Oh

Yeah

Why didn’t I think being “gifted and talented” was a fun and cool thing?

Because my first teacher for “gifted and talented” classes was… not a good kind of teacher.

The activities we did in her class were interesting, most of the time, but “excitement about learning,” “creativity,” “inquisitiveness” were not really ideas she was interested in. We had a very regimented set of activities we did, and… we never really talked, I guess, is what I feel was missing? We never discussed things. We just got activities and did them according to the rules.

One of the things I remember is the periodic math tests that were put out by some organization, I don’t remember what. They tended to have the same categories of questions, if not the exact same questions, every month (or week or whatever the timeframe was). One of them was made-up mathematical operators, like, “If [triangle symbol] means multiply and then add two, what’s three triangle five?” Another was questions about clocks or schedules that would be easy to answer with algebra if we had known algebra but really hard without it– like, “if this clock runs ten minutes slow, and that clock runs five minutes fast, and right now they show the same time, how long will it take for them to work around to showing the same time again?”

Young-me thought the made-up new operator questions were ridiculously easy and was totally bewildered that any of my classmates got them wrong. I never got to ask my classmates why they had trouble with those questions or explain how I solved them.

Young-me occasionally managed to solve the clock questions by making very long tables. I never got any feedback on my solutions or any explanation of how else I could have solved them. Even though we did them every few weeks for the whole year. It was just, “do these math problems,” no context, no discussion, no learning except whatever we came up with ourselves.

This was also the class in which I was assigned a really bad research topic, then was lectured until I cried because (a) printing out articles from the internet and highlighting parts of them didn’t count as taking notes, only handwritten notes counted, (b) none of our books and in-class activities had mentioned my topic, so I hadn’t made any handwritten notes. Did she tell me in advance not to print stuff off the internet? Of course not. I was just supposed to know somehow.

That incident is one of the things that comes to mind whenever I talk about teachers assuming above-grade-level “giftedness” comes with above-grade-level informational knowledge and skills, but for some reason I hadn’t connected in my head that all these things happened in the same class.

The other big assuming-skills issue with that class was re: organization and communication skills. So this “gifted and talented” class was something I was taken out of my regular class to go to. I was expected to know when it was and take myself out of my regular class to go to it. Since I was in the school band, I also had to keep track of my own music lesson schedule once the band teacher told me when my lesson would be, which changed each semester. That’s kind of a lot for an elementary schooler to keep track of already, I think, but the real problem was that one semester, my band lesson time was suddenly changed to a time that overlapped part of the “gifted and talented” class time.

The “gifted and talented” teacher did not like this, understandably. What’s not so understandable is that she expected me to handle it, on my own, instead of her talking to the band teacher herself. “I only get one hour a week with you kids anyway, you can’t take this time to go to band. You need to reschedule your band lesson.”

When was I going to do this? Since I wasn’t going to my band lesson?

How was I, as a nine or ten-year-old (autistic) child, supposed to take the initiative to (a) go see a teacher outside class hours (b) or interrupt them during a (already very busy) music class, to (c) tell them what to do with their own schedule?

It was like a perfect storm of things I could not cognitively deal with (some of which I still have trouble with):

— interrupting people
— bringing up new conversation topics even if it’s not a direct interruption
— remembering/fully understanding things without seeing them written down
— remembering and bringing up things from one context in another context without some kind of reminder
— understanding that bureaucracy isn’t actually infallible unchangeable laws from on high, but rather a system set up by people who can change their minds and make exceptions to the rules
— having to weigh two conflicting but equally authoritative orders and decide which to follow

Anyway, this post was brought to you by Tumblr posts about gifted students. Why didn’t I feel like being a Gifted Student made me superior? The fact that in practice it was just another setting for me to get in trouble with rules I didn’t understand and expectations I couldn’t meet, is probably part of it.

