Monday, November 23, 2009

That's Snake Oil for You

The Chicago Tribune has a great story on how DAN! and other organizations use valid science to justify their "treatments" for autism. The sad fact that parents trust these quacks worries me. It's also why I am not going to continue down the autism research path after I complete the dissertation.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-autism-science-nov23,0,2618338

The Autistic Mind and Patterns

The research for my dissertation indicates many individuals with autism disorders and/or savant abilities view language in terms of patterns and rules. This results in the "stilted" usage, the "little professor" forms of writing and speech. I'm wondering how this also challenges basic assumptions of learning and language.

I love patterns. Root words and basic grammar appeal to me. I wish language were more like computer programming, in which a keyword or key phrase has a single meaning and single purpose. No one doubts you can be creative and original with computers, though they are linguistically rigid.

The study of Latin would intrigue me for the same reason. Rules are rules. Esperanto also comes to mind. No wonder Tammet and others like to construct languages with rules and patterns. I used to create alphabets and languages -- I even have notebooks with my ideas from fourth and fifth grade. Rules are great because they reduce confusion.

Just some thoughts as I wind down the project and edit my chapters.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Speaking Invitation

I'll be speaking at the St. Cloud, MN, public library December 3 at 7:30 p.m. The topic will be adults with autism spectrum disorders.

The sponsor is the Asperger's Support Network, online at:
http://www.aspergerssupportnetwork.org/

The event is free and the ASN meets on a regular basis to support individuals in the "mid-state" region of Minnesota.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are the Logical Deficient?

While working on the research for my dissertation, I have read page after page on writing pedagogy asserting that the goal of a university writing course should be to teach students that knowledge is socially constructed and that "truth" is relative to culture and community.

The problem with this assertion is that students with autism and similar conditions (my scrambled brain, apparently), are not relativists. Various researchers (Wellcome 2008, Frith 2001) have found that individuals with these conditions are more logical, unaffected by emotional inputs or rhetorical framing. I've found quite a bit of research on this aspect of brain trauma and autism and am including these findings in my dissertation.

If a group of people are "wired" to think there is a "truth" -- that knowledge is not created but discovered and then applied creatively -- who are educational theorists to consider such people "immature" or "simple-minded" in some way? In fact, I would argue that such clarity of thought is admirable and even a necessary counterbalance to the relativists.

As a culture, we are so certain that Maslow and Piaget knew what "maturity" and "self-actualization" must be that we are willing to dismiss as somehow undeveloped a mind that seeks rules and patterns. Just because some philosophers and psychologists decided relativism was a sign of maturity does not make it true. It's ironic that many educational theorists embrace as "absolute truth" the argument that there is no absolute truth.

Students with autism or brain trauma are attracted to the sciences, technology, and mathematical fields. The like the notion that truths are waiting to be discovered -- not created. How we apply knowledge is creative, such as the various gadgets we all love, but the knowledge itself represents truths that are outside human control or creativity.

The research indicating some brains are better at logic than other is interesting. The price paid for this logical seems to be deficient social skills. Not sure that's a bad price when I think about dealing with some people. I think I'd rather be logical and "rigid" in my thoughts.

Some of the research I have been exploring is if we can teach the "genius-level" students with autism and other disorders how to work better with others. As another researcher, working in London, responded: "unlikely." Most people don't like the rigid, pattern-seeking minds. Usually, the gifted are in some ways "handicapped" by their neurology and reason. Not everyone wants to believe "truth" is definite, waiting to be discovered.

And, yes, I realize this only applies to some fields. Not sure we can have a "truth" to painting or dance, but we can have a "truth" in science. Anyway, I was pondering this tangled mess while editing my dissertation.

Also, a reminder that my project on autism and educational technology is continuing through December 2009:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=6hUN2HISyDpNYnlwPpLkxQ_3d_3d

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Survey to Assess Needs for Improved Course Designs

Survey to Assess Needs for Improved Course Designs

As colleges and universities offer more courses online, it is important that we consider how students with autism spectrum disorders approach online communities, especially online classes. My experiences as a diagnosed high-functioning autistic student and instructor have led me to question how online courses could be designed to better serve students with autism spectrum disorders. I am conducting a survey, seeking to determine if there are characteristics of some online communities ASD individuals prefer. I am also interested in learning what qualities of online communities might be disliked by individuals with ASDs.

If you are an individual with an officially diagnosed autism spectrum disorder interested in offering opinions about online communities, I hope you will consider completing this brief online survey. You do not have to be a student. However, you should have some experiences with online communities so you can explain what design qualities are or are not appealing in various communities.

This will be an anonymous survey. Only your answers to interview questions will be saved and referenced during the study.

If you are interested in participating in these interviews, please visit the following survey link:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=6hUN2HISyDpNYnlwPpLkxQ_3d_3d

Thank you,

C. S. Wyatt
Doctoral Candidate
Rhetoric; Scientific and Technical Communication
Digital Literacy and Pedagogy
Dept. of Writing Studies
University of Minnesota
wyatt050@umn.edu

This study is referenced by University of Minnesota IRB Code Number 0909P72516.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Job Hunt

Hunting for work is never easy, but for individuals with disabilities the question of "disclosure" arises. Do you tell an employer you are disabled? Do you assume certain group memberships or activities reveal the disability? What if people offering letters of reference mention the disability?

Honestly, I don't have any answers for what is or isn't best.

Since I use a cane at times, have a mildly noticeable limp, and one arm doesn't swing when I walk, I would have to say that most face-to-face interviews are going to reveal the more obvious (and minor) physical issues. None of them affect writing or technology work.

Neurological issues are a tad more complex, as are those things that might be considered "different" about me.

My wife says that intelligence is a disability, and I do agree that at some point you are odd because you're rare. I've thought about removing my American Mensa membership from documents, but that should actually be a good thing within academia and research.

So, do my speeches and work for various autism and special education groups signify anything to an employer? Probably. But I would assume those interested in education volunteer within their fields.

Explicitly disclosing seems risky, but I'm not sure there is an alternative. If you have a disability and want legal protections, you do have to disclose the situation and any special needs you might have.

I'm pondering many issues while job hunting. In the end, I'm sure anything and everything will be known by a hiring committee. The best I can hope for is some level of appreciation for difference.