ADD-ing new perspectives

My daughter is sailing rather gracefully through her pregnancy — well, as gracefully as one can when they have reached the “beached whale” stage that is the third trimester.

And yet, as with many pregnant women, she is experiencing some “third trimester brain rot”, that intermittent or semi-chronic reduction in frontal-lobe functioning.  Meaning:

  • forgetting important things you meant to do
  • not packing things you meant to take with you somewhere
  • getting sidetracked and forgetting what you were doing a few minutes ago
  • moments of being adrift when you lose track of what you were about to do
  • dysnomic moments of losing words or names you normally have on the tip of your tongue
  • being spectacular at some higher cognitive facitilities (“Look at this great post-colonialist literary critique I just wrote!”) and then realising that you suddenly can’t remember how to do something really simple (“Why are my pants pockets wrong? Oh, my pants are on backwards.”)

I’ve yet to read why this happens, aside from sleep issues or “It’s The Hormones”, that generic disclaimer for all things annoying during pregnancy (or indeed, between menarche and menopause).

The good news is that the brain fog isn’t permanent.  I reassured her that “third trimester brain rot” usually starts to go away after the baby sleeps through the night.  She looked at me suspiciously; surely “third trimester brain rot” should go away after the baby is born?  But then I reminded her about the chronic sleep deprivation that is nursing a baby every two hours.  (Were it not a normal part of human development, such sleep deprivation would surely be outlawed under the Geneva Convention.)

Of course, it doesn’t help that she’s finishing up her college senior capstone project, and it would really be useful to get a solid night’s sleep, or to wake up from a long night’s sleep feeling more rested, or to be able to schlep all those literary refs around campus more easily, or to not spend 33.3% of her life preoccupied with peeing. But, there it is.

On the other hand, we have had some bonding moments that go beyond shared maternity.  One day she was complaining about the general forgetfulness and fogginess, and I pointed out, “Hey, now you know what it’s like for someone with ADD.”

“Omigosh, I couldn’t stand it,” she replied, dismayed at the idea of being permanently stuck in such a state.

“But the thing is,” I explained (somewhat defensively) “when you have ADD or ADHD, that’s what it’s always been like.  That’s what you’re used to.”  The point being that one doesn’t feel the same sense of loss when it’s a life-long condition, compared to a late-onset disability.

And despite the obvious impairments, there are some positive aspects to AD/HD, due to the different functioning patterns of the brain.  There’s the hyperfocus, abilities to make different associative and intuitive leaps, and often a visual thinking style that lends to a variety of design strengths.

Having done through a few re-iterations of this conversation, there seems to be less of an “Oh noes!” reaction, and more of an appreciation of the chronic difficulties that I and other people with ADD or ADHD face.  Not only that, but I think the reasons for some of my demands for structure and routines that I developed as she and her brother were young, are becoming more apparent to her.

Maybe there are just some “mom-things” that one doesn’t appreciate in quite the same way until becoming a parent.

On the other hand, there are still a lot of things I do that bug her, and we must ever keep re-negotiating our relationship, especially as we continue to live in the same house, but with changing roles.

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For the first time in 28 years

I have not bought a Valentine’s present for my husband. I am divorcing him.

Disabilities can change how the processes of falling in love, joining, living together, loving together, and separating happen.

For most disabled people, their disabilities affect how others perceive them as even being interested or capable to find love or sex. (WTF?!)

For many disabled people, their disabilities can even change whether or not others afford them even the opportunities to find love or sex. (Again, WTF?!)

Although my husband and I both have disabilities that have changed how we are employed, communicate with each other and others, parent our children, or even sleep together (literally and figuratively), the divorce had nothing to do with our disabilities.  It’s just about the usual sorts of moral failings that can lead to divorce (even after the sensible year of counselling to assay changes).

Because in the end, love and sex do not happen because people are able or disabled.  They happen because all people are people.  And when love and sex quit, they happen because all people are people.  Just people.  Like everyone else.

This post is (slightly belated) part of Dave Hingsburger’s “Sexy Bloggers” blog carnival on disabilities and love/sexuality, over at his blog, Chewing the Fat.

