We Need an Autistic Education… Based on Autistic Natures

"T'aint Teaching, If They T'aint Larning." Original digital illustration. Elderly professor stands centered in front of blackboard covered with math symblols. He wears thin-rimmed glasses, beard, sports coat & tie. He's started by a thrown paper airplane heads for him from upper left corner. In dark tones.

I used to think I grew up in the Autistic Dark Ages. When they used precision instruments of torture. Ya know, to get medieval on your autistic ass.

But I’m not so sure anymore. Seems neurodivergent kids go through worse today.

🚨Content note: profanity, opinionated…


I’m an autistic elder. Did grammar school in the 50s & 60s. On my mind lately.

It was brutal ugly. Bullying. Mockery. Violence…

I used to think I grew up in the Autistic Dark Ages. When they used precision instruments of torture. Ya know, to get medieval on your autistic ass.

But I’m not so sure anymore. Seems neurodivergent kids go through the same shit today.

Autistic kids & school? A pretty delicate area to talk about. And I’m headed somewhere you’re probably not expecting…

So let me ease into things with a story…

See, I have this sister-in-law, “Carla”…

I wouldn’t say we’re close. But Tupac’s quote is my guide about friends. So I’d have her over for dinner to my table. Anytime. 

Photo quote: "Just becuase you lost me as a friend doesn't mean yu gained me as an enemy. I'm bigger than that. I still wanna see you eat, just not at my table." -Tupac Shakur. B&W photo of Tupac on left background,
Image source unknown.

Cuz I admire her. She’s like a one-person Dog Liberation Front. 

Now, I love animals. A lot of autists do. I’ll tell ya how a cat taught me the meaning of True Love back in my late 30s. Some other day.

But about Carla. Me and my wife were homeless our first year. Couch-surfed. Long story. Again for another time…

But Carla’s visiting us one day. Cuz we’re crashing with her mom… in our late 50s. It’s winter on the streets of Bloomington. And we’re otherwise unhoused.

Carla starts peppering me with questions about a dog. Barking & whining non-stop… about a half-block up the street.

“Him? Yeah. He’s always barking like that. Every damn dawn to every damn dusk.”

“Out in the sun?” she asks.

“Yup, in that 6 by 6 wire pen.”

Big woman. Played sports. Powerful square build. When she shakes her head? Puts her whole body into it… 

Short-cropped hair whips across her face. “Man. I hate that.”

I go along. You know, the autistic mask-and-shuffle. Smile, nod sagely, blurt out something. Short, agreeable, inoffensive. “Me too.” 

“No. I mean it.” She spits out, “I HATE that.” 

She does this teeth-clucking thing. Looks away. “You know if anybody’s reported it?” 

Now, shaking with anger. “That’s cruel. That dog could die… I know nobody plays with it. I know these types…”

I don’t have Clue One. So we drop it. Go on to other things. Truth is, my autistic superpower? NOT the one where you know what to say around strong emotion. 

Note to self: And maybe my love for animals wasn’t strong enuff. Yet.

Couple weeks, she pops by again. Surprise!

Jumps out of the black SUV. Wearing glasses, baggy sweats. And… somehow? She’s got this beaming, devilish grin that just lit me up.

“I did it.” Eyes dancing under dark brows.

“What?”

“The dog. I freed him.”

“You reported the family?” Oh, g-d. Another neighbor drama… that’s where my anxiety goes.

“No.” Whips off her glasses. Big, dramatic pause. “I freed him.”

Tells a tale of a nighttime raid. Flashlights. Dark clothes. A bolt cutter. And then… One free dog speeding down the road. Looking out the back of an SUV…

“They don’t get to do that. Not to dogs,” she says. Serious… but still glowing. “Dogs wanna run, get in garbage, make puppies. They’re lovers. They suffer without that. Just so people can have mean watchdogs…

“We don’t get to do that. Not to dogs.”

That’s a long windup. Here’s my pitch…

Socrates said it. Mebbe Plato…

Until about 12, kids wanna play, run around, explore. Cuz that’s how evolution built their nervous systems. To learn. 

Through integrating the outside world… with our bodies & minds. Syncing our neurology with Nature. No mean feat. At that age? Our rapidly maturing, sensory & emotional systems change constantly.

Locking us up in education factories? As we sit… rigid behind desks… staring straight ahead? Eating & Peeing at permitted times? 

Hey, that’s NOT what hairless-ape hunter-gatherers do. Ya got to pee pretty much anywhere back then. When we were still on permanent African safari…

We can’t treat our kids like future junkyard dogs.

Or, best outcome to hope for…? Working dogs.

NOW here’s the killer…

Public education is like an assembly line. You harvest a bunch of kids every Fall. On exactly the same calendar date. Most convenient to their parents’ work schedules. 

Then force them into identical workstations. In a diploma factory. So system requirements demand that educators grind down every widget. Exactly alike. Or the production line grinds to a halt…

All this, so students can pop out the other end. 7 years, 12 years.. or most likely… 20 years later. As a reliable, bankable, commodity. 

All on exactly the same calendar-date Graduation.

As if, because they share a birthday? They’re so many identical logs becoming lumber. For consumer capitalists.

It’s bad enough for most kids…

BUT, we KNOW this can’t work.

Not for 15, 20%, or more kids. Autistic, ADHD, dyslexic, or every-which-way neurodivergent.

With different wiring from mainstreamed kids. So, upfront, their needs are interstellar worlds apart. At least 4 out of 5 of their classmates. Sensory, language, mental, emotional, and social needs. 

These kids experience suffering. Every damn day they spend behind a desk. At the hands of classmates. Teachers. The school buildings themselves…

What’s school’s answer? “Re-training” neurodivergent kids. Using techniques as forceful as waterboarding.

On kids who already feel like refugees from a war zone.

Seriously, academics resorting to abusive behavioral techniques?
Isolation rooms,
Arm & leg restraints,
Muzzles,
Pain from “aversive therapy”…
Even… in some cases…
Electric shock. Ya know, cattle prods.

I don’t have the chops to share deep information. But you can shock yourself with the truth… 

Check out hashtags like #StopTheShock and #BanABA. And read Neuroclastic’s archives.

There’s a battle, lasting some years now…  
  to simply make cattle-prodding kids…  
  with disabilities…  
  forcing them…  
  torturing them…  
  to perform acts unnatural to their natures…  
👉 a BATTLE to make even THAT illegal.

So, I don’t have great hope for reform. Not of the larger American education system. Not short term.

What we need is an autistic education based 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 us 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.

But most of all… by unleashing the power of autistic joy.
The inborn sense of wonder, curiousity… and joy of learning… nearly universal in autistic kids. And adults.

Check your gut. What’s it tell you about torturing kids… in the name of “normal”?

Mine says, “We need to flat-out start freeing some kids.”

I wonder what Carla’s up to…?


Coming soon as an AutisticAF.me podcast & YouTube segment.

BTW, I have a new episode out to launch Season 3, “Love, Politics & Faking Normal: 3 New Autistic Myths s03e01.” Text/transcript, audio, and captioned video.


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Love, Politics & Faking Normal: 3 New Autistic Myths s03e01 #AutisticAF Out Loud

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1 Comment

  1. ryinger77 says:

    I heard a story of “the smartest dog”, keeps a 3000 item inventory in it’s head. Owner plays with it exclusive for 5 plus hours a day. Wonder what if you did that with a child?

    Like

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