The evolution of learning culture is the most critical work educators need to do inside schools today. Culture reflects community values and school culture remains a relatively compliance‐driven system even with our best efforts to change that. The only way to change culture is to constantly create situations in which people together respond to the question “Why are we here?”
“Because Kara’s self-injury is a behavioral issue as opposed to neurological, it’s THC, not CBD, that stabilizes her mood.”
I get the distinction they’re trying to draw, but I cringe at seeing autistic needs framed as and reduced to a “behavioral issue”. Stop interpreting our needs as “behavior”. Behaviorism is bad framing. The behavioral vs. neurological and THC vs. CBD binaries in that sentence are too…binary.
Anti-authoritarian patients should be especially concerned with psychiatrists and psychologists—even more so than with other doctors. While an authoritarian cardiothoracic surgeon may be an abusive jerk for a nursing staff, that surgeon can still effectively perform a necessary artery bypass for an anti-authoritarian patient. However, authoritarian psychiatrists and psychologists will always do damage to their anti-authoritarian patients.
Psychiatrists and psychologists are often unaware of the magnitude of their obedience, and so the anti-authoritarianism of their patients can create enormous anxiety and even shame for them with regard to their own excessive compliance. This anxiety and shame can fuel their psychopathologizing of any noncompliance that creates significant tension. Such tension includes an anti-authoritarian patient’s incensed reaction to illegitimate authority.
Anti-authoritarian helpers—far more commonly found in peer support—understand angry reactions to illegitimate authority, empathize with the pain fueling those reactions, and genuinely care about that pain. Having one’s behavior understood and pain cared about opens one up to dialogue as to how best to deal with one’s pain. Because anti-authoritarian mental health professionals are rare, angry anti-authoritarian patients will likely be “treated” by an authority who creates even more pain, which results in more self-destructiveness and violence.
It is certainly no accident that anti-authoritarian psychiatrists and psychologists are rare. Mainstream psychiatry and psychology meet the needs of the ruling power structure by pathologizing anger and depoliticizing malaise so as to maintain the status quo. In contrast, anti-authoritarians model and validate resisting illegitimate authority, and so anti-authoritarian professionals—be they teachers, clergy, psychiatrists, or psychologists—are not viewed kindly by the ruling power structure.
PBIS also ignores human nature by demanding everyone maintain a positive mood and hide any frustration with a student’s naughty behavior.
My more in-depth interpretation is a reiteration of my earlier post on PBIS as well as my posts on classroom management. The PBIS method is far too easy to get wrong. It is far too easy to use consequences or the threat of consequences to motivate behavior (e.g., threatening a kid that they will not get a reward unless they comply). For individuals with ID, reinforcement has to be 100% correlated with good behavior and if there is punishment it has to be 100% correlated with the inappropriate behavior. No deviation and no gap between behavior and consequence. Otherwise, the system falls apart.
Importantly, if a system is based on using external rewards/stimuli to motivate behavior, falling apart takes the form of behavioral outbursts and frustration from the student or client.
Unfortunately, this type of asymmetrical reward is a feature, not a bug, of PBIS. PBIS uses asymmetrical reward as a motivational tool, to the detriment of the students that struggle with their comportment. And, take my word on this, no one can identify and rebel against an unfair system as efficiently as a kid or adult with ID, except perhaps an autistic person. They know the system is unfair!
PBIS is Coercion
This is an argument usually used for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), but it applies to PBIS as well. Because PBIS emphasizes the use of tangible rewards and teacher praise to motivate “appropriate” behavior, it often escapes this description.
The overall focus of PBIS is obedience or compliance with rules leading to a reward. The flip side of that coin is there is a lack of rewards or outright punishment administered for noncompliance. The pressure of complying with this system turns kids into ticking time bombs. Having to focus on compliance with school-wide and classroom rules stresses kids out and causes them to enter a state of anxiety when they come to school. In fact, I have seen this escalate to the point the school building itself was a trigger for panic attacks.
Using praise as a reward contingency serves to teach students either that you do not like them (if you do not praise them), and that motivation is extrinsic and has to be earned through compliance.
The 1% will always attempt to seize powerful technologies and institutions to pacify all of us-especially young people. To manage these technologies and institutions, the 1% needs technocrats, administrators, and guards; thus, what would help is what Howard Zinn called a “revolt of the guards.” However, if technicians, teachers, mental health professionals, and other guards never even admit to ourselves our societal role—as guards who maintain the status quo—then we guards will never consider a revolt. Many older people are guards, and they can choose to revolt and help young people gain the strength necessary to resist injustices.
