I've just read an interesting piece by Dr. Thomas Armstrong, a former special education teacher and now, I believe a clinical psychologist, endorsing the neurodiversity model as a solution to the problems of special education students. Dr. Armstrong a couple years ago or so, wrote a book about neurodiversity. I've written a take on Dr. Armstrong's book in a previous post.
Journalist Steve Silberman, whom I'm now following on twitter, was nice enough to give this article a shout out. Mr. Silberman, for the past few years, has been writing another book about neurodiversity which I'm waiting to read with bated breath. Originally publication was slated for 2013, but I guess Silberman wants to take his time to write the book or for some other reason, the publication date has been moved up to 2014 :(.
Dr. Armstrong seems to believe that the deficit model of special education does not help students. He takes umbrage at terms like "moron", "learning disability", etc. Though the word moron's meaning has changed in recent years to insult people, at one time it was a classification for persons with severe retardation which was a non-offensive part of nomenclature.
He talks of a variety of studies that he intimates would help special ed students such as Baron-Cohen's work with extremely high functioning persons with autism. Yet in the same vein, uses classifications of persons with serious mental retardation. He cites work showing creativity in persons with bipolar disorders as well.
Armstrong seems long on superficial general examples but rather short on specific suggestions on how this can help educate special education students or the benefits they can accrue from taking this approach. In his article, he does not cite a single example of a student who has benefited from this approach or how they were benefited.
Dr. Armstrong, unlike Ari Ne'eman, seems to acknowledge that those with a neurodiversity perspective do not seem to think of autism as a disability he writes:
The concept is neurodiversity. The term, which was coined by
Australian autism-activist Judy Singer and American journalist Harvey
Blume in the late 1990s, suggests that what we've called in the past
"disabilities" ought to be described instead as "differences" or
"diversities." Proponents of neurodiversity encourage us to apply the
same attitudes that we have about biodiversity and cultural diversity to
an understanding of how different brains are wired.
I must commend Dr. Armstrong for his honesty in telling us what neurodiversity really means, rather than the usual strawman arguments I hear that because I don't like neurodiversity that I'm opposed to human rights for disabled or "differently abled" persons.
I tweeted back to Silberman that I doubted that he or Dr. Armstrong had ever spent a day of their lives as special ed students, as opposed to the eight years of my life which I was in private special ed schools in the pre IDEA days. Though I realize Dr. Armstrong at one time was a special ed teacher (rather than a journalist like Silberman), I still question how much he really knows about the perspective of the special ed students.
I'm still waiting for Dr. Armstrong to give a specific example of a person who was helped by his approach. He failed to do so in his book. I wrote a pretty extensive comment on his book not long after it was published that I linked to above and the interested reader can check that out. I was disappointed that Dr. Armstrong still fails to do so in this article.
Again, I take umbrage to Armstrong's comparison of peta lillys or people from Holland not living at a high altitude and comparing this with the struggles that those of us with disabilities have to go through every day.
He unfortunately mentions Ari Ne'eman in his article. Though Ne'eman was not as honest as he was when he denied that he had ever stated that autism was a disability and then tried to cover up his belief when I provided documentation to the contrary on this blog.
I also wonder about Silberman's point of view as he told me when I first wrote to him about his planned book that he did not plan to trivialize the devastation that autism causes to some. This would seem evidence to the contrary.
I guess I'll just have to be patient until Silberman publishes his book, so I can give my take on autism's gadfly, which I'm still anticipating.
Addendum: Silberman has now blocked me on twitter, just for politely disagreeing with him and judging his and Dr. Armstrong's ability to assess the needs of special education students because they themselves were never special ed students. Someone else on twitter called my account there a "troll account". Yet more examples of how much neurodiversity loves to dish it out, but can't even take the most polite criticism.