BADD But Not Rude

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2008

I did it!

Today I actually put into action my previous plan. It wasn’t long* or eloquent, but it was polite. A student made a remark about doing something “retarded”, and I asked in a sympathetic tone,

“Please don’t use that word. You can say you’re doing something foolish, or that you’re tired, or even just being human. We all have moments like this.”

This post is a part of the annual BADD, Blogging Against Discrimination Day, which is being hosted at Diary of a Goldfish. I spend a lot of blogging time discussing various disability issues, but for BADD I wanted to do something outside of the usual analyses. Like in my example above, I thought it would be useful to offer some alternatives to disability- or difference-related words that are frequently used not just as insults but also as disaparaging terms e.g. retard, retarded, tard, moron, cretin, lame-brain, spaz, mong, lame, having two left feet, cack-handed, blonde, gay, queer, psycho, schizo, short-bus, gyp, et cetera ad nauseam.

Note that I said as disparaging terms; saying someone is gay to mean homosexual, or that your cat is lame because it has a leg in a cast is one thing, but dismissing something as “That’s so gay,” or “That’s a really lame excuse,” is quite another. (I will confess that I have used “lame” in this way because I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I’m not going to any more.)

In any regard, the acid-test is simple: when you are using a word that describes a group of people, or a characteristic of [a group of] people, and are using it as an insult, that is rude. The reverse is also true: if you are using an insulting term and ascribing to everyone in a group, that is stereotyping and rude. These negative words perpetuate social stigmas and stereotypes against people with disabilities. Using them continues to dehumanise people. If the characteristic or attribute is something that a person cannot [easily] change, then insulting it or using it as an insult is wrong. (Meaning, it’s always open-season on ugly neckties, barring describing it with these sorts of words.)

It is not enough to sit around and kvetch about what’s wrong in the world; we must also offer things to do instead. So, here’s a starter-list of other words to use. Not only do they not reference the negative stereotypes, but they are also less hurtful words — they take the event and keep it within the realm of ordinary human fallibility: things we all do. In this way, we don’t distance ourselves from other people as being other people — we just comment upon their actions.

  • inattentive
  • foolish
  • unwise
  • ill-considered
  • rash
  • silly
  • impetuous
  • foolhardy
  • reckless
  • clumsy
  • awkward
  • inept
  • sorry
  • flimsy
  • implausible

I would also like to direct your attention to The “R” Word Campaign.

* Not long? Shocking, I know. I’m not always as loquacious in real life as I am in print.

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More Cross-Cultural Communiqués

What do you do when you are trying to get a technical project started, or get feedback on it partway through, or even get it finished, and some of the people with whom you work have this strange inability to just reply to an e-mail or memo ? You need information — simple data, and maybe a higher-up’s preferences — so you can perform the tasks for which you were hired. That’s what you are there for. Why is it so hard to get simple answers? (One feels like Johnny-Five from the movie Short Circuit, “More input!”)

Asperger’s / autistic employees everywhere express this same complaint. Just give me the information so I can do my job. But what if you also have Auditory Processing Disorder as well? The Unruly Asides blogger ran into this recently, where she describes in a recent post how all she needs is some responses from a board member to produce a video. But the other person won’t simply reply with the required information in an e-mail. They want to chat. On the phone, because they don’t even work in the office. Oy!

If you also have APD, you need information given in a manner that doesn’t work against you and make things more difficult. You don’t want to appear foolish, forgetful, rude, or uncaring because you are having problems simultaneously Read the rest of this entry »

Piss-poor platitudes

There’s something about the intersection of the loss of a child and thoughtlessness that produces a dreadful lot of dreadful platitudes. But your child doesn’t even have to die — finding out that your child has an incurable disease or disabling condition can result in more horrible platitudes.

Some people will protest that, “Well, they mean well, so it’s really okay.” No. When someone says something cruel, or does something rude to another person, their “good intentions” don’t really amount to a hill of beans. Even using treacly god-talk doesn’t sugar-coat the insensitive words enough to make them palatable.

Finding out that you will have to learn how to do many things differently due to chronic illness or major disability involves some initial sense of loss for expectations of how life would be. But the situation is not analogous to having a child die. The parents have not “lost a normal child”. The child is not dead, but very much alive, and still loved. Furthermore, the child would not be “better off dead”.

