Friday, July 17, 2009

Autism and Education

This is an excellent article about autism, and how schools and universities treat the condition.  It has several thought-provoking quotes:

"In "special needs" education, there is plenty of effort to teach the skills of the nonautistic to the autistic, but in the regular classroom we are often doing the opposite. I view higher (and lower) education as teaching people to be more autistic in many of their basic cognitive skills.
Another way of putting it is to note that all students are special-needs students requiring lots of help. The nonautistic students do not represent some ideal point that everyone is striving to attain, but rather both autistic and nonautistic students are trying to learn the specialized skills of the other group, as well as perfecting their own skills."

The author goes on to point out that tolerance and respect should be extended to people whose brains work differently, instead of diagnosing everyone who does not act normal with some kind of disease.

In recent years, our society has tried to train people to respect diversity, and tolerate and accept all kinds of people.  This is an excellent goal, and it is absolutely essential for the development of human civilization.  But in practice, the diversity movement has mainly been limited to respecting racial and cultural diversity.  For a long time, anyone whose brain worked differently was subject to dehumanization both from popular culture and the scientific community.  There has been some progress in recent years, but people with autistic traits, or those who otherwise have trouble 'fitting in' with society, are still in the position that racial minorities were in a century ago.  Many entertainers feel free to mock them for cheap laughs, and many scientists find excuses to treat them as sub-human.

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