Tuesday, August 18, 2015

School - Better or Not?

School must be better today than in the 1970s or 80s, right? Especially since we know so much about autism.

Probably. Maybe. Or it is bad in different ways.

As students, teachers, support staff, administrators, and others head back to campuses across the United States, I anticipate the annual questions about what to expect. Unfortunately, there are no good or easy answers that apply to everyone.

Be sure you know what your rights and your student's rights are, and are not. They vary by age, type of school, and state. Remember that federal regulations are only minimums, and states can have stricter requirements for providing supports to students with special needs.

Learn what you can about the alphabet soup of legislative requirements and federal programs. IDEA, ADA, IEP, OSEP, OVR, and so on.

Work with teachers and administrators, not against them. Start by asking how to help them help you and your student. What documentation does the school need? What is or isn't acceptable documentation of a disability? What services are available in the district? Take notes and do your homework.

You can know all about the American's with Disabilities Act, the Rehab Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Acts, and all the other "mandates" and still run into barriers in school, at all levels.

Autism affects communication and social interaction, and many autistics have interests and passions outside the norms for their social groups.

Other students, and plenty of teachers, might try their best and still not understand how to deal with the autistic in a classroom. In time, someone so different is either avoided or pushed aside. Personally, I'd rather be left alone and avoided than bullied. I've seen both reactions to autistics in classrooms over the last few years; things have not changed in human nature.

There isn't a good solution for the challenges arising from how autistics interact with others in a classroom. At best, I can offer only the advice to listen to the autistic and communicate with teachers. At the college level, this is complicated by FERPA limitations on teachers, limiting the ability to discuss a young adult with his or her parents. FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), for all its good intentions, can create barriers to helping students with special needs — which goes back to the value of communicating directly with the autistic student.

My university experiences since 2004 have not been great. My social skills have improved, yet not nearly well enough to avoid alienating others. I'm still "odd" enough make others uncomfortable, though I doubt most people could say why. Social skill deficits cannot be legislated or regulated away, and people aren't going to always overrule their instinctive reactions to difference.

I'm sometimes asked how I feel about making autistics act "more normal" through various therapies. I'm ambivalent. Being different has negative consequences in school and at work. Personally, I'd like to be a lot more normal, but what is the best way learn that normalcy?

Maybe the best lesson school taught me: I was, am, and will be an outsider. It was the lesson of the 1970s elementary schools and the lesson of twenty-first century universities.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

(Not) Being Consumed by Activism

Autism advocates I admire have recently shared their "burnout" with online followers. These advocates are not seeking sympathy, nor are they wallowing in self-pity. Sadly, they must anticipate negative reactions before taking a break from online and real life activism.

I separate online from real life because the online world can be more exhausting and far more negative than the physical spaces in which advocates operate. Online statements are easily misconstrued, taken out of context, and magnified both intentionally and unintentionally by readers. Trying to maintain civil discourse online can be an impossible task.

In the physical world, what I still consider the real world, people pause before speaking. Rarely can they hide behind anonymity before being cruel. Public cruelty can at least be exposed in many settings. Online, different rules seem to apply to human behavior. Decency is lacking.

When I fail to follow a particular Twitter account, like a Facebook page, or refuse to blog about a particular cause, people take it personally. If I liked, followed, and blogged about every cause that every visitor suggests to the Autistic Me, I could add dozens of new inputs to my already cluttered social media streams.

It is perfectly reasonable to separate my life from nonstop activism. Thankfully, I have never had a problem with taking a break to enjoy dining out, taking drives, visiting gardens, and doing other things with my wife and my family to remain healthy. I make no apologies for putting my family and myself ahead of general activism. If I am not well, I cannot be an effective teacher or activist for others.

The advocates I admire have too often placed the needs of others ahead of their own health. Great men and women have exhausted their minds and bodies because others expect them to do so. If you are asking an advocate to support your cause, to add to your page, to follow your Twitter campaign, or making any other requests, you need to consider that the individual from whom you seek help might also have special needs… Or simply be a tired, overworked normal human being.

Please, if you are an advocate, take care of yourself. If you rely on advocates, remember that they have needs, too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Blogging Cycles

In 2011, there were 169 posts to The Autistic Me. That number has steadily declined, by almost half every two years. For 2015, only 17 posts have been composed. (The blog started in 2007 and took some time to grow.)

The blog activity is a feedback loop, or an incentive cycle. As readership and responses fell, so did my impulse to post new content. With less new content, there was less reason for readers to stumble upon the blog. The decline of RSS readers, the decline of various Autism portals, and a general shift to social media contributed further to the decline in activity.

How many times can I post about…
…the challenges of living in or even navigating urban settings?
…the sensory overload of mass transit?
…the exhaustion that follows social events?
…the (un)employment situation for people with physical and neurological challenges?
…the insular nature of academia?

The posts here simply aren't that varied. The same topics repeat.

I pulled the "Ask a Question" link because the tone had descended and the content wasn't useful.

I'm not sure what I can or should post anymore. The old issues are tired and worn. I'm not interested in most of the current debates online and dislike the tone of posts (and comments) I read.

Maybe I'll come up with something fun and new. For now, I admit that the blog has been slow and boring. Let me know, via Facebook or Twitter, if you have any good ideas. Suggestions might give this blog new life.

Thank you, to my followers, for sticking around for so many years.