Fanning the Flames: #AutisticJoy in the Classroom
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This is my speaking script from my presentation to the Intersectional Infinity Summit, a conference of educators, parents, caretakers, and autistic folk concerned about the future of autistic education.
There are some ad libs not included in this script. I will update as soon as possible.
Full video, including panel discussion: Intersectional Infinity Summit site.
Hi! I’m Johnny Profane.
And I’m an… old, White, he/him… pretty much. Heterosexual… least, when I’m in love. And, ya know, autistic…
SO today, I’m jumping up & down with excitement. Cuz I’m here as a recovering class clown.
Getting to talk back to teachers. Mebbe parents. In front of a class of my peers…
On April Fool’s Day.
This could end up like a Jerry Springer episode.
And I… uh… I think already lost the other one… But I imagine it had something to do with why I could be relevant to a “summit” on intersectionality…
Look. Guilty as charged. I had every advantage. Yup. Everything. EVERYTHING our biased society favors.
Race. Gender. High-achieving, professional parents. “Gifted” IQ. Education. Decent looks. Heterosexual presentation… back then… mostly…
But here’s the thing…. the very reason RED alerts shoulda been going off. Across everybody’s screen.
Cuz with every privilege handed me… I failed to thrive.
BIG freakin’ time. Longest job… two years. Outta dozens of jobs in 45 years working…
Not what ya call a productive citizen. But… I do have a knack for telling… certain stories.
So I’m here to explore a whole ‘nother continent of the intersectional map… The continent of Invisible Disabilities. I’m your ambassador from the countries of articulate autism, selective mutism, gifted kids, PTSD, couple of others…
And our citizens of color, our enbys, our intellectually challenged citizens… I can’t really tell their stories.
But here’s my story. Cuz it’s the only one I know.
And I’ve heard and read and written and podcasted enough… I’ve come to believe something. Deeply.
All we autistics share something basic. Fundamental. So every ONE of our stories strikes a universal chord… In our community.
So when I’m done with mine… After a couple tears… mebbe a laugh or two… I can only leave you summiteers in silence…
To imagine the stories of similar autists who CAN’T tell you their stories… Cuz, intellectual disability. Cuz, not speaking. Cuz, racial & gender barriers.
But most of all, cuz invisible to you… because of all those invisible biases we all learn as kids. In this biased society.
I got three short stories. Put em together? Somehow… they tell one BIG story. Like Aristotle’s beginning, middle, and… end.
My beginning? I want to give you the experience of autistic joy. Cuz that’s the bedrock of everything for autistic folks. And I want you to really get… in your gut.. what the power of your educational leadership could unleash…
If we find a way to fan those flames… Without setting fire to the classroom.
Okay, the middle. The conflict. A bit about why my personal learning style… didn’t work for me in the system. AND… how I hope for better for today’s neurodiverse kids.
Then, there’s the bitter end… A day in the real life of my high school. Some good. Most bad.
So that’s the storyboard. But you’ve seen Pulp Fiction. You know it’s more fun if I tell you outta order… say Beginning. End. Then the Middle… making you connect the dots…
Enough. Here we go…
So. I’m at the Shalom Center in Bloomington, Indiana. College town. Trees. Cute shops. Parking meters to discourage the riffraff…
I’m in line for a free breakfast. Looking down the long queue toward the steam table.
“Damn all the instant oatmeal’s gone…” I mumble out loud. A lot. “That shit settles my ulcer…”
See, I just got off the ancient bus Genesis Project works as a shuttle. They used to run a warming shelter for the homeless. We hang out there & sleep on cots in a large tent. 8pm to 6am. March to November.
The rest of the day, we’re on the street… I usually hang at the library… internet. But they kick you out if you’re caught napping. Meditating, too… Wow, that was embarrassing.
But right now… the library’s about a 6-block walk, breakfast, and a public shower away…
The next guy in line looks like he just woke up… in the early 70s. Army fatigues. Knit dread cap over scraggly gray hair… Thin guy. Musta heard me cuss out the oatmeal.
“Yeah. Depends on donations.” He doesn’t look at me… directly. Little bird glances. At my face. My hands. “The good stuff comes and goes.”
