Training that Pattern thinking

So, I have been quiet lately, but I think I can begin to get back into the swing of things since my life seems to be resuming some semblance of normalcy .   One of the ideas bumping around in my noggin, but also alluded to in some earlier blogs, is training pattern thinking in terms of logical thinking.  Logical minds are very good at connecting the dots and seeing correlations, but the inferences made and conclusions generated are still only as good as the quality of the data that has been retained.   With extremely logical minds, we see patterns, connections, and correlations in so many different ways, and it can become extremely hard to separate out the useful and trivial data.  I have the beginnings of a solution, and before I forget for any credential freaks out there, I do have my M.ed. so I am not clueless on topics related to pedagogy, that said, training the logical thinker to be able to sort through this data becomes a powerful tool for empowering the individual and helping calm the chaos of a world filled with beautiful patterns.

When I see bad pattern thinking, I often see issues of ideology or unreasonable correlations as the biggest issues.  In the form of ideology, rigid thinking patterns in regards to one’s belief in how the universe works results in the loss of pertinent data in favor of data that already fits their existing world view.  Harold Garfinkle might say this is part of the social creation and re-creation of shared realities.  Through social consensus we often agree on a reality that is highly subjective, based on anecdotes and belief as much as valid observation of objective reality.  When this ideology is challenged, because it based on a rigid and flawed data set, the individual can become hostile, feel threatened, shut up and move on, but they will most often dance around the subject in some way. The internalized notion of reality that is under threat defends itself, best described I think as feeling one’s sanity is at risk, when one challenges a pillar of a person’s identity, and that pillar becomes undermined, it is the perfect recipe for an existential crisis, and I do not think everyone makes it through that experience, so in a very real way, it is a threat to them to challenge these firmly held beliefs.  Yet, children taught to train their logical thinking will be able to better construct a worldview, and though their personality may still hold onto that worldview rigidly, it will be more informed and inherently more flexible.  Likewise, in the case of unreasonable correlations, properly trained logical thinking will help them vet the soundness and validity of their logic, helping to prevent the uptake and retention of bad correlations.

As it stands now, I see four primary things that need to be taught to logical thinkers, and are beneficial to everyone as a whole. First, we need to teach very basic logical syllogism, a simple logical equation that helps determine if an idea is sound, valid, neither, or both.  Secondly, we need to teach Occam’s Razor, not necessarily in that term, but simply reinforce the notion that the most likely answer is it, and that it is the starting point for getting to the real answer, jumping straight to “my teacher must be an alien” is how you end up with the stereotype at least of the “crazy conspiracy theorist”, often tremendously great logical minds, that are simply not weighing the probability of their correlations well.  Thirdly, we need to teach the scientific method, especially in regards to reinforcing that correlation is not causation.  Finally, we need to teach reflexive triangulation, and that is helping it become habit to test correlations against at least three scenarios or thought experiments to quickly determine if ones logic is at least sound. With these cognitive tools developed, the extremely logical mind and pattern thinker is better able to quickly determine the value and use of correlations they see.  It foster’s a healthy sense of skepticism towards rote understanding, and will greatly strengthen critical thinking skills that could translate into a real asset later in life as well.  It may seem like a lot, but many of these concepts can be taught outside of lesson plans and embedded within everyday class behavior, below are a few ideas for use in the classroom to help teach these things, and this is targeted towards the elementary aged students, as this would be the appropriate time to help focus those synapses.

Teaching logical syllogism is fairly easy given the numerous everyday examples of wrong correlations that younger concrete learners very naturally make.  So when a student exhibits correlations based on uninformed logic and a mix of magical thinking, the educator can break that down using logical syllogism and show the student the process while also helping shape their line of inquiry and correct erroneous correlations.  Likewise, you can even break their answer down in a way that shows they were using underlying logic well, that it simply had the wrong data, and thus the child can have the positive aspects of how they arrived at the conclusion reinforced, while still correcting the errors.

Occam’s Razor is already taught to a limited degree, every time an educator challenges a child’s guess as to why something happened with a “do you think that likely?” or a “did you consider this?”, the child is learning to look for the most common patterns, be they social or based in object reality.  Yet, reinforcing this concept verbally would be beneficial, ask questions along the lines of “what do you think is the MOST likely answer?”, and use this tool to engage the students in thinking about probability as part of following a line of inquiry to get to the right answer.

In regards to the scientific method, for the most part it is taught reasonably well, but we tend to keep it compartmentalized instead of using it as a thought tool that can be applied to any line of inquiry.  A hypothesis can be generated and tested in social settings, while playing games, etc.  For example, almost any game can be manipulated to give unfair advantage to some of the players, an educator could engage the children in rules changes and see how it affects the games, it also helps to reinforce why we play with standardized rules and agree as a group to follow them, a not uncommon lesson many children have to learn.

Finally, the seemingly hardest is to teach the habituation of triangulation, that is when one sees a connection between two things, they then learn to take that correlation and apply it to at least two other scenarios or different perspectives, this helps teach the mind to look for validation in the form of seeing if the correlation holds up to other scenarios. It does not guarantee a correct answer, but it helps quickly eliminate bad correlations when it becomes apparent that in other situations the perceived correlation does not hold up or apply well.  Teaching this can be done via line of questioning and teachable moments, but can also be incorporated into early testing and activities, by have children learn to seek out and make three good connections to their central idea.

