Tag Archives: neurodiversity

Monday morning lunatics

Another song that brought my experiences with autism to mind, Dream Theater‘s Solitary Shell, from the Six Degrees of Separation CD.

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He seemed no different from the rest
Just a healthy normal boy
His mama always did her best
And he was daddy’s pride and joy

He learned to walk and talk on time
But never cared much to be held
And steadily he would decline
Into his solitary shell

As a boy he was considered somewhat odd
Kept to himself most of the time
He would daydream in and out of his own world
But in every other way he was fine

He’s a monday morning lunatic
Disturbed from time to time
Lost withing himself
In his solitary shell

A temporary catatonic
Madman on occasion
When will he break out
Of his solitary shell

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I have no idea if this song was written to be specifically about autism, but I doubt it.  It could just be about an extremely introverted kid.

The question that pops to mind:  Why does the child in the song need to “break out of his solitary shell” at all?

Autism and the tragedy of the commons

Last summer, I put Cooperation and the tragedy of the commons, from the Anecdote blog,  in my “to blog” pile.  It seemed relevant, but I just couldn’t quite figure out how.  In his post about an Alliance for Autism, Mike Stanton raises the problem of reconciling the individual wishes and desires of parents and adults with autism with the long term goals of autism advocacy, which has helped me better understand the relevance.

The problem Mike raises shows up in many different domains and is known as the tragedy of the commons.  Simply stated, tragedy of the commons is:

a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.

The anecdote post references a story on washingtonpost.com discussing the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the results of a study done by social psychologist W. Keith Campbell.  From the study:

… because the volunteers did not know whether their kindness would be reciprocated by others or exploited by competitors, people raced to cut as much timber as they could and quickly razed the forests to the ground. Groups with volunteers more willing to think about the collective good preserved their forests longer. But selfish people within these groups had a field day exploiting the altruists — and the forests perished anyway.

Campbell’s experiment is particularly relevant to politics, because he found that groups with a larger number of narcissists — people with an inflated sense of their own importance — tended to raze the forests much faster than groups in which people felt less self-important. Politics, unfortunately, happens to be a domain that self-selects people with an inflated sense of their own importance.

Political scientist Edella Schlager offers the following as a solution:

… the only way to prevent tragedies of the commons is to set up structures in advance that reward long-term thinking and punish short-term selfishness. This happens mostly among competitors who share long-term interests and have social relationships of trust: If you and I are Maine lobstermen, we are likely to agree to set up limits on the overall catch each year because we see our future, and our children’s future, inextricably linked. In the absence of trust and long-term relationships, the only way to prevent these tragedies is to have an outside regulatory agency step in to establish — and enforce — limits.

Sadly, many of the “competitors” in the autism community (communities?) don’t seem to think we share any long term interests, despite the fact that I’m sure we probably do.  Nor are there too many “social relationships of trust”; even here on the Hub there is a general undercurrent of mistrust between adults with autism and non-autistic parents, stemming I think from the lack of shared long term interests mentioned above.

On the other hand, it is easy for the Hub’s “competitors”, as exemplified by the folks at Age of Autism, to avoid the TOTC:  they speak with a single voice (“Vaccines are bad”, “Vaccines caused my kid’s autism”, “Neurodiversity believers are deluded and in denial”) and trust that everyone on “their side” will stay on message.  There are, of course, some more reasonable voices among the bio-med group, but it is the vocal (apparent) majority that makes the most noise.

Mike is on the right track with his proposed Alliance for Autism.  The first step is to figure out what our shared long term interests are, and from there work to build the trusting social relationships that we need to move forward.  Who knows, we might even find that we have some common ground with our “competitors” in what we want for our kids when they become adults.  Wouldn’t that be something.

I’ll kick it off with a couple of my own long term interests and goals:

  • My son receives an education (from me, the schools, his peers) that allows him to participate in the world around him to the extent that he chooses to participate.
  • The general public becomes more aware that adults with autism are adults first, that they have dreams, desires, and interests just like everyone else, and should be allowed and empowered to pursue those dreams, desires, and interests.
  • A legal environment that enforces the above, when necessary, in the workplace and other areas where autism, and other disabilities, are treated with disdain and disrespect.