“Yeah. Sounds like, ya know… life.” Okay. I was a wannabe class clown. But it did help me survive 2nd grade.
The white Rasta warrior peers into my eyes… real fast. Then goes hazy a moment… like he’s lost inside. Then… cracks the goofiest grin I’d ever seen on the streets.
“You’re okay.” He shuffles down the line. I shuffle behind him.
I like homeless folks. I never understood social status anyways, maybe cuz I’m autistic. Most homeless don’t pay any attention either. Bob Dylan wrote about the street, “When ya ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.” Homeless know EVERYONE’s just a pink slip away from nothin’ to lose.
Me and Rasta end up at the same round lunch table… wobbling awkwardly back in the corner. Wrapped in vinyl floors and cement walls. Cold. Like a crypt.
“I’m Johnny,” I reach out my hand. “Been on the street a coupla weeks.”
He disappears inside. Comes back with another smile. “My name is Theo. I have been on the streets off and on since grad school.”
As I remember, he’d set off to be a psych researcher. Cracked up before his orals. We had a lot in common. We swapped grad school war stories a while… This was way more fun than dodging crabby librarians. So we hung.
We got into what a blast it is just to discover new shit. Any new shit. Academic or not. ANY shit. If it was cool…
“You know… I never wanted to teach.” He blurts out… in the middle of my best story. Then he looks away. “Or run a department. Just research. Use my brain. But the weird thing…?”
A man of few words. And many pauses…
“I have jobs sometimes. For awhile. But I don’t like the ones where I use my brain. I like the repetitive ones. I like factories. Janitor. I can think… I’m in a different place…”
And there it was. Two homeless. Both crazy, more than likely. Both “failures,” demonstrably. Certainly neurodivergent. He knew it. I didn’t yet…
But here we were, strangers. Talking joy. Openly. Unashamedly. First time in our lives. In a homeless center.
It was a strange moment for me… A shock of recognition. But it took 4 years before I permitted it to sink in.
I’m coming back to Theo and the Shalom Center in a bit.
But first… you need to hear this flashback… if you want to get autistic joy… have a genuine a-ha moment.
And take a moment to think whether you want to smother that autistic spark. Or fan those flames…
SO, SCREEN TITLE: #AUTISTICJOY
“What are you doing…?” My former mother’s voice was sharp…
I’m spreadeagled on the backyard grass, face down.
“I’ve called you three times.” She’s annoyed. “WHAT are you doing…?”
I don’t know it in Second Grade… But I have difficulties shifting attention when I’m focused…
So, I try to… replay the last few moments. Listening to… then interpreting… anything she mighta said while I’m in my focus bubble…
I’m 7. “Rewinding the tape” is already automatic for me. A never-ending attempt to comprehend what’s going on…? Any time I’m around… well, people.
Checking for my verbal mistakes. Missed social cues. Guessing if they meant what they said… or were just mocking me…
Anyway… I’m still in the grass… sorting it out. Choosing words carefully to avoid trouble. Clearing my throat. Moving my sleeping tongue. Loosening my jaw. Just about ready to speak…
“HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
“Umm… Nothing…?” Close as I come to lying… at that age.
I’ve been in the backyard an hour or so. Gloriously alone.
See… Johnson City had this great hobby shop. All kinds of cool “science toys.” And I’d saved up my 50-cent allowance for weeks to buy what the red-and-yellow package promised…
A “Real, hand-held, glass magnifying glass — with ALL-METAL handle!!”
I was squinting through it… entranced. Examining grass leaves, dew drops, and…
Dozens of ants. One after another. Antennae. Mandibles. Eyes… Guiltily burning off the occasional leg with focused sunlight…
Endless fascination… No time. No place. No words…
I was in the flow…
“Okay. Whatever you’re doing…” I wait for her command that will end my timeless bliss… “Stop… doing it. It’s time for lunch.”
I sigh. Roll over.
And. Trudge. In.
Hardly sounds like abuse, right…..??
Ya know? Autistic joy is hard to explain. Like, to pretty much, ANY non-autistic person.
Imagine that last, delicious dream you’re enjoying… as you drowse… in a warm snuggly bed… on a lazy Saturday morning… when you don’t have to get up…
Then, out of nowhere, someone screams, “GET UP!”
