Thursday, November 7, 2013

Taking the Autism/Atheism Connection Too Far

A very belated post---but nonetheless---

A while back, I commented on a study that had come out that found a correlation between autistic adults and lack of religious beliefs (or unconventional beliefs) I thought it fit with my own observations of autistic people I've met (including myself) and that how we think doesn't always fit in with mainstream religions. I was concerned though, that this might lead to people jumping to conclusions (Correlation DOES NOT equal causation, people!) and lead to further stigmatizing of both groups.

Yup. I was right. Fehmi Kaya, a  Turkish doctor has claimed that autism causes atheism, that a deficiency in the autistic brain misses the ability to believe, and children need "therapy" to help them become religious. And to boot, he is no ordinary doctor, but the leader of Turkey's Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children. Of course this caused an uproar among scientists, family members, autistics, educators as well as atheist/humanist/agnostic and religious communities, and Kaya has apologized though I suppose he may still privately hold these views.There is a panoply of responses on both autism, atheist and religion focused blogs. The Friendly Atheist sums it up well.

This is damaging to both autistic and non-religious people. It is completely unscientific- though there is some speculation about brain activity and religious experience- it is just that- mostly preliminary speculation and research.  In addition to being obviously insulting to the intelligence and agency of people with autism (of any kind) it is also, from a religious viewpoint implying that we are spiritually inferior, created as lesser beings.

 I take the position that religion itself is of neutral value- throughout human history and today, religions have inspired great artistic and musical beauty, a search for wisdom, the spread of literacy and charity and social justice work. They have also been used to justify war, conquest, oppression and the suppression of knowledge and science. I think we would be doing most of these things regardless of whether religion was involved, because either way, we are human and capable of  Likewise, secular or non-theistic ideologies have been put to both good and evil ends.

On the other side, there also a view that autistic people (and folks with other types of disabilities) are somehow more spiritual or have some special wisdom and are inherently sweet and innocent. This is a seemingly kindler, gentler more New Agey cousin to the Noble Savage- instead of the "magical Negro" we have the "magical retard" and it leads to a condescending attitude.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Silly, and Stupid Practices in K-12

Seriously, Do They Still Do That? Things in K-12 That Really Need to Go
Since I haven't really been directly in touch with K-12 schools since I graduated high school in 2001, I don't know how common the following practices still are in St. Paul and Minneapolis but they are probably are all in use somewhere. I also attended elementary school in 3 different states, and 4 different schools- Preschool & Kindergarten in Lewiston, Idaho, Grades 1 & 2 in Topeka, Kansas, and 3rd-7th in Dubuque, Iowa (at 3 different schools) and high school at a regular one for 3 years, and a charter school for 2 in St. Paul, Minnesota. So my experiences vary broadly.
This is listed in order of what I think of, not by priority-
  • School Fund-raisers for Kids- all those programs (usually presented by private companies who get a cut) where the students are pressured to sell junk food, holiday d├ęcor or other stuff no-one really wants but is guilt-tripped into buying. My parents didn't allow me to
    In reality, these as well as Girl Scout cookies and such, fall on the shoulders of the parents. They take the order forms into work and annoy their friends and co-workers. Then the kids get prizes or badges for being the best salespeople, when actually their parents are just the best wheedlers or social networkers. Though I suppose that is a good sociology lesson about privilege vs. actual truly competitive capitalism. And of course the families or neighborhood schools with more money can contribute more to this, leading to even more inequality. Which leads me to-
  • Funding Schools with Property Taxes Yes, I know. It's Always Been Done This Way. Tradition! Every five years or so there is a referendum in St. Paul to raise property taxes, and like a good liberal I vote for it, in spite of the fact that I don't pay them. Because somehow, everyone has the money for this, right? Even all those seniors on fixed incomes, or all those people who lost their jobs? I am not expecting the state or the Feds to totally pay for public education. What I think should be done is these larger forms of government need to make up the different between Edina and Minneapolis or Minnesota and Mississippi and maybe even give poorer areas more money. I know this is done to some degree but it needs to be done more- go read Jonathan Kozol's book Savage Inequalities to see what I mean. But this is socialism! Paying for Their Kids is Their Personal Responsibility. By that logic childless people or empty-nesters shouldn't have to pay for it (though some of them might in favor of that) Children are primarily the responsibility of their parents, but these kids are our neighbors, our relatives, and our future fellow citizens, employees and business owners. They affect you even if the live at the other end of the country, heck even if they live in another country. Oh, yeah and the ones who will support you in your later years, even if they're not your kids. So be nice, or they might not be so forgiving if they know you didn't help them when they needed you the most.
  • Pull-out/”Supplementary” Gifted and Talented Programs- this is really a cheap and token sop towards highly intelligent students and their parents. I could say the same of many pull-out programs as a whole. But what G & T students really need is accelerated curriculum, so they can have schoolwork that challenges their minds, rather than being bored most of the day, and having one hour with some special activity. Many of these students are underachievers, and thus are never identified, because they are so bored with the regular classes that they do not pay attention or make an effort. Many of them also have different learning styles like AD/HD, dyslexia and autism. As a result of all these problems many highly intelligent and talented people in our society end up under-employed. What a waste!