Getting permission

The last time I taught one of my gardening classes, I ran into an interesting intersection of personal change, horticulture, and pedagogy.

At the end of the sessions, the students have (optional) evaluation forms to fill out about the class and instructor. On the front is a ranking various qualities of the facility, the topic, the instructor and so on, and the back has open-ended questions about what you liked best, suggestions for improvement, other courses and what-not. These review forms are very helpful to both myself and the college.

During the last class, under the “what you liked best” section, I got a comment that I’ve never had in 15 years. Usually the positive remarks are about the handouts, the photographs, my sense of humor, and willingness to answer questions. But today one of the evaluations had minimal responses, aside from this comment: Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a Real Pain

Bath time. I steady my balance by holding the sides of the tub, and ease myself into the hot water. There I play “What’s My Bruise”, trying to figure out how I acquired all the motley souvenirs. There’s a large turquoise blodge shaped like Antarctica on the top of my right foot, a constellation of dark purple marks on my left knee, several random fading-green spots on my forearms, various dull plum-coloured dings on my thighs and calves, and a deep tissue olive-green zone the covers most of the fleshy area between my left thumb and the back of my hand. As usual, I have no idea how or when these happened. I bruise easily, and between my joint hypermobility and crappy proprioception I’m always bumping into things. There’s nothing to do about the bruises, but I monitor them to make sure that things do heal up and disappear within a couple of weeks (my mother had diabetes), and to watch for infections (like the ingrown toenail cellulitis for which I just finished a round of antibiotics). And so it goes.

Unless you have a rare CIP mutation (Cogenital Insensitivity to Pain), you’re familiar with aches. We’ve all experienced the ordinary headache, the run-of-the-mill bruised limb, the annoying paper cut. These “owie-boo-boos” are annoying and ephemeral. Many people experience severe but thankfully brief* pain with childbirth or traumatic events such as broken bones or appendicitis. Yet none of them begin to describe the issues faced by those with chronic pain problems such as arthritis or TMJ, or the re-occurring severe pain of migraines.

We tend to view pain as strictly a physical problem, treated with various analgesics and/or physiotherapies. You hurt, you take treatment, the pain goes away, your wound heals, the event stops. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and if it doesn’t, then you’re not doing it right. We even have child-birth classes to teach people the “right way” to have pain (yes, I say “people” because their partners are there to learn how to reinforce the appropriate responses during L&D).

But chronic and re-occurring severe pains don’t follow that socio-medical model. Read the rest of this entry »

The Making of a Geek

Well, I’ve spent the past couple days crashed abed. After dragging myself to work today, I’m still not in top form. Basically, my brain-pan is full of snot, so I’m certainly not up to a great deal of psychoeducational analysis about much of anything. But until the green elixir kicks in (so I can get some sleep), I’ll natter away about how I got to be such a geek.

The original outlook wasn’t promising. In fact, I was quite the disappointment to my father for not being a chess whiz, and to my mother for getting poor marks in nearly all my subjects. The maths particularly eluded me — I was 13 before I had a firm grip on my multiplication tables — which for reasons that still escape me, led people to decide that in secondary school I should take a year of Bookkeeping as preparation for future employment.

However, I did better with a variety of hands-on pursuits, Read the rest of this entry »

Booster Pack

Sometimes you just get so run down that you can’t even remember what-for you were trying to find your get-up-and-go. You’ve been so engulfed in the Papierkrieg, so overwhelmed by the endless supplies of idiots that fill the world, and so repeatedly halted by your own internal difficulties that trying to find yet another work-around is too much to ask. On days like that, there isn’t enough chocolate, caffeine or ale to recharge the spirit.

So I like to collect quotes. Although I’ve looked through a few quote books, I’ve found them generally uninspiring. I believe that quotes should have a gritty, piercing quality to them, rather than being merely clever turns of phrase, or blandly “morally uplifting”. I have quite the motley collection on a number of topics, and not surprisingly, they’re not the kinds of categories or quotes that Mr Famous’ Big Book of Quotations is likely to contain.

In the US, Chinese restaurants often bring with your dinner bill some fortune cookies (instead of mints). These are twice-folded crispy cookies with a small paper “fortune” (trite bits of wisdom or predictions) inside. Here’s to hoping that a few of the goodies from my quote box serve you better than those insipid cookies!

