Friday, June 08, 2012

ASD, Pushing aunties off buses and tragedy

A recent obaa-san pushing video made me think a fair bit about the kind of society that we're living in right now, the failure of people to consider the data and evidence (or lack thereof) and the hilarity of it all.

"All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That's how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once, am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed."

Yeah this guy certainly had a bad day and everything changed. Imagine if you snapped one day and did something unforgivable and the whole world suddenly went out to get you. As if being unable to forgive yourself wasn't bad enough.

I'm not going to deny it - I was near there once. Being on the verge of insanity and doing some irreversibly violent stuff to innocent acquaintances at least. At least I haven't gone past that line yet (perhaps illusion, of course. But a man can hope) but therein lies the thought - how many others?

One student committing suicide might become widespread and disturbing news but it'll hide the thousands of others who are driven to this very thought on an almost daily basis - a far more dangerous, disturbing and worrying news and issue. A video of a man snapping and pushing an old lady down on a bus goes viral and sparks a witchhunt of sorts; an event of coincidence that overshadows the possibility of incidents like this occurring on a much more frequent basis than people imagine, and the thought that many others are driven near this state for whatever reasons.

All because one guy had the dumb luck to video a drawn-out argument between a guy on the verge of lunacy and an old lady who unwittingly pushed him past it. Scary, huh?

So there's the thought - what if the one off event wasn't the man's actions, but the fact that it was filmed?

But I digress, of course. Scary thoughts are rarely as important as emotionally involved ones.

I find myself sympathizing with his words at times (empathizing, even) about being an abused product of society and such - even if I haven't been through the things he's been or done the things he's done I could at least say I've felt the way he's felt. And the witchhunt burns with their screams that it's all a pity party and it is no excuse for his actions. Cynicism seeps in the former argument and obviousness seeps in the other. Why would a guy state his side of his story if not for the hope of garnering pity from the masses? Geez, that's such a false dichotomy (is it even a 'dichotomy' if people only see one possible result?) I really have nothing to say.

What we have here is a video - at least said to be taken at the halfway mark when the guy snapped. We know nothing about the first half of the incident, and evidently everything else in the second half shows the man at his worst. We could assume that there's nothing to the first half of the incident OR we could -gasp- believe him and take his account of what happened prior to his snapping at said lady.

Of course I'm not going to say the auntie in question was an absolute jerkwad and deserved whatever happened to her but I'd like to pay attention to the fact that the initial spark was the guy telling the aunty not to push the bell so late. I'd like to see how the video would be when filmed with that - how different would the whole thing be with the entire incident in context rather than completely dragged out of it. I mean, it's kind of like watching a family argument where the husband slaps the wife in the climax without seeing the entire buildup of the wife screaming at the husband and telling him she cheated on him with the neighbour, right?

And then comes the other part where the old lady has accepted his apology and doesn't intend to press charges. But no, the hunters scream, the man is insincere in his apology and is just making pity for himself! As if the man needed to seek forgiveness from the hunters for being a lamb to the slaughter as opposed to seeking forgiveness from the old woman he pushed down (and received, mind you). Do you have an obligation to apologize to the people out to kill you for an incident you have already settled with another? No? Then why do you think of his words as an apology? He owes you nothing. He's giving an explanation to the events that led up to the mindset in his head. Regardless of whether the mindset is flawed or not, sincerity is the most irrelevant thing you could bring into the situation at this very point - do you doubt the sincerity of a recounting? No, you don't! The thing you doubt is the goddamn accuracy, not how "sincere" a person was while recounting it!

So then the obvious statement shines - what the person says is no excuse for his actions. He's just bringing depth into the picture - a situation everyone perceives as shallow because it's the most convenient thing they can do. From a situation where "this fucker went and screamed and pushed an old lady down the bus" to a situation where "this man had a fucking bad day and is on the verge of insanity and an old lady unwittingly pushed him past it and he turned into a fucker and screamed and pushed the old lady down the bus". Does it make the situation more acceptable in any way whatsoever? Of course it doesn't. What it did do is give a fuller picture to the narrative and explain how the hell the guy turned into a fucker instead of just assuming he was a fucker in and out.

Then there're the saddening statements about autism and ASD and whatnot from people who claim that it's just an excuse. I think the saddest one I read was an RJ student who wrote that he did a full year project on ASD, knows many ASD people who are nice and don't resort to violence unlike the guy, and proceeds to say that ASD isn't an excuse for these obviously violent and unnecessary actions. It almost makes me feel like he approached the issue of ASD without personal experience of the flipside of it. (To his defense I agreed with the rest of what he said, minus the insincere part - because like I said, it's not really an apology in the first place.) What makes me really sad, though, is that he seemed to me like he felt that because he had done a one-year research project on ASD that it empowers him to tell people afflicted with the syndrome to conform with his knowledge of it. It almost felt like economists screaming at the economy for not behaving the way they learnt it would. Humans and human constructs just aren't that simple.

