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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

April 4th, 2006 (01:25 pm)
thoughtful

current mood: thoughtful

This is really interesting. Scientists have developed an "emotional/social intelligence prosthetic device", primarily for use by people with autistic-spectrum disorders, that will sense and interpret the reactions of anyone with whom the autistic person converses and that vibrates if that person is showing signs of boredom or annoyance.

It's a tricky little thing, because it sounds pretty good on the surface, but when you look at it a little closer, it starts to sound not so good at all.

Here's the deal. I think anyone who knows someone with a serious autistic disorder, like severe Asperger's, for example, would be able to see the use of such a device right off. There's a kid I used to know back when I went to Catholic church, he was an Asperger's kid. He really, truly could not sense a single smidgen of social nuance. At all. Like many people with Asperger's, he had a tendency to hyperfocus on specific fields of interest - his were history, video games, and vintage comic books, I believe - and for him, the disorder was severe enough that he really couldn't tell that not everyone was as fascinated by this as he was. He'd elbow into any conversation that related at all to any of those subjects, no matter how tangentially, and he'd be off and running, barely pausing for breath. His mother, if she caught him at it, would literally clap her hand over his mouth and hold it there until he'd stopped speaking. He was a teenager at the time.

This kid, not to put too fine a point on it, drove people crazy. I always hated myself whenever I wound up interacting with him, because I didn't want to be so annoyed by him, I knew he couldn't help it, and yet I have my own social interaction issues that made the experience nightmarish for me. It can be really alarming, especially to someone as uneasy in social situations as I am, to feel like *nothing* will get you out of a conversation except something just as blunt as a mid-sentence interruption of "I need to leave now. Bye!"

And yet I've been on both sides of those conversations. I've been the one pigeonholed and crawling out of my skin, sure. But I've also been the autistic one. I have a form of Asperger's myself, nothing as severe as the kid I described above, but severe enough that I've had to learn, slowly and painfully, virtually all of the nuances of social interaction. I was the kid who always stood too close and talked too loud, I was the girl who couldn't understand that not everyone was as fascinated with what she was thinking right that second as she was. And you know what? It's *hard*. I think sometimes there's a perception that because autistic kids don't know they're annoying people, they also don't really care. Not so, my friends. I can think of few experiences more painful than the horrible, sinking-stomach letdown when you catch on, too late, to that glazed look in someone's eye and you realize you've done it again. You've been babbling, talking too loud and too much. You're being annoying and they're judging you for it. You've Done Something Wrong. And the thing about it is that the whole rest of the world *knows* what you've done wrong, and you don't. You don't have the faintest idea what it is that you said or did. Was it that your voice was notched too high? Or did you give too many details about the book you were reading? Maybe you used too many big words, were you being pretentious? Or maybe it was something else entirely, maybe you were picking your nose without realizing it or shifting from foot to foot in a way that was distracting. You don't have a clue. When I was a kid I used to tell my mother that it was like the whole world had been issued a rulebook at birth, but I hadn't gotten my copy. Everyone knew the rules except for me. And the world judges you harshly when you don't have those rules. Even when you're a kid, it judges you.

And that, in the end, is what bothers me so much about that device. It doesn't seem to think any farther than stopping the autistic person from annoying whomever they're speaking to. In other words, it's all about the "normal" person in the conversation. There's the assumption that the autistic person doesn't want to annoy the normal person, and of course they don't, but without information on what exactly it is that they're doing that's annoying, the vibrations are less than useless. They're hurtful. They say to you, "You're doing it again. You're being a pain in the ass. You're so annoying. Shut up." And that's great for the other person in the conversation, because they get to flash a grateful smile and walk away. But think of where that leaves the autistic person. I know where it would leave me. I'd be crushed. If you think I'm being melodramatic, you underestimate how many times it's happened to me and just how shitty it makes me feel. Really. It's crushing, to feel like you're the one who's out of step and pissing people off. Social education and coaching is one thing; it takes you out of that painful situation and puts you in a nonjudgmental (hopefully) arena where they teach you how to do it right when it matters. But a device that vibrates when you've pissed someone off? That doesn't give you any information on what you've done, except that you've done it again? That, in my book, is not cool.

Comments

Posted by: Spencer Irving (archaica)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)

Yeah, you? You're smart. Not just SMRT. Smart.

That's exactly what I think (well, without the being-autistic-or-whatever-myself part)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)

Aww, thanks.

Posted by: Rebecca (theniwokesoftly)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:01 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that's hard. I do that sometimes as well- it's not attributed to any actual disorder- I'm just socially inept. (Well, I will be tested for learning disorders again in May, and the ADHD does contribute some, but mostly it's that I don't pay enough attention.) I agree with you- Yeah, it works for the 'normal' person in the conversation, but it's really difficult if you don't know what the fuck you're doing wrong. The girl who lives across the hall from me has Asperger's. She's really sweet, but she does stand too close, tlak to loud, and talk about things and sometimes I have no idea what it is. (She also walks up and down the hall snapping her fingers and drumming on door frames- nto loudly, but every so often she'll hit my wall just as I'm about to fall asleep and I jump out of my skin because my bed is adjacent to the wall next to the door. And she plays with the phones and the pencil sharpener, always in order whenever she goes into the hall, so I suspect she might be OCD as well.)

Posted by: halfacricket (halfacricket)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC)
best gf

I love you so much. I'm not sure why, but this post just makes me want to give you a great big hug. I guess maybe it's because I find you to be so fascinating and warm and funny and genuine, and I know you don't always think of yourself that way. The world has convinced you that you are annoying and obtrusive, when, to me, the opposite is true. I don't want to push you away. I want to pull you close and hold you tight. ::hug::

Also, yes, I stole your icon. 'Cause, really, it should belong to me. ;)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:17 pm (UTC)
best girlfriend

OH NO IT SHOULD NOT YOU MADE MY ICON A LIAR.

