31 December 2007

Behaviorism on the Playground

If I were to write that parents were specifically instructing their children to be agents of social control to enforce social norms among their peers, I would have accusation after accusation leveled against my sanity.

They would call me paranoid. And I'd likely agree.

While perhaps a grand-scale conspiracy to purposefully train children to behave "typically" and suppress creativity or originality of expression would sound scarier, more Orwellian, I would argue that the system we are placed in does just that, but is more dangerous, as it is not specifically mandated. If it were specifically mandated, then people would recognize what it is.

Kids grow up with the ideas that some kinds of people are inferior. Some kinds of people just don't have a future. Some kinds, even if the individual doesn't have any specific problem with them, are "just begging" to get harassed, "just asking for" a theft. A beating. A rape. A murder.

Some have asked me why there is a need for an Autistic Rights organization, such as the one I have established at my school with the help and inspiration from my friends. It wasn't until the seventh grade that I started to catch on to the fact that this kind of abuse is inherent to the institution.

I started to understand why I had been refused the right to file a report for the attacks committed against me, and then a year later, when expressing my anger at having been refused, given the token privilege of writing a report which would have no real legitimacy, as it was filed approximately six months after the actual incident. "Too bad that you didn't file it last year, or we could've done something about it."

Ha. What a fucking crock. However hard it was for me, even though I had to spend day after day going into the office, being unable to summon words to speak (I had no means to type at the time), and then after a week of sitting and doing nothing, missing the classes which would only bore and torment me (the offenders were in nearly every class), I finally asked to file a report, when I realized this might be an option when seeing a girl come in to file a report after a boy said some nasty things to her, and being flatly refused, even though I told her that the offenses included assault and sexual harassment (in retrospect, sexual assault would also apply).

So how was the response? I told her a couple of the tame things that had been said to me. I told her there were some worse things, but I couldn't say them. She set her pen to one of the pink slips used to call students out of class, and once she had progressed to the fourth one, I asked what she was doing. She replied she was calling them in here, to let them speak for themselves, face to face with me. In utter horror, I fled. Ran out of her office, wandered for who knows how many hours around campus, unable to even find my way back anywhere at this point.

This same counselor was the one who told me that, because I rocked, because I had seizures, because I didn't dress in popular clothing (hand-me-downs, such as plain t-shirts and jeans that hardly fit, don't exactly count as popular among teenage girls, I suppose), because I was rumored to be lesbian, because I didn't talk much, because I was politically considered radically liberal (only because most of the population of the area is very conservative), because I had an odd gait, etc. etc. These were all reasons she told me I had to expect getting beaten up and insulted.

"I never asked to be popular. I just want to have what I am legally entitled to, and that is a safe educational environment." Ignored again. Not that it should have surprised me. She is, after all, the same counselor who told me, "There are three things you don't talk about: religion, politics, and space aliens." (UFOs were a special interest of mine.) To which the other, visiting counselor from the high school replied, "And abortion."

Such strange advice, considering that, outside of a close acquaintance or two, I did not in fact discuss any of these. Though, the first year of high school, I prided myself in engaging in intelligent conversations with my peers on these as well as a number of other subjects. But when it comes right down to it, when you rarely talk, and you never approach people you're not well acquainted with, you don't even get much opportunity to go at length on discussing interests. The only people I got to do that with, really, were my family.

If someone told a woman, "It's your fault you got raped because you're attractive - you have to expect that kind of treatment when you're attractive" wouldn't there be an outrage? Likewise, isn't telling someone that it's their fault they've been assaulted because they're autistic and look weird as much an outrage?

The problem here, is that the social control here implemented is implicit to the people and the institutions that run them. There needs to be watchdogs for this kind of discrimination. Every person should know that their rights in the school or in the workplace or out on the streets should be secured, regardless of neurological status. Such a thing should also cover people who don't have a diagnosis, but who have been made to feel that it is their fault for not conforming.

The main thing to get across here is that there is a difference between a person being unpopular and a person who is having crimes committed against them because of that unpopularity. Such a policy as I wrote isn't some attempt to make everybody feel like they're accepted by everybody else. Such is a noble goal, but it is not a goal that can be attained by passing a law. Attaining acceptance is the job of advocacy. The job of laws is legal protection.

If such a law were in place, I would not have been petrified night after night of what punishment the next day I might face for being who I cannot help but be - who I wouldn't want an alternative but to be. Such a law would mean that, while I know it is hard to be part of an "unwanted" class, a burden to the normal, "deserving" people, at least I will have assurance that it is really, truly not my fault.

