Tag Archives: asspergers

Awareness versus Acceptance ( re-post)

As I have been too ill to prepare anything for World Autism Day I am reposting this.

Awareness versus Acceptance

Many people argue about whether awareness or acceptance are what people with autism want from society.  Lots of people will say that an awareness of autism is fine, but people can be aware and still not accepting.  Virtually everybody thinks they know what autism is, but that doesn’t stop people being offensive.  And some people argue that acceptance suggests that it is up to the neuro- typical people to say `Oh, we accept people with autism` as if NTs can decide what types of people are acceptable, as if autistic people have put forward a fairly good case and they`ve been accepted in to the day to day order of things.  My view is somewhere in between:

Awareness

  • Awareness means everybody being aware of what autism is, and having at least a basic knowledge of it.
  • Awareness is a positive thing because it will hopefully lead to greater understanding, easier access to services, and make life easier for autistic people.
  • The vast majority of people are already aware of the existence of autism, even if they don’t fully understand it.
  • Awareness can help improve the lives of people with autism.
  • Awareness can’t solve all of the problems.

Acceptance

  • Acceptance means people who aren’t autistic accepting autistic people and their ways.
  • Acceptance can be very positive as it might make things easier in the work-place or learning environment.
  • The word acceptance does have a tendency to give a lot of power to the people without autism, as it suggests that it is up to them to decide if they want to accept autistic people or not.
  • A lot of people don’t like the phrase `acceptance` for that very reason.
  • Does this mean that acceptance is a bad thing?  No, it doesn’t. But it does mean that it is something that you have to be careful about when approaching.

Taking the positives and negatives from the concepts of awareness and acceptance, I think that there is a good ground to be reached somewhere in the middle.  Most people are aware of autism to some degree – even if it is just through Rainman. Some people are accepting of it without really knowing what it is.  For me the real key is understanding; you can be aware of autism, but not really know what it is.  Often this will lead to pity, people being patronising, or a belief that people with autism are either dangerous, or completely pointless trying to communicate with.  A lot of negative stereo-types pervade the public’s perception of autism; they are accepting yes, but quite often they are not accepting of real autistic people.  They might be aware, but in reality they are not aware of real autism, they are aware of the Medias` portrayal of autism.  That is why understanding is so important: you are aware of autism – good.  You are accepting of autism – good.  But do you understand autism?

For more information and advice on Autism/Asperger`s see our free on-line service

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To read some of my autism articles check out my author page http://www.autismdailynewscast.com/author/paddy-joe/

I have co-authored two autism books. Check them out J

http://www.jkp.com/uk/helping-children-with-autism-spectrum-conditions-through-everyday-transitions.html

http://www.jkp.com/uk/create-a-reward-plan-for-your-child-with-asperger-syndrome.html

Paddy-Joe Moran

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Inclusion in Mainstream Schools Vs Special Needs Schools

 

Often parents of disabled children will have to make the choice about whether they want their child to go in to, or continue, in mainstream education, or to attend a special needs school.  Some people argue that special needs schools are the best places for children with disabilities as they give them a much better chance of having a full, and complete education.  Others argue that segregating disabled people from the rest of the community during their childhood can not only be detrimental to them, but can also be damaging to those left in mainstream education, because it fosters an image of disabled people being removed from normal society.  Below are some of the possible pros & cons to each argument.

Should children with disabilities attend Special Needs Schools?

Pros:

The most obvious positive is that these schools might be much better equipped to deal with each child’s specific disability. Because they are set up to cater for children who are disabled, or who have learning disability, the staff – by and large – should be experienced and knowledgeable.  In practise it should remove any ignorance from the teaching.  Along the same lines special needs schools may teach things that are more important for disabled students to learn, for example, an academic education is of course still important, but if somebody struggles to go out and be independent or to talk to other people, having specific lessons in this can be just as important, if not more so.

Obviously bullying can still take place in special needs schools, but it happens much less often than in regular mainstream schools.  This can help children to improve with their confidence and self-belief, as well as helping them become more tolerant due to all the people around them having different disabilities and needs.

The school will probably also be more tolerant of certain things such as having time off, or having to have a specific routine that cannot be changed.  This ties in with the first point about experience.  Having somebody who has read about a disability can be useful, but a lot of teachers at special needs schools may have disabled children themselves, or have worked with disabled children for many years. Special needs schools (in principle) provide an environment crafted specifically to meet the needs of disabled students, so how could it be a bad thing?