Ummmmmm...

::HUGGLEGLOMP::

Posted by: Truculent Charmer (bias_cut)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:17 pm (UTC)
ponder

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I don't know a whole lot about what folks who have autism or Asperger's go through, so it means a lot that you shared this with me/us.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)

Awww, thanks for the thank you! It does matter to me that people listen in the hopes of understanding when I talk about this stuff.

Posted by: Obsessively opposed to the typical since 1987 (baroque_n_roll)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:24 pm (UTC)

...wow, this post brought up a lot of issues for me, since my brother is autistic. I can't really say anything about it here except that:

Social education and coaching is one thing; it takes you out of that painful situation and puts you in a nonjudgmental (hopefully) arena where they teach you how to do it right when it matters. But a device that vibrates when you've pissed someone off? That doesn't give you any information on what you've done, except that you've done it again? That, in my book, is not cool.

I agree with that wholeheartedly.

Posted by: Naughty Librarian Lover (llnaughty)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC)

i started a thread here where jandyle touched on that issue.

i think this would be a good device for autistic kids to hopefully condition them to the social queues of non-autistic kids. i don't know how useful it is for adults.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naughty Librarian Lover (llnaughty)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)

Posted by: nerm. (bluepoet)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:43 pm (UTC)

Posted by: nerm. (bluepoet)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Obsessively opposed to the typical since 1987 (baroque_n_roll)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC)
Addendum:

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)

It also puts all the blame for the boredom/annoyance on the autistic person, which is just straight out not how conversations actually go. That device isn't making any distinction between a person who's annoyed at being asked the square root of 169 again and a person who's upset that they're running late for a meeting (assuming the autistic person isn't making them later, like they're having a conversation on a train for instance.) It also doesn't distinguish between people who are just jerks or in a bad mood, people who are going to be bored or annoyed at just about anything anyone says, and someone who's reacting to something inappropriate that the autistic person is doing.

Bottom line is that this device seems to take for granted that a.) boredom and annoyance are always bad and always a conversational anomaly, and b.) boredom and annoyance are always the fault of the autistic person. Neither of those things are true, really. Basically, their usefulness is limited, and it's undercut by the fact that their method of alerting people is, to my mind, hurtful.

Posted by: halfacricket (halfacricket)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:52 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Underwear Ninja (chavvah)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC)

Posted by: DK (dk_valentine)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naughty Librarian Lover (llnaughty)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC)

Posted by: halfacricket (halfacricket)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:37 pm (UTC)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: halfacricket (halfacricket)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 07:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Charlie would love you for that answer!

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Charlie would love you for that answer!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: rebel rebel (you've torn your dress) (tornyourdress)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC)

It's not as though non-LD people are always going to know why people are bored or annoyed either, though. Recognising the difference between someone who is bored by what you're saying or bored for another reason is *always* going to be tricky. So I can see why the focus is on the recognition, even if it doesn't seem like the best solution overall - as part of coaching, maybe, but certainly not long-term.

Posted by: don draper's gin-soaked conscience (theholyinnocent)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC)
a nude by alittlemonster

But a device that vibrates when you've pissed someone off?

Is all sorts of wrong. Vibrating devices should only give pleasure.

Posted by: Underwear Ninja (chavvah)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)
pintsize

SECONDED OMG.

Posted by: Underwear Ninja (chavvah)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)

When I was a kid I used to tell my mother that it was like the whole world had been issued a rulebook at birth, but I hadn't gotten my copy. Everyone knew the rules except for me.

I have a journal that I kept in grade six where I express this identical thought. In my case, while I have never had a hard time reading people, I have always been at a loss as to what is the appropriate reaction to the social cues I am receiving. Fortunately, some people find my directness refreshing rather than rude. ;)

Posted by: DK (dk_valentine)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC)

Oddly, *I've* never noticed a problem in terms of interpreting and reacting to social stuff, but that might just be because my mom's told me so frequently that I'm bad at it that I've spent extra time trying to learn all the social cues and that sort of thing. Although I still tend towards minimalism when it comes to my reactions, which is apparently a bit of a problem (for some people at least).

Basically, I grew up with my mom telling me I'd been born without a rulebook, only to realize when I hit college that I was actually better at guessing the rules than anyone else was.

Posted by: yellowsnakepoet (ex_yellowsna67)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 11:23 pm (UTC)

I completely relate. I have Asperger's as well.

I have had to slowly and painfully learn social rules. I've had my feelings stepped on for years. I was always "the weird girl."

it's hard. it's still hard.

Posted by: AFC (alone_and_hated)
Posted at: April 4th, 2006 11:44 pm (UTC)

I agree, I think it could be damaging to a child
And I don't know why any parent would want to put their child through that no matter how much bthey want their child to be "normal"

Posted by: Heidi (sioneva)
Posted at: April 5th, 2006 09:24 am (UTC)

I don't have autism or Asperger's but coming back from Africa as a kid I *always* felt that I was out of place - an alien in "my" own country, so to speak. I was always saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, and not fitting in and, like you (although I guess for different reasons) I never understood why either. I was able to learn, slowly, but sometimes even today I screw up and put my foot in my mouth and I still can't figure out what I've done.

Having a device like that *as part of* a greater social coaching effort would possibly be a good thing but, like you, it would not have helped me at ALL to have someone indicating to me that I was being inept without also then helping me to understand what I'd done.

Posted by: Pewter Wings (pewter_wings)
Posted at: December 5th, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)

I just saw this tag and was curious.

It is always about making life easier for the 'normal' person.

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