The problem here is access. Students, particularly disabled students, need a clear route by which to access the safe education they are legally entitled to, and by consequence to the safe existence to which they are morally entitled. Just like we run tapes and distribute brochures to educate students about sexual harassment and their rights, we should actively reach out to students who are autistic or otherwise disabled, different, or considered damaged.

Until then, we will always have students providing a negative stimulus, and teachers and counselors reinforcing, and regardless of capacity or desire for change the students at the hands of such treatment will forever remain clinging to the chainlink fence in hopes of escaping to the other side.

29 December 2007

She'll Come Quietly, But Let's Grab Her Anyway

It was the day before school let off for winter break, and since I have to wait awhile (an hour usually) before school starts, I wanted to wait inside. This is fine, as during the first two weeks of December, the school administration lets us inside the first floor of the building.

What was not fine.

It was noisy. There were a number of students crowded in the lobby. I had a computer, an alphasmart, a camcorder, a tripod, a book bag and a purse, three items in each hand. And it was noisy.

It was too difficult to navigate my way outside, as there were so many people, and I was so disoriented that I would've probably dropped the equipment I was carrying (I didn't own the camcorder). So I stayed where I was, shifted myself to an area where not so many people were congregating, and I shut my eyes.

Even this, though, I couldn't concentrate enough effort to keep my stuff up in my hands (it was quite heavy). And I could still hear the unbearably loud noise, but because of the stuff I had to hold, I couldn't clasp my hands over my ears like usual.

So I dropped slowly down to the ground, set the stuff to the floor, and covered my ears.

Next thing I know, the guidance counselor is there in front of me, and while another administrator takes my stuff, she grabs me by my arm, leading me to her office. I fling my arm away, make a sound of anguish, and she grabs me again. I get out of it, and she grabs me again. And again. And again.

Now all this time, I'm fighting myself to not hit her. I keep my eyes closed. I struggle again and again, but also this is through a crowd of my peers. While I don't particularly care about what gets said about me, and there hasn't been any real bullying of me at this high school, I'd hate people to think I'm acting irrationally in not wanting to be led and grabbed by this woman who, while nice, doesn't seem to be getting something.

Except, she says she does. As I struggle to get out of her grasp, she says something along the lines of, "I know, you don't want me touching you." I get out of her grasp. She grabs me again. I get led to the office, which is much quieter and a better place to be, but why all this trouble?

What I don't understand is why was I forced through? I was not banging my head, or showing signs of being angry or aggressive. And during the time I was struggling, I was never running off or inflicting damage to her. I was trying to follow, as I had done before being forcibly picked up and removed.

None of it makes sense to me. I could understand the other counselor, who didn't know beans about responding to a person in distress, let alone anything about autism. But, unless I am drastically mistaken, this particular counselor is very privy to the fact that I am autistic, and I have been in regular contact with her regarding the scheduling of my classes and college preparation.

I'm not sure what I should do, let alone what could I do. I just feel wrong about all this, and have not made any attempt to describe, by writing or otherwise, this to anybody, even though it happened a couple of weeks ago.

15 December 2007

Tact and Advocacy

I sincerely would like to apologize about some of the insensitive people who claim to speak for the autistic community but in truth don't.

I am not strictly describing pro-cure NTs. There are also autistics who get on my nerves because not only are they narrow-minded, but they show no interest in expanding their understanding and perspective.

Of course these people are in the minority. It is unfortunate, however, that Alison Tepper Singer can be put on a video claiming to raise "awareness" as she describes the only reason she didn't kill her autistic daughter was because she had a normal daughter too and even be praised for her "courage", while a few narrow-minded autistics who state their views without presenting them in any kind of logically comprehensible OR emotionally sensitive way are demonized as "nasty self-advocates who want to take our kids' services away."

Like extreme views of anything, people are far too prone to get rigid and nasty about them, autistic or NT. I do not consider myself a "radical" or "extremist" for opposing the idea of cure. I tend to define these terms by the way a group or individual goes about achieving their goals. Of course, there are cases when the goals themselves are extremist and dangerous: who would argue that the advocacy for genocide, racist Social Darwinism, or war-mongering are not of themselves dangerous? Likewise, just because there are dangers to the ways that religious fundamentalists, such as of Christian and Islamic denominations, doesn't mean that everybody who is Christian or Muslim advocates for death to America or persecuting gays.

I hate it when autistics who don't have much of any of the disability aspect try to speak for everybody just as much as I hate it when non-autistic people try to speak for us. It's just no use.

