Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Creating Cognitive Access

This is the part where I explain what the activity I couldn't do at the NCIE session on Universal Design was, why I couldn't do it, and how it could be made accessible to me. (It's a modification by providing additional structure to those who need it, essentially.)
My cognitive access isn't something people normally need to think about, since the way that stuff is generally done in classrooms that aren't using Universal Design is mostly accessible to me. I can take multiple choice tests. As long as what I need to write about is sufficiently specified that I can come up with a thing (or sufficiently broad that I can do "how does my Autistic Obsession of the moment relate to the topic," if the teacher knows about the interest,) I can do essays. I can do short-response questions. I can't take notes in lecture, but if I'm doing something else with my hands like sewing, drawing, or chainmail, I can remember what was said well enough that it works out anyways.
Ironically enough, it's the stuff that people add to make things "universally designed for learning" that starts getting me into trouble. Maybe I can't touch the thing we're supposed to touch because of a sensory issue. Maybe the place we're going will give me sensory overload (maybe the changes in my classmates behavior when they're out of their seats will be enough to overload me before we even start doing things!) But specifics. Specifics are what I need, so here's the specifics of one activity.
We were in groups by the tables we sat at. There were a bunch of objects on the table. We were supposed to choose one object (help!) and come up with a way to use it in a "grabber" activity to teach language arts.
There's actually a bunch of things there which make it harder for me. I can accommodate for a limited number of them myself, depending on which ones they are.
  • Group work means I'm spending extra energy dealing with people. I need to communicate with and come to agreements on everything else that needs to be decided, which is also energy. That means a reduction in the number of things I can be expected to accomplish.
    The way to fix this for me is to have someone else in the group give me a piece to do and then give me 100% authority over that piece. I still need to make that piece fit within the assignment guidelines for that piece, but within that what I say goes. That basically saves me from the "dealing with people to make sure what I'm doing is OK" part of the extra energy drain. It also avoids the anxiety I get over "is this a thing I can actually do?" that often prevents me from accomplishing anything in group projects.
    The other way to fix it is to have someone else in the group give me very specific instructions of exactly what I am doing. This fixes the "is this a thing I can actually do?" issue by having me know exactly what I am supposed to be doing.
    Basically, I need to be 100% in charge of how I fulfill the instructions or getting super-specific instructions, and anything in between is bad. That usually makes group work bad.
  • We have a bunch of objects to choose from, and no instructions that will help me choose.
    I either need the object chosen for me or I need instructions that will help me choose. In the case of this activity, the instructions helping me choose would probably come in the form of more specification on the other things I'm doing.
  • We don't know what part of "language arts" we're using it to teach. There's no way around this. You have to give me more specifics here. Am I teaching people to change verb tenses? Are we coming up with examples of verbs? Are we writing paragraphs? Are we writing stories? Are we learning about synonyms? What am I trying to teach? I only have that list because other people came up with those examples for me. I think that in the terminology of universal design, it adds up to "You have to tell me what the Essential Question is before I can do anything about creating a lesson plan."
  • We don't know how we're incorporating the object. If I know what I'm teaching and I know what object I'm using, I can figure this out. I can also figure out what object I'm using if I know what I want to use it for, which probably means I know what I'm teaching. (Seriously, how would I know what I'm using it for if I don't know what I'm teaching?)
  • The word "grabbers" got me stuck in a loop based on Julia Bascom's essay of the same name. That's not your fault, not even a little, but it did make it a lot harder for me to focus. Since universal means all, and all includes Autistic activists who could get stuck in that loop just like I did, I figured you should know. Even though the meaning is almost opposite: a student who needs to move is getting to grab a thing, it's almost like getting to grab back in the same way she said we never get to do (but still in a controlled fashion, and we probably are still doing it wrong because the way we interact with the things we touch to learn about them is still not the same, so it's still a reminder that we're flappers, not grabbers and it hurts.) In a classroom of small children, you're probably safe on that word, but training teachers, I'd be shocked if I were the only one to have that potential issue. I think it's similar to how at Autism Campus Inclusion we had a "crash space" instead of a "quiet room" because "quiet room" is what they call the seclusion rooms we get forced into. I don't really have an answer for this one, because I'm getting stuck in that same loop again.
The more energy I have, either because I started with more or because my group work needs are accommodated and therefore not being an energy drain, the more unspecifiedness I can deal with, so if I were working alone/in a group in a good way, knowing the exact thing I am teaching would probably be enough for me to do the activity. Working in a group just as an unstructured group, I need to know what I'm trying to teach and I should probably also know what object I am using to teach it.
I think this is a really good example of how conflicting access needs mean that universal design for classroom learning requires including some customizability in activity design. I don't mean letting the teacher customize it for their own convenience: I mean making it so the teachers and students have options built into the activities, including options of "give me fewer options."


  1. I agree. Reading your paragraph, I didn't understand what they meant by "grabber" and I didn't know what they meant by language arts. Passing this along to teachers and instructors.

  2. Will you be putting the posts that are on Facebook here when it works again? I don't want to sign up for a Facebook account, but I'll miss your writing.

  3. @Irina: Yup! Exact logistics TBD (some dependence on how long this malfunction lasts, I suspect), but yes, I will.
    Also, since it's a public page I think that you'll be able to see the posts even without an account. But if you don't want to do that, yes, I will be putting the writing here once I can get to blogger.


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