As integrated learning methods, most of these need little modification to an existing pedagogy, instead it becomes an additional tool and approach to help students better understand how to think, check their thinking, and a bit more about themselves.  Trained to reflex you have a powerful tool to teach intuitive types and non-intuitives alike.  For the intuitive thinkers, it helps ensure the data they choose to incorporate, and thus influences their intuition.  For the non-intuitive, it teaches a method by which to build up understanding and arguments, to step outside just the here and now, but to thing expansively or in the long term.  Though like many of ideas, this one it but a nascent one, I believe that coupled with an educational system that puts emphasis on understanding one’s own self-identity along with the academic work, we will empower our descendants to think critically and have a broader perspective.

I did not wear blue today…

I did not wear blue today…because I feel the conversation is about us more than with us.

I did not wear blue today, because I do not wish to invite intrusion into my life.

I did not wear blue today because it is a color associated with sadness and pity, and I am neither sad nor pitiable.

I did not wear blue today, because I live with who I am everyday.

I did not wear blue today, because it seems more for them than us.

I am not represented by a color, an appeal to emotion over an appeal to reason, I am far from being blue.

Thoughts on Religion and Church from my psuedo-vacation

Been extra quiet this month as I had to go to Florida for 17 days for a family medical issue, and trying to get any real work done outside my personal space is really just not likely to happen.  I did go to church with my mother one day though, and that got the old gears going in many ways, so I figured I would share this bit, as it was a novel but also strangely familiar experience.

Going to church was every bit as stressful as I could have expected it to be, but not because of the content or message (the church is very very liberal, we are talking quips about Palm Sunday and Gay Pride Parade sort of liberal, actually was quite amusing), but the very nature of the use of space and expectations for socially sanctioned ritual.  In regards to that specific experience, I pretty much went into shutdown mode not long after entering the space.  The congregation was warm, friendly, and welcoming, which for me was extremely uncomfortable since there were tons of hand shakes, hugs, pats on the shoulder and back, way more physical contact than I was mentally prepared for actually, too touchy and that was just the beginning.  The space was acoustically a nightmare, this church was actually in a dance studio, so everything echo’d and amplified. Finally, an entire wall was mirrors and the Pastor stood in front of that, so I was able to see everyone every single time I looked up, I spent almost the entire time hunched over staring at my feet and desperately wanting to cover my ears to reduce the noise. To say it was a sensory nightmare, was an understatement, I wish I could have kept my sunglasses on too, anything would have been a small blessing to use some church parlance here.

The experience also had me thinking back to my youth, and how I am conditioned to not see a church as a sanctuary where all are welcome, but instead a place of ridicule, judgment, and suffering.  I can recall in childhood the stares when I could not hold still, how my feet would burn with pain having to stand up, how the noise was a cacophonous roar, all the time I was expected to make eye contact, because failing to do so consistently got me labeled as being untrustworthy.  Over the decades that tainted and damaged my view of Church, for a long time it led me down a road not too far off from the view of Richard Dawkin’s and Christopher Hitchen’s, angry anti-theism, attempting to place the ills of the world at the feet of the Church.  I was wrong in that, a person’s religious views do not inherently make them rigid and judgmental, it just happens to be a very common occurrence in my life experience and in the churches I attended over the years. As I have stated before, rigid ideology and belief is the underlying issue, religion does not have a monopoly on that, and not all religions are equally rigid in their worldview.

In turn this has had me thinking about autistic meltdowns and church, I had a few in church, many would label it as me being a spoiled brat, some went as far to claim I was or was at least at risk for possession.  And it is not just the meltdowns after all, the skeptic in me wants to question and challenge, to seek more data, and when the expectation is that one takes these things on faith, I became inherently flawed as well for not just doing so.  One thing I loathe about sermon’s is that the congregation must sit there and just listen to the sermon, it is horribly one sided, this social conformity that assumes a great deal about the person giving the sermon being an authority on the matter being discussed. Listening and absorbing, approaching a religious leader after with questions but never feeling able to actually challenge them for fear of retribution from them, the congregation, or my own family.

I wonder then, based not just on my own experiences, but the experiences of others on the spectrum in church, or parents who are now trying to advocate for their children to a congregation that sees them as a distraction, as individuals flawed and unworthy of being there, how many of us in the past have suffered at the hands of a church’s judgments and assumptions.  How many children on the spectrum who had meltdowns have been thought to be possessed? How much have we suffered at the hands of neurotypicals who in their honest ignorance could not and did not know any better, and thus applied their limited worldview in judgment upon us?  How many of us have suffered true religious trauma and still do so today? Ostracized, judged, pointed out and denigrated for things outside our control, especially when the very space, the very nature of how we congregate for worship is a horrendous sensory and cognitive nightmare for so many of us on the spectrum, and yet again the onus of our actions is upon us, the focus on the flaws in an individual vs the flaws of the socially accepted ritual and paradigm.

