Thursday, February 28, 2008

Different Types of Social Skills

Awhile back I was chatting with my father about social skills. As an autistic person, I'm considered to be disabled in social skills, but really it's more like being a foreigner. I speak a different 'language'.
Anyway, the way I see it, there are three categories of social skills:
a) social skills based on applying your self-knowledge to others, on the assumption that they're like you. This is one of the big areas autistics have trouble with, not because we're unable to do this, but because it's ineffective. Unless I'm relating to another autistic person, chances are they don't feel the way I would in their situation. Actually, using this type of skills inappropriately is a big problem for many people, and one of the big reasons most people have no idea how to relate to an autistic person. Most people find early on that when they assume others are like them, they're often right. Other people differ from them in a few ways, but most of the time, doing unto others what you'd want done to yourself is a good idea. So when they meet up with one of the few people who really aren't like them, in fairly substantial ways, they have no clue what to do.
b) social skills based on observation of a certain person or group of people. This is one of the big ways that autistics tend to compensate for being different. Temple Grandin describes herself as an 'Anthropologist on Mars' because she is analyzing people similarly to an anthropologist in her attempt to figure out how to relate to them. Neurotypical people also do this, as they learn cultural traditions, but not quite as pervasively.
c) the last set of skills are ones that apply to everyone. Partly, these are skills in paying attention and noticing patterns. Also, allowing other people to define themselves, listening to them however they communicate. And treating them like an individual. These skills, incidentally, contribute greatly to your ability to develop the b) skills for a particular person.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ethics of 'Mercy Killing'

Robert Latimer recently tried to get parole, but was denied because he showed no remorse. He's a man who locked his daughter in his truck and piped in carbon monoxide until she died. He freely admitted to doing it and has always maintained that it was for her own good. Why? Because Tracy had severe cerebral palsy.

Tracy could not speak and had minimal movement. At 12 years old, she was considered to be at the developmental level of a 3 month old. She had contractures and similar painful physical problems caused by lack of movement and spasticity. She'd received several surgeries. At the time of her death, doctors had been trying to convince her father to consent to her receiving surgery on her hip because spasticity had caused her hip to become dislocated. Her father felt that she would want to be put out of her suffering.

Let's assume we've decided that assisted suicide is OK (by assisted suicide, I mean a person specifically requesting and receiving assistance to kill themselves). Let's also assume that Tracy Latimer was indeed in significant pain. Did Robert Latimer do the right thing?

One big consideration when consenting to treatment (or lack of treatment) on behalf of someone who can't express their own desires is what you think they'd want. If you use the same standard for proxy consent to assisted suicide, then whether Tracy would want to live or die is a crucial question. Can you assume, based on her chronic pain, that she'd want to die?

I've heard of an autistic woman. Like Tracy, she can't speak. Like Tracy, she has chronic pain, due to a variety of physical problems such as migraines, hypermobility and a nerve problem causing agonizing facial pain.

Unlike Tracy, this woman, Amanda Baggs, can communicate her own desires. She types. Does she want assisted suicide? As she says in this post - no. Most emphatically no. In an earlier post, she stated that she didn't want people thinking of her as 'happier now' in an afterlife where she is nondisabled.

In conclusion, even if you support assisted suicide (I don't think I do, though I can't explain why), no one can make that decision for someone else. Robert Latimer, you have no idea if Tracy really wanted to die. You projected your stereotypes of what a life like hers was like, and made the decision for her. For all you know, she was silently begging for her life as you killed her.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, February 25, 2008

Radical Feminist Therapy

I've read a lot about various therapies. My biggest problem with many of them is that they take society for granted. They assume that what the majority likes is probably good, and what the majority dislikes is probably bad.
Which is why I was excited when, in a local used book place, I saw a book on Radical Feminist Therapy (by Bonnie Burstow). I thought 'they won't take society for granted'. I was right.
Although I don't agree with everything in that book - for example, the claim that the majority of women are naturally lesbian and are socialized into heterosexuality, or that autonomy should take precedence over preventing suicide - there's a lot I found very valuable.
Firstly, she discusses what she calls the 'just-like-us' scripts. She describes three types. The first, the 'liberal just-like-us' script, is described as such:

"The paradigmal liberal-scripted woman sees all ideology as dangerous and believes that she has no ideology. While acknowledging that injustice exists and occasionally fighting against it, she believes that society is essentially just and that for the most part we need only point out injustices and appeal to people's better nature and everything will be okay. Insofar as she acknowledges and protests against severe injustice, it is generally in some other part of the world and in reference to an oppressed group to which she does not belong. She believes that all positions are equally flawed, that there is equal right and wrong in just about everything anyone says, and that everyone has an equal burden to bear."

The part about how liberal-scripted view injustice is a good example of what I call 'taking society for granted'.
Regarding everyone having equal right and wrong, I think everyone is right about some things and wrong about others, but not to equal degrees. Some people see the truth better than others, often because the others are taking society for granted and won't or can't challenge basic assumptions.

