Social skills for autonomous people
"Blind spot" is not a disability analogy

Calling something a blind spot isn’t a disparaging reference to blindness. It’s referring to something about how sighted people’s vision works.

There are points in a sighted person’s field of vision where they’re not actually seeing things, but they think they are because their brain is filling in details. There are situations in which it is very important to be aware of this and intentionally look places where your brain is tricking you into thinking you’re already looking.

When sighted people learn to drive, they have to learn how to intentionally check blind spots in order avoid crashes. A sighted person’s brain will tell them that they’re already seeing things in those blind spots, and so they have to learn to intentionally look. 

Calling something a blind spot metaphorically is a reference to this fact about how sighted people’s vision works. It means something like “you think you’re already seeing that, but you’re not. You need to learn how to look at it directly, or you’re going to hurt people.”

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A basic problem with ABA

Content note: This post is about ABA and abuse culture within ABA. Proceed with caution.

Applied Behavior Analysis and other forms of behaviorism combine these things in a disastrous way:

  • Behavior analysts with highly idealized notions of What People Should Do and How People Learn
  • Highly developed behavior modification techniques that can be effectively used to make people do complex things at the direction of the therapist
  • Disabled people who are socially devalued to the point that behavior analysts are given free rein to modify their behavior
  • A hierarchy of behaviorists, in which lower level behaviorists have to rigidly follow the plans of those above them in the hierarchy (and take data proving that they have done so) regardless of what the person they’re doing it to communicates

This is present at the heart of ABA culture. Behavior analysts have a notion of how they’d like the world to be, and they use powerless people with disabilities as props to make the world look that way.

Some BCBAs mean well; some don’t. Most BCBAs probably believe that they are helping vulnerable people to learn in the only way possible. Some BCBAs even teach some of their students useful skills using the principles of behavior analysis. None of that solves the core problem in behaviorist culture. The combination of ideology and power is dangerous, no matter how well-meaning those who wield it are.

All behavior therapists have far, far more power to control their students than anyone should ever have. Complex effective behavior modification techniques create a dangerous level of power in themselves. In a better world, this could be moderated by a professional culture that acknowledged the danger in this power and had rigorous standards about using it in consensual ways. Behaviorist professional culture could be like that, but it isn’t.

All of them are part of a professional culture that constantly gives them the message that the level of power they have over their students is necessary and important, and that it’s the only possible way their student can be ok in any way. (They may even be getting the message that they don’t have enough power over their students, and taught to lament the fact that they don’t have enough power to be truly effective.)

It’s possible to use behaviorist principles to teach someone how to dress themself. It’s just as possible to use the same principles to teach someone that she must wear only feminine clothing or that he must never wear a skirt. And that’s an easy line to cross without even realizing it. Behaviorists have highly developed techniques for controlling behavior. They don’t have highly developed techniques for *refraining* from controlling behavior, or being ethical about *which* behavior they’re controlling. They have vaguely defined professional ethics about not hurting people, but that’s nowhere near good enough.  

This problem plays out in any number of ways. 

It’s like — a hydra. Some of the heads are things like electric shock and starvation. And other heads are taking away everything a victim loves and making them earn it back with compliance. Or training children that stimming and other forms of autistic body language are wrong. Or forcing children to enact the therapist’s stereotypes of appropriate play.

Some of the heads are much subtler. Some of them don’t have words yet. Any head of the hydra, by itself, represents a serious violation. None of them is the entire problem.

Any BCBA can cut some of those heads off the hydra, and say “Not all BCBAs are like that!”. Or “nobody uses electric shock anymore; that was in the 70s!” or “My ABA is play-based” or “I give kids frequent breaks; no 2-hour sessions of DTT here,” or “I would never extinguish stimming.”

But cutting off some of the obvious heads, or even all of the heads that self advocates have found words for, doesn’t solve the basic problems.

The hydra is still there even if all of the named heads are cut off. Cut off all of the heads anyone has found words for, and you still have the basic problem of people with extreme levels of power to modify the behavior of people with disabilities in arbitrary ways. Behaviorism will never be ok until that problem is solved.

It might be possible to be a behaviorist without being part of the hydra. If anyone’s doing it, it’s Dave Hingsburger and some of his students. But people who want to use principles of behavior therapy in a respectful (or even just non-abusive) way face a tremendous barrier to entry in the field. In order to become a BCBA high up enough in the hierarchy to write programs following your values, you have to spend a lot of hours doing entry-level behavior therapy works. That means following someone else’s program. That means doing a lot of harm to innocent people with disabilities, unless you can somehow find a supervisor who goes against the entire culture of behaviorism to treat people with disabilities as fully human.

tl;dr Behaviorism has some potentially legitimate applications, but the professional culture of behaviorism is deeply committed to abuse of power. It’s nearly impossible to be a behavior therapist without doing profoundly degrading and damaging things to people who deserve better. (And if you think you’re doing so, I’d like to hear about how you’re managing that).

