Weird or Just Different? – Reflecting on Stillman’s Autism and the God Connection

“Always presume intellect” – William Stillman

Despite my mixed feelings towards Stillman’s book, Autism and the God Connection, I’m inclined to say his main message is bountiful to share. Being a person with an Asperger’s himself, I feel even more touched and impressed by his brave decision for coming forward and clear some smokes and misunderstandings on autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Regarding spirituality and religion which are also discussed – those are separate issues and beliefs to be discussed, I suppose. There are times where I feel a bit detached reading the book but this is probably (I found out later and there was a similar experience when I read James Baldwin’s Go Tell it to the Mountain) because I’m not familiar with the bible language or bible passages.

Yet, it doesn’t stop me from admiring some of his wisdom. The above quote, in which Stillman claims to be his daily mantra, has definitely left a meaningful impact on me. The idea is basically similar to the Golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. It’s simple, treat others as you would want others to treat you. I’d probably say with respect because I’d want to be treated that way and as I believe, no matter how flawed I am as a person, I’d like to think I’m worth something as a human (dignity etcetc).

In this case, where autism and Asperger’s are discussed, Stillman believes that presuming intellect is the best way to do when it comes to people with ASD. He explained that some who have low-functioning autism, are not able to express verbally (they use other communication aids e.g. communication board). However, just because they’re not able to speak i.e. the common and ‘civilized’ way of communicating with people, this doesn’t mean – to put this in a plain way – they’re dumb.

Sure, they’re different from us ‘neurotypical’ people (In Stillman’s words: To those unfamiliar with autism, it is, from a clinical perspective, a neurological difference in how the brain is “wired.”) but apparently some people can’t stand the word ‘different’. Sigh, people. As if superiority and superiority in which is so highly regarded in a society, means everything to bully and abuse someone in order to claim for it. As if human’s worth and dignity can be totally measured by perceptions and a bunch of stereotypes.

Anyway, (before I could rant further) it seems clear for me that Stillman believes, whoever you are, one has a heart and has the right to be treated properly and justly. Presuming intellect is said to be the best way in dealing with ASD, I think, is because we shouldn’t judge that their ability that also significantly defines them, based on what is usually thought to be the normal methods of claiming someone as intelligent or able. There are other means where they can express themselves and establish themselves as a “person” and I think we tend to forget that and get sucked in the normal way of understanding and judging people.

What I’ve understood about ASD is probably limited. But I know that in the end, we’re all just human beings, no matter what ‘disorders’ and problems we have. The book is a good one to reflect important social issues and how important it is to understand that disability is often flaunted around when we come across something or someone different. I think beyond this, the above quote also lends me some advice on the outlook of life as well. It’s very much more liberating and healthier to think the best of people.


*Posted this before in FB but just thought of sharing here (plus I’m currently having similar feelings that I’ve stated/described here)

Cheers!

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A Quarter for a Change

Maybe it just wasn’t easy as I thought,
And it’s alright. At least I didn’t stop
Calling people for random purposes,
Or celebrating others’ happiness,
Just to get a feel,

A sense of wonder, thank you God
For looking beyond the embarrassment
Of those silly antics and desperations,
I do wish I’d live and not lie,
Or simply cry than smile,

After all, I was born with a word,
Not a stone, not an automaton,
Yet I choose to forget,
That art flows freely
And is also eerily wild –

A beauty without a comparison,
A diligent thought beneath the line,
A crumbled piece somewhere,
A living memory in the middle,
An unspoken word from time to time.

Oh, so much conflict behind the ears!
Dear self, please take a look
At things besides your faults,
What isn’t there is still up
For a change, maybe from here or a mile?