Sometimes people pull out the platitudes because they want to “make things better”. But a few saccharine words is not going to help. The death of a child cannot be healed by the verbal equivalent of a bandage on a cut finger. When at a loss for words at the magnitude of someone’s grief, it’s okay to be honest and share that, “Oh, I’m SO sorry. I hardly know what to say.” And if you can’t think of anything further, then share a hug if these are hugging people.

After the initial shock, share memories of the child with the grieving parents, rather than trying to make the social “problem” go away by ignoring it. Don’t suddenly drop the parents of disabled children from social groups, as though the family has contracted something horribly contagious.

But please, don’t pull out the insensitive platitudes:

Don’t be so selfish; you still have your other child.

You can always have another one.

Children are not interchangeable, replaceable units, like dolls.

Having another child won’t somehow magically make a family “complete” — the family isn’t defined by the number of members, but by who they are. There will always be a sense of loss for the missing person.

God wanted the child with him.

What kind of deity is so selfish as to deprive parents of their child? What, God couldn’t have enjoyed the child’s presence more by watching it grow up with its family?

God’s punishing you for putting your desire to have children ahead of Him.

Make that selfish and vengeful. Where’s the “loving deity”?

It was God’s Will.

And you know this because … how?

Your child’s in a better place.

How is an early death better than a full life?

God never gives people more than they can handle.

Nonsense; there are plenty of people who have cracked under the strain of grief, falling to depression or sometimes even violence.

Everything happens for a reason.

True, there are causes for everything. True, people can create extra purpose in their lives in reaction to events that happen to them. But I cannot accept that a deity required a child had to die for its parents’ moral improvement.

Think of the money you’ll save; having one kid is cheaper than twins.

Oh for ~~ one doesn’t have children for budgetary reasons!

Guess what — I’m pregnant! It’s like God’s making up for the baby you lost.

Let’s blame the maternity hormones for that incredibly tactless, thoughtless remark, and hope that she has a full recovery.

Haven’t you gotten over that yet? You just need to pray more / work harder / think about others.

Grieving for the death of a baby or child is not something over and done in a few days. Really, one grieves for the loss of a loved one the rest of their life — it’s just that the grief becomes tolerable, and the memories more wistful than painful.

You’re lucky the baby died early — it could have been handicapped.

Being disabled is not worse than death.

It’s for the best — she / he would have suffered from being, ‘you-know’ … Retarded. Crippled. Deaf. Blind. Palsied. (et cetera)

Being disabled is not a life sentence of suffering.

Well at least you have your other, healthy child(ren). You could even try again.

If I have a disabled child, I am not about to discard them, nor decide that I have not succeeded in getting the “perfect” child that I deserve.

God gave you a special child to teach you something.

We all learn things from our children, and many parents find they learn unexpected things from children who have different needs. But such a platitude smacks of begin given a special-needs child as a prescription or punishment for a moral failing.

It’s just as well; so many sick preemies survive nowadays, and there’s too many special-needs kids being a burden on society.

The social burden is not special-needs kids.

The social burden is people who feel they have some special hotline to heaven. The social burden is people who think that death and disability are divine punishment for sins. The social burden is people who can only see the disabled as those who are a useless waste of public resources. The social burden is people who imagine that a disabled person cannot have a happy, loving, productive or even [otherwise] healthy life.

Facts aren’t enough

“Wow, you take more pills than me,” hubby remarked as I filled up my daily pill-minder for the next week.

I paused for a couple seconds and then answered, “That’s a bit misleading — you take more inhalers.” A bit later, I added, “Besides, a couple of those pills are just calcium supplements, and there’s one prescription I take twice a day.” With the HRT patch, that’s just four daily prescriptions. Going by numbers of pills swallowed isn’t a very good comparison of the numbers of medications we each take; it’s probably close to an equal number, just different kinds of meds and different kinds of delivery systems.

Maybe I was being a trifle pedantic. Then again, the phrasing of the comment made it sound a bit like I was popping a lot of drugs. I don’t think that my hubby meant the remark in a negative way; it was just an off-hand remark meant to fill conversational space while I was puttering around getting ready for bed.

