Does the Norm = Right; not successful = failure

A picture of Frank Zappa with his hair tied in crazy pigtails and the quote "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."
A picture of Frank Zappa with his hair tied in crazy pigtails and the quote “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

Verbal language is the norm, and children with autism who develop functional spoken language fare far better than those who do not.  Yet there is no perfect way to predict which children will successfully learn to talk and which will not

(location 280, Teaching Communication Skills to Children with Autism)


There are quite a few things within this quote, so I’m gonna take it one part at a time.

Verbal language is the norm,

I’m gonna start here at the beginning.  I would agree that verbal language is the norm in our society.  Neurotypicals use verbal language all the time and because they use it, it is the norm in our society.  However, just because it is the norm, does that make it right?

Let me give you a few norms that have existed in society (not just American society) in the past.  It was appropriate to have separate utilities for African Americans.  It was appropriate, depending on your surroundings, to lynch an African American because he did something you didn’t appreciate (assuming you were white).  It was okay to exterminate an entire population…just because (Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and Native Americans).  It was okay to rob people who had nothing to do with an event that happened to you and stick them into internment camps (Japanese Internment Camps in America during WWII).  All of these were the norm at those times.  But does that make them right?

Just because something is the norm doesn’t mean that it is right.  Perhaps it is, but if we just assume norm = right, we are liable to looking at any of those things that I mentioned in the previous paragraph as right because they were the norm at that time.

I recognize that verbal language is the norm; I recognize it, but I do not accept it as being “right” or as being the way it should be.

and children with autism who develop functional spoken language fare far better than those who do not

1) How is this author deciding who has fared far better?

While I can’t answer for the author for what the answer to number 1 is, I can make an inference based on my experience in the 9 weeks from hell (AKA my autism certificate), that they are indistinguishable from their peers.  The professor of my applied behavior analysis (ABA) class, while on a 30 minute tirade against people who blog against ABA (She called them liars, specifically those who blog about ABA causing PTSD), claimed that it was “damn cool” that an autistic kid (she called him a “kid with autism”) was indistinguishable from his peers because of his ABA therapy with her.

Well, I disagree with the definition that being indistinguishable from peers is what it means to fare better.

Yet there is no perfect way to predict which child will successfully learn to talk and which will not

Are you kidding me with this BS?  The terminology here is enough to make me cringe and want to curl up into a little ball and cry.  In particular the choice of using the term “successfully” is dangerous.  Because that implies anyone who learns to talk is successful, what about those who don’t?  By setting up that success means learning to talk, then those who cannot talk or do not talk (which is possibly a choice) are failures.

Are Deaf people failures?  Are people who have had their vocal chords taken out failures?  Society, and I am fairly certain this author, would say no.  And I think (or at least hope) that this author would say that autistic people who don’t “learn to talk” are failures.  However, that is the line of logic that some may eventually follow.

Just like in theory of mind research where the authors talk about how theory of mind is intertwined with empathy, people take that to mean that autistic people don’t have empathy because they don’t have theory of mind.  I don’t think the authors intended for this to happen (again, at least I hope not), but it has happened.

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