Cons:

The most obvious con to special needs schools is that it removes disabled children from the mainstream – but this actually has multiple smaller issues attached to it, that can be broken down.  The first of these is that a lot of parents of disabled people, and disabled people themselves, will end up spending years battling to be included in mainstream life, and many see opting out of this at such a young age – possibly before an informed decision can be made by the young person themselves – is laying the groundwork for a lot of difficulties later in life.

There is also the fact that it may deprive disabled children of a lot of experiences they may otherwise have.  Some of these experiences might not be easy, but it could be argued that it is not right to try to shelter disabled children from the realities of the real world that they will have to spend their lives living in.

There is also the issue of how society in general will perceive disabled children if they are separated.  It is hard to argue – especially to children or teenagers – that disabled people are part of the same society as them, when they see them all as being put in one building away from so-called normal society. The argument goes that in order to breed tolerance, and eventually achieve equality, people in the mainstream need to be around disabled people from a young age, so that this becomes the norm; if there is too much separation it will become something strange and unusual.

It is also argued that although special needs schools mean well, they sometimes tend to prepare children with disabilities for a life in which they will need constant care.  They say this means that instead of learning how to get by in the so-called real world, they learn how to live a good life for somebody with a disability – rather than a good life in general.  The main point of this argument is that some say special needs schools define children too much by the fact that they are disabled, and also make that a bigger deal than it would be if they were left in mainstream education.

So what about leaving children with specific, or additional needs in mainstream education?

Pros:

One of the most widely referenced positives of leaving a child with a disability or learning disability in mainstream education is that they will get a better grasp of the real world, and of how to interact with others.  They might not be able to go out and do the things their classmates can do, but they will be around a wider mix of people, and also be able to experience a less sheltered existence.

Another widely held belief is that by not segregating disabled students from their peers it can breed a much more tolerant attitude.  If people experience being around somebody with a disability day to day, then it may just become the norm; other students would be able to get to know disabled students for who they are, rather than just the fact that they are disabled.

Some parents also believe that their children become much more confident after spending time in mainstream education.  They feel that there is a stigma attached to special needs schools, and that by not attaching this to their child they are helping them to become more happy, and confident in their life.

Cons:

A lot of mainstream schools are simply not equipped to deal with people who have disabilities, or learning disabilities.  This can result in these students not receiving the education they deserve.  Also it can lead to teachers behaving irresponsibly, and sometimes even downright cruelly towards students.  There are countless cases of neglect, and unpleasantness by teachers towards their disabled students.

There is also a greater risk of bullying.  The vast majority of people with a disability or special needs who have gone through a mainstream education report being verbally, or physically bullied on more than one occasion.  Obviously special needs schools will have bullying as well, but incidences tend to be lower.

Often the children themselves find mainstream education a challenging, and sometimes tortuous experience.  This could be for a multitude of reasons.  But whatever the reasons happen to be, a large proportion of students who have a disability dread having to go to school, but often when they go to a school that specifically caters for disabled students they find the experience much easier.

Conclusion :

Looking at the arguments for, and against both inclusion in mainstream education and special needs schools, it seems that there may be two correct answers – one is an ideal situation, and one is a situation that makes the best of reality.  Ideally there would be no need to split students with disabilities and learning disabilities from their mainstream peers, so it is easy to understand the people who don’t like special needs schools.  But if you actually take the time to look at the reality of the situation, you can see that students with special needs might just not be able to keep up with the class, or might need a specialist kind of help that mainstream schools simply can’t provide due to budgets, or lack of training – for some people even a general special needs school might not be enough, and they might need to go to something like an autism-specific school.  There is also the issue that not all special needs schools will be idyllic.  Some of them will have lazy teachers, or bad practise.  But that is not a criticism against the institution as a whole.  It would seem that mainstream schools need to do much more to be able to support disabled, and special needs students.  Whether that means more awareness among teachers and students, to more money being allocated on budgets.  Not in every case, but in many the school system does let disabled students down, and this is unacceptable.  But even if there are wholesale changes and improvements in mainstream education, special needs schools will still have a large role to play in catering for the specific needs of disabled students.  The concept may sound like segregation, but in reality it is a segregation that the student themselves will be able to opt in to or out of, and the student can still interact with non-disabled people when they wish to.  So yes, even though it would be different for everybody, it would seem that special needs schools are largely a positive thing, and that they can be incredibly beneficial to disabled students.