I might not have even noticed — or responded — had I not run into similar comments over the years, comments that were meant to make negative implications. These kinds of statements really bother me, especially because they are a misuse of otherwise good forms of factual communication. There’s an old joke: Read the rest of this entry »

A shot in the arm, A slight kick in the butt

Last week I took two of our cats to the vet for their annual check-ups, including the Rabies, Feline Distemper, and Feline Leukemia vaccines. Some years ago we lost one of our cats to Feline Leukemia; the poor kitty died just a few months before the vaccine was available.

This Saturday past I reminded my gardening students that if they cannot remember when they last had a Tetanus booster, they they should go and get one, because a booster is recommended every ten years. The number of people to have survived Tetanus is vanishingly small; it’s pretty much a death sentence. It’s also easily prevented by a simple vaccine. Sure, your arm is a bit sore for a couple of days, but that beats dying an extremely painful and highly unnecessary death. As I reminded my students, “You get your pets vaccinated, you get your children vaccinated, so you should get yourself vaccinated!”

Except there are a few people who don’t want to get their children vaccinated. A drop in vaccinations means not only that some people get sick, but a drop in vaccinations also means a loss of “herd immunity”, meaning that most of the population is not immune, so there are enough people who can catch and then transmit the disease. When you make a decision to not immunise, you are not making a decision that affects just you and your children. You are a making a decision that affects everyone else in your community.

That is why we had recent epidemics of mumps and measles in the UK and the US, leading to hundreds of sick people, and some who were disabled or killed. Because I work with students in various schools, I get lots of exposure to viruses. I had not previous had a mumps vaccine or the disease, so during those epidemics I went and got the MMR. Now I’m protected against Mumps, Measles and Rubella (even though I had the other vaccines in ’63 and ’70, the combined vax helps boost my immunity). I also went through the Hepatitis B series that year.

So yes, I’m a big proponent of vaccinations.

And no, I do not subscribe to the hysteria generated by a few noisy, well-meaning but seriously-deluded or paranoid people who believe that there is a world-wide conspiracy Read the rest of this entry »

Communication Blips

I’ve not been posting much lately, due to a combination of a head cold (you would think that would result in more sleep, but good sleep still eludes me), major changes in my job schedule, an evening class that I’m taking sucking up time with studying, new Saturday classes that I’m teaching sucking up time with preparations, and ongoing communication blips between my household wireless router and the AirPort card in my MacBook. I think the wireless problems annoy me most of all, because it’s being able to rely upon the little things that enable us to deal with the big things.

Having digital communication blips reminded me of the other sort that we sometimes deal with around here.

So. I have a teenager of the typically reticent sort, who at times is given to answering open-ended questions in monosyllables. That in itself is not particularly uncommon. What we do run into are situations where the Kid is still learning what needs to be actively communicated, rather than assuming that others will know what is wanted or planned. These are the little blips of “mindblindness” that we sometimes run into with the Asperger’s and/or AD/HD kids. (Adults have these problems at times too — the difference being that we have figured out the more common situations, but still miss moments here and there, leaving our spouses and co-workers puzzled or annoyed).

What are these communication blips? Read the rest of this entry »

Unnecessary Redundancies

Since a previous post on My Favourite Oxymorons (and other “woo”) was so well-received, here’s one on redundant repetitions. (Thanks to some of my literate readers who answered with replies giving some of these exact same redundant pleonasms!)

What a busy day it has been! Two long tutoring sessions followed by company for dinner; it’s all like such an imaginary dream.

Because of her past history with forgetting to completely finish assignments, one of my students with ADD & ADHD and I cooperated together to determine what her normal everyday homework study schedule would be. This took a while, as she kept having sudden impulses to do things like verify the actual true ISBN number of the fiction book she was writing her essay report on. (At this point, I reminded her to back up everything (manuscript documents, photograph pictures and et cetera) from the classroom PC computers onto CD disks.) She’s also rather loquaciously verbose, and kept getting sidetracked by telling stories about her other classes. As part of her Bachelor’s degree, she needs a computer course, and she described with specific details how the instructor began to start with the basic fundamentals of BASIC code, which was a relief to her and her fellow colleagues, as the more advanced Read the rest of this entry »

Both Sides Now

I hate hearing about “both sides” in news pieces. It’s not that I don’t want to hear what people have to say; rather, my complaint is with the whole idea of “presenting both sides”.

