14 January, 2010

College Accessibility for ASD People

When it comes to ASD, the medical model is woefully inadequate.* According to the medical model, some really specific thing (like extra time on a test, or magnifying or screen-reading software) can make the person learn just as well as other students. Even if the professor doesn't believe the student's disability is real, doesn't like the student in particular, or doesn't believe disabled people should be going to college, they can be forced to allow the accommodation. And all is well! Well, not really, if the professor is an asshole, but that's the theory.

But with ASD there is not something you can ask for like this. The professor has to be okay. If the professor dislikes or disrespects a person because the person moves or talks in a nonstandard way, the person is fucked. In my first term of college I had a professor who really disliked me and formed opinions about what I was like because of my way of speaking and talking. I wasn't blameless--I accidentally came late to the first class, and forgot to turn in an assignment (which I had completed; I just forgot to turn it in)--but my professor took my mistakes and combined them with my ASD presentation to create a narrative where I was lazy and didn't care about the class, even though my other actions showed that I did care. He was openly contemptuous to a degree that made me cry, but because I hadn't been a perfect student, I felt like there was nothing I could do. I felt I had to drop the class; this would mean I'd have less than the required amount of credits, but I was too anxious to do the work.

But fortunately, my professor referred to me as "really weird" when he was talking to another student, and she told me what he said. After talking to the head of disability services (more for emotional support than anything else), I confronted my professor. By stating outright that I knew he didn't like me and had insulted me to another student, I was basically able to force him into being nice to me for the rest of the term. He claimed I was imagining his dislike of me and the other student was lying; but I wasn't looking for an apology, just a less terrifying professor.

Hooray! But most professors are not dumb enough to insult a student to another student, so most ASD people in this situation wouldn't have such measurable proof of malice. Also, it was really lucky that he happened to say this to someone I was friendly with. ASD students are probably less likely to be friendly with their classmates, so they'd be less likely to be told that their teacher insulted them. And they'd be less likely to ask their classmates for their opinions on whether the teacher is acting inappropriately. I am super lucky that I didn't have to drop the class.

An ASD student really, really needs professors who can interact with a person who acts different without having a total overreaction. I would say that my school is really accessible to me because (except for that one glaring exception, who has fortunately now retired) most professors don't overreact to my difference.

(*Of course, the medical model is actually woefully inadequate for other disabled students as well. I previously mentioned how my friend was patronized by a professor because he has cerebral palsy. The disability services office can provide him with a notetaker, but not a professor who understands that slurred speech isn't indicative of low intelligence or immaturity.)


  1. If you aren't already considering it, you should think about going to Autreat. And if you aren't already considering it, you should think about submitting a proposal. This might be a good topic to submit on. Here's the CFP: http://www.autreat.com/aut10cfp.php I strongly recommend you think about it. The deadline is on Wednesday.

  2. dear Ari Ne'eman, you are super nice, but this isn't really a topic, it's just my own experience, which is just exactly what that page tells you not to submit a proposal about, right?

  3. Well, not exactly.

    Autreat doesn't encourage "self-narrating zoo exhibits", of whatever degree.

    Everything else is pretty broad.

    So it's your personal experience, and it's more. That more can be anything.

    (Look at the topics from last year and these).

    What I got out of this is how many of the models don't work, and how other schools can be like Oberlin.