You’re so startled, for a second. You don’t know where you are, what you’re doing, the time of day, the season…
Now… imagine that…
Every. Damn. Day. Many, many, MANY times a day…
Being startled out of the flow? It’s like that.
Whether you’re a kid. Or.. an adult.
That’s as close as I can come to explaining Autistic Joy.
That same joy you see on the face of an autistic kid dancing endlessly… unashamed… in a sprinkler… in the sun…
Lost to the world. But found… in himself.
If I had to guess, this is precisely what Being in the Moment, in the Now… mean.
I think That’s where I spent most of my time as a kid.
When I wasn’t reacting to family, schoolmates, parents, teachers… the few humans I let into my life back then.
Gradually as I aged, these blissful moments became fewer and fewer. Further and further and further apart. Nearly gone…
First, I was forced into a school system… That I was clearly NOT wired for. Rigid. Lockstep. Regimented. Regulated. Scheduled.
BORING. With no Free Time… To be me. Autistic me.
Later, of course, it got MUCH worse. Jobs, relationships, finances… Life in modern Adult America?
I had a stress-induced stroke at 30.
Then nearly 3 decades in the therapeutic system. I worked with maybe a dozen pros. They couldn’t sort out what was mental disability, what was trauma… what was bad attitude.
Neither can I.
All I know is, as a kid… I was either happy exploring… Or I was being forced to don my “personality”… to me, arbitrary vocabulary, facial expressions, body language, polite responses, and social lies… that most humans demand.
Just so it’s easier for them to predict how I’ll behave… So THEY can feel comfortable… around me.
Most humans project a personality automatically.
But, for me? It was like being dragged out of my comfy pajamas, and forced into the most cumbersome, restrictive, awkward, embarrassing, winter coat, earmuffs, muffler, heavy snow boots, and mittens your mother ever stuffed you into to get on that kindergarten bus…
So I got two choices. Dancing in joy… or shackled in chains. You choose. And I’m not the only autistic who felt that way about childhood.
From age 2 on, I clearly remember long waking periods without any verbal thought. Just perceiving, in awe and wonder…
Until I had to interact with humans. Any humans. Even those I was required… to “love.”
But when the “personality” switched on? The joy collapsed.
Not into pain…
Collapsing into an all-absorbing effort… intellectualizing every word… gesture… tone of voice… of my own… and then interpreting all those of each and every human I was with…
And THEN carefully weighing… precisely… the right word, tone of voice, facial expression, and body attitude to project… all at the same time…
To avoid being in trouble.
Plus even at a young age, I had a growing sense of the need to protect others… From me.
Every. Single. Second…
Because I was different. “Arrogant.” Hurt people without understanding…
Because I was… Bad.
So when this autist entered school… I brought two things. The capacity for bliss. And the fear of shame.
Over the years… the flow, the bliss got lost. The shame? Hung around like a fart in a closed classroom.
I’ve written about how I worked to regain autistic joy. Much of it common sense… rest, nutrition, reducing social contact & sensory stimulation, relaxation techniques…
But the thing that’s important to this story… is how I’ve rewired my thinking on my “special interests.” A medical term that stinks of sickness. Some autists are trying different language, like “specializations.”
They’re not a forbidden pleasure. A shameful quirk. Something I “waste time on” when there’s nothing more important to do…
They are my guiding passions. My gateways to Bliss, Transcendence, Oneness…
My reason for Being….
That Spring day on the lawn in Johnson City… I saw Infinity in a burnt-off ant leg.
And, eventually… I went for it.
But not in school.
MEANWHILE… BACK IN BLOOMINGTON…
Theo & I aren’t talking about bliss in school. 50 years later… in the homeless shelter.
We’re talking schoolyard bullies. Talking bullying teachers. And school systems with only two tracks. Counselors either shoehorned kids into college… and professional careers… or reassured us the world really needed more mechanics & beauticians.
Theo shared that he was a wreck long before he hit grad school. Grammar school, high school… so stressful he basically slept most of the time… recovering… when he wasn’t there. Later, jobs were the same for him.