My new book can be found here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

For more information and advice on Autism/Asperger`s see our free on-line service

ASK-PERGERS?

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

I have co-authored two autism books. Check them out

http://www.jkp.com/uk/helping-children-with-autism-spectrum-conditions-through-everyday-transitions.html

http://www.jkp.com/uk/create-a-reward-plan-for-your-child-with-asperger-syndrome.html

Paddy-Joe Moran

 

[jm1]

Autism and the Puzzle Piece ………..

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The puzzle piece has become synonymous with autism, and with autism awareness over the years.  A lot of people use it, but most likely many of them don’t think about what it means.  I have been thinking about what it means, and what it represents recently, and I have to say that after giving it a lot of thought and consideration, and weighing up many arguments for and against, I am not a fan.  I am not suggesting it is immediately deeply offensive in the way perhaps racist language would be, and I am certainly not saying that people who use it mean to be offensive, or even mean anything negative about autism.  There are many reasons why I dislike it as a symbol, and in this blog I will attempt to explain what they are. This isn’t meant to be calling anybody out, and people should not feel like it is criticising them if they have used the puzzle piece.  It is simply my view, as somebody with autism, which I am putting forward to make people think.

In 1963 the NAS needed a symbol to represent autism because it had only been officially recognised about twenty years earlier, and it wasn’t really known about at all.  They wanted to be certain their symbol wouldn’t be mistaken for anything else.  There are a lot of charities out there, and finding a symbol that catches the public’s imagination, but isn’t too similar to anything else is difficult.  In the end they settled on a puzzle piece, with the image of a crying child in the centre, created by a parent member Gerald Gasson, This has to be seen in the context of the times, when the majority of people with conditions such as autism may have been institutionalised, and there wasn’t a great deal of care, support or understanding for autistic people.  The charity Scope was still known as the Spastic Society, and terms such as Moron, Imbecile and Idiot were still recognised medical diagnoses.  Virtually all the coverage of disability, learning disability, or any difference would have been negative.  So as a collection of parents who had set up what was probably the first autism-specific organisation in the world, they weren’t exactly in the best position to make sure everything was politically correct, and anyway political correctness as we see it today didn’t exist in the sixties.  When talking about why they opted for the puzzle piece and crying child, in the late nineteen eighties, one of the founding members said:

“The puzzle piece is so effective because it tells us something about autism: our children are handicapped by a puzzling condition; this isolates them from normal human contact and therefore they do not ‘fit in’. The suggestion of a weeping child is a reminder that autistic people do indeed suffer from their handicap.”

This type of language may have been acceptable in those days, but nowadays the concept of somebody being `handicapped` or `suffering` from autism is outdated –  that part was symbolised by the crying child, so the concept of autistic people not quite fitting in to society was therefore represented by the puzzle piece.  But there are actually still a number of problems with this idea which I will highlight below. The first and most important thing to say is that as with any point I raise in my blogs, it is not just me saying it.  I did plenty of research in to what other autistic people and their families think of the puzzle piece, and these are some of the main concerns that were raised

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  • The first point that many autistic people raise is the way this symbol assumes that we are puzzles, to be decoded in some way, rather than just people.  It is impossible to ever truly understand another person, so in a way we are all puzzles.  It has been said many times that if people would just listen to what autistic people have to say, or read what they write, then understanding autism and the autistic brain would be much easier.  It seems as if you might as well use a puzzle piece to represent people from Japan because you don’t understand Japanese culture, whereas if you simply take some time to talk to, and listen to Japanese people, things will become clear.
  • Another point – this one actually raised by people who are neuro-typical – is that the concept of decoding the puzzle of autism really seems to be more representative of neuro-typical professionals than it is autistic people.  Autistic people simply live their lives – they are not trying to put a puzzle together.  It might seem like a strange distinction, but I actually think it is an important point.  It does feel more like a symbol that would be worn by people who do research in to autism rather than people who actually live with it.
  • Although the puzzle piece is often used either without thinking, or with good intentions, people often misunderstand it, and its meanings.  Part of this may be to do with not understanding its history, and part of it may be because they assume it represents one thing, without actually thinking about it any more deeply.  This may be why so many parents, and even autistic people use the symbol.  And really it does complicate the issue because although in its origins, and with what it represents today, it is a negative symbol, it is used in a positive way by so many people.