I should note that I’ve been a freelance writer for various local and national publications. So let me explain a bit about what the press does before I explain the reasons for my statement.

Journalists and reporters are encouraged to find stories that fill a number of requirements; depending upon their editors’ preferences, they may be looking for background to current events, introducing new discoveries, showing the personal sides to big events, exposing wrongdoing, educating the public, describing controversy, or providing inspiration. (I find it somewhat disheartening that the press is so slanted toward “stories” rather than “news”. I think this reflects a lot of the emphasis on warm-fuzzy human interest elements at the expense of focusing on actual information. Maybe I’m just a jaded scientist, but I like more details and verified facts in my news.) Of course, most news items stories combine several of these aspects.

There are a variety of different kinds of journalists and reporters. Some journalists have large amounts of specialised background in particular fields that they use to understand, put into context, and interpret the news, which enables them to know how to sift through information, evaluate it and present it in a manner that is intelligible to people who aren’t as well-versed.

In contrast, many live media reporters tend to have more background in the presentation of the news, and frequently have to reduce an hour or more of recording down to just a few minutes of “sound bites” arranged in the popular three part news-program format of: When we return, we’ll tell you this amazing news; Here I am telling you this amazing news; and My co-anchor just told you this amazing news.

Okay, you were probably aware of most of that. But to get those Controversies! and New Discoveries! and Inspiring Personal Stories! and Expose Wrongdoings! (excuse me, Expose Alleged Wrongdoings!), they frequently follow the dictate of getting quotes and information from both sides. Of course, sources who can deliver “sexy” sound-bites are especially preferred by live media reporters.

So what’s wrong with presenting both sides? We want balanced reporting, right? Read the rest of this entry »

Resolved

I want to find a local coffeehouse / restaurant / pub that is quiet, damnit! Not whisper-quiet, simply quiet enough where my hubby and I can talk and both hear and understand each other.

I want to find a place that does not employ the latest design conceits of noise magnification: “Hey I know! Let’s eliminating the ceiling tiles to show off the HVAC ductwork. Let’s add lots of sheet metal and concrete floors and other hard surfaces. Let’s have the kitchen open to the dining area, so they can hear the staff yelling at each other, and doing all that food preparation. Let’s eliminate any room dividers, and skip curtains on the windows. Let’s put on loud background music or several televisions — maybe even both!”

It’s one set of issues for me to feel overwhelmed by overly-sociable waiters who want to play “best buds”, or to flinch at the inevitable crash of the broken glass du jour, or pick through menus that are dietary land-mines, but it’s quite another when the two of us have to spend the evening recursively repeating, rephrasing, lipreading and periodically abandoning lines of discussion just because it’s too f—ing loud! (Pardon the cussing; been watching Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant shows.)

Does the general public really think that the background has to be loud for them to have fun? When even the ordinary people can hardly converse without yelling at each other, that means the noise level is too much.

Please. We would be glad to spend our rare dining-out money on a nice cozy place where we can enjoy our food and chat with each other. Good heavens, we might be persuaded to linger long enough to bother ordering a bottle of wine, or some desserts and coffee. We would even want to come back — with our friends.

(Oh, and while you’re at it, could you install some hooks somewhere so I can hang up my hat instead of balancing it on my knee all through dinner?)

Box? What box?

When I first read this job advert, I began to weep. I didn’t know anyone else understood what it was like to be this sort of person – to have this kind of mind – much less that anyone out there valued it.

Miscellaneous Vacancies

Are you:
• A creative, articulate scientist with research experience in biological, medical, chemical, electrical, mechanical or materials engineering disciplines?
• A lateral thinker, passionate about science and your own discipline, yet able to think outside of the box and make connections to other fields?
• A great listener with highly developed interpersonal skills, with career goals in commercialisation, technology transfer or business development and able to manage relationships with clients in a highly fluid environment, respect confidentiality and work with people across all levels of an organisation?

