable laughter at one of my daughter’s Spanish vocabulary words, bufanda (boo-FAHN-da), which means “scarf”. My daughter then had a penchant for spontaneously hollering out the word just to watch me break into giggles. To her dismay and my relief I eventually became desensitised. I think.

Maybe.

(Special thanks to MOM-NOS for reminding me about this crazy topic.)

Failing to Cheat

My fourth-grade teacher Miss V is standing at the front of the classroom, writing something on the board and announcing the next assignment to the class. I am bobbing and straining to see around the four ranks of students in front of me, watching her gracefully stroking the chalk along the board to produce words in her perfect penmanship. The capitals swirl impressively, and her near-lack of spacing turns the words into ribbons of elegant loops and curls. I blink at it several times, and my focus finally shifts; pop! the calligraphy resolves into the vocabulary words “Huron” and “Michigan”.

I realise that today’s social studies lesson must be about geography, and we are studying the Great Lakes. I bet she’ll ask who remembers all of them, so I am mentally scrambling to remember all five lakes; there are always one or two that escape my mental list, as I don’t know any mnemonics for them. (Then again, remembering mnemonics can be even more difficult than remembering the original names.)

Wait a minute! Didn’t we color a map last week? I’d better pull that out to have it on hand. I feel proud for having thought of that, and know that Miss V will be very pleased that I’d been able to anticipate that part of her teaching strategy. Humming contentedly, I scoot my chair back so I can rummage around the inside of my school desk. In this classroom the school desks are solid metal shelves underneath heavy tabletops. I have what will decades later be known as ADHD, and not surprisingly the interior of my desk is a chaotic tangle of pencils, crayon bits, mashed-up assignment pages in various stages of completion, cool rocks, a forgotten/unsigned permission slip, well-worn erasers including one with thumb tacks (push pins) stuck in to turn it into a car, text books, treasured bits of shiny colored foil, pages of stories and drawings, Matchbox cars, and other débris.

I finally find my map and some of my colored pencils and slap them triumphantly on the desk. Then a pencil rolls off the edge and whilst retrieving it I lean over too far and crash into a neighboring student. Feeling foolish, I concentrate on finishing my preparation by smoothing out the crumpled map. Then I make yet another effort to refocus myself and sit up nice and straight to take a deep breath, responsibly looking toward Miss V – I am ready!

At that point I can see what the students around me have been doing for the past five minutes, and crushingly, I realise that I am totally off task. They aren’t doing anything at all with maps or colored pencils. The other students have some purple mimeographed worksheets out, and are writing on them. The class is quiet, or at least what the Miss V refers to as “quiet”; for me the room is still abuzz with scratching pencils, stuffy breathing, creaking chairs and desks, the ticking clock, playground noises, and the arguments of crows fighting each other for something that had fallen out of a lunch sack. Uh-oh … I freeze, feeling clammy and prickly, and my focal field tunnels down to encompass no more than a swirl in the desktop laminate.

Oh no, what am I supposed to be doing? What had I missed when she was talking towards the chalkboard? I’m stuck in short focus – I have peripheral vision but am not making any sense of it, so anything written on the chalkboard on the other side of the room has just become totally inaccessible to me.

This isn’t the first time I have gotten distracted, or have had an auditory or visual processing blip, or simply haven’t been able to see around the older-and-bigger students and thus misunderstood an assignment. So I know that if I once again ask the teacher what she just said I would get in trouble for “not paying attention”, and if I once again ask a nearby student what the Miss V said I would get in trouble for “talking out of turn”.

I need to do something to figure out what I should be doing … I will just check my neighbor’s page to see what the subject is, and what we are supposed to be doing. Having already annoyed one student by nearly falling on them, I graciously lean the other direction – thus unintentionally managing to annoy two students in as many minutes.

Suddenly Miss V is there looming over me, and her reprimands swirl around in my mind, the sentences weaving together and echoing in broken chunks. She is glaring at me, and once again I am unable to make eye contact so am staring at the ruffles on her pink blouse, stammering as I try to explain, “I was jus’JUST looking at oowwwhat she was doing …”

And that is why I appeared noncompliant and dishonest, and how I got into trouble for cheating on the reading worksheet about the Huron Indians.

Sometimes what looks like cheating isn’t. Rather, what we have is a student who is utilizing other environmental sources to get needed information. The distinction here is that the student is looking at another’s materials not for the answers to the assignment, but rather answers about the assignment, such as which pages or problems are assigned, or how the work is to be performed (e.g. in the book, on a piece of paper, writing out the questions or just the answers, putting spelling words in sentences or just writing them multiple times).

After all, it’s generally thought a child with perfect hearing should be able to understand directions. Included in this are the assumptions that in addition to basic sensory hearing, “hearing” includes being able to maintain attention (listening), being able to understand what is heard (decoding), and also knowing what is meant by those words (interpreting).

Corrective lenses should also mean that the child can see the board as well as anyone else. Included in this are the assumptions that in addition to basic sensory vision, “seeing” means being able to maintain attention from the beginning to the ending of the writing process (watching), being able to orient and select what is seen (discriminating), and also being able to decode what is meant by partially-written instructions (inferring).

Lastly, it’s generally thought that an intelligent child should be able to put it all together, to integrate the sensory information, and then turn around and express that processing appropriately, in task performance (planning and execution), in verbal responses (articulation), and in nonverbal responses.