 

Note to self: things I will write about

Maybe sometime soon-ish:

  • Something about trauma and “exaggeration”
  • The inherent wibbliness of most mental illness/cognitive disability labels
  • More about autism stereotypes vs Asperger’s stereotypes

Hopefully eventually someday:

  • Something less context-dependent about authenticity
  • The role of fantasy/writing/roleplaying in defining and understanding yourself, especially as a child/teen
  • Autism/disability in general and “moody debatably evil loner gets redeemed” narratives (i.e. why I have always loved those characters beyond reason)
  • This thing about autism and emotional abuse that’s been in my drafts for literally years

 

Pet peeve

When somebody makes a resource about a problem, and their attempts to make it understandable to people who don’t have that problem, directly make it less accessible to people who do have the problem.

I mean things like:

— articles about PTSD that begin with a graphic description of a traumatic situation

— videos about / fictional TV or movie depictions of sensory overload that use enough bright lights and loud noises to cause sensory overload in the audience

and the thing that prompted this post, a video about how to cope with vertigo that began with a good sixty seconds of the camera being swung wildly back and forth. For the very same reason that I would like to watch the rest of the video, I don’t want to watch that.

Honorable mention goes to articles about trypophobia that include a bunch of pictures of things that are likely to trigger it.

control vs. help

I think I’m going to be talking about this distinction (between “control a problem/prevent a threat” and “help a person” as basic premises for healthcare/government aid programs/etc.) a lot more, because often there’s a thing that happens where

I’ll hear about some new policy or whatever and go “Ooh, that sounds like bad news,”

and it’s not that the specific practical things it proposes to do are totally bad, some of them may even be pretty beneficial,

but if the tone, the mindset, the overall goal is “prevent these bad dangerous people from causing trouble for good normal people,”

that obviously makes me suspicious even if the actual plan is basically good.

A thing that bugs me

in historical fiction, is when the characters have to address some issue that is controversial in their time, but which the author sees as having a clear right side and a wrong side. And the author decides that their main character just has to be On The Right Side Of History.

There are ways to have that and still write a solid story, but unfortunately what often happens is that putting the character on the Right Side comes at the expense of nuance and detail in both the character’s thought process and background, and in the setting’s worldbuilding and/or historical accuracy.

Basically there are two awkward things for authors in this situation:

— A historically accurate character might hold approximately the belief we want them to hold, but might describe it in a way that sounds outdated or disrespectful from our point of view.

— A character with a detailed personality and history could explain how they came to hold the “right” belief, in an emotionally plausible and/or historically accurate way, but then we’d have to think about the fact that they used to not believe it and that would be uncomfortable.

(And also, to even get to the point of considering these questions, the author has to themself have thought about the issue in more complicated terms than “x is wrong,” and they have to do the research to know what people were saying about the issue historically and how that differs from how people think about it now.)

These problems are almost worse when it comes to creating villain characters, but it’s late so I’m going to stop here.

Bare bones outline of a post

There’s this thing where symptoms (broadly defined) that aren’t a serious problem for the person who has them, become a serious problem because other people feel uncomfortable about them.

To the person who has them they’re a harmless nuisance thing, or they’re a problem but there’s a treatment/assistive thing/workaround that fixes the problem reasonably well.

But, in order to go around with this harmless nuisance thing occasionally happening, or to use your workaround assistive whatever, and just get on with your day– before you can do that, you have to get everyone who might see you doing the thing on the same page with you that it’s not a big issue.

Otherwise they might think something is seriously wrong and they need to help you, or they’ll question whether your workaround assistive thing is correct/allowed/necessary, or they’ll just feel really uncomfortable because you’re doing a Weird Thing, a Creepy Thing, a socially unacceptable thing.

People respond to those varied types of “this isn’t normal, something needs to be done” in a lot of different ways, some of them genuinely well-intentioned and even genuinely helpful. But I think the basic reaction behind a lot of those responses– even the helpful ones– is an uncanny valley type of discomfort. That’s the root of a lot of the trouble people have with being noticeably disabled in public. That’s the force we have to counteract to keep things that should be minor problems from becoming big stop-everything issues.