Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Autism and Love (or Like or Want?)

Love
Love (Photo credit: praram)
My wife and I were discussing the fact that many of the adults with autism spectrum disorders I've met are, forgive me, but obsessed with finding love. It seems "love" is an overriding concern to them. This interest in love didn't seem like the interest in dating I've heard among other groups. No, this is a quest for "love" as if there isn't a (few) steps between meeting and love.

Two of the self-described "Aspies" I've met were asking me to help because they were accused of stalking on college campuses. They both told me they were trying to let girls know they wanted to date because they were in love.

Someone needed to explain meeting people, dating, and what "love" is — and what it is not. It turns out, they really didn't know what was "acceptable" and what was "unacceptable" when trying to meet someone and/or ask that person on a date.

Polite rejections were not understood. These young men thought, "Call me sometime" and "Sure, we'll get together sometime" were literal invitations to date. They couldn't understand people lie to be polite.

I appreciate the challenges of college social settings, but many more of the autistic adults I meet are not in college. Some attended college, some did not. The challenges seem similar, regardless of age. The questions about relationships are similar, too.

Some of the autistics/Aspies I've met make me extremely uncomfortable with their questions about love and sex. It is as if the two are the same thing — or at least that love always comes with lots of sex.

My wife said that maybe the autistics don't think about sex more than other people, but that they don't filter their thoughts. She also suggested they don't quite understand the differences between love and other emotions because they haven't had the same social experiences as their peers.

Parents and caregivers must talk to autistic teens and adults about relationships, love, and sex.

It's horrible to hear an autistic college-aged woman say she had sex with a young man because he said that was what people in love do. I've met way, way too many young women with ASDs who have been manipulated sexually. Yes, sexual abuse is a problem in general, but autistics seem extremely vulnerable because they might want to do what is "normal."

Autistics have asked how I know I "love" my wife. What makes something "love" versus like or physical desire?

Love requires knowing the person. You don't "love" that stranger across a room. You probably don't "love" that young man or woman in your chemistry lecture hall. Love means you understand the person, know the person better than you might know anyone else in your life.

Love takes time, I tell autistic teens. It also takes work, once you are together.

Love is not about sex. It is about intellectual, philosophical, and emotional connections. My wife and I share a need for order and planning. We like to be in control of our lives and the spaces around us. We hate the unexpected. We share so many traits, we really do finish each other's thoughts.

When my wife had surgery earlier this year, it was the longest few hours I could imagine. I paced; I walked around the hospital several times. I would have done anything to switch places with her, since I've had so many medical adventures that they're almost routine. I hated that she had to be in the operating room.

Autistics have asked if what I hated was the thought of being without my wife. Would I be lost without her?

Not in the literal sense, no. I can shop, care for the cats, get to work, pay bills, and everything else. I've dealt with a lot by myself — including the horrible loss of J.C. Kitty while my wife was in another state. Things are better with my wife, but I can live and survive without her. Dependency isn't love.

But, I don't want to be without her. And I want to make her life better than it would be without me.

She is why I want to be a better person. She is why I want to earn a bit more, so I can give her the things she deserves. I know she doesn't need "things" from me, but I want her to be able to buy the books, craft supplies, and other things she might enjoy. I want her to be happy.

Love, at least to me, is that sense that we each make the other person a little better, a little more secure. Whatever my wife wants to do, I will do all I can to help her achieve. I know she's done a lot so I can have some level of success. She's sacrificed a lot for me; I'd do anything for her.

Our love isn't about passion or sex. It's about being better people together.

I'm not sure how to teach about love, relationships, and sex. I have no idea if my thoughts on the topics are the "right" views for other people or not. I only know that when parents and students ask for my help, it is usually because a autistic person has confused social norms for being liked, and being liked for being loved.

My wife was a classmate, and then an acquaintance. We dated. We talked a lot. Love was not instant — and I'm sure for us it isn't what the autistics asking me questions imagine.

My wife is my best friend. That's what matters to me.

