Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting along swimmingly

Today I achieved something, that might not mean a lot to many people and for the world of me I cannot relate to Autism, but for the first time in my life after a year of learning I felt able to enter the deep end of a swimming pool and to swim 25 metres to to the end of the pool and then to swim back again toward the deep end completing the second length of 25 metres.

Now a year ago at the same time as I began my swimming lessons I embarked upon my doctorate and this weekend will be addressing an international conference and giving a way better performance than the token autie, Mr Stephen Shore I am sure. (at least I acknowledge that it is performance and I will entertain as much as I enlighten I hope)

However that is less of an achievement to me than my achievement in the swimming pool today.

All that I have done of course is to have achieved the basic standard that any 11 year old is expected to achieve and forty years late at that.

Well if anyone who attended Finham Junior school is reading this, A couple of years ago I met a former schoolmate who remembered me as the boy who never learned to swim.

How anyone learned to swim is actaully beyond me. For years parents raised money for what seemed to be a magnificent project to build a school pool. However by the time they achieved their aims the pool was nothing more than an open tank between the playground and car park.

We boys did not even have the privilege of a changing room, because the architects only built one, and that was reserved for the girls, we had to change in a corridor, and every week march barefoot in whatever weather across the tarmac playground to this open tank.

If that was not bad enough I was put off swimming for life by a teacher whose reaction to my reluctance to duck my head under the water was to hold it under.

Never mind that no-one ever appreciated the other difficulties I had with swimming namely a dyspraxic lack of co-ordination.

Well in my next school at least we had the luxury of going to the simply huge "olympic pool" in town, but by that time the damage had been done, and increasingly nobody bothered with the slow learner so I was sidelined, and gave up swimming as soon as I was able to.

What a loss that was as it is now something I really enjoy.


Socrates said...

As a non-swimmer, I'm seriously impressed. Perhaps it's not too late for me to learn, or to do a doctorate :-)

laurentius rex said...

There is an apocryphal story somewhere, an urban legend maybe of the philosopher who taught himself to swim from a book.

Google tells me that was Ben Franklin. But I am sure I have heard it ascribed to others as well.

My doctorate will go swimmingly, until I get to the viva :(

jonathan said...

and giving a way better performance than the token autie, Mr Stephen Shore I am sure. (at least I acknowledge that it is performance and I will entertain as much as I enlighten I hope)

Now, now name calling that is not nice. Stephen Shore had an autism diagnosis prior to age 4 in the 1960's, autism with speech delay not asperger's syndrome without a speech delay.

If I remember correctly you had an asperger's diagnosis only well in your 40s.

Stephen Shore is a fast rising superstar, who travels all over the world and gives conferences and will soon be a college professor. Unlike yourself, he has published books and sold thousands of copies.

Could it be you are jealous (or envious) Larry?

laurentius rex said...

Well Jonathon you are known to have a particular cognitive bias, toward what you regard as autism, but the fact remains that never mind when Stephen was diagnosed it is irrelevant because of cultural differences and differential diagnosis in the UK at the time.

I very much wish to meet Stephen, but I am somewhat biased perhaps by what Jerry Newport has said about his appearances at all an sundry conferences in that he perhaps chases the limelight more than pursuing advocacy.

I am sorry but it has to be said, he might have his doctorate already but I do not think he is anywhere in the same league as me either politically, or philosophically.

I have been a student of media studies and I can see him, very much as a particular genre of (self)representation.

My presentation might go down like the proverbial lead balloon, my performance skills might not be the same as Robert Plants, but I do think I have a wider frame of reference and a greater conspection than Mr Shore.

Call that arrogant if you will, but it remains to be disproven in the field.

Popularity is no measure of truth or accuracy only what sells, and as you maybe know tabloids outsell broadsheets, action movies outsell art house and popular romance outsells classic literature.

I will guarantee this I will be more entertaining than Stephen Shore because I will be using media for what it is, I understand it, and indeed the whole notion of my research is predicated upon the relationship of particular media to cognition, and I do think I know my stuff, I wouldn't be presenting if I didn't because the one thing I don't do is self narrating zoo.

laurentius rex said...

And another reason I am a little bit suspicious of Mr Shore, is that although he was a board member of an autism society before me, and granted I don't know in particular what local circumstances he was up against, but this much I do know.

The Autism society of America, remains embedded in and indebted to a lot of woo, woo science and promotes a lot of frankly unscientific conferences where the quacks speak louder than those who deserve a more considered hearing.

Let us consider where the NAS is today, acknowledging the existence of adults and even promoting a campaign on that basis, and being concerned to promote research into interventions rather than causes.

Make no mistake I know why he was chosen as a speaker and it was simply because he is a name and a crowd puller, no more.

laurentius rex said...

And when I first started going to these NAS conferences six or so years ago they did not even have any autistic speakers, the fact that they now do may have something to do with the fact that I protested about the lack, so perhaps Stephen Shore should be grateful that I did.

