Tag Archives: Speed of Dark

Prenatal testing and disability rights

An underlying theme of The Speed of Dark is disability rights in general, but more specifically autism rights in a world where the genetic cause of autism has been determined and a prenatal “cure” is given to any fetus that is found to be autistic.   Of course, here in the real world we aren’t at that point – yet.   But we’re getting there.

Since reading The Speed of Dark, I’ve picked up Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights to try to get a more detailed understanding of the various opinions and considerations around the question.  I’ve given this some thought before – I posted the following as To hear or not to hear, is that the question? in September 2006 – but it’s a big question deserving a bit more thought.

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In the world of autism the question, “If there were a cure available for you or your child, would you use it?” is pretty much rhetorical, food for thought. As such, discussions are more theoretical than practical. In the world of the deaf and hard of hearing, however, cochlear implants mean answering this question has much more practical implications.

At first thought for most ‘hearing’ people (here we go with labels and descriptors again), a technology that would allow or restore hearing seems to be a no-brainer. I think that most hearing parents of deaf children would jump at the chance to make their kids “not deaf.” (For now, I’m going to ignore the fact that the results of cochlear implants vary person to person.) As those kids get older, though, the question becomes a bit more complicated, as the kids (and then adults) establish their identities in the context of the deaf culture. (For a similar discussion of the impact of age on the decision to apply/impose a cure, see my earlier post Thoughts on curing autism.

There are many similarities in the arguments on both sides, and I think that the debate in the deaf community may offer some insights into the same question for autism. For example, the following description of different perspectives could very easily be applied to the question of curing autism:

The (deaf community’s) perception is that there’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing that needs to be fixed. Our perception is, there is something that needs to be fixed. So from the very foundation, we’re diverging in our perspectives.

A Google search on Cochlear Implant controversy brings back quite a few listings, here are some examples of comments in the debate:

  • The controversy over cochlear implants in children has many sides. For some in the deaf community, CIs are an affront to their culture, which as they view it, is a minority threatened by the hearing majority.
  • The technology seems like a medical miracle to many hearing parents and doctors who see the technology as a cure for deafness. But the cochlear implant has long been the center of a stormy debate. Some deaf advocates worry that the view of deafness as an illness to be cured marginalizes the deaf and stigmatizes those who can’t –or don’t wish to–use an implant.
  • Most doctors schedule the procedure as soon as possible in young children to increase their odds of acquiring oral language skills. But some deaf advocates worry that hearing parents may wind up making a choice their deaf children would not have made for themselves.
  • That view of hearing loss as pathological is at the heart of the cochlear controversy. On the extreme end, some deaf advocates who communicate only via sign language and shun any attempt to learn oral language, view the device as a threat to their unique, sign-language-based culture. But even to those with far more moderate views, the cochlear implant is a symbol of the hearing world’s desire to “fix” deaf people.
  • The conflict concerning cochlear implants is centered around the definition of disability. If deafness is defined as a disability, in the eyes of many, it is something to be altered and repaired. According to the medical view, deafness is a disability. On the other hand, if deafness is a cultural identity, it should be allowed to thrive and, given the emphasis on diversity in today’s society, should be readily accepted and supported. This opinion is based on the cultural view of deafness. Therefore, although the controversy over cochlear implantation seems simple, it is based on the very complicated and often unstated implications of the true meaning of deafness.
  • Altering a deaf child with surgery at an early age would only cost money once. In contrast, providing interpreting, note taking, and assistive technology would not only continually cost society money; these practices would also create inconveniences for others because of the language barrier.
  • Those who oppose the use of cochlear implants do so for several reasons. These people challenge the supporters of cochlear implants by asking questions such as, “What is normal?” and “Do the quality and quantity of the benefits outweigh the risks involved?”.
  • Parents, confronting a new diagnosis of deafness, react with a wide spectrum of emotions including denial, guilt, the need to blame someone, and the need to find a miracle. Doctors and parents tend to see the child as missing something and view the deafness as a disability that must be fixed to make the child “normal” or whole again. This attitude can have serious social and emotional implications. A child who is told she is “broken” and needs to be fixed will forever see herself as less of a person because of her deafness.
  • The problem is that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. In many cases, these hearing parents may have never met a deaf adult. It is common for parents to be introduced to a number of audiologists and speech therapists when their child is first diagnosed with a hearing loss but to never be taken to meet a deaf adult so that they may receive the other perspective. They are told that something is wrong with their child. It may never be mentioned that deafness is considered to be a cultural identity for some people and that implants are seen as unnecessary. The parents of the deaf child, wanting only what is best for their child, will want to make sure that the child has the opportunity to succeed. If all they have been told is that the child will need to speak to function and that there is a procedure that can provide this, of course they would want the implant. To the parents, it is seen as the instrument of success.
  • Et cetera.

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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”.