Thursday, November 3, 2016

Modern ABA

People claim it's not that type of ABA, it's modern, it's kinder, and gentler, it's not abuse. They try to remove our words claiming that what we're talking about isn't what they know, or what they do.

But we do know.

It's not kind to have a child hear hundreds of times a day how they're wrong. It's been a minute, you're wrong. It's been another minute, you're wrong. Why? Because you're autistic, you're wrong. You flapped a hand, you're wrong. You aren't currently writing an answer because you're thinking, you're wrong.

That's part of the program of multiple children I know, at multiple different schools.

It's not gentle to a child to grab and restrain them because they're sobbing. Grab them, pull them out of the room, throw them elsewhere. Crying isn't allowed for autistic children. Being upset about change isn't allowed, it's showing that you're autistic.

That's part of the program of another child I know. Restraint and seclusion for crying or yelling. Too disruptive. Time for another restraint. Maybe this time the point will get through that you're only allowed to do exactly what you're told to, not do things like show emotion.

These are places that are considered "kind" and "gentle", modern ABA.

They don't do the same things as they did in the 80s, but still, they restrict all activities that are used to regulate a child's sensory system, and they must be "earned", one minute at a time.

They're still places which write a child's bathroom usage into their ABA program.

They're still places which say if you haven't finished your work by lunch time, you're not allowed to eat anything until you've finished all your work. You need to stay here, and keep working while all your friends eat lunch and go to recess, no matter how hungry you are. You didn't do your work. Even if you worked non-stop. Food is for efficient workers.

They're still places which say swearing is enough reason to remove a child's favorite part of a day. That they hadn't been needing to earn in the first place.

They're still places which every one, three, five minutes a child is told everything they're doing wrong.

They're still places which use restraint and seclusion. Not to mention restraint and seclusion for things like being upset about change.

This is modern ABA. Every one of these things is something I've seen written into an ABA program in the last 5 years.

And none of this list gets across the pain.

None of it can explain the amounts of self-injury I see because of what is being done to them while adults are telling a child over and over how much they're a horrible person, which gets followed up by immediate restraint because of people being called a danger to themselves and others.

Or the amounts of teachers getting away with making children repeating work while watching classmates play because they felt like it and the reason being given just being "I felt like it".

Stimming becoming hated. Scripting becoming hated. Autism becoming hated. Because all adults say how autism is bad. And yet, everyone knows they're autistic. Children acting "less autistic", but doing so because of learning to hate everything about themselves. I cry every summer, not knowing if my students who I care about will still be there when I return.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Today I am silent

Today I am silent.

That is it's own form of communication. Choosing to not engage in the unspoken rituals expected of us. It's own form of saying, no, I'm doing my thing, what is right for me.

I make that choice. Limiting my speech to that which I choose, that which I deem worth the cost; that which I deem necessary; that which I deem worth enough to deal with the downsides. Otherwise, I can choose to be silent.

Smalltalk around me. I don't need to reply.

I can choose my self-care as more important than making others more comfortable with this uncanny valley person that is me. I can choose to say no.

I'm asked dehumanizing questions, the emotional labor expected of a token autistic in an unfriendly environment.

But I don't need to honor them. I can take care of myself.

It's my choice. My decision. My desires which matter. It's my needs which I value, as I say, I don't need to speak.

And that's why today I'm silent.

Because today, I rest.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Simple repetition was supposed to be enough

It was first grade and they were determining what books we were able and allowed to read. We were sorted into levels, to make it easy for the teacher to know what we wouldn't be given something too difficult.

"Read a page, and hold up a finger when you can't say the word, if you reach five words go down a level". It didn't matter if I know the meanings.

Later on they put me into speech, but by then my book level was already decided.

Someone came once a week and took me down to an office. The flip book set up, read the words. They were always the same words. Like simple repetition would make me start speaking properly.

"No, that's wrong, say this"
"That's what I just said"
repeat after me - elongated sounds - like that makes a difference
I say exactly what I've been saying, because I hear no difference.

Like simple repetition would make me start speaking properly.