Do you:
• Thrive on change and derive great pleasure from making connections between seemingly unrelated ideas?
• Get a buzz from finding new routes that others have not trodden before and yet would be comfortable with working collaboratively to develop your ideas and those of others without expectation of extra personal or monetary recognition?

Sadly, the closing date for the position had long since passed by the time I read it. But like so many dangerous ideas, knowing that such a thing even existed reverberated up and down my mental timelines.

In graduate school, the entomology professors didn’t understand how or why I kept making connections between ecology and learning disabilities. Such details were certainly not necessary to researching insect behaviour, no matter how much they might apply to some of the students in the department.

In a recent New York Times article, “Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike”, Janet Rae-Dupree describes the “so-called curse of knowledge” where experts are so familiar with traditional means of getting things done that their expertise gets in the way of innovation. The article also describes how bringing in people who have other fields of knowledge, but who are not bogged down by the specialist jargon that reinforces and limits the current understanding, can free up boxed-in thinking and create new ideas.

It’s a conundrum how organisations (academic or otherwise) claim to want innovation, but are resistant to novel suggestions that often go against what everyone knows will work. But as the saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

More recently, an education professor was not only unfazed by my entomological background, but thought it “wonderful” and mentioned that Jean Piaget had worked on snail behaviour before working with children. I was flabbergasted. I so rarely get such unexpected, sincere kudos that such a moment can keep my spirits buoyed for weeks.

“Thinking outside the box” has always been easy – rather, it’s trying to figure out just what the hell others perceive as The Box that’s hard. I’ve spent decades struggling to understand what people’s boxes are like, how they construct and use them, where the boxes came from, and when I am supposed to intuit and conform to those boxes.

Unfortunately, because of everyone’s jargon-constrained knowledge boxes, it’s hard to describe my own kind of lateral, inter-disciplinary thinking. Trying to convince others that they can benefit from such seems almost beyond my abilities, as I’m not a natural salesperson who can schmooze and easily persuade others.

Meanwhile, I’m still buzzing about, looking for a good niche. At least now I have a few more um, “buzz-words” that will help me describe what I can offer.

I Have Something to Tell You

Well, with all the buzzing going on around more noisome news, I was certainly glad to find something sweet during a recent forage of my news source trapline*. It’s a new-ish piece of Assistive Technology (AT) for communication! But this post isn’t just about a nifty little mechanism (which I’ll get to in a minute); it’s about the social stuff around using ATs to communicate.

A variety of disability bloggers have discussed different electronic mechanisms they use for communicating with others**. There are a number of hurdles faced by users of augmentative communication (aug-comm), and unfortunately they are often greater in number than other kinds of AT. With any tech, there’s always the issues of finding out about it, trying it out, affording it, the learning curve, dealing with maintenance issues, upgrading to newer models when something gets too worn out or is simply too archaic for customer support or technical compatibility, working it in with other hardware in your life (“It’s a great piece of equipment, but my chair doesn’t come with a trailer so I can’t simply schlep it everywhere”) and other annoyances (“How is anyone s’posed to type on these tiny buttons?”).

But communication AT has its own strange set of social-disability type hurdles. Our culture so inextricably links communication with speaking Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-Cultural Communiques

David recently posted the following conundrum in an essay:

How do you best convey experiences of living with a disability that are so alien to so many people? Where do you start? How do you convey challenges that people have never even considered?

This insightful — and sometimes “incite-ful” post, because it made me thoroughly annoyed on people’s behalf — reminded me of a handout I’d found while cleaning out old files. One of many available to university tutors, it was yet another authorless 12-point gem. (If someone does know the source, kindly let me know!)

The page refers to the assumptions we mentally trip over when working with people from other national, religious or ethnic cultures. I rather doubt that the author(s) considered how broad the cultural spectrum can be. One doesn’t readily think of the various Deaf cultures, but of course, there they are. I’m almost certain that they were not thinking of disabled people. Good heavens, even people studying various aspects of disability politics and history can’t agree on whether there is a “disability culture” or what it’s comprised of. Given the vast differences, definitions quickly break down into things like “autistic subculture” and debates thereof.

But nonetheless, this is still a spiffy list, so I’m sharing it with you all to mull over and run off with for your own purposes. This is the delight of blogging: cross-pollinating one’s brain with all sorts of novel combinations of ideas!

