Monday, March 13, 2006

Two Days in the Life of an Autism Bookstore Booth Babe
I spent the end of last week helping supervise the bookstore booth at a conference for homeschooling children with special needs. While I was there, I had a number of... interesting conversations, which were, if nothing else, at least somewhat revelatory about the assumptions and beliefs some people hold on music, language, and social customs. Behold.

The conference was being held in a giant Baptist mega-church. The building is so large that all the other times I've driven past it, I thought it was a retirement home. It is surrounded by a veritable sea of parking lots, and nowhere on the outside does it say that it is a church. (Which is actually rather tasteful, for a mega-church.)

However, because we are set up as vendors in this mega-church, and because so many homeschoolers are frightening conservative Christians, it appears some people have made assumptions. Hence, the following, which is the weirdest conversation I have participated in in quite some time:

Boss: Oh, I see you're from Virginia. That's kind of far.
Me: *smiles politely*
Patron: Yeah, I didn't really appreciate the drive, but I picked up a great Christian radio station, and I really wished we had it at home!
Me: *smiles and nods*
Patron: I guess you probably listen to all that modern Christian rock music, but personally I can't stand it.
Me and Boss: ...

Later (same person):

Patron: I have a stupid question. This book says that people with Asperger's want other people to speak to them slower. Are there autistic people in Spanish-speaking countries? Cuz what do they do?
Me: Well, statistically speaking, there's probably just as many people with autism in Spanish-speaking countries as in English-speaking ones.
Patron: Well, what do they do? Spanish speakers talk much faster than us.
Me: Foreign languages really just sound faster to us because we don't know where to parse the words correctly. We sound really fast to people from other countries, too.
Patron: No, Spanish is much faster. Believe me, I've studied all these languages. Russian and German aren't as fast, but Spanish is much faster.
Me: ... *decides this person is clearly not actually listening* Well, I'm sure people with autism in Spanish-speaking countries would also appreciate it if people spoke to them more slowly.

Later, again:

Patron: *pointing at the Social Skills Picture Book picture on "Don't be a space invader"* Hah! This is just a cultural difference! This shouldn't be in here. *looks at me triumphantly*
Me: *nods and smiles* It doesn't tell you what the correct social distance is, it just says you need to be aware of whether you are making other people uncomfortable. Sheesh.

And from another vendor:

Vendor: My colleague, Dr. so-and-so, does a lot of work with ADHD kids, and you should be interested, because that's on the autism spectrum, you know.
Me and Boss: *smile, nod, look at each other incredulously*

(Note: While I have also noted an apparent similarity between the problems exhibited by people with ADHD and those with autism spectrum disorders, I have also actually checked with people in the know and have ascertained that what few scientific studies that have been done on comparing the disorders have found no links. In fact, one of the articles I read seemed to have found that entirely different parts of the brain were affected.)

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