Anyway I am presenting at this conference not because of my name but because I presented an abstract of the paper which was accepted, same as happens at the other conferences where I present, usually having to pay for the privilege too, as my Uni pays peanuts.

bullet said...

Jonathan, you may want to clarify whether you mean "speech" in terms of words being physically able to be said, or "speech" in terms of used for communication that would be indistinguishable from ones peers.
See, my older son is 5 now and before the age of three there was plenty he could physically say. He could remember and recite stories word for word, that he'd heard a few hours, even days or weeks earlier, down to the exact pauses between the words at the age of 2.5. He could count up to 100 before the age of 3.
What he couldn't do (and what he still has severe difficulties with) was have the ability to use language to communicate. Nor did he have any nonverbal communication to let people know what he wanted, beyond sometimes using an adult's hands as a tool to help him with something. He never once cried to let me know he needed nappy changing, for example. He could not point out something he'd seen, could not tell me if he was hungry or thirsty, was not able to ask any questions (and before the age of 4 I mean he wasn't even pointing to ask what something was). He had severe receptive language delays, something as simple as "get your coat" would mot be comprehended.
It took a LOT of hard work to get him to the point he is at now and even now he is still very much affected by his difficulties in communication and understanding. We had to first of all get him to understand that there was a need for communication, not so he would be indistinguishable, but so he could ask for things he needed. I started off doing this by counting and pausing until he started saying the next numbers, so he got the concept of turn taking in conversations. I spent months getting him to recognise his own name and to be able to say "mummy" and "daddy" and the name of his brother. Even today he still struggles sometimes when you ask him who his brother is.
A lot of the time you have to word things exactly right. He frequently can not distinguish between what are words and what are just sounds. The Educational Psychologist came to see him last year and the EP had a cough whilst talking. Tom was repeating back what the EP was saying, including coughing and his teachers had to explain that Tom thought the coughs were part of the words.
He's able now to ask questions along the lines of "what's that?" or "where are my?" The more abstract questions that a typically developing five year old wouldn't answer aren't present yet. He can ask for things he wants and tell you things he can see now, but even there you have to understand him very well most of the time. For example he can't place things into context very well. So he'll say "we sit a circle. We hear noisy bell. We sit in blue boxes, not red boxes". Now, I know he's talking about his school day and he's talking about events that happened several hours apart from each other, but most other people wouldn't. Or he'll say "we go a number 20", which means the shopping centre.
He still has severe receptive language delays as well. I was trying to talk to him about what would happen if he ever got separated from us in town and had to give up when it became clear he didn't understand what I meant by "shopkeeper" or "go into a shop". I've had to spend months teaching him how to reply to "what's your name?". He still doesn't know his full address, "Tom live at number x" is about as far as he's got.
The thing is, is that if he was assessed now, in terms of the number of words he's saying, in terms of the length of his sentences, even in terms of the fact that he can now tell me some things (he has still to tell me if he's ever had a stomach ache/sore throat, a bad dream, who he likes and doesn't like, whether there's a fearsome monster under his bed), well it might be concluded that his speech was good, using those criteria alone. But if you think he would be able to cope or understand without someone helping him with the most basic of explanations, without someone being aware of how difficult he finds it to understand things, well, you'd be severely mistaken. I have a friend on another site whose lad is very much like Tom, albeit a little older. He has been given the diagnosis of Aspergers. It is extremely likely he will need significant levels of help throughout his life.
Sorry for rambling on Laurentius Rex, but I wanted to check with Jonathan that he realised that things aren't as clear cut as they appear to be. Anyway, congratulations on learning to swim :D.

andrea said...


A teaching method that works WITH the learner helps diminish many intrinsic difficulties.

I too had trouble learning to swim (that whole bilateral arms and legs coordination thing), and eventually developed a style that works for me. It's far from typical (the most gracious description I've received was "like a mermaid", because of the lack of scissor-kicking), but it gets me from one place to another in an efficient manner. And that's good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

It's arrogant, I call it as I read it.

laurentius rex said...

Well it might have been a bit impolite of me to have a go at Stephen Shore (but I was provoked M'lud) just before an event where I was almost certain to meet him, but that is the way some of are, tactless to the point of being, well a bit OTT.

However there were a lot of performances at the conference, indeed a literal stage performance by some autistic students from one of the NAS schools, and a huge performance from certain media types, (including Stuart, "where did you get that picture" Murray) where I reminded some of them that in my opinion there mock sincerity insofar as what they claimed they wanted to achieve, by inserting caricatures of autism into popular drama, was a performance dictated by the particular audience they wanted to please that night, well you can bet that did not go down well with the media types.

I think the best of the "performers" recognise that delivering a lecture or a presentation is a performance, and if I erred in mine, it was by misjudging the audience a little and aiming above there heads, but I don't think anyone attending my performance could have doubted the scholarship I put into it.

Apart from that maybe they were disappointed that I did not play my flute at the end.

I hope soon to post a link to an edited version of the slide presentation, and the poster anyway, as it might clarify it for some.

renaeden said...

I had almost the same experience when I was a child learning to swim.

For you to give it a go again, that is really something. :)