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A Guest Is Coming

  • Posted on May 25, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Perhaps it’s too early to be saying this, since I haven’t gotten confirmation of when the first post will be ready, but I have a guest blogger coming.  I hope to put her first post up on Monday.

I haven’t done much with guest bloggers in the past, but I strongly believe that a key ingredient to productive dialogue is to get two or more people with different points of view to discuss their similarities and differences in a respectful manner.  The objective is not to change people’s minds, but to expand them: to fill in gaps of knowledge we may not even know we have, to correct misinformation we think is true, to share different points of view, and to find—if possible—middle ground we can walk together, and, when that’s not possible, to agree to disagree on those things we disagree on and to agree to cooperate on those things we agree on.

Granted, this is not always possible.  I remember all too well some of the recent debacles in exchanging points of view in the greater autism community.  But I believe I’ve found a stimulating guest who is genuinely interested in sharing her knowledge and learning from those who respond—both “ingredients” are necessary, I think.

She’s a researcher.  She’s “for” curing autism, though what she means by that may not be what I (we?) assume she means by that.  She’s also “for” neurodiversity, though, again, what she means by that may not be what I (we?) mean by that.  Really, she’s for improving the lives of those with autism, and she wants to learn—from parents and people with autism—what that means and what it doesn’t mean.  And that, if nothing else, is something we have in common.  How we view the issues of autism may be different, and I already know that some of them are, but our hope (though, not necessarily our goals) is similar.  That’s something we can build upon.

How this will work, then, is for me to post (unedited) her point of view.  Moderated discussion will ensue (I hope): no disrespectful, mean, derogatory, or troll-like comments allowed.  You can disagree.  You can disagree adamantly.  But do so respectfully, on topic—and definitely not “on person.”  Then, I’ll respond in a post of my own.  This exchange will go back and forth—we’re not sure how long.  We’ll see how it goes.  Again, comments will be moderated.  Be respectful and civil and you’ll get through.  Be a spammer or a troll, and you won’t.  I hope you enjoy this new endeavor!

Joining in Effort

  • Posted on January 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I don’t know why, but my browser really hates The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.  While I don’t share my browser’s animosity, it does impede my access to the site.  So, instead of trying to comment there, I will respond here to the post Shannon Des Roches Rosa wrote called How Autism Parents Can Listen to Self-Advocates.

First, I agree with the premise.  It’s important for all those invested in the issues of autism (not limited to parents) to listen to self-advocates, even when what self-advocates say is uncomfortable or goes contrary to what we believe—especially then.

It’s important to listen.  It’s important to consider what others are saying and to look for the material content in their words.  But, it’s more than that.

Communication is an imperfect art.  When we speak or write, we think we are sharing ideas, but we’re not.  We are sharing words, looks, tones, behaviors, ect., which convey meaning; that meaning is then translated within the brains of our audience and interpreted.  Only by communicating and re-communicating (involving multiple attempts at listening and speaking/acting) can we determine how effectively we’ve exchanged our ideas.

This, by the way, is true for everyone—even people who are very much alike.  The more two people communicate successfully and create a mutually understood short-hand, the quicker this process becomes.  When you’re communicating with collectives, versus individuals, we still tend to use whatever communication short-cuts we’ve become accustom to, but this short-hand will almost always be interpreted differently by the different members of your audience.  Thus, reliance on communication short-cuts is not effective, with a few specific exceptions.

Furthermore, when you’re communicating with someone new, you have to test each other’s understanding to communicate successfully—no short-hand exists between you.  The greater the differences between the two of you, then there is an even greater possibility for mutually exclusive interpretations in your attempts to communicate.  A common example within our own community is when a parent defines autism as “like my child” within their own mind, and is all too ready to exclude anyone who is not autistic the way their child is autistic.  This difference in definition creates a communication barrier, since most people do not mean “like that person’s child” when they say autism.  On the other hand, too many self-advocates seem to think ally means “people who agree with me” or some equally inappropriate definition.  However, when I think of ally, I think of the way the U.S. and Britain are allies; they don’t always agree and they don’t always work together, but they do have common interests and work together to further those interests—but don’t always do so very well.

Shannon wrote:

“If we parents say that we want to have conversations with self-advocates, then we need to do the human thing, and truly listen, try to come into self-advocates’ spaces, rather than always expecting them to come into ours.”