I fret and worry about non-neurotypical children in religious settings constantly, and the judgment faced there diffuses out into the communities as well. In a way, a church can be an epicenter, not just for a solid sense of community, but for the judgment and suffering of those who do not fit into the dominant paradigm, who through no inherent moral fault of their own, cannot thrive in that particular environment.  I then see a possible solution as well, through education, through combating ignorance, where the Pastor’s, Priests, and Clergy have the power to disseminate real knowledge and understanding on autism, real compassion, to expand the dominant paradigm’s understanding of who we are and how we unintentionally more often than not are made to suffer in those pews and outside the church doors.  And if they can welcome and embrace these children, find time to create a space for them to avoid overstimulation without fear of judgment or damage to their self-identity in the form of feeling they are wrong, unworthy, or even in my personal case, made to feel I was actually evil and flawed beyond words.  This would benefit not just the congregation, not just the people of faith, but the overall community as well, it could help address issues of bullying based on ignorance of the difference, it could help mitigate suffering within the community, if only they could see that it truly is not a flaw or fault to simply be different and unable to thrive in certain environments. To understand how both in the Church and in greater society as well, the very environment can be harmful and damaging to those of us on the spectrum.  And in doing so, find a bit of redemption as well for themselves, for the untold generations who have suffered for just being different and having difficulty coping, for being wired to not always take things on simple faith, but by their very wiring must question and try to understand.

For all the harm that has been done, that same mechanism could now be a powerful tool to expand the conversation and the dominant social paradigm, so help further tolerance and understanding more in line with the views of Jesus of Nazareth, the church could again help unite community instead of being used by some as a mouthpiece to spread intolerance out of fear of the erosion of their views of morality.  I do not understand how so many people of faith pick and choose intolerance, swear the Bible is infallible, yet consistently no longer practice or judge based on many Biblical references, how is it we manage to so blindly cherry-pick our ideology.  Homosexuality is an abomination to so many, because of the the Biblical references, but tattoo’s, divorce, slavery, and a host of other Biblical references are now view differently. Logically, if one admits to some of these being flawed, then it is only logical to view other one’s as being flawed, that whether or not it was divinely inspired, fallible humans wrote, edited, translated, and altered this work over time. I suppose this is a topic for another time, the myopia of religious institutions, that overshadow the words of Christ in favor of Leviticus or Paul.

Getting at my inherent brain wiring

So, I have spent a lot of time of late thinking about…thinking, pretty much my favorite past time when I am not engaging in avoidance behaviors so that time will just tick by and leave me alone. Recently went over an older post by #musingsofanaspie and it got my brain going again on the question of empathy which I have addressed and speculated on before.  That question being, am I empathetic and is my ability to easily read people natural to me or is it learned?

Well, I think I was asking the question partially wrong, I am naturally cognitively empathetic, that means I can use my intelligence to relate to folks feelings and circumstances. This connects back to my writings on being compassionate writ large, or a good choice of word here would be sympathetic.  So, i am a very compassionate and sympathetic human being, but I am not particularly high empathy in regards to affective empathy.  I feel sympathy pains for people, but that is synesthesia, I read that someone is in pain and as someone compassionate I want to help, but I do not feel with the depth others do in such regards, my rationality means the depths of my reaction is limited.  Which, makes me a decent person to come to with problems if you want a good ear and solutions, I have found a balance there, I may not feel that pain or joy with the same depth, but I am able to cognitively relate to it. This is quite probably tied into my tendency to provide personal experiences which may come across as egocentric as a way of demonstrating my ability to …well empathize.  For good or ill, I have had a host of horrible and traumatic experiences in my life, loss, suffering, physical pain, I have drank deeply from the well, and as a result of this, I have the personal experience to bounce my cognitive empathy off and thus, I am able to create a kindly and compassionate demeanor that Neurotypicals don’t find offensive or alien.  But…it was not natural, not part of my inherent wiring, so in short, I have issues with empathy, but we need to stop confusing that with folks not having any feelings at all, I am not a psycho or sociopath, I just respond to these things differently, a bit distant, but still able to sympathize, and frankly, I consider that a blessing, a bit of both worlds, since I have had to straddle that for my entire life.

What else about my inherent brain wiring? Well, I am literal, a very literally minded person, but I have been able to intellectually and cognitively get around that.  For example, I know when I am tired or stressed, I should avoid posting on facebook, I miss subtext at those points and thus find myself getting into trouble or causing a bit of drama.  Now, I still like to tear things apart from the literal perspective, why I dislike so many generalizations and also makes me the natural skeptic I am.  But, I also had to move away from that, how does one cover up for a natural tendency to be literal, the literal interpretation of things still comes to me first, my inherent wiring dictates that. But like so many other things in my life, I found a work around, and those who know me personally would be able to see and understand the cornerstone of my sense of humor, not coincidentally very much like Maine humorists in general (where I live most of my childhood and teen years).  So I make jokes based on the literal interpretation of things, for example my wife says “I’m taking a shower”, my response is frequently “Oh yeah? Where are you taking it too, seems a bit heavy” or something along those lines.  My brain takes it literal, I then filter it and put it out as a form of joke instead, and oddly enough I almost have too, if I don’t speak these things out loud, that bounce around inside my head, it connects back to me mumbling and talking out loud, it is not just conversation for the sake of conversation, it is a powerful tool for me to process data and move on.

What else about my inherent wiring then? From the Meyers-Briggs, it has been well stated before that I am an INTP, and I will re-iterate that I do not see this as some form of biological determinism, just a useful tool that folks can look up and get an approximation of my personality, so I am guilty of using folks as sounding boards, always. As a matter of fact, I fail to thrive when I do not have access to good sounding boards, and so lately I am having some issues between avoiding social pressures and stimuli, which reduces meltdowns, but without my sounding boards my mind feels sluggish, I need that witty bit of conflict to force me to double check my thinking and get new perspectives, new data, and new questions, and I love questions more than anything else in this world, I am after all a creature of extreme curiosity.

