Oct 09, 2012 2 Share

Why Does it Matter?


Red Rule Book with pair of glasses.
iStockphoto

First published on October 25, 2011.

In my career, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach in a variety of settings, both in the classroom and in the community. Most of our students involved in community-based cooperative learning appreciate the chance to have work as a part of their school day. They also tend to demonstrate varying degrees of understanding as to the long-term value of these real-life work experiences. But this level of understanding varies from student to student and does not necessarily have anything to do with the nature or severity of their disability. Some of those who are most resistant to the idea of learning the lessons we are trying to teach are the ones who—on paper, perhaps—have the greatest number of options in their post-secondary lives. Consideration of this paradox reminds me of one lesson in particular.

Last year, in one of my Career Education classes, a student put forth the question, “Why do we have to learn these things? Why does it matter?” We were having a discussion about the application of employability skills, such as following directions in the workplace even when those directions don’t make much sense. It was proving quite challenging for this particular group to wrap their collective brains around the, “Why?” And I got it. I got it on a level that they didn’t even realize. That question, and variations of it, haunted me in my PD (Pre-Diagnosis) days. So the lesson for the teacher becomes finding a way to answer the question in my own brain in a way that will enable me to provide the clarification my students are looking for. Those of us who think logically as a rule of thumb may find ourselves aggravated when a direction is given that must be followed no matter what and that direction does not make any sense. I think, maybe, the difference is that many, many Apsies need things to make sense. It is a basic need in the same way we need to be comfortable in the clothes we wear and the food we eat and the beds we sleep in. And we don’t like the answer, “Because that’s the rule.” Or, “Because that’s the way it is,” or even, “Because that’s how we do things here at ...”  These answers don’t make sense much of the time, and we NEED things to make sense.

So what did I tell my student? Well, I began by telling him that he had posed a valid question. Nothing like stalling for time, right? Because I really had to think about my answer. Then I told him what I have learned to this point, which is that if “we” want to be able to get along in this world, there are going to be times where we do have to follow the rules, whether they make sense to us or not, just because.

I was no more satisfied with that answer than he was, and I have spent considerable time since that conversation working on formulating a better answer, an answer that makes sense to those of us who need things to make sense on an almost visceral level. To some of the others in the class, my hasty answer was sufficient. I know there must be a better answer, but the more I learn as I juggle my many hats—teacher, student, mother, Aspie—I find myself wondering … why? Why do we have to be the ones who always seem to have to adjust to the rules that don’t make sense? Is it possible that the answer is that we need to find a way to set about changing the rules? We see more and more each day how the principles of Universal Design are implemented with an eye towards total societal inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Changes that are made on levels big and small end up not only serving the needs of those who fought for them in the first place, but society as a whole. Everyone wins. So could the same not hold true for changes that would not come with a monetary cost? We as a society are asking today’s generation of young people with autism spectrum disorders to find their place in this world under the assumption that they are the ones who have to do all of the work to fit in. How easy would it be for “us” to consider the question posed by one student, “Why?” and consider the possibility that it might just be okay to let go of some rules that don’t actually make a whole lot of sense in the first place. If making and sustaining eye contact is uncomfortable or even painful for an individual in the workplace, should it be held against them? If certain articles of clothing pose similar challenges and a uniformity of dress code is expected, is there not perhaps a way for an acceptable substitution to be made that would be mutually agreeable? Does a hard-working, responsible, capable adult with Asperger’s who performs all job duties to specifications have to be able to engage in “chit-chat” to be considered a valued employee? I suspect that if we give careful consideration to questions such as these then the process of transition to adulthood, and survival once we get there, could be made a whole lot easier for a significant number of our children … and maybe for everyone else as well.



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Anonymous

Why Does it Matter?

The simple answer, of course, is that you have to know your "opponent". Or, looking at it another way, you can't fix what you can't understand. We will always be behind the curve when it comes to interacting with NT's, both because they are constantly changing and because our own filters which need to process the changes will delay our response. Another simple answer is that we need to adjust because they will not or can not. Education of the masses will help, but in reading responses to newspaper articles about how people with ASD are mistreated by educators, caregivers and law enforcement, it becomes obvious that there are way too many people out there that don't want to expand their knowledge of a particular problem and insist on forcing their own narrow-minded opinions on the rest of the world. These people (hopefully) are in the minority, but they are by nature loud and outspoken and (unfortunately) are quicker to grab the ear of much of the general population than people like me. I've tried to find the answer for this phenomenon, but all I get is "That's the way it is and you'll have to put up with it" - the original problem. In other words, there are a lot of jerks out there. ( I really hate the expression "It is what it is." because that just means the speaker has given up on trying to affect change. ) So the solution? First of all, we need to educate ourselves as best we can so that we at least know where the breakdown in understanding is and so that we don't get blind-sided by the vocal minority. The stronger we are, the better the defense we can put up. The second part is to do our level best to educate the general population and expose them to as much of "our world" as we can. It can never happen that everyone will be up to speed and accepting of the other's viewpoint. Universal design will never be met because the world is always changing and people change at different rates. Also accommodations for one may very well inconvenience another. For example, I hate restroom sinks which have been lowered for better wheelchair access because I have to bend over to use them and my back hurts if I bend too long. I will therefore be inconvenienced and reluctant to find this a suitable solution. And we really need to stop fighting amongst ourselves - sigh!

Anonymous

I really enjoyed this

I really enjoyed this article. It made me think about the theory of universal design and how that could be incorporated into accepting people with austism for where they are not where we think they should be. Acceptance may benefit the student but it may also help the community as a whole. Great job!