Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"I'm not strange, I'm just me"

I just came across this video, My Crazy Life, and it really made my day. The video focuses on the daily life of a 14-year-old boy, Reuben. who has Asperger's Syndrome, and his struggle to balance his quirks in a society filled with unwritten rules.

I can definitely relate to him - I've been through the same struggles growing up (and still experience them, come to think of it), and I really appreciate the outlook in which this video was based upon: that having Asperger's is a toss-up of wonderful traits and qualities that our society may seem as a little odd. In the documentary, Reuben is portrayed as an endearing, enthusiastic person whom I'm sure many would love to be friends with (myself included). It's also refreshing to see someone so excited to learn of his diagnosis, seeing it as an explanation for all of his quirky behavior. If mainstream culture can learn to view Asperger's and all other eccentricities in this light, then this would really help promote acceptance of those who would typically be pushed aside.

Here's Part One of Three:


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social Conditioning?

For someone with Asperger's, I'm seen as a very social person. I don't necessarily socialize often, but when I'm at school or in class I'll greet people, ask them how everything is going, be nice to them and do my best to treat them with respect. I do this because, not only is it an unwritten rule in our society, but because I was bullied a lot in grade school and have vowed never to treat anybody the way I was treated.

Socializing is seen as a positive thing in our society. Why is that? Are we all putting on a facade to move past everybody else in pursuit of our own selfish gains? What tells us to do this? Is it our fathers and grandfathers working up in their respective professions? The money-obsessed individuals our society seems to be full of? The fact that the charming, charismatic guy who has no other skills will move further ahead than the quiet guy who is brilliant at what he does?

Why are we told to be nice to others? Furthermore, if somebody disrespects us why do we become upset?

I feel like I was trained to be this way at a very young age. As a child, I would hear, "Don't do x, do y and z instead, people prefer that."

I can understand restricting actions that initiate discomfort in the other person, such as pulling someone else's hair or kicking them. What I don't understand are the restriction of certain social behaviors, such as outspokenness, or saying things that unintentionally offend somebody.

Language is a thing that humans developed. We didn't develop pain, we came with nerve endings that send signals to our brain when we've been hurt. While physical impact can be painful, words aren't. Words may affect our emotions, but I feel as if this is a byproduct of social conditioning.We are trained when to feel happy and sad, or at least I was.

In the beginning, I didn't care whether a bully called me names. But as I grew up, I realized that the bully's actions hindered my peers' acceptance of me, and because I was taught that friendships and relationships are some of the most important things out there (also social conditioning), this made me upset. Due to a chain reaction of responses to my actions I wasn't fulfilling the requirements of human contact.

The question is: why are we this way?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines conditoning as:
Pronunciation: \-ˈdi-sh(ə-)niŋ\
Function: noun
Date: 1861

1 : the process of training to become physically fit by a regimen of exercise, diet, and rest; also : the resulting state of physical fitness
2 : a simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response

Note the second entry. We are conditioned to act a certain way in response to our society. We act the way we do in response to what we see, and what social rules have been laid out far before our existence.

This is why I feel like the majority of my behavior is artificial. How can we really be ourselves in a world that forces us to keep up with what is considered acceptable behavior?

I often wonder: if I weren't encouraged to act a certain way, if I didn't have the social experiences I had growing up, would I still be the same person? Are we really our true selves or has society shaped us into who we are today? Is it possible for a person to be their true self if they are being involuntarily molded into a pre-existing standard?

I need to hear your thoughts on this. How does this make you feel, what is your opinion? Speak to me!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Auties: Successful in the workplace?

I just came across this article: Thorkil Sonne: Recruit Autistics (thanks, computerlove at WrongPlanet!) and it really made my day. In the article, Sonne, who runs an IT company in Denmark, makes it a point to hire mostly people on the autism spectrum, because of their attention to detail, fantastic memory, and amazing concentration ability. This company is really working out well for him, because, as stated in the article, "Once on the job, the consultants stay focused beyond the point when most minds go numb. As a result, they make far fewer mistakes."

This seems like such a wonderful work model because it not only breaks conventions, but it opens up jobs for individuals previously thought to be "unhire-able". The only place where I would think a person with Autism may not be suitable for working is in a highly social environment, where office drama is bound to happen and charisma is necessary every step of the way. In the context of work, people should be judged not by their Type A personality (or lack thereof) or by their ability to follow social rules; they should be judged by their ability to work, and how well they work. Get what I'm saying?

Hopefully, as acceptance of autism continues to progress, more companies will start using a similar model. It will put away certain conventions and open up the door to new ones, possibly changing the standard of what the typical workplace environment will be. Isn't that exciting? Autism isn't an epidemic of sorts: we're real people who also need to make a living, and the fact that companies are starting to pay attention to this is wonderful on both our behalf and theirs. Let's keep it coming!!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why I Won't be Walking.

So the Walk for Autism Research is coming up in my area soon. I'm not participating: here's why.

The walk is sponsored by Autism Speaks, an organization that is one of the main supporters of Autism reasearch. Here is a quote from their mission statement :

We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raising public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder.

Honestly, I'm glad a group like this exists. I am curious as to where Autism comes from; I'd like ANSWERS rather than mere speculations, though with time, I bet all we'll get is a strongly supported theory. That's all right. We already know there are truly no solid answers in science; we can live with this.

The part that really gets me is when they discuss wishing to "raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder."

Uh, WHAT? Public awareness is fine, just as long as it's in the right context and it displays the right information. What really bothers me is the portrayal of Autism as a disorder. I know you've heard this from me endlessly, but to be quite frank:

AUTISM IS NOT A DISORDER. Social conditioning and our society's take on what is "normal" blows our perceptions of Autism to extremes. Anyone who is slightly different, in the eyes of our society, has a disorder, or even worse, a disease.

I feel like the awareness of Autism is being blown to epidemic proportions. Here's a conversation I had at home the other day with my parents:

Dad: Apparently the number of kids diagnosed with Autism has gone up to 1 in every 98 kids.
Mom: That's awful!
Me: Well, at least they're getting better at diagnosing it...

I love my parents. They're wonderful people, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. Their views are just something I don't support. Yes, they agree with the whole "Autism Speaks is a Godsend" deal. Despite having done a lot of work in support of Autism in our area (they completely re-vamped my area's education system and helped it grow when I came along), I just don't agree with a lot of things they say about "curing" Autism.

Just because Autism differs from what the standard for "normal" or "typical" is in our society, apparently makes it a disorder! Well, maybe some peoples' brains work differently, ever thought about that? Maybe the kid who is a scientific genuis today but has no friends due to being "lost in space" will one day cure cancer. I know individuals on the Autism spectrum who are some of the most brilliant people I've ever met. I know individuals who are brilliant who don't have anything close to Autism. It's all how you see it.

In conclusion, I do have a form of Autism, but I'm a functioning member of society. I am capable of survival. This is why I don't want to participate in any Autism Awareness events; I want to be seen for who I am, and not as a part of some growing "epidemic". So sorry, I won't be joining you on "Walk for Autism" day. Autism Speaks can suck my dick.
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