Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Discussion Topic

Around a year ago, I recorded a discussion topic for the Dan Marino Foundation's project. They have yet to use it, much to my disappointment... as I view it as a very important question that doesn't get asked enough.

Fortunately, I'd written out my question... and I still have the transcript. As such, I'm able to post it here.

Hi, I'm Alex Cheezem, a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University and an adult on the autism spectrum. One issue that surrounds any discussion of autism is the matter of language. Words often have different meanings depending on context -- for instance, the technical language of behavior analysis defines an aversive as anything that an organism moves to avoid, while the term often brings up images of ammonia squirts to the face, electrical shock, and other such painful and humiliating "treatments".

At the same time, the spoken languages of our cultures are often a second language of sorts to us. Countless accounts are available of our thought processes and the ways in which we think, but these ways are often alien to those people who think in a more typical manner. The underlying assumptions of these modes of thought are often different from those of what we call the English language.

Finally, much human communication is in the form of subtle implcations and connotations. While people on the spectrum often have difficulty perceiving these, people not on the spectrum often have trouble with correctly interpreting our statements in their absence. Many people on the spectrum have invested a considerable amount of effort into learning this language only to come across in a manner completely unlike what we'd intended.

Do these problems obstruct meaningful discussion of autism-related issues? If so, how can we go about opening a meaningful dialogue? Is there any way that we can keep important points from being "lost in translation"? Let's hear from some voices in our community that can help us frame this conversation.

While not everything in this remains true (specifically, I'm no longer a student at Nova), the question is no less important now then it was a year ago.

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