Me? Here’s my story…
IMAGINE A TITLE SCREEN: YOU’RE NOT THAT SMART
I’m headed out the door of algebra. Mr. Connor gestures, “C’mere.”
Yeah. I shuffled. Slumped shoulders. Attitude.
“I’ve seen your records. Your test scores.” He leaned in. Shifted his glasses to the top of his head. He meant business. “I don’t believe em. You’re not that smart.”
Ouch. I don’t even like reading this to you…
I’m gonna give you a day in my high school life. Okay… not really one day. A mishmash of days. To make a story.
Here’s some background.
Kindergarten? Teachers… I had two… both told my mother I was unusually creative. Maybe smart.
First grade? I was that kid who always raised his hand first. That’s what my parents told me to do. It actually worked. For a while…
But by the end of 2nd, teachers weren’t digging the raised-hand thing so much.
I never sat still. I never stopped talking. And I was well on my way to becoming a class clown. I read all my textbooks during the first month. So… ya know, I got bored.
The first time I made a comment that cracked the class up? It was all over.
Then… the results of my first IQ test came in. Off the charts of Stanford-Binet.
There was shock. Parent-teacher meetings. But my parents fought me skipping grades. It was a “philosophy” for them. And my poor Catholic parochial school had no other enrichment programs.
The end result? I got labeled a smart ass. Technical term. Honest… They showed me my permanent record…
By third grade, Mrs. Leonard was one of a long line of teachers who bullied me into submission…
Basically, that’s when I started to shut down. Long, long, before this day in high school…
I want to dash down the hall to beat the bell for algebra. I dodge two guys and a girl who think it’s funny to trip me. But tight-end Steve body-checks me. Shoulder-to-shoulder. My books go everywhere…
“Hey, what happened to your shirt?!” An eruption of girlish giggles. Two periods ago, some 7th grader had screamed, “Fairy loop! Fairy loop!” and ripped the loop off the back of my Madras shirt. Left a big hole.
I say nothing. But my teeth are grinding. I feel nauseated. Again.
I make it into class. Maybe we were doing quadratics. I don’t remember. Cuz…
Within 5 minutes I’m fighting sleep.
I use all my usual tricks. I try staring at the sweeping, red second hand of the class clock. Yeah, seeing how long I could hold my breath. Nothing spectacular, mebbe a minute 50.
After about 10 minutes of trying to set a record, I switched to counting my heartbeats. See, I was reading yoga philosophy… Krishnamurti, Yogananda… I wanted to see if I could slow my heartbeat, ya know like yogis do. Seems like, I remember getting it from about 80 to 60.
That actually made the time fly for a while.
Then I’m doodling. I used to do these weird maze-like patterns of intricate, intersecting lines. Pages of em. My hand would cramp holding the Bic pen…
“Mister. Knapp.” The whip cracked from the teacher’s desk.
I glance at the chalkboard. “C squared.” I was right.
“What are you doing there.” He doesn’t care I’m right. Which never makes sense to me. Cuz it’s never about being right. Even when I’m wrong.
“I think better when I’m doodling.”
“Well, in MY class… learn to think without doodling.”
“Okay, Mr. Connor.”
So I go back to counting my breath…
On the way out, corners me. “You’re not so smart.”
My memory is a little hazy, but replaying the scene as an adult I believe he wanted to motivate me. My quizzes were sloppy. Lots of mistakes. He thought I was a lazy kid who wasn’t as smart as I thought was.
“You think things come easy to you.” He glares a moment. “You gotta drill. Like any student. You actually gotta drill.”
He didn’t know it. But I was barely functioning. And all I heard was, “You’re not smart.”
That evening was the first time I remember considering suicide. A few years later, I tried the first time at 17.
In 7th grade, I left a substandard parochial school in Minnesota. My father took a job in New York. That made me the “new kid” in a well-funded public system in a wealthy suburb of New York.
Just as the puberty hormones were hitting. And kids my age were splitting into cliques.
But a stranger. Weird. A loner. Awkward physically. And socially. The peer bullying was horrific. For years.
When I say my previous school was “substandard”… I was 6 months to a year behind in coursework for my grade level when I transferred.