Cross-Cultural Relationships

1. What seems to be logical, sensible, important, and reasonable to a person in one culture may seem stupid, irrational, and unimportant to an outsider.

2. Feelings of apprehension, loneliness, and/or lack of confidence are common when visiting another culture.

3. When people talk about other cultures, they tend to describe the differences and not the similarities.

4. Differences between cultures generally are seen as threatening and described in negative terms.

5. Personal observations and reports of other cultures should be regarded with a great deal of skepticism.

6. One should make up one’s own mind about another culture and not rely on the reports and experiences of others.

7. It requires experience as well as study to understand the many subtleties of another culture.

8. Understanding another culture is a continues and not a discrete process.

9. Stereotyping probably is inevitable in the absence of frequent contact or study.

10. The feeling which people have for their own language is not often evidenct until they encounter another language.

11. People often feel that their own language is far superior to other languages.

12. It probably is necessary to know the language of foreign culture to understand the culture in depth.

 

Liberation by Disability: the paradox of Competency and Inclusion

“Because there is no way for good people to admit just how bloody uncomfortable they are with us, they distance themselves from their fears by devising new ways to erase us from the human landscape, all the while deluding themselves that it is for our benefit.”
~Cheryl Marie Wade

Disability is usually defined by what a person cannot do. But outside of the normative social realm, disability is really about how a person does things differently.

Within the cultural status quo, the onus of being “acceptable” for consideration to being included by others, is placed upon the person in question, rather than by those who are creating the standards and are choosing to accept or not. Frequently, inclusion must be “earned” by first Read the rest of this entry »

It was a dark and stormy night …

and it continues to be a dark and stormy day, at least in my corner of the planet.  What a great day to stay home cozied up with a pot of tea and do some blog reading and writing.

But instead, this afternoon I need to throw on my rain cloak and venture forth to teach a class, and run some errands (tarantula needs crickets, cats need catnip).  I’ll probably get around to some blogging later on.  Meanwhile, you all should check out Disability Blog Carnival #24:  the 1st Anniversary Edition!

The deadline is in just a few days!

We all have our very favorite blogs, those that we make a point to read even if we don’t have time to read much else before going to breakfast, during lunch or whenever we do our online reading time.  We love these blogs because the writers provoke thought, because they introduce us to news or ideas we weren’t aware of, because they entertain us, because they are able to express shared opinions or experiences in a way that create commonality among diverse people, or any number of other attributes.

Well now is the time for giving those bloggers your kudos!  Nominate them for the Blogger’s Choice Awards!   (boldface mine)

Not only can you nominate your favorite blogs within a slew of unique categories but you can also vote and comment on others that have already been submitted. In turn, others can also vote and comment on the blogs you’ve nominated. Votes will be displayed on the site in real-time, so you can see who’s leading within each category at any moment! The voting for Blogger’s Choice Awards 2007 will end at 11:55pm on October 19.

Not sure which for category your blogger qualifies? (After all, I don’t see categories for “Best Science Blog” or “Best Advocacy Blog”.  Hmn, we should probably make a noise to the peeps* to include those next year.)  Make a comment on a recent post and ask them, because readers’ votes need to be concentrated to a category for the blogger to be awarded.

Here’s the rules.

*  mail to:  info@bloggerschoiceawards.com   subect = Question about Bloggers Choice Awards

Prove You’re Not A Robot

Several weeks ago hubby emailed me inquiring if I was familiar with accessibility issues related to a Web technology function, “[The bank’s] Internet Banking site prompts users to enter a security code using — I forget what it’s called. It changes every time you sign in. You have to type in what you see. Don’t some people have trouble reading these codes? Do you know what I’m talking about? If so, do you have any links or information about people who have trouble with these verification codes?”

I was rather tickled that he’d asked me, and replied, “Yeah, I know them bastards. Read the rest of this entry »

New page

My latest post is actually a “page”, one of those postings that stands independently from the usual time sequence.  It’s titled, “Distinctions”.  I think you’ll enjoy it, and hopefully it’ll spark all sorts of useful thoughts.

How and Why

ABFH composed a new blogging meme, which unlike many that are transmitted by assigned infection, is open for anyone to self-select. I thought her questions to be rather interesting, as the overall topic of “how and why one blogs” is something that I myself have contemplated upon occasion.

