A Touch of Alyricism

Dedicated to the equally fascinating topics of autistic advocacy and the 'sisterly sophistries' of radical gender feminism. Other topics may occasionally crop up. Contactable at alyric@gmail.com

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Polemicist since Grade 8

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Grossly Misleading

In reply to As Autistic Children Grow, So Does Social Gap
By JANE GROSS


While I’m sure that Ms Gross has the best of intentions with her latest article on autism, it is unfortunate that behind the simple descriptions of the social problems faced by ASD children, there are in equal measure, false attribution and false assumptions.

Gross’s article begins with Karen Singer’s autistic son spending recess alone or crying in the bathroom and wondering "Why am I like this? What's wrong with me? He knew he was doing something wrong as he reached the social crucible of middle school, but he did not know how to fix it.”


Gross’s next point is that what is wrong is the reluctance of the autistic child to be ‘cool’, the propensity for making inappropriate remarks, the “struggle to read body language or to imagine what other people are thinking. If they learn a joke, they may tell it a dozen times. They are too literal-minded to understand white lies and too rule-bound to understand they should not tattle. They overreact to routine teasing and invite ridicule by carrying their books over their heads or accepting a dare to kiss a girl.”

Gross’s final point is that classmates that were once tolerant, aren’t any longer. “"Kids have very short memories when they're young…… They are much less forgiving as they get older."

And the conclusion from all this is that “the majority of such children become conspicuous in the third grade and are bullied or ostracized by the time they reach middle school.”

While the conclusion is the correct one, both the reasoning and the solution are faulty. According to this description, ASD children are bullied and ostracised because their social skills are so poor it is quite understandable that they provoke negative reactions in other children. Naturally, the solution is to offer social skills classes in the belief that with improvement in this area, the ASD child will not attract such negative attention. The problems in this scenario are firstly, that it is always or even primarily the actions of the ASD child that precipitate the negative sequelae – false assumption. The second is that the other children are acting with corrective intent, if negative consequences – false attribution. An examination of the nature and extent of the bullying experience among the vast majority of ASD children will, I think put paid to the notion that firstly, the victim deserved it and secondly and much more importantly, that social skills classes can remedy this.


No amount of inappropriate behaviour can possibly justify what really happens to ASD children in schools. Anecdotes range from constant shoving in corridors, held head-down in toilets, locked in cupboards, kicked, punched, beaten unconscious, hanged on the school gate to running the gauntlet in gym changing rooms (practically universal). A favourite appears to be to surround the ASD child with a group of at least four and engage in whatever taunting is most likely to elicit the most satisfactorily terrified response. Note that it is never a one to one engagement here. The odds are always 4 to 1 or worse. Of course in the average school, there are several such groups and very few ASD, so that this ‘group therapy’ happens several times a week. And if questioned, the response is usually ‘We were only teasing’.

Though the bullying experiences suffered by ASD children can vary quite a bit, there are a few universals. Up front, it is the systematic destruction of an individual to cater to the perceived emotional needs of pre-pubescent and pubescent individuals going through the intensely tumultuous period of adolescence. The autistic child is the ‘painted bird’ and as such serves as the panacea for bruised egos, failed or faltering relationships, academic woes and the fluctuating self esteem experienced by the ASD’s peers. You see, the ASD does not have to do a thing to attract this kind of unwelcome attention. Blaming the faulty social skills is mere camouflage. They could ignore the child, but it is very apparent that they do not and prefer not to. When the compulsion to conformity and group solidarity is at its height in early adolescence, the inability to connect and therefore to submit to a group identity is a capital crime. The lack of a supportive network of peers is an added bonus. Not only has this person broken the golden rule of ‘fitting in’ but there isn’t going to be any retribution.


The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in ASD children inspired by their bullying experiences can last a decade. Yet the underlying drive for socialisation of ASD children is rather like insisting that the inmates of Abu Ghraib meet with Lindy England for drinks and chit-chat on a daily basis in the interests of fostering inter-cultural relations. The psychological consequences are likely to be devastating. What does it do to a child’s developing capacity to judge to be told that they should emulate the very people dishing out the most horrible abuse because their peers are ‘normal’ and they are not?

Social skills training is very necessary and will pay dividends in the long term. For this period from middle school through to junior high school, however, their protective capacity is likely to be nil because that’s not the problem. Being ‘different’ is and kids are extraordinarily sensitive to it.

What our ASD kids need is definitely the ability to smile, interact nicely, and carry a big stick. Along with nurturing those social skills it is equally necessary to teach assertiveness and perhaps martial arts. Leaving ASD kids with no defences because it is just too hard, too painful or too foreign a concept to recognise what normal kids are capable of is not the answer.

Alyric

(Member of MOFFRA and the Cranky Cabal)

15 Comments:

Blogger oddizm said...

whoa,

thank you for that analysis of Jane Gross's piece in the NYT.

It's excellent. And cranky, which makes it even better.

I wonder if it's possible to teach ASD kids to see the brutal cunning of some normal children (and groups of them) so that they can predcit when they are being set up for a fall.

I took my NT kid out of middle school because s/he was being beat up by cretins who were setting him/her up for trouble, and who themselves had no problem with being arrested for fighting in school. They apparently thought it was a mark of adulthood, but because my kid was being beaten up s/he also had to be arrested...after all you can NEVER tell who actually started a fight. :-[

As I said, I took my kid out of school, and s/he was socially pretty normal...but new to the school.