Why should I expect things like actually telling me more than that I'm wrong? Like how I'm different than you, or how to do what you want me to do? Or anything at all more than, you're wrong, try again, say the same words. You know the list. It's time to tell me that people like me are wrong. Simple repetition should make me start speaking properly.

Years pass, with weekly sessions. I get used to people telling me my speech is wrong, in speech therapy, bullies who want to find anything different about me, people just saying it without thinking about the affects of their words.

They want to fix my speech, make it normal. I'm getting tired of not even knowing why I'm going. Apparently sometimes I can't say "cold" different than "cod" or "thhhh" different than "ssss" but those I know because people have commented on them being better now. Nobody tells me what I'm doing wrong, just that it's wrong.

Telling me it's wrong should be enough to make it better.

Is it like they think I'm choosing to speak wrong? Willful disobedience? Is that why it's not important to give me details of what I'm supposed to do.

Years pass.

Nine years after my first speech therapist, someone listens to the fact that I don't hear a difference between what I'm saying and what they're saying. She starts using a tape recorder in some of the sessions to let me hear the difference.

Nine. Years. Later.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Professional vs. Autistic

So, Theory of Mind. This "how people think about others thinking" or whatever. It's claimed autistic people can't do that. There are so many different things out there claiming that people like don't have the ability to think about how others think - their thoughts, their perspectives, their needs.

And I teach. I teach neurodivergent people. Frequently autistic. And teach neurodivergently.

And I talk to people about autism.

So I can tell you, people don't listen to an autistic adult. It doesn't matter how interested in autism they are, they don't care at all about hearing voices of an adult who actually lives this life. I tell people about my life and I've been told things like "It doesn't matter that people don't do anything for autistic adults because they do so much for children" (yes, that's a quote, in response to me not even requesting things being done for me). I'm told "that can't be true" (heard that many times.) I'm told that I'm just an exception, so I don't matter. I'm literally spoken over, have people start ignoring my presence, have people start trying to make sure nobody else can speak to me, am followed around purposefully triggering migraines.

People don't listen to an autistic adult.

They do listen to a professional.

I'm someone who works with autistic students? Awesome! I know so much about autism! I'm one of the first people to ask! Question after question comes at me. Can I teach these people with my free time that I don't have?

As soon as I'm seen as a Professional, I'm knowledgeable.

As soon as I'm Autistic, I'm too "High Functioning" to know what Real autism is like"

Professional, help fix this problem of nobody knowing anything!
Autistic, you can't know how to work with people.
Professional, teacher.
Autistic, broken.

Let's circle back to that theory of mind I mentioned before getting into this.

When I'm seen as autistic, I'm seen as not being able to understand autism. I'm seen as not being able to understand myself.

When I'm seen as a professional, I'm seen as being able to understand others.

An autistic professional, I'm seen as necessarily not only having this theoretical Theory of Mind concept that is thrown around in order to kick down autistic people because of us thinking differently, I'm seen as I should theoretically understand others better than I understand myself. I should understand others so well that I can speak for them (which isn't a thing ANYONE can do, but I'm told I should be able to). And yet, I can't speak for myself.

Everything is backwards from what it's "supposed to be". Because both sides are broken and wrong, and I'm able to think about myself and able to think about others, and can be an autistic person who teaches autistic people and it's not contradictory. But, with how I'm treated, you'd think it is.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Passing is erasure

People talk about "Passing Privilege".
Or there's "High Functioning" that is defined so frequently on how disabled you look.

There's this overarching idea in the language used, that passing is something that is desired. Looking less disabled, more neurotypical is better, because disabled is wrong.

Except
1. Disabled isn't wrong
and
2. Passing is being erased.

Being passed means being told you aren't really yourself. Being forced into an "us vs them" scenario on the other side of the us vs them - the side for the non-disabled. You're "high functioning" - one of them who's role it is to hold the others down, by lifting you up to almost human.

Being passed means being told you don't really need support; you're just lazy. Those words aren't your words, those labels are for "real disabled people". Being passed means denial of culture, denial of community, denial of social supports, and being left alone.

Being passed is lonely, and exhausting. It's not knowing when to say, but this isn't me, I really am disabled. It's not being believed when you claim that, because why weren't you "disabled" all along, lazy person. It's needing support and not getting it.