"A second type of just-like-us script I call 'honorary just-like-us scripts.' The woman with this script has been assigned and has accepted attributes that are traditionally identified with the oppressor. She has been treated like an 'exception' by one or more significant others who belong to the oppressor group. And she has been rewarded for joining with them in belittling the oppressed group to which she actually belongs... The honorary guy is in an enormously precarious and frustrating position. Being even more critically divided from women than the traditional woman is, she has no women friends on whom to rely. She keeps finding herself fundamentally betrayed. 'Inexplicably' she is periodically robbed of her 'male' status and is demoted to 'women' again... As counselors we need to understand and validate this woman's pain and her anger. She has been harmed dreadfully. Her very ability to question traditional women's roles is being used to deceive her."

Though the comparison doesn't fit exactly, this reminds me a bit of the 'shiny autistics'. Many 'shiny autistics' are among the relative minority of autistics who have the most mainstream views of autism. For example, in Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone, the autistic in that book who had the worst view of autism was one of the only two who are relatively well-known by 'curebies' - Sue Rubin. Most of the autistics in that book were much more positive about their autism. All agreed that inability to communicate is a big problem, but many described wanting to be accepted as they are instead of hoping for a cure, and many mentioned positive aspects of autism.
Regarding the 'ability to question traditional women's roles', the 'shiny autistics' are often held up as breaking stereotypes because they are viewed as 'able disabled' instead of 'unable disabled' (or, as Cal Montgomery put it, as Mary instead of Bruce).
One important difference is that 'shiny autistic' is a less voluntary position. Many autistics may be forced into that role, and rather than not expressing controversial views, they are just selectively ignored or misinterpreted when they do. As I get to know more of Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadyay's (the other relatively well-known contributor to Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone) writing, I see that his view on autism is much more accepting than the way he is typically portrayed. Partly because of his unusual way of expressing himself (like many nonverbal autistic typists, his language differences are evident in his typing, and there is also a cultural barrier for Westerners because he is Indian) and partly, I suspect, for political gain, many of those who discuss him and review his books portray autism as much worse than he does while appearing to agree with him. To a lesser extent, Amanda Baggs has also experienced this, though she fights it well. If you look at how CNN portrays her, it is more mainstream than how she describes herself. (For example, Amanda Baggs never refers to herself as being trapped inside herself, which is a comment the reporter gives when she hits herself - 'such a bright woman, so trapped'.)

"The attributes that the 'liberal' members of the dominant group impose on people with keep-it-hidden scripts are fairness, discretion and the attributes of the dominant liberal group. Injunctions and other messages that are given include the following:
  • Act like us 'in public.'
  • You are totally okay only as long as you act like us 'in public.'
  • All members of your group are totally okay only as long as they act like us 'in public.'
  • Not acting like us 'in public' is unfortunate, indiscreet, and blameworthy.
  • We are bing nice by accepting you the way we do.
  • If we did not accept you or you did not appreciate us for accepting you, you would not be totally okay, so do appreciate us for being nice and compliment us when you can.
  • Although you can see or imply that your group is being oppressed by other members of the dominant group, do not see or imply that you are being oppressed by us liberals."

Examples she gives are 'apples' (Native people who act white) and lesbians who downplay their sexuality when around straight people (eg by not being affectionate to their partner in public). I think this pattern is extremely common among disabled people. One woman with a spinal abnormality describes doing this until she became pregnant. I have experienced the pressure not to act autistic, particularly with those who don't know I'm autistic but even with those who do. The only people I stim in front of without it being an effort and scary are my parents and some developmentally disabled people.

This post is getting pretty long, so I think I'll stop and comment on other parts of the book at another time.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why I'm Not Offended

Recently, I found a book in the library called Changeling, by Delia Sherman. It's at the perspective of Neef, a child stolen by fairies at a young age. I'm not going to reveal too much of the plot, but she ends up meeting the fairy created to replace her, who she nicknames Changeling. Changeling has meltdowns, hates changes in plan, is very literal and rule-bound, hates to be touched, is great with computers, has an excellent memory and has received assistance in social skills from a psychologist.
I looked up the entry for that book on (see above) and read the comments. Many people guessed, probably rightly so, that Changeling's personality is modeled after autistic people. Apparently in the acknowledgements Delia Sherman thanked someone for teaching her about Asperger Syndrome (I rarely read the acknowledgements). It's very likely, therefore, that Changeling was intended to be autistic or autistic-like.
One person on commented:

"I did have a bit of a problem with the book equating Asperger's Syndrome with Changlings. It seemed a risky correlation for Ms. Sherman to make. She's never blatant about it, of course, but a quick examination of Changeling's personality (she says that when she was younger she needed a therapist to help her develop social skills) coupled with the note in the book's Acknowledgment section that reads that someone, "gave me an invaluable education on Asperger's Syndrome", was enough to put my hair on end. We don't really want to equate Asperger's with someone being physically from another world, do we?"

