Plaint of the Aspie

Standing alone and unmoved,
The crowd swarms around me.
Don’t stare at me; I can’t stare at you.
I hear the words but miss the message;
Your silent meanings mock me.
Stumbling over the social graces,
Trying to remember the nameless faces.
Speaking my native tongue in accent;
Missing jokes, clobbered by punchlines.

 

Are not my tears and blood salt of this earth?

 

I tried so hard, failing ever and again.
Tried to bang out of my head
The taunts that carved up my heart.
But in the end, nothing ever changed.
Too many signs and labels
Swarm about me in multiplicity.
You think they create reality;
Drawing lines is how you define
Who you are and what is real.

 

We are deemed aliens, and yet your brethren.

 

Do not discount the misunderstood.
See! We are making re-visions,
Re-ordering disorder with grace.
Thinking outside the narrow boxes
We could never fit into anyway.
For I will resist when they insist
That only average is normal;
And I will refuse when they accuse
That different is defective!

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Happy Holidays

from our geeky house to yours,

Andrea

(Star of David Christmas tree ornament made of resistors)

The Taxonomy of Mess

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?” ~ Albert Einstein

Not all kinds of “messiness” are the same.

Some kinds of mess are the healthy, happy exuvia of just living and doing lots of things. It’s the pieces of the ongoing sewing project, stacks of references for a writing assignment, travel guides and ephemera to trips past and future, and lines of shoes and piles of jackets ready by the front door.

The surfaces are visual storage and reminder areas, helping us organise what we are thinking and working on. They are ergonomically useful both cognitively and physically (think of all the time and effort that would be wasted repeated putting things away and taking them right back out again hours later). If I can find things on my over-full tabletop that serves as my desk, that means it is a workable working-system.

The surfaces are also visual synthesis areas – having a variety of things out helps jog the creative process. There’s a reason why the blank white page or canvas is so daunting! Clutter can incubate creativity; it’s a serendipitous substrate. One of my favorite microbiology stories is how Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic properties of Penicillium notatum because he’d left culture plates sitting around, and a spore had floating in through the window, set up housekeeping, and was doing battle against the previously-colonized bacteria. Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne noted that, “One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.”

Some kinds of mess is just overflow. It’s sports equipment dumped in a box because the coat closet is full of coats, books piled on floors and random surfaces because the bookcases are full of books, cooking equipment sitting clean-and-ready on counters because the cabinets are full of ingredients and less-frequently-used equipment, and the bottles of lotions and magazines and library books and the bottles of medicine that clutter my bedside because I’ve neither a bedside cabinet to put them in nor space to put that piece of furniture.

Some kinds of mess is just hyperconnectivity. It’s not that there isn’t a perfectly rational place to put something away, but that some things don’t easily resolve to single locations. Does my book on growing and cooking ethnic vegetables belong upstairs with the gardening books or down in the kitchen with the cookery books? Do I keep this roll of string with the office supplies, the cooking gear, the gardening equipment, the craft materials or the cat stuff?

Some kinds of mess is just hyperactivity. There are crocks of cooking utensils and chopsticks on the kitchen counter, a test tube rack of markers on my desk, and a jelly jar of pens and scissors on the kitchen table because we use these things all the time and putting them away somewhere would slow down productivity. It really is impossible to play with Lego blocks without dumping the bin to see all the pieces (we have a floor cloth for dumping the Legos onto to facilitate picking them back up again, so the vacuum sweeper doesn’t eat them).

Speaking of bins, it’s not that I don’t appreciate good storage concepts. I love big plastic bins for storing flower pots, Christmas tree ornaments, train set pieces, sorted quiltmaking scraps, camping gear et cetera. In fact I’ve decided that clear bins are far superior to opaque ones because you don’t have to go digging through the bin to see what’s in it, and also because this bit of visual contact with materials helps remind me that I already own it, so I will be sure to use it again. (They’re also fabulous when moving house because a bin of stuff is pre-packed.)

These are good messes, the stuff that distinguish real homes from unrealistic designer showcases and sterile hotel rooms.