One science teacher really believed in me and fought for me to enter the honors track…
Which meant they had already covered all of 7th-grade math before I joined them, 2nd semester. So had to learn all of 7th grade, and the first month of 8th… instantly.
They just handed me textbooks and told me to catch up. No tutors No review classes. Just read.
I was fucking overwhelmed. Who cares what my IQ was? So old man Connelly. He really popped my cork.
A rage meltdown. Days of recovery. Absent from school. “Sick.” We used that a lot. I almost had to repeat 4th grade cuz I was “sick” so much.
After years of this… I graduated in the top 10 of my class. I aced every aptitude test. I went on to grad school. Many attempted careers…
But no one. I mean not one educator… thought I lived up to my potential… Cuz not one of them knew I functioned at best a couple days of week.
In and out of incapacitating depressions. Frustrating bouts not being able to speak under stress, selective or situational mutism. Inability to meet deadlines, prioritize tasks, and on and on and on…
Between the natural differences of my autistic mind… and the effects of an abusive childhood… and frankly my social, sexual, and educational abuses in school…
This was all the potential I had left.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN BLOOMINGTON…
Okay, Theo and me… Working on our third styrofoam cup of tea.
Theo didn’t offer similar stories. He said he couldn’t talk about things like that. Not to others. He couldn’t relive it.
But it became clear, we shared a lotta traits…
I’d say the two of us were more process-oriented than goal-oriented.
He loved imagining test designs, trying to operationalize hypotheses. Writing up papers? Or preparing for orals, for that matter? He kept putting them off.
For me, it was finding sources… I was a great grad assistant, I loved spending hours on Lexis-Nexus. But I flunked out of two programs for incompletes.
Theo felt like he learned all the best stuff out of school.
I totally Yes-ANDed him. I said, “I’ve never learned well from another human. I’d rather steal from their example. When they’re not watching. Or invent something for myself…”
Theo brought up, self-paced computer-assisted education. “I didn’t feel like I was competing with teachers.”
Which blew my mind. I never thought why there was always that sense of friction when I worked with a teacher or mentor… There IS something. Mebbe not competition. Status. Power. Or something else I don’t get…
So maybe… I’m a freak example. Just a guy who couldn’t make the American educational system work for him. A long, long time ago… A generation far, far away…
But then there’s that universal chord… Those startling autistic similarities across generations… across nations… intersections…
So I’m gonna end this tale with a snapshot of what education could be… for an autistic child… no matter what their “tested” capabilities…
If we can just find a way to tap into their autistic joy… and their passions…
#Okay. Last imaginary Title Screen: Orgasmic Learning
“What the fuck was THAT…”
Okay. So I’m in 4th grade. Still in Catholic parochial school. Never said any such thing… back then.
But it’s a precise transcription into adult-ese… of what I felt.
I get excited. Wave my arms. Start bouncing on my butt. Up and down on the sofa in front of the coffee table. I’m breathing hard… gasping… I shudder… and…
I moan. A weird, high, pleasure / pain moan. My head snaps back. My eyes close…
Ya know… Like good sex. That first time.
A flash of bright, white light. My eyes jerk open. But I can’t see anything through blinding fog. Slowly, the room fades back into focus…
That’s the day.
The exact moment.
Autistic-as-fuck-dot-me got addicted to learning. I mean a hard-core… dope-sick… sell-your-dog-to-get-well… learning junkie.
Cuz after 2 hours alone. Frustrated… Pulling-my-hair-out-and-staring-at-the-follicles anxious… Trying to wrap my grade-school brain around binary numbers…
Snapped. Into. Place.
We’re gonna talk Autistic Joy again…
Like some autistic characteristics… it’s a lot like what many humans experience. Amplified… and turned just 5 degrees toward “Different.”
All kids love learning new things… that interest them. But there’s something unique about the joy many autists feel learning…
And I don’t mean school learning. I mean exploration on your own. Teaching yourself.
If you’ve ever known an autistic child… OR adult… for sure you’ve witnessed it.
A kid jumping up and down. Waving his arms. Repeating the same phrase. Over and over. Giggling in a library… knowing he must be quiet. But he just found a new book on Gigantoraptor. Filled with detailed illustrations… And they got the feathers right…
He’s gonna explode.