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
~Audre Lorde

“You may be a geek, you may have geek written all over you; you should aim to be one geek they’ll never forget. Don’t aim to be civilized. Don’t hope that straight people will keep you on as some kind of pet. To hell with them; they put you here. You should fully realize what society has made of you and take a terrible revenge. Get weird. Get way weird. Get dangerously weird. Get sophisticatedly, thoroughly weird and don’t do it halfway, put every ounce of horsepower you have behind it.”
~Bruce Sterling Read the rest of this entry »

Fraud

I don’t belong here. Maybe I should have applied at a different department; Professor N was just being nice to write me a letter of recommendation. I don’t even know what those rec letters said; what if they were just so much “social noise” and I’m not really cut out for graduate school?

I am not getting these party jokes at all. Are they inside jokes? Are they related to people’s research? Is it a department joke? Just smile and move along…

I’ll never be able to cope with all this stuff. Omigod, they’ve added so much stuff to animal biology since I studied it years ago. I can’t believe I just got a B grade in biochemistry without knowing all these details.

How come everyone else seems to know what’s going on? Did I miss something on Orientation Day? Just act sharp and keep your mouth shut; hopefully somebody will mention something.

There’s too many people here to remember! But they all know each other. Just smile and ask “How’s it going”; maybe some clue will be mentioned.

My advisor says I ask too many questions. I thought he was there to advise me?

Oh no! How will I make it through four semesters of statistics? I’ve always been terrible at the maths. That A in Calculus wasn’t normal for me; we just had a really good teacher. I can’t hardly do these life table calculations without getting numbers turned around!

I feel like such a fake. I was just lucky. That was just an isolated event — it won’t happen again.

“You have no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself, and how little I deserve it.”
~Reg Smythe

It’s not just me. This is what we call “Imposter Syndrome”. Often mentioned in the context of gifted individuals, and high-achieving women, it’s also seen in quite a different population. Read the rest of this entry »

The Words

They lied.

One sentence; two words. Together, two very powerful words.

As the beginning, those two words beg more questions than they answer. Who lied? What about? To whom? When, where, and why? Read the rest of this entry »

The Privilege of Being Clouted By Cabbage

Yesterday I went to the grocery store.

I wandered up and down the aisles, repeating a few aisles in my (typically ADHD-forgetful) journey to fetch the items on my list (and I still forgot a couple of items, despite using a list). I selected various pieces of produce and only had one head of cabbage leap from its cruciferous ziggurat to hurl itself at my feet. (I was examining a pineapple at the time – what is it with kamikaze produce?) I paid for my groceries, uneasily navigating volleys of largely meaningless chit-chat from an exuberantly loquacious checker. I loaded the bags of groceries into my vehicle, and drove home. Aren’t you thrilled.

Doing all that was possible because I am privileged to do so.

Privilege means Read the rest of this entry »

Random Thoughts From the Tub

“If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”
~Albert Camus

Random thoughts from the tub (life, the universe, and everything):

Life ain’t fair.
No generation has ever created the world it grew up in.
Every generation has been bequeathed a screwed-up world.
Complaining about that is just so much spitting into the wind.

It’s not what you get,
but what you do with it, that matters.
Some of our limitations are real and physical.
Some of our limitations are imposed by what others say we “can” or “ought to” be able to do,
and therefore are what we think we “can” or “ought to” be able to do.
Some people are born with riches of financial comfort or talent, and squander them.
Others are born with absolutely shitty circumstances,
but make more out of themselves than anyone could rightly expect them to.
People are amazing.

Life is hard.
We accept that there are those things that we cannot change.
We also take responsibility for our own actions.
We are blessed and cursed with the freedom,
for all that we choose to do in life.
If you refuse to accept responsibility for what you do,
you are lying to yourself.
If you refuse to see your freedom,
you are lying to yourself.
Being stuck and “not making decisions”
is really a kind of decision in itself.
Amazingly, being sad and afraid is not giving up.
In truth, it is a position of potential power,
once you cease the lies to yourself.
Life is glorious.

