Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cognitive Styles, Stereotypes and Collateral Damage

(Cross-posted from my Tumblr)

I saw a really interesting post on Tumblr about, among other things, different disability stereotypes and some of the less-than-perfect ways different subsets of cognitively or developmentally disabled people cope with them.

The part of the post I'm responding to:
You know how there is a subset of badbrains people who are like “ACTUALLY, our BADBRAINS MAKE US SMARTER. We are not disabled, we are the NEXT EVOLUTIONARY STAGE, we are BETTER. There is us on the top, then normals in the middle, then unsmart r-word badbrains people on the bottom. Given time they will see.” And I was attracted to that subset of badbrains people for a while before I realise they were assholes (And also stopped being academically smart.) And there was a subset of the subset who said “the unsmart r-word badbrains were just expensive useless people who should die, I NEVER thought that (not that I deserve some kind of “not a murderer” cookie) but those people existed and exist. 
But I feel like there is also a subset of badbrains people who are like “ACTUALLY, our BADBRAINS MAKE US KINDER, we are a PURER  type of human, more whole and loving and sane, more Hufflepuff, than the normals. There is us on top, normals in the middle, and the evil heartless non-sensory, abstraction-based, heartless badbrains people on the bottom, they probably all worship Richard Dawkins and watch my little pony and are racist and rape everyone they meet. They are all just like Elliot Rodger, we should probably kill them before they kill us.”
The bolded parts ring true for me too.
I know that both types of “badbrains people” — the ones whose minds handle abstract concepts well, but don’t really get emotions or people*, and the ones whose minds don’t handle abstract concepts or words well but are good at empathy and perceptual, sensory stuff** — exist and have to deal with ableism from NTs, and have various ways of coping with that and saying, no, actually we have value and are good at things.
And I know that those coping mechanisms can turn into ways of hurting other DD/MI people — the ones whose cognitive styles are as different from our own as they are from the norm. We might think we’re trashing a stereotype but actually be trashing real people who share traits with the stereotype. 
I actually overlap a bit with both of the subsets of people you’re describing — most of the mockery I got in grade school was of the “look at the stupid R-word, she believes whatever you tell her” variety; I do live primarily in a world of sensory information and sometimes I’m not exactly within reach of words; I sort of straddle a line between very concrete, literal thought and more abstract, logical, analogy- and metaphor-based thought; I think very slowly and sometimes speak haltingly; but at the same time I’m very good at academics, including STEM subjects, I can be pretty far removed from my emotions (like, it took me until my 20s to even realize I was capable of certain emotions, or to express them), and I am ridiculously insensitive to nonverbal cues and emotional subtext in conversation.
The latter set of traits make me very much a stereotypical “Aspie” that autistics who don’t have those traits have been bashing as non-representative of what actual autism is like. I’m not really bothered by it because I know they’re right. My observations do tell me I’m in the minority in having those traits, especially the lack of affective empathy
The stuff I’ve seen from other autistic people has been more along the lines of “this type of autistic person doesn’t really exist” than “this type of autistic person is evil,” though.

(From NTs, of course, I've seen a whole lot of "this type of autistic person is evil" stereotyping. It's almost coming to replace the autism stereotypes I remember more from childhood, the ones that imagine us as having no inner life.)

*Continuing with the Harry Potter Sorting Hat theme in the quoted passage, it would probably make the most sense to associate this cognitive style with Ravenclaw, and maybe Slytherin.

**Probably more likely to be in Hufflepuff or Gryffindor

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