A Failure to Communicate Part 3: Autism and Intelligence

When I first read Emily Titon’s satirical post “A Person With Autism Manages To Do Something” I was drawn back to a post I wrote a while ago about Autism and relationships. While Emily’s post is satirical it is effective at pointing the general attitudes people have towards Joe Autie and the wonderful thing he did the one what I noticed the most was the surprise that Emily Expert had at Joe Auties ability to do something wonderful. I imagine if Joe Autie had been quoted in this satirical article his response to all the amazement would have been “Well duh! I have known I can do that my whole life.”
This got me thinking about how we perceive intelligence. So I posted a question on my Facebook to get an answer:

“I have often wondered why people associate interaction skills with any other skills or with intelligence? Autistics struggle with their interaction skills but that does not mean we are incapable of doing anything else. To assume otherwise is incorrect. We can be team players or a part of a group. We don’t interact because we don’t want to we don’t do it often because we struggle with it. Often people only have perceptions of what they see and hear to make assessments of what others are capable of based upon those factors. I was hoping a person who doesn’t have Autism could respond to this.”

Three of my friends answered. The first to answer was Matthew Gilbert. Gilbert is an adjunct professor of business at National University. Strayer University, and UCLA extension. His son is autistic.

“I think because it is hard to grasp someone’s intelligence until he/she communicates or applies it — otherwise it is really impossible to understand. Like the difference between potential energy vs. kinetic energy perhaps? My son, who is on the spectrum, is very intelligent but until he could talk (after lots of ABA) it was really hard to “see” that. Now, he is very sociable and uses wordplay to engage people as well as his love of bad jokes and math.”

I responded simply:  Seeing is believing then?

Gilbert responded:

“Then again, think about celebrated artists from hundreds of years ago who we can’t interact with (or there are no audio or video recordings of them). We make assumptions about their intelligence and abilities by their art, which I suppose is still communication (literally, as you wrote, seeing).”

What Gilbert said had a hollow ring of truth to it. Intelligence is not just a number or a score. It can’t be measured accurately in an exam. People cannot be quantified by numbers. Society in general makes assumptions about a person’s intelligence all the time. As Gilbert said what about those long dead composers where our only way to assess their intelligence is to listen to their music? Too much emphasis is placed on how a person sounds or the phrasing that they use. Their is a distinct difference between a person’s written and spoken vocabulary. As Louis Pugliese a lecturer in Educational Psychology at California, State University told VideoJug.com, “There are many ways to be smart and there are multiple intelligences.”

See link for Pugliese’s complete interview.  http://www.videojug.com/interview/types-of-intelligence-2

Still the idea of the societal value we place on good communication skills is problematic to me even though there are several types of intelligences and not just one general intelligence. As Pugliese points out Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence is only one type of intelligence.

Autistics are often discriminated against because of the confusion that exists in society as to the difference between Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence and general intelligence.

Cecily Arambula who was the second person to answer my question on Facebook had this to say about the difference between communication skills and intelligence.

“I think society tells us that anyone diagnosed with something is different from those NOT diagnosed with something. If you can’t interact with me, you must not be able to do anything correctly. Societal ignorance.”

Arambula is right. I have noticed that many people who are diagnosed with disorders that affect their speech communication skills such as stuttering are often ostracized for being stupid or incapable. Some autistics are nonverbal in other words they cannot talk. Because of this they are assumed to be retarded. Yet put a typewriter in front ot that person they can write very effectively. Written commiunication is one part of Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence. Carly Fleischmann is perhaps one of the most well known autistics that cannot speak but can write.

The type of discrimination that Fleischmann and other autistics such as myself have faced is something that is of great concern to Pia Prenevost whose son is autistic told me via Facebook that this type of discrimination is the greatest fear she has for her son.

“He struggles with communication (he also has apraxia of speech) and is far behind in his language skills. However, I know… and can see concrete evidence… that he is wicked smart. His problem solving skills are off the chart, and he demonstrates great ability to learn… even with the significant challenges he faces in communicating and socializing. I am so very afraid that he will be judged as being not able to learn because of his obvious difference instead of his actual ability.

He is 5 and is going to kindergarten this fall and I just don’t even know how to handle the school people, to be honest. They look at the ‘label’ and make assumptions and not really get to know his abilities and unique learning style…. Anyway, I guess I will work it out but I can say in no uncertain terms I dread it.”

Prenevost has a right to be concerned.  He will be judged. It’s what people do. We just have to teach our children to ignore the naysayers and keep living their lives and to do what they love to do. By doing that he can be happy and educate the ignorant.

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Why I Write This Blog

When I first started writing this blog I wanted it to be a place to showcase my skills as a writer. I have written a lot over the course of my life from works of fiction like Ivory Requiem or poems like Be The Change the words of which have become the basic mantra of my life.

The change is you
Live it like it was tomorrow today and yesterday
Society drags down those who don’t resist
Resist the mediocrity and the hypocrisy
The change is within you
And lives through you
It shields the downtrodden from the fists of society
And builds up the weak to highest points
Be the change
And it will change you
Never look back
Keep your eyes on the future
Like the light that it is
It will guide you to the change you can be
Be the change and it will change you
The future seems bright if you live it
The future will be the change
And the change will be you

Still, as time grew, it became just a place where I should showcase myself. Where I could be honest and candid about life. Yet people have been cautioning me that it I should be mindful of what I post online because people might get the wrong. That is exactly why I write this blog so that people won’t get the wrong impression about me as a person. I may have autism but I am still a person. I feel pain, I laugh. I smile. I cry. I am human. Yet I know that people have misgivings about meeting or working with or being friends with a person that has autism. Out of lack of knowledge they can’t get past the “that has autism” part and often forget the “person” bit. That is what this blog has been about: dispelling that ignorance that still exists.

In my last post Why I Use Social Media, I described my need to express myself and connect with other people and how if I wasn’t on sites like Facebook and Twitter. people would not know anything about me. The same is true for this blog. Yet it is here for more than that. I realized over time that there was a lot of ignorance about autism still in the world. It exists despite all of the bloggers and vloggers who try to spread awareness of the disorder.

Ignorance is perhaps the most infuriating thing anyone has to deal with. It is like a disease that just doesn’t want to leave. I see a lot of ignorance everywhere. I sometimes feel that despite the number of people blogging or vlogging about Asperger’s that we are really just preaching to the choir. Either that or we are shouting really loudly and no one is listening. I am not certain which is more frustrating.

On the other hand the battle for awareness of autism has made great inroads among neurotypical people. There are now two types of neurotypical people I have met. Those who know people who know people with Autism and people who don’t. This blog is primarily for the people who don’t but sometimes it applies to the people who do. Ignorance and prejudice can be a fickle things many people may not be aware they even are prejudiced or ignorant. Others are more blatant about it. Even the nicest and most caring of people can be ignorant at times. Even people who know people who have autism can be ignorant. Even people who have autism can be ignorant. The worst is when people don’t realize that they are ignorant. It is for them that this blog is written to end their blindness. I write it to illuminate what they are not seeing that disability does not mean inability. If that were true, I would not be working where I do.

Also there are the people who want to learn more about the disorder that some call autism and I just call being human. For those people too, I write this blog so that they can learn more about it. I have many neurotypical friends who I want to teach more about autism, its causes and its effects on people lives because only through knowledge can ignorance and fear be brought to an end. And on that day I will stop writing this blog because there will no longer be the need. Until that time, I shall continue writing even if I am old and grey. I will not be silenced by ignorance and fear.