Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Neurodiversity... or Something

For your consideration… a blog entry I found offensive in its delivery, yet correct in some of the points the doctor wished to express.
The Neurodiversity Movement
http://corticalchauvinism.com/2015/01/05/the-neurodiversity-movement-lack-of-trust/
Neurodiversity is a catastrophic movement for autistic individuals in general. It is reminiscent of the early religious accounts of Jewish people claiming the existence of a Messiah who would take them out of oppression, out of slavery, and restore their rightful life in society. Are they "The Last of the Just"? What gives them the right to carry the weight of the autistic community on their shoulders? By claiming that autism is not a pain or a handicap to some do they change medicine? Do they erase the existence of seizures, mood disorders, impaired attention, learning difficulties, or sensory abnormalities in a majority of autistic individuals?

Dr. Manuel Casanova, neurologist and the Kolb Endowed Chair in Psychiatry and Vice Chair for Research at the University of Louisville.
Readers of this blog know I don't consider myself part of the neurodiversity movement. I simply don't share their rhetorical flourishes nor their certainty that autism can be a good thing. Repeatedly, I've written that I'd be quite happy to be without some of the co-morbid conditions that might (or might not?) be linked to my autistic traits.

However… the rhetoric of Dr. Casanova is absurd, too. And I agree with some of the underlying claims he wants to advance. But, his blog is not the way to bridge divisions or lead autistic self-advocates towards reconciliation with families of the severely challenged.

I am not opposed to finding treatments for seizures, migraines, sensory sensitivity (I just ordered new, darker sun glasses), self-injurious behavior, or any number of (sometimes) autistic traits. To assume that all high-functioning individuals oppose genetic research, neurological studies, or (gasp!) therapies to address social skills, is to further another stereotype about autistics.

My wife knows, and hears me say (constantly) that I do not like much about how I experience the world, and I do not like how it affects her and others around me.

But, I also want to be respected and given a chance to prove myself as an artist, writer, technologist, and teacher. Do I struggle? Absolutely. My social skills stink, my ability to read people is impaired, and I am always searching for ways to circumvent my "executive function" issues. My academic and professional record is proof enough that I don't seem to last long in stressful situations.

We need more bridges, not rhetoric like the doctor's blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hours of Solitaire

Solebon Solitaire (http://www.solebon.com) has been my favorite game since buying my first HandSpring Visor, a PalmOS device. Another long-time favorite is Shanghai Mahjong Solitaire (http://www.mobileage.com/shanghai/). These games exist on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro. Simple, elegant, and quick to play when I have a few minutes, these games are the essence of "casual" gaming. Our Nintendo DS cartridge collection also includes solitaire, mahjong tiles, crosswords, word searches, and other puzzle games.

I read about children (and adults) enjoying Minecraft, HALO, Call of Duty, SecondLife, and other complex games. Personally, I don't have the patience to invest hours, days, or weeks in a game or virtual simulation. My ideal games are those that I can start and stop, or that last only a few minutes per level.

Give me solitaire games, pinball, puzzles, and simple arcade classics.

I don't want to shoot people or aliens. I don't want to memorize dozens of controls. The fewer controls, the better, and the less reliant on quick (accurate) reflexes, the better still. That's probably why I play Solebon and Shanghai frequently; there are timers and points, but I don't play for speed or high scores. Even when I play pinball, it is to study the patterns and tricks of the tables.

My favorite "arcade" games remain Tetris, Columns, Collapse, and Luxor. Pipe Dream was a great game, too. Yes, speed is involved, but these are primarily puzzles to solve. For arcade shooters, I still turn to variations of Space Invaders, including Galaga, Galaxian, Gorf, Gyruss, and similar classics. Even Asteroids (the vector-based original) is good for a few minutes.

Solitaire on Windows was probably the most brilliant thing to include with an operating system. How many of us wasted hours with the original version? Microsoft kindly added Free Cell, Spider, and Hearts later. Though I'm not a Windows user anymore, those were my go-to diversions when I had to wait for a printer or a large download to complete. Minesweeper isn't a bad little puzzle game, either.

