Two days ago, I began writing a long post that I felt was too long, so I broke it up into three posts.
The topic on Sunday was discussing marginalizing students who were forced to go to Native American boarding schools. Yesterday, I wrote about the same thing found in the Deaf Culture for people with cochlear implants. Today, I want to come full circle to what I began talking about on Sunday. How do these two examples relate to Autism and special education? And now, without further ado, I give you…part 3 of A History of Marginalizing.
There is an Autistic Culture (It is entirely possible that I didn’t capitalize Autistic or Culture or Deaf and Culture in previous posts, that was my bad and I apologize for that if you are offended…okay, perhaps not. But let me know so I can change them) that has shared values and practices. One of the shared values is the idea of “Nothing about us without us.” Another shared value that leans over into practice is that autism is not a disability, but a difference (sound familiar? It is the same belief held by the Deaf Culture). By claiming that it is not a disability, the Autistic Culture (and Deaf Culture) challenges the idea of normal.
Many people with autism have self-stimulating behaviors (i.e. rocking back and forth, hand waving, etc.) and struggle with social interactions.
In the first post on Sunday, I said that special education classrooms focus on social skills with students with autism. They focus on trying to teach the student with autism “how to act normal.”
Special Education classrooms that focus on teaching social skills reinforce the myth of normality. It teaches students that there is a normal way to behave (which is the right way and we may reward you or just ignore you) and there is the abnormal way (which is the wrong way and we will punish you academically, socially, and thus emotionally).
The comments in the parentheses are not said aloud, therefore, it could be argued that they are the enthymeme of the social skills instruction. Michelle Garcia Winner changes the terminology to “expected” and “unexpected.” That’s good, right? It’s a start, but these two are a terminology change that mean the exact same thing. Therefore, normal becomes expected and abnormal becomes unexpected. One is good and to be desired whereas the other is bad
But, as usual, I digress. Now, I am going to say something that hopefully won’t offend anyone, but it might. However, I feel it must be said and I said it in the 18 page paper I wrote. Special Education classrooms that focus on social skills instruction have a very similar doctrine to that of the Native American boarding schools: “Kill the autistic…save the person.”
Here is why I say such a thing, social skills instruction is trying to make students with autism “normal” and behave “like everyone else.” It is operating under the guise that autism is a disability and we must “fix” it. We are trying to remove the autistic behaviors (self-stimulating behaviors and struggling with social skills) in order to rebuild the person into a “normal person.”
What if that happens? What if a person with autism is able to “act normal?” Do they still have autism? Are they normal? Or is their fate linked with those Native American children who went to the boarding schools and those with cochlear implants?
Who are they if not them? Special education is trying to make 100% of the students fit into the middle 80% so regular education instruction is easier. We are dehumanizing students by stripping them of their culture.
Should we kill the autistic? Temple Grandin has a awesome quote where she says, “Who do you think invented the first stone spear?…It wasn’t the people chit-chatting around the fire. It was the Asperger’s.” If we did, we probably wouldn’t be where we are today. Just think how far we have come since then, think how far we can go now. Kill the autistic? No, embrace the autistic as a way of being. A way of being that is different from ours, but different does not mean less.