  • Cursive Hand-writing- I was talking with a teacher a while back and she mentioned that they still teach this. What?! Why don't they teach 1950's style shorthand while they're at it? We do have a modern version of short hand that is used online and in texting.c. At any rate, I remember she defended it by saying that students need to have their own unique signatures so they can't be forged. All a signature requires is bad hand-writing which all these kids have anyway. And these days, things are moving more towards fingerprint, retina scans, and pretty soon we'll all have our own QVC codes. We do still need to learn to print well for writing notes, filling out forms, etc. Instead of wasting time on this, let's teach them to print legibly and learn that how to write and speak academically and professionally vs. the latest online/texting lingo. I feel bad for all the immigrants who are trying to learn English.
  • Pep Rallies: Or I, the Principal, Dub thee Sir Football Captain
    This is another weird holdover from the 1950's held to supposedly promote “school spirit” consisting mostly of worshiping sports teams. Assemblies are a more logical event to be holding for relevant information/news to students and staff. Sometimes they are also held in response or to commemorate some occasion or current event- like the latest school shooting. So, about once a month. 
  • Amusingly, some workplaces (particularly retail) have pep rallies for their employees. At my company we have a morning “rally” and at Jo-Ann's we had “team huddles” Extra funny for workplaces mostly consisting of women. At Wal-Mart I have heard they actually do cheers. So it is great preparation for the "real world" after all! 
  • Bullying, and Anti-Bullying Programs that are also a joke. When the anti-bullying movement arose, I remember thinking resentfully thinking, oh sure now they're doing something about it. Some spiteful part of me thought if I went thru it they should too, and maybe “kids these days” are just wimpier but then I realized how unfair that was, and this has become so normalized in our culture that we just consider it a regular part of childhood. Many conservatives are getting mad about the whole thing, suspecting that it's really a part of this evil Liberal Pro-Gay Anti-Christian conspiracy. They are right, in part about the pro-gay thing, but aside from that I really think it's based on a masculine might makes right, suck it up and deal with it, worldview. A stink is also made about how it's really the parents' responsibility to teach their kids good values . I agree with this, but even parents who try their best can end up with brats and serial killers, and awful abusive parents can end up with Nobel Peace Prize winners. Once again, the schools have to deal with it, regardless of what the parents do. To be continued...
  • The Whole Concept of Junior High/Middle School I never understood the point of having a school that only lasts for 2 or maybe 3 years (No, I don't mean community college) While I'm in general opposed to gender-segregated education, I think this age group would actually be a good exception. Face it- puberty sucks. Girls go thru it first, and are noticeably socially and emotionally more mature than boys, even when the boys are getting thru puberty. 6th-9th grade at the broadest. It's possible this may exacerbate bullying, however, since most bullying in my experience happens among the same gender. Oh, and around this age, please get them vaccinated for HPV- both Susie and Billy. This, and comprehensive sex ed in general, do not encourage kids to have sex. It teaches them the risks and avoids the forbidden fruit phenomenon that results in rebellion and exploring without knowing how to protect themselves. Even if they are pure virgins at the altar, hubby or wifey may have an unpleasant surprise from a previous relationship, or cheat on you. STI/STD tests are always a good idea before you start having sex with someone.
  • History Classes that are all about Wars- and White Guys I find history, both American and globally to be fascinating, but particularly in junior high it was all about wars. In our culture, they are supposed to be fun spectator sports, complete with chest-beating tribalism, but I just found them boring. Civil War. World War II. Revolutionary War. Yeah, I get the idea. Funny, thing too, they never teach about the ones that we lost. History curriculum has become increasingly multicultural, but at least in my experience, it was often a token inset, or Black History Month- generally about the same people- MLK, George Washington Carver.