Reading Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

I’m currently reading Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable and I’m already thinking:

  1. This is definitely a critical work & research on Malcolm X’s life, at least more than what I’ve read. Marable isn’t afraid to point out things that are not aligned to the popular notions of Malcolm X and for that, I appreciate his immense effort and hard work of creating another insight on the amazing black nationalist leader/human rights activist.
  2. I’m also feeling reminiscent of one of my favourite books, The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told to Alex Haley. A lot of quotes are taken from the former and I just miss reading Malcolm’s story from his own mouth (and imagining his charismatic tenor voice in my head)
  3. I’m feeling a bit conflicted with the way Marable describes the possibilities of other truths, the ones that Malcolm X ‘exaggerated’ or didn’t mention. E.g. ‘almost certainly’ or ‘probably’. Do I wish for him to keep some of his thoughts and assumptions of the late Malcolm X to himself? Probably.
  4. It’s pretty difficult for me to take some of this stuff since I’ve long admired Malcolm X. I’m starting to question, is there some kind of validation that Marable wanted to find? Or am I just being defensive about this? Maybe. I’m still reading. (I have to keep reminding myself that Marable was a historian and these are not mere assumptions)
  5. Reading at the part where Malcolm finally got out of prison. Things seem to be more interesting as the last paragraph ends with ‘He would see more, would travel, and he would seize the time.’

Well, I can’t wait to read more.

Finding the Heart of Passion – Part 2

One thing that gradually occurred to me during my uni years was that, being lost was a mandatory state in every semester.

Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice that I was feeling lost. There was no specific time or place when it happened, it just did. A reasonable explanation for this, is perhaps, the weariness that was caused by the exhaustion due to the assignments (no surprise) and keeping up with the lectures/tutorials. They seemed to be consuming my energy so much that all that was left was the need to rest, eat, nap and sleep.

That could be it, but I knew I shouldn’t blame uni all the time it was more than that. It was a cycle I’d become accustomed to and it was quite a destructing one.

Some people would say the condition is similar to having a writer’s block and I don’t disagree totally. It did feel like having a mental block and a few times, I’d just stop doing what I was doing since it wasn’t doing anything except building more doubts and negative thoughts. Thirty minutes later, I found myself continuing doing what I was doing before that i.e. facing the laptop and getting on with whatever assignment I had at that time.

Strange, how the mind and body work.

Despite the complaints that I had and still have with the uni life, the schedule or the assignments, I do feel appreciative towards those times where I was feeling lost and uncertain. I’d say I started questioning things when I was in high school but the sixth-form was when I dug deeper about things and then uni officially made me a ‘deep’ person, however unflattering it sounds (since I’m the one saying it, it’s a different story if somebody else says it. And uh, you know what, never mind).

The doubts might have tortured me, because no one really likes not knowing what to do or being uncertain about the existence of life, but they helped to steer some things to a better light and made them clearer. That is, if you treat doubts as challenges or ways to understand meanings beyond words and actions in order to make sense of your life. At least, that’s how I’ve come to see and accept.

I think it was during my first year that the doubt was becoming more intense. I’d find myself in this kind of situation (extracts from one of my journals):

13/10
I don’t really listen to what the lecturer is saying and most of the time just think about other stuff and also ‘what am I doing here for?’

25/10
Feeling unsure of what is it that we’re supposed to do, asking yourself the same question, walking on the same path all over again, pacing here and there, back and forth – constant doubt.

So, constant doubt – why is it happening? How did it happen?

I suppose this happens to everyone, at some point.

And it is happening to me now.

So you can see, the big questions that had appeared during my sixth form days were entering my life again and this time, with more emphasis on the choices that I would consciously make for myself. (Hey, guess what? It wasn’t uni, it was life! Okay, glad that’s settled now)

The things that I love, the things that I hope to be, the things that I don’t need, the things that undermine and motivate me – the growing independence eventually raises these issues that I’d have to confront at some point in my life.

And it’s really hard.

The fact that I haven’t gone into specific details about those experiences probably shows this.

I can tell you for certain though, that humanities/liberal arts are the core of my interests if you’re talking about academic interests. They’re the ideal subjects that I hope would and should receive more attention especially in my country.

Sociology, Literature, Philosophy and History – taking classes for these modules is one of the best things that happened to me. Modern education does have its demerits, which I would love to talk about next time, but I think what attracts me the most from them is the knowledge that has been seeded in each of them.