Living creates hope.
Regrets gnaw away that hope.
Life is too short for regrets, for might-have-been’s.
Examine experience, learn from it, choose new actions.
You are responsible for what you do.
You cannot make others happy,
Cannot make everyone believe you,
Cannot make everyone accept you,
Cannot make everyone like you.
Never could, never will.
Move on in life.

Happiness is something you make.
It does not come from what others do.
No one else is responsible for the way you feel.
Your feelings arise from your opinions and positions on events.
This is why different people can have different reactions to the same events.
If you change those opinions and positions,
You can change the feelings that result from events.
We cannot change the past,
but we can change how we react to it.
History is not destiny.

Love is like happiness.
It comes from inside you.
We love people for who they are,
not for who we want them to be.
We accept them for who they are;
this is the love.
One must have love to give love.
One must accept their self for who they are, to have that love.
People with healthy hearts are attracted to others with healthy hearts.
The love between them gives space within their togetherness,
and room for aloneness without loneliness.
To love one person does not diminish the love for another.
Love is expansive.
Love is a resource that is too little seen,
but is actually in infinite supply.
People are amazing.
Life is glorious.

Centenary Retrospective

“This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.”
~ Carl Rogers

Wow. The other day I was looking at my blog stats, and it said that I had 22,000 hits. I have also recently written my 100th post since June; that’s close to thrice a week, for the mathematically disinclined. So I thought I would take a step back and review what has gone by, to see what kinds of topical trends emerge, and pull up some of what I think are the better posts, for those of you who are newer visitors.

Bloggers are usually loquacious and opinionated, a description I do not fail to meet. But why do I blog? Some bloggers just natter about their lives, others blog as an outlet for kvetching, some are pushing a specific agenda, and still others like to analyse what they see. I do a little of all the above, but mostly I like to analyse. I am less concerned about persuading you than I am about giving you something to think about. After all, if we all believed the same things, the dialogues would get pretty dull!

Now that there is data from which to draw a pattern, what kinds of things do I blog about? In a way it is hard to sort posts into single categories, because topically there is an n-dimensional hypervolume of intersecting sets. But as an approach, I like to explore themes from personal experience or news events, and also from philosophical perspectives. I feel that philosophy loses some of its significance without grounding it in the phenomenal fields of people’s lives. And telling stories of lives without examining the what and wherefore of those events falls short of the ultimate value of storytelling: revealing the patterns in human relations, and learning from them.

Some of the greater categories revolve around education, from both student and instructor perspectives, and they revolve around the politics of disability and advocacy. In contrast, there are some themes that connect those categories. One of the most important themes is taking the traditional understandings of how social systems work, and taking those apart to reveal very different perspectives on what is happening.

These systems include how we communicate, such as when the language of “choice” is really just a distractor, or doublespeak meant to transfer the apparent (symbolic) power to the one person who in actuality has little power over the situation. These systems also include power paradigms, including how we “help” people, how people miss the mark when trying to create “inclusiveness”, and why pity is such a evil force because it creates distance between people. (There is no need to congratulate me for having “bravely overcome” the insults and artificial obstacles that people put in my way.)

I also look at how the assumptions we make determine how we define groups of people, from the way that we create diagnostic labels, to the sometimes-absurdities of “person-first language”, and concepts of “tolerance”.

In the end, 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.

Our perceptions of the world influence how we act, including how we view and understand others. Sometimes people mistake better identification or newer kinds of identification with “epidemics” of autism, AD/HD et cetera. But I bet if we’d had these kinds of identifiers decades ago, a lot more of us would have been better understood. Hyperactive kids are kind of hard to miss, even those who otherwise do not misbehave. (You wouldn’t believe how many ways there are to sit inappropriately!) More boys than girls are diagnosed, but I have to wonder if that isn’t due more to diagnostic criteria than actual prevalence rate. Why didn’t we see kids with these kinds of “needs” in previous decades? Partly because some of those kids didn’t even go to regular schools — they were kept at home or in institutions. Those who did go to regular schools just had to struggle along. They rarely had IEPs and such because their parents didn’t – couldn’t – ask for services that simply did not exist.