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This sometimes makes it difficult to keep in mind what is wrong about it.   The real issue is that it is not obvious at first glance what it`s supposed to represent; people who defend it say that the pieces represent the families and friends of people with autism, the colours can represent diversity, and overall it represents the mechanical and logical workings of an autistic persons mind.  Now personally – and I know I am not alone in this – I don’t think any of this is obvious at first glance.  In a way it kind of makes sense, but it doesn’t really because none of those things actually call for a puzzle piece.  But if you think about it for a while you can kind of make it make sense.  The problems with this is you shouldn’t have to think about it – it should be instantly understandable at first glance.  The fact that it leaves so much room for interpretation is no doubt part of the problem. *

  • The puzzle piece is a fairly child-like symbol, using primary colours and big jigsaw shapes   A lot of autistic people may like bright colours, and appreciate the symbol on this level, but in a way, because it is so simplistic it does give the impression of being aimed at children – which could be seen to be reinforcing the negative stereo-type that only children are affected by autism. And it was actually designed to represent children because at the time the National Autistic Society was called The Society for Autistic Children (until 1982)

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  • The concept that there is a piece missing from people with autism which separates them from the rest of society is incredibly problematic.  It could easily be seen to be implying that there is a template for how people should be – a template of normality that people should strive to reach – and that because autistic people don’t measure up to this template, they are not full, complete human beings.  The truth is that people are different in all kinds of ways.  Autistic people don’t have something missing from them; they might feel things differently or think differently, but this is just who they are, and is not because a piece of them is missing.  And in a way the symbol does give the impression that if this piece can be found, and slotted in to place, autistic people will finally be whole.

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It is also worth noting that although Autism Speaks didn’t create the original puzzle piece, they seem to be the organisation most associated with it nowadays.  The bulk of their time, money and resources are spent on puzzling out autism; trying to find cures, and researching the causes of autism.  I personally don’t support them, but if you do that`s your choice.  I think that for a while the puzzle piece might have changed to represent a more positive image of autism, but now I believe that because of how much this organisation have been using it, and how it has become synonymous with their campaign to cure autism, it has gone back to its original meaning – mainly that autistic people are somehow lacking.  The debate over Autism Speaks is something for another blog, and I know it seems unfair to let them have the monopoly on an image such as the puzzle piece. But I do find it strange when people I know who speak out against Autism Speaks are happy to use the symbol that this same organisation plasters all over everything it ever puts out.

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Now it would be easy to sit here and say stop using the puzzle piece – I don’t like it, and nor do many other autistic people – but that perhaps would be a little unrealistic.  It has become so ingrained within autism awareness, and campaigns for acceptance that it would be difficult for people to stop using it overnight.  In fact there is an entire industry that appears to have grown up around it: clothes, jewellery, tattoos, to name a few, all featuring the puzzle piece.  Yes, if most autistic people are opposed to the puzzle piece then it should be retired, but I wouldn’t expect this to happen overnight – it may ultimately take years. The National Autistic Society dropped the puzzle piece in 2002, probably because they realised people in the autistic community were not fans of it, for all the reasons stated above.  And maybe in time other organisations will drop it as well?  I suppose the question that I am asking is this – if the NAS created the puzzle piece and used it for so many years, but have now ultimately decided that it is not a symbol they want to continue with, why have other organisations picked it up and ran with it?  If they took the NAS lead in using the symbol in the first place perhaps they should also take their lead in moving forward, and finding a new, more positive symbol?

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But perhaps the most important thing you can do when reading this blog is just to think.  If you have not already been doing so then take a moment now to think about the puzzle piece.  How many times have you seen it in literature, on the internet, in videos, on TV and in books?  Think for a second about what it actually means to you.  Not definitions given to you by somebody else, but when you see this image, what do you think?  Some autistic people have said that they like to be described as a puzzle as they find it appropriate for them, but I was actually surprised by the amount of neuro-typical people who when they stopped for a second, and actually thought about how they would feel as grown men and women being described as a puzzle, an enigma, or something to actually be put back together, realised that they would hate it.