1. Is there a regular time of day when you compose your posts? Read the rest of this entry »

How hard can it be?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of providing the annual Inservice training session for a university’s tutoring department. One of the themes I explored in brief was how tutees, especially those with various learning disabilities, may have processing difficulties. We have to take information in, make sense of it, retrieve information, and then be able to relay information back. Various kinds of learning disabilities interfere with steps in this process, and the interference can happen at more than one step, especially when a person has more than one kind of difficulty. (Learning disabilities and other physiological issues are often co-occurring, technically known by the dreadful-sounding term of “comorbid”.)

The upshot of all this is that any “speed-bumps” or “road-blocks” in the processing will result in slow processing (it takes longer to do things), or uneven processing (some days it’s more difficult to do things, not always for apparent reasons), or intermittent or chronic inabilities to do things (being able to do things on some days or in some hours, but not others, can be more frustrating than never being able to do them).

There are a variety of disabilities out there, but instead of describing how each one can affect a person’s ability to respond in educational efforts, I’m going to describe how processing works in general, and at which steps some disabilities become apparent.

Whenever we interact with the world, there is a whole series of steps that has to happen. Let’s take the subject of, “Answering a question asked of you”. Most people assume that this is really simple, and thus, easy. Hah! Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Nothing

“I don’t know what to do with my son. You don’t understand what it’s like. He CAN’T LEARN. He’s been in school for FIVE YEARS and has learned NOTHING! I’ve been to all these meetings. It took him MONTHS of therapy to teach him how to sit down! He’ll NEVER be able to talk. He’s severe.”

This is a made-up letter. It’s a highly shortened version of letters I’ve seen a number of parents post on various discussion boards. It’s alarming on several fronts: the parent is stressed beyond their limits, and is of the belief that their son has not learned anything and cannot learn anything, and not surprisingly, has all but given up on the school he’s been attending, and also that because the child cannot [reliably] speak at this age that they will never speak or never be able to communicate by other means. The parent is certain that the child is DOOMED and will never mature into a capable, happy adult. (The grammatical and attributive errors of “he’s severe” also make my brain hurt, but that’s another issue.)

Judging by the complaints of parents who blog about their frustrations with schools or with their children, there is no lack of bad pedagogical examples.

You try something. It doesn’t work. You tweak it, and persist at employing Instructional Method X for a semester. For an entire year. New IEP, with a few tweaks, new room, different teacher. Still pretty much a variation upon Method X for another semester and another year, because X is the method that the teachers learned when they went to teaching college, and the tweaks were what the SpEd specialist learned from when they went to teaching college, picked up at a seminar, and heard from another SpEd specialist that worked on another kid who was also diagnosed with “A”. By all accounts, it should work.

Let’s work on that some more. Read the rest of this entry »

Asking questions

Well, it’s horribly hot outside, which means that the classrooms are either quite stuffy and humid-sticky, or due to HVAC design errors, uncomfortably cold for 95% of the personnel using them. The faculty, staff and students are all yawning from screwed-up sleep schedules, and from being bombarded with mind-numbing amounts of new information, masses of new people to become acquainted with, and multiple changes in their schedules. In other words, it’s once again the first days of school.

Once we get past the obligatory, “Here’s what we’re gonna learn, and here’s the class rules” lecture, we get to finally sink into the actual teaching-learning part of the class. Alas, there is a definite sinking feeling in the classrooms, as for the first few periods of the day many of the students are still half-asleep (a few gave up and have totally succumbed), are often suffering from low blood-sugar levels because they skipped breakfast, and/or just generally cannot rouse enthusiasm for studying biology, algebra, government or whatever subject was given to them for 7:40 a.m. (Omigod, these are teenagers — if pedagogy actually followed research-based practice, none of them would have class until 10 a.m. when they would physiologically be ready to be awake. But of course, that would –godforbid– mess up the sports practices.)

So the teachers are desperately trying to keep their charges engaged by encouraging dialog. You say, “Let me know if you have any questions.” Judging by the general lack of responses regarding the lecture topic, the blank stares, and the mass confusion when given labwork and projects, the students should be asking questions. Or, should be asking more appropriate questions.

