Q: Why write this book from Dasha’s perspective? Could it not have worked if it was written from your perspective?
Several reasons. First, as it’s explained in the book, Temple Grandin’s book Animals in Translation (which I like very much) made me think ‘Temple Grandin says that it’s her autism that helps her understand animals’ behaviors – what if an animal described autism?’ I am very much interested in different perspectives on one and the same issue. It’s really frustrating when we try to stick with one point of view, and anything that is different – is ‘abnormal’. Excuse me? Why is ‘our’ point of view the right one?
Q: In your book, Dasha explains about fragmented perception and how that can lead to delayed processing. Other autistic individuals, including myself, have noticed a pattern among the improvements that autistic children make. This pattern is that the children do eventually progress but perhaps at a longer rate suggesting a longer arc of maturity than individuals without autism. Do you agree based on your own family’s experience that some of the "progress" that autistic children make during any treatment could be a natural thing that would have happened anyway because of this longer arc of maturity?
Yes, and No. Yes, they do develop but their ‘developmental route’ is different. If an autistic person has the same goal as a non-autistic person, he or she might need to follow a different procedure for getting there, using their natural mechanisms. So we have to help them acquire skills for independent functioning, using the ways they can understand (that are different from those of non-autistic people). A useful analogy is, teaching a blind child: if we know that the child has no visual perception, we won’t teach him using picture books.
Q: Dasha explains, "eye contact should not be more important than meaningful conversations" while discussing the importance some people place on teaching autistic children to make eye contact. I have learned over the years that it is rude to not look at someone’s face (thanks to the culture here in the United States). However, because it is so uncomfortable, I often work or play on the computer (or read a book) when company is over. My family understands this about me but new friends do not. It’s called "peripheral perception" in your book. Do you think that accepting this type of behavior in the mainstream after so many years of another culture will ever happen or do you believe that it shouldn’t be acceptable?
This is a problem, isn’t it? Many autistic individuals find eye contact either uncomfortable or even painful. For many of them, it often brings overload and stress. On the other hand (or is it ‘on the other paw’ ;o) ?) We want them to be accepted into the mainstream. And no, it’s unrealistic to believe that we can educate millions and millions of people about their problems with ‘direct perception’. I think, the best way to overcome this difficulty is to teach them to look in the direction of the person they are communicating with, ‘fake eye contact’ (look at the bridge of the nose, or at the chin, etc.) As Stephen Shore says, "Fake it, but don’t break it!"
Q: I wanted to thank you for pointing out in your book (via Dasha) that not all autistic people are visual thinkers. I am not a visual person at all, it’s my weakest area actually. This is one of those myths and stereotypes that develop around any type of disorder. Why do you think stereotypes happen? Is that one reason you chose to write the book? It seems you do because a good portion of the book dispells the myths and stereotypes of autism.
This is another stereotype – ‘all autistic people think in pictures’. Some may think in ‘kinaethetic images’, others in ‘auditory pictures’, etc. We should not use one communicative system with all the children in the classroom, for example: using pictures with an ‘auditory’ type of child won’t help.
Q: Another myth that is busted in the book is that individuals with autism lack empathy. That myth seemed to have developed because of the individuals (who happen to have autism) have a type of hypersensitivity called alexithymia, the inability to express emotions even though they are felt. How would busting that myth help non-autistics understand autistics?
They feel the same emotions but just cannot always interpret them and/or express them the way ‘non-autistics’ do. Some parents may think that their child does not love them because he/she does not ask for a hug, etc. I think it’s very unfair. Because of our ignorance we do not see the emotional world of this child and misinterpret his/her behaviors as ‘unloving’, uncaring, etc.’
Q: Another favorite part of mine dealt with so-called challenging behaviors. I loved the message that some of these behaviors are inappropriate only if you don’t have autism. I flap my hands for "stimming" (which does make writing difficult to do when I’m stimming!) and it doesn’t harm anyone: not myself nor anyone else. Well, unless they get into my "fly zone" as we call it in my house. Do you agree that not all stimming behaviors need to be eliminated? What about the social impact it may have on that individual? i.e. being teased for the action.
My heartfelt thanks to T.O. Daria and Dasha for doing their part to dispell myths and bringing more understanding to this problematic disorder. Heather Sedlock, Special Needs Kids Examiner