Saturday, March 15, 2008

We're here. We're weird. Get used to it.

Would you measure the intelligence of a blind person by giving him a test he had to see in order to take? So why would you try to measure the intelligence of a person with autism by by using tests that require verbal language skills, social interaction, and cultural knowledge?

The common wisdom-- and the standardized tests-- say that 75% of the people with autism are mentally retarded. Amanda Baggs, a 27 year old woman with autism, would certainly seem to fall in that category on first take: she can't speak, can't look you in the eye, and needs help cooking supper. But Amanda is one of the leaders in a growing movement to redefine the intelligence and the potential of people with autism and Asberger's Syndrome.

Amanda has uploaded a video at YouTube which at first seems to show all the typical behaviors associated with severe autism-- rocking, handflapping, grunting. But then comes the translation, as Amanda "talks" about what is going on in her mind during those behaviors. Amanda is a whiz at the keyboard, uses the Internet, and thanks to innovations like type to speech software, can communicate at 120 words per minute.

Wired magazine has an article about Amanda, the history of how autism has been perceived, and the movement for understanding and acceptance of people with autism and Asberger's. As Amanda says, "We're here. We're weird. Get used to it."

A thought for parents. I know many parents of autistic children are heartbroken over not being able to communicate with their children, and worry about what will happen to their children when they are gone. But maybe if we can start seeing autism in a new way, doors will open hard to imagine right now. Stay tuned.

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