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Monday, August 15, 2011

Cured of Being

Yesterday afternoon, a part of my life which I thought I'd fixed began to malfunction again. Our church was having a get together at someone's house, and I'd just finished a hotdog and bowl of extremely mild chilly. I was relaxing in an exceedingly comfortable chair - the perfect end to a great weekend. Then this man came over to me to announce to everyone within earshot (including our potential future pastors) that while I wanted to see, I believed being autistic was okay. He began to explain that God wants us all to be whole people, without any illness or infirmity in our brains or bodies. He then suggested that asking God for eyesight and then telling Him I did not want anything else healed was a bad thing. He might have said that it would harm my relationship with God, but I don't remember for sure. We got into a discussion where I could not get any of my logical points across and our words kept overlapping each other. I ended the discussion by telling him to leave it up to God and agreeing to email him something I'd written on this subject a couple of months earlier. He will probably misinterpret it.
Thankfully, a few minutes later I was across the room (in a not so comfortable chair) with The Engineer, who was intent on establishing a conection between a bluetooth headset and my netbook.

I do not have the words to explain why the suggestion of a cure affects me the way it does. More than a year ago, I read a book called The Speed of Dark. An excellent book review posted by the Quixotic Autistic can be found here.
In her review, Leah Jane writes:

"Immediately after finishing The Speed of Dark, I was forced to sit down in a quiet corner for a few minutes and cry, shivering and trying to bring myself "back to planet earth" so to speak. That's how upset I was, as an autistic person, by Lou, the protagonist, meeting such a fate. There are very few adult autistic protagonists out there for me to relate to. The one I have been most strongly influenced by is Lisbeth Salander, of the Millennium Trilogy. Lou Arrendale, of The Speed of Dark, had great promise as another one that I could relate to. But, by the end of the novel, he is no longer Lou as I knew him in the rest of the novel. He had completely transformed into an unrecognisable neurotypical, because he had elected to have a new treatment which made him "normal", in the words of the book."

I still remember feeling sick after reading the book and telling myself aloud, over and over, "It's not real." My brain was temporarily reduced to a quivering, misfiring mass. I would not react in this way if Lou had simply died, but something much worse had happened. Unlike the book, yesterday's talk of a "cure" was aimed at me personally. This man sought to draw a comparison between a pair of eyes which do not function at all and a brain and nervous system which function correctly, but differently from his own. He categorized the thing I hate, a scourge I use all my technology and brains to fight against, as being similar to the thing I am - an autistic person. I was not diagnosed until I was 22. Before I was Aspie or autistic I just was. I still am. If you cure a person who is, you end up with a person who is not. That is not the same as being "afraid of losing your uniqueness," as he so put it. For most of the remainder of the party, I retreated further into the other room - a mental place where others seem distant, but I can still interact with them. Many signals were being fired as a result of hearing and meditating on those words. It felt as though something sharp and deadly were being forced up under my rib cage near the left side. I wanted to cry but couldn't. From my distant vantage point, I knew that no one was likely to have any idea of the hurt I was feeling. It was almost time to go. My second mom approached and said to me, "I don't know why I'm telling you this, but I love you. Call if you need anything."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A New Season



I completed this seemingly endless semester achieving my goal of an A in physics and feeling physically and mentally exhausted. For about a week I have not wanted to study or, God forbid, worry about which section of Vogsphere's paperwork labyrinth my request for a Braille pre-calculus textbook might be stuck in at the moment. Instead I have been reading and playing a demonstration of the first accessible flight simulation game.
Three-D Velocity

Once satisfied that I could shoot down other aircraft and land without crashing, I moved on to something else. The picture you see was written inside a Java program which makes use of a graphics library by Richard Baldwin to output an SVG (scalable vector graphics) file. His description of the process - one of the modules of his online book on accessible physics for blind students can be found
here.
What's unique about this simple drawing is that I created it without seeing or touching it. Many blind people would probably be able to scratch out something similar on a tactile drawing pad, but I neither have one of these nor the equipment/software needed to emboss an SVG file. Instead, each time I made a change I converted to JPG and sonified using the vOICe learning edition.

A leaf pattern is the first test drawing that came to mind because plants seem to be surrounding me. They are all around my apartment complex, at the grocery store, and almost everywhere else both in and outdoors. On the short bus, it seems to be the plants which stand out in my mind and inform me that I am approaching school. The typical landmarks sightlings might use such as nearby buildings are less likely to get my attention than these patterns which can sometimes seem to repeat hundreds of times in one frame. Unless they smelled nice, I was never very interested in them before the glasses. Back then I probably would have guessed that my first drawing would be of a homework assignment or some electronic gadget, but stacks of familiar machines or branches of vector diagrams are not lining my way to remind me that there is natural order in the world. To draw an entire plant requires use of the 3D illusion and will have to wait until I am fluent enough to convey it. In the future, as the drawing interface becomes easier to use and I improve, I will draw and post pieces of my experience. Right now, though, I am remembering that the last time I flew something like an F16 I was shot down by a battleship. The deranged scientist then demanded that our airforce surrender unconditionally to prevent his worldwide release of genetically engineered clone soldiers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When is a Vogon not a Vogon?

Today at school, I took a trip to the Office for the Segregation of the Disabled (OSD) and was pleasantly surprised. The OSD is a place where specially qualified students go to avail themselves of services not typically provided in unsegregated classrooms. It is often run by
Vogons,
making navigation of this system difficult for an
Aspie
such as myself. As a child, and even into my 20s, people could/still can be a source of unordered background noise and could potentially cause any number of unpredictable things to happen to me at almost any time. Fortunately there exist mentors such as the Neandertodd - a maverick whose special interest is physical fitness and who works both within and outside of the OSD. Today I was able to demonstrate the skill of manipulating the system - one which he has been teaching me over the past couple of years.

First, I had the Neandertodd check to make sure Vogon#1 (the manager) was in her office. I then walked into the main part of the OSD and asked the lady at the front desk to allow me to speak with Vogon#1. For some time I have suspected this lady behind the front desk to actually be an animated speech-recognition program with set responses such as "I'm sorry, I can't help you," and "I'm sorry, today is not walk-in day." My request triggered the second of those responses. After all of the Neandertodd's examples and verbal instruction for getting what I wanted within this system, I knew what to do. I must not talk in a loud, demanding voice, or my loudness would activate the subroutine which would cause her to tell me to leave. Instead I engaged her in a loop which caused her to answer many similarly worded questions until Vogon#1, who was not busy, heard me and guided me back to her office. She then told me the great news - I may soon have all the Brailled math books necessary to complete through calculus 3. She is the same one who told me in the past that I should be greatful for all the things the office was doing for me, that other blind students didn't need their math Brailled, and that, due to my "other disability," I'd convinced myself that having my math books in Braille was the only thing that would work. Now, sitting at her desk, a stack of one or two books and some papers visible on my left and a toy vehicle to fiddle with on my right, I listened as she emailed someone who could purchase my book. We parted with the agreement that she would give me an update on the math situation on Thursday.

I left feeling calm, but I am beginning to wonder why Vogon#1 is not acting like her namesake. In the past, she has withdrawn me from math courses rather than provide me with Braille. She once threatened to take my learning assistant away if I did not participate in a class for which I had no book and no way to make sense of lectures taught from the blackboard. Now, instead of quoting meaningless jargon, she is agreeing with everything I say. Why? Is it because I've followed the rules? The neandertodd suggested that it might have something to do with our new school president who wishes to prove himself by upholding policies. Still, after years of experience, I was expecting the usual battle and wonder if I've failed to predict something. I will wait and watch this situation very closely.