Some kinds of messiness is just clutter, the leftover bits of things since forgotten. It’s out-of-date phone books, pieces to broken things that someone meant to fix months ago and never will, snow mitts scattered about in summer and the bathing trunks left out in winter, decorative holiday tchotchkes that weren’t packed away and have since become part of the scenery, and hobby materials left in desuetude. These are the sorts of useless messes that interfere with good messes because they get in the way and thus use up functional spaces.

Other sorts of messiness are just sloth, and have no redeeming qualities.

Some kinds of messiness is just trash. It’s junk mail and newspapers and adverts and magazines that everyone is done reading, empty shopping bags and packaging materials, expired coupons and old fliers. It makes it hard to find the useful things for which one is looking, and it makes it hard to clean surfaces.

Some kinds of messiness is just dirt. It’s crumbs on tables, and crud on carpeting, toothpaste slugs dried on the sink basin and loose hair around the bathroom, “squissues” (used, squished-up tissues) strewn about, snack wrappers and used dishes piling up, dirty socks and bath towels dropped about, and expired food in the fridge and on the counters. It’s very bad mess, and not only from a health standpoint, but also because it creates and aggravates the despondency and inertia.

The important thing to remember is that it is entirely possible to clean up the clutter, trash and dirt and leave intact the creative messes. In fact, it is important to do so for mental well-being, especially if some residents are prone to depression.

Problems With Solutions

Students will fail to succeed, or outright fail a subject, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they have learning disabilities, sometimes they have health issues, sometimes their underachievement results from motivational issues. Oft times there are sticky combinations of these causes. In any regard, there’s a long and sadly-familiar road trod by the triad of parents, student and school staff in the effort to rectify the situation.

Unless the underlying causes are obvious (such as health issues), the common cause assigned to the student’s underachievement is usually motivational problems. This is especially true if the student did okay in the earlier grades, but their marks gradually slip lower with succeeding years, or their marks are irregular within the same subject. Which is not to say that there might not also be various learning difficulties that are exacerbating the student’s motivational issues – it’s hard to keep applying yourself when you can’t understand why your results are so erratic. When students can’t understand the cause and effect, they tend to assign difficulties to external forces, and feel they they have little power over the results of their efforts.

Unfortunately, the first impulses of the dyad of adults in these situations, those solutions for tracking the student’s progress and ensuring their successful completion of school work, can often end up making the situation worse. Alas, in the end, everyone ends up more stressed than before. The solutions create more problems instead of rectifying them …

Although assignment books or pages are meant to enhance communication between school and home about what the student needs to do, they often end up creating an even tenser situation. (Here we are talking about those that are ongoing missives between the adults, not simply a resource for the student.) These are theoretically carried to and fro by the student, keeping everyone apprised of what has been assigned and has been completed. Unfortunately, the focus of this exercise frequently turns to what the adults need to “make” the student do, and upon what the student has not done. (Note: it’s nearly impossible to “make” someone do something; you cannot “make” a child fall asleep or eat or learn.) The frustrated adults become angry at the student, repeatedly reminding the child of how they have failed yet again. Blame-assigning sets in, and each half of the adult dyad accuses the other of “not doing their part” because obviously, were the other set of adults doing their job, the student would be getting the work done and turn in promptly!

Amazingly, all this tension and attention does not improve the student’s performance. Indeed, the student now feels pitted between two large forces, wanting to please everyone but instead having their incompetence repeatedly confirmed. Instead of empowering everyone to help the student, everyone has instead become disempowered, frustrated, and adversarial.

Sometimes the adult dyad will resort to behavioral report or the daily or weekly progress reports for the student. These can suffer many of the same issues as the assignment book, by focusing entirely upon negatives. When poorly structured, the reports end up being little more than tallies of daily sins. It is very disconcerting for anyone to be under the microscope all the time; slight transgressions and ordinary human weaknesses become quantified and magnified. The child become identified with a bad score, even the hollow nothingness of “being a zero”. The student may also end up in the trap of false dichotomies, seeking to be perfect, and failing that, falling to utter failure. Here the student is expected to take responsibility for their behavior, but then simultaneous loses more of the control and personal power of the situation.