In 1955, Erich Fromm, the then widely respected anti-authoritarian leftist psychoanalyst, wrote, “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1980, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Ronald Reagan president, and an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) disruptive mental disorders for children and teenagers such as the increasingly popular “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” “often argues with adults,” and “often deliberately does things to annoy other people.”
Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.
The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as ”No Child Left Behind“ and ”Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by corporatocracy-sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities.
American culture offers young Americans the “choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.
When I first heard the term liberation theology (in opposition to a theology that fosters compliance with the status quo), I thought there should also be a liberation psychology—a psychology that doesn’t equate a lack of adjustment with mental illness, but instead promotes constructive rebellion against dehumanizing institutions, and which also provides strategies to build a genuinely democratic society.
liberation psychology is about looking at the world from the point of view of the dominated instead of the dominators.
Whether they realize it or not, mental health professionals who narrowly treat their clients in a way that encourages compliance with the status quo are acting politically. Similarly, validating a client’s challenging of these undemocratic hierarchical modes is also a political act. I believe that mental health professionals have an obligation to recognize the broader issues that form a context for their clients’ mental well-being, and to be honest with their clientele about which side of this issue they are on.
A minority of the anti-authoritarian kids I have worked with are aware of anarchism and identify themselves as anarchists, perhaps having T-shirts with a circle drawn around an A. However, even among those adolescents who know nothing of the political significance of the term anarchism, I cannot remember one who didn’t become excited to discover that there is an actual political ideology that encompasses their point of view. They immediately became more whole after they discovered that answering “yes” to the following questions does not mean that they suffer from a mental disorder but that they have a certain political philosophy:
- Do you hate coercion? Do you love freedom?
- Are you willing to risk punishments to gain freedom?
- Do you distrust large, impersonal, and distant authorities?
- Do you reject centralized authority and believe in participatory democracy?
- Do you hate powerful bigness of any kind?
- Do you hate laws and rules that benefit the people at the top and make life miserable for people at the bottom?
Source: Toward a Liberation Psychology
Eye contact, who’s it for? It’s not for the autistic child. It’s for the recipient. It’s for their own validation to reassure them that you know they exist. That you are aware they are speaking that you comply. That you acknowledge them.
It’s not about the child; it’s no benefit to the child to do something that in many cases is painful.
It’s for them.
I updated “I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.” with selections from “THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: On Hans Asperger, the Nazis, and Autism: A Conversation Across Neurologies” on compliance and behaviorism.
Our non-compliance is not intended to be rebellious. We simply do not comply with things that harm us. But since a great number of things that harm us are not harmful to most neurotypicals, we are viewed as untamed and in need of straightening up.
What I am against are therapies to make us stop flapping our hands or spinning in circles. I am against forbidding children to use sign language or AAC devices to communicate when speech is difficult. I am against any therapy designed to make us look “normal” or “indistinguishable from our peers.” My peers are Autistic and I am just fine with looking and sounding like them.
Here are those selections in the context of their surrounding grafs:
Our non-compliance is not intended to be rebellious. We simply do not comply with things that harm us. But since a great number of things that harm us are not harmful to most neurotypicals, we are viewed as untamed and in need of straightening up. Sheffer writes that Dr. Asperger called this non-compliant trait malicious, mean, and uncontrollable. She notes him describing Autistic children as having a “lack of respect for authority, the altogether lack of disciplinary understanding, and unfeeling malice.” That appears to be the majority opinion of us today as well. If we were not threatening to the social order in some way, there would not be therapies designed to control how we move our bodies and communicate.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not anti-therapy. I embrace therapies that help me with some of my Autistic co-occurring conditions like circadian rhythm disruption and digestive malfunction. I welcome treatments for epilepsy-a co-occurring condition found in 25% – 30% of Autistics-because I’ve seen how much suffering epilepsy brings. My late fiancé died from SUDEP, a fatal complication of epilepsy, and before his death I watched seizures shred his attempts at living a full life. What I am against are therapies to make us stop flapping our hands or spinning in circles. I am against forbidding children to use sign language or AAC devices to communicate when speech is difficult. I am against any therapy designed to make us look “normal” or “indistinguishable from our peers.” My peers are Autistic and I am just fine with looking and sounding like them.