And at the same time, being passed means safety. So there's the question of what's safest, because there's safety and lack of safety at the same time.

So there's questions and choices of when to erase oneself, because passing is erasure.

And there's knowing that you're seen as "acceptably disabled" and people try to use you as almost human and that your role is to be the acceptable disabled ones, and fighting that is fighting the safety of passing.

And there's knowing that safety is always at the expense of safety.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Disabled Language

A decade ago I was good with words. Language was easy for me. Words were only infrequently lost, time was spent only on perfectionism, not on try to find ways to communicate the concept within my mind.

That's not true anymore. Between the fuzziness of migraine brain, the side effects of necessary medications, and simply not having enough spoons to spend them on language, words don't work the way they used to.

So why should I make them?

Instead of trying to have language look neurotypical, why not use neurodivergent language? For that matter, instead of trying to speak, why not type this, while words work through my fingers but wouldn't through my mouth.

Both of these rather make more sense.
And they're disabled language.

It's nouning verbs and verbing nouns (and so on, parts of speech are what you make of them). It's dropping words, and using antonyms to get my point across. It's using echolalia, and palilalia. It's repeating repetitively.

Disabled language. Disabled communication.

Incomplete sentences, improper spellings, incorrect words, and purposeful homonyms dropped into place. Built around a line that someone else has said, but now it being my line, because just because it's echolalic doesn't make it not communicative.

It's not trying too hard in times and places that spoons don't exist.

And it's having words like spoons. Words that mean things. Common language. Things that can be falled back upon in order to communicate ideas that take hours to get across.

It's forgetting halfway through a statement what it was going to be. And so what? Some of it getting across still. Or forgetting that it's been stated already and repeating, unaware what has been said.

It's playing with sounds, and the textures of the words, and the pattern of the letters on the page. Sometimes it's pretty. Sometimes, it needs to be changed to be made comfortable. Sometimes, the "wrong" grammar is write.

(And yes, I did realize what I did there, after I did so. But why change it? Why make myself go and edit mistypes when I'm making the point that I shouldn't have to. It means multiple things this way, the meaning is better this way.)

When words are hard, then they're hard. And when they're easy, they're easy. But no matter, there's no reason for me to use words that aren't mine. I shouldn't have to use words that are the proper words, just because they're proper. I should be able to just use my weird-words the way it is. Wordy-words, or unwordy-words, or wordy-unwords. Whatever. However.

Schools don't actually teach everyone.

We talk about numbers. Statistics. Policies. And too often, these numbers get ignored, it being forgotten or ignored that these are people lives.

Still, here are some more numbers.

I worked in a school which split students into different types of classes. There were the honors classes, the "normal" classes, and the "you need some extra help" classes. Along side these there were segregated autism only classes, and "it's not worth teaching you academics, lets only work on life skills" classes. But back to the standard three.

Teachers would tell everyone how unless you're in the honors classes, there's no way you could possibly go to college. They'd tell the students in the honors classes how maybe half them would graduate college. It wasn't worth trying to go to a good school, because they'd just get a lot of debt and probably fail out anyways.

You were not allowed to have an aide helping you as indicated on your IEP in an honors class. You could choose to have the class rather than the accommodation, but it was a choice. You could not do both.

And notably in a school with over 60% of the students in poverty - they were distinctly lacking in these classes. In a school where over 65% of the students are PoC, in the honors classes I worked in about over 80% of the students were white. Honors classes were for the middle-class white kids who would then go to college and then continue the standard expected life in our society.

Next, the standard, "normal", classes. These classes were about 50/50 white/PoC. Teachers would regularly tell students how much they were annoyed at them or they would never amount to anything. They were taught only via memorization, and only what was on standardized tests. The goal was graduation.

In the classes they set up for those who 'need extra help', they simply didn't teach. How to find the area of a square. Well you write down this formula, and then you copy this number written at this place in the picture into this spot, and then you type that into your calculator, now lets practice doing that and only that for the next 3 weeks, because none of you are good at math so you don't know how to do anything, I'll tell you many times how much you aren't good at math of course. That was an actual lesson. One of them which wasn't simply incorrect. Many of the lessons I saw were factually wrong.

