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.