Focus on making friends. When you chase love, you're probably going to scare other people away.
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Friday, May 24, 2013

Writing and Autism: More Group Work Thoughts

I want to thank several autistic self-advocates for asking me to address the topic of collaboration and "peer work" more often and more forcefully. To challenge dominant pedagogies is no small risk in academia. I'm not rejecting group work, because we do need to foster interpersonal skills, but I am arguing the social skills must never dominate how we grade another academic discipline. If you teach science, grade science. If you teach writing, grade writing. Don't make "plays well with others" the major source of a grade.

My students do group projects and work in teams (pairs). But, I do not make that collaborative effort part of the grade. I value teaching students to work well with others, yes, but grading social skills? I am the least qualified person imaginable to evaluate social skills. I facilitate collaboration, but I am not going to try to grade it on a "A-F" or point scale.

Outside of teaching, I am a freelance writer and editor. I also do a fair amount of freelance computer work. I work from home, alone. I email my projects to clients — some of whom I have never met. There are some clients to whom I've never spoken. All I know of the client is an email address.

My academic colleagues argue that writing is collaborative. I should know that, as a freelance writer.

Uh, no, I don't have the experience as a writer that my colleagues imagine.

What I know is that I write alone, edit alone, and very, very seldom interact with anyone else employed by the publishers of what I write. Rarely, I receive a request from an editor to remove words or add words to a column. It is even rarer to receive a file back with a request for a rewrite. For magazines, I write a column, email it to the editor, and whatever happens after that isn't my concern. The column appears in print a few weeks later and I get a paycheck.

When I program, I code at home in my basement office. (It is a nice office, really.) Nobody "collaborates" with the coding stage. The collaboration occurs before, when I ask what a client wants, and after I develop a prototype. The vast majority of the time coding is alone. And I like it that way!

Yes, I assign group and team projects, but I explain to students that groups can operate in different ways. For some groups, meeting around a table is productive. For other groups, email and online exchanges are more productive.

There is no single "right" way or "best" way to collaborate. Some workplaces find that telecommuters are more productive. Other workplaces worry that isolation doesn't allow for random new ideas. I don't want to share an open space with others — I could never focus on my tasks. But, maybe shared common areas would be tolerable, such as a common cafeteria.

If we, teachers, only allow or encourage one form of collaboration, then we might be overlooking other collaborative styles that work better for some people and teams. How I work best with others might not be how another writer or programmer works best.

We shouldn't embrace "group work" simply because it feels good (to some people). The notion that classroom groups expand students' appreciation for other people somehow assumes that the students don't interact and collaborate outside the classroom.

My theory is that students learn plenty about teamwork outside the classroom. I need to focus on the academic subjects I teach. If that subject includes group work by necessity or norm, that's important to recognize, too. But, we shouldn't try to make too many assignments group-based. We certainly should not be grading science or math or any other topic based on social skills.

For more read this great essay:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2013/03/07/are-they-teaching-science-or-shakespeare/

Monday, May 20, 2013

Writing and Autism: My Views are not Universal

As I continue this irregularly appearing series on writing and autism, I hope that some readers form connections from some points to others — and reach conclusions about how we might better understand autism's affect on academic writing. This post is a good point to consider a challenge many autistics face when writing:
  • Failing to explain conclusions, assuming readers share the author's experiences and views
A fair amount of autism scholarship focuses on issues of awareness of "self" and "other" when analyzing situations. Many of the instruments screening for autism include measures of how well, and how consistently, an autistic person can evaluate the emotions, needs, and desires of others. But, academic writing asks us to connect to the experiences of others — an impossibility.

Some writing instructors will say, "Don't assume your readers know anything." Of course, that's not really good advice. You have to assume audiences have some previous knowledge. What is necessary is audience analysis to form educated guesses about what readers know and what their experiences might be. It always helps to be specific for students with autism spectrum disorders; all students benefit from clarity.

Audience analysis is not intuitive, especially for autistics.

I only know what I know, and I can only recall my own experiences with any sense of certainty. I cannot understand how people form their viewpoints; my worldview seems "natural" to me. To guess about others is somewhat troubling, disconcerting.

The worst part of academic writing is that it is often a "lie" of sorts. I am rarely going to teach an instructor something new. What most teachers want is to see what I know, comparing that to what I should know. The entire academic situation is a falsehood.