Focusing only on a student’s weaknesses creates a heavily biased view of the student. Everyone has weaknesses, but successful students learn how to lead with their strengths and how to accommodate or compensate for their weaknesses. A good plan needs to focus upon how the student is improving. The student needs help to learn how to plan ahead and effectively deal with inconsistencies in achievement that are simply part of the human condition. They also need to learn how their successes are derived from what they have done, rather than from random outside forces, and how they are not only responsible for their behavior (in the sense of receiving its consequences) but also capable of effective positive changes in it as well.

When many people are faced with noncompliant underlings (students, children or anyone lesser in the hierarchy), their first impulse is to punish them: “When people are bad, they deserve to be punished. When people are good, they deserve to be rewarded.” Rewards in such cases are simply the flip side of punishments. The problems with punishments are complex and not immediately apparent, because the system of punishment and reward (including the heavily-marketed “logical consequences”) is so heavily entrenched in our culture.

The problem with punishments is that they change the focus from the activity itself to those punishments and rewards. They also change the focus from a person’s internal, intrinsic pleasure at doing something, to something extrinsic: the avoidance of pain or the attainment of pleasure. Any activity (even one that is naturally interesting to a person) can lose its natural appeal under such conditions, and people do not work as effectively or as imaginatively. Instead of improving work ability, such external systems actually end up reducing it.

Furthermore, placing punishments and rewards into the situation takes the responsibility from the person doing the work, and places it in the hands of the people handing out the punishments and rewards. It’s no surprise that students end up focused on what they will get for doing something, rather than simply doing it because it needs to be done. Success thus requires an outside system to ensure that the jobs are done. Sometimes the rewards are so far in the future (a month or a semester away) that the cause and effect linkage cannot be made at the simple behavioral level – there’s no relevance to what is happening today, and how the student feels at the moment. Reward inflation also occurs, where ongoing jobs or more complex jobs need bigger and bigger rewards to ensure their completion. Punishment inflation can also occur, because the student may decide that the punishment is not nearly as bad as the fear of failure or other dismotivating state. Ultimatums like being grounded for a month (the parental version of house-arrest) or sending children away also do not work. Either the child knows that the parent won’t follow through, or if they do send the child off to someplace dreadful, the child learns that their scholastic achievements are more important to the parent than their love for the child as a person.

Assignment books, progress reports, or punishments and rewards rarely have good long-term benefits because they are poor teaching tools. They work on the assumption that fear or bribery are good teachers. Not only do they teach the wrong things (fearing and hating authority, or needing to be bribed to do things), they also do not teach the right things.

They don’t teach the person how to persevere when frustrated, or how to solve their own inner difficulties, or how to monitor their own efforts, and how to adapt to new situations. As a result, they don’t help a student become a more independent learner and worker, or how to think critically and problem-solve. In short, they leave students very poorly equipped to be independent adults. (Guess what happens when the student then goes to university …)

We don’t want to assign blame to various people, or to punish our children and students for having problems. Instead, we want to help them learn to problem-solve, and acquire the skills they need so they can figure out how to solve future problems.

This means stepping outside of these established defensive and offensive modes of interaction. It means listening to the student’s frustrations without denying the validity of the feelings (even though the premises upon which they are based may be faulty). It means demonstrating how to break down overwhelming jobs into smaller tasks, and how to create organisational structures that are self-enabling. It means initiating work by starting from a place of competency and asking the student what they do know, rather than telling them what they ought to know. It’s not something that is accomplished quickly, especially when the poor mental habits have taken a long time to become established. It takes a while for the student to re-frame their self-perception, and to install more effective work habits.

Parents and school staff also assign blame on each other, and get defensive when one side asserts that the reason for the student’s difficulties lies in the other’s incompetence. This ends up putting the adult dyad into offensive-defensive modes as well, thus blocking positive change.

We don’t need parents who are better warriors at IEP meetings, when in fact they really want to be helping the teachers understand how neat their children are, and sharing their insights about the child’s strengths and interests.

