Category Archives: Silberman

The Cognitive-Behavioural Interpretative Isolationism of Autism and Asperger Syndrome – Part 1: What the “Theory of Mind” doesn’t understand about the Autistic Mind…

 

Part 1- What the “Theory of Mind” doesn’t understand about the Autistic Mind

By Romuald Feldmann© FDScMH, LTh(Hons), CertEd,

PgCert Special Psychopedagogy,

PgCert Autism & Asperger’s, QTS

On the back cover of the seminal “Neurotribes” (Silberman, 2015) the inquisitive eye should spot a hidden gem of apocalyptic proportions, basically stating that “the future of our society depends on our understanding” of what autism is. The statement is so powerful and frightening or maybe totally insane, that when I first blogged it, it attracted virtually no likes or comments. I will attempt to better understand why.

Surprisingly for a pathologized, general view of autism, Attwood (2002) mentioned research by Hans Asperger (1906-1980) in identifying “a consistent pattern of abilities and behaviour”.

The battleground becoming contention is therefore seeing and accepting the autism spectrum as a pattern of abilities or disabilities, branching itself further into seemingly endless explanatory theories and terminology wars, which I will attempt to deconstruct and re-construct from a personalised academic and philosophical perspective.

1.The Theory of Mind (ToM):

‘[…] ToM is the ability to put oneself into someone else’s shoes, to imagine their thoughts and feelings, so as to be able to make sense of and predict their behaviour. It is sometimes called mind-reading or mentalising.‘ (Baron-Cohen, 2008, 57)

Expanding further on his own statement, Baron-Cohen summarises on the same page, that ToM can be thought of as a theory which explains that a neurotypical (NT) person is normally/usually able to explain and predict other people’s behaviour, thus leaving autistics unable to use the ToM to interpret or anticipate the actions and/or intentions of individuals whom they have contact with, and therefore mind-blindly disadvantaged.

In my opinion, -and leaving aside a random personal thought about the fairly entertainment industry resembling concept of ‘mind-reading’-, Baron-Cohen and other scientists considering this theory, have attempted through ToM to understand why autistics seem unable to mentalise/mind-read, having observed NT and autistic children/adults, comparing their reactions mainly from an observable, neurotypical-behaviour perspective, without focusing on the much more important, individually specific, selectively volitional, pre-behavioural aspect. Because regardless of age, autistic individuals may possess a more functional capacity to individually and gradually select -or not-, a momentary focus of attention, leaving a NT observant genuinely mind-blind to the fact that autistic pre-decisional mental analytics are de facto behind what could be perceived as obnoxiousness or an inability of perception. However, especially at early stages of individual development, autistics are less aware of the reasons why mentally they may decide to fixate on some encountered aspects while actively ignoring any others, even if someone tries to divert their fixated attention, oftentimes provoking as a result, unexpected reactions commonly called shut- or meltdowns. Depending on an autistic individual’s level of what I propose to be identified as a Neurobiological Socio-Interconnectivity Predisposition (NSIP), unfortunately mistaken sometimes for other, valid learning disabilities (LD) such as ‘congenital abnormalities of the frontal lobes’ (Attwood, 2002), adult autistics may decide to learn (or not), to mentally re-negotiate maintaining, or shifting the focus of their fixation, identified by Murray et al (2005) as monotropism.

Because each individual is entitled to have someone else’s undivided attention, as much as the individual(s) from whom they expect such attention, decide for reasons they should not be expected or forced to disclose, to grant it or not. Autistics have the inalienable right to ignore at least as much as we are oftentimes ignored, without any obligation whatsoever to provide a reason for our choice to socially interact or prefer to remain asocial.

(to be continued…)

 

-Attwood, T., (2002). Asperger’s Syndrome – A Guide for Parents and Professionals. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

-Baron-Cohen, S., (2008). Autism and Asperger Syndrome. London: OUP

-Murray, Dinah; Lesser, M.; Lawson, W (1 May 2005). “Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism”  Autism. 9 (2): 139–56.

-Silberman, S., (2015). Neurotribes. London: Allen & Unwin

 

 

 

 

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The “mens sana in corpore sano” War Against Autistics, Dyslexics and Dyspraxics…

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(Multiple Trigger Alert: Accounts of Abuse and Humiliation Against Autistics, Dyslexics, Dyspraxics!!!)

Please don’t be offended by this post if you’re an athlete or someone else who believes in what I consider to be the myth of “a healthy mind in a healthy body”…

Because while I don’t mind at all if you earnestly believe that your healthy mind is supposed to dwell in your healthy body, or that for you, a healthy body is supposed to be an athletic one, for me, and for innumerable other non-athletic individuals, including countless autistics and dyspraxics whose bodies were/are “chubby and ungainly” as in Silberman’s mention of Asperger’s “poor Hellmuth”, life under this despicable, “mens sana in corpore sano” banner of humiliating the weak and less able, was and it still is a living hell, having wished so many and unfortunate times to have been literally thrown down the chasms of Taygetus…

I won’t launch in any diatribes about the fact that no human progress has ever been achieved in athletic arenas, except for who can run, swim, jump, kick etc, faster, higher and stronger, but I may disrespectfully ask, why was I forced, coerced and abused into achieving the impossible with a dyspraxic body in the name of a dysfunctional “Physical Education” mentality, while NONE of my athletically abled school colleagues were ever coerced e.g. into writing poetry?

Oh, and as I’m hearing your “but you need talent to write poems” disgruntled question, I’ll venture asking if the same could be also true about physical abilities for sports? Or do you think that only the less -physically- talented/abled are “entitled” to the ridicule of an entire class/school because we can’t do push-ups, frog-leaps, high-jumps, long-jumps, hurdles, we can’t climb ropes, run fast, play football, handball, basketball, volleyball, rugby, etc, while the less creatively talented/abled are exempt?