  • Over-Priced Yearbooks/Class Rings Jostens is an evil company that has a monopoly on yearbooks and class rings. I don't know if they make ones for colleges, but I wouldn't be surprised. It is actually not that hard to produce your own book at an office supply/printing store like Staples, Office Max or FedEx Kinko's, or online print on demand companies. Those rings are just plain tacky- they look like something a pimp would wear (at least the men's) Then, sometime after you graduate- No One Cares. You don't care. And the ring ends up in some drawer gathering dust. Save your money for interview/work clothes, college tuition and moving expenses.

That's all I have for now- end rant!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Younger Siblings and Autism

Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of evidence that the chance of a child being born with autism is much higher if they have an older sibling on the spectrum. In fact, as more data has become available, this probability is understood to be even higher than previously thought. In addition, non-autistic siblings often imitate autistic behaviour. In the early 90's when time my brother and I were diagnosed, autism "experts" my parents encountered were often interested in study our genetics make-up. Parents who had an autistic child frequently stopped having more, so we were a rarity.

Over the years as I've met more families with autism, I've noticed that younger siblings often seem to have stronger autistic symptoms- such as more speech and developmental delays than their older autistic brothers and sisters. My younger brother and Dan's were both delayed in speech, whereas were considered quite precocious. Dan went straight from Dr. Seuss to National Geographic while his brother struggled to read. So why is this?

If a child proves more difficult to raise, parents may wait longer to have another child, thus increasing the likelihood of disability in the next.  My brother and I are 3 years apart, as are Dan & his brother, and our mothers were both 30 when the had us. So not considered old enough to be risky. Are the parents a little worn out raising the first, so they are a little less conscientious with the second? My dad has joked that its the reverse- that the first child is a sort of "guinea pig" and with the second kid the parents know what they are doing more!

Of course this isn't always the case, I've certainly plenty of autistic kids with younger non-autistic siblings (though frequently they have traits, or related disabilities like AD/HD- and one or both or the parents- often identified after the child with more severe symptoms has been. It's interesting to see the reaction of the parents when another child is labelled (older or younger) Sometimes they are more accepting, in other cases more resistant. (Nooo- why can't I have a "normal" kid!)

I'd be interested in other people's observations and experiences- Please share them below, or post a link to your own blog or website.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sensitive Language for Oppressed Groups: Who Decides?

I was raised in the early 90's, as there was a rising awareness of multiculturalism and efforts toward gender equality in the workplace and society as a whole- with accompanying controversies. The culture wars raged around me, demanding that I take a side. My parents were active in the peace and civil rights movements in the 80's and 90's (being a little young during the beginnings of these movements. So I learned to use words like "African American" and "chairperson" (chair sounds like a piece of furniture to me) But I wonder, where do these terms come from, who decides they are better to use? . Since "political correctness" is a derogatory phrase coined by the Right in the United States, for lack of a better term I'll say "sensitive language for oppressed groups" Long-winded, but it gets the concept across.

Some words like the "n-word" and the "r-word"  are agreed to be offensive by most people, even those who are less politically or culturally savvy. Others, while not as blatantly offensive, mostly just sound old-fashioned, and insensitive if said in a certain way. Homosexual is a neutral term by itself, though most use gay or lesbian, and I typically hear "homosexual" being used in anti-gay rhetoric.

Advocacy groups, and academics who think and write about various "isms" and the connotations of language usage, are the ones who coin these words for the most part. The problem is that it is rather elitist to expect most people outside of these settings to know and use these terms. I would not know many of these things if I had not been raised by educated activist parents, and gone to a liberal arts college. How many people would know for example, that they should use "little person" instead of "midget" to refer to very short people- without having watched or heard of the reality show "Little People Big World".

So I think we need to be careful to understand where others are coming from when it comes to their language usage in these areas. Polite correction, without condescencion, and suggestions of books and resources to learn more about groups that we are unfamiliar with is much more helpful that accusing a well-meaning person of racism/sexism/ableism etc. Also not every individual in a particular identity group is going to be aware of or prefer to be called by the latest term. It's often amused me that in spite of all the white teachers who have told us to say "African-American" and "Native American", the folks I meet typically call themselves Black and Indian or American Indian.  It makes the most sense to me to use the terms members of the groups use themselves (aside from "reclaimed" words that they use among themselves) and simply being (gasp!) being respectful.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Will the Real Service Dog Please Stand Up?

Canine Companions for Independence, the nation's largest breeder/trainer/distributor of service dogs, has issued a petition to the Justice Dept- calling for the outlaw of false service dog vests and certificates.

Apparently in another one of those "ethically questionable things you didn't know people did til the Internet came along" there are people out there selling these items, and perhaps dogs that aren't properly trained to go with them. So, being disabled is cool now? Not so much- but being able to take your dog places otherwise not allowed is- or at least more convenient for you.