Sure, some scholars or professors might have written works for other reasons than spreading ideas/theories and elevating people’s minds into understanding the society and societal issues. But the energy, the effort and the sincerity – some things you can just feel and I was entranced by this phenomenon. I suppose I was having some kind of realisation, that I want to do what those individuals that I’ve learned, studied from and about, did. To me, it would be fulfilling to do something that benefits others and myself.

The passion for learning is basically the reason why I opt to study in a university. Even if I’m not a student anymore now, I don’t think I could stop doing research and reading from trivial to crucial topics.

To tell you the truth, I’m still clueless, afraid and anxious about life: what’s going to happen and what’s going to change. What have I actually changed from 4/5 years ago then? Maybe, I’m just more relaxed and not so caught up in things and one would argue that this could be a symptom of becoming mature, I don’t know.

I’m not sure if I’m going to do a part 3, maybe. It’s so hard to write stuff about yourself and honestly, I think I’ve been all over the place. Hope there’s something good somewhere here, though.

I’ll share a quote that I find comforting in going through stuff in life which may be a bit harsh (or even unrelated to the stuff that I’ve been talking about) to some:

“These are problems [murders, terrorist acts in the name of religion and secularism etc], they’re not going to go away. Welcome to the world, welcome to planet earth” – Hamza Yusuf

I mean, who wouldn’t feel comforted knowing that there are issues/problems all around the world, solvable and unsolvable. At least I know I’m not crazy and at least I have some things I’ve grown fond in life despite the struggle to keep up with the society’s standards.

On a more optimistic note:

“To find yourself, think for yourself” – Socrates

 

Cheers!

Confessions of a self-proclaimed bookworm

“I’m quite illiterate, but I read quite a lot” – J. D. Salinger

One of the things that I learned to realize after studying in the university, is that, I am not as literate as I thought I was. It took me about a year or perhaps more (an F grade did help me to see that, ouch) to accept that fact, as painful as it might be.

Some of my concerns:

#Confession 1 – Help, I’m an illiterate bookworm

#Confession 2 – Goodbye fast reading days, I’m now a slow reader

#Confession 3 – How the heck did I ever get called a bookworm?

#Confession 4 – Dear dictionary, sorry for ignoring you for a long time

First of all, I love reading and I think it just started ever since I was taught how to read. The meaning of ‘read’ at that time simply refers to the way people can spell, pronounce and understand some words, meanings and sentences. According to the society, if you can do that, it’s enough to call you literate. The meaning of ‘read’ when I get to university, however, has a lot more weight and the gap is freaking huge. The academic level is no joke. It’s more than just a formal language, it’s critical!

Especially when you’re in the Social Sciences Faculty, where you cannot run away from tons of reading tasks and assignments. And because I like to experiment and enjoy suffering, I took English Literature, Sociology, Philosophy and lastly, my major, History courses in my uni years and I’ve tasted similar pains that led me to question my grammar and how the heck did I manage to get in uni again and again.

Some of my friends and peers did have similar experiences (thank God for that) and it was a comfort to know that I wasn’t alone in that. We’d complain every chance we got about how crazy and heavy the language of the articles was. Fortunately, some of us were quite literate and some were talented in bluffing so the class discussions went alright. Then there were not so alright moments, when the awkward silence reigned over and most of us became suddenly interested in looking at anywhere but the lecturers. Those were some fond memories.

Yet, the discussion of the issue itself never really came to light. We would talk about it, yes, but hardly ever delve into it. Frankly, I don’t blame anyone. With the daily routine, it was hard to do so. Assignments were always piling up – usually approaching the mid-semester (but sometimes even earlier) and the only thing that people were mostly worrying about was surviving, not excelling! Well, excluding a small number of people maybe, super human beings…I think.

Anyway, by my second year, I would tell myself to learn how to read properly again. I had already taken the compulsory communication skills (teaching academic skills) and didn’t realize how utterly important it was, especially for someone who wants to continue studying after degree. I’m ashamed to say, that the memorable memories I had in that class, consisted of me enjoying the cool air-conditioner and meeting my childhood buddies. I was totally guilty of treating the class as another GP class. Sigh.

