Coming into this class, I hoped to form new connections with both neurotypicals and autistics, and I believe whole-heartedly that this goal was met. Through amazing exchanges, interesting empirical articles, and engaging discussions and blogs with classmates, I have learned so much new information in “The Science and Lived Experience of Autism.” If someone were now to ask me what I learned in this class, the classic phrase I would use is to not judge a book by its cover. Autistic people are much more than they may seem on the outside, and just because they may look and seem different than a neurotypical does not mean they have different abilities.
One empirical article that stuck out to me was the Kurth and Mastergeorge (2010) article on inclusive education. They studied 15 autistics and measured their skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, then proceeded to compare self-contained classrooms and inclusive classrooms. Hunter describes in his post this research as “nothing short of astounding,” and I completely agree. The difference between the academic achievement shows the autistics in inclusive classrooms as at a higher level academically than the self-contained classrooms. This study certainly makes the case that autistics should be included in classrooms, rather than separated out and taught separate curriculums. They are capable of learning everything that neurotypicals do, as shown by the incredible results of this study.
Similar to education, our conversations on intelligence was very illuminating for me. In particular, I found that the underestimation of autistics is something that I found as a central theme of the course, and Courchesne’s paper (2015) and research on intelligence indicates partially the extent to which many are underestimated. Many use the WISC to assess intelligence, but Courchesne’s paper shows that there are other, better ways of testing autistics in order to show their true knowledge, such as Raven’s Colored Progressive Matrices or Child Embedded Figures Test. While only six of the thirty autistic participants could complete the WISC, twenty-six could complete RCPM with many performing in the normal range, and the same amount completed the CEFT with some outperforming neurotypicals by picking out more hidden figures and many also responded quicker than the neurotypicals. This study really showed me how underestimated autistics could be, and the reality is that many are on par with neurotypicals, and there are even many who are outperform neurotypicals in terms of intelligence.
I think we all felt this similarity in intelligence in how profound and eloquent the Tribe are in each exchange. After the first exchange, I admitted to myself that I was surprised at just how smart and witty each of them is, which I now see as part of the problem in our society. I think that we should work towards a point where it is the norm to see autistics as our equals, whereas many discount them in today’s world. Natalie also describes this change in our perspectives after the first exchange, being extremely honest and sharing similar thoughts to mine: “If I’m being honest, I was shocked at the how insightful everyone could be.” I remember appreciating reading this statement and knowing that I was not alone in my preconceptions. However, I think in terms of our “where to go from here” conversation, this would be a great place to start. In the same post, Natalie quotes Ben from the first exchange, who said that “it is hard to change society but can be done through education. My friends, you are doing it in here now. Tell your friends.” This would be the place that I start because I truly think it is unfair that we have put labels of unintelligence on autistics, and underestimated their abilities, particularly in our school system.
Another theme I have discovered and been extremely interested in throughout this course is the tension between the science and lived experience. During the poster presentation, I described to someone who was interested in how the course changed my views that this particular topic has intrigued me throughout the year. Growing up, we are told in school we should be listening to the science and accepting it for what it shows. However, I find that this is not always the case. One empirical article that I have continually refused to accept is Orinstein et al.’s “Optimal Outcomes” paper (2014). Their idea of an optimal outcome in an autistic life is for the outside to match the inside, in that the autistic should be trained to not present or lose their symptoms of autism. This can be achieved by early intervention of applied behavior analysis, according to the study. However, in my and Huan’s opinion, the focus should be on “accommodating autism rather than curing it.” If we work to include autistics in the research process, perhaps they could find things to study that seem useful and helpful to accommodating their autism rather than trying to change them.
I think the overall lesson in this class is that there is way more to autistics than what we can see. Huan also writes on his blog that he knows the social rules, “but my body makes it hard to act them out.” Many in society think that due to the way their bodies act, autistics do not have intelligence, cannot be in inclusive classrooms, and need to be cured in order to have an “optimal outcome.” Yet, as we have seen in our interactions with the Tribe, this is not really the case. A prime example of this is in the last exchange, when we made a poem all together. If you look at the poem, you might not be able to guess which points the Tribe made and which the UVA class made. In terms of intelligence, this shows that we were all equals in this class, and no Tribe member was less intelligent than the UVA students. In fact, I am sure that Huan is far more eloquent than I am, as proven in his Haiku. I have chosen these two poems as my artifact, because I have not been able to stop thinking of them since the exchange. They really show the intelligence of the Tribe and the insight they have provided to all of us. The Tribe’s perspective has been extremely insightful to my learning about autism, and I am so grateful to them for allowing us to be a part of their group.
I hope that others can have this same experience. As I mentioned before, I think that too many of us are willing to follow the most well-known science, without having regard for the actual experience of those with autism. I admitted to myself after the first exchange that I had some preconceived ideas of how the Tribe would interact and their intelligence, which were completely shattered. Without their perspective and experience, I would have never known just how intelligent they are, and particularly how similar to me they are. I said in my first reflection that the Tribe were “more like me than many neurotypical people that I know,” and I want so badly for others to realize this as well. The memory that will stick with me the most is definitely Huan saying, “Oh, Vikram” in our first exchange, just because I felt like I had met someone with as much sass as I often have. Again, Huan is so much like me, more than many other people I had met, and I feel like my connection with him and other members of the Tribe has made great friendship, that I hope to continue.
I am so grateful to have been part of this experience. Overall, I hope that many other people will be able to interact with a group like the Tribe or an individual just like any of the members. It is definitely easy to assume that the way people are on the outside determines what is happening on the inside, but that is not always the case. The Tribe has shown me that we really need to forge connections in order to truly understand someone, neurotypical or autistic. Particularly in the studies about intelligence and inclusive education, we need to learn to take what’s on the inside as the most important aspect, rather than judge from outward appearances. In addition, we need to take what is on the inside, the thoughts, and opinions of those with autism in order to determine what is their optimal outcome. It is not for us to decide what is best for them, but it is for them to decide what they need, in research and in life. We need to strive to change the way autistics are seen through education and connections, then perhaps we can learn not to judge a book by its cover.
Real connections go
further than the others do.
Patience: give in now.
Courchesne, V., Meilleur, A. S., Poulin-Lord, M., Dawson, M., & Soulières, I. (2015). Autistic children at risk of being underestimated: School-based pilot study of a strength-informed assessment. Molecular Autism, 6(1), 12.
Kurth, Jennifer & Mastergeorge, Ann (2010). Academic and cognitive profiles of students with autism: Implications for classroom practice and placement. International Journal of Special Education, 25 (2), 8-14.
Orinstein, A. J., Helt, M., Troyb, E., Tyson, K. E., Barton, M. L., Eigsti, I., & Fein, D. A. (2014). Intervention for Optimal Outcome in Children and Adolescents with a History of Autism. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 35(4), 247-256.