Junior High was full of names for it. “Nerdgasm.” “Spazz out.” “Geeking out.” “Being a dweeb”…
Let me tell you about my most intense buzz.
It was just after my 10th birthday… 1963. I pestered my parents for weeks… for ONE present.
A Digi-Comp I.
It was a real, functioning binary computer… made from plastic. That you cranked. I mean, by hand…
I HAD to have one…
See… Boy’s Life, the Cub Scout magazine, carried a full-page ad on this mechanical computer…
And I always thought arithmetic was just stupid memorization.
Don’t get me wrong. I tried HARD to conquer every task handed me. Always did. I was driven to be a “good boy.” To please parents & teachers.
But I’ve never been able to fight my nature. No matter my good intentions. I fight my nature, my nature always wins.
Zero interest always equals zero effort. Throughout my life.
Like a lotta autists…
We’d just begun Base-8 arithmetic in school. All the rage for a year or two… like all the other 17 incarnations of New Math. Since then.
Cuz… Programming. “The Career of the Future!!”
And everybody knew MODERN computers thought in base 8… Which they did. For a few years.
Maybe I was a bright kid. But I could simply NOT make the switch to base 8 from base 10… except through grinding memorization. I hated multiplication tables.
Mindless. Mindless. Mindless…
Until I realized, I could play tricks… sneak up on answers easier and faster. Say, 9 times 7… it’s really just 10 x 7… minus one 7… so it’s not 70… it’s REALLY 63.
If I could make a game of something… like doing squares in my head. It was fun. Learning from a teacher… not so much.
But I could not think my own way out of the switch from counting 1 to 10… to counting 1 to 8. Total block. For weeks…
So Digi-Comp was my hail-mary pass. I’d get the computer… program it… then polish off my homework. Without suffering.
Get parents and teachers off my back. More time for growing my paramecia from pond scum. OR squeezing maximum altitude outta my pump-action water rockets…
Ya know, cool stuff.
So here I am. Sitting in front of my last hope. My own real computer… that I put together on the coffee table.
BUT it actually… takes work… to understand and program. Even if it did come in a game box…
More work than Base 8 was in the first place.
Throbbing headache. Tight nausea. I start beating my temples with my fist.
I can’t believe this. I’m way smarter than this. The other kids are getting it. And I’m way smarter than them.
I’m alone in the house. I let out this guttural scream… aimed right at the instruction manual.
Cuz it felt personal. Like someone was doing this to me… on purpose.
I’m looking at four sets of 1’s and zeros — 001, 010, 100, and 111.
The 1 means 1. Okay. Got that.
But add 1 + 1 and you get 10… which “really” means 2?
The 100 means 4?
Hundred-and-eleven means… 7?
And somehow this relates to Base 8?
And is going to do my homework for me????
Then a curious thing. I sneak up on the 10… and remember the old “carry the one” routine.
So I take 1, if I add another 1… it won’t fit in the first column. So I carry the one into the second column… And the second column 10 is really a 2 on Bizarro Binary World… So 11 would really be the secret identity of 3…
The light bulb. Goes. Off.
Like a firecracker in the top-back of my head.
Next day? I ate arithmetic class alive…
I’ve talked with other autists… sometimes similar stories. Less intense, mebbe.
But that internal craving for learning something new?? Part of petty much every autist I’ve ever met. So far.
And in many ways as exotic as it may sound… it’s what every human experiences. Just amplified. And twisted about 5 degrees into the weird…
We are hard-wired for joy.
Autistic or not. Every “good” thing you do… Eating, Sleeping, Shitting, Making babies, Helping an old lady cross the street, Solving problems… and… Learning something that’s useful to you…
Comes with a little shot of joy juice. Nature’s reward for a job well done.
You know what I mean…
That rush you feel when the RIGHT jigsaw puzzle piece jumps out at you… after you search for an hour? Guessed that spelling contest word… and won? Eliminated the last, false suspect in Clue? Solved those cool logic problems on the SATs…?
Hell… For me, any multiple-choice test… IQs, the WAIS, GEDs. Every question… one bingo after another. HIGH on dopamine. Orgasmic.