A question to teachers: When have you assigned a written paper and not have a "right" answer in mind? Therefore, the real "audience" is you — the student has to impress you to earn a good grade. You're it. The entire audience, unless there is more than one reader or the teacher isn't the reader.

Teachers don't want me to write to them… but they want me to write to them. It's a complex game, at best, and an absurdity of audience. My audience, therefore is the person (teacher, editor, publisher, producer) who decides if my work is good enough for a decent "grade" in some manner. The reader is pretending to be an audience he or she isn't, and I'm writing for this fake audience. No wonder I get tense when writing academic papers.

My advice to autistic writers? Assume the teacher will feign ignorance of just about anything. Write to that ignorant audience. You can always remove any extraneous details later in the revision process. It is better to overwrite than under-write because editing is easier than adding content.

Start with an outline or brainstorm listing the points you need to make. I outline most long things I write. I even outlined this series of blog posts to ensure I addressed some topics. Learning to outline "just enough" takes practice. A good outline helps you avoid skipping around or skipping important points.

For any claim in the outline, develop a list of supporting evidence you might include in a paper. The list of evidence is what you can refine to the appropriate level for the (fake) "audience" of the writing. I often list silly things that "anyone should know" and try to decide which of those points can be safely omitted.

One model for academic writing is STRESS:
Statement (sometimes a claim)
"Trivia" (factual illustration of the claim)
Reason
Evidence
Supporting evidence, and more
(re)Statement (for emphasis)

Example:
[Statement / claim] The federal minimum wage should be increased because inflation is reducing the purchasing power of workers' wages.
[Trivia] While the minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since 2009, the average monthly rent has increased from $780 to $1050 (The People History, 2012). 
[Reason] As prices increase while wages remain the same, the affect is similar to cutting salaries.
[Evidence] According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index has increased 8.5 percent between 2009 and 2013.
[Supporting evidence] The minimum wage was last increased by Congress in 2007.
[(re-)Statement, emphasized] The current minimum wage does not reflect the increased cost of living experienced by workers.
A teacher is going to be familiar with the concept of inflation. But, you still need to explain it. The same principal holds for literature, science, or any other topic.

Why do I have to state that William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in a paper? The teacher clearly knows who wrote the play — he or she probably used Shakespeare's name numerous times in class. But, you have to include the author. On paper, or in a text document, I'd list as many facts about Hamlet and Shakespeare as possible. Any little detail might be important. As I'm listing the trivia, I try not to think too much about the specific assignment title or prompt. If I focus too narrowly, I forget to include details in the paper.

Pretend the reader of the paper has never read Hamlet — even though teacher certainly has! While most teachers don't want a complete summary of the knowledge being evaluated, it never hurts to be prepared. That's true of English literature papers and science papers. Yes, the science teacher knows that the benthic zone is the deepest part of an ocean, but you still need to state the fact to get a decent grade.

In future paragraphs of the above minimum wage example, opposing arguments would have to be restated and addressed in a manner favorable to the thesis. In the example, the thesis of the author is that the minimum wage should be increased to offset inflation. I would ask a student writing such a paper to list all the counter arguments he or she can imagine. I would also encourage the student to use Google, Bing, Google Scholar, and other resources to locate additional counter arguments. You might not be able to imagine what others believe — but you can find it online!

Counter arguments a minimum wage paper would need to address:
  • Increasing the minimum wage increases inflation, resulting in a spiral effect.
  • Increasing the minimum wage encourage employers to hire fewer people.
  • Increasing the minimum wage increases youth unemployment.
  • Indexing wages to inflation raises questions about "which inflation" (Core CPI, Inclusive CPI, or Chained CPI) to use as the model.
  • Analyzing poverty rates reveals that cities and states with higher minimum wages experience no decrease in poverty, nor an increase in the standard of living.
  • Appreciating regional cost of living differences, and existing state minimum wages, make a national minimum wage less meaningful today than it was originally. 
There are many more arguments that would need to be addressed. I always encourage students to use search engines to find other viewpoints.

Writing teachers need to work closely with all students, but particularly those with cognitive differences. Being autistic, being gifted, being different in any way, is a challenge for student authors. Encourage overwriting, and then help the students trim extraneous content.