So, I have sensory processing issues, a complex relationship with empathy and other people, I am literal but not rigidly black and white, instead I am an extreme grey person, or as I like to think the world is not grey at all, but full of colors and vibrancy.  It is hard for me to focus my energies, because my interests are so expansive and my mind wants to learn it all, know it all, so I am scattered and unfocused, and this frustrates me to no end.  And I am still failing to do what I wish, I cannot function in too much structure with too many asinine social rituals, but at the same time, left to my own devices I cannot focus and get things done, how strange it is to realize how much I am a product of the environment I am in.   But the more I learn about my inherent way of thinking and then the creative workarounds I have developed over the years, the closer I come to being able to cultivate the right environment to maximize my potential productivity.  So I am still torn, I have greatly mixed feelings on pursuing a PhD and trying to fight my way into academia, I suppose I could contemplate work for a think tank, but the ideologically driven nature of many of them would likewise not be particularly fulfilling to me.  But I still need to be productive, it is an imperative to me, a constant pressure that leads to depression and self loathing when I cannot get things done that I know I am capable of, I just don’t have enough structure for someone with my inherent brain wiring, and that ties back to my last post about feeling like being only half a person.  I suppose we shall see what comes in the future, but I cannot continue on my current course, it is eating away at me and that leads to meltdowns, and I loathe having meltdowns.

Relative Rituals

I am in a lot of pain these days, so my thoughts are more fragmented, winter is a rough spot for me and it makes it hard for me to focus on things and keep things straight when dry skin and painful joints and sinuses keep tugging at me, honestly I would really just like to hibernate and get past this season and get on with my life.  A warmer climate is sadly not an option, my wife’s work and my dislike of places where folks legally have the right to shoot me if I have an autistic meltdown kinda make me want to never visit most southern states again…ever.   But, I digress, before I even got started, one thing I have thought about a lot recently though is rituals.

Ok, so when talking to educators and other’s who pride themselves as being “in the know” on spectrum, one thing that comes up is what are my rituals.  First, based on the current social paradigm, one would think that question would be considered rather rude, as it is certainly prying into my personal life.  Frankly, I don’t care, but it is telling that strange repetitive behaviors I have are classified as rituals in a way that is abnormal.  Yet to me, societal rituals and religious rituals are nonsensical to me, and our society has many rituals we are expected to observe.  In my case, with functional mirror neurons so I can read people’s reactions, but the “socialization issues” of being on the spectrum, it is directly connect to my very logical and rational way of thinking, and I see so much ritualized behavior every single day, and yet folks are not challenged on those rituals.

The dominant paradigm sets the acceptable vs deviant notions of rituals, so when you do not fit the dominant paradigm, when you think so differently that you are honestly confused as to how folks accept and roll with certain socially expected behaviors, you are forced to try and understand the highly ritualized behavior of the culture you live in.  And the dominant society has so many, sometimes at odds with different worldviews and sometimes taken so for granted that it is assumed it is part of the natural human condition. When one is part of the dominant paradigm and the world makes sense, that position of cognitive privilege means you do not have to hone your assessment skills. An example of this is being a native English speaker in this day and age, though many choose to learn another language, most don’t and many even get offended that non-English speakers can’t seem to learn English well.  The dominant paradigm views the world through a cultural and personal lens that their privileged position allows them to never have to develop a cognitive toolkit to navigate the world, the world is expected to navigate around them.  Another example is general knowledge of the happenings in the US, in many ways folks in Europe and Asia know more about what is going on in our nation on a macro-scale than the residents in our nation, we take for granted how things function and because we do not perceive other’s as a potential threat we don’t have to take the time to understand them either.

So, when the dominant paradigm exists in an interesting position of privilege that allows them to wear rose colored glasses in regards to their own actions and demean those who are different or even against their worldview.  It is easy to label “the other” as flawed, backwards, or barbaric. Instead of understanding, that culturally, as well as inherently through neurology that folks value and prioritize things differently.  This comes back to the notion of rituals, societal mores and values, and the inability to see their own rituals whilst constantly pointing out perceived deviancy from these norms as somehow making an individually morally inferior.  I am not going to engage in small talk, I am not going to say something polite because it is expected, when I say something nice it is because I mean it, and I often do, I am quite a nice person, I hold no ill will towards people in general. Don’t get me wrong, I am often frustrated with people, and often feel like I want to defenstrate them for being obtuse, but this is a personality conflict stemming from different ways of thinking, not a inferiority/superiority issue. You see, in many ways, I have fewer rituals than society writ large, because I see irrational and illogical action constantly and choose to not take part in it, I disdain cultural detritus and archaic holdovers, even though I respect their origins and intent.  Add into it that I can read micro-expressions well, and I am often frustrated, I hate lying and I see lies constantly, little white lies, grey lies, or big whoppers of lies.  I don’t want someone who does not feel a certain way telling me they feel another way to spare my feelings, my feelings are hurt by deceit, never truth. Certainly if someone attacks me with micro-aggressive language I might get irritated myself, but it is honestly not that hard to be direct and honest without being insensitive, simple statements like “this is not meant to be an insult” or “hey, have you thought about it this way?” can go a long way in making speaking the truth an relatively painless task.   Likewise, we are conditioned to assert ourselves as always knowing what we are doing, the extrovert ideal for leading, a culture of everyone seeing being the alpha as more critical than any other role.  And when you have a society of alpha’s, you have a mess, you have in fighting and violence, when you demean the omega’s who are trying to create a social accord, perceive them as weak. In many ways, it is a warrior society, be it a physical battle or a business one, the take no prisoners approach to crushing the opposition and silencing it becomes the culture of the bully.  Ritualized warfare in the form of modern business practices is one way to look at things, one ritual society writ large takes for granted.

