Deconstructing A View Continued: Autism as a Gift
In our society, which values homogenization -- a mediocratization of humanity and its manifestations, the idea of giftenedness is translated into genius. The two are connected, but not the same. I prefer Michael Fitzgerald's definition of genius which states that a person with it must alter the way we view the world. Giftedness can be viewed as having a special ability or talent. In this wider definition, we can view everyone as gifted in one area or another. In short, it is a similar concept to "different intelligences."
Jasmine O'Neill, author of Through the Eyes of Aliens: A Book About Autistic People, and herself autistic, seems to also view autism as a gift:
"I believe there are intelligences that cannot be measured. I believe Autism is one of these. Autistic people must be discovered [Donna Williams' version of the "cat" mentioned earlier].They must be coached to reach their full potential. They are worth much more than being subjected to idiotic theapies, which push them to repeat endless tiny tasks. Use tiny tasks as stepping-stones to mysteries beyond. Autistic people must be allowed to live their lives the way they please. They need to feel happy about themselves and be proud of who they are." (pp 56-57)
In this mornings post of mine Asking the Questions -Deconstructing a View that I wrote while packing my bags this morning, I ask the question of what we are teaching to autistic people is right. Is acceptance about transforming autistic people to our way of responding to and acting in the world?
"Their [autistics] gifts are formidable assets. Even autistics who aren't savants have special gifts, which aren't present in non-autistics. Autistic people naturally are better at simply being themselves. They are not magicians. they should never be criticized or called stupid because of the way they live. People who are adept at focusing attention like a laser beam are people who can retain details. The tiniest details they notice escape other people's attention. Minute details are important too. They exist. Plus, they can build up one another to create big details.
Savant gifts are present from birth. They are honed, as the person grows older. A misconception is that only mentally slow autistics can be savants. I am a savant in music,writing poetry, drawing and some electronics. Savants are amazing, fascinating people. They may never be able to live independenly. Some of them never grasp the complexities of regular human life enough to be able to drive a car, or look after a bank account by themselves. Yet, they have one or more very superior gifts which they can perform better than other people can. Also, there are those svants who do very well at many things; they have their specific savant abilities, combined with a knack for picking things up rapidly (one sign of the type of intelligence measurable in IQ tests), and they are whizzes at various things. They thirst for knowledge. They are insatiable.
Contrary to waht a few teachers still believe, most autistics enjoy learning. There are many examples of this. If an autistic is interested in learning, but is unable to get others to teach her, she will find a way to teach herself. Sometimes, communication skills aren't developed enough to tell others what she wants to learn about. Other times, too many surrounding people don't have faith in this `autistic cripple.' If other people are condescending, and have no faith in the special child or adult, he will begin picking that up and have no faith in himself." p.57
In my post called Sensing the World Into Existence, I entertained this notion of intuition and exceptional sensing by Adam. The way he hones into my emotions in a split second, the way he inherits them as his own and is so sensitive to people in general -- there are many times I believe that his sense about people is much more acute than mine (and I like to think I'm pretty intutitive). There is just as much, if not more value in this way of living, and like Weaver suggests, and the way Albert Einstein stated, our society no longer values the child-like perspective, the sense of wonder that gets lost in the face of the quest for the material, the quest to be like others, and hence, nothing.
I hope this extensive quote from Jasmine's book further suggests that autism is a gift, and further, how we may be misguided in our approach to teaching our autistic children. If we take this view, perhaps we can create learning environments that nurture inherent strengths and talents instead of focussing on the negative, on remediation (sorry, there's that word again), and on changing autistics to be like us.
(I'm in Florida now and can't yet figure out how to make links for you on this computer...bear with me!)