When I turn to the narrow topic of a paper, I have to consider my viewpoint might not universal. Ideally, my viewpoint doesn't matter. I know writing teachers might cringe at my previous statement, but my "view" of Hamlet doesn't likely matter, nor does my "opinion" of the benthic zone. What matter is my ability to demonstrate knowledge and the ability to analyze information. I've learned that the less opinionated my papers, the higher my grades. (Yes, that contradicts many of the claims made about writing courses. But, reality is reality — focus on facts whenever possible.)

When a paper does ask for opinions and experiences, I struggle to earn the same grades I receive on factual writing. Other autistic students have shared similar experiences with me during interviews. For whatever reason, many of us struggle to express our views without offending others.

Working with other readers, people more experienced with college writing expectations, can help. If a college or university offers writing tutors, a writing center, or other free sources of feedback, then you should become a regular "client" to gain insights. Official writing tutors are students or adults with proven expertise with academic genres. They cannot write papers for you or evaluate papers, but they can guide you carefully towards the areas needing improvement.

Overwrite, to the point there's little doubt material needs to be removed. Take the overwritten paper to the writing center or tutors' offices. If they tell you something should be added, then you haven't overwritten! I always want an editor to tell me things need to be removed; otherwise, I might have left out important information or supporting evidence.

Best of all, writing tutors know the "audience" rules.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Autistic Me Isn't Funny, Darn It!

"You're funny when you give a talk, but your blog isn't funny. I really wanted to like it."

You don't like the blog?

"Don't you read funny blogs? They deal with serious topics, but still make me laugh. You're too serious, darn it."

My wife and I do read the funny blogs. We were discussing two of the better blogs tonight:

http://thebloggess.com
http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com

When someone expects The Autistic Me to be funny after hearing me speak or reading some of the other things I have written, I feel like I've let down that visitor.

You just saw this (apparently) funny guy on stage and he was all witty (with a dose of sarcasm) so you rushed home to read… this blog. No wonder you're disappointed. This blog isn't like the public appearance. Maybe, just maybe, someone else writes the blog. Maybe you got the address wrong. This can't be that guy with the tolerant wife!

Sorry, but this is me. Yeah, I get it. You wanted funny when you tried to find me online. What happened?

When I started this blog, it was for a graduate course. The course required students (including me) to create online profiles and some sort of online representation of their lives. I didn't want to be all flippant and sarcastic, like I am when speaking in public, so I took the assignment seriously. I've been taking it seriously ever since.

Should I find more humor in autism? Hey, it couldn't hurt. If there was ever a set of communities in need of some levity, it's the various autism communities. There's some sort of annual stand-up for autism thing that I've never seen. Maybe I should give it a try to learn about making autism funny.

"You write comedy. Use that skill here!"

Well, it isn't quite that simple. Comedy takes a lot of work. My family and friends get to read the drafts, the not-so-funny first, second and third versions of scripts and essays. Sometimes, actors and directors get involved. They read the scripts and tell me what wasn't so funny. I revise the scripts again. Eventually, an audience hears me speak or sees a play or reads an essay and believes I have some sort of natural talent for humor. I don't. I'm not that funny. Just ask my wife. I'm not funny at all most days.

I've had professors ask why I'm not happier. Why are most of my comments negative? Don't I like anything?

My theory is that most humorists are unhappy people, willing to say or write what bothers them about other people and life in general. When I write comedy, I'm mocking humanity and its institutions. Sometimes (often) I am mocking myself, too.

No, this blog isn't funny. That's probably because I never looked at it as part of my creative writing. (Yes, all writing is "creative" — blah, blah, blah, other teachers will respond.) The blog was meant to earn a good grade in a serious class, which sucked all the humor out pretty quickly. All of graduate school lacked much humor; if you've read enough of this blog, you understand. The Autistic Me is probably too often the serious and frustrated me.

Am I going to start trying to be funny? No, because trying too hard would be too obvious, and not funny at all. I have a blog where I intended to post humorous thoughts. But, like so many other projects on my todo list, I find myself too busy to tackle the requirements of humorous blogging. I don't seem to have enough time to be funny on this blog.