So politeness, competitiveness, ritualized warfare in business, the constant need to label things as sacred for one person or another and thus being angered or indignant when someone fails to observe your notion of the sacred, all these things are social rituals.  Standing when folks enter a room, giving someone who has no common interests your complete and undivided attention, rote learning of facts over thinking about them, more social rituals.  I could certainly go on and on about such things, the layers and layers of expected behaviors that when you do not think that way, makes every social interaction an exercise in walking on eggshells because you don’t want to offend.  In a lot of ways, I envy those who are wired to not care if they offend, to be so direct and blunt that they do not even consider the others, but for someone like me, I think of all the possibilities, social analysis paralysis on a large scale, granted it is what makes me a social scientist, scene violations, testing hypothesis, and breaking taboo. I try to not offend or manipulate folks over much with these, but honestly that does come naturally to me, everyone I meet informs me about the world and cognition, and thus by default become part of my massive social testing and experiments, nothing personal folks, just how I am wired, especially when I must understand the dominant paradigm in an attempt to navigate it.

So, I think everyone could benefit from thinking about their own rituals and societal rituals, what is the underlying purpose and function for them, they are not totally meaningless, they exist for a reason, but often they are bandaids based on a faulty understanding of human context and the extreme diversity of neuro-make up’s found in the world.  My rituals, may sometimes be bizarre, especially the ones connected to making sure my sensory functions are uninhibited, it may sometimes seem crude, but there is a logic behind it, even when not readily apparent to others.  And if I can take the time to follow some of societies rituals, then society should be able to understand some of my own as well, and that of many other people as well, for being just rituals, we all have them, and if they are not harming others, then there is no moral judgment to be had, no malignancy, nothing noteworthy at all, move on and let folks do what they will.

A (not so) short blurb on being genuine and normalizing harmless behaviors

So, I have been reading a lot of autism advocacy related stuff today, many of the points I support, sometimes the delivery seems counter productive, but by and large it is well done, and the intent is absolutely what needs to be said.  In essence a great deal of it comes back to needing to expand the dominant paradigm, normalize behaviors that folks fear or worry about out of ignorance, understand that nurture is ever so important.  I mean seriously, when you read some of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum, mental illness is so common in the population that it is believed and accepted to be a normal part of being on the spectrum.  It really is not the case, it is the hijacking of a healthy sense of self identity from being labeled, demeaned, bullied, and often abused because one happens to think and interact with the world differently.  Those of us who are verbose and extremely verbal can often pass un-noticed, but the cost can be substantial as we keep forcing ourselves to act in appropriate manners, suppressing very natural tendencies that are in fact…harmless.  Yes, we need to learn a few rules of etiquette, just like everyone else does, understanding of personal space and personal property are important concepts, but when the kid messes it up, the last thing they need is to be insulted, demeaned, or yelled at.  Violent words or violent physical acts are expedient, and in our time obsessed society expedience often trumps healthy nurturing techniques.  Even I slip up sometimes with my daughter, when I am stressed or overwhelmed myself, I can be short, because I can see the eyes looking, I have spent my life fearing the judgment of others, but  I work hard to be my genuine self everyday. I am also getting better at not being reactionary with my daughter as a result of working to be more at ease with myself. An example of being more genuine occurred today; I went shopping for a few things, instead of pulling down my hoodie, taking my hands out of my pockets where I am fiddling with things, and removing my sunglasses, I kept them on.  I kept them on because even though I dislike people judging and making assumptions, I cannot prevent their ignorance, but I can keep myself from being over-stimulated by doing things that are in fact, in my best interest. And I have heard the dominant assumptions many times before, folks who have something to hide, or are on drugs, etc. When in many cases, it has nothing to do with any of those things. But the dominant paradigm favors assumptions based on what they perceive in object reality, filtered through a ignorant worldview…and once again that is not an insult, and it is why it is imperative we expand the dominant paradigm to stop judging what they don’t understand, by educating them on both the reality of folks on spectrum, or a host of other social issues based on assumptions, and by working to normalize these things so they are not strange, frightening, etc.

I have seen so much speculation on “why are we seeing more ASD diagnosis”, part of that is the diagnostic criteria of course and a increased understanding of these things.  But, we also live in a world that is far more stimulating and overwhelming than anytime in human history, our very use of public space is inherently harmful to many on the spectrum who struggle with hyper-sensory issues. You add in a healthy dose of rigid thinking that fails to recognize certain behaviors as being something far different than what they assume they are seeing, and you have huge levels of frustration.  It is why I do not lie to my daughter, lies have been so damaging to me, being demeaned and bullied for being simply curious, when folks assume some nefarious purpose.  I recall as a child I was at my friends house, they were very welcoming over all, a nice Mormon family.  I was in the hallway staring off into space and their eldest daughter, who was two years younger than me had her door open, and apparently she was getting changed…whatever, I was not remotely a sexual being then, even though this was around the time another peer had started abusing me.  I don’t even think I was particularly looking at her, I was waiting for my friend Sean to get something.  Well, his mother, normally very accommodating, let me know in no uncertain terms she thought I was being inappropriate, and I made the situation worse by countering with my matter of fact answer “what? I have sisters too, not like this is anything new” I paraphrase of course.  Well, she did not take kindly to that, scolded me, and because I was so angry, embarrassed and frustrated that she assumed I being deviant or doing something wrong, I promptly started bashing my head into the wall.  I did that a lot as a child, but it was rooted in anger, embarrassment, and frustration, when people judged me and made assumptions, it not only frustrated me because they clearly did not understand what they were seeing, it made me feel deviant, bad, that there was something grossly wrong with me.  See, some of the “social” issues are related to mirror neuron function and missing cues, but plenty of them are because the dominant social paradigm is itself ignorant, they see something and thus they “know” what is going on, without ever asking, without ever wondering about how folks can think so very differently. I am logical, I am rational, I am curious, to the point that when denied knowledge I would try to find ways to seek it out.