This made me think. Why am I not offended by this comparison, when I'm offended by many other similar portrayals of autistic people?
The reason is the way Delia Sherman portrays Changeling. Changeling is portrayed pretty well. My biggest criticism was that she could've had more self-determination, and portrayed Changeling as being more able to speak for herself and having more ability to make effective choices, though partly it could just be that Neef was more used to the environment they were in than Changeling was. But Changeling's unique qualities turn out to be essential to their success and probably their survival, and Neef and Changeling become good friends.
My favorite part is a section (don't have the book so I can't quote it) in which someone tells Neef that people like Changeling are useless. Their sole purpose is to replace humans stolen away, so the humans don't notice. Fairy folk don't want them because they have little magic, and even the humans don't really like them - they used to abuse or kill them, and now they try to force them to conform. Neef indignantly stands up for Changeling, asserting that she is valuable.
I think this book is one of those admirable books that take a harmful tradition (in this case the portrayal of disabled children as a 'stolen' normal child replaced by an 'empty shell' or as Martin Luther stated, a soulless 'massa carnis') and twists it around to make it positive. And the biggest test is 'how is this likely to affect how autistics are treated?' I think it's likely to be a pretty positive effect, if anything.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nation States game

I just started playing the NationStates game. Here's my country. Not much to do so far.

PS: is anyone reading my blog anymore?


Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Just writing to mention that I found a bunch of changeling folktales:

British changeling stories
German changeling stories
Scandinavian changeling stories

It's often theorized now that those stories referred to developmentally disabled people, especially autistic people. Chilling, when you think of how they were generally treated in those tales and how they were viewed.

[Edit: here's another story.]

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Madness or Early Death

[Warning: plot spoiler. I can't think of any way to get my point across without giving away the ending of this book.]
I recently got a book called Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier. In this story, a girl, Reason Cansino, was living with her mother Sarafina. They were constantly on the run from Sarafina's mother Esmerelda, who according to Sarafina tortured and killed animals and babies in order to do nonexistant magic. Then, when Sarafina has a mental breakdown, Reason is sent to live with her grandmother.
In the course of the book, Reason discovers that magic is real, and that she has magic. If she doesn't use her magic, she will eventually go crazy like her mother and her friend Tom's mother. However, the more magic she uses, the shorter her life expectancy. On a monument to her family, the women listed died at 18, 20, 21, 14, 5, 19, 20, 25, 12, 16, 27, 20 and 48 years old.
The 'madness' that comes from not doing magic in this stories sounds somewhat like schizophrenia. Both Sarafina and Tom's mother tried to hurt themselves and/or others in the episodes that resulted in hospitalization. Tom describes his mother's episode as such:

"'Did she hurt you badly?' asked Reason. 'When she tried to kill you?' She looked concerned, which made Tom squirm. He didn't much enjoy people feeling sorry for him.
'No, Dad got there first. She was waving a knife around saying that she'd kill us. She cut Cathy [his sister], but Dad reckons it was an accident. Cath's got a scar on her shoulder, it's tiny, but.'"

Earlier, he says about her:

"She kept trying to kill herself. Then one time when I was little, she tried to kill me and Cathy too. So she's in Kalder Park now... Mum would never take her meds, ... She thinks they put devils in her head."

Sarafina, too, had had multiple episodes before being hospitalized:

"Sarafina talked to people who weren't there. She insisted we walk in straight lines, for days at a time. Sometimes she got confused, wasn't sure where or who she was. Then I would lead her back to the hotel room or caravan or campsite - wherever it was we were staying - and explain where we were and why and give Sarafina a mathematical or logical problem to solve. She always could. Solving the problem would bring her back. Her episodes never lasted long, and until Dubbo she'd never been scary mad."

In the hospital when Reason visited, Sarafina kept on talking about her mother and acting as if she couldn't hear Reason's replies unless they fit what she wanted to discuss. She didn't give sufficient context for Reason to understand her, so that when she gave Reason directions to find a dead cat hidden in Esmerelda's cellar, Reason thought she was discussing a person. Then Sarafina said "It's not too bad, ... Being insane. It's not too bad at all. There are worse things. It's pretty here."
After thinking about this book, I wondered why anyone would use magic at all. Though clearly the mental illness that results from not using magic is unpleasant, it's clearly better than dying in your teens or twenties. Even the length of time before Sarafina had her breakdown was longer than that, so if you treated mental illness as equivalent to death Sarafina was likely still better off. And as she states, mental illness is not constant unending suffering. She clearly felt it was better than death.
The only way they could justify choosing magic and early death over mental illness is if they view being mentally ill as worse than death. This is an attitude which is not only wrong but very dangerous, because a logical conclusion of the 'better dead than disabled' view is that killing disabled people does them a favour.

Labels: , , ,