Now, all this writing about humor reminds me that if you live in Pittsburgh, then May 19 and 20, 2013, you should try to see the premier reading of my play, The Gospel Singer at Bricolage. Here's the informational link to the production's website:

http://www.bricolagepgh.org/events/gospel-singer

Monday, May 13, 2013

Autism and Creative Writing

I have met, in physical and virtual spaces, many autistic creative writers. A good number enjoy fan fiction, some are poets, a few prefer stage and screen, and others write non-fiction — creatively conveying knowledge and experiences. The sheer number of blogs and forums dedicated to autism indicate the community outputs a significant number of words daily.

Writing is always a creative act. There are non-verbal writers, and there are loquacious individuals like me. Autistic traits affect communication, presenting some challenges, but autistic writers find ways to adapt. I love writing on paper, but that can be painful. When I cannot write, I type. When I can't type well, I dictate. When I can't dictate, I type… slowly.

I consider myself a good writer — not great, but good. That's not false modesty, since I have earned a few acknowledgments for my works. However, I also know my works are far from timeless masterpieces. There are many writers I admire, men and women with more talent than I posses. They likely also have more discipline when finishing projects. My perfectionism leads to too many unfinished works.

There are two broad issues I want to address in this post, based on questions I've been asked by parents.

  • Is "fan fiction" really creative writing?
  • How do you write good fiction if you lack empathy?

I'm addressing both because they are related.

First, fan fiction. Why is it not creative? A great many authors have started their careers by writing about characters or situations created by other authors. Isn't that "fan fiction" legitimized? When a writer agrees to tackle the James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek, or the Bourne series, that's fan fiction — unless the author secretly dislikes the characters. Then it is writing for money. Isn't taking over any series fan fiction? Most young adult series have several writers. These authors should be "fans" of the series.

Writing with constraints is like writing sonnets: there are rules, but you still get to be creative. In fan fiction, the constraints are the characters and settings. You cannot violate established canon, or other fans will complain vocally. If I made it big and was asked to contribute to a series, I doubt I could. An author has to be immersed in the universe of the series. I wouldn't mind being the creator of a series (I have three well outlined, in fact), but to assume another person's universe is intimidating.

Isn't writing historical fiction, or even non-fiction, constrained in the same way? I'm always impressed by the research required to write some works. James Michener comes to mind. His books are amazing. They are also constrained by events.

Fan fiction, therefore, doesn't need much of a defense from me. Having characters and places pre-defined doesn't automatically write a story for you.

The second question, regarding how I write fiction, implies a similar lack of creativity that the parents assumed of fan fiction authors.

I've always had several "imaginary worlds" in my mind. I create places and characters to explore what makes people do the things they do. Most of my works examine that basic question of life: Why are some people "bad" and some people "good"? Why do we struggle so much to be kind, honest, and trustworthy? When we try to create a rigid ethical or philosophical system, that system eventually fails us. How we react with life contradicts our values makes for good stories.

What if ghosts really did explain the bumps in the night? Wouldn't being a ghost be a lousy existence? Stuck watching others, unable to do much more than thump about the world. I've always felt sorry for ghosts — though I also know they don't exist.

I'm fascinated by the idea of worlds between life and death, Heaven and earth. The worlds between Hell and earth are particularly fascinating. I've outlined a trilogy of books with characters "stuck" in the between spaces — knowing their choices led to this predicament and their current choices have eternal implications. How would knowing, with complete certainty, that there is a Heaven and Hell alter behaviors? Would the knowledge change anyone? Already, we know true believers are among the worst people.

What if there are Klingons or Vulcans or other aliens out there, with their own ethical systems? Using "aliens" to explore cultural conflicts risks offending fewer people than comparing "real" cultures. I'm not a science fiction fan, but I understand that sci-fi explores human issues from safe locations lightyears away. Science fiction explores politics, philosophy, and theology from that distance.

When I write, I am trying to ask myself, "Why would this character make the choices he or she makes?" Is it nature? Nurture? Culture? A bit of everything? And, more importantly to me, can a person change?

