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.) 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 the adult thinks 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.