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Archive for the ‘neurodiversity’ tag

Sarah S’s final: Neurotypicality in “Curious Incident”

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Because Mark Haddon’s book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, is so strongly linked with autism and disability studies, readers see Christopher, the main character, as having many of the responses or “quirks” generally attributed to autistic individuals. We consider many of his theories and fixations to be characteristic of autism, and write them off as being “symptoms” of a “disability.” In reality, many people considered “normal,” or neurotypical, by society possess many of the same characteristics, interests, and issues that Christopher does, making him relatable as a character because he reflects in his disability many traits we consider to be “normal.” (Though the idea of “neurotypical” or “normal” is rife with problems, using this generalization to highlight the social repercussions of Christopher’s behaviors is effective.)

One example is his interest in math. Christopher is very smart, taking advanced maths and even receiving a high score on his maths A-level, which had to be specially arranged because his school did not have the facilities. If you take out the fact that Christopher is autistic, this is impressive but not unusual. Many “normal” children perform far above their grade level, especially in specific subjects, as in Christopher’s case. Outside of the label of autism, this would be considered neurotypical behavior, but with the label, high brain function of this kind is seen as a trait of autistic individuals and not a personal interest, as it very well may be.

Another example is his fear of loud noises and/or hectic environments. Though he handles himself very well when he takes public transportation, he is very disturbed by all of the hustle and bustle, and several times has to retreat into himself and distract his mind to get through it. Many view this as a characteristic of autism, but many individuals who do not share this diagnosis share Christopher’s uncomfortability. Those who suffer from anxiety, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, or other milder disorders would react the same way in a similar situation, but many even more “normal” people simply dislike crowds or crowded areas, and can feel edgy, nervous, or distracted for a variety of reasons. Again we see that Christopher’s “quirks” exist outside of the label of autism, though other autistic individuals may share this characteristic.

Some of Christopher’s ideas are harder to generalize—his dislike of yellow, or penchant for certain foods, or distrust of strangers, etc.—though even here, he applies such straightforward logic that it is hard to say that any of these are irrational. Many of these, in a different situation, are called “personal preference” or “superstition.” Neurotypical people are not usually required to defend even silliest of opinions, and though some might say his system of colors and numbers of cars determining the mood of the day is ridiculous, most people work the same way. Getting up on the wrong side of the bed makes no sense, but if someone believes in this adage, their entire day can be ruined—and the same goes for black cats and walking under ladders. And so we see that even Christopher’s greatest “quirks” could exist unfettered in the neurotypical world, unchallenged and undiagnosed as the fixations they may be.

Some might say that this kind of discussion is useless because autism is such an integral part of Christopher’s identity as Haddon writes it that taking his disability away destroys who he is. The point is not to ignore Christopher’s autism altogether, but merely to examine the traits which we might see as dependent on the disability, considering the possibility that some characteristics correlate, but are not caused by, disability. Rather than trapping someone into a small mold, this way of looking at things frees a disabled person to own their identity, instead of having to always fall back on their disability as a default identity. Now Christopher can say, “I love maths and hate loud noises, and I’m autistic,” instead of, “I’m autistic (and I love maths and hate loud noises).” his interests and characteristics are not made parenthetical by his diagnosis.

Word count:  691

Written by sarahsmile

December 8th, 2010 at 3:00 am

social media meets disability!

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Hey all! I’ve seen a few of these on my friends statuses today (on a social networking site called “Facebook”) :

“Children with a disability just want what we all want, to be accepted. Can I make a request? Is anyone willing to post this and leave it in your Status for at least an hour? It is Special Education Week and it is in honor of children made in a unique way :)”

It’s the standard sort of copy and paste as a status update type deal, but apparently this time with a point. Thoughts on the effectiveness of this tool in changing attitudes towards disability? Thoughts on what this says about neurodiversity? Thoughts at all?

Written by sarahsmile

November 16th, 2010 at 1:32 am

Social and Cultural Models and the End of Modernism?

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Wondering what you guys thought about the parallel between sex/gender and impairment/disability that I brought up in class.  Perhaps I can articulate it a bit better here on the blog.
A social model of sex/gender would tend to promote the idea that the two sexes are biological facts.  Genders, however, are “social constructs” that have no essential truth to them but rather came about as a result of tradition, stereotype, discrimination, and power dynamics.  A social model of disability, similarly, might propose that impairments are biological facts, but disabilities come about as the result of social norms also brought about by power dynamics, tradition, stereotype…etc.

A cultural model of sex/gender might question the validity of our strong belief in two biological genders.  For example, 1-2% of children are born intersex, and are usually given surgery in infancy so they fit the traditional dichotomy.  This implies that the essentialism of even our two-sex binary may be fictitious.  A cultural model of disability would challenge the notion of a normalized idea of body or brain that sees any deviations from it as impairments.

What do you guys think about the social and cultural models?  Are ideas like essential normal bodies and sexes ideas worth preserving?  Cultural models seem quite radical, but they might be ways of thinking that will get people to start deeply questioning their conceptions of the world.  Sometimes though, when too many essentialisms are questioned a system runs the risk of running too close to postmodern obscurity where it seems as though anything and nothing could be true.  As we move out of modernism we have to make sure that we’re moving into something that is still coherent.

On the other hand, I’m not sure we’ve really moved out of modernism…here is a link to a recent article from NPR that a friend sent me on facebook.  Though the content is certainly interesting, the way it is framed, I find, incredibly offensive.  (Also, every disability-related article I read lately seems to be obsessed with the idea of evolutionary explanation.  Have we really come that far from the age of Social Darwinism?) The article sets up a serious us vs. them dynamic from the outset, and it puts a weird distance between the person whom the article is about and the reader.  For example…
“But Daxer says these things are still very difficult for her. So she has become something of an amateur anthropologist, studying the social behavior of the people around her, the people she calls neurotypicals.”
It makes her seem really “alien” by saying “the people she calls neurotypicals” as though she has made up this word on her own.

The worst part of the article though is by far the introduction:
“It takes a smart brain to invent a spaceship. But putting one in orbit takes a brain with extraordinary social skills.That’s because getting from concept to launchpad takes more than technology — it takes thousands of people agreeing on a common goal and working together to accomplish it.Humans have succeeded in part because we evolved a brain with a remarkable capacity for this type of complex social interaction. We automatically respond to social cues and facial expressions.  We can look at the world from another person’s point of view. We are predisposed to cooperate. But all these things are so much a part of us, they’re easy to take for granted. Unless you have autism, like Lisa Daxer.”

I was flabbergasted reading that part, but perhaps I’m over-reacting?  I’d love to hear what you guys think.

Written by gormanda

September 5th, 2010 at 7:58 pm