Previously, I wrote that autism is an alternative way of thinking (repost below). The purpose of this post is to provide some explanatory information on the background, purpose and target audience.
Explain the background behind your statement. Where did you get your inspiration from?
I got the inspiration from the work I’ve done in the area of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). In short, ADR refers to an array of dispute resolution process other than court litigation. Examples of ADR include negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, collaborative practice etc. These ADR processes are promoted and encouraged partly to reduce the backlog of cases in courts. It involves a paradigm shift that a ‘traditional’ law suit may not necessarily be the most appropriate or ideal dispute resolution process and that litigants’ needs may be better served by other alternative means of dispute resolution. Indeed, depending on the circumstances of a case, the issues involved and the parties’ concerns, it is hard to say which dispute resolution process is ‘better’ or ‘superior’ than the others. Each has its pros and cons; strengths and weaknesses. What is also true is that even though litigation is viewed as the traditional or dominant mode of dispute resolution process, the fact is most cases are resolved without going to trial. In fact, if one takes into account informal dispute resolution process, most conflicts and disputes are resolved without even resorting to courts. People negotiate on a day-to-day basis, they compromise or even resort to avoidance, as a means of resolving disputes. In some cultures, people may seek the advice of an elder or even settle disputes by duelling. I’m not making any judgment on which method of dispute resolution is better or superior, the dominant or the norm. While alternative implies difference, there is no pre-conceived beliefs and ideas of which method is better or superior. Each method exists in its own right. What is important is the paradigm shift in how we handle disputes.
Borrowing from the ADR concept, I hope for a paradigm shift in our attitude towards difference and that not everything that deviates from the norm (assuming that refers to the neurotypical) is necessarily inferior. In fact, why should I even accept the neurotypical as the standard norm? (Because the majority are neurotypical?) There are other alternatives to neurotypical and each condition exists in its own right and should be recognised by both their strengths and weaknesses. And yes, other than getting my inspiration from ADR, I was also influenced by the alternative culture. As the lovely Laina Eartharcher of The Silent Wave Blog rightly pointed out in the comments, “The word “alternative” has also been applied to counter-culture, open-mindedness, and of course, really cool music“😉
Purpose & Target Audience
I’m not trying to come up with a revolutionary concept, a big word or a new label. A word may be offensive because of the meanings attributed to the word. I’m less concerned about the language (and what is politically correct), rather, it is the attitude and perception of the beholder I’m more concerned with. This is mainly a personal statement I make for my own benefit (and for anyone who shares my sentiment). I’m terrible when it comes to reconciling or accepting differences. I don’t deny that differences exist but accepting it (with grace) is another matter. In theory, I accept that everyone is different. In practice, I don’t get it when humans behave differently ~ how could anyone be so annoying / reckless / inconsiderate / irresponsible / ignorant / rude etc etc (I obsessed too much over human behaviour). To further illustrate, I used to think that mediation is an inferior form of justice compared to court litigation because parties have to compromise in the course of mediation and I don’t see why I have to compromise. When I am face with something different, my mind has a tendency to close or shut down. But allowing myself to question what is the norm, allowing me to accept that there are just alternative ways of being, no right or wrong, no good or bad, no better or superior (and that any judgments made of right/wrong, good/bad, better/superior is merely my personal judgment), I allow my mind to open up and challenge myself. Have I taken the moral high ground? Who am I to say or judge that any other alternative process is inferior/superior?
“Essentially, the gist of what I’m trying to say is if we free ourselves of any pre-conceived beliefs and ideas of right and wrong or good and bad, we open ourselves to new possibilities and alternatives and then hopefully, we can understand people with a different/alternative way of thinking in a new light.”
For those who haven’t read it, the following is a repost:
Autism is an alternative way of thinking
“I usually say to the child, ‘Congratulations, you have Asperger’s syndrome, and explain that this means he or she is not mad, bad or defective, but has a different way of thinking.” Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome
Autism (Asperger) is a different way of thinking?
Where once autism was thought to be abnormal (not ruling out that it might still be seen as abnormal by some), what I’m increasingly hearing nowadays is that autism is a different way of thinking. I don’t disagree with that (sorry for the double negative) but I still have a problem with the word ‘different’.
First, ‘different’ according to who? The neurotypicals (NT) see people with autism as strange and different but that is only one side of the coin. Fact is, the sentiment is mutual, autistic individuals see NT to be the strange and different one. What is different depends on which perspective or side you are taking and creates a them vs us divide.
Second, ‘different’ implies that there is a norm, a default mode of doing things. It suggests that there is a right (and wrong) or good (and bad) way. Anything different is frowned upon, if not unacceptable. The default mode is set to the NT way of thinking. These are the societal and cultural norms that govern the society or system people live in. Autistic individuals are often expected to assimilate into the default mode and judged by that standard. What is considered right or wrong is arbitrary depending on what the majority does. People who break the norms are not taken to kindly.
Third, ‘different’ is a double edge sword. On the one hand, autistic individuals are treated as different, if not inferior being, individuals with special needs. On the other hand, the difference is conveniently ignored when autistic individuals ask for accommodation and their problems are dismissed on the ground that they are no less different and “everyone is a bit autistic”. In autism awareness speak, it is awareness without acceptance.
Fourth, in general, ‘different’ suggests something that is out of the ordinary and unfamiliar, which some people may be uncomfortable with or aversive to. For autistic individuals with a preference for sameness, the word ‘different’ may trigger anxiety because it is outside routine and therefore, unpredictable.
a different an alternative way of thinking
Given the above reasons, I’d like to use the word ‘alternative’ instead. Asperger, if not autism, is an alternative way of thinking and doing things.
- deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying (Oxford dictionaries)
- different from what is usual or average, especially in a way that is bad (Cambridge dictionary)
- deviating from the normal or average; unusual in an unwelcome or problematic way (Merriam Webster)
- not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality (Oxford dictionaries)
- not the same. (Informal) used when you think someone or something is unusual or shows bad judgment (Cambridge dictionary)
- not the same, partly or totally unlike in nature, form, or quality (Merriam Webster)
- (of one or more things) available as another possibility or choice (Oxford dictionaries)
- an alternative plan or method is one that you can use if you do not want to use another one. Alternative things are considered to be unusual and often have a small but enthusiastic group of people who support them (Cambridge dictionary)
- offering or expressing a choice; different from the usual or conventional (Merriam Webster)
If it’s not evident from the dictionaries’ definition above, I’m suggesting the word ‘alternative’ because it suggests a different way of thinking or doing without the pre-conceived notions of right or wrong. In this respect, the alternative way of thinking exists as a right in itself, unusual maybe but not wrong or bad. Essentially, the gist of what I’m trying to say is if we free ourselves of any pre-conceived beliefs and ideas of right and wrong or good and bad, we open ourselves to new possibilities and alternatives and then hopefully, we can understand people with a different/alternative way of thinking in a new light. This might be a good starting point for awareness.
Autism is an alternative way of thinking.