This blog isn’t intended to make anybody who has been using the puzzle piece image feel guilty by the way – it`s not a big deal – just have a think about whether you want to continue using it, or whether you want to use something different?  I read a comment on an old Facebook page a while ago that I think perhaps could be useful.  The person in question was saying that when they first saw the puzzle piece it made them think that autistic people were a piece of society that had been ignored for a long time, and that it was society that was incomplete because of its refusal to accept different groups of people, so that instead of being a puzzle themselves, autistic people were just parts of a larger puzzle – that being humanity in general.  If  the puzzle piece isn`t to be retired completely,  may be it is worth thinking about this, and deciding exactly what it is you are trying to say or represent when you do use  the puzzle piece as a symbol of autism – what is your message, and if that message were aimed at you, how would you feel?

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You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34253.html/ 

For more information and advice on Autism/Asperger`s see our free on-line service

ASK-PERGERS?

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

To read some of my autism articles check out my author page http://www.autismdailynewscast.com/author/paddy-joe/

I have co-authored two autism books. Check them out J

http://www.jkp.com/uk/helping-children-with-autism-spectrum-conditions-through-everyday-transitions.html

http://www.jkp.com/uk/create-a-reward-plan-for-your-child-with-asperger-syndrome.html

Paddy-Joe Moran J

Is it normal to not socialise?

One of the things I have noticed over the years is how much importance is put on socialising, and consequently, how bad people think it is if you don’t particularly enjoy going out and socialising.  I think everybody knows that a lot of people with autism aren’t particularly keen on socialising.  Often this will cause worry in the parents, who feel that if their child isn’t out there doing everything that neur-typical children are doing, then they must be missing something from their lives.  Of course this is only borne out of wanting to do the best for their children, but ultimately it can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and tension.  Some people with autism want to socialise, but just don’t know how, and there are all sorts of ways to help them to do this, which I might cover in a later blog  But for now what I would like to talk about is people who don’t socialise simply because they don’t want to – because they don’t enjoy it.  I am probably one of these people.  At the moment I socialise as much as want to; I talk to friends on-line or by text, and so keep my friendships going, but I only meet up with people once every couple of weeks or so.  This might sound excessive, but for me time alone is important; most people need time to themselves, whether they are autistic or not, but for me personally, and a lot of other autistic people I know, time alone is essential.  It goes back to the point I make time and time again in everything I write – put yourself in the autistic person`s shoes – imagine you are living in a world where the majority of people you spend time with are autistic.  However diplomatic you try to be you will definitely need a break after a while.  I don’t have many good friends who are autistic – not for any particular reason, I just don’t. So when I go out and socialise, I am going out with neuro-typical people, and after a while I do need a break from this.  If I don’t have some time alone I find myself getting very stressed.  Of course seeing your friends is good, but for me it`s not the most important thing in life.  I have a lot of work to get on with each day, and it is hard enough to manage my time without being out for several hours seeing other people.  It is not that I have a problem meeting up with friends – I have some very good friends who I enjoy spending time with.  But because they are good friends they don’t mind that I don’t go out and about that often.  Now, as I said, it is completely understandable for parents to panic if their child prefers spending time alone than with other people, but investigate – find out if it’s what your child wants or not.  If it is, and they are comfortable with their existing social life, then keep your nose out and let them get on with things.

 It is very hard for anybody, autistic or not, to see something from someone else’s point of view.  I am somebody who loves films.  I can’t imagine what your life would be like it you went for weeks or months on end without watching new films.  To be honest I think you would have a fairly boring life if you didn’t watch a film every couple of days, but that`s because I am looking at it from my point of view.  In my life I need to watch films regularly.  In your life maybe you need to go out, and hang out with your friends every day.  For me, it would drive me mad.  There is probably only a handful of people who I could put up with seeing every day; I`m not going to say who that handful are, in case it causes offense.

I don’t think you should ever push your children to go out and socialise if they don’t want to, but I think you should always give them the opportunity.  But do it in a respectful way; explain what something is, why they might enjoy it and what benefits they may get out of it.  Help them to try to understand why they might not want to do it.  Once they understand, if they still don’t want to do it then that`s fine.  People who are quiet or reclusive get a very bad press in today’s society – but don’t be convinced by that.  Keeping to yourself is fine if it’s what you want to do – as long as you don’t let it become damaging to your mental health or well-being – then spend as much time alone as you want to.  But at the same time don’t completely discount any benefits of social interaction – keep an open mind.