Maybe I never experienced that moment of learning again. With such clarity and ecstasy.
But each and every time…There’s that faint echo. Like chasing the ghosts of your first monster rollercoaster or your first kiss…
The excited squeaks. Flapping hands. Jumping up and down…
Look… Not every autist experiences this pleasure the same way.
But imagine that kind of intensity… that kind of joy… harnessed.
There are times… I think there’s nothing we autists can’t do.
So it’s time to give you my takeaways. A little bit about how I learn. I have no training in educational theory, But I hope I give you some clues that you’ll know what to do with…
Here’s me learning…
I experience thinking as a language of images,sensations, feelings, and metaphors… more than words, sentences, logic, symbols.
My memories? Not facts, words, judgments. They’re more like dramatic scenes…With location shots, Characters, Lighting, My costume, Weather, What I felt… I relive them to remember.
And I process thoughts almost like manipulating physical objects.
Numbers are like blocks that snap together… fitting like Legos. Music, in my mind, vines & intertwines in space. I remember language more clearly when I handwrite… or make notes in book margins.
Things I can touch… or imagine I can touch… are most real to me.
Memorizing symbols? Words? Nah.
Get me into the process. The sensations.
To some autistics, some of this will sound familiar. Like doesn’t everybody…? Others are more at home with symbolic logic.
I learn differently than other folks. I need to understand. I need to co-invent. If I don’t understand something from the inside… it doesn’t exist for me.
I learn new “categories” of knowledge slowly. Like switching to base 8. Switching from clock faces… to digital clocks? What a freaking nightmare.
But.. once a new area opens up to me… I seem to associate the skills and concepts with other related knowledge more rapidly than most folks. Even come up with new solutions… supposedly, “thinking outside the box.”
Take Music, Art, Literature… Rhythm, Texture, Line, Shading, Repetition, Variation, Direction, Structure… Really it’s all pretty similar. I switch from one to another.
For some, it’s the same with math.
Director Tim Burton might be autistic. He made Edward Scissorhands and the Nightmare before Christmas.
Physicist Albert Einstein might be too. He made Relativity. And shows up on the Brainyquotes website. A lot.
How we explain the ecstasy of that process to ourselves and others…?
How can we help today’s autistic kids… NOT to get lost in the system… like me? Whatever their capabilities… whatever their special passions?
We need an autistic education centered on autistic natures.
By engaging the power of autistic specializations and passions… And then building further. Using those skills, concepts, similarities… to teach NEW areas. Not trying to make them learn like other brains learn.
By providing structure to learning through… doing. Using the joy of process… rather than goals, like tests. Or competition ranking.
I was gifted. I was the freak. Because my disabilities were invisible.
What school expected of me? More than I could handle.
There is no question, I came from privilege. And yet disabled. Even if so many of you listening… or folks you care for… are even more disabled.
For myself, I don’t compare disabilities. Not a contest.
I failed to thrive. Other “gifted” children fail to thrive.
I have no clue who suffers most. Does it matter?
Look, there are groups of kids… for various reasons… that education marginalizes…
There are kids suffering. Address their needs.
School isn’t a triage unit on a battlefield. We don’t prioritize who survives, who doesn’t…
You see a kid in pain? Deal with the pain.
I thought I’d end on an important side point…
I write about childhood experiences. A lot. With purpose.
It’s a great meeting ground. Who doesn’t love kids?
So parents of autistic kids, professional caretakers, and adult autistics… When we share notes… Childhood memories, Experiences, and our thoughts on them…
You get a peek into that mysterious world your autistic child inhabits.
The joys. The wonders. The fears. The challenges. The victories…
I write about kids cuz I get to turn again and again to my earliest memories.
To recover my own natural joy.
May this generation never lose it.
- Designing My Home Around Adult Autism: Pt. 2 – 7 Survival Principles
- Designing My Home Around Autism: Pt. 1 – Making It Work for Me
- Inside Autism & Eye Contact: How It Feels… How to Deal with the Terror s2e6
- Fanning the Flames: #AutisticJoy in the Classroom – Intersectional Infinity Conference s02e05
- Selective Mutism: I Have No Mouth. But I Must SCREAM… s2e4