This is where, essentially, I must disagree.

Both approaches miss the mutual nature of communication.  I agree that it is wrong for parents (or anyone else) to expect autistic self-advocates to come into their “space” in order to communicate.  It’s a habitual expectation (part of the “privilege” thing mentioned in the post), but it’s ineffective—regardless of who the communicators are.  Thus, it is equally wrong, if also habitual, to try to go into the “other’s” space.  Firstly, this transfer of mental space is not really possible—it’s in our imaginations.  I suspect that if we really checked every time we guessed how someone else feels or what they’re thinking about or how they’ll react, internally, to a specific stimulation, then we could blow this whole “theory of mind” b.s. out of the bloody water for good.  Second, our words and expressions are merely tools to facilitate communication.  We have to check our mutual understanding—ensure we’re both using these tools the same way—in order to communicate successfully.

Effective communication is going to happen in a mutual “space,” an in-between that requires us to join our efforts in order to communicate.  In the online dialogue, this is most likely to happen in the comments.  A blog post is for a wider audience; comments are, often, for specific, individual communicators.

There are certain online spaces, specific blogs and forums, which have created, over time, a unique space where dialogue happens on a shared basis.  But, in my experience in the greater autism community, most of these spaces are dysfunctional—preferring a side to a dialogue.

In short, we should listen.  We should ask for clarification and for explanations, even if we’re sure we know what the other person means because we know what we would mean if we said what they said.  We should invest ourselves in creating a mutual “space” where communication can occur, and we should base this shared space on mutual understanding and mutually agreed-upon definitions or meanings.

This, obviously, requires effort from both parties.  If one party—and it doesn’t matter which it is—is talking, expecting to be heard, without making the effort to be understood and to understand in return, then the communication attempt has failed.

The communication attempt has failed.

This does not, however, mean that parents (or other interested parties) should not make accommodations for those with communication disabilities.  The very act of creating a communication “space” is an act of mutual accommodation, and if one participant has communication disabilities than that must be a factor in determining how the accommodations must be made.  But, again, it goes both ways.  Both communicators must recognize that the participants are unique to each other and their intentions and their needs are equally unique.  To communicate successfully, such unique understandings and interpretations must be taken into account.  You can’t come in with all your baggage, knowing what you expect, and projecting your expectations onto the other person.

For communication success, both parties must make a joint effort to understand and to be understood.

This is not common practice.  This is decidedly rare.  We’re all so busy spouting off our opinions, our beliefs and our ideas that we don’t take time to communicate them to others.  But growth comes from communication.  Change comes from communication.  Progress comes from communication.  Unless we take the time to create mutual spaces necessary for successful communication, we will not create the growth, the change, and the progress we need to make this world a better place for ourselves and those who follow.

Discuss vs. Debate

  • Posted on January 6, 2012 at 8:00 AM

According to Dictionary.com, discussion means:

an act or instance of discussing;  consideration or examination by argument, comment, etc., especially to explore solutions; informal debate.

Whereas, debate means:

1. a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints: a debate in the Senate on farm price supports.

2. a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.

3. deliberation; consideration.

4. Archaic . strife; contention.

In the greater autism community, we need more discussion and less debate.  If all we’re doing is arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong—no matter how respectful and considerate our approach is—we’re not accomplishing much.  If, on the other hand, we’re discussing problems of mutual interest, we just might be able to come up with mutually agreeable solutions.  If we can do that, we can work together to act on those solutions in a public forum.

Consider the political arena for a moment:  Two primary “sides” exist in the political forum, Democrats and Republicans.  When any seat is up for grabs, say the Oval Office, you’ll hear a lot of debate about which side should take the seat.  They don’t do anything.  They don’t decide anything.  It’s all up to the voters.  They just debate to show us our options.

Then, when they finally do get into office, usually both sides are heavily represented in the different elected bodies.  We have the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President.  Consider our current bodies.  How much do they actually accomplish?  How many problems do they actually solve?  What is the result of all their debating?

My answer is “not much.”  Perhaps you disagree.  If so, keep debating.  If, however, you happen to agree with me, then maybe what we should do is get together and discuss what needs to be accomplished and how we might work together to accomplish it.