On the Internet, I have encountered many pro-cure people who viciously attacked me even when I wrote about understanding that it can be very difficult for parents; my NT mother has had much trouble with me, and I do not have as many special needs as some others (such as, I can't brush my hair, but I can do toileting; I can speak, but often get overloaded and can't).

Remember everyone: assholes are assholes. Some of them happen to be autistic, some of them happen to be NT. It doesn't mean that either group is more prone to such attitudes.

Autism, while a disability that should receive supports, accommodations, and adaptive skills, should not be eradicated or looked at as wholly negative. I don't want a cure, but I also don't assume that the people who say they want one are bad parents/hate their kids/insert other stereotype.

I believe in diplomacy. This doesn't mean we have to be wishy-washy, roll-over-and-do-what-the-NTs-all-tell-us autistics. We can criticize the foundations of the ideas in favor of cure without resorting to ad hominem attacks on those who support it. Especially this is true since the word "cure" is often used to describe developing adaptive skills (such as speech and toileting), which I do not believe is cure.

While it is still very important that we not concede on helping parents to understand that being nonverbal is not a jail sentence, if the individual is capable and willing, some of these things are useful skills. We should focus more on the WAY the skills are taught, to see that they are not being coerced, that the individual is not made to feel inferior for "autistic behaviors." These, after all, are requisite to human equality, and I have no intention of conceding these goals, which need not be compromised by employing some empathy.

As to the divisions. They are Everywhere.

HFA, LFA, AS? Touch of AS? ND or curebie? Retards and computer geeks. I get pretty sick of it. Especially it annoys me when people use the word 'retard' as an insult. It is to me like using the word 'gay' as an insult. When I was in elementary school, I heard people say, "That is SO GAY - you're so GAY" so much that I preferred the word homosexual. It surprised me much when this summer I got my hands on a copy of The Advocate and some books about the gay rights movement, and I learned that the preferred term in the gay community is just that - gay. Why? Because 'homosexual' was too medicalized a term, one used often when it was a diagnosable disorder voted in by the APA and voted out again in 1973.

Why did I bring this up?

I am not sure at this point if I really forgot my topic or if I was trying to utilise a rhetorical strategy. In any case, the existence of a word alone does not make it offensive or acceptable. In fact, devoid of the usage and origin and other available context, a word has absolutlely no meaning, and is merely a string of the shapes of the letters to form it, and the sounds it would make if one were to produce it.

The problem lies with kids growing up thinking that if someone is gay or retarded, then they are less valuable and worth mocking. Growing up, I frequently got called both. I wonder how many grade-school kids get called "retarded lesbo?"

The fact is, whatever category people try to group me (or anybody else) into, to force-fit like the puzzle piece so many seem to think goes well with autistics into the narrow configuration so many would like to see me fit, I just can't, and I won't. Even though on the surface I resemble the math-and-science-obsessed Aspie stereotype, and that aspect of it is true, it is impossible to put someone in so narrow a box without losing a few chunks of the individual.

I tend to relate more to nonverbal auties who use a speech device than to the highly verbal aspie who has trouble with social skills. My social skills are actually pretty good; though eye contact and body language for me are atypical (in the case of eye contact, virtually nonexistent), and these are not instruments I use to augment my social understanding. Fortunately, the high school I attend is generally accepting of different people, so the fact that I spend 90%+ of my time at school rocking and moving my hands and occasionally getting up to pace, or those days in tae kwon do that I just can't speak at all, these don't affect friendships adversely for me. At my other school, where I repressed most of these behaviors to the best of my ability out of fear, I had the understanding of a select few, the sympathy of a few more onlookers who recognized injustice - most of whom did nothing to support my efforts, however.

So as we recognize that these labels are often used as dividing lines and demeaning labels, that we are not so simplistic as to fit them - no one is - we must also consider that not everybody is being a big NT meanie who wants to take away our rights and abort us. True, we cannot be weak and submissive, or we will only be worse than ignored, but being rude will work to this unfavourable end as well.

So please, I urge all budding activists, who seek to impact the posautive change that I have begun my journey to realize, to employ tact wherever it is necessary. Of course someone who outright insults you with an ad hominem attack loses that privilege, but where the individual is not making a direct attack that is meant to villify, then please employ this tact. It is difficult at times, and what helps me is to write my angry, emotional stuff down on a separate file, then post a logical, tactful reply. (Not that I always succeed - I am sure that I have slipped up. My crowning achievement in this area is when in response to a YouTube video in which a parent referred to the autism "epidemic" as a "slaughter" I kept my cool for a 500 word response limit.)