Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Behavior and Respect

Just read an interesting post by Mark Stairwalt about the management of workers in fields such as information technology and library cataloguing, where an autistic cognitive style is prominent. He cites a Computerworld article by Jeff Ello, which points out that among such employees, a workplace culture has developed that places much more value on getting the job done accurately than on social pleasantries. Others who lack understanding of this culture often stereotype the workers in terms similar to those often applied to autistic people, calling them egocentric, antisocial, and so forth. Such behaviors, however, are usually a reaction to incompetence in the organization. When managers take the time to learn what kinds of internal procedures and structures make the work flow smoothly, they are likely to find that their employees are much easier to manage. In the same way, those who describe autistics in terms of stereotyped behavior problems lack understanding and respect, which gives rise to many frustrated reactions that would not otherwise have occurred. As stated by Dr. Morton Ann Gernsbacher, reciprocity needs to be mutual and symmetrical.

To elaborate further on this point, although social skills often are defined to mean the set of scripted behaviors preferred by the majority, that's really not what genuine social competence is about at all. Rather, a socially competent person is one who understands that there are many different subcultures with their own social preferences, and who makes a respectful effort to understand those differences and to interact with others in ways that they prefer. Instead of sending autistic people to social skills workshops to learn how to behave as if they were not autistic, we ought to be sending everyone to cultural competence workshops to learn that they shouldn't expect everyone to behave the same way. We've learned this lesson, for the most part, with ethnic minorities; it's time to apply the same principles of respect and inclusion to neurological minorities as well.

A particularly egregious example of what happens when autistic people are stereotyped as nothing but a collection of behavioral deficits can be found in the case of Zakhqurey Price, an 11-year-old boy who has been charged with felony assault based on resisting restraint at school. ASAN has created an action alert describing what you can do to help protect this boy's rights—a concerted effort by our community is needed here, so please take action.

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  • "Good manners applied without regard for differences are in fact bad manners," is the quote I didn't find room for in the piece; wherever it was I picked that phrase up from, it resonates pretty well with what you say about the need for people to learn to interact with others in ways that they prefer. Golden Rule piety all too often just provides cover and plausible deniability for what amounts to passive-aggressive rudeness.

    By Anonymous Mark Stairwalt, at 6:05 PM  

  • "Golden Rule piety all too often just provides cover and plausible deniability for what amounts to passive-aggressive rudeness."

    That's a really good point said really well. It says I'm going to treat you as I would have others treat me without regard for what what you think or how you think or what values you place on the way I'm treating you.

    The passive/aggressiveness comes from how that that is presumed to provide the person the "right" not try to understand better and then expect a response based on how they value of what they said to you rather than how you do.

    By Blogger Ed, at 7:59 PM  

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