In addition to dishonesty, this misuse of service dog disguises for regular pets jeopardizes the inclusion of service dogs in public spaces. People with disabilities have fought long and hard for public accommodations and we still struggle with defending and extending the rights we have. Currently users of service dogs are not required to carry documentation (though other types of service animals are) but that may become restricted if there is more suspicion of the animals' status.
Potentially this could also lead to folks who need service dogs getting ones that are not properly trained.

So- go sign the petition!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Avoiding Dead-end Trails &Traps on the Job Hunt

One thing about being autistic is that we can often be rather naive and gullible
Fortunately, my critical thinking skills have helped me avoid some of the traps set up for people desperate to find a job.

Resume-Writing services- this is a waste of money, there are loads of books, free workshops and such available. Writing a good resume is not that hard, you do not need to hire someone else to do it.

Multi-Level Marketing- A.K.A. Pyramid Schemes that are Legal for Some Reason. Guess what? You can make lots of money if you recruit all your friends to sell this gadget!   I have come across these at job fairs, and gone to a couple of presentations that turned out to be MLMs- I even had a friend tried to sell me on one.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
There are a lot of "front groups" for Amway in particular (like Quixtar). Put a note on your profiles on job websites saying that you are not interested in them.

Commission-Only (or mostly) Sales Rep jobs- Often these are products most people don't want anyway- like kitchen knives.  As with the MLMs it will also likely result in annoying & alienating many or your friends/family.  I think high-pressure sales in general is a bad bet for folks on the spectrum, it involves a tricky kind of social interaction & sometimes...presenting things in ways that aren't entirely honest. Not saying dishonest exactly- just not full-blown Aspie honesty.

Self-Help Workshops that charge lots of money- (and some that don't) Some of these claim to help you learn to be a better, more confident job candidate or help you find deep, dark suppressed emotional problems that you don't actually have.
Get a real therapist if you need one.

Lousy Job Fairs- First off, job fairs are likely to be noisy, crowded and thus not autistic friendly.  I've gone to a few good job fairs but most were mediocre at best. Some were more like Education Fairs- usually mostly for-profit colleges. Maybe you do need more education/training, but get guidance on this at a career center of some sort, not those who are trying to sell it.  No matter what they say, you probably don't need an MBA.  Others are mostly temp agencies. Temp agencies are OK to make some money while looking for something permanent or to gain transferable skills, but why bother going to a job fair to meet with them? Go to a job fair to meet with actual employers.  A well-organized job fair will list at least some of them on their website or brochure.
Networking & comparing "war stories" with the other job-seekers you meet might actually be more useful.

In general, research companies, ask around in your social network. Keep in mind, however that there are always more current or former employees complaining about their workplaces so adjust your perceptions accordingly.

Job Websites/Organizations

Since graduating from college, I've held a smattering of different volunteer & internship positions and temporary jobs. It's fun giving tours for Erik's Ranch, but of course I still need a Real Job (tm) preferably one suitable for a 31-year-old with learning disabilities & a college degree. Pretty tricky. Well, here are some resources I have found for job-hunting and their pros & cons.

LinkedIn - this is the Facebook of the professional world- but don't use it like FB, Connect with human beings you've actually worked, networked & interviewed with. There is a paid version that allows you who has looked at your profile and other features but I haven't tried it. If anyone else reading this has, let me know how useful you've found its features to be.

MyJobmatcher British-based website, but it has jobs around the world. You post your resume, it will search the Net for job descriptions that seem to match it & e-mail them to you. Employers may as well.
Another nice thing is that it excludes multi-level marketing and commission only sales positions.
Possibly the biggest job website out there. You can search based on a bunch of different criteria, and there are various tools and advice articles. Since there are so many, I suggest picking several so you don't get too many results.
You can also post more than one resume, though only one is viewable by others at a time. Not very much for non-profits, but of course there are fewer jobs in that sector. Also, they have great job fairs.

Indeed- search engine, good for looking for very specific positions. So more useful to someone further along in their career.

NAACPjobfinder- There is a Diversity Job Fair on MLK day every year in St. Paul, sponsored by the NAACP, so that's how I found this.

Craigslist- May be of use for finding odd jobs (baby/house/pet care, housework) as well as more regular work, as well as advertising your own services. If it's being offered by an individual, rather than a company, treat it like online dating- go meet with the person in a public building and check them out. Bring another person with you to be extra safe.

Will post more reviews/descriptions as I come across them.