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youneedacat:

poisonskin:

Template for Preferred Name/Pronouns Letter to Teachers:

thespookyprofessor:

Dear Professor [name],

My name is [Preferred name], and I will be attending your course [blank] on [days] at [time] this [term]. I am transgender and have not yet legally changed my name. On your roster is my legal name, [Legal name]. I would greatly appreciate it if you…

poisonskin said:

Yeah! I’ve used it all of last year and it went over really well. Everyone said they’ll do it and nearly all of them kept up on their word, and the ones who misgendered me still did so out of negligence to remember rather than spite. But they all used the correct name at least ^_^;

The year before that I went up to the professors in person and told them and it went off well I guess but by that point they already had my given name and pronouns in their heads so it was a bit more difficult for them to adjust, but it wasn’t anything /too/ bad. Id say if you have the option to, then use the email approach ahead of time so they have time to adjust.

youneedacat said:

How well does this work when your preferred pronouns aren’t he, she, or they?

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know. Do any of y’all?

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Template for Preferred Name/Pronouns Letter to Teachers:

cardromancer:

realsocialskills:

thespookyprofessor:

Dear Professor [name],

My name is [Preferred name], and I will be attending your course [blank] on [days] at [time] this [term]. I am transgender and have not yet legally changed my name. On your roster is my legal name, [Legal name]. I would greatly appreciate it if you refer to me as [Preferred name] and use [pronouns] when referring to me. Thank you for your understanding, and I look forward to starting your course next week.

Sincerely,

~[Preferred name]

realsocialskills said:

Have any of y’all used something like this successfully?

cardromancer said:

My university has a system through counseling services where anyone can have their preferred name told to professors for them. I forgot to utilize this before my semester started (today) so I emailed something like this to all of my professors on Saturday night. Two of them have gotten back to me saying that it’s totally fine. So I would say yes!

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poisonskin:

Template for Preferred Name/Pronouns Letter to Teachers:

thespookyprofessor:

Dear Professor [name],

My name is [Preferred name], and I will be attending your course [blank] on [days] at [time] this [term]. I am transgender and have not yet legally changed my name. On your roster is my legal name, [Legal name]. I would greatly appreciate it if you…

poisonskin said:

Yeah! I’ve used it all of last year and it went over really well. Everyone said they’ll do it and nearly all of them kept up on their word, and the ones who misgendered me still did so out of negligence to remember rather than spite. But they all used the correct name at least ^_^;

The year before that I went up to the professors in person and told them and it went off well I guess but by that point they already had my given name and pronouns in their heads so it was a bit more difficult for them to adjust, but it wasn’t anything /too/ bad. Id say if you have the option to, then use the email approach ahead of time so they have time to adjust.

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padjad replied to your post “Pregnancy is a sensitive topic”

on top of that, they might have had bad experiences with pregnancy and you could be reminding them of a bad time in their life

realsocialskills said

Yes. Or they could be struggling with infertility. They might have just had a miscarriage and desperately wish they were still pregnant.

Or they might be pregnant and planning to have an abortion, and not wanting to have to deal with other people’s judgmental attitudes towards abortion. 

Basically, if someone is pregnant and they want people to know, they will tell you.

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Template for Preferred Name/Pronouns Letter to Teachers:

thespookyprofessor:

Dear Professor [name],

My name is [Preferred name], and I will be attending your course [blank] on [days] at [time] this [term]. I am transgender and have not yet legally changed my name. On your roster is my legal name, [Legal name]. I would greatly appreciate it if you refer to me as [Preferred name] and use [pronouns] when referring to me. Thank you for your understanding, and I look forward to starting your course next week.

Sincerely,

~[Preferred name]

realsocialskills said:

Have any of y’all used something like this successfully?

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Pregnancy is a sensitive topic

It’s usually not a good idea to ask a woman if she is pregnant. (And it’s an even worse idea to ask someone who is not a woman if they are pregnant).

Partly because pregnancy is considered to be private. People who want people to know they’re pregnant usually tell people; they’re not usually waiting to be asked. Asking can put someone in the awkward position of having to either lie or tell you information they’re not ready to make public.

It’s also a question that can go badly because weight is a sensitive topic for a lot of women. Because of the way our culture puts pressure on women to be thin, the thought of looking fat is humiliating to a lot of women.

