Monday, October 20, 2008

Being Part of the Disabled Community Versus Being a Member of a Minority Group (Part II)

(Part I)

The relationship between a high functioning paraplegic to the general physically disabled community parallels the relationship between Asperger syndrome and the general autistic community. My interests, as someone with Asperger syndrome, are very different from people on the lower end of the spectrum. As I have previously argued, what I require from society is not charity or help as a disabled person but to be recognized as a member of a minority group with its own, equally legitimate, way of looking at the world. I should be placed on the multiculturalism umbrella, neurodiversity in my case.

The conflicts that I tend to get into with neurotypicals are the sort of conflicts that come about when a minority is faced with a member of the majority culture, who lacks proper multicultural awareness. For example I once got a bad grade on a Spanish test. The problem was that, in keeping with my Asperger way of thinking, I took a number of questions very literally and did not give the answers that the teacher wanted. For example I listed lizards as an animal that one would find in the ocean. This is technically speaking true. A Komodo dragon is a lizard and it does spend a lot of time in the ocean. I went over to the teacher and proceeded to try to explain my case. As someone with Asperger syndrome I tend to speak in a highly theatrical manner. I speak loudly and I gesticulate a lot with my hands. I also tend to hunch my shoulders and bear down on people. So here I am, a six foot male, standing over a female, not much over five feet tall, speaking loudly, waving my hands and bearing down on her. From the perspective of someone wedded to neurotypical assumptions this looked like me threatening her. The teacher ended up asking me to go to her supervisor. Not only that but a bystander ended up calling the cops. In truth, though, I was not threatening the teacher. I was simply speaking in a manner that was in keeping with my Asperger being. From the perspective of pure reason, this mode of speaking is equally legitimate to neurotypical styles of speaking. I did not strike the teacher nor did I cause her any physical harm. It is only the neurotypical bias that interprets this as aggressive behavior. This incident is no different from a white or a heterosexual teacher misinterpreting the verbal and physical cues of a black or a gay student as something threatening. The fact that the teacher felt threatened is not my fault. (Or at least not completely.) The real fault lies with the teacher who lacked the cultural sensitivity to appreciate the utter relativity of her own cultural assumptions.

This story has a happy ending. I sent the teacher an e-mail in which I explained what Asperger syndrome was and that I was not threatening her in the least. I apologized to her for the misunderstanding and the matter was dropped. I was even awarded some of the points I had lost on the test. For better or for worse I had to be content with this. If I were black, gay or some other minority group with more cultural clot than Asperger syndrome maybe the university would have sent me an apology, assuring me of the universities commitment to maintaining a neurologically diverse environment. Maybe the teacher would have been forced to undergo sensitivity training and would have received a reprimand telling her to get with the neurodiversity agenda of the university or find other employment.

To strengthen my case, I, as someone with Asperger syndrome, actually have certain innate advantages over neurotypicals, unlike people who are black or gay who have no advantages beyond their own personal skills. Because I have Asperger syndrome I have a certain knack for interpreting texts. While I may have certain difficulties with dealing with other human beings and processing non analytical information such as body language, I am very proficient when it comes to reading analytical information such as texts. Think of Asperger syndrome handling textual information as the equivalent of being seven feet tall and playing basketball. So not only should universities recruit me as a student, create an Asperger friendly environment for and, when the time comes, hire me as a professor as a matter of neurodiversity they should be doing these things out of pure self interest. In essence I should be receiving everything that blacks and gays receive and more.

(To be continued …)

5 comments:

Miss S. said...

To strengthen my case, I, as someone with Asperger syndrome, actually have certain innate advantages over neurotypicals, unlike people who are black or gay who have no advantages beyond their own personal skills.

This entry was enlightening; but I disagree that there are no "innate advantages" in being black or gay. Because melanin has protective qualities towards skin, black people are much less susceptible to sunburn (and I've spent a lot of time in the sun...and I've only suffered sunburn once in my life) and they "age" slower. I am also tempted to say that we excel in physical activities; such as sports and the like -- although this is harder to prove. Or there may be some truth in what my Grandfather believes is "a superior gene pool" among American blacks because the weaker Africans did not survive the middle passage and/or the first generation of New World slavery. Which only left the strongest and fittest to procreate. Again I don't think there is any hard evidence to prove this; but many black people believe this regardless.

Izgad said...

“Because melanin has protective qualities towards skin, black people are much less susceptible to sunburn (and I've spent a lot of time in the sun...and I've only suffered sunburn once in my life) and they "age" slower. I am also tempted to say that we excel in physical activities; such as sports and the like -- although this is harder to prove.”

What you say is true. I was thinking of advantages in terms of the university context. Since we graduate students spend our days in windowless offices having high levels of melanin is of little use. I do not view college sports as having anything to do with actual college life so being a good athlete is also of no relevance here.

Miss S. said...

Touche. Thanks for the clarification :-) !

Isaac said...

I have windows.
They face a courtyard.

But honestly, Benzi, a person can be directly aware of an external condition (black) or an obvious bahioral/cultural condition ("gay" vs. homosexual - "gay" is an actual culture, the other is not), but expecting sensitivity to actions that are manifestly NORMAL in a certain set of circumstances, and where the teacher has no applicable KNOWLEDGE of the condition, is a bit much.

It isn't a matter of political clout, it's a matter of both the uncommonality of your condition and public ignorance.
Consider:
Under normal conditions and in conversation, you appear to conform to the 'normal' of a neurotypical (great term). Under conditions of stress, both your mode of action and the fight-flight response of the recipient precipitates a perceived physically threatening state. To equate this with intimacy threat and unexpressed threat is [sorry to say] folly.

Conversely, I feel there is a need for inverse tolerance as well. "Gay Pride Parades" are often little more then disturbing, hedonistic, homoerotic displays. This is NOT an expression of the self but a forcing of their display upon others - this is a directly confrontational act. That is purely offensive on the level of the "black" stereotype you mentioned threatening to "bust a cap" or somesuch.

You do NOT force people to communicate within your realm - you set up a means of intermediation OUTSIDE it when typical means fail. Your writing of the email is a fantastic example.
Perhaps recognizing potentially perceived 'adversarial' conditions and choosing to WRITE rather than TALK would be an appropriate amount of reverse sensitivity.

Izgad said...

Isaac

There is such a thing as black culture.
The fact that the teacher lacked "applicable KNOWLEDGE" is her fault. Particularly if we are going to be playing by liberal multicultural rules. Autism affects one out of 150 people. It would seem that this number would rise when dealing with a college campus population. So it is a force to be considered.
While my Asperger side may become more obvious when dealing with stressful situations it comes out in other situations as well. You have known me for several years did you ever think that I was just a "normal" guy? Even by YCDS standards. :)
I agree with you about Gay Pride parades. There is a line between asking for tolerance and blackmailing society. Reasonable people may disagree where to draw the line. I draw the line more to the side of the general society but I do believe that both blacks and gays have some legitimate claims.
I have never tried to force people to communicate on my terms. Tolerance is a dialogue.