Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bad Advice

Louise Parker has a series of posts called Bad Advice on The Cat's Aunt. The series reviews a particular bad article of advice for autistic girls.

Part one:

Four years ago, when I was about fifteen, I was given the Tony Attwood book Aspergers and Girls by the head of my school's Learning Support. She told me to look at a chapter called "Girl to Girl, advice on Friendship, Bullying and Fitting in", and explained that, while she doubted that it would appeal to me, she thought it was worth having a look at.

This chapter was written by a neurotypical woman called Lisa Iland, whose knowledge of Aspergers comes from one Brother and an unknown quantity of friends. The main gist of her advice- aimed at teenage girls- was "conform as much as possible". Being a stubborn babybat with no doubt in my mind that completely changing myself wasn't something I wanted to do, I handed it straight back with a "thanks but no thanks". However, while I was certain that Iland's advice would be no use to me, I didn't have any problems with it from an objective standpoint. Hey, maybe Miss Congeniality-esque personality transplants genuinely help some people. This advice probably has merit forsomeone out there.  

I'm not sure exactly when that opinion changed. All I can assume is that, at some point in the last two years, I found myself looking back on the book with a slight feeling of unease. I remember searching out reviews of the chapter to see if anyone else found Iland's advice somewhat... questionable, and was relieved to discover that they did. 

Obviously from there the only sensible thing to do was to plan to publically rip the chapter apart one day, and, well, what better day than Autistics Speaking Day? This is Girl to Girl, advice on Friendship, Bullying and Fitting in- the dissection.

Read the rest of Bad Advice Part One here.  

Part two: 

So, we kick off segment deux with more... well, Iland's talking about social hierarchies in schools again, and she's still getting real life mixed up with Mean Girls.

She describes three levels of popularity: 'Popular/Elite', 'Middle/Mainstream', and 'Unique/Unusual'. I'm  going to call bullshit on 'elite' straight away- no teenager gets treated like royalty by every single one of their peers. She's also wrong about 'Unique/Unusual' equating to 'unpopular'- I've had a couple of noticeably eccentric friends who were very well liked, mostly because they were good at making others laugh. In my experience, whether somebody's weirdness has a negative effect on their popularity or not depends on multiple factors, many of which will vary by region. Plus, many of the 'unusual' people who were ostracised didn't have high opinions of some of the 'popular' people, and... oh, screw it, It'd take until Christmas to dissect everything here.

One thing I will point out though is Iland's failure to factor in the mixed-gender nature of most teenage social circles. All her advice is geared towards befriending groups made up entirely of girls, which is a bit silly, considering how most people have both male and female friends by the age of thirteen. Lisa seems to be working under the assumption that boys and girls live in separate worlds- an assumption that simply isn't true.

Read the rest of Bad Advice Part Two here

Part three: 

Well, here we go with Segment Three, 'Meeting Social Expectations'.

White lying is an important friendship skill to have in maintaining the fragile self esteem of teenage girls. 

OK, I agree that white lying at times, and being able to phrase certain criticisms diplomatically are good skills to have. I'm just finding it quite amusing how Iland says this right after spending most a chapter happily being as blunt as possible to teenage girls.

Let me get this straight:

Neurotypical girls are uber-delicate sugar paper creations who'll go to bits the second they hear an implication that they're anything less than perfect. Girls with Aspergers are tin men who can never be seriously upset by anything you say or imply about them, because 'reality'. Nobody's just a person who can take some kinds of criticism well, but not other kinds.

Read the rest of Bad Advice Part Three here.  

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