Received via email, March 21, 2008:
“I understand you’re using my book in your course this semester. May I ask how you’re using it? Colleges all over are adopting my book for a wide range of classes, and I try and see how it’s used.
If it’s a major part of a class, perhaps I could stop by and talk to your students.
John Elder Robison”
I am glad you contacted me.
How did you find out that I’m using your book?!
I like the idea of you coming to the class. I need to think about how and when. The course is “group dynamics” – we are studying ourselves going through stages of group development, which means self-reflection and interpersonal communication skills are crucial. The Aspergian way of stating the obvious (i.e., what you observe, think, and feel) is a trait that I admire and find immeasurably useful in groups who seek to understand relationships among themselves (say, within the group of students and me in this course) and between them/ourselves and others (e.g., people in other classes at UMass; people who aren’t in college; or people in college in other countries).
The first idea that comes to my mind – if this seems good to you? – is to have you read and respond to some of the public conversation that I’ve structured through the use of weblogs (I have one for teaching, and each student has created one for certain assignments). If that goes well, then you could come to the class in person…
What do you think?
“If your students have blogs on this tell me where they are and I’ll look.”
I wrote about your book for the first time today, in the blog I use for teaching. Students will probably not do their homework and respond until next Sunday or Monday, but there are many links to their work/writing so far if you want to get a sense of how things are developing: Why are you writing sideways?
A friend read the same link I sent you and said it is “thick.” I know. The links to student blogs are way at the end, when I’m writing about the various cultural terms that they analyzed. (Or you can wait until they post replies to that blogpost and then follow the links.)
Class was not well attended yesterday (first day after spring break) but half-a-dozen students had read your book completely and others were a third of the way into it. They really wanted to talk about it! Obviously they benefited and were excited. I will post some pictures from notes I wrote on the board and send you that link when it’s ready.
Your use of my book in this context is unlike any other application I’ve seen to date. And that’s interesting to me. And I do agree, the blog entry is “thick.”
I have talked to parents, people on the autism spectrum, special ed teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and many other sorts of specialists.
You, however, stand distinctly apart from all those folks.
Robison’s tendency was to answer “with whatever I had been thinking.” This is not so different, in my mind, from people who simply say the first thing that comes to mind. Neither response involves any anticipation – there is no forward-in-time quality of considering how the thing one says might lead to a certain kind of outcome, be it as mundane as a polite social interaction or as intense as a long-term relationship. And then, even within the range of possible responses that one might choose among, hoping that they might lead to the outcome you want (or at least one that you dimly perceive or otherwise don’t outright dislike), you can still get it wrong.
To me, the interesting phrase there is: Neither response involves any anticipation
To have anticipation, I think one must have a grasp of what the autism shrinks call Theory of Mind, or the recognition that other people have their own unique thoughts.
I am very focused, and very driven. In many cases, I enter into exchanges with other people with some goal in mind. That goal may be to buy, sell, learn, teach, etc. It could be almost anything. However, even though I may have such a goal clearly in mind, I may still answer with whatever I am thinking about.
For me, there may not be a clear and strong connection between the stream of words I address to a person, and my overarching goal in the ongoing interaction with that person. Yes, while that response is happening, I still retain an anticipation; an overall goal for my dealing with the person. It’s just that the actual spoken words may not take me closer to the goal; indeed, they may take me farther away.
As a child, that was a nearly insurmountable problem as I described in the book. As an articulate and mentally agile adult, it’s usually something I can recover from in the ongoing stream of conversation.
I see new twists to this stuff every day. Very interesting.