Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Hub and Ideas

I am going to start by offering a bold premise; there are other good autism information groups, but nothing else that blends science and advocacy as well the Hub. I say this not to assign a “good job”, gold star to the hub, but simply to recite a fact. I feel comfortable recommending others to the hub when searching for basic or advanced autism information. This is not a privilege I extend to other places or groups; even one’s who claim good science or advocacy.

So, it is an honor to write a blog included in the hub and yet…. It also is not. I think the “honor” is in the quality of our thinking and writing, it comes from us. It is not implicit; it can diminish or even go away entirely. The seeming goals of Hub; namely, the countering of bad autism science and promotion of autistic rights might be worthy goals, but not enough in themselves. I suppose then you could say that I find the Hub honorable, but only as long as we behave honorably. We behave honorably by neither sacrificing science, nor losing our strong ethical base. Also, by keeping our logic intact even on difficult issues and by carefully explaining in such a way that teaches others and not merely engaging in drive-by ethics or the scientific, intellectual variant of schoolyard bullying.

To challenge and substantiate, that is the direction I want to see us take….. and largely, we do.

Since its founding in 2006, the Hub has only gotten bigger. I swear, it almost seems impossible to keep track of all the newly added blogs. And with this expansion have come new faces, new ideas, and sometimes more disagreements. Sometimes I almost feel, as if I wish the Hub would go back to the originals. But not really…..

I think it was always the intention for the Hub to grow, and even important…. maybe even inevitable, that it do so. I also think that the neurodiversity movement, as it pertains to autism, to still be in its tumultuous childhood. This is in spite of it being at least 15 years old and the broader disabilities rights movement being older still. I think because this movement is still developing there are questions yet to be formally answered.

I am also going to offer a prediction. I predict that these questions below will not spontaneously go away. And that they will persist and be a continuing source of conflict among various persons in the hub (and not just a few individuals).

1. What constitutes respectful language toward autistics on the Hub.

2. To what extent is intra-Hub debate permissible, on what issues, and by whom?

3. To what extent is criticism of the Hub’s general direction permissible?

4. To what extent is one obligated to deal with unscientific or unethical comments that appear on one’s blog?

5. What are the goals of the Hub, stated more specifically than they are now?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Interverbal

This blog is four years old today.

I am going to reprint one of my favorite posts for this occasion.

Way back from Nov 2006:

Shall I compare thee to a norm referenced score?
Thou might just be two deviations from the mean.
Rough charting makes it hard to know for sure.
And lack of data may create a lean.

Sometimes, too great the fallacy exists.
And often is the reasoning post hoc.
And in irrationality the issue mists.
By natures design we are fetter’d; such is thy lot.

But by this, thy reasoning, good data shall not fade.
Nor lose possession of great virtue, epistemological.
Nor shall any reliable measure be un-made.
When under scrutiny most logical.

So long as logicians syllogize, and parents sigh.
So, long as we push, and continue to try.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Bullying: II

From what I can tell, different situations lead to different types of bullying. Maybe some of these are not really bullying, but they are grey areas and still a concern.

Age discrepant rough-and-tumble play

This occurs when an older child plays too roughly with a younger one. This may not be true bullying per se; in fact we probably wouldn’t consider it as such if both children were the same age. Understand that there are probably not bad intentions here, just a case of the older child not understanding his/her strength. Often just a reminder to both children about what the expectations are for acceptable play e.g. (no wrestling, tripping, etc) is sufficient.


Sometimes teasing and jokes are fine and sometimes it turns into bullying or is interpreted as such. When dealing with young children it falls to adults to keep an eye on the situation and control it if necessary. However, if things do get grey area, it doesn’t require a nuclear level response. Often a simple verbal prompt is sufficient. Also, providing specific training where students learn to indicate that they do not like or appreciate certain jokes can be helpful.