I've helped out with ASD students before as a relief teacher. It wasn't long, I admit (definitely not a year) but it gave me the chance to at least be on the ground with them. Perhaps I'm being a hypocrite by shooting down the RJ guy for his knowledge and trying to affirm my stance with my own experience with ASD but I'm going to give my own experience anyway. I'll just try not to associate any judgment with it. (And every name from here is fake)

I've seen some students that I felt were terrible (the principal apparently thought they were perfectly ok kids in the school - that kind of scared me a bit) - the big girl Akira who always resorted to violence because she was incapable of expressing herself via words and only via fists. That's a girl I could barely hold back - I hurt the girl just trying to hold her back from charging into the other girl she was arguing with, Ash.

They're always good friends until Ash says something she shouldn't (she's insanely kaypoh and is forever butting into the things Akira does and says) and makes Akira exasperated and on the verge of harming someone. That's the fine line - one stupid remark from turning an otherwise entirely fine and friendly girl into a brute ready to charge you down.

There's the kid Gary who was always violent from his hyperactivity and attacked people with scissors because he can't keep his fingers to himself. It's too boring. I'm terrified of him because he's also insanely vulgur, violent and can't count to 20 easily by himself. He's ten (or so).

There's that kid whose name I can't even fucking remember who needed two teachers to pin him down when he went on a fit just because of an argument over cake. Who repeatedly took my arm and played around with it, swinging it like it was a rag toy. Who always named a random body part and needed you to scratch it to calm his itch lest he deal a strong blow to your body.

Then there's the stories. Of a kid around 15 who die-die wanted to take PSLE and cried for joy when his score wasn't 2 digits. I nearly cried at my 257 (or 258 I forgot liao it's damn long ago) because it was the lowest amongst my close friends.

These are real people. They're in a special school being taken care of by specialized teachers (who are in short supply) in order to transition properly into a functioning member of society. They learn and try their best to turn into and perform as what society considers "normal".

I've worked as an assistant for teachers on certain days instead of being a relief and all I can say is that I have utmost respect for their vocation and the dedication and SKILL they have for their job. It's not easy teaching 10 students each with multiple (yes they're rarely individual issues) disorders that require differing techniques to address and educate properly. My mother herself related her own experience of needing to spend three months just to teach a student how to count to three. I believe it's one of her greatest achievements in the school. I have hope that the teachers at the school I worked at can teach these students and lead them on this journey towards being a member of society and I'm certain other special education schools are at least capable of the same standards that I witnessed while I helped out at mine.

What I have little hope of, however, is expecting the same to be done for ASD-and-other-disorders-inflicted students who were not lucky enough to be taught at a school that specializes in their education.Why would I have any faith in it? They just aren't taught to teach students with this kind of issue. The teachers would shun the student and toss them out of class - why else would a special education school exist if not for a dumping ground of students unwanted by the "normal" mainstream education system?

The thought that a student like Gary can enter society without ever being taught by someone capable of addressing his mental and physical issues scares me. The opposite thought that a student like Gary, after being taught properly and working well in society, can suddenly get completely shunned by the nation because he reverted to his old self in a moment of folly, rage and stupidity scares me equally.

Does this make Gary's actions forgivable in any way whatsoever if he so decides to assault someone with scissors while in the office? Good god, no! The law is the law, assault is assault! But obviously he has to be treated differently from the well-doing scholar who assaulted a co-worker with scissors simply because he truly lacks the mental capacity for proper contemplation!

And that's one of the most major points people are missing because they just haven't been exposed to it. They haven't experienced firsthand what people with these issues are (or more specifically, aren't) capable of. They relate to them with the knowledge they have (a most likely rosy if not extremely scientific one) and it just cannot compare with the truth simply because it's just too far out. I'm honestly frightened to think of what could have happened to this guy while he was in school. Let's say what he says is true (if you want to doubt anything doubt the accuracy rather than the sincerity first, as I said earlier) and he never attended a Home Econs, D&T, Art and Craft, Science, Physics, AMath, Chinese lesson and was essentially segregated from his class his entire school life. Can you even begin to imagine what that would do to your psyche? Now that you have, can you imagine what that would do to the psyche of a person WHO IS ALREADY MENTALLY CHALLENGED?

Some will challenge me now, of course. That entire premise just sounds entirely ridiculous and drama-ish. What's a black swan, then (Nassim Taleb please if you don't know)? I'd already say that the entire situation was a black swan situation caused by the coincidence of a man deciding to film an incident from an exact particular point onwards that painted another guy in a particularly bad light (well, worse light if you will. It's not as if filming the whole incident would've put him in a good light). It blew what could have been a guy pushing an old lady down the bus, feeling bad, apologizing to the old lady afterwards, being forgiven and life moving on - to a guy pushing an old lady down the bus, feeling bad, apologizing to the old lady afterwards, being forgiven by her, and subsequently burnt on a stake by the Singaporean community because what they saw of the video framed him in this particular light.

People are driven by various factors to do things. No, they aren't always good and informed, obviously. But people should at least gather more facts before they act almighty on their pedestal of pseudo-anonymity. It's insanely tragic that the society I'm in right now is quick to rage, quick to cool, quick to forget but never quick to forgive and quick to think and consider what the fuck could have happened that led to this. To remember that all it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy, and even less for the less-than-sanest.