They’re not normal, whatever you say

This is the fourth of three posts of excerpts from Elizabeth Moon‘s novel The Speed of Dark. (Part one – How normal are normal people?,  part two – What does it meant to be “me”?, and part three – Do I need to be healed?)

Like any good story, The Speed of Dark has an antagonist that provides the main character his dilemma and challenge.  I thought it might be worthwhile to share some of Mr. Crenshaw’s thoughts on Lou and his co-workers.

“Your guys are fossils, Pete.  Face it.  The auties older than them were throwaways, nine out of ten.  And don’t recite that woman, whatever her name was, that designed slaughterhouses or something —.

“One in a million, and I have the highest respect for someone who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps the way she did.  But she was the exception.  Most of those poor bastards were hopeless. Not their fault, all right? But still, no good to themselves or anyone else, no matter how much money was spent on them. And if the damned shrinks had kept hold of the category, your guys would be just as bad. Lucky for them the neurologists and behaviorists got some influence. But still…they’re not normal, whatever you say.

“The law does not require a company to bankrupt itself. That notion went overboard early this century. We’d lose the tax break, but that’s such a tiny part of our budget that it’s worthless, really. Now if they’d agree to dispense with their so-called support measures and act like regular employees, I wouldn’t push the treatment – though why they wouldn’t want it I can’t fathom.”

As you might be able to gather, Mr. Crenshaw’s motives for pushing a cure are somewhat less than altruistic.  But it is quite obvious what he thinks of autistics.  Not all that different from how many view autism, and autistics, today.

Do I need to be healed?

This is the third of three posts of excerpts from Elizabeth Moon‘s novel The Speed of Dark. (Part one – How normal are normal people?, and part two – What does it meant to be “me”?)

In this excerpt, Lou is considering what it might mean to be “healed”:

If my self definition is limited and rule-dictated, at least it is my self-definition, and not someone else’s. I like peppers on pizza and I do not like anchovies on pizza. If someone changes me, will I still like peppers and not anchovies on pizza? What if the someone who changes me wants me to want anchovies…can they change that?

Asking if I want to be healed is like asking if I want to like anchovies. I cannot imagine what liking anchovies would feel like, what taste they would have in my mouth. People who like anchovies tell me they taste good; people who are normal tell me being normal feels good. They cannot describe the taste or the feeling in a way that makes sense to me.

Do I need to be healed? Who does it hurt if I am not healed? Myself, but only if I feel bad the way i am, and I do not feel bad except when people say that I am not one of them, not normal. Supposedly autistic persons do not care what others think of them, but this is not true. I do care, and it hurts when people do not like me because I am autistic.

As I finished up my initial draft of this, I came across Estee’s post What do we think we know? We know what it is like to be us, we know how to do things, we just can’t always explain it.

Hopefully I’ll have my full review done by the end of this (thankfully long) weekend.

Why are we so intolerant of differences?

One of the key sub-plots in Elizabeth Moon’s book The Speed of Dark involves some corporate intrigue and an almost stereotypical management vs. labor conflict.   At the heart of the issue is a question of the efficiency vs. effectiveness of the autistic workforce.   It’s probably because of my recent reading of the book that Jack Vinson’s post People still say these things? caught my attention.  (Attention, what attention?)

In that post, Jack references a quote that “amazes me every time I see it used in real life”:

Regrettably far too many executives remain firmly convinced that the only way to increase productivity is for their employees to work harder or faster. A chief executive in Northern Ireland was quoted in his company magazine as saying; “Any employee not producing value-added work all the time is a waste”. This attitude stems from the continued misunderstanding of productivity…

As I read this quote, what occurred in parallel in my thinking was the following:

Regrettably far too many people remain firmly convinced that the only way to be of value to society is to do more faster. A ‘normal’ person might say; “Any autistic (or other disabled person) not keeping up with me and everyone else all the time is a waste”. This attitude stems from the continued misunderstanding of an individual’s value to society.

If you are different, your difference has to be accounted for.  Doing that takes time, throws a proverbial wrench in the works.   And people with a plan to follow and schedule to keep don’t like those wrenches.

