The New McCarthyism

I read a post today on another blog about the vaccine debate.  This is particularly of interest to me because I have a nephew who is autistic.  Around the time that he was diagnosed, Jenny McCarthy was making a lot of noise about the whole supposed vaccine-autism link.  Of course it caused concern and guilt for many parents.  Now, it has been debunked but still she stands by it.    It makes me so angry that, as if this disease wasn’t enough of a struggle, people are lead to believe that they can somehow “cure” it or that there is some great evil out there that is causing it.  Autism is hard, but it’s not evil.  Perhaps we are too removed from the past reality of babies dying from diseases that we now see as no problem.  Perhaps we are too focused on everyone thinking and acting similarly.  We can’t deal with difference.  However, it is difference that is at the forefront of every innovation.  Someone was able to think outside the box.  Take Temple Grandin.

Mr. Cookie was kind enough to DVR HBO’s move on Temple Grandin, a woman who was born when autism was believed to be due to a lack of love from the mother. The response was to institutionalize these people for life.  Her mom refused to buy in to that and now Dr. Grandin is known for her accomplishments in the field of animal husbandry, among many other things.  One of the things she did was create a more humane, efficient system for slaughter houses (I know, the vegetarian is praising this).  She was able to do this because, as the title of one of her books explains, she thinks in pictures.  She notices minutiae that you and I pass right over.  She noticed that cattle move in circles.  She also noticed that unexpected movement, shadows, and loud noises spook them and lead to accidents.  Based on this information, she was able to create systems by which their handlers, as she puts it, “treat them with the respect they so highly deserve because of what we take from them.”

My favorite thing that she says over and over again, though, is that she is “different, not less.”  It took a lot of people believing that and encouraging it to help her become the woman she is.  Every teacher should realize that students learn in different ways.  That’s why there is such a push for differentiated instruction.  You have to play to a number of different learning styles.  You have to know how to tap in to all of your students’ strengths.

I know my sister and my nephew have a harder, longer road ahead of them.  But I also know that to look at this face is love and I know that he will exceed all of our flimsy expectations because he already has.  Different, not less.

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