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Educators Should Realize that We Aspies Are As We Ought to Be, and Teach Us On Our Terms, Not Theirs.

Educators should realize that we Aspies are as we ought to be, and teach us on our terms, not theirs.

People on the autism spectrum have a lot of different words used to refer to us: Aspie, Asperger’s, Aspergirl, Asperwoman, autistic, and now, thanks to one of us, neuratypical.

What are the other people called? I mean the people who are in the majority – the ones who are not on the autism spectrum, and not singled out as “different” simply because they are in the majority.

They are called neurotypicals.

Joi Ito has written an article in Wired magazine that describes his experiences as he sought an education, complete with formal credentials all the way up to a doctorate.

The Educational Tyranny of the Neurotypicals

He makes many excellent points, points which made me think about my own education, and how I navigated the process.

People on the autism spectrum – Aspies and others – are neuratypical as opposed to neurotypical. Neurotypical is the word for the majority of humans. Aspies – neuratypicals – are simply a minority model of human. The difference is in our brainstems. We are not wrong, just different. The answer to the question as to how to educate us is to adapt to our ways of learning and understanding, NOT to attempt to remake us or to force us to adapt to a model that is not us.

Neurotypicals must be told over and over, and taught from an early age, and then taught again and again, that just because they are in the majority, that does not make them the “correct” model of human being and all others somehow “wrong” and in need of fixing or adapting to suit the ways of thinking that suit neurotypicals.

What distinguishes us from neurotypicals?

It’s a brainstem type. Every brainstem, be it neurotypical or neuratypical, is different – unique – which backs up the saying that if you’ve met one Aspie, you’ve met one Aspie.

No one is really a litmus test for anyone else, and we Aspies like what we like, and pay attention to little else.

That can help us in pursuing an education, because it guides us through the learning process, allowing us to ignore learning methods that don’t work for us while finding and using those that do.

Brainstems have connectors that branch off and connect to the lobes of the brain, allowing access to it.

Brains have sections that, among other things, are devoted to memory, data storage, and social interaction, also known as intuitive reasoning.

Several years ago, Leslie Stahl of CBS’s 60 Minutes did a story about this, with an interview of Temple Grandin, Ph.D., and magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of brainstems.

Temple Grandin’s Unique Brain | CBS

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is an animal husbandry expert who has designed humane slaughterhouses and who understands how animals communicate. She also has autism.

One of the things that I love about her is the fact that she insists that people on the autism spectrum should have and hone a special interest into a skill, and that they should be people who can do something who merely happen to be on the autism spectrum.

Another thing that impresses me about her is that she will talk about whatever it is that she has to say without making the eye contact that neurotypicals deem so important…until she is finished.

At that point, the pressure to remember every point that she wishes to make is off, because they are all made. Then, and only then, will she give them that thing that they want.

It’s not that we on the autism spectrum aren’t willing to meet neurotypicals on any of their terms. We are. It’s that they must accept that we will be doing that on our terms, not theirs.

If that is confusing, just remember how Grandin grants eye contact – when she is good and ready! I do that, too.

But back to Leslie Stahl’s television magazine article.

Here is the image that was shown in it, which is a pair of human brainstems in an array of pretty colors, taken using an MRI machine by a neuroscientist:

Temple Grandin’s brainstem is on the left, and some random neurotypical’s brainstem is on the right.

Leslie Stahl is pointing at the blue and purple cluster of connectors that matches the circled ones on the neurotypical’s brainstem.

Those connectors go into the data storage part of the brain for an autistic person, and they go into the intuitive reasoning section for a neurotypical person.

Put another way, we Aspies and autistic people handle social interactions, and figure out how to navigate them, using memory and analysis of how each interaction went for future reference.

This explains why we can be socially awkward and slow to learn how to interact successfully with other people.

Having said that, I have observed a social weakness in neurotypicals: overconfidence. Forgetting that not all of us function the same way, and assuming that we ought to, leads to bullying.

And here is where I have a criticism of Leslie Stahl’s attitude, because it needs adjustment: She kept pointing at Grandin’s connectors and which way they went, i.e. every which way instead of just upwards, and calling them “wrong” directions.

She was wrong to do that.