And saying “Are you pregnant?” can sound like saying “So, I’ve noticed that you’re getting fat. Is there a socially acceptable reason?”. That’s likely to feel humiliating to a woman even if she is pregnant, but especially if she is not. And that’s true even if you don’t mean it that way, and even if you’re known to be a proponent of body acceptance. 

It’s a sensitive and often painful topic. So it’s probably better not to ask.

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There is no should in development

Developmental guidelines for parents often say things like this:

"At around two years of age, a child should be able to have enough balance to jump up, with both her feet leaving the ground. She can climb a staircase holding onto the railing, using one foot at a time. She can make scribbles (straight lines) holding a pencil. She may not have a preference for either the right hand or the left hand at this age, or she may start to favor one hand over another. She can feed herself pretty well now, getting most of the food in her mouth, but she is by no means a neat or willing eater. She can stack a tower of blocks pretty high — at least eight to ten blocks."

This kind of framing is a problem, because it sets families up to see their kids with developmental disabilities or delays as flunking toddlerhood.

You can’t flunk being a toddler. There is no should in development. Kids whose development is atypical are not wrong or broken or failing. They’re doing the best they can, and they need early education to help them to acquire certain skills. 

There’s typical, and there’s atypical. There are early signs of disability, and there are indications that a child may need education or support that most children do not need.

(In particular: Kids who aren’t speaking at the age most kids do need help learning to communicate. That shouldn’t just be aimed at getting speech. The goal is communication, not looking normal. I’m not knocking early education for kids with disabilities. I’m saying not to treat them as failing.)

But there is no should. You can’t flunk being a toddler. A kid who has a disability isn’t failing. They’re just disabled.

Children who don’t hit milestones at the typical times have not failed to do what they ought to. They’re ok. Their development is ok. They are not doing anything inappropriate. They just need help and education that typically developing kids don’t need. And the point of teaching them isn’t to cause them to catch up; some kids with atypical early development look more typical later in life, but many more don’t. That’s ok too.

And part of the education they need is learning to be ok with themselves in a world that thinks of them as broken. Talking about atypical development as though it’s a failure undermines that, even if you don’t think your kid understands, even if you don’t think you’re saying it anywhere they can hear. It affects your attitude, and it affects them.

If you think that your kid is constantly failing, they will know. And it will hurt them. They are developing and learning and growing in the way that they can, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They aren’t wrong. Their body isn’t wrong. And they shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re failing before they’re even kindergarten age.

There is no should in development. Atypical is ok. Disabled is ok. Having a disability isn’t a failure.

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more on bullying

thequeergoblinking:

porcelain-horse-horselain:

realsocialskills:

fahrendengesellen:

realsocialskills:

this ask is about bullying and being an adult who kids ask for help:
i know from experience that it’s important not to teach bullied kids that the way to defend themselves is to mentally place themselves as superior to the bullies, because that can crush the kid’s self-esteem later, & can so easily turn them into someone who bullies a different kid to feel better.
but what should you say to support kids instead?
yrs, a past bullying victim, now older & trying to support kids thru the same thing
realsocialskills said:
I think, before considerations about teaching kids who come to you for help self defense, it’s important to consider what you might be able to do to protect them. You are likely in a position to offer them material protection as well as self-defense advice. This is a situation in which actions speak louder than words.
For instance:
Can you offer bullied kids a refuge?
  • If you’re a teacher in a school, can you start a lunch club or recess club where kids can eat and hang out in your classroom instead of going to the playground?
  • If neighborhood kids are coming to you for help, can you make your house or yard a safe space for them to hang out in away from bullies? 

If you’re an adult with some kind of power over kids (eg: a teacher, a youth group leader, etc), you might be able to make some things better by supervising things more:

  • Can you pay close attention to what’s going on, and intervene when the wrong kid gets suspended?
  • (You know from being bullied that the kid who gets caught often isn’t the kid who started it.
  • If you pay enough attention, you might be in a position to protect the kid who is being unjustly punished.)
  • Can you pay attention to when harassment and bullying rules are being broken, and enforce them? Rules can actually make a difference when they are enforced consistently.
  • (For instance: if there’s a rule against touching people’s stuff without permission, can you pay attention to when kids take other people’s stuff and insist that they stop?)
If the bullies are taking or destroying the kid’s possessions in a place that’s hard to supervise, can you offer them a safe place to keep it?
  • Being able to store things in a place bullies can’t get to can make a huge difference
  • For instance, a kid whose science project keeps getting destroyed by bullies can complete it if teachers give her a secure space to store it and work on it
  • A kid whose dolls keep getting destroyed by his brothers will probably be much more ok if an adult gives him a safe place to keep his dolls.
If the bullies are preventing the kids from eating:
  • Can you provide a safe place for them to eat? 
  • If bullies keep taking food away from the kids who are coming to you for help, can you give them food?
  • If kids need to break rules in order to eat safely, can you allow them to break the rules?
Has the kid been physically injured or threatened in a way the police might take seriously?
  • Sometimes the police might take things seriously even if the school does not
  • Calling the police is not always a good idea, but sometimes it is
  • If calling the police might be warranted, can you offer to sit with the kid while they call the police?
  • Or to call for them?
  • Or to go to the police station and make a report together?
  • Going to the police is a lot less scary if someone is helping you; and children are more likely to be believed if adults are backing them up
  • If they have to go to court, can you offer to go along for moral support? (It makes a difference. Testifying is often terrifying and horrible and it’s not something anyone should ever have to do without support)
What else can you do?
  • I don’t know you, so I don’t know what the kids coming to you need, or what you’re in a position to offer.
  • But there are almost certainly things you can do that I haven’t thought of
  • if you think it through, you can probably think of and do some things that materially help bullied kids.
  • Actions speak louder than words. If you help protect them, you send the message that they are worth protecting.
You can also be an adult who believes them:
  • Being believed about bullying is incredibly powerful
  • So is listening
  • Kids who are bullied often have everyone in their life try to downplay how awful it is
  • If you believe them about their experiences and listen, you send the message that it matters that others are treating them badly
  • And that it’s not their fault.
  • And that they’re ok and the bullies are mean.
There is an emotional self-defense technique that works better than the destructive one we were taught as children. It was developed by Dave Hingsburger, and he describes it in The Are Word (a book anyone working with people who are bullied for any reason need to read.)
 
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how it works, and I will probably do so again in the future. 
Have any of y’all helped out bullied kids? What have you done?

fahrendengesellen said:

I am a music teacher who works with 8- to 11-year-old children.

This isn’t a total anti-bullying strategy, but I have found that it’s important, when you are talking to children about a particular instance of bullying, to talk to to the bully and the child who is being bullied separately from each other. Many of the adults at my school make a practice of talking to both children involved together and treating bullying like a disagreement that needs to be mediated. I think this harms the bullying victim in a couple different ways:

  • The bullying victim is unlikely to be as open with you when the bully is there because they are afraid of them. There might be facts about what is happening that will never come out unless you give the child who is being bullied a safe and private place to share them.
  • It sends the message (whether or not you intend this) that bullying is like a two-sided argument, rather than a directed form of deliberate harm. This emboldens the bully to think that what they are doing might have some legitimacy, and takes power out of the victim’s complaint.

realsocialskills said:

Oh wow, yes. This is *really* important. Mediation is not a solution to bullying.  

porcelain-horse-horselain said:

Ages 6-9, I was bullied relentlessly. The school was always like “just tell an adult! they’ll make it better! there are rules against all that!” but they would never enforce the rules, and mediation was always their version of a solution.

Mediation basically worked like this: I would go to a teacher for a “solution” as I was told to do, the adult’s solution for my safety was always to then (no matter how much I begged them not to) bring the group of bullies into the room with me, out-number me with them, and tell them all word-for-word what I told the adult. Then the mean kids would put on their super convincing “nooo it was just a big misunderstanding!!!” charade, and the adult would fall for it, and then (best case scenario) they’d be like “see? it was a misunderstanding!! now run and go play.” or (worst case) they would assume that, since my story differed and was “more negative” than the bullies’ versions of events, that I was a liar, and tell me off for “lying.”

Then my parents pulled me out of that tiny shitty school and put me into an equally tiny school with an even smaller budget, fewer adults, and roughly the same written rules on bullying… but the difference was that the adults actually knew what they were doing. 

They would SUPERVISE the kids and ENFORCE the rules against bullying when it happened, rather than just waiting in an office until a bunch of kids came to them crying followed by making a half-assed attempt to make the situation go away. 

That second school was the best middle school I have ever heard of. They took such an amazingly pro-active stance against the epidemic bullying rather than treating it like some marginal, pesky issue that they don’t feel like being distracted by.

thequeergoblinking said:

Never ever ask a kid to explain what happens to them when the bullies are around. Because all you’ll do is make the bullies want revenge. They did this with me in early high school, in front of the entire class. It’s scary, and could even lead to some kids pretending they aren’t bullied just to not make things worse for themselves.

Make sure that if you’re a teacher or a parent or any authority figure, that kids KNOW they can talk to you about it. That you’ll listen and try to help them as best as you can - and then also come back to them with whatever you did or try to do. My parents didn’t tell me they tried to talk to my bullies’ parents, and I always wondered why they didn’t do anything until I heard it yeeaars later. Even if nothing changes, the victim needs to know you’re on their side. And they need to know you have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, because otherwise they might just not tell you.

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