Fiction, therefore, is how I examine the human condition. I'm asking myself questions and plotting out possible answers to those questions with fictional characters. What gets strange is when I "lose control" of a character and write something I didn't anticipate. Of course, I am in charge of the characters — what they do, I had to imagine. That means my creativity was outpacing my analytical process.

My creative writing is constrained by what I know about psychology, neurology, and other fields. My characters do what I imagine "real people" would do.

Some people tell me that writing is therapeutic. For me, it is almost occupational therapy. I write to understand the people and events around me. I don't write simply to create something new; my imagined worlds and universes are tools to understand reality.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writing and Autism: Audience Analysis

This will be one of the shorter posts in my writing and autism series.

Students with autism spectrum disorders can analyze situations and audiences, but they are more prone to mistaken assumptions about their audiences. The challenge for students with ASDs might be summarized as:

  • Assuming audience familiarity with information, generally assuming too much prior familiarity with the topic addressed

I tend to forget that not everyone shares my interests. This is not uncommon among people with autistic traits. I cannot comprehend why other people aren't fascinated by computers, history, music, economics, theater, typography, and a dozen other topics. If there's something to be learned, why would anyone not want to learn it?

When I write about various topics, I forget that not everyone reads and researches compulsively. My wife, who edits most of what I write, often identifies the "leaps" I take and reminds me to fill in the gaps. That's not always easy, since I have difficulty imagining less knowledge than I have on a topic. I can, however, imagine having more knowledge — because that is what I want.

The autistic students I've interviewed often have narrow interests, with extreme depth. They assume a great deal of knowledge, too, at least in that special area. However, they also have little or no interest in some other topics. That can pose a problem in higher education, too.

I'm not sure how to best address challenges with audience analysis. My suggestion is to use peer review and discussions to help college writers see what others do not know. That would be similar to the function my wife provides for me: a reality check on what my audience knows.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Question from a Reader

This question was asked by a reader of The Autistic Me:
I just stumbled upon your blog today as I was seeking out feedback from other people regarding residential support programs for my 21 year old HFA son. He desperately needs, wants, and deserves the opportunity to live a more mainstream life — he has isolated himself from the world and I know he's unhappy and frustrated. Unfortunately, my finances are such that I cannot afford to take risks and the fees I'm finding to be prohibitive. Any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated. We are in the DC suburbs.
Does anyone have any thoughts? I don't know much about residential programs, other than what parents and individuals have told me. The programs are expensive — and no two programs are the same.

I have recommended college residential programs. The programs were $30,000 or more per year and they work well for only some students. That's a lot of money to risk on the hope that a program helps an autistic person gain the life skills necessary to live independently.

There are no easy answers for parents and caregivers. Still, ideas might help.

Writing and Autism: I vs. One

One of the challenges for autistic writers is the artificial nature of "academic perspective" in college writing. Instead of the concrete "me" and "you" of other genres, academic writing uses the distant, artificial, and abstract, "one" — or nothing at all. Academic writing avoids the first- and second-person point of view vigorously.

  • Emphasizing the personal instead of the general, leading to a "first-person" perspective when inappropriate to the genre

Readers of this series of essays will recognize that abstractions pose a problem for many, if not most, students with autism spectrum disorders. Since a diagnostic criteria for ASDs is concrete thinking, writing teachers need to resist the impulse to "fix" the autistic perspective. Instead, I argue that it is academia with the problem, not the students.

Writing and literature classes discuss the "constructed author" (or some variation of that phrase). The notion that the "persona" of a writer is artificial bothers me — and many autistics. When I write, I am not somebody else. I am always me, period. Yet, writing pedagogy doesn't accept my perspective. Sometimes, the resistance to the autistic experience is outright aggressive.

I've been told, "Of course you're playing a role. That's what writers do." No. That is not what I do.

Some writing scholars compare the persona of a writer to an online profile. Ironically, last night my wife reminded me that I might have too much information on a profile. I am me, even online.