Apple includes chess with OS X. Not that I don't enjoy chess, but it isn't exactly a quick and easy game when you have five minutes to kill. I've wondered by Apple didn't include a handful of casual games. When Freeverse, a storied Mac developer, failed, I hoped Apple would buy the rights to their classic board and puzzle games. No such luck.

I had played more than 600 hands of Klondike on my last Palm device. That's a lot of solitaire. I'm sure many of us have played thousands of hands on computers, phones, and tablets.

Do you have any favorite games? Why are those your favorites?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Signals and Teaching (and More)

Teaching is about reading, and sending, social signals. In some subjects, that's more problematic than in others. Math or science topics would probably be a good fit for my personality. But, as readers know, I took a wrong turn in my studies and ended up in the humanities.

It is one thing to love the media and arts, and I do, but another to teach in them. I enjoy subjects that aren't easily taught -- subjects without clear answers. Granted, I also love science and probably should have pursued STEM fields professionally while keeping the arts my hobbies.

Teaching business communications, I feel like a nonnative speaker. There is always room to improve, at least. I theorize that my struggles do help me teach. That belief helps me get through the semesters.

Reading my teaching evaluations, it strikes me how often students experience something quite different from what I hoped to convey. They miss the humor I imagine is obvious, or hear humor when none is intended. They confuse my being serious with anger. My attempts to reach out to some groups outside my experiences are perceived as favoritism.

Teaching is safest when I lecture. But, that's also not the most effective pedagogy for communication courses. Trying to convey the signals others take for granted, I apparently seem insincere -- even though I try to communicate what I feel.

I assume people mean what they say. Of course, we know that isn't the case, but it is my starting point. In the end, I struggle at work and in social settings because I miss signals. The words people speak and write don't tell us half the story behind the words.

There is science behind communication. Too bad that science hasn't allowed me to master teaching. Watching body language, listening to tone, and detecting what signals I can spot are conscious acts, requiring a significant amount of energy. Is someone moving towards me or away? Is the stance one of a friend or a foe? In fractions of a second, most people judge the intentions of a speaker. I take just a little longer to process the signals, and others notice.

It isn't that people know I am "offset" or "lag" by a few milliseconds. They just "feel" my conversation isn't smooth. It isn't comfortable, for whatever reason. Small delays shouldn't matter, but they do.

And, then there are the instances when I misread someone. Tone indicating sarcasm or facetious intent is missed, or I assume someone is being sarcastic when that's not the case.

I do need to work on the signals I transmit, as much as I need to work on receiving and interpreting the signals from others.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

End of Semester Random Reflections

For the last few months I haven't had much time for blogging, or even quiet reflection on life. This was an overwhelming semester, and I am surprised that I managed to function through the last 16 weeks without total collapse. Partial collapse has followed, though.

This semester was too much.

While enduring a difficult teaching experience, I worried a lot about my wife. My wife is well, but she had plenty of medical exams and tests. It is true that you worry more about loved ones than yourself.

Teaching an overload schedule, with a new course and course I was refining, meant endless hours preparing materials and grading papers, even with teaching assistants and my wife helping. The hardest part was teaching three classes back-to-back, three days a week. It takes a toll on the voice and the mind.

Yes, high school teachers manage. Universities are different, though, so I believe the work evens out. Teaching is tiring at all grade levels.

I managed a few autism-related appearances and continued to work with a local nonprofit organization. I did my best to remain active while teaching. Still, I am not as active in the disability community as others might like. Readers of this blog know that I am not a non-stop activist.

What I needed was not more involvement or engagement, but less. I needed time to recharge and relax.

When I am asked if my life is different or difficult because of my traits, I generally say life is complex, period. My coworkers are at least as busy as I am, and many have families and other obligations. My life is actually pretty routine. I teach, I grade, I write a bit, and I dream of having more time for hobbies.

No more semesters like this. I want change again, but I'm uncertain what that change should be. Ideally, more time alone to create and to learn in peace.