When we make these changes in understanding systems and in our perceptions, they can be outwardly expressed by seeking to become a better advocates. Being able to create a new rôle for one’s self includes being able to learn about the various rôles that others have played. (But just try to find sources on disability studies at the local bookstore!) Advocacy requires overcoming inertia and moving into commitment, and moving into commitment and inclusiveness. We also have to be able to recognise our own sources of ability and power, especially if we’ve been convinced otherwise.

Advocacy is complex, and the concerns of parents for the futures of their disabled children is an important part of that. Unfortunately, people whine about how hard it is to have an autistic child, or any kind of exceptional child. All too often there are terrible news reports about parents who have killed their handicapped or autistic children because they were such a horrid burden. Even more horrifying is when the press perspective or quotes are full of sympathy for the murderer because killing your own child is “understandable” because a person can’t help but be insanely stressed from dealing with the child’s abnormality.

It’s hardly not a new trend. But this millennia-old attitude does a terrible disservice to disabled people everywhere to be cast as either devils or angels. It is dehumanizing, and removes us from our humanity, and thus our basic human rights. In light of the fact that many things have a genetic basis, then hating disabilities in our children involves a curious kind of denial and self-loathing.

Distraught parents also need to understand that there is a difference between getting cured and being healed. The unresolved grief leaves parents susceptible to errors of judgment, and these well-intended but scientifically ignorant people who buy into these things are being duped by charlatans, sometimes with loss of life as well as with great monetary expense. Then the problem is propagated because those well-intended but scientifically ignorant people become meme agents, earnestly spreading the false gospel. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to weed out the “Astroturf” of faux grass-roots efforts.

Advocacy efforts include those in our schools, and involve administrators, educators, parents, and the students themselves. Sometimes teachers and parents worry about school accommodations because they fear it will leave the students unready for when they have to venture into the “real world”. Or, by misunderstanding the differences between equity, equality and need, teachers fear that giving accommodations “wouldn’t be fair” to the other students.

Parenting our students with learning difficulties is not easy – the traditional methods do not work, which is often why the students end up in “special” education. In turn, the students also get frustrated, and attempts to deal with the unmotivated student can sometimes create further problems. We also have to be careful to distinguish between challenging our students, and just making things more difficult for them. Distinguishing between cause and effect in misbehaviour is important – we need to address the causes to resolve problems.

The teaching end of things can also be rife with issues, and college professors can sometimes fall prey to pedagogical myths. Equally absurd is how learning difficulties are often not recognized until the student has been failing or near-failing for a while, thus allowing the student to get further behind and more entrenched in negative mind-sets. On the flip side, we identify exceptionality by contrasting it to what’s common for the group, or by how well a person functions. But what if our sampling group is far from average, or if the environment is less disabling?

Tutoring and teaching is another means of engaging in advocacy, and one of the best means I have is to share with my students the tools for how they can solve new kinds of problems in the future, for themselves and by themselves. It also gives me the opportunity to constantly learn from my students. During this co-educational process, we often need to figure out where in the learning process they are getting stuck, then come up with different ways of helping them learn new information, and different methods for studying. Sometimes the educational changes we make can be as simple as the way a test is typed up, making it more accessible to all the students. The way the audio-visual equipment is set up also makes a significant difference, including the kinds of computer monitors and lighting used. As a tool for engaging your students’ attention, novelty can be a big help. It can also backfire in unexpected ways…

On the more personal scale, I’m always seeking better ways of dealing with my own challenges of “Executive Functioning”, like dealing with all the stuff, stuff, stuff that piles up, losing something in the Dreaded Safe Place, coping with the inertia of task paralysis, or just getting “stuck” when the Plan B falls apart or I unexpectedly get engrossed in something. In worse cases, this means pulling myself out of an awful case of the Betweens, which condition you won’t find listed in any manual, but one that any ADD or autistic person will surely recognise. Regardless, it still helps to remember that strategies for compensating are just that – and that when there’s too much load on the system, those strategies won’t all succeed. That makes it difficult for me, but sometimes others’ lack of understanding is the greater problem.

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? Doing things “normally” is very important to the general public. People with a wide variety of differences go to extreme effort trying to “pass for normal”, but this can be perilous. Some parents spend great effort to ensure their autistic children learn how to do “good eye contact”, but this may be a poor goal for some unexpected reasons. People can get hung up on developmental timetables, or they worry and wonder why their child likes to spend lots of time lining things up (it’s a good thing, really).

