I was confronted by my difficulties last week, and I did not appreciate it! I was in a work environment with new colleagues and attending professional development (PD) around education and Aspergers (and HFA according to the handouts). Now, I have to say the PD was good, very good, but the first part was all about the difficulties that kids on the spectrum have, and there were also adults talked about. I am used to sitting in PD listening to people talk about my label/diagnosis in a negative way but usually I switch off due to the huge inaccuracies being spouted as fact, and this switch off enables me to continue feeling just fine thank you.
The problem was, this PD was not full of inaccuracies, those difficulties they were talking about, I had and still have those. They put up a picture of a scruffy girl outside a principal’s office and said that the young adults on the spectrum suggested that x, y or z was being depicted, whereas ‘we all know that the girl was in a fight which she won’. Really, all of us? Nope little aspie me had read y into that, and pretty impressed I was too with my thoughts. Clearly she was in trouble for uniform infractions, her uniform looked terrible. I am stunned that other people saw something so different. A fight? She won it?! What? How? When? But then, that was clearly due to my weak central coherence or mindblindness…. I got more and more distressed because the examples they gave of these matched my own experiences not the glumpf (made up word for made up rubbish) that many so called experts put forth.
I was so distressed I asked them to please mention our potential and our skills after the break. To be honest they did, and already had, but I was caught up in my distress that the educators around me were hearing deficits and more deficits and more deficits, so I didn’t hear the stress on skills and potential – which was there.
When I talked to my partner about it, it was suggested that I, like most people, don’t like to hear myself framed negatively. The next suggestion was, “embrace your differences, you have so much to offer.” Indeed that was the underlying point of the PD, if the difficulties inherent in the autism spectrum are understood and people/kids supported to maximise their potential, they will achieve that potential. The skills that are inherent in the autism spectrum need to be valued and used so that kids can grow into confident adults who are able to be capable whether or no they live independently or with continued support.
I do not see myself as a deficit, I do not see others on the autism spectrum as deficits but we are very different. Our neurology means we see things differently, problem solve differently, respond to the world differently, which makes us a valuable part of wider society. But, it does help if support is given to help us reach our potential, just like it does for all kids/people. I guess the difference is that kids who are not on the spectrum are understood by most of their teachers, whereas kids on the spectrum are less understood by most of the teachers. I liked that these presenters talked about autism spectrum experiences as real, valid and just the way it is. They helped educators not on the spectrum to understand that observed behaviour does not always indicate what people think (especially people not on the spectrum) and that support needs to be INDIVIDUALISED for each child/adult on the spectrum.
Finally, these two presenters helped me to understand myself a little more, to understand the huge difference between my interpretations of the world and theirs. The gulf between how spectrum and non-spectrum people interpret social situations is huge. I knew it was big, but now I realise it is MASSIVE. I think that the more lived experience examples are shared between the two groups, the greater the understanding will be. Understanding does not need to be underlined by value judgements – in constructivism it is a given that knowledge is a construct arrived at by the interaction of person and other person/place/time/environment etc and thus there is no one truthful way of knowing, there are a myriad of equally valid ways of knowing.
An example of this is: parking in a multi-story car park….
When we are trying to find a car parking space in the car park, if I am driving it takes several floors to find a space because I focus on EVERYTHING in the car park; the lights, the cars, the walls, the ceiling, the textures, colours, smells etc and I can’t/won’t park next to a car that is over the line or is a 2hour parking if we might be 2 hours and 5 minutes etc. If my partner is driving, we are parked within minutes. She only sees spaces and not spaces, thats it. Neither of these is ‘more valid’ than the other, one is more useful than the other in some contexts. Space not space is fantastic if there are no additional restrictions for certain spaces (disabled, mother/baby, 30 minute etc), in these instances noticing everything can save a large parking fine.
I suspect the world is like that – for some things not being on the spectrum is easier and more useful and for others it is advantage to be on the spectrum. Not everyone on the spectrum is going to end up lecturing at university or working in Silicon Valley, but with the right supports from childhood everyone on the spectrum should be able to live happily and well.