Saturday, September 27, 2014

What are neurotypes?

Sometimes people in the neurodiversity movement will refer to "neurotypes". What are they?

Neurotypes are variations in how people's brains work. Since the brain is what makes us able to perceive the world, different neurotypes create different perspectives and experiences of the world.

Oftentimes, neurotypes that are not neurotypical are considered "disorders". The problem with that is that calling other neurotypes "disorders" implies that there is only one right neurotype. Ideas of "right" or "wrong" only exist in our minds, so that term lacks objectivity and may lead to biased views of and misunderstandings about all different kinds neurotypes. If more people referred to "disorders" as well as typical neurology as neurotypes, people would understand them better. Society would no longer consider neurodivergent individuals as inferior and neurotypical individuals as superior.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

On the Ableist, Abuse-Condoning Cracked Article

Trigger Warning: Abuse

This is a response to an ableist Cracked article called "5 Shocking Realities of Working With Disturbed Children". The article only focused on the staffs' side and not on the students' side and justified the abuse of these institutionalized people.

The Cracked article described abuse such as a preteen's arms being restrained, resulting in her banging her head. The article says it in a way that makes it seem like she did this deliberately, but more likely, she was very stressed and self-injured as a last resort. Anyone would do something like that under severe enough stress, and considering that this is someone who has gone traumatic events, she was probably very stressed already. The restraint clearly did not calm her down and it did not stop her from being violent. The article condones abuse being done to someone who already has problems due to experiencing abuse, which will just make the problem worse.

Also, the Cracked article uses functioning labels, which can over-estimate or under-estimate someone's abilities and can be used to dismiss what someone says. In addition to that, it condones using compliance therapy to control "low-functioning" autistics, which can give them PTSD. It also says that "low-functioning" autistics are violent, which is not the case if they are not extremely stressed out. The article also lumps them in the same label as the one given to the children who have gone through traumatic experiences. While autistics and children who have gone through abuse can appear superficially the same, children who have gone through abuse do not have autistic neurology if they weren't autistic in the first place.

The Cracked article describes a non-speaking autistic who had to sign the word "please" to get a Cheeto. Why did he have to say please to grab another Cheeto? No wonder he upset; he had to sign please every time he wanted to have another one of the many Cheetos in the bag.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Conformity can be Dangerous

Conformity is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it can be dangerous in some situations. That does not just apply to neurodivergent people as this article from about a week ago shows:

In the article, students had to go on a hike on a hot day in order to join a fraternity. However, they ran out of water and starting having heatstroke. One of them even died.

The Social Thinking curriculum says that you must conform to avoid people having "weird" or uncomfortable thoughts about you. However, conformity can make someone have their needs unfulfilled (though usually, it is a need affecting the person's emotional well-being rather than a physiological need). If you are in a situation in which following people's expectations will result in your psychological needs unfulfilled and you care about fitting in, try to find a group with people who are similar to you. You are more likely to have your needs fulfilled than if you find a group of typical people.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Problems with the Social Thinking Curriculum Part 4: Contradictions

It may seem like Social Thinking is teaching the opposite of what I described in the previous posts. That is because Social Thinking contradicts itself a lot. That can make it hard to figure out what it is actually teaching and can make those being taught confused.

One of the things Social Thinking tells educators is to avoid making assumptions (Winner & Crooke, n.d.). However, Social Thinking makes a lot of unwarranted assumptions itself, and the whole thing falls apart without them.

Social Thinking says that we should respect others. However, Social Thinking doesn't respect students with “social-cognitive deficits”, dismissing some of their true thoughts and feelings as a lack of self-awareness. It also tells educators to listen to their students when teaching social thinking. However, Social Thinking says that certain things students say about themselves are wrong.

Social Thinking is supposed to help students with theory of mind. However, Michelle Garcia Winner assumes that everyone else thinks the same way she does. In fact, in one article she said she observed her own thought processes when in the presence of other people before founding Social Thinking.

