Being Obviously Wrong About Autism

I’m watching a Louis Theroux documentary about Autism (here’s the link to the BBC web site [1]). The main thing that strikes me so far (after watching 7.5 minutes of it) is the bad design of the DLC-Warren school for Autistic kids in New Jersey [2].

A significant portion of people on the Autism Spectrum have problems with noisy environments, whether most Autistic people have problems with noise depends on what degree of discomfort is considered a problem. But I think it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of kids on the Autism Spectrum will behave better in a quiet environment. So any environment that is noisy will cause more difficult behavior in most Autistic kids and the kids who don’t have problems with the noise will have problems with the way the other kids act. Any environment that is more prone to noise pollution than is strictly necessary is hostile to most people on the Autism Spectrum and all groups of Autistic people.

The school that is featured in the start of the documentary is obviously wrong in this regard. For starters I haven’t seen any carpet anywhere. Carpeted floors are slightly more expensive than lino but the cost isn’t significant in terms of the cost of running a special school (such schools are expensive by private-school standards). But carpet makes a significant difference to ambient noise.

Most of the footage from that school included obvious echos even though they had an opportunity to film when there was the least disruption – presumably noise pollution would be a lot worse when a class finished.

It’s not difficult to install carpet in all indoor areas in a school. It’s also not difficult to install rubber floors in all outdoor areas in a school (it seems that most schools are doing this already in play areas for safety reasons). For a small amount of money spent on installing and maintaining noise absorbing floor surfaces the school could achieve better educational results. The next step would be to install noise absorbing ceiling tiles and wallpaper, that might be a little more expensive to install but it would be cheap to maintain.

I think that the hallways in a school for Autistic kids should be as quiet as the lobby of a 5 star hotel. I don’t believe that there is any technical difficulty in achieving that goal, making a school look as good as an expensive hotel would be expensive but giving it the same acoustic properties wouldn’t be difficult or expensive.

How do people even manage to be so wrong about such things? Do they never seek any advice from any adult on the Autism Spectrum about how to run their school? Do they avoid doing any of the most basic Google searches for how to create a good environment for Autistic people? Do they just not care at all and create an environment that looks good to NTs? If they are just trying to impress NTs then why don’t they have enough pride to care that people like me will know how bad they are? These aren’t just rhetorical questions, I’d like to know what’s wrong with those people that makes them do their jobs in such an amazingly bad way.

5 comments to Being Obviously Wrong About Autism

  • rewindustry

    hello, just wanted to comment that this sort of thing seems an epidemic in north america, and when you try to point out the errors, they get all shirty and offended, like you’re not supposed to spoil their day, just let them go on feeling good about themselves..

    recently i had to give a stool sample, and i wound up in the brand new purpose built medical clinic, not very near where i live in western canada, which my local government recently paid to have built.

    i hope you know what a “pan” is, where toilets are concerned? suffice to say it makes collecting stool samples almost easy. no such luck – no pan equipped facilities in our brand new medical clinic, no pan equipped facilities to be found anywhere, in fact.

    they suggested i try the hospital, about thirty miles away.

    guess what?

    the hospital cost a quarter of a million to build, paid for completely (i believe) by public fund raising, but when it comes to collecting a stool sample, you are completely on your own.

    but then, this is north america, the land where you make stairs by cutting eight inch notches into a twelve inch board..

    best wishes, don’t fall in, thank you for all you do.

  • It seems to me that most failures of organisations that are designed to care about other people are due to the people running it making their own feelings the priority and then taking the simplest way of fixing their feelings. That means silencing anyone who complains instead of listening and addressing the complaints.

  • A Reader

    In all my years of trying to advocate for my children, I have encountered countless individuals in professional occupations that have absolutely no clue about ASCondition/Asperger’s. This includes those who advertise their services specifically ‘for ASD’ such as psychologists (“lock him in a room to stop him screaming, even if it takes all day for him to stop”), speech pathologists, occupational therapists (“hold him tight until he stops kicking and screaming, autistic kids like tight hugs”– umm, NO). I have found a few great professionals and they’re great because they have personal experience of knowing what it’s like to be on the spectrum, or have children/other family on the spectrum AND they have seen how badly kids and adults on the spectrum are treated. And that it’s largely the attitudes of the NTs that need to change, not making the ASC kids emulate NTs just so NTs can be comfortable.

    Why do so many NTs insist that giving an ASC or ADD/ADHD child a squeezy ball or fiddle toy will suddenly stop them from stressing out in challenging environments? Like telling a woman with severe hyperemesis to drink ginger beer and eat dry crackers…

    A friend worked in one of the ‘best’ schools for autistic kids in my state. The stories she told me about the conduct of some colleagues were outright abuse. But these NTs think they their way is the best way. Like they can ‘cure’ autism through the tough love bootcamp approach, something two ‘school for difficult children’ schools in my city loudly and proudly proclaim (much to the horror of the decent autism specific psychologists and teachers).

    I have attended presentations given by big names in the field of autism. I can tell you that I have asked some if they ever speak to adults on the spectrum to ask for their thoughts because as an adult on the spectrum I disagree with something they have said and find their advice potentially damaging. No, they don’t seem to seek out opinions of adults on the spectrum. Why? Because they know best, their thinking is not ‘dysfunctional’.

    Getting off track here I know, but I hate attending ASD presentations where the NT speakers use those hilaaariously funny anecdotes about ‘those quirky kids’ to get some cheap laughs. It’s patronising that things we can struggle with are made in to a joke with faux fond shaking ‘those dear whacky little Aspies!’ of the head with accompanying ‘those dear little Aspies’ chuckle. I went to one presentation where most people in the audience would laugh (most of the audience were professionals working in the area of ASD). The people that were not laughing were the parents, some on the spectrum themselves.

    NTs need to stop patting themselves on the back so much, for their good looking schools, ‘cream of the crop’ (direct quote from the head of that abusive school I mention) staff and tough love interventions (which are pretty much abuse), when it comes to those of us on the autism spectrum.

  • someone

    While I cannot and don’t want to speak for that school I wonder if perhaps other motives come into play. Carpets for one are rather famous for causing asthma/allergy attacks in people with e.g. dust allergies. I don’t know if perhaps it there’s an aspect of weighing different forms of discomfort and picking the least bad one?

    In general I tend to agree though that many companies and organizations nowadays appear to make shortcuts and cut corners, usually in the name of “saving cost”, to the point where it hurts their customers (and in the long term their own goals – but long-term thinking never happens). The current fetish for “monotonous economic growth” is extremely dangerous since mathematically impossible since resources are limited.

  • A Reader: I’m about to write another blog post about that documentary which covers such things.

    someone: I had asthma when I was young and I still have allergies to pollen in spring/summer. I don’t have a problem with carpets, the best thing I’ve found in terms of environment is to get HEPA air filters. I own 4 such filters and on bad days have all of them running in my home.

    I don’t think that asthma and allergies are any more common in ASD kids than in the general population who seem to deal with carpets quite well.