We don’t need school staff who are better at defending the Local Education Authority’s policies, when in fact what they really want to be doing is sharing their enthusiasm for various subjects with the students, but in fact end up cornered by employers that create systems that interfere with imaginative teaching.

We do need team members who can collaborate with each other and with the student, and who can teach the knowledge and tools they will need to be better masters of their own destinies. That is what education should ultimately be about, rather than about creating more compliant student masses.

All In A Row

One of the “soft signs” for identifying autistics is the predilection for lining things up. Like anything else, this isn’t an exclusive activity, but rather something that is done in more pronounced frequency than the average population. Meaning, it’s not that neurotypical people don’t line things up, but rather, don’t do so with such intensity or such relish. What’s the big deal (the fascination) with lining things up, anyway? Why line things up?

There are a variety of inter-related reasons. For one, it makes it easier to find things without the “mental speedbumps” so I don’t get distracted and forget what I was doing in an ADHD moment. When pulling out four spice jars from the fifty others lined up on the pantry door racks I don’t even have to read the labels, just because the alphabetisation helps maintain the intrinsic order: cardamom is between caraway seed and cayenne pepper. This is good because quite a few of my (recycled) jars don’t even have labels.

Lining things up gives the hands something to do that isn’t mentally demanding, so the brain is free to relax and think about other stuff (some people describe knitting as being like that). This is like walking a labyrinth or meditating in its focused, relaxing qualities. Think of it as meditation for the ADHD person who can’t sit still!

Lining things up is not unlike ironing out wrinkles; the symmetry gets rid of the unevenness in the universe and gives one a happy, settled feeling. Objects seem relaxed and more likely to stay where they belong when they are comfortable – they won’t unfathomably “disappear” from where they were last left! All is right in the world because they are where they are supposed to be, like when jigsaw pieces are fitted together. There’s a happy “zip” feeling from running the fingers along the picket-fence effect of objects in a perfect row. Lining things up makes the world less of a jumble – there’s a visual appeal to the evenness.

It can also be fun to manipulate the patterns and constantly be creating new ones, this being a process-oriented task rather than a results-oriented task because it’s the doing that is pleasing, rather than the finished product.

When I had more room (in another house), I lined up cans and boxes in the pantry, creating neat files of canned fruits and different tomato sauces that made preparing grocery lists easier. I got particular satisfaction pegging diapers on the clothes line in neat arrays, and also hanging up the clothes to dry with all the shirts in rainbow order. I’m constantly fixing the alignment of the houses on the Monopoly board, or facing and centering the chess pieces. If I pause in front of a library bookshelf for more than a minute, I leave behind me a section of books lined up along the shelf edge. (No, it’s not quite at the level of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; I don’t do it to ward off Bad Things from happening, and it doesn’t create problems for me.) I keep my hangers sorted by style; crayons in rainbow order; reference books on shelves by category and novels by author; music CDs neatly lined up alphabetic within genre; positively relished organising my collections of stamps sorted by country, rocks by type, and insects by family; and tidy my wrapped tea bags or seed packets in neat horizontal stacks. I have been doing these things all my life, and in my mid-forties am not likely to change — there’s really no need to!

So, why not? What’s the big deal (the problem) with lining things up, anyway?

Recess: Stories From the Home Front

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

~//~

So. We were stopped for a lunch break during our eleven-hour drive back from holidays. I don’t remember what I was talking about, but it likely involved far more vocabulary exhibition and details than anyone else felt was warranted.

Daughter said to her brother, “Don’t you think Mom is being overly pedantic?”

I am otherwise occupied with my salad and asked, “How could someone be underly pedantic?”

Daughter rolled her eyes and added to her brother, “See what I mean?”

~//~

While I was still at university, hubby and son came to visit me overnight at my campus apartment. I lived 125 miles/ 200 kilometers west of them, and concerned about what to pack, hubby emailed me and asked,

“What’s the weather like in your apartment?”

(In my apartment?) I wonder, and replied: “Ambient daytime temperatures correllating with outside weather, cooling in the evening, with increasing dark. No rain predicted inside, aside from brief showers in the bathroom.”