These were the students who'd gotten into high school without anyone having bothered to try to teach them to add. It was always "of course you can't do that". In a large enough to pay attention to number of their cases, they hadn't been shown a calculator.

These were also students where, out of 30, one was white.

And students where, the discussions they had during class were topics like "how do you find a job so you can support your family". Or they were working two jobs and that's why they were missing school.

But they weren't deemed worth teaching.

Some of them I know I helped and that's not nearly enough. The system is broken. Not one class. Not one school. The system is broken.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Behavior Training 101

The first thing they teach you is that everything is a behavior.
The second thing is that if it's a behavior then autonomy is optional.

Earlier this week I found a workbook that was used for a mandatory training about working with students with "behavioral problems". I'll let the first of the definitions of "challenging behaviors" from such book speak for itself.

Disruptive behaviors interfere with learning and functioning but are not direction harmful. Examples: yelling, uncooperativeness, swearing, asking repetitive questions

Behavior problems means doing things that children do, that teenagers do. But these students aren't allowed to. Because everything is a behavior to be eliminated. Because these children - autistic, otherwise disabled, disproportionately PoC students, these ones in segregated classes, they're aren't allowed to simply be children.

Our second of these definitions (and the other worth including) is

Dangerous Behaviors are potentially harmful. Examples: slapping, light head banging, biting without breaking skin (self or others), bolting within a building

We're dangerous if we get overwhelmed or frustrated, if we meltdown, if we try to get away. We're dangerous if we use biting or digging fingernails into our skin as ways to cope with sensory overload. That word makes us less of a person, and more into behaviors to be fixed. We're dangerous if we show how things are.

Pretty quickly this workbook gets to ways to improve staff safety. (I'm going to note here that it's staff safety and we're not getting into improving safety of everyone.) It teaches to put a hand on the Individual's arm as the staff member walks up to the Individual, so they can't unpredictably move and hurt anyone.

Except, how many autistic people (which you know this book is primarily written about. It's all ABA based.)...how many autistic people won't be able to handle unexpected touch? Does that matter? Does our safety matter, our comfort? For those who aren't autistic, how many people at all can handle people walking up and unpredictably touching them? In the "special ed" settings I work in how many disabilities include sensitivity to touch?

But no, according to how I was trained, staff should use this method of walking up and touching people who are rather likely are hurt extremely by touch, unexpectedly. This should be done every time that staff walks near every person who has ever shown a Dangerous Behavior. (Look at those again and see how much this is everyone. Or at least if you've shown a dangerous behavior and are deemed somehow not a person. Then your Dangerous Behavior was a behavior rather than understandable frustration.)

And if you don't like the touch? Oh well, they need to get used to it.

Skimming past "other relevant factors" (such as cultural, racial, gender, and other, which has nothing cultural, racial, or gender related listed. We're autistic, we must all be 8 year old middle class white cis-boys. It'll just be listed there so we can pretend to have talked about it.) brings us to how there's an Antecedent to the Behavior which leads to a Consequence. Beyond that we have methods of helping Individuals calm down.

Methods such as telling someone to say "I want THING", where they're told what to say what they want. Or the method of prompting someone to do something every 5 or so seconds until they do it, at which point swap to a different thing to prompt for, requesting repeatedly.

Compliance training means they get what they want if the only goal is compliance.

I'm really made speechless when it comes to people even thinking these might be helpful. The former trains people to say and do what others think might help rather than do what actually helps. It makes things worse over time, by training more and more compliance and doing and saying what others say to do, even when it isn't what should be done. It makes it harder to think of what does help, because it's overshadowed by this.

The latter just makes things worse, right now. Processing takes time, and repeating now, now, now, do this now, faster than reactions can happen, when in an overwhelmed state, only makes it harder and harder and harder, to even understand. Might it be done? If I'd do it its in order to get the noise to go away so I might have enough space to think. And that assumes that there's enough processing that has happened between the repeated requests.

Help means help. This isn't help.