I don’t know where this attitude has come from, but I’d guess it has its deep roots in the Industrial Revolution and nourishment from the teachings of Scientific Management, Business Process Re-engineering, Total Quality Management, etc ad infinitum.

The mentality of work in our society has permeated our mentality of community.

What does it mean to be “me”?

This is the second of three posts of excerpts from Elizabeth Moon‘s novel The Speed of Dark. (Part one – How normal are normal people?)

In this excerpt, Lou is considering what it means to be “Lou”, and how he would be different as an adult if he had been different when he was younger.

If I had not been what I am, what would I have been? I have thought about that at times. If I had found it easy to understand what people were saying, would I have wanted to listen more? Would I have learned to talk more easily? And from that, would I have had more friends, even been popular? I try to imagine myself as a child, a normal child, chattering away with family and teachers and classmates. If I had been that child, instead of myself, would I have learned math so easily? Would the great complicated construction of classical music have been so obvious to me at first hearing? I remember the first time I heard Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor … the intensity of joy I felt. Would I have been able to do the work I do? And what other work might I have been able to do?

It is harder to imagine a different self now that i am an adult.

This particular scene resonated with me as I have had these same thoughts, from a parent’s point of view, as I’ve watched my son grow from a toddler to a 17-year old. (For examples, see Thoughts on curing autism and Whose decision is it?)

For some similar thoughts from a current day, real person with Asperger’s check out Steve’s post Marching to her own drum.

Next:  Do I need to be healed?

How normal are normal people?

The Speed of Dark - CoverAfter seeing a reference to it in a comment to a blog somewhere last week, I picked up Elizabeth Moon‘s novel The Speed of Dark and read it over the weekend. The novel, set in the near future (30 years or so), is the story of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man presented with the possibility of being cured, his contemplation of what his decision – either way – would mean, and the consequences of his eventual decision.

I need to process it a bit more before writing a full review, but the short version of the review goes something like this: If you haven’t read this book yet, go out and buy it now and read it tonight.

As I pull together my thoughts for the full review, I’d like to share some key passages that really stood out to me as relevant to my own contemplation of autism, neurodiversity, and a cure (among many other things). This is the first of three such posts, my goal is to have a review done by the end of this coming weekend.

Some of Lou’s general thoughts on being normal:

I do not think everyone else is alike in every way. She [Dr. Fornum] has told me that Everyone knows this and Everyone does that, but I am not blind, just autistic, and I know that they know and do different things. The cars in the parking lot are different colors and sizes. Thirty-seven percent of them, this morning, are blue. Nine percent are oversize: trucks or vans. There are eighteen motorcycles in three racks, which would be six apiece, except that ten of them are i the back rack, near Maintenance. Different channels carry different programs; that would not happen if everyone were alike.

And some of his thoughts based on a specific situation:

Sometimes I wonder how normal normal people are, and I wonder the most in the grocery store. In our Daily Life Skills classes, we were taught to make a list and go directly from one aisle to another, checking off items on the list. Our teacher advised us to research prices ahead of time, in the newspaper, rather than compare prices while standing int eh aisle. I though – he told us – that he was teaching us how normal people shop.

But the man who is blocking the aisle in front of me has not had that lecture. He seems normal, but he is looking at every single jar of spaghetti sauce, comparing prices, reading labels. Beyond him, a short gray-haired woman with thick glasses is trying to peer past him at the same shelves; I think she wants one of the sauces on my side, but he is in the way and she is not willing to bother him. Neither am I.

Next up: What it means to be “me”.

What can parents do to help the cause of autism advocacy?

My recent posts, and your comments to them, has got me thinking about the following question:

Aside from being a good parent, advocating for our autistic children when they are young, and helping them learn how to advocate for themselves as they get older, what are some things that parents can do advocate for autistics in general?

I know what the basic message is, but what I’m not sure of is how best to get that message out; to friends, family, local media, educators, etc etc.

I’m going to be “off the grid” for the next 10 days, so I won’t respond to anything right away. But I’m looking forward to reading your ideas and suggestions.

Autism, neurodiversity, and parenting

After over three years of blogging about autism, I’ve finally found the right words to express my feelings, as a parent, about autism and neurodiversity.

