Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Autistic education

This paper summarizes my view of the education of autistic students.

On a recent trip to the library, I read a few dozen scholarly articles and teacher’s manuals related to autistic education. While all of the articles talked about measuring success, not one of them defined success. The unwritten purpose in that literature is to normalize students’ behavior, regardless of whether normalization benefits anyone. If this is how the world is handling autism, then to the extent that we are “successful”, we are breaking down, and spiritually asphyxiating the next generation. Autistic students need a whole different kind of education, as I will show below.

But first, what is school? I don’t accept the myth that schools exist to happily pass on the accumulated wisdom of the ages to serve the next generation. Schooling is compulsory; if it were so desirable, there would be no need to enforce it. Schools are a political battleground in which truth and priorities are contested (not by students) and students are exposed to the version of truth that serves the interests of those in power. Since power is diverse and incompletely centralized in our semi-democratic society, the battle is never won; school is an ongoing laboratory or microcosm that reflects its enclosing political divides. It forms the first rungs of the ladder of social competition, by setting academic, athletic and popularity standards, then constantly testing the contestants and sorting them into levels.

Thus, the modern school is a supremely non-autistic place in its very conception. The self-identification that arises from the results of the sorting process is contrary to the independent cognitive style characteristic of autistics. Autistics are predetermined to lose in a system whose basis is striving to converge on a commonly defined pinnacle of achievement. To make society a place where autistics have equal rights and dignity, our schools have to respect the way we relate to authority and submission, not just coerce us into the standard competitive model.

The purpose of autistic education should be to permit the students to excel in their own particular directions, rather than as measured by a common standard. Facilitating the development of each person’s unique greatness will build a society with adult autistics who contribute at our highest potential. The special role of autistics is to diverge, pull society in many directions, to be outliers, curanderas, shamans, and hermits. Only a few of those outliers will be “great” in the sense of widely recognized contributions, but all can work towards our own potential. Schooling designed for autistics should therefore honor our creative and independent nature, and help us be more fully autistic, rather than less. It should never try to make us imitate convergent people; that will only lead to empty shells of adults who are disabled and ineffective. Read the rest of this entry »

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Getting rid of the Box – comments to DOT

Comments to RITA docket 2009-0005-0001

In addition to research on technology, case studies, and detail strategies and metrics, there also must be some more macroscopic study on waste and stagnation. There have been many attempts to describe the elements of efficient and safe macro urban designs, such as TOD, on-demand transit, integration with bike/pedestrian, coordinated land use, and so on, yet as the decades pass, we are still building primarily auto-exclusive zone-segregated places, driving more and more, and not even coming close to meeting the stated federal goals.

Clearly the way planning is carried out at the federal and state levels cements this technology and policy stagnation. Nearly all studies are scoped, meaning they define what is to be studied – a truism in government, but not a necessity. The scoping creates the box that one is to think inside of. In order to unblock the process, one must think outside the box, and to do that, one must not have a box – that is, no scoping.

Study is needed on how to remove the scoping box from government struture and let flow the natural creativity that is harnessed by the private sector, in order to make it possible to meet any of the goals. This study should include advice on the next congressional transportation authorization.

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