From my dissertation:
[The] concept of an "invented self" conflicts with autistic conceptions of self and identity (Baron-Cohen, 1995; Baron-Cohen, 1999; Baron-Cohen, 2000; Frith, 2001). As students with ASDs have difficulty with role-playing, an issue addressed earlier in this project, the notion of creating an alternate self is likely to be problematic as well. I have observed that the social naiveté of students with ASDs includes not understanding why people would exaggerate or omit information from online profiles. If anything, it is possible that students with ASDs are too open and honest (Hane, 2004; Wolf et al., 2009).
When we discuss authorial persona, it is a discussion of ethos and credibility. Consider the word author leads to "authority" — a position of power, a command over the subject at hand. For an autistic writer, the only perspective from which I can speak with authority is my own. I'm not going to overstate or understate my qualification on that: I am me, so I know my motivations and intentions when I write.
To fully address the value of online persona in pedagogy, it is essential to define what constitutes "persona" in composition. The persona of a writer is both the image the author intentionally attempts to create and what each reader infers. Though the author normally asserts control over his or her persona, the reality is that no two readers reach the same conclusions about an author. This can be considered a negotiated, social understanding of the persona (D. Selfe, "Collaborating with Students," 2004).

Again, though, we find that individuals with ASDs are confused by notions of creating or negotiating an identity, a problem mentioned by most of the memoirs by individuals with autism. These individuals simply "are" themselves, unable to analyze with any ease how their actions create perceptions of identity. Without the ability to reference "self," there is little ability to consider "the other" in a writing or speaking context (Attwood, 2007; Frith, 2001; Nazeer, 2006).
College composition teachers, and academic writing in general, embrace the notion that being "apart from" or "distanced from" the topic of a paper gives the author more authority. To me, that's simply ridiculous. If I'm reading a paper by a distinguished scholar, his or her use of "I" or "me" is going to enhance the paper, not distract from the content.

I'll be blunt: writing that uses "one" and other rhetorical gymnastics to avoid "I" and "you" is annoying. It is absurd and reflects only the biases and stupidity of academic writing. Yes, stupidity. Does "one" really hide the "I" from a reader? Of course not. In fact, it draws attention to the artificial, stilted nature of the writing. It is as annoying as the overuse of a thesaurus to impress readers.

I use personal pronouns. If that means my works will be rejected by some journals and publishers, so be it. I'd rather be true to myself than to academic traditions.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Need for Scholarship

In the past, I've written that I do not want to be boxed in as "autistic autism researcher" when I am interested in other aspects of communication that have nothing at all to do with autism. No matter the topic, as long as autism is involved someone will hate the research(er). Yes, people are passionate about other topics, but the "rhetoric of theater" or "rhetoric of fiction" isn't going to lead to quite the same animosity. (However, I do admit that writing about "philosophy and fiction" leads to some pretty nasty emails.)

But, the more I read about "autistics and writing" and "autistics and school" that doesn't have anything to do with my experiences or those of other autistics with academic skills, the more I must admit that we need autistic scholars to express their experiences, theories, and to conduct scholarly research.

I'm not about to stop pursuing my creative writing, computer programming, or many other interests — but to not advocate for change in our educational practices and systems would be selfish. Not that the research isn't also self-serving for my career as a professor. However, I do feel a duty to push for change when I meet other people who have struggled within the system. We are wasting talent because our educational system is unwilling to accept difference.

Frustrated — and motivated to push for change — I am going to resume searching for a publisher for several academic texts this summer. The topics: academic writing and autistic students; autism and self-perception in writing; and I have a list of other ideas. We really need quality scholarship by autistics and others with cognitive differences in the humanities. We have plenty of "studies" (including disability studies) but not enough about autism and neurodiversity. Autism affects how individuals process information and analyze that information. It also affects our creative processes.

I will return to sending queries to publishers and editors after May (following a big creative project)… and begging publishers to take these topics seriously. I'm tired of reading what "experts" believe, instead of how autistics actually approach creative tasks — especially academic writing, which is the "composition" of new, original works.

There are some collections and books about autism and writing, many theorizing that various writers were "autistic" — which can only be supposition in the case of authors long dead. That's not what I want to write. I want to explore how autistic students — now and in the future — can be nurtured as writers.

Let us hope this is not a Quixotic effort to bring attention to neurodiverse students.