Adults can come up with some pretty off-the-wall assumptions about what is, or is not, going on in a child’s head; we cannot always assign mental processes to the results we see. Then there’s the situations that an earnest-yet-clueless ADHD or Aspie kid can find themselves in, such as failing to cheat. The really scary part is how these children who have difficulties socialising with their peers will fall prey to bullying and abuse, and general depression. Then we grow up into adults, and there’s the whole sticky territory of trying to make Small Talk, and the repercussions of just having a different sense of humor.

On the lighter end, a few posts are just for fun; about once a month there’s a “Recess”. Recess means we take a break and play – it’s important to do that once in a while. During dinner our family discusses why “resistance is fruitile, and how to be “underly pedantic”. Meanwhile, I have fun with repeating words, and enjoy taking photographs of improbable things.

My thanks to you for stopping by, and please to leave comments!

andrea

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

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.

Making Sense of Rules

Harry Wormwood to his daughter Matilda, from the movie based on Roald Dahl’s book, Matilda:
“I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m smart, you’re dumb. I’m big, you’re little. And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

To make sense of something, to understand how it works, what is significant about it in your own experience, in short, to create a meaningful gestalt, requires that one be able to manipulate it physically, to stretch it, pull it, push it, turn it upside-down, use it in different ways and then compare and contrast the results. This is the active process of learning.

Making sense of the social world and its often unstated rules requires that one be able to do original research in the nature of it, just as one does with the physics of the universe. The problem however, especially for our autistic/Asperger’s students, is that the social world is not nearly so consistent as is the physical world or the digital world. You mess around with mechanical objects or video games, and the responses will consistently fall within the same parameters. Likewise, the ecology of the biological world is more complex, but still rather straightforward.

However, human social systems are rife with “fuzzy logic”. The social sciences are seen as comparatively “soft” sciences because sorting out the variables and interpreting the results is so damn tricky. Given such complexity and unpredictability, it’s no wonder that autistics, whose social radar is less acute, often prefer to stick with the natural sciences, or view themselves as researchers of human beings.

People not only need worlds that they can make sense of; they also need worlds that meet their needs. The needs of children and students are somewhat different than those of adults. They are still very much in the process of building understandings of the social world and of their places in them. They need to be able to create systems that are functional and adaptable, and they need to find a place in society that allows them to continue to grow as individuals, that draws upon their personal strengths and works with their individual weaknesses, and that respects the parts they will have to play throughout their lives.

Rigid, unyielding rules systems built upon the premise that the child or student is a bad person, who needs to be controlled, and always told what to do, cannot effectively provide that.

There’s a kind of physics in social relationships: push on someone, and they will push back with that familiar “equal and opposite reaction”. No one likes feeling controlled, like a helpless pawn in some chess game. Everyone wants to feel that they have some measure of say and control in how they get their needs met – this is what empowerment and respect is about.

Empowering others is scary for some people because it requires relinquishing some of their control. Or rather, empowering others is about giving them opportunity, the right tools, and letting them have responsibility. The whole crazy part about the current scenario at the JRC is the people in control complain that they “have” to use force (pain and other punishments and rewards) because the students would otherwise be irresponsible.

This isn’t about a child “testing authority” as feared by disciplinarians; it’s about the student being able to try things out, practice, reflect, discuss, acquire new skills, and practice some more. Being given absolute rules circumvents the learning process, and later when they need to adapt to novel situations, leaves the learner in the lurch, stranded without the knowledge of how to devise new strategies. They only have a limited number of tools in their social toolbox, and little knowledge of how to build new kinds of tools. If we go telling children what to do for their entire lives, then we shouldn’t wonder that they become young adults without the ability to think for themselves and to be responsible without someone monitoring their actions.

How do children learn to be responsible? It takes practice. If you want people to know how to be inner-directed, moral, responsible people, then they need the opportunities to learn how, and they need adults to share their wisdom and their power and to help them along the way.