Opportunistic Bullying

Occurs when there is a true power differential by age, size, behavior, or cultural factors. The bully engages is physically aggressive or verbally demeaning behavior meant to hurt or harm. This occurs in situations where the bully is unlikely to be caught. In school providing adequate supervision in hallways, recess areas, and lunch rooms goes a long way to helping prevent problems. Popular culture likes to present this type of bully as coming from a disadvantaged or broken home. In my experience sometimes this is true and sometimes it is not. Bullying seems to be a trait that can appear even in kids from very stable homes.

“Good citizenship training” for everyone in a school (including potential bullies) is purported to help reduce instances of bullying, but I am ignorant of any method with sufficient quantities of research behind it to back up that claim. I think that it is most important to remember that there is no perfect solution for this type of bully. Remember that bullying is an ancient human behavior and that like all such traits it is impossible to totally eradicate even on the small scale.

Remember that:

While not exclusive to children, in some cases bullying is an age specific behavior that will be naturally countered by other contingencies as maturation occurs.

Bullying is more likely to occur among children among different ages and sizes, simply by benefit of the children not realizing their own strength.

Rather than repel potential bullies, the tough-guy act can actually attract people looking for a fight.

Training kids to be polite and assertive and to bring in an adult’s help is usually a better tactic when dealing with a bully.

Some young people of a certain age (read: some teenagers) like to make silly or flippant remarks, especially to strangers. This can be interpreted as bullying, but often it is simply young people engaging in an age-appropriate misbehavior (an oxymoron….. I know). Often smiling or telling an appropriate joke of your own is sufficient to set everyone at ease.

Some people seem to be naturally intimidated by teenagers, even ones who are not big and strong. Don’t be, they are just young-adults/big-kids. I have seen adults put on a tough-guy act around teenagers and honestly I think it is because they are intimidated by them. In my experience this usually alienates the kids.

Opportunistic bullies work by isolating the person they bully. Teach others not to be afraid to seek help.

While bullying as a human trait may never go away, that does not mean that specific cases of bullying are hopeless. Some sort of help is almost always available.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Bullying: Part I


A few years back I was supervising an afternoon recess. I was watching Mike, a young man with various disabilities (not autism), playing American football with some other boys his age (about 10). The boys were practicing hiking the football (the initial quick pass backwards that officially begins each play), when rather suddenly Mike jumped forward and called out “hike!”. The ball was passed, but another young man rather roughly pushed him back and took his place and the other laughed.

I was angry; this smacked of bullying, and the young man who had done the pushing had a reputation as sometimes getting up to mischief (sassing teachers, sulking, etc.). I headed over to have a little talk with this young man. However, while I was on my way he stepped back and another young man took his place, and then another boy hopped forward. A few turn later Mike went forward and received his hike without concern. I looked again at the group of boys and I realized there was something of a line. It wasn’t a very traditional line, I do not think it would have passed muster in a school hallway, but it was a line none the less.

Mike had jumped this line pure and simple; he had cut in front of the other boy. Nor was he the only one to try, as I continued to watch, other kids also tried to cut and this generally ended with the same results. I did not quite grasp why they occasionally tried to line- jump. However, they seemed to think it was funny whenever someone tried.

In this case what I saw wasn’t bullying, it was young people engaging in rough-and-tumble play. This type of play appeals to certain kids, both boys and girls, students with and without disabilities. Far from being an opportunistic bully, the young man was treating Mike exactly as he would any of his typically developing peers. And Mike clearly grasped this little group’s rules as he demonstrated by laughing after he was pushed and later correctly only stepping in on his appointed turn. I would later come to know this young man as a true friend to Mike and that he had been friendly and welcoming toward him for years.

This was inclusion, but inclusion based on this little group’s rules. There is this teacher’s ideal vision where play-based inclusion involves an orderly board game, or kite flying, or polite discussion of one’s favorite colors. This is true in certain cases, but it isn’t going to fly with a set of rough- and- tumble 10 year olds who are on their outside play-time. And if a student with disabilities gravitates towards that set, and is naturally fully included, then this is typical play. You want inclusion…. you got it.

Part II to follow shortly…..