Another example…feminine hygiene products, these things baffled me.  My mother will tell you that on my 11th birthday the first thing out of my mouth that day was “what are tampons used for?”, I had been asking for YEARS, because…I was curious, nothing more, nothing less. As a matter of fact, for a long time I thought I was deviant because I even stole a few maxi pads and wore them for a few days, but at that age, as I look back, I understand now, that kid who I once was, who was so long ago beaten into submission, was once again, just curious, and they had a pleasant light fragrance that I enjoyed, a baby powder scent.  I was not some sexual deviant, I was not gay, I was not even experiencing gender issues in that particular event, I was freaking curious.

Curiosity still defines me, it drives me to try and learn so much about everything around me, I may be bad with names and dates, things that can inhibit testing for many, I happened to develop some generalized ideas of era and chronology so I could normally get the numbers and answers off the tests, but when I fail to produce these things folks assume I do not “know” something, but I know a tremendous amount of data on so many subjects that most folks I know have at many points called me the “smartest” person they know.  I am not of course, I am just an information sponge with a few perceived disabilities, but honestly it is what people say and how they act that defines them, not some name given to them at birth.  Interestingly enough, in the world of online gaming, I tend to remember people’s handles quite readily, because they pick names that define them, it is an extension of who they perceive themselves to be or an image they want people to believe, and it is much more real to me than the name on their birth certificate, it informs me about who they are in a way a normal birth name never will, save for maybe details on cultural or ethnic background, which I find mostly unimportant as I respect people of all origins and backgrounds, it is mildly insightful if they have an accent and show some cultural traits related to it, otherwise it is just a holdover from immigrant ancestors.

So many of these behaviors, like swaying or head rubbing, are harmless. It is when the dominant paradigm makes judgments and hasty assessments based on a lack of knowledge and understanding that harm, demeaning, and even trauma ensues.  It is the failure to understand that for some people, these behaviors are perfectly natural, they are not nefarious, they are not perverse, they are not deviant, they are curious, or they are spacing out and not doing anything related to what they assumed.  I cannot count how many times I was chastised for failing to show respect, not because I would not have naturally wanted too, but because I was lost in my head, the ole “head in the clouds”, thinking, questioning, pondering. So in a way, my very intellect began to be harmful to me, I was not always free to think in a way that was natural to me, to learn in a way that is natural to me.  And somehow this defines me within the dominant paradigm, it is deficiency, disability, when it is none of those things.  Yes, some of the spectrum have severe quality of life issues, but we still denigrate, infantilize, or inhibit even their healthy sense of self identity, by labeling them as low IQ, or “non-verbal for life” and thus insisting upon only teaching them “life skills”, when that is one area they won’t flourish in, so stop wasting energy on the Band-aid approach and find their gifts, their joy, their healthy sense of identity. And maybe they will never hold down a job, but that does not mean they are without worth, basing someone’s entire worth on employability is myopic and limited in perspective, we need our difference, it pushes us forward.  Stop trying to re-write every bit of our genetic code with labels of deficiency, instead we need to understand how out of balance society is, and in the extreme cases, then and only then do we correct the genetic damage if the technology is available, but don’t cull the entire autism spectrum genes from the species, that is paternalistic eugenics, embrace neurodiversity, target only the severe and truly crippling genetic damage, and otherwise, make space for us, take the time to understand us, and for all those holding to rigid ideology in their “Christian nation”, listen to Christ, stop judging, after all, I have found plenty of room to forgive those who caused me harm, because I understand the patterns that have resulted in allowing people having things so very wrong.  And if the demeaned can forgive those that demean, then it is not much to ask, that those who are in the dominant position take a few moments to understand us, get past ignorance and fear, so that all us, through our own endeavors, in the myriad ways they occur, can contribute to the collective well-being and knowledge of our species, to ensure a better and brighter future for all, instead of just those currently favored as well adapted by whatever the dominant paradigm in that particular culture or nation is.  Let us be curious, let us comfort ourselves, let us be ok with who we are instead of saying we are defective, and watch as the frustration lessens, as meltdowns become less frequent, when folks listen with open ears and minds and hearts.

