This isn’t even missing the forest for the trees.

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I’m listening to an autism lecture (live, through the computer) at the moment by a prominent autism “expert”. She’s going on about buzz-phrases like Executive Function, Theory of Mind, Detail Focus, Central Coherence, etc. None of the things fit together and they’re all sort of disjointed.

The person who’s helping me listen to this lecture asked me whether I was accusing this woman of not seeing the forest for the trees.

My response was, no, she’s not even seeing the trees.

She’s taking a clump of forest indiscriminately: Part of an oak branch, a pine tree split down the middle, a quarter of a snail, some dirt, a sliver of rock, the bottom half of a wildflower, and a few blades of grass.

Then she’s calling that a tree.

And she’s making a theory around it and a little buzzphrase.

Then she goes and mutilates another section of forest and calls that a tree.

She’s not missing the forest for the trees, she’s missing the forest and the trees for random clumps of objects that she can’t tell the difference between them and trees. And I’ve found that this is what passes for expertise in autism: Memorizing loads of data about random clumps of partial bits of torn-off attributes that have theories built clumsily around them. This is not the same as understanding anything.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

16 responses »

  1. That’s the trouble with wrongful assumptions and buzzwords, people get caught up in them. Impairment in imangination is another buzz phrase that should be wheeled out and shot, in my humble opinion.

  2. There was a New Yorker cartoon about a guy talking to his dog. He was saying all kinds of things, but what the dog heard was, “Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah”. I find this is how a lot of people “listen”. What can I use here, is what they think, and the rest they discard. When they try to pass on this “knowledge” they’ve acquired, all that comes out is blah blah blah blah blah.

  3. you have just given a very good description of what undergrad pysch felt like to me, no story, just a random jumble of facts and presented it as Theory

  4. That’s a Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson Bev :). It’s called “What we say to Dogs” and “What Dog’s Hear”, or something very similar.

  5. bullet, i respectfully disagree about getting rid of the phrase “impairment in imagination”.

    this impairment is rampant…

    among all those people who say “real autistics can’t do… [thing some/many/most auties can do]” and “[person] can’t be autistic because… [insert stereotype]”, and “[person] does [misunderstood action] because of [inaccurate reason]”,… etc.

  6. I think I will *never* forget the imagery of the bottom half of a wildflower and a quarter of a snail!

    When first started learning about autism I tended to grab one or another buzzword, especially if it fit my characteristics, but I never seemed to end up with a whole person. I was a collection of buzzwords, perhaps. And for many things, there was no “expert” buzzword, but some words that seem to be used among people who are talking online, such as “inertia,” which I do find to be a useful concept, or “shutdown”. After a year, I am learning that I need to focus on the entire person/forest/spectrum.

    Oh. I have been wondering lately… Is SPECTRUM a word that is really useful at all? Besides the personal problem of it always also making me think of the word speculum :), just WHAT does it mean to be “on” a “spectrum”? Is spectrum just another expert buzzword? DEFINE spectrum (not directed to Amanda or anyone to define, just a rhetorical question).

  7. I would (define spectrum) but not in the way others do, to me it is a pallete of colours from which a tone is mixed.

    And I do speculate in retrospect that if the pallete were made of wood from a tree which fell in a forest when there was no-one there what then?

  8. “Everybody wants to be a physicist.” Reductionism, Theory of Everything: what the single, common, & already existing human concept that explains It All is. And the sort of slang and intellectual fashion and poseury^1,2 rampant in academia (not that I work in academia, BTW), which passes for thought or worse, an honest (ego-less) search for truth. As a grade school teacher of mine once said, “the human ego always mucks things up.”^2

    I’m no mind reader (too…many…jokes…), but it seems common for people to get their ego (social status?) entwined with their work. So, if they’re work is as an expert, and they find out they’re wrong… well, an emperor may not want want to know he has no clothes. Especially if he’s already started parading before an audience proclaiming his exptertness. Like someone giving a speech, knowing his shirt tail is sticking out his fly, but not fixing it, rrationally hoping noone will notice; cutting the audience Q&A microphone whenever someone begins to point it out.

    And for clarity, I think this goes for any kind of people, it’s just that some are going to be more likely to see it if it’s someone is saying their describing that person’s 1st hand experience and they’re wrong. IOW, there are autistic as well as NT ‘experts’ I disagree with. But I cannot help but notice that the autistics who are ‘recognized’ (in the large ASA, NAS kind of ways, and others) have been allowed to be such — those that don’t fit the mold (say the right things, or have the right acoutraments)^4 don’t get allowed. …All that begging the point of needing to be allowed being a lot of BS.