Sadly, many people have never considered how many steps there are to processing sensory information. Next time you have a student who appears off-task, noncompliant, willful, rebellious or deceitful, don’t automatically assume that the student is misbehaving on purpose. This is too simplistic. It’s not always about the student trying to aggravate you – it may not be about you at all. Sometimes won’t is really can’t. And sometimes can’t is really can’t always.

IFs, ANDs or BUTs

When dealing with exceptional students, it’s all too easy to end up just focusing on their difficulties, to the exclusion of their strengths.  Sometimes even the strengths become seen as weaknesses (which is a whole ‘nother story – stay tuned).

You get statements like, “He’s a good writer, but he has major problems with spelling.”  That word but seems to overwhelm all the student’s compositional abilities.  It mentally halts the flow of positive qualities and of plans, not unlike when we say, “We were going on a weekend trip BUT I got sick.” “She could move up to pre-algebra BUT she doesn’t know how to do fractions.”

Sometimes the difficulties are problems that impede progress.  One needs to know how to handle fractions in order to work with algebraic processes.  In situations like that, “but” is an appropriate term.

On the other hand, we tend to become so overly focused upon problems that we end up using “but” way too often.  Thus, we inadvertently limit our understanding, we limit our plans for future work, we limit what we provide for the student in the way of accommodations or services, and ultimately we limit what we and the student expect that they can achieve.  In other words, it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, a perceived limitation that becomes a semi-real one.

Try this on for size:  “He’s a good writer and he has major problems with spelling.”  By substituting an “and” for the “but”, we now have a student who remains a good writer, and also needs some kind of assistance with the spelling issue.  When we say “and” we do not lose sight of the problem, but we do not as easily run into the issue of false limitations.

“If” can also be a strong word.  That sounds strange, doesn’t it?  The most wishy-washy, uncertain, provisional word can actually be a strong thing.  It’s preconditional, meaning that something can be accomplished when something else is arranged first.  Millions of programmers know this to be true; the basic (er, BASIC) If-Then statement is one of the most important phrases around.  “If we give him a Palm Pilot with a detachable keyboard, then he can type his class notes and thus will be able to take more complete notes.”  This If-Then formula not only acknowledges the issue and the ability, but takes it even further to recommend how to move past the problems to stay focused on the abilities.

Small words don’t earn you very many points on a Scrabble (R) game board, but they can create a surprising amount of results in everyday life.  Try seeing how many times you can substitute an “and” for a “but” in everyday conversation.  It will seem awkward at first, given decades of saying but-this and but-that all the time.   Keep at it, as you remember at times.  If you give it a try with your family, your coworkers, your school people, then I think you’ll find a growing trickle of small changes, like the melting icicles of early spring.

The Perils of Passing

“Third Rock from the Sun” television show:
One of the human characters, Mary, was explaining to Dick (one of the aliens trying to impersonate humans), her reservations regarding dating him.

Mary: “It’s as if you were out of sync with every other person on this planet!”
Dick: “What do you mean? Every day I go out of my way to do things that appear normal!”

There’s a lot of attention placed upon trying to make people with various differences appear to be “normal”, everything from in-the-ear hearing aids (that often are not as useful as behind-the-ear aids), to prostheses, to training autistics to mimic NT social behaviour. Not all of these are bad things necessarily. Given the current popularity of going around wearing a Bluetooth mobile phone on one’s ear like some kind of of cyborg, I can see hearing aids turning into equally high-tech decorative bits.

Unfortunately, emulation works against the overall health of the autistic, for a number of reasons.

Emulation is not a viable goal because it creates additional stress.

Spending extra energy to appear normal is stressful. Spending time trying to make eye contact and worrying if it is being done enough, and suppressing little mannerisms or tics adds to the work load of existing. Spending mental energy attending to these things means having less to devote to other activities, such as decoding speech or organizing and monitoring the visual environment.

Even if depression has a partly genetic basis, extra environmental stress worsens that.

Emulation is not a viable goal because even if the social rituals like eye-contact are performed, that does not mean the autistic will gain the same information from the activity.

Whether or not emotional perception on the part of the autistic is due to less eye contact and facial observation or vice versa, may be a chicken and egg question that will doubtless take more neurophysiological study to unravel. However, the result is the same, because even if the autistic attends to facial observation, that does not necessarily mean the same information will be perceived.

Emulation is not a viable goal because an impaired ability to do so results in ostracism from the community.

If it isn’t done well all the time, people feel fooled. Trying to normalize me or make me “indistinguishable from my peers” isn’t going to work. I don’t do it well. My little weirdnesses aren’t that noticeable at first, but they pile up like snowflakes obscuring the scenery. Then people get annoyed at me because they feel betrayed and fooled, thinking I was a one-of-them normal person.

Emulation is not a viable goal because it devalues the inherent qualities of the person.

Lack of acceptance for who or what one truly is leads to additional stress, depression, increases and/or aggravates the types of stress-related health problems. Lack of acceptance for who or what one truly is leads to increased self-esteem problems and increases the difficulties in social interaction.

My recommendation:

Quit trying to forcibly mold autistic children (and adults) to emulate neurotypical behaviors. Focus instead upon working with the person rather than against them. Work with their skills and aptitudes, work upon stress-reduction techniques, and work on methods for interacting with others that are natural for both the autistic and neurotypical people. Work beyond denial or tolerance toward acceptance and appreciation of diversity in schools, work places, medical care settings, and other arenas of social interaction.