After a while though, I would soon forget the task I’d put myself to do. My poor time management swayed my momentum (if there was even one) and procrastination always came in the way whenever I wanted to perform well in every class. Sorry mum. Not to say there weren’t some achievements, I did manage to finish some assignments, but I’d often feel guilty for the inconsistency that was repairable. By my fourth year, I continued to suffer and tried my best compensating the skills that I thought I should have attained even pre-university. Thankfully, I graduated and my wish of going back to basics still hasn’t disappeared and in fact, is stronger than ever.

So where did it go wrong?

Primary and secondary education didn’t help?

Were the books I’d read in my childhood weren’t that great?

Am I really illiterate and not capable enough?

And some more questions roller-coasting in my mind~

My take?

1. The role of EDUCATION

This, I believe, is the most important thing and even more so after reading Dorothy Sayer’s The Lost Tools of Learning. However, since I’m planning to review her speech-essay, I won’t go into the details too much here. One thing that I’d like to mention is one of the questions she’d so wonderfully raised:

“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?”

It’s amazing how this was in 1947 when she made that speech and can still be made so relevant today. The point she made here, as I understood it, is that we might trick ourselves into thinking that the literacy rate accurately shows how far we’ve progressed our minds, skills and abilities when in fact, many people have been easily influenced by the mainstream media. She’s suggesting that if we were better equipped e.g. with reasoning and critical thinking, we would’ve been less vulnerable and less persuaded by those ridiculous ads and implicitly negative messages in movies etc.

Brunei is one of the countries that experienced an increase in the literacy rate, it jumped from 1981 (77.83%) to 2015 (96.66%). Of course, statistics don’t always tell us anything but I do feel there’s a parallel to Sayers’ point there. A lot of us are exposed to the media, particularly social media and tech stuff. I’m one of them and I’m realizing more and more how dangerous it is that everything seems so convenient and easy these days. It’s not challenging and it’s not healthy that our source of entertainment and leisure activities do not depend much on our brain.

This is why, education is important in nourishing the kids from the early age – not by teaching them what to learn/read but how to learn/read.

More points next time, hopefully in my next post!

2. I forgot to mention that English is not our first language, so, English is not our first language but I think the problem lies with LANGUAGE itself

One of my lecturers who was not a local, had kindly pointed out that the fact that English was the overall standard language in the uni might be a disadvantage to a lot of us. It was, but not exactly the way he thinks. He thought that we were more fluent in our native language and we would have performed better if the essays were done in Malay. Well, I’m not sure about that.

The problem is that, though, the idea of being bilingual is great, a lot of us are struggling towards achieving that. Most of us who are fluent in our native language, are not necessarily fluent in the standard native language aka the formal language, especially written.

English is made the official language in most public schools and that means, most subjects are taught in the English language. That could explain how some are poor with the standard Malay language. Yet, some of still struggle to grasp the most basic English. I remember that one of my lecturers (different one) complimented how well Bruneians speak English here generally (hello to American tv shows), but he couldn’t say the same for our written English.

So here are the things that I frequently hear that we’re lacking of generally with both Malay and English: Grammar, structure, format. Efforts, definitely, yeah we need to do a lot of work.

3. To a lot of us, the university is the first & real INTELLECTUAL institution

Like I said before, there’s a huge gap between the university level and the previous education. When I first started university, one of my modules was a Philosophy course and I couldn’t forget that experience. It was probably an indirect introduction to critical thinking and reasoning (it was actually an introduction to Islamic Philosophy class) to me. I realized then that I’ve been missing a lot of prerequisites in my life!

Since Philosophy deals with rational thinking more directly than other courses that I’ve taken, it came to me how fundamental it was to have these instruments – logic, thinking skills – before getting to the big league. Even if you’re not from the Social Sciences Faculty and even if you’ve read Descartes or al-Ghazzali or every Shakespeare’s work at a young age, you’d need them not only to survive, but excel in the academic field.

I’m realizing now that I’ve been writing this stuff as if I was talking to my past self. Despite everything though, I’ve enjoyed my uni years overall. It was rough, but it was worth to know the things I couldn’t do and am capable of doing in the future.

For one thing, I really need to read more.