Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What I Have Learned

A few years back when I was still a Masters student, I found myself in discussion with a mother of a young child diagnosed with autism. She predicted that when I had begun my professional career that my opinions on a variety of topics such as the vaccine etiology of autism and the value of Neurodiversity would change dramatically. I did not find her suggestion to be dismissive. In fact I found it worthwhile as an evaluative exercise.

Well, I have spent several years now in a professional capacity. The time seems ripe to engage in a full analysis. In short, some of my opinions have certainly changed or altered, and some have not. Some of my readers may disagree or even feel annoyed by my comments, but….. no apologies. The one thing that truly has changed is that I now feel better about the opinions I hold than in any time in the past.

1) I believe as strongly as I ever did that autistics themselves are the primary stakeholders in discussions about autism. That autistics need to be on the directory and executive boards of major autism advocacy/education groups.

2) I believe that seeing autism, only in terms of a collection of deficits is really bad idea. I do not think this is a good approach in any developmental difference, delay, or disorder.

3) However, I have also seen that some of our parents truly are heroic. Some of our kids meeting criteria for autism take significantly more time and care. I have seen profound labors of love. Such parents are heroes, and they deserve recognition as such…. Period…. and this is a change of opinion for me.

4) I feel much better about collaborating with non-behaviorists than I have in the past. It has at least been refreshing and interesting. Also, I take satisfaction in the event that our analyses conflict, that I produced the decidedly superior analysis (just kidding…. Well mostly).

5) I have enjoyed doing voluntary additional coursework towards gaining a Gifted and Talented teaching endorsement, in the event (it has already happened) that some of my students with special needs also have areas of genuine giftedness. G&T teaching is mostly run by the constructivist school of thought, which is very different from behavior analysis. However I am fond of it. I have learned some valuable tips about how to better direct intrinsic reinforcers with high ability students

6) G&T education has also taught me some perspective. I have learned than some problems that I thought or heard were special problems within behavior analysis are actually endemic to the whole field of education. I cite insularity as a particular example. Also like the autism field, I have noticed that G&T education also has a whole range of popular lousy arguments that pop up time and time again. My least favorite being the argument that we should provide specialized educational services to gifted and talented kids because it might later benefit us in some way (i.e. They invent a cure for cancer).

7) So, I suppose you can say that in some ways, I like behavior analysis even more than I did in the past. I like the way my behavior analytic colleagues in public education do it; down to earth, practical, fun. They do more with fewer resources and I think they might even have more fun sometimes.

8) At the same time, because I am one of the few people with a strong interest in behavior analysis itself in our district, I feel more separated from some of the aspects of behavior analysis as a field that I do not like. And I think this has been a good thing.

9) It used to drive me crazy when people would bag on behavior analysis. I spent a lot of time trying to convince people why they were wrong or mistaken about some problem they had with ABA. It used to truly upset me. I no longer feel the same desire to engage them, especially when I know they are grievously wrong, as opposed to just having a minor misunderstanding.

10) Probably the biggest change of all is that I no longer feel much patience with poor or illogical academic arguments, whatever the flavor. I do not feel the same interest in deconstructing the latest bit of alternative autism medicine from our friends elsewhere on the internet. Or explaining why anyone who says that prevalence rate of autism was 1 per 10,000 and it is now 1 per 100 should have their license to practice amateur epidemiology promptly revoked. Or showing how an anti-vaccine internet group that reviews vaccine epidemiology isn’t even doing basic addition problems correctly.

11) And this is just as true within the neurodiversity community. There have been times I have gone to read a post on a neurodiversity blog, and I realized, that I did not agree with a single thing that was written. This doesn’t bother me the way it did in years past. It also bothers me less now when I tell someone “you know what, I completely disagree”.

12) At the same time I have the same love of a good academic analysis that I always had. In fact I have come to see the dichotomy between academic and practical analyses as being somewhat artificial.

13) So, there you have it. Maybe we will try this again in another 3 years and see what, if anything has changed.

8 Comments:

Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

Interesting post on first skim-over; I'll try to say more later, Jonathan... I've been doing some interesting learning myself.

12:44 AM  
Anonymous leila said...

I always enjoy your posts and I appreciate that you're honest about your opinions and explain them so well. I don't think that the Hub should be a group of people that think alike. You can have your differences but still be respectful to the autistic people and contribute to a better understanding of autism.

The Gift & Talented education sounds fascinating, give us some posts about it when you have a chance!

As my son starts his school years, I'm seeing more balance in the way people see him - not just as a collection of deficits but as a boy who has amazing abilities along with very delayed areas. The challenge is to motivate him to learn the things he doesn't necessarily care about. The challenge is to get his full attention and that sparkle in his eye... Teachers, therapists and myself are always trying to find new ways to expand his interests, because as long as he wants to, he can learn and do anything.