But actually, this issue is not the proximate question of, Read the rest of this entry »

New tools you didn’t even know you needed!

For all of the philosophic ruminating about words and language and the uses of signifiers, there is yet a power to creating words, to naming things. Once we create a word, we now have yet another handy mental place-maker for retrieving that information. Once we create a word, we can share it with other people, thus giving ourselves a tool for introducing ideas and discussing them. Naming is a kind of power, for it can help create something de novo, and “give flesh” to nascent ideas.

When we find or create and use words, we can spread these new ideas and discuss them. Just as disciplines need their specialised jargon, and new disciplines need new specialised jargon, other fields of human endeavour need their jargon. Although the jargon of a group can be used badly to outgroup, it can also be used constructively to serve as a tool for unifying dissimilar people and sharing ideas, and it can also “legitimise” groups by giving them something of a more “real” or “solid” presence.

Sometimes I make up words because they don’t exist, but I still need them. Frequently I borrow somewhat obscure words from various disciplines. And sometimes people borrow words from other languages. One of my favourite word-nerd books is, They have a word for it: a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words & phrases by Howard Rheingold.

As we endeavour to create new paradigms in the world, we need extra tools and new tools in our toolboxes. So here’s my first installment for you (I’ll add some words of my own eventually-soon). Here’s a list of words you didn’t even know you needed, many with my own (necessarily briefer) definitions, and my own pronunciations: Read the rest of this entry »

This is a very short post

I can do it, but, what’s the point?

Cliffhangers

As blog manager, this morning I made an Executive Decision to use the More button to split posts. This does several things.

On your end, you will notice that you now have to click the coloured text that says, “Read the rest of this entry >>”. (Yes, I’m trying to intentionally pick “cliffhanger” points to insert those More links; they serve as a good check for the editor part of my brain.) My apologies to those on slower dial-up connections; I’m not doing it to be aggravating.

Rather, I am trying to tighten up the front page, so people can see more post headlines/topics. I’m a loquacious essayist, not doubt of that, and post lengths can obscure the headlines that would demonstrate the variety of subjects, to draw people’s interest in them. In this regard, it’s meant to be a browsing aid. Using the More button also allows readers to automatically see the comments posted at the end of the posts. I really, really encourage people to comment. Yes, YOU.

(By the way, if you include a hyperlink in your comment or use any one of a number of words flagged as potential spammage — WordPress’ filter is fairly sensible, as such go — your comment will get hung up in my Moderation queue for approval. Don’t panic; I check my email frequently during the day, and as long as your not hawking commercial links or being the worst sort of troll, I’ll let your comment through.)

Were I writing to just be writing or to be working out ideas in my head, I’d simply have an enormous word-processing file sitting in my computer. Were I just writing at the world, I would turn the comments off. But I’m not — I am writing to add to the public discourses about various topics. I blog to provoke thought, to express my opinions, to support people and causes, and yes, to have fun. I use the medium of blogging because I find it an easier medium for communication, and because it can be more accessible. Kindly let me know if there’s something I can do to make it more accessible.

Blogging is indeed an ego-driven phenomenon, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s narcissistic, but that people want to express thoughts about things that are important in their lives. But what makes blogging great is that it can be a substrate for dialogues between people all over the world. So, back to the blog.

Diabolical Dialogues

A big part of my frustrations with the social realm are the crazy bits that keep surfacing in dialogues, like rocks that keep surfacing from a nicely tilled field.

One of those crazy bits are the unstated, inferential messages with which neurotypical people fill their conversations. You ask a nice, straightforward question, and you get … ambiguity like a fog obscuring the field. You get hidden meanings to stub your toes upon.

The conversation is full of subtexts, like coded messages. But unlike real coded messages where “Grandma knitted me some socks,” really means “You’re in peril, leave the country immediately,” these subtexts are not codified. They do not have a specific meaning known to both parties. Instead the subtexts could be any number of meanings, and it’s up to the other party to guess what those true meanings might be and which one they might be! The subtexts don’t even remain consistent; the same phrase might be used to mean completely different things at different times.

I like cryptograms as an intellectual puzzle, but I don’t like them in everyday conversations like this one where I ask: Read the rest of this entry »

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