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November 21, 2007 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-11-21

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. . .




12 Th ichga aiy - eneda, -ovebe 2,S00

My family's syndrome

y mom called me earlier
this semester to tell me
that my brother had got-
ten in trouble again. This time for
a new indiscretion - he had stayed
out too late with friends on a school
"I'm just so happy," my mom
Weboth were. For years, the idea
that my brother could be punished
for being too social had seemed
For my brother, a 17-year-old
with Asperger's syndrome, the
road through adolescence has been
more than bumpy. It's been land-
mine laden. Asperger's is one of
several lesser-known autism spec-
trum disorders that are beginning
to penetrate the sphere of public
recognition. The growing recog-
nition of such conditions is due in
part to research done at the Uni-
versity of Michigan. University
psychologists diagnosed both my
brother and dad with Asperger's
syndrome about eight years ago.
Asperger's isn't easily identi-
fied, even by those familiar with
the autism . spectrum. Its dis-
tinct symptoms are expressed in
small, ambiguous aspects, like my
brother's incapacity to wear jeans
because of a hypersensitivity to
texture. Unlike more severe and
better known conditions like Down
syndrome,Asperger's affects social
skills, not intelligence quotient. My
veryintelligentbrother can explain
to you everything from how a crab
layers plankton on its claws to the
From page 7B
Education associations often
file such briefs on behalf of uni-
versity faculty, students or staff.
An example is the American Asso-
ciation of University Professors.
In the Parents and Meredith cases,
the AAUP joined in an amicus
brief with the American Council
on Education, an organization that
represents and advocates for about
1,800 universities - including
the University of Michigan - and
other higher education-related
organizations. The brief argued
that "programs to promote racial
and ethnic diversity in K-12 educa-
tion advance ... efforts to achieve
excellence in higher education."

scientific explanation of the effect
of brass knuckles - he just won't
look you in the eyes when he does.
It's now thought that one in 100
people have autism. Much of that 1
percent of the population is like my
brother. They're the weird, loner
kids in elementary school class-
rooms, the spazzes, the abrasive
know-it-alls: people whose condi-
tions are often misunderstood by
society or misdiagnosed by the
medical community. Instead of
receiving treatment and support,.
children with autism spectrum
disorders are often designated as
the classroom lost cause or given
misguided attention.
My brother's case involved a
misdiagnosis of depression when
he was 8 years old. In the third
grade, mybrother began to express
suicidal thoughts and was put on
Prozac. But the anti-depressants
only agitated his problems. He
began to put on too much weight,
a common side effect of his medi-
cation. He stopped smiling in his
school photos and started throwing
screaming tantrums in class. A few
years later, he was diagnosed with
Asperger's, a condition my parents
had never heard of, but after a little
research, immediately recognized
as accurate. The diagnosis didn't
solve my brother's problems, but it
explained them.-
Asperger's is thought to be
largely hereditary and to manifest
almost exclusively in males. My
father had himself evaluated after
Tyler was and found out he has the
organizations like ACE play a
role not only in judicial proceed-
ings, but also in policy guidance
once decisions are handed down.
The Department of Education's
Office for Civil Rights is another
institution that serves students
and universities following rel-
evant court decisions. Alger, who
once worked for the OCR, said that
universities pay close attention to
the policy guidance offered by the
Universities can choose to be
highly involved in the policymak-
ing that follows court decisions.
Taking part in a formal notice-
and-comment process is one way
to do so, Alger said. In such a pro-
cess, a federal office like the OCR
may propose a rule and universi-
ties can submit suggestions that