How the education system breaks difference

I want to take a bit here to talk about the current westernized education system, though the model has been applied in many places across the globe.  With human populations being the sheer size they are, it is easy to understand how being able to quantify a person statistically is appealing, but it is also dehumanizing and cannot truly objectively get the results it desires.  Our very methods of testing are based upon what is valued or considered the ideal, or even just normal by the dominant paradigm, and thus when a child fails to thrive in that, they are defective, disabled, morally inferior to others.  This is a judgment based on ideology, not neurological fact.  When one talks about the bell curve and intellect, the measure of intellect is biased by the society measuring it, it has pre-conceived expectations on what makes someone a “functional” member of society.  Introverts for example, those who may favor deep thought, or have their “heads in the clouds” are often demeaned as lazy, because many in our society believe you need to see the activity directly in front of their own eyes, they fail to understand how many variables there are to meaningful human endeavor.

The current education system continues to try and apply one size fits all approaches to education, even though there are so many of us who keep saying clearly that we need to teach to the difference.  While working on my Masters in Education, a common theme for the US education system was the notion that an educated population is needed for a healthy democracy, but our standards for what makes an educated person are both limited and woefully out of balance.  The intersection of the industrialist mindset with our education system, coupled with the cost of it due to varying amounts of legislation, red-tape, and bureaucracy has turned it into a rigid behemoth, that serves only those well adapted to the dominant paradigm.  We favor rote learning and knowledge over critical thinking and being able to apply that knowledge, it allows ignorance to flourish, because no amount of quantifiable facts and statistics can truly indicate an individuals ability to think and apply that knowledge.  Knowledge that is never applied, might as well not be taught at all, facts, figures, names, and dates do not a truly educated person make, we have confused these notions with being able to think critically, wisdom, and the not so common “common sense”.

Compartmentalized learning is the backbone of the current education system, an obsession with certain skill sets linked to specific subject matter, and for many this is a perfectly decent way to learn, but many of us, those who naturally favor logical thinking over “observant” or as I call it, empirical thinking, do not learn well this way at all.  Rote learning lacks context, it does not allow for an immediate value assessment for us, because many of us need to see it applied, see the interaction of different subjects to better grasp it, rote learning stands alone from a complex intertwined system, and some of us learn best by trying to understand the entire system, not just bits and pieces kept distinct.  I have said before, and will say it again, though I am bad at math as we currently teach it, I have a very naturally mathematical mind, my lack of visualization and thus ability to manipulate numbers in my mind, does not mean I do not do math constantly, that I don’t assess angles and degrees, subtract, multiply, add or divide constantly.  Yet there is no system or test in place where I can show competency, because we have a rigid idea of what it means to understand such things.

There are so many different ways people think and learn, we approach basic questions from so many different points, and those of us who think differently are often demeaned for it, we then fail to thrive because the way we are taught does not make sense.  And this is not just an autism spectrum issue, the school to prison pipeline exists because of a failure to teach to difference, that the logical mindset found in so many cultures and genotypes is disdained in our society, it reminds us of the indolence of the old European aristocracy for example.  But the failures of the European Aristocracy is not how they thought and what they valued, it is the same issue as we see today, in that they failed to understand, utilize, and value other ways of thinking and interacting with the world.  So in old Europe, the empirical, grounded in the here and now, was demeaned, it was the “peasant” mindset, considered short sighted and intellectually inferior, while it was never any of these things, it was simply difference.

Yet, through our one size fits all approach, many of us fail to thrive within the academic system, and somehow that becomes our fault, either being “disabled” like many of us on the spectrum are listed, and we do have some differences that make us maladaptive to the current paradigm, but that is not disability, it is the failure to expand the system and teach to the difference (once again, there are severe forms of autism that are lifelong disability, but we create a great deal of that artificially). We continue to allow the mentality of “kids will be kids” as an excuse to let us be demeaned and bullied, and yes kids will be kids, but that is not an excuse to ignore a teachable moment, to expand their understanding about different ways of thinking, and the value of that, when kids act this way, it is our duty in a democratic society especially, to teach them better than that.  When cultures clashed historically there are ideas exchanged, these ideas foster innovation, but this is also found on the individual level as well, difference pushes us forward, and to demean one inherent way of thinking over another is not just morally reprehensible, it is self defeating in the long term, it leads to trauma, mental illness, caste systems and social classes. Sure, there is mobility within the US economically, but that mobility is based upon certain careers and endeavors, and not everyone can do those things and thrive, it is a pleasant lie we tell ourselves, because many people do not value those things, and we should not be forced to suffer because of an inherent way of being we had no choice in.   When I think about the school to prison pipeline, I see logical thinkers greatly affected, be them autism spectrum or populations of African descent, see, logical thinking is very common throughout the world, it is very beneficial for survival, it is flexible and reads the patterns of the natural world easily, and thus many genetic populations favor that way of thinking.  In the US and many areas of Europe, there are so many Empirical thinkers, this lends itself well to changing the environment, constructing and building things, taming instead of adapting and moving with the natural world.  Both of these ways of thinking have their benefits and their limitations, these are different gifts and we must make room for that to flourish.  “Being White” as discussed by many educators as a plague amongst many school populations, most often associated with African Americans, is more than just flouting the dominant paradigm out of spite and an effort to maintain their own cultural identity, it identifies and demeans those who think close to the dominant paradigm and value rote book learning over wisdom and life experience.  It identifies a difference, and that difference is demeaned because it is not consciously understood and applies to the dominant paradigm that has in turn consistently demeaned them.  It is a cycle, and cycles can be broken, and our education system is the tool that is used to break so many of us, to make us feel unworthy and under valued, that our failure to learn in a way that is contrary to how we build up our understanding of the world somehow makes us faulty.