8:09 AM  
Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

"1) I believe as strongly as I ever did that autistics themselves are the primary stakeholders in discussions about autism. That autistics need to be on the directory and executive boards of major autism advocacy/education groups."

Thank you... means a lot. Many don't. As one professional to another, and as one professional who is in that client group, it is good to see that statement. In Finland, the opposite is believed.

"2) I believe that seeing autism, only in terms of a collection of deficits is really bad idea. I do not think this is a good approach in any developmental difference, delay, or disorder."

Oon samaa mieltä, eli...

I agree with you. Strengths and weaknesses is, as an approach, bettwe than a purely deficit-based approach. Always was. Always will be.

"3) However, I have also seen that some of our parents truly are heroic. Some of our kids meeting criteria for autism take significantly more time and care. I have seen profound labors of love. Such parents are heroes, and they deserve recognition as such…. Period…. and this is a change of opinion for me."

As you know, I am the dad of a beautiful wee lass who is herself autistic. And life is hard for me, her mum and her step-dad... not easy to know what to do that will make her life better... except the total extermination of bullies, and so on ... except ... oh, the law protects them! Vittu!

"4) I feel much better about collaborating with non-behaviorists than I have in the past. It has at least been refreshing and interesting. Also, I take satisfaction in the event that our analyses conflict, that I produced the decidedly superior analysis (just kidding…. Well mostly)."

Actually... I absolutely think that - if nothing else - behaviourist psychology has given us some seriously good meticulous assessment protocols.... quite frankly, there's fuck all wrong with a good, detailed assessment!

"7) So, I suppose you can say that in some ways, I like behavior analysis even more than I did in the past. I like the way my behavior analytic colleagues in public education do it; down to earth, practical, fun. They do more with fewer resources and I think they might even have more fun sometimes."

Actually... me too! Has a shitload to offer... if it's done right.

"9) It used to drive me crazy when people would bag on behavior analysis. I spent a lot of time trying to convince people why they were wrong or mistaken about some problem they had with ABA. It used to truly upset me. I no longer feel the same desire to engage them, especially when I know they are grievously wrong, as opposed to just having a minor misunderstanding."

Same here, especially in my realisation that we should accept that Skinner wasn't a bastard! Watson was a total cock, but Skinner was actually very astute!

"10) Probably the biggest change of all is that I no longer feel much patience with poor or illogical academic arguments, whatever the flavor."

Now you see exactly where I come from! :)

But really... that's the only way to deal with some arseholes....

"11) And this is just as true within the neurodiversity community. There have been times I have gone to read a post on a neurodiversity blog, and I realized, that I did not agree with a single thing that was written. This doesn’t bother me the way it did in years past. It also bothers me less now when I tell someone'you know what, I completely disagree'."

It's okay to tell someone that you think they're talking bollocks... just be prepared to tell them why ;)

"12) At the same time I have the same love of a good academic analysis that I always had. In fact I have come to see the dichotomy between academic and practical analyses as being somewhat artificial."

Again - same as me. Good to see that you won't give that angle up.

From the beginning, it's always been a pleasure discussing things with you when chance has been there to do so. I hope we can discuss more...

1:22 PM  
Blogger LIVSPARENTS said...

I guess my question would be is whether you see a shift in beliefs in your collegues, medical professionals, educators and parents?

6:08 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Your post is enlightening. I agree, Autistic Students should be the most involved in the advocacy that leads to solutions. I actually work with a group in the States that develops educational products for Universities, and they share the same kind of thinking that you do. Too often, people treat Autism like a handicap as opposed to just a different set of circumstances.

If you're interested please check out our organization:
http://www.linkautism.org/LINK__Home.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj84FekP7G8&feature=player_embedded

Best,

Daniel Herndon

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Probably the biggest change of all is that I no longer feel much patience with poor or illogical academic arguments, whatever the flavor."

Hi Interverbal. I think you're in good company here ;) although it's not just academic arguments for me anymore. Better understanding of logic has made it more difficult for me, even with the pervasive day-to-day stuff (such as at work). It's difficult to maintain earnest collaboration the minute someone throws out a "we've always done it this way", or "x number of people agree with me".

"I do not feel the same interest in deconstructing the latest bit of alternative autism medicine from our friends elsewhere on the internet."

And how. I sometimes worry that psuedoscience could still easily prevail in many aspects of autism discussion, since it's supporters/promoters never seem to tire. Although your interest may be waning, does this concern you?

-DoC

9:11 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

In order:

Will do Leila.

Thanks again David.

Livsparents, hmmm... no.... I think these have stayed about the same.

Thanks Daniel.

Do'C, yes and no. Yes, in that it may not be the best attitude to cultivate. No, in that I have filled that time with focus on my classroom.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Is Autism a Genetic Flaw? said...

I fully agree that autistic people should be involved in board sessions that relate to autism since their lives would be affected one way or another. Great post and points.

10:35 PM  

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