Beyond this lack of anything useful is the sections on physically interacting or interfering with the Individual. As I luckily never had to go through any of that training, I'm not going to look into the horrors. There is, however, half of the book on such topics, and I should simply mention the existence of quite a few holds included in this book.

This is a training session about controlling people hidden inside of a session about how to help in overwhelming situations. It's taking away autonomy for the ease of the staff, because of the Behaviors of the Individuals.

And throughout the entirety, there's two phrases which are repeated:

  • Communicate respect
  • Promote dignity
to that I really only have one reply


Inigo Montoya picture with the quote
"You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means"

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

False Dichotomy

It's a false choice, I'm given. Or a real choice, but false accessibility.

A choice, pushing as much guilt onto me as possible. Trying to push responsibility onto me. Trying to force yourselves not to be accountable for any of your actions.

A false set-up. Making it so that thing can be okay for me or those I care about. Never both. And I have to choose.

That's what the people who are supposed to help us do. That's a situation I've been put in so many times I don't even think twice about it happening. Things being acceptable for me necessarily hurts others. If I'm safe, others fail. If I'm stable, others are are abused. If I'm given a chance to be healthy, then others aren't given a chance at a high-school education.

I'm given the choice. Myself or them. This false dichotomy. This "but we can't have a disabled person teach". This "but there's no way we could accommodate you". This it's My Fault if I say there are things I can't do for my own safety, but it's not anyone else's if they won't support me in ways they're required to do.

But you know what?

They're wrong. And this choice is wrong.

It's wrong because they're wrong in putting me in this situation. And it's wrong because we break it, beating them at their game of trying to force me out.

Instead my students do everything they can to accommodate me.

The adults treat scented products as more important than my presence in a room. They ignore me, insult me, and expect me to be someone I'm not.

But my students, they pay attention, and choose to help. They've recognize that my needs aren't always the same, and go so far as learn to recognize my external signs of when I might need help. I've gotten questions of what helps, and changes to the classroom based on what they know helps them in order to try to make it easier on me. Help with sensory, and executive functioning, and physical, and emotional have just been given out, as if they're not accommodations, they're the basics of how to interact, person to person.

This me or them? This is a false dichotomy. That I have to give myself up for them, or to let them fail.

This is children doing the jobs of those who are paid to help people like me.

Disabled people supporting disabled people, while we're not simply failed, but obstructed and damaged, by those who claim to help.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"You can't tell anyone"

This post discusses abuse in schools.

"You can't tell anyone what you see here", I'm told as I enter a room. It's supposedly for the children's benefit, to keep people from stigmatizing them further, but the stigma exists, and knowledge of what happens within one room doesn't stop that.

It's supposedly for children, but the "you'll never be allowed here again" exists. And the other unspoken, how much can these people control what I am and am not allowed to do? Or even, these are people who do have knowledge about my disability. What can they do to me?

It's given in a way that people can call friendly, can hide behind a mask of wanting to do the best for those poor disabled children, wouldn't anyone want to do the best things for them, if you don't why don't you care about them, but the threat towards those who are aware enough that maybe what is going on isn't the right thing permeates.

But in these rooms, they're hiding.

The threatening the children for being anxious. Or for taking time to process instructions. Or for having preferences. Or just because the adult feels like threatening someone. The preventing children from attempting any academics because "they aren't capable anyways". The infantalization surrounding every interaction between adult and child. No, that can't be discussed.

The restraints done for absolutely no reason. Adults doing whatever they can to escalate meltdowns. Children hearing their teachers discuss how much they hate these kids. These things can't be discussed.

Controlling every aspect of a child's life. Convincing them they're pawns that exist to serve. Children learning it is all their fault. Those can't be discussed.

Because "You can't tell anyone what you see here."

Being told it's for the children. The children will get hurt if you tell anyone. And you know this isn't true. You know the children are getting hurt, right at this moment.

And yet there's the question, will it get worse, because you've seen it, when you speak up, children are hurt in order to stop you. Things being done to them which hadn't been done before you said that no, this is not okay.

And there's the knowledge that you can't be there if they stop you from being there. How much worse it is when you can't try to save these children you care about?

So there's these threats, and they are held there, and the question keeps being, is it worth listening to the threat or not, which does the least harm?