condition as well. My 77-year-old Typical people intrinsically know
grandfather has not been evalu- what is expected of them in social
ated, and vigorously contested that situations because they imagine
he has Asperger's when I acciden- what they would expect if they
tally suggested the idea at a family were in their companions' posi-
dinner last year. But we're all cer- tions. It's not the case for people
tain that he, a self-described "space with Asperger's. They don't try to
alien," bequeathed the genes. perceive the desires of others until
The funny thing about my dad's later in life, when it's explained to
diagnosis is he's one of the most them that they should.
affable people you could hope to For my brother, missing this
meet. My father has an incredible crucial link in the stages of social
ability to assimilate into any social interactions makes getting along
arena. He is just as at home at the with teachers and peers difficult.
School's prerogative is proper
socialization. Most kids learn
For my brother, quickly to play a certain way dur-
ing recess and to leave the teacher
social cues are a alone when she's wearing a "God-
damnit-I-need-a-cigarette" scowl.
foreign language. Given my brother's condition, it's
no wonder his academic history
is littered with snapped pencils,
neighbors' United Auto Workers bruised bullies and office refer-
pig roast as he is at a wine tasting rals.
with regional executives. But he Living with a father and a broth-
attests that he experienced a lot of er with Asperger's had its social
my brother's issues when he was consequences for me, too. Though
growing up, including the same I don't have the syndrome, I exhib-
anxiety and frustration. My father it what experts on the subject call
can socialize with anyone now "ghosting" effects, less embellished
because he has spent years study- expressions of a syndrome's symp-
ing how to. It's kind of like how toms. I don't always follow through
people who learn English as a for- with social conventions like greet-
eign language often speak it best. ing friendly acquaintances and
My' father has the grammar of making small talk. I have trouble
conversation down, but he still with eye contact and massaging
struggles with the deeper mean- unpleasant truth. I've been called
ing. He knows what to do, but he cold, blunt and unapproachable.
doesn'tnecessarilyunderstandwhy It makes sense. I grew up in a
he should. The main characteristic house where everyone could be
of Asperger's is a lack of empathy. home and not say a word to each

other for hours. That affection
would come in sporadic bursts
rather than a regular program
seems natural and in many ways
preferable. But the social customs
of Asperger's men are often hell for
the women who love them. Since
my parents got.divorced and I left
for college, my mom has only my
brother for company at home. She
tells me she's lonely. She talks to
the cat. My mother has friends and
a committed boyfriend, but she's
starved at home for the light small
talk properly socialized people
Asperger's syndrome hinders a
person's ability to navigate society,
but an initial lack of empathy in
childhood doesn't mean less abil-
ity to connect personally with oth-
ers. My brother and father are the
two most loving men I know. My
mother knows my brother loves
her because he comes upstairs and
sits to play his Gameboy near her
sometimes. It's not a conventional
expression of affection, but it's
sincere. What if all of society oper-
ated by this Aspergian social code?
Silicon Valley supposedly does. I
imagine how honest and unbound
by etiquette the social circles of
Microsoft must be. It might be an
improvement. For one thing, in
Asperger's society, you don't talk
unless you have something to say.
And honestly, more people should
try it.
-Jessica Vosgerchian is the
assistant magazine editor.
He said that the relevant depart-
ments could hold focus groups
and complete formal research, for
Whenit comes to court decisions,
universities are oI'erwhelmingly
reactive. Higher education insti-
tutions have options to participate
in High Court proceedings and the
policymaking that ensues to vary-
ing degrees. Some, like Alger, say
that universities and the organi-
zations that represent them need
to step up to the plate to trumpet
the special context of universities
in relevant court cases. Still, much
of what is brought to the court and
decided by the justices is in the
hands of the country's ideological
and political climate, and higher
education's unique place in society
is not tenured.

the Office would then consider
before publishing a final rule.
Within auniversity, a key player
in the aftermath of court decisions
is the general counsel's office.
For Law School Dean Evan
Caminker, the role ofauniversity's
general counsel is an art. The art,
he said, is in the creativity general
counsels must use to bridge the
university's interests with honest
advice about what isn't working
for the university.
The multi-faceted role of a uni-
versity's general counsel includes
preventative measures to protect
the university from future law-
suits. General counsels have to be
smart in distinguishing between
High Court decisions that estab-
lish a clear precedent for higher
education - those that ensure

future lawsuits if changes are not
made - and one-off decisions that
only affect the parties involved in
the case.
Aside from filing amicus briefs,
Caminker said that general coun-