~//~

I got back in town Friday evening, post-dinner. Unloaded my gear and then began throwing clothes through the laundry. Opened up the clothes dryer and find two towels, a pair of boy’s boxers, a tee shirt, and a pair of socks. Obviously not a full load. Mental gears turn, and I hollered over the foyer railing to my son in the office/computer area, “Hey!”

“Yah?”

“Are you washing your clothes and then just pulling out the pieces as you need them?”

“Yeah. No one ELSE does laundry around here,” he explained, meaning his dad, the only other weekday resident.

I giggled; this is such an efficient geekboy thing to do: store the clean laundry in the dryer until needed. “I’m putting your clean stuff atop your dresser,”

“Okay,” answered my laconic son.

~//~

A recent dinner conversation, over a nice batch of tacos with sides of guacamole and pineapple:

Dad is hard of hearing, and for some possibly-unrelated reason sometimes uses the wrong word: “How was the walk home from school? Were the streets paved?”

Our son, defaulting to that aspie literal-minded thing: “Were the streets PAVED? Of course they were.”

Dad clarifies, “Was the snow shovelled.”

Son shrugs, “Sometimes.”

Dad, cheerfully: “It’s melted a bit.”

I can’t think of anything to say to this statement of the obvious. And you wonder why some of us just don’t get into chit-chat …

 

Whining From Another Hysterical Female

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve actually had good results with most of the professionals whom I have seen. It would be rather a fallacy to broadwash a whole bunch of specialists on account of a few fools. But boy, when you run into an fool, it’s usually a doozy!

It’s been a long few years getting various difficulties sorted out and identified. Over a year ago I saw someone who was touted at being an expert on learning disabilities, to investigate ongoing scholastic difficulties and possible auditory processing difficulties.

Well, I saw Dr S. (a PhD, not physician) when I was otherwise free from the bulk of my work and school activities, as at the time I’d been having a number of health problems, including insomnia, migraines, worse tics and stuttering, hyperacusis & tinnitus et cetera.

I brought in with me documentation including previous test results, transcripts, and descriptions of my difficulties. This was because I can often get tangled up and forget stuff when trying to explain things, especially to doctors. (Hey, I’m an organism capable of learning — over time I’ve realised that remembering stuff is a problem, so now I take in a list or hand over a page of notes. My new primary physician does great with this, because in the couple of minutes it takes her to read a few paragraphs, we can fast-forward through a lot of rote questions, without omissions.)

Dr S. had me fill out a couple of online tests, and then had someone else administer some more tests to me. Oddly, one of the tests he gave me was for ADHD, for which a coöperating team of a psychologist and psychiatrist had already evaluated me. In fact, he said I had no ADHD and no real problems, except a little figure-ground discrimination hearing things in noisy environments. He had no recommendations, except that I needed to see a psychiatrist for psychosomative disorder.

Well, hell. Was I bordering on depression? Yes, and I knew that and was working actively against that — half a year of chronic sleep-deprivation and pain will do that to a person. Was I having difficulties with my husband? Yes, my health problems were requiring me to take a semester off school and work, and he was wanting to know “when I was going to be a productive member of society”. I already knew about these things, and had explained to Dr S. that I was working to deal with them. But that wasn’t why I was seeing Dr S. — I was trying to address learning and hearing comprehension problems. I even paid a few hundred dollars out of pocket for all that.

There’s a big problem here, and it’s not mine. Nor am I the only one with it.

The word “psychosomatic” has gotten warped or twisted. It literally acknowledges the interdependency and functionality of brain/mind and body, but now has come to mean that problems are “all in your head”, as in imaginary and/ or self-inflicted.

They used to call women “hysterical” and thought it due to having a uterus that “wandered around the body”. Holy cows. Obviously I’m not hysterical. (Hell, I don’t even have my uterus or ovaries any more, due to cysts and endometriosis.) So now they say that women who have problems have “psychosomative disorders”.

The issues with my husband were not seen as his difficulties in accepting my disabilities, but as evidence of my mental disorder.

The near-depression I was facing was not from months of chronic insomnia and pain, but rather caused by my mental illness.