Moving Into Commitment and Inclusiveness (PART 2)

Implementing personal change creates opportunities not only in the immediate sense, but also because you will find yourself connected to others in new and surprisingly beneficial ways.

However, the ripples can ricochet back in unexpected manners. Personal change that moves towards social change is always a threat to someone – often masses of someones. People often find change to be a threat, or they find differences to be threatening. Agents of change that push at the paradigm are therefore met with resistance. (Excruciatingly earnest but ineffective revolutionaries typically underestimate the weight of social inertia that buffers systems against major changes.)

But what is it that makes change – even social change obviously intended to improve opportunities for people – such a threatening concept? Why does challenging social assumptions create such opposition?

A lot of it has to do with the discomfort of having the world view pushed and challenged. "Cognitive dissonance" is an emotional reaction to events that contradict what you know; they make your brain hurt, as it were. To be able to accept that what you are experiencing is real means that you have to change your attitude, OR if you are to maintain your beliefs then you have to change how you are perceiving things. So, do you adjust your understanding of the world, or do you imagine things to be different than they are?

In this case, someone acting out of the paradigm (be it a social hierarchy, a expectation for a particular kind of social interaction, or a personal ability) challenges not just the hidden assumption that there is a paradigm. It also challenges that everyone must be contained and constrained within it, and that what they do is because of their position in that paradigm. It’s an artificial social construct. It’s not “real” except what we make real, and we can change that.

If people can't imagine why you would act the way you do, they may erroneously attribute various motivations or faults to you, despite the lack of real evidence for such. They then try to “put you in your place” because you are acting out of character, and not fitting into the expected social rôles. When you are trying to push for social change of some sort, especially for acceptance of differences, you are going to get a lot of challenges to this new agenda of inclusiveness.

People who assume they are normal can be trouble. They tend to go around changing the world to suit themselves; their standards are "community standards". "I'm normal, so if I like it this way, almost everyone else will. Right?”

~Glyn Webster

Inclusiveness is an extremely dangerous idea, because it redefines all of the miscellaneous parameters of what is “normal”. A great many ideas about “abnormal” did not fully exist until someone came along and set down specific boundaries about what constituted “normal”.

Artificial boundaries exist everywhere. A lot of people’s definitions of themselves are what groups they belong to, and those groups are partly defined by “otherness” – who and what they aren’t. People who have spent their entire lives in a world defined by exclusion, where exclusion defines many of the others as being not-normal and therefore not-okay, often do so without any consciousness about this exclusionary paradigm. It’s too entrenched and socially invisible.

Inclusiveness will only become normal when there is no Other to exclude. To do that, we have to realize that in most ways, in all the important ways, everyone is okay-normal for who they are. (It is intentional behavior that is acceptable or unacceptable, not the intrinsic qualities of a person.) We all pay a great price when people must go around pretending to be something else than what they are and someone else than who they are, and trying to "pass for normal".

andrea

Overcoming Inertia and Moving Into Commitment (PART 1)

So much of what people have been blogging about lately is the necessity for major changes in what assumptions are made about the abilities and worth of people, all kinds of people, even those that have been considered to be of so little worth as to need removal from the gene pool or to not even rank the status of murder victim.

High moral ground is easy to take. It’s abstract, refers to grand sweeping generalities, and oddly, often doesn’t make a lot of impact on our daily lives. It’s easy to witness for big things against the big impersonal bureaucracies or in demonstration marches. But it’s far harder to protest the steady barrage of small, deadly insults from family, neighbors, coworkers, neighbors, fellow church or club members and other acquaintances.

Part of this lies in the fact that writing a letter to an editor, or posting on a blog, or doing a public presentation all give one the opportunity to plan ahead, to contemplate and improve wordings and rationales, and to deliver precise quantities of verbiage in a manner that is calculated to be clear and rational. You can define the problem and explain your position.

Instead, real life happens. And here we find ourselves in odd moments with unexpected opportunities to assert that NO, this is not right!

“Normal” injustices are easy to point out. “No, wait a minute – the end of the queue is behind me.” That Mr Next-Guy-In-Line here in front of me is in a wheelchair doesn’t matter; no one should be treated as a nonperson or noncustomer. (And then the interloper apologises to me for having cut in front of me, still ignoring the man ahead of me in line!)

The unusual injustices are hard to point out. These are the things where the current paradigm so permeates culture that most people can’t even see the injustices. When those are pointed out, most people do not even understand why they are problems. Pointing these injusticess out attracts dismissal. Expecting and then demanding fair treatment on someone’s part earns denial. Being the recipient of denial and dismissal, not even being taken seriously, gives one the horrid sensation of fighting fog.

Full-fledged denigration would almost be easier than denial. Anger (even excruciatingly polite righteousness) is easier to deliver. But being “on a mission” when people fluff off your responses as unimportant or silly or borderline crazy or merely picky is very, very difficult.

It’s hard to advocate when people don’t even understand what the hell you are talking about. You’re not starting from ground zero, you’re starting from the negative integers. You can’t even protest the problem until you can define it for someone and then convince them it exists!

Moments like that can paralyze one, especially when they happen unexpectedly, and you are left standing there gawping with profound indignation, but finding that the words just don’t come. There are no set phrases laid down by Dear Abby or Miss Manners to initiate the right social scripts for some things. To ask for apology or to demand equal, human treatment requires the transgressor to understand the problem in the first place.

Hey, I’m not crazy or contagious with some loathsome disease or going to harm your children or steal your wares. I’m just exhausted from working nine hours and dizzy from the smells of the cleaning solvents and perfumes and new merchandise and all the crazy flickery lighting and background noises, and being ticcy, and having auditory processing delays, and flinching because my hyperacussis makes me overly sensitive to that sudden screech, and wearing my sunglasses inside because a migraine is creeping up on me, and HEL-LO Mr Cashier you don’t need to turn your back on me so you don’t have to acknowledge my presence and wait upon me, and Mommy you don’t need to drag your kids away, and Ms Assistant Manager don’t bother asking me if I want to sit down by the pharmacy so someone can call a responsible party to come fetch me. I’m just a harmless shopper who needs to get a few groceries and go home and make dinner for the family and then get some rest! I’m an otherwise Okay Person and I belong here!

Being able to advocate in such situations can be hard at first. It’s certainly not a lack of desire. It’s not necessarily a lack of ability. Given enough moments alone, some useful scripts can be formulated and practiced, to have on hand for those brain-dead moments. The hard part is overcoming the decades of inertia that have been trained into one. Be a good little victim. Don’t inconvenience people. It’s not important. Who the hell are you to complain?

Personal change is not always easy. It’s not usually the cognitive impetus that is difficult; sometimes it’s not even the emotional impetus. It’s the inertia that holds us back, that prevents us from speaking up when something wrong is happening, or from speaking out and initiating changes. The internal change cannot be merely called forth just by wanting it.

On the cusp of genesis is the threshold of inertia. You must gather sufficient momentum to force, to hurtle yourself through the portal. Up to that very grain of time is an oozing molasses of eternity that impedes the effort, although the mind is halfway on the other side. But mere movement is not enough, for mere movement is not progress. To overcome the inertia and move into change, you need sufficient commitment. Not just commitment to an idea, although that is first necessary, but commitment of the heart towards a goal, a purpose for something.

Once that commitment is invested, the portal is not just a change from one room to the next, but a threshold that lets you fall upwards with a single large, fateful step …

“HERE WE GO!”

Personal change is dangerous, not for the person taking the step, but for everyone else. The person who makes that transition is pushing at the very assumptions of the common paradigm, because any major changes you make in yourself are going to create ripples that affect others.

It’s this ripple effect that creates some of the inertia – you have to want to step forward, not just for yourself, but also at risk of changing the way others relate to you.

What helps create some of the crystallization of will is the realization that implementing change not only creates ripples, but also creates opportunities. “Nothing succeeds like success”, and crossing that threshold is a success. It is not only a moment of empowerment, but also of genesis. It initiates a hub and lightning rod for other changes; you acquire some of the momentum of the universe, and previously unimagined and oft-unexpected things are now drawn to you; new webs of connectivity sprout and catch onto the new hub, and you find yourself meeting people and getting aid, encouragement and inspiration from unexpected sources. This liberation and delight also means that you are now an agent of change yourself, and can in turn connect with and help others …