Miss T. is taking a Humanities 105 class, called “Intercultural Communication.” Interestingly, instead of being solely about communicating between people of different ethnic cultures, the course explores the different cultural divides within our own community, with a heavy emphasis on how cultures other than the dominant culture experience discrimination that affects their ability to take “their place at the table.” These last two weeks she has been learning about disability and was asked to write a paper on her personal experiences or observations of discrimination based on disability. What she wrote is such a window on how she thinks, what she is learning, and how one views equal treatment from the standpoint of disability, that I asked and obtained her permission to post it here, in all its raw glory:
“I cannot really say that I have experienced discrimination based on disability. I am also not competent to speak about disability. I do not remember ever seeing anyone being discriminated on basis of disability, except in the cases pointed out in this very class, such as how it takes going up stairs to get to the cafeteria, making it inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair.
When it comes to disability causing problems with me interacting with society, the issues are all on my end.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a mental condition on the Autism Spectrum, which makes it hard for me to read social cues. I just don’t get when people are treated differently based on social class, and that includes when it happens to me. The difference in treatment has to be very, very obvious, or else I just don’t get it. I’m often out in my own world, and I don’t tend to remember what discrimination I do notice.
The problem with me and society is not that society treats me differently because of it. My condition is impossible to notice at first glance and easily mistaken for simple personality flaws, and without it, I am just your average white female, and people treat me as such. The problem is, I am not your average white female. I’m autistic, which means that I just don’t work in the same ways. My problem is that society does not treat me any differently than it does people without my condition, and that just doesn’t work.
I have problems remembering things not written down, issues with attention span, and have problems working with a team. This is a big issue when dealing with people who expect me to be able to act like neurotypical humans, an uphill battle for me.
I don’t work well with spoken words, and often need things to be written down, but spoken words are the most common way of communicating in society. This leaves me behind and struggling to catch up in a lot of things. For example, I find it hard to remember details of assignments without hand-outs.
Most of the essays assigned so far in this class also give me trouble, because they rely on the personal experience that I just haven’t had, because I’m too oblivious to notice the differences in social interaction between people of different classes. Only once have I really noticed the difference in interaction between races, and that was when I was the only one of my race in a group, and we were talking about differences in interaction between races.
Apparently, this is different in the adult world, and I have heard stories of autistics being discriminated against as unintelligent. Temple Grandin, autistic and prominent animal scientist, has said that she needs to show prospective employers her portfolios, because otherwise they wouldn’t accept that she was actually competent at what she did. Grandin attributes most of her success to her autism; she is more able to empathize with animals and so understand the tricks of animal perception that lead to fear reactions, calmness, and other such things. For instance, cows are simple visual creatures, and they look mostly at shapes. Cows cannot make any connection to someone on horseback and someone on foot, so they have to be trained to consider both ‘not a threat’.
The ability to think like a cow may seem an unlikely superpower, but it’s one that Temple Grandin is happy to have. I cannot empathize with animals to her extent, but I have my own autistic gifts that I am proud to possess. However, autism comes with drawbacks too, and society just can’t treat us exactly the way it treats everyone else. It just doesn’t work.”