Monday, February 05, 2007

Amanda Baggs on Learning and Education

This woman is remarkable.
Those who have yet to discover her are in for a shocking treat.

When I was a school-age child (but not before and not after), my thinking often appeared very inflexible and rigid. This was not because my thinking is just naturally that way. This was because the kind of thinking I was trying to use was outside of my natural areas of competence. I managed for a time on sheer brute force, and the strength of that brute force created the apparent rigidity (as well as the moodiness, low frustration tolerance, coming home from school and screaming and crying all night, etc). The kind of thinking I was being expected to use, was the kind that requires stacking blocks on top of blocks and remembering where you put all the blocks in order to avoid knocking them all over. This is not sustainable, eventually they all fall down.

And when they all finally fell down, the rigidity in my thinking was almost gone. I was of course still grasping at those blocks, at random sometimes, producing some fairly scrambled-looking results. But I could not sustain it enough to sustain the kind of rigidity that held them together in the first place.

If I am pushed to engage in that more difficult kind of thinking, even today, I will suddenly appear rigid, black and white, and every other stereotype in the book about autistic thinking, few of which actually apply to me in daily life. It comes from the force of trying to hold foreign ideas together in what amounts to a foreign cognitive language, and watching them all slip away as rapidly as I can put them up. The easiest way to do this to me, is to make me do intellectual work to a deadline. I might get it done, but I become rigid, explosive, self-injurious, and so forth, along the way, and then everything shuts down for a long time afterwards. For those who think that blogging means I could hold a writing job, there’s your answer. When my staff hear I’m writing to a deadline, they give me a wide berth. This is also one reason why I don’t present at conferences more often than I do. You can also get the same reaction out of me by expecting me to perform intellectual tasks in an unfamiliar environment. (Note that for me, “intellectual tasks” start at the level of recognizing the typical identities and functions given to objects,and then work their way up from there.)

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