Monday, March 28, 2011

Cost of Disability Accommodations: It Isn't Peanuts

An elementary school in Edgewater, Florida has become ground zero for a controversy: Just how much should other kids be asked to change their routines when one child has a disability?

A 6-year-old girl there has a life-threatening peanut allergy, and school officials agree that it's a Federally protected disability. So, they've required all her classmates to wash their hands before entering the classroom both in the morning and after lunch, and also to rinse out their mouths.

Some people think that's a bit much to ask - in fact, local parents have asked that instead the girl be home-schooled...though the school district says "that's just not even an option".

Looking more broadly, a clear if narrow majority of the 86,250 people (as of now) who have voted on the issue on the above page agree that the girl should be removed from class because her allergy is too disruptive. Only just over a quarter of those voting feel it's a straightforward matter of her right to be in school. The rest - including Your Humble Servant - hope some kind of compromise can be worked out.

While we Aspies rarely ask others to wash their hands let alone rinse out their mouths more often, the fact is that we also often require sacrifices of others. People who, among other things, have to abandon their normal polite mode of speech, or wait until we've looked up from a task to suggest something, or hear complaints from people whom we've addressed bluntly (in their eyes, tactlessly) at least have a right to ask that we do anything we can to reduce their burden.

What do you think?

PS: You might have noticed - but probably didn't - that we had no NT Planet last week. It's been suspended (likely indefinitely) due to lack of interest.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NT Planet: The Power Of A Kind Word

Gary Noesner, retired FBI* Chief Negotiator, recently reflected on his work - ending with:

When I used to interview people when they had surrendered after an incident and ask them what one thing I said to make them change their mind, they would invariably reply, ‘I don’t know what you said but I liked the way you said it.’ Our genuine, sincere, and concerned tone and demeanour are the most powerful tools of influence that we know.

[Emphasis added]

These were hardened criminals, or people who had snapped, or otherwise desperate folks, who had barricaded a place and often taken hostages. Some of them had robbed, hurt and even killed people.

And even they, pace Al Capone, didn't consider a gun more important than a kind word. Every FBI agent, not to mention every other police officer on the scene as well, had at least one gun. If guns were what mattered they wouldn't need any professional negotiators, let alone a chief negotiator.

NTs (and even some Aspies - more than we might think) are moved by kind words...and kind tones of voice.

[*] U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation; the closest we in America have to a Federal police.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NT Planet: How Do People "Think"?

Let's face it: People are sometimes irrational.

Take this bike - please.

Seriously, if you saw someone trying to steal a bike, what would you do? Chase the thief away? Call the cops? him or her?

Well, there's the rub. As ABC News' "What Would You Do?" shows, if the thief is a her - specifically, a young, slim, blonde and generally attractive woman - and you're a him, you just might help her.

In this video (SFW), actress (and model and singer) Ashley Carpenter visibly takes her time trying to steal a bicycle in a park. Each time someone approaches her, she makes clear that the bike is not hers and she wants to steal it.

Notice what happened: Some of the men - but no women - actually helped her!

Not exactly news that men will go out of their way to help attractive young women, right? They even may help them commit crimes.

That's just it. Even though it's not news, men don't arm themselves against it. Not all or even most of them say to themselves "As a man, I'm vulnerable to young, pretty women's appeals, so if one approaches me I'll be extra suspicious. Especially if what she's asking is, well, evil."

Pretty strong evidence that people act, at least significantly, based on their emotions. Keep in mind that women's emotions weren't necessarily engaged in this particular situation, because very few women are trying to impress, or feel the primal need to protect, a pretty young woman.

We Aspies need to understand that when (not if) we need others' cooperation, logic, reason - even, at times, elementary moral principles - aren't enough. We need to look as good as possible, and otherwise engage people's emotions and primal desires - perhaps especially the ones no one will ever admit to themselves, much less others.

PS: Since, if you were cast in "What Would You Do?," you likely would be portrayed acting unethically if not illegally, ABC News warns:

Please beware of unauthorized people claiming to be casting directors for "What Would You Do." ABC News' "What Would You Do?" hires actors through established casting agencies only.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NT Planet: Wrong Way Corrigan

This week, we'll look at a way in which NTs can take a good thing too far.

In this Dilbert strip, Dogbert is asked for directions. After making a joke based on the way the driver worded his request, Dogbert gives a set of directions. As the driver leaves, Dogbert reveals that he actually has no idea how to get there, but he didn't want the driver to think Dogbert was a jerk.

In fact, a commenter says that's common practice in Thailand, and speculates that maybe one gives subtle signals that the directions one is giving are not real. Meanwhile, I've been told that happens sometimes in Mexico, too.

NTs have a commendable urge to do whatever's possible to avoid saying "No," or "I can't help you." That's good when it motivates one to make extra efforts to actually help someone. It's not so good, and in fact is hypocritical, when one can't (or won't) help them but pretends to do so...often making them worse off in the process.

If there are subtle signals that in effect say "I'm just being polite...ignore these directions and ask someone else" - that's nice...if everyone notices and recognizes them. Let's assume, at least for the sake of argument, that saying "Take these directions, left, right and then left..." plus subtle signals meaning "Ignore these, I don't know the way" feels better to the recipient than saying "I'm sorry, I wish I could help."

But pretty much by definition, subtle signals are not always noticed, let alone recognized. People waste time, gas (two nonrenewable resources) and air quality taking a false route and then getting back on track. They may suffer even more if, for example, they accidentally get into a bad part of town.

It's good to make others feel good, especially if you can follow your own words and actually help someone. If you really can't assist them, the ethical thing to do is to be honest about it, and to whatever extent possible point them to better sources of help.

Meanwhile, you might recall I appeared recently on Neil Haley's Total Education Show - check out the podcast any time.

Next up, tomorrow evening I'm speaking at The Auburn School in Silver Spring, Maryland! It's free and open to the community - if you want to attend, please pre-register as soon as you can.