I watched this report with my Aspie father at home in the kitchen that Sunday night and thought, as I looked at this image and focused on the brainstem on the right, “That’s IT? That’s ALL that the neurotypicals get to work with?! That’s not very much.” Then I said so.

My mother walked into the room and my father commented, “We just saw our brains on TV.” He sounded very calm and matter-of-fact.

I was elated by what I had just seen.

It had only been a few years before that I had researched what Asperger’s is and how it works, and I was very happy to understand myself, in part because that’s what a person needs to function, and in another part because the psychiatrist who diagnosed me never bothered to teach it to me. She, like many in her profession, thought it was her role to medicate me for any condition that she detected, with a view toward making me more like the majority. It didn’t work. I was still me – just eating too much from those stupid pills and with my thought processes dulled, thus making me unable to write. A few years after that, I quit the pills, shrank down to a healthy size, and resumed writing. I’m never going to work in a cubicle. That much is obvious to me.

Here is something that I would like to share from my independent research into what Asperger’s is and how it works:

Asperger’s Syndrome – Symptoms | WebMD

It’s a set of 3 checklists of traits that can be observed in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I have most of each.

I’m not someone who spends much time on WebMD. I prefer to look at historical research and news sources. But this one was worth saving forever.

As I’m writing this, the movie Proof is on, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s about a woman mathematics genius who is on the autism spectrum. She has written a brilliant proof, an equation that is defined as “a convincing demonstration that some mathematical statement is necessarily true”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_proof

Catherine, the Aspie math genius, spends the movie not realizing that is was she who wrote the proof, not her math professor father who has just died, and she must also realize that there is nothing wrong with her, despite her neurotypical sister’s efforts to “take care of her” and make everyday life decisions on her behalf. She can handle things on her own. She even has a nice new boyfriend – all she has to do is realize all that, and she eventually does.

I love such characters – Aspies who learn to define themselves and take charge of their own lives, knowing that they are what they ought to be, and that they are exceptional.

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The Aspie characters that I have written – Avril in Nae-Nee and Delphine in Elephant’s Kitchen – have learned to work and study on their own terms, much as I did in school, without disclosing what they are up to. They are sneaky that way, and thus they succeed at earning degrees and playing musical instruments.

Often, we don’t realize what we are doing as we are growing and doing this, until we are adults and have finished our degrees and established our careers to some extent.

That is exactly how it is for Avril. She revels in being an Aspie. Delphine is not aware of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Book 3 of Nae-Nee, I have Avril talk about genetic editing with a couple of corporatist Farmers who want to find a way to edit people on the autism spectrum out of existence.

She is against it, and so is her cousin-in-law, Claire, who is another Asperwoman. And it is well that they should be!

Both of them have completed college degrees in subjects that fascinated them, they speak coherently and cogently using advanced vocabulary words that these corporatist Farmers sometimes find that they have to look up, and Avril has two graduate degrees. Claire is much younger, but about to start law school.

Avril wastes no time in lambasting these two guys, who start off fine, talking about using genetic editing to delete problems like Tay-Sachs disease, but then devolve the discussion to deleting autism. She tells them that what they are considering doing is likely made possible by people on the autism spectrum, and that many of the advances made throughout human history and herstory have been made by people on the autism spectrum – so humanity needs us, and we have no intention of going away quietly and leaving the enjoyment of the world and its resources to neurotypicals.

She tells them about the movie GATTACA, in which society only values and allows fulfilling careers and advancement for those whose genes have been edited, yet the joke is on those who have had that done, because the main character has qualified for the trip to Saturn’s moon Titan without having had that done.

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She points out the work of Temple Grandin, Ph.D., and adds that there are many other names that she can cite in support of her argument, including the Founders of the United States of America: Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison. Reading biographies of historical figures, and looking at their personality traits, quirks, and interests, is a way to discern whether or not someone was in fact on the autism spectrum, and the markers of Asperger’s show in these Founders.

Avril doesn’t stop there. She names Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Nikola Tesla, and others.

Charles Darwin Had Autism, Leading Psychiatrist Claims

Claire loves it, of course.

I deliberately validate Aspies, because we should be the ones who speak for ourselves, and neurotypicals have certainly demonstrated that they’re not going to do it.

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