Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Interaction badges: a good idea all round

Over on The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, there's a very interesting post about  interaction badges.

This is basically a means of coding the 'please engage/avoid me' message which is usually relayed through a complicated dance of body language and neurotypical telepathy.  There are three badges - red, yellow and green - with meanings vaguely related to the symbolism we're used to associating with those colours through traffic lights.

Bokeh your dayRed means 'do not initiate interaction with me'.  That doesn't mean 'ignore me if I talk to you', but it's a sign not to barge on up and start yapping.  If the world at large understood interaction badges, I'd put one of these on when I'm clothes shopping.  It's a situation where I feel weird and awkward and self-conscious - plus usually a bit overstimulated from the instore radio and all the other people - and being left alone to do my thing would be best for all concerned.

Gold BokehYellow, in autistic circles, means 'only interact with me if I already know you'.  I personally wouldn't have a lot of use for this one, but if it's specifically strangers that send you running to hide in the bathroom, this could be a hit.  Actually, I'd like one that says 'I know you know me, but I'm not up for a chat right now, ktxbai' to wear while grocery shopping.  But I guess that's what the red one's for.

Green BokehGreen is the one I'd wear the most, if these were a thing in the wider world.  It means 'I'd like to interact, but have trouble.  Please talk to me!'  This is kind of the story of my life - most times I would have loved to have had a friend, an acquaintance, a playmate, but because I come across as 'wrong' or 'off', it just doesn't happen.

I actually think interaction badges have a practical application much further afield than the autistic community.  Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess, has written about her anxiety disorder, and how it tends to leave her trapped in bathrooms at social shindigs.  And how many times have we - the general we, as in everybody ever - been told 'don't be shy.. the person you're talking to is just as nervous as you are!'?  Well, now we can tell, empirically, if that is the case.

Or if they want us to sod off.

Monday, 30 July 2012

I was in a relationship once. It didn't last. Thank heavens.

I was just a kid of seventeen
and you were thirty-two, dear

I thought I knew what life had planned
and so, I'm sure, did you, dear

Change comes quickly when you're young
when all the world is new, dear

You've no idea how hard I tried
to come back home to you, dear

This was my one chance I craved
surely that you knew, dear

I could not stop to be your wife
I needed more than you, dear

A dozen years of joy and tears,
yet I remember you, dear.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

From echolalia to your own words

Echolalia - repeating things you've heard without necessarily understanding them - is one of the many odd neurological quirks that can come with Aspergers, particularly in kids.

I was never noticed to do this as a kid, but looking back I think I did, just in a fairly subtle way.  Rather than immediately repeating back what I'd heard, I'd hang onto it and use it later in circumstances where it seemed to fit.  Often, it wasn't things I'd heard in real life so much as words, phrases or whole sentences from my special interests.

Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.  I've always had a weird mix of special interests that don't necessarily reflect the culture around me at the time.  For instance, when I was what these days would be called a tween, my key special interests were the Marx Brothers and Rocky and Bullwinkle.  But, realistically, how many useful phrases can a 90s adolescent glean from 1930s comedy films and a cartoon from the 1960s? 

I wonder if I'd lucked into more age-appropriate interests - say I discovered Triple J earlier and got into music just in time for Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette - how that would have affected my communication, and the way I came across to the rest of the world?

As I got older and got my head more around how the world worked, I moved from my library of stock phrases (which I still use when I have to) to proper autonomous self-expression.

This wasn't usually a conscious strategy, but it's something I recognise now when I look back at my actions and responses.

I won't say I understand the world completely - because can anybody? - but these days I hope I have a reasonably good handle on the world around me and my part in it, and I'm usually able to interact with that world in my own terms.  But I only coped long enough to get where I am thanks to borrowing responses from Groucho when I was younger.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

On the semantics of personhood

Twice this week, I've seen someone online get angry at the use of the phrase "non-disabled" to describe a person who doesn't have a disability.   Twice I've seen people argue that the general term "people" should be used to describe the non-disabled, which in an actual sentence would look like this:

"Both people with disabilities and people can benefit from closed captioning."

I have two problems with this, and the first is that it looks and sounds bloody silly.  It's like saying "both black cats and cats enjoy fish for dinner."  It's just nonsense.

The second, though, is about the assumptions and mindset behind such reasoning.  If "people" is somehow different from "people with disability", then the underlying assumption is that people with disabilities aren't really people.

This isn't a new idea.  Disabled people have spent lifetimes being shut away in institutions not because it was in our best interests but because it was convenient - it was easier than making the community more accessible and taking everyone's needs into account, and it saved the Real People the discomfort of having to look at and interact with someone who was Not Like Them.

The fact that a young woman in a first world country is told repeatedly she's remarkable and inspirational as she goes about her everyday life because she uses a wheelchair suggests that we're really not that far from the mindset that people whose bodies or brains work differently somehow don't, can't, and shouldn't be out and about doing normal people stuff. That we're not really people.


We're cute when we pretend to be people, like dogs wearing sunglasses.  But when we start demanding access to Real People jobs, Real People facilities, and even the Real People Olympics, suddenly the dog's taken off its sunnies and is registering to vote and the cute's got all uncomfortable and weird.

I can't help but wonder how a non-disabled person who objects to being described as non-disabled would cope with being called a spaz, retard, nong, freak, fuck up, or any of the various other charming epithets I've had thrown at me over the years.

"Non-disabled" is a precise term, a phrase used to impart a particular meaning when differentiation between populations with and without disability is necessary.  To suggest it's an insult isn't just drawing a long bow, it's an insult in itself to those of us who have had genuine slurs thrown at us.

And for the record, you could get around the whole thing by saying:

"People with and without disability could benefit from just calming the fuck down."