The documentation I had brought with me to aid the man in his understanding of my problems was not data, but symptoms of my mental illness.

I was seen as “attention-seeking” rather than as solution-seeking.

Shit like that can drive a person nutz.

The good news from all that was that I got a referral to a CAPD specialist who said that Yes, I definitely do have such problems, and could even recommend some concrete ways of dealing with the problem and gave me documentation for such. But it makes me wonder, if Dr S. couldn’t really diagnose such, why did he put me through tests for APD, and tests I didn’t need for ADHD?

Has it ever occurred to clinicians that many of their clients don’t exhibit stress symptoms due to having psychosomative disorders, but rather than having various (unacknowledged) disabilities will make a person stressed?

It’s all ass-backwards. Shit like that can drive a person nutz.

Where’s My Shelf?

I was at one of those big chain-bookstores the other day, with a gift certificate burning a figurative hole in my wallet, just begging to be used. I’d even planned ahead for the inevitable “Error 404: File Not Found” of name retrieval, and written down a list of authors and titles of the dozen books for which I was looking. Not that I had really expected to find all of those books, but not that the gift certificate was that big anyway.After pausing to check out all the spiffy bookmarks (“Ooh, shiny!”) I wandered over to the rack between sociology and history.

“Women’s studies, Men’s studies,” (small section, that) “Gay/Lesbian studies, African-American studies, Latino studies, Hawaiian Islander studies,” (wow, we’re no where near the Pacific) “Native American studies … History of Ancient Egypt.”

Wait a minute, missed it. Given my profound ability to be “nose-blind” and miss seeing something right under my nose, I back-tracked and started over. Nope. Okay, maybe the books I’m looking for are filed under some other category. Just because something makes sense to me doesn’t mean it’s true – after all, the grocery keeps the baked beans by the tins of luncheon meat rather than with the tins of vegetables where I would expect to find them …

After duly waiting in the Information queue, I hand my list to the clerk who patiently pecks the names through the store’s search engine. By the time she has reached the end of my list, she is frowning in sympathetic frustration, and informs me that they only have one of the books, which has to be ordered from some distant warehouse. I politely decline, realizing that instant gratification is simply not going to be had, and decide to do my own search-engine pecking with the county library system.

What I found odd was not that they did not have the particular books for which I was searching – I tend to read offbeat stuff, not the latest poolside romance. Rather, what I found odd was that there were not any books on disability studies to be had at all. The section simply did not exist anywhere in the store, not between sociology and history like the other group-studies, not in the psychology or the special education or the history sections.

You want to hear some interesting numbers?

In the United Kingdom there are 9.8 million people with some sort of disability, about 1 in 7.
In Canada there are 3.6 million people with some sort of disability, about 1 in 8.
In the United States there are 49.7 million people with some sort of disability, about 1 in 5.
(As with any epidemiological information, census definitions may differ slightly.)

Either way, that’s a LOT of people; the largest minority within most populations. So how the hell do people go about referring to “them” like they’re rara avis, some minor, marginal sector of sub-humanity? Everyone must know several people with disabilities, whether they realise it or not.

So why are disabled people so invisible and neglected by history? The answers are complex. Part of this is due to the fact that the largest minority is also the most diverse: disabled people include babies, the elderly, people with sensory differences such as the Deaf or blind, people with learning disabilities, people with cognitive processing differences such as autistics or the faceblind, people with developmental or acquired physical differences such as cerebral palsy, people with chronic health problems … Some disabilities are highly visible, and many are invisible.

Another part of the issue is that disability is something feared, shunned, and to be avoided. It is seen as abnormal, defective, deviant and pathological. Disabled people until very recently were shut away in institutions (and often still are), were not schooled (and often still are not) or were segregated in separate schools (and often still are), and no matter what the disability were seen as imbeciles and therefore not deserving or needing status as full citizens capable of making their own decisions (and often still are). The disabled are considered only as, and are seen only as patients and clients. They weren’t people to be considered as a positive and common group, or a social force.

But just as one can now find histories and university programs and shelves of books about Women’s Studies, and find histories and university programs and shelves of books about Gay & Lesbian Studies, we can now find find histories and university programs and –

– well, histories and a few university programs about Disability Studies.