Life today is very rigid, we say we are free, but few people understand what liberty really means, the ability to say what you want without consequence is not freedom, it is A freedom, a singular example, but that alone does not make us free.  One might argue that we are able to go into a host of careers, we just have to buckle down and get our education. But when that very education does not teach to how we learn best, then we have already started passing a subtle moral judgment on what types of thinking are valuable, and what are undesirable.  The cards are stacked against us based on so many differences that no child has ever had a say in, not just inherent thinking, but privilege based on race, sex, and social class, often found in the very poor funding found in some schools, with leaky roofs and old, outdated text books, vs cutting edge technology.  And this is tied to enclaved communities, communities so fearful of difference than a black or latino family moving in can cause home values to drop, based of ignorance and fear, instead of giving those who are culturally and racially different a chance to flourish on their own merits.  Ignorance and fear are great movers and shakers in our economy, and as a result, based on how we fund ours schools currently, that leads to enclaves that demean and keep out difference, that label children, before they have even had a chance to establish a healthy sense of self identity as doomed to fail, as defective, as trouble makers who cannot just listen and do what they are told.

Well, some of us are experiential learners and skeptics, we will not take you at your word, we need to come to our understanding of things in a different way, this is not defective, it is simply different.  I remember keenly more than a few times where I was told by an educator, an authority who is supposed to nurture my knowledge and understanding, that I was going to amount to nothing, simply because I did not thrive or relate to the education system, because I questioned it, questioned my teachers, questioned their credentials, and always tried to see things from multiple points of view.  Coupled with facing a scary and overwhelming future, tied down to repetitive work force tasks, soul numbing and devoid of value to me.  I avoided studying many topics, because I was constantly told I would starve if I did so, but for the few who regularly read my works, there is little doubt I have a philosopher’s mind, coupled with a love of empirical data and science, both forms of thought inform me so much more than just one way of thinking ever could.

When you cannot learn the way you learn best, then you suffer. When you are told that you are less worthy, because you think and approach things differently, self-defeatism creeps in, mental illness, lethargy, anger, and a host of other traits that further alienate us from the dominant paradigm.  We end up being “degenerates”, “hoodlums”, “future criminals”, and a host of other labels, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, it hijacks out self-identity and sense of self worth, and thus we make those who do not fit in the “other” and based on faulty context and false dichotomies, this status makes us undesirable in society, and this society closes doors of opportunity to us, and we deviate from the dominant model.  In many ways, this is a sizable chunk of criminality, self employment in a fashion that does not force one into a boring and pedantic 9 to 5 job, it has more excitement, it allows for more self-determination, and for many that makes it worth the risks.  We created a system that is so rigid, that is literally becomes almost prophetic in it’s ability to predict the course in life for certain ways of thinking. Add in further bias, in the form of racial profiling and cultural demeaning, then the deck becomes further stacked against certain groups, we see it now in the constant struggles of black men in our society.  And when people do stray, when they make mistakes, commit a crime, or a host of other things as a result, it becomes a label for life, even though we never gave them a chance to thrive in the first place.  We are not a nation that forgives, we are a nation that judges, and believe that heinous acts are the work of someone evil, heartless, or cruel and never allow them to find a better path, they become the label and the record of that label haunts and follows them for life, it is a human tragedy of epic proportions.

If we want to reduce mental illness and criminality, then we must look at our education system and our culture of demeaning difference.  If we embrace teaching to the difference, allowing rote learners to keep learning the way they do best, but allowing logical and experiential learners to do the same, we will have more well adapted people who will endeavor and contribute to society, since feeling that one is valued and belongs is such an important part of self-identity and mental health.  So what if they cannot tell you the exact date something was written, a ballpark figure is just fine, all they need for history for example is an understanding of chronology, the fine details are just knowledge not likely to be ever applied, that does not mean the learner did not learn the important aspects of history for example.  “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”, well folks, no culture or society has yet to properly do this, we keep assuming we have, but the cycle of demeaning, violence, and trauma is still alive and well, and we are working our way up to another cycle of it right now.  It is not names, dates, and specific locations that inform us of the lessons of history, it can all be paraphrased and understood in the terms of the intersection of human difference, individual and cultural.  Sometimes I wonder (seriously, this is a correlation, an interesting idea, not something I believe to be scientific fact, I am a pattern thinker after all) if the volume of empirical thinking we see in Europe and the Middle east is not tied to the amount of Neanderthal DNA in a population, that within our human genome there are two very different fundamental ways of learning.  I will use the China example again, after all trace amounts of the Neaderthal genome exist in Asiatic and Indigenous North American populations, that they developed a system of testing to identify empirical thinkers to help run the bureaucracy, An interesting thought to think that two races shared DNA and that as a result two ways of thinking exist within the human genome in regards to how we learn our schema and build up understanding. Regardless of origin, fun idea that it is, it benefits us all, the thinkers, the do’ers, nurturers, teachers, and so many other different ways of thinking once you begin to factor in inherent chaos in the wiring of the brain. So much difference….and yet we continue to assume that a one size fits all approach is desirable and beneficial to society, and that a child is to blame for that difference.  How short sighted we have been, even when science continues to indicate that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in how a brain can function.  But even those scientists often work within the dominant paradigm, and thus they too are biased, their subjective cultural lens applying judgments based on difference and it’s failure to flourish in what they consider to be an enlightened society, we are so very far away from being enlightened, we are still at war with our selves and each other, and we still fail to learn the lessons of history, and thus still hostages to the choices of our ancestors.