Camille

10:53 PM  
Blogger Silver Fox said...

Yeah... and of course the "normal" kids know how to be the first to act, leaving the AS kid, who will most likely react inappropriately, to be the one to get caught. :-(

When I first read the NYT article, I thought of it as an attempt to be supportive, but you're right... upon closer inspection, the author (possibly inadvertently) puts the onus on the AS kids.

5:59 AM  
Blogger sumagu said...

Hi,
I want to make sure you know that ASD/AS kids aren't the only kids who get attacked by bullies.

When my husband was 14 he was in a new highschool and recovering from the death of his mother. A group of boys trapped him in the locker room and pissed on him. Along with some of the other "regular" bullying like sticking his head in the toilet.

I myself (in another part of the country at the time) only had to put up with name-calling, since I'd learned to throw a punch in Grade 7... not proud of that, but it kept me from physical abuse.

School is no fun for ANYONE who is different.

Signed,
"Normal but Different"

8:19 AM  
Blogger Alyric said...

Sumagu wrote:

>>School is no fun for ANYONE who is different.<<<

I do believe that that is THE point - it's the difference, not what kind of difference that provokes these amazingly anti social responses. Valerie Paradis uses the term 'visceral response', which is beautifully accurate.

Now, the funny thing is that the socially wired absolutely hate the very idea that normal people can do the things that we say they do. We, the 'different' know better, though this really is a phenomenon best and most often expressed by early adolescents, who work mostly by gut instinct and won't develop the capacity for understanding consequences fo another five years.

Someone I know rather well got upset by my interpretation of events, and that reminded me of a conversation I had with a school counsellor a few years back. I was describing much the same scenario as in the article and the counsellor, looking shocked, said 'surely you must be exaggerating'. Why are these people so in denial?

There's more than enough evidence out there, good solid evidence that people are not, on the whole, independent agents. They are influenced, sometimes heavily, by others to some pretty nasty ends.

There's definitely another article's worth here.

Al

2:24 PM  
Blogger temppixie said...

I came onto your site by accident, my son is called alyric, and he is off on his travells around the world, he is in auz at the moment, i was missing him, and put his name on net to see what came up.You did! I then got engrossed in your site as I manage a childrens home where we have young people with autism and asperges and was facinated by all your info and comments.You talk from experience and I would be intrested to hear more. Be good if you want to email me via my link.

1:53 PM  
Blogger charmian said...

Dear Alyric,

Forgive me but I don't know how to negotiate a blog. Do you have an address where I may write to you? I found this while doing a search on Autism and Bullying. Then you mentioned Valerie Paradis and I knew I had to talk to you.

My name is Charmian at Charmian6 @aol.com. Again everyone, please forgive the inappropriate post. I'm 46 years old and raising a 5 year old with Autism.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Sage said...

I am a social worker in upstate NY, working in a program for students with autism and Asperger's Syndrome. I am looking for a curriculum (all age groups)that teaches effective responses to bullying, as well as advice for parents, as we are sponsoring a bullying training this month. I would appreciate any help at all.
Thanks,

1:15 PM  
Blogger Sappho said...

My son has Asperger's Syndrome and absolutely blossomed in aikido, a martial art which can only be used for self defense. His teacher is very good with austistic people. He has become self-confident and has less anxiety, as well as being physically stronger. I no longer worry about bullying. The people in his class are very friendly, and his socialization is improved. Aikido has done so much for my son beyond self-defense. I recommend it to everyone.

12:23 PM  
Blogger KateGladstone said...

I have Asperger's, and spent most of my life's first two decades under teachers and school administrators who actively encouraged the bullies and even helped them learn how to bully better and better every day.

Will anyone iwithout Asperger's please explain: if non-Asperger's people allegedly have all this wonderful "empathy" (which they say that we folks with Asperger's don't have), why do those so-called "empathetic" non-Aspies dish out the daily tortures?

Why doesn't that daily occurrence throw any doubt on the non-Aspies' claims to own a monopoly on empathy?

10:21 PM  
Blogger Bob King said...

PTSD persists MUCH more than a decade.

And yes, soft-style martial arts did a wonder for me - Akido is one such, as are some forms of Tai Ch'i.

The key is for it to be non-competitive, for that will tend to weed out those sorts of personalities who need to win at the expense of another. Therefore, if they participate in tournaments, it's probably not a great idea.

A soft-style martial art is at it's most powerful when attacked. It can be pretty darn useless for trying to beat people up. This varies, but the passive mindset I and many other aspies have does not favor an attack based art, such as Karate.

It promotes a self-confidence that need not be bragged of to deter attacks - those who tend to victimize others tend also to be very good observers, and the ability to respond effectively is what they are looking for.

Like many AS persons, I have fine movement challenges and some difficulty with even gross motor skills. This helped a whole bunch, and I also stopped injuring myself due to momentary distractions from gravity, staircases, low branches and such.

On the whole, a good soft style martial art is probably worth (overall) three times that of any more autism-focused intervention.

Some results are utterly unexpected. For one thing, I was able to casually grab a wildly objecting siamese cat and put a flea collar on it without any major injury. It didn't even strike me as being anything much - because it wasn't.

It's only when I think about it, and think of what would happen to anyone with normal sorts of physical skills that I turn slightly pale.

And I've survived some major falls with little or no injury, a feature that is truly important given my very fragile frame.

2:35 PM  
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