Social Thinking says following rules all the time is having a rigid brain, yet says that conforming to social rules is a step you need to do in order to be flexible. However, there are many circumstances in which making people comfortable with your behavior does not help to solve a problem. For example, you may realize there is a major flaw in a system that other people don’t notice. However, when you fix it, people have uncomfortable thoughts about you because they are afraid of the new.  In fact, that was the problem Temple Grandin encountered when she found flaws with cattle chutes.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Problems with the Social Thinking Curriculum Part 3: Unwarranted Assumptions about What People with “Social Cognitive Deficits” Understand, Desire, or Think

Social Thinking conceptualizes autism and other conditions in a traditional way. As it turns out, much of the traditional conceptualization of conditions is highly inaccurate. It also makes many assumptions without sufficient basis. Social Thinking claims to help with self-awareness, but tells you how you are, more than it invites you to introspect. It may lead to students believing they are a certain way when they are not, especially those who have not figured out their identity yet.

Social Thinking assumes we do social thinking all the time, even when alone, saying that everything people do requires social thinking. MGW says we have to do this when reading novels and watching TV shows, which are activities she does in her alone time. However, they are not the only things you can do in your free time. When I think about physics or try to solve math problems, as I like to do, I rarely think about other people when doing this. Social Thinking says you have to figure out people’s intentions when doing more abstract math (Winner, n.d.), but really, you just have to pay attention to numbers, variables, and logic. It also assumes everyone’s purpose in life is to avoid other people’s “weird thoughts”. However, I consider my purpose of life to be finding the truth, and if you ask other people what their purpose in life is, you will get a variety of answers.

Social Thinking assumes non-speaking autistics are intellectually impaired (Winner, Crooke, & Madrigal, 2011). However, many intelligence tests put emphasis on verbal intelligence. If they are given an alternative way to communicate or are given an intelligence test that is visual, the results will usually say otherwise. In fact, it goes so far to say that “low-functioning” and “moderate-functioning” autistics are incapable of meta-cognition. However, if you look at the writings of people who are given those labels such as Amy Sequenzia, Mel Baggs, Carly Fleischmann, and Donna Williams, you will find that they are very self-aware.

Social Thinking assumes that if someone says they don’t desire friends, they just don’t understand and that they don’t realize that they actually do desire social interaction. However, schizoids, one of the types of people Social Thinking considers to have “social-cognitive deficits”, genuinely have little to no desire for friends.

Social Thinking works from the assumption that students care about how other people think about them, and base their self-worth on how other people treat them. That means it won’t work for people who are not like that.

Social Thinking assumes that a student who is defiant or says they don’t care is being attention seeking. However, someone may refuse to do something because they realize it can mean leaving their needs unfulfilled. The person who refuses could very well be someone who doesn’t care much about people paying attention to them, or someone who is overwhelmed when in the center of attention (for the record, I usually look for other reasons besides “it is expected” before doing something, and I do get overwhelmed when in the center of attention). Also, those who say they don’t care may truly not care.

The Social Thinking-Social Communication profile describes a category called “The Resistant Social Communicator” (RSC) (Winner, Crooke, & Madrigal, 2011). The description claims that they are being attention-seeking when they say that they don’t care how they make others think and feel and complain to others that they are misunderstood. But what if they really don’t care and are complaining because they are accused of attention-seeking when they say what they really feel (especially since they act like they didn’t want attention)? What is interesting about the description is that it describes a lot of characteristics that occur in gifted children. They sometimes act like class clowns, have a need for recognition, are critical of others, expect others to follow their rules, desire to be accepted by peers, have a sense of humor that can often be not understood, are logical thinkers, and often get ODD and bipolar diagnoses. Considering that there are RSC children who have above average intelligence, they might well be gifted, especially since they are very sweet when they connect positively and they believe their intentions are good.

Social Thinking assumes that those with social anxiety have a social radar so highly developed that they interpret information in an exaggerated way. However, those with social anxiety usually focus more on their own embarrassment than what people are actually thinking about them (though they may develop it in response to being insulted).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Problems with the Social Thinking Curriculum Part 2: Encouraging Use of Praise

Trigger warning: Mention of abuse and ABA

Social Thinking says to praise a student in a way that centers on how their behavior makes people have pro-social thoughts and to celebrate each little step. It also encourages students to do behaviors that make others praise them. This blog post talks about why praising and criticizing is a bad idea:

If anything, students should instead observe people’s reactions when they are in a social situation, and then ask themselves if they are satisfied by the response.