I’m going to buy myself another bookcase. I need more shelves.

Rush Hour Traffic

No one likes rush hour traffic. But the reason it exists is because thousands of people feel that they have to take the same road at the same time. Then they get upset because they can’t all do it fast.

Rush hour traffic is highly over-rated. So are developmental time-tables.

One of the important points is that a lot of the “developmental disorder” end of things is developmental slowness or unevenness – it takes longer to get certain skills, and they may not necessarily be reached in the same manner as most. Comparing a child with such to the standard developmental timetables may only serve to increase stress at the seeming brokenness.

So many schools are trying to fast-foward children, expecting kindergarten social, cognitive and physical skills from preschoolers, and gradeschool social, cognitive and physical skills from kindergarteners.

Children between the ages of 2 and 6 are integrating a humongous amount of information in a variety of spheres, including receptive and expressive language, physical skills ranging from gross and fine motor to bodily functions, single-interpersonal skills, group interpersonal skills, acquiring subject knowledge in concrete things in their lives, cause-and-effect stuff, abstract stuff like numbers and reading and time (seasons, special events etc), and a bunch of other stuff that’s not even coming to mind right now.

Then we throw in things like developmental variability in sensory realms and proprioception and language processing and …

I couldn’t tie my shoes until I was in 3rd grade. Bike riding was even later. I didn’t know all of my multiplication tables until 8th grade. I required speech therapy in primary school, and that was back in the 60’s when most kids didn’t get anything.

Sometimes I think that too many people turn all these developmental timetables into bare minimums, when in fact they are simply averages, which means that some kids do things sooner, and some kids do things later. Given how uneven our kids are, they think that everything should be as advanced as our kids’ best skills. They also spend too much time evaluating how well children participate in herds, when in fact most toddlers and preschoolers really aren’t so much herd animals yet.

School is not about racing to the finish. Nor is it about everyone taking the same path to get there. Despite what people say.

But people get Terribly Concerned because their children are not learning things at the proscribed rates. They become afraid that their children won’t learn at all, that somehow they will be “stuck” at whatever stage they are in. So there are children who spend 40 hours a week in a variety of programs for speech, for movement, for scholastic tutoring, for mimicking social interaction …

Once upon a time, long ago in a galaxy far, far away … we didn’t have all these “programs” for things. Which is not to say that some kinds of programs might not have been helpful. It would have made 40+ years easier if people had known about my considerable Auditory Processing Disorder difficulties, instead of saying I “wasn’t paying attention” or was lazy or whatever.

But people get Terribly Concerned that their child “doesn’t know how to play”. This boggles the mind – how can a child “not know how to play”? But what people are really meaning is that their child is not playing the way they expect them to, i.e., not the “right way”. It’s pretty sad when children are graded on whether or not they play correctly. Play is a personal exploration of the world, for one’s own learning and delight.

One of the things commonly ascribed to autism is a “lack of imagination”, because autistic children don’t always play with the same toys that neurotypical children do, or don’t engage in make-believe games the same way that neurotypical children do. This is really ironic, because Hans Asperger himself said, “It seems that for success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential.” Hmn … And indeed, you’ll find autistic people in most every sphere of endeavour.

If the child doesn’t show an interest in typical toys, then they are simply not interested in them. Let them be available — they may later, or they may end up using them in different ways than other children. (Toy cars are for lining up, right? <grin>) It may be also that other things not generally considered to be toys will be more interesting to them.

For example most kids of all sorts find a manual eggbeater to be fascinating. But an eggbeater is not considered to be a “toy”. Nor is graph paper or a weight scale or a Latin dictionary or an Army Corps of Engineers building manual for national parks structures, although I found all of these fascinating as a child. I still do, and they gave me background useful for my degree in horticulture — you never know how those particular fascinations can be useful.