And I’m not talking about what you didn’t like about the literature and language curriculum, because the curriculum never asked you to force yourself ALL ALONG your school years to naturally start writing lengthy poems in rhyme and meter, long before you knew what “rhyme and meter” are, while the same curriculum forced me to be the laughingstock of an entire school’s gymnasium, as year after year I landed in front of, under, on top, on the sides, but never over the vaulting horse… Standing there, head bowed, swallowing my tears, rubbing my bruises, knowing that at the bottom of the invincible climbing-rope, my overweight PE teacher is going to give me another “you should try harder, you know”…

“Shame on you! Are you stupid, or dumb?” was the “best” my maths, physics, chemistry teachers could do in order to “boost” my chances to understand algebra, analytical algebra, trigonometry calculations etc, which were for them, the epitome of a “healthy mind”, proof that you’re not “eligible” for the “retard school”…

So, there was I, clumsy representative of generations of autistics, dyslexics (dyscalculia included) and dyspraxics, unhappily looking forward to receiving at home “what I deserve” for my bad grades (after a while I wasn’t even urinating in my trousers anymore…), happily knowing that my cubes need their daily arranging, my model planes their daily aligning, my favourite book (Zaharia Stancu’s Barefoot) its (probably) 139th consecutive reading, Darwin’s “Origin of Species” its further analysis, and Miklós Nyiszli’s “Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account” its horrifying impression on the mind of confused teenager…

Back in those days, no one would have thought that the chubby, big headed, silent dreamer they were abusing and humiliating for having a weird, “unhealthy” (read autistic/dyslexic/dyscalculic) mind in an unhealthy (read dyspraxic) body, would have grown to simultaneously interpret in three languages, creatively use four, understand six, using altogether eight, having self-taught himself three musical instruments, and earning (so far…) three major degrees and two postgraduates?

And as a final paradox, while in the military (you wouldn’t have believed that I’ve earned my stripes and stars once…) which I appreciated for its rule/order/hierarchy structure, they discovered quite quickly that I still can’t do more than 1 1/2 push-ups, and I still can’t climb ropes, but I’m very good at drawing complicated military maps, and I still can’t run neither much, nor fast, but I can force-march 30 km without any stops, leaving behind anyone else, arriving at the training range one hour before anyone else. And while as clumsy as a sloth when asked to run an obstacle course, it turned out that after graduating the military infirmary paramedic training, I was amongst the few to surgically remove/treat abscesses threatening to turn into septicaemias, and administer injections to infants living in remote areas, far away from regular civilian healthcare support. The “jarheads” saw not only what I can’t do, but also what I can, and facilitated my progress accordingly.

All these, and humbly much, much more, as someone who’s never been neither physically, nor mentally “healthy”, according to this planet’s favourite athletically inclined proverb.

But I could have done these, and probably much more, without the “spartan” beatings, the scorn, the shouting and the humiliation, for no other “fault” than that of having been born this way, my way…

 

Photo credits: http://helenroche.com/work/personal-and-political-appropriations-of-sparta-in-german-elite-education-napolas-and-prussian-cadet-schools

“autism: […] the future of our society depends on our understanding it.”

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Over a lifetime spent with mostly futile attempts to drift with the flow, I’ve discovered a mostly disturbing quality of my mind, namely the “finding the needle before seeing the haystack” capability, which made me a persona non-grata at meetings where those having an interest in hiding matters, oftentimes forbade me of taking notes, or even a notebook and pencil, because even though I am unable to see any “bigger (especially false) picture”, I can identify key words/concepts which my mind uses to profile the real picture with its oftentimes dreadful consequences.

A couple of hours ago, I’ve been delivered via St. Amazon a copy of Silberman’s “Neurotribes”. As my “religious” routine is to read first the title, copyrights, ISBN, etc page followed by the back cover, I have found the following, most distressing statement:

“What is autism: a devastating developmental condition, a lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more – and the future of our society depends on our understanding it.

Now, one of the advantages of a(n oftentimes identified as mainly) male Asperger’s binary thinking (yes/no, black/white), is an eerie capability of identifying absolutes, ultimate type of words or statements, axiomatic effects of a perceived completion of premises necessary in order to postulate them. And while these could be frightening for example to the clearly disadvantaged counterpart of a debate, from a purely contemplative perspective of judging deductive reasoning, its pure perfection becomes compelling.

Nevertheless, as undesirable as it would be contemplating a nuclear explosion from within, the same must be said about the above highlighted statement. Why? Because from here and now, the future looks and resonates nothing less than an Armageddon riding the Apocalypse for a socio-globality which still considers autism a “historical anomaly”, clarifying on a quod erat demonstrandum level, that there’s virtually no reasonable understanding of autism. Should there be any, searching for illusory “cures” in order “to stop the autism epidemic” would have become long ago shamefully obsolete.

Why have I written this post? Because I have become genuinely frightened at the idea of a future dominated by a neurotypical majority which is about to unleash through its deliberate ignorance, a chain reaction of wrong decisions about me, without having at least spoken in a meaningful way with me first. But even worse, the same majority seems even further ignorant that its wrong decisions shall have an effect not only on me and those alike, but as the quote’s author suggests, on society and ultimately the world as we know it.

Has the author of the quote gone mad writing such belligerent statements disturbing our state of -the art- denial?

I’ll leave it to your further inquiries, reminding you only that Silberman’s book has won “The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2015”, with someone writing the aforementioned quote in bold, on the back cover.

And the Prize’s motto seems to be “All the best stories are true”…