One of the therapies Social Thinking recommends is ABA, which gives positive reinforcement for complying and gives no reinforcement when not complying. In fact, it says it is required for “Severely Challenged Social Communicators” and “Resistant Social Communicators” (Winner, Crooke, & Madrigal, 2011), and ABA can be especially detrimental to students with those labels.  Compliance therapy can make an autistic more vulnerable to abuse, make them try to please everyone, give them PTSD, and make burnout more likely.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Problems with the Social Thinking Curriculum Part 1: Insistence on Conforming and Thinking Anything that is Normal is Right

The Social Thinking curriculum is a curriculum founded by Michelle Garcia Winner intended to help students with “social-cognitive disabilities” develop theory of mind.

When I was given Social Thinking worksheets for a few days in my Social Skills class, I didn’t understand the worksheets. However, when they were explained to me, I found errors in logic and found it to be ableist (discriminatory towards people with disabilities). Because I found it to be widely praised by parents and educators, but found that many autistics pointed out problems with or only used it to understand how neurotypicals think, I decided to share the problems I found in it.

The reason Social Thinking gives for doing things is because they are expected, even though sometimes expected behaviors don’t solve a problem (this will be discussed further in part 4). Also, sometimes expected behaviors do work, but not just because they are expected. For example, being calm when something minor happens is expected, but the reason why it works is because having too much emotion can overpower your ability to think rationally and solve problems. It calls positive or neutral thoughts people have when you do something expected “normal thoughts”, and negative thoughts people have when you do something unexpected “weird thoughts”.  When Michelle Garcia Winner cleared up confusion involving the term “weird thoughts”, she said calling students “weird” is hurtful, but still thought it was okay to use the term “normal thoughts”. Yet being normal is not intrinsically good, and being weird is not intrinsically bad.

Social Thinking considers neurotypicals to have no real social problems because their social errors are within the bandwidth of normal social behavior, are considered part of being human. However, the fact that they make mistakes shows that they do have social problems, though it is easier for them to solve them. Also, autistics are humans too, and our social mistakes are part of our humanity. Social Thinking considers neurotypicals getting overwhelmed by social demands, and facing anxiety and depression as a result, not to be due to a social learning challenge because it is just part of life. By that logic, autistics getting overwhelmed by social demands do not have social learning challenges because it is part of their life.

Social Thinking lists Schizoid Personality Disorder as a diagnosis related to social thinking challenges. However, schizoids tend to be very capable of theory of mind, to the point that they describe it as “reading people like a book”. They tend to use this ability to imitate other people’s behavior, so that people don’t misinterpret the way they react and they appear “normal”. Since they are indifferent to praise and/or criticism, it might be that Social Thinking’s claim is incorrect, and that caring about what other people think about you is not needed for theory of mind.

Social Thinking teaches that if you are being bullied, you should change your behavior. However, bullies will find anything to pick on someone about. If someone changes their behavior in response to bullying, oftentimes the bullies will make fun of them for changing their behavior. Also, the bully’s prejudices are what cause the bullying in the first place.

Social Thinking says you have to do Whole Body Listening in order to listen and to show the social group that you are listening. However, Whole Body Listening can be problematic to those with sensory issues or those who become anxious if they are not stimming. For example, I have to move my legs in order to avoid getting anxious, so if I am sitting, I shake one of my legs. According to Whole Body Listening, doing that (or moving any of your body parts, for that matter) is not okay.

Social Thinking says that students, when having a conversation, reading a book, and doing organizational skills, have to figure out the big picture first and then plug in the details. However, when I try to do that, I am completely lost and can’t help but notice the details. I can’t connect and evaluate details to form a whole concept like I normally can do, so they seem separate. I have to scan each detail before figuring out the big picture. In fact, many other autistics have to do this, and it works for them!

Social Thinking says the reason students with “social-cognitive deficits” get overwhelmed by homework loads in middle school is because of their “social-cognitive deficits” (Winner, n.d.). However, in middle school (at least in the United States), there are 30+ students in each classroom, way too many for the teacher to pay attention to each of their needs. Additionally, there is more busy work given to students than homework that actually helps them learn. Social Thinking focuses on the rewards involving status that you get when you complete homework, even homework that seems ridiculous. However, homework was intended to help a student practice what they learned in school, though now the original purpose of it seems to have been lost. Students don’t learn much from most of their homework nowadays.