You may not see the same style of role-playing activities as more socially-oriented children engage in. Those are called “imaginative” play, and many people assume that a lack of engaging in them is a lack of imagination. Rather, it’s a lack of role-playing, and imagination can take many other forms. I played with dollhouses — but spent hours arranging the furniture, not acting out stories with the dolls themselves. To this day I can remember what the furniture looked like, but not the dolls that were supposed to go with it. I have a superlative mental “CAD” type program in my head for arranging and manipulating elements in space, and if I tell my husband that the sofa is six inches longer than the wall, by gum it is six inches longer than the wall. I can re-arrange stuff and pack more into a dishwasher or suitcase or packing box than anyone else.

Let your children have time to explore their worlds by giving them a wide range of experiences, and letting him take those in, in their own manner. Give them what they need by way of therapies to help him deal with things that make their lives difficult, but please, don’t fill their days with them. Children do develop, and some of them do so on different time tables.

Things Of Which To Be Aware

NOTE: I should mention that this is rather much different than my usual sort of post. It’s quite the ADHD ramble, pulling together all sorts of odd bits and bobs and things that tickled my brain this morning. After this I’ll return you to the regularly-scheduled blog posts.

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Did you know that honeybees can learn to identify pictures of human faces? Some researchers, Adrian G. Dyer, Christa Neumeyer, and Lars Chittka, were able to train honeybees to cue to photographs of specific people as sources for nectar rewards.

For someone who has studied insect behavior and who has prosopagnosia (face-blindness, or the inability to recognise people just from facial features), this is fascinating. The bees could learn with better than 80% accuracy, which is more than I can do (described here). That is rather humbling. Of course, we might point out that the bees were only learning to cue to repeated flat pictures – in real life, humans are trying to cue to moving humans seen from a variety of perspectives. ::sigh::

There’s not tons of research done on insect cognition, unlike cognition in large mammals including elephants, chimpanzees and dolphins. Smear a bit of paint on one of those mammals, show them their reflection in a mirror, and the critter will stop, look, and then use their reflection to inspect their bodies, including touching the paint if they can reach it (as Larry Niven has pointed out in his science fiction stories, dolphins are notoriously handicapped by having short limbs – which similar problem Mat Fraser has humorously described in Ouch! podcasts; we all have issues).

I understand that when I look in a mirror and see a face, that it’s probably my face. But if cues like hair and glasses are removed from photos, I probably could not pick out my own face from a set of photos of other humans. In fact, I have been known to catch sight of myself in an unexpected mirror (such as wall tiles at a mall) and have not recognised that I was indeed seeing myself – I thought that someone was wearing clothes similar to mine. I am however, self-aware, although you may have to take my assertion of that as proof that I am aware of both the concept of self-awareness and of my own identity. (grin)

Bees probably aren’t self-aware, but if they were, it would not be self-awareness of the same scale as that of a mammal – even thought they can learn and can communicate, the brains of bees just aren’t that complex, and are mostly devoted to sensory processing. They are very tiny animals after all.

So here we have these self-aware animals: Mat Fraser, elephants et al. Then over on another part of the planet we have Deepak Chopra, who is also a self-aware animal, but seems to be in over his head, cognitively speaking:

“The entire universe is experienced only through consciousness, and even though consciousness is invisible and non-material, it’s the elephant in the room so far as evolutionary theory is concerned.”

Boy howdy. Chopra, in his masses of abstruse nonsensical verbiage, is anti-evolutionary and asserting that only metaphysical explanations could bring about the universe. I’d hate to be the one to break it to him (the ensuing argument would likely be so absurd that I’d want to again take up banging my head on the wall in frustration) but the universe is NOT “experienced only through consciousness”.

Animals, whether or not they are self-aware, are all conscious of their individual Umwelts, or subjective sensory worlds. So too are plants, which respond to sensory inputs of light, gravity, and touch-pressure, but plants are not conscious organisms – they do not really respond to music etc. Plants experience the universe, but not through consciousness. Chopra’s figurative elephant needs to give him a good whack with an evolutionary biology textbook.

If you want something of which to be aware, then don’t believe everything you read, even if there are lots of important-sounding buzzwords.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for some evolution humor that’s better written than Chopra, check out this satirical piece at the Onion: “Kansas Outlaws Practice Of Evolution”