I admire and appreciate the important and necessary work of Jim Sinclair for both autism, and in general for people with disabilities. It is an extremely well-written and concise expression of rights of those with disabilities, the folly of many parents in missing the individual beauty and development of their own child in the constant misguided comparison with an incomparable standard, and the need for public accommodation and acceptance of autism as a different way of being. I myself have used that expression, “a different way of being”‘ in conversation, and it describes autism well, without defining it as less-than.

I do not, however, accept the entire message and implications of the neurodiversity perspective. I understand the need for a concise theory, but sometimes the neat and tidy package does not fit some of the intricacies of reality.

I do not accept a logic chain that precludes reasonable treatment efforts particularly early education / intervention from being defined as anything but unacceptance, of one’s child and autism in general. I fully love and accept my child, regardless of the abilities he has now or in the future. I don’t accept that it makes me a lesser parent in that I am sending the message that my son is “not good enough” or I don’t accept him as he is. I am a full parent to my children. The same parenting ideals hold for my daughter who is neuroytpical. I am parenting her, based on my love, her needs and what will help her to live a full and happy life. I have always worked hard as a parent to educate her. Does that then imply that I do not accept her? Of course not, it means that I want to educate, stimulate, give options for how to be in the world, teach skills to foster communication and connection with others, as much independence as possible by trying to be the best possible parent.

If you logically extend Jim Sinclair’s argument, then no child is accepted if they are being educated. If we accepted children as they are, then we would not need to alter their natural state of being by educating them. Would the neurodiversity perspective have me feel guilty or wrong for parenting appropriately as per my definition of good parenting?

Sinclair’s stance works well for natural disabilities, but autism may not always necessarily be the natural sate of being for a particular individual. I do believe there may be some on the spectrum who have autism from a genetic basis, or that autism began before birth, which may indeed fall completely under the neurodiversity umbrella. However, the possibility of environmental triggers playing a role in autism exists, which would mean the possibility exists for reversal or treatment of same, as an unnatural state of being in certain cases. I love my son whether he was born with autism, developed it in utero, or was injured environmentally at some point which triggered or enhanced it. Just as parents whose children have cancer fully love and accept them, but still want to find a cure or treatment, as well as give them an enriching and happy life, how ever the condition progresses, so I want for my son. As for using cancer as a comparison, the comparison begins and ends with the way I have used it specifically in the above example.

I agree with Mr. Sinclair that rigid insistence that the child with autism communicate with neurotypical people in only a neurotypical fashion is selfish and narrow-minded, as well and limiting to the parent-child relationship and the child’s development. I agree with the need for those with autism to have allowances, accommodations, ways and places to be in the world. Education of the public regarding the rights of those with autism is sorely needed.

I applaud the work and feel that the neurodiversity perspective is a necessary part of public education and awareness, but I wish the perspective did not require a scapegoat to secure the strength of its message. Parents benefit from such guidance to a point, but not the accompanying pressure and judgment.

Words cannot define the overwhelming love I feel for my son, and no “perspective” will tell me that I am not acting in his best interests, and that I as his parent, am in the appropriate position to do so.

Finally, I fully and unconditionally love and accept my son (and always will), and I want the very best education and treatment for him. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

As you may have gathered from the indented quote (and a reference to a daughter I don’t have), these words are not mine. They are the words of Marni Wachs, and autism mother from Winnipeg, Manitoba, posted as a guest blogger at Harold Dougherty’s Doherty’s blog Facing Autism in New Brunswick. I’ve touched on many of these themes before at various times, but have never been able to pull it together as neatly and concisely as Marni has.

Thanks to Marni for allowing these comments to be posted, and thanks to Harold, who is known for an occasional rant against neurodiversity and the Autism Hub, for posting comments that include the statement, “I applaud the work and the feel that the neurodiversity perspective is a necessary part of public education and awareness.”

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EDITED (7/22):  Based in large part on Amanda’s comments to this post, I’ve gone back and modified the original post by highlighting those things that I feel and believe.  (Of course, I could have been much more concise about it and simply said, as Wade did in the comments, “Parenting is parenting,” but conciseness is not something I’m often accused of.)

Also in response to Amanda’s comments, I will be discussing Jim Sinclair’s writings in a future post.