    ^1 Alan Sokal, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_Affair^3
    ^2 http://dev.null.org/dadaengine/^3
    ^3 Footnotes added for academic impressivity^5
    ^4 fancy letters after their name (I’ve been close enough to that to
    know it has
    ^5 Just because recursion is fun.

  9. “Everybody wants to be a physicist.” Reductionism, Theory of Everything; a single, common, & already existing human concept that Explains It All. And the sort of slang and intellectual fashion and poseury^1,3 rampant in academia (not that I work in academia, BTW), which passes for thought, or worse, an honest (ego-less) search for truth. As an Anthropology professor I had once said, “the human ego will always muck things up.”^2

    I’m no mind-reader (too…many…jokes…), but it seems common for people to get their ego (social status?) entwined with their work. So, if they’re work is as an expert, and they find out they’re wrong… well, an emperor may well not want to know he has no clothes on. Especially if he’s already started parading before the people proclaiming his expertness. –Like someone giving a speech, knowing his shirt tail is sticking out his fly, but not fixing it in an irrational attempt to change reality by deflecting all criticism of the wished-for reality which isn’t true.

    For clarity, I think this goes for any kind of people, it’s just that some are going to be more likely to see it if it’s someone saying they’re describing that person’s 1st hand experience and they’re wrong. That is, there are autistic as well as NT ‘experts’ I disagree with. But I cannot help but notice that the few autistics who are ‘recognized’ have been allowed to be such — those that don’t fit the proper mold (say the right things, or have the right acoutraments^5, etc.) don’t get allowed^6. …All that begging the point of needing to be allowed differently from any ‘expert’ or other human being is a lot of BS.

    Escaped slaves barred from engaging in discussions about Abolition.

    ^1 Alan Sokal^3, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_Affair
    ^2 See Postmodern Generator at:
    http://herbert.the-little-red-haired-girl.org/en/dada/index.html
    ^3 Footnote added for academic impressivity^4
    ^4 Recursion is fun.
    ^5 fancy letters after their name; I’ve seen a bit of what it is to get those fancy letters to know it has as much, if not more, to do with money, time, & life circumstances than anything else. Intellect? Can’t hurt, but lots of people meet that requirement.
    ^6 or considered equally human

  10. Sokal is just a more recent version of Dr Johnsons toe, the one which refuted my favourite Bishop when he kicked a stone, if you want to look it up. All Dr Johnson, a neurodiverse individual with probable tourettes (why is it that tourettes is never as convincingly neurodiverse as autism?) got from that was a sore toe.

    Incidentally Johnsons doctorate was an honorary one for in his youth he could not afford to graduate. It was awarded because of his life long literary efforts in the cause of spelling words in a way that is held to be incorrect by todays new fangled pedants.

    Of course Derrida must have the last laugh as this cartoon illustrates
    http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/elljwp/cartoon.htm

    Well Ben Franklin another honorary doctor had his own ideas about that as well. Put Franklin and Johnson in a ring together and then the sparks would fly, never mind whether the flys were undone.

  11. laurentius-rex,

    I am still working to understand all you wrote, but if I sound like I’m trying to elevate scientists or over anyone else’s thinking, I’ve worded (or omitted words from) my post badly.

    If someone studying electrons assumes that they’re all act in identical ways, it tends to work out, because (ok, I know this is circular…) they really do seem to be that way. But that kind of thinking in the wrong context can be disasteraous, i.e. “all autistics lack a theory of mind.” Super wrong tool for trying to understand the subject. But since that tool has a mystique associated with it (to enough people, anyway), the theories it generates gets oohs & aahs and real recognition for having the ring of “fancy-academic-fru-fru-
    -sounds-like-something-Einstein-would’ve-said-
    -so-it-must-be-true” to it.

    I just don’t like the truth — or more to the point, understanding — determined by mystique. I don’t like that some autism ‘experts’ seem to be doing that.

    As for Berkeley, Johnson, stones, toes, and Science, (not sure I’m not mistaken about your stance, though): is science not mostly about humans finding out that their conceptualization of the Natural World was wrong (for lack of better word)? And do those conceptualizations mean anything outside of human minds? It’s all in our heads, IMO.

    As an aside: I once met a mathematician who believed that numbers existed independently from humans.

    I have to admit, though, that I find most Philosophical writings incomprehensible. So maybe I don’t really understand the Bishop at all.

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