Comparative studies in “autism”

I have an irritating (according to some) tendency to play “devil’s advocate” in discussions about many things. I think this dates back to my junior year in high school when I learned the pleasures of debate in a philosophy class (gotta love the Jesuits!). More than anything, it was the admonition that some things were beyond debate – for example, abortion (remember: Jesuits) – that got me hooked. Nothing, as far as I’m concerned, is beyond discussion or debate.

Which has led me into a life of “comparison.” Comparative religion. Comparative politics. (It was, in fact, in a comparative politics class that I met my wife of 21 years.) My reading list over the years reflects this believe, as I make it a point to read books that discuss different aspects of a question or dilemma. Atheism / Religion. War / Peace. Republican / Democrat. Gun Control / NRA (and, of course, Ted Nugent ;-). Democracy / Communism / Fascism / …ism.

As I have become more and more of a comparative person I’ve also realized that I don’t have much tolerance for fundamentalism, which makes sense since fundamentalism is – by definition – “strict adherence to [a] set of basic ideas or principles”. For one thing, you can’t have a meaningful discussion with fundamentalists: they know what they know and believe what they believe and don’t really listen to what you are saying except to figure out which pre-fabbed counterargument they will use (sometimes they don’t even try that hard). The worst thing, though, is that there is no opportunity for true learning or growth for either me or the fundamentalist.

It seems inevitable, then, that I find myself thinking about autism in comparative terms and being frustrated at the level of fundamentalism that permeates all sides of the discussions and debates surrounding autism. The proverbial straw* that has brought this far enough to the front of my brain to write about was the recent departure of Michael Boll and his Autism Podcast from the Autism Hub.

To be fair, I haven’t listened to the Autism Podcast in quite some time. (Truth be told, I don’t listen to any podcasts – embarrassing, I know.) But in the wake of the dust-up surrounding Michael’s interview with Rick Rollens, I figured I should take a look through his archives to get an idea of what he has produced over the years.

What I found was an impressive collection of podcasts and interviews with people from many different backgrounds, perspectives, and thoughts on autism. Michael seems to be someone who is interested in learning all he can so that he can better understand the issues, and sharing the source of his learning so that others can do the same. My kind of guy.

But that most recent interview (which, again, I have not listened to) really got the ire up on the Hub. You can see the basics of that ire in the comments to the interview, but it went much deeper than that. As a member of the Hub, I kept up with the discussion about the interview on the Hub’s mailing list.

Though there are a lot of nuances to all the discussion, what it basically came down to was, “How dare he interview someone who is so against everything we stand for, not call him to task for it, and then have the audacity to actually publish it on the Hub? Never mind all the good things (ie, things we agree with) he has posted over the years, he spoke with someone who doesn’t share our beliefs, and shared those beliefs with the world, so he must not share them either.” Fundamentalism at its ugliest.

When I moved this site to this self-hosted location earlier this year, I also redesigned it so that it showed a wide variety of feeds and links. Yes, the sidebar includes a feed from Age of Autism (another group that is sinking quickly into fundamentalism) in addition to the link to the Hub, as well as links to neurodiversity AND bio-med autism parents.

At the time, I actually considered resigning from the Hub. Not because I don’t believe in the stated purpose of the Hub, because I do. But I knew then that I had some things I wanted to write about that would raise the hackles of some of the more “hard-core” members of the hub. Because as much as I agree with what the Hub is trying to do, I don’t always agree with how it is done. (There are, in fact, several Hub blogs I don’t read because of their incredible viciousness toward those who don’t agree with them.)

There are many topics in autism making headlines these days that generate seemingly endless, and amazingly opposite, reactions from people (Peet vs. McCarthy, anyone?). It is not my intent to turn 29 Marbles into a “comparative autism” blog, but I have the feeling I’ll be writing more along those lines in the future. I’m looking forward to some good conversations.

* Obviously not enough to make me write about this before, there has been at least one (anonymous) call for me to be removed from the Hub because of my “deference to … a loon.” To be honest, I’m surprised there haven’t been more. I’m sure there will be more in the future. And if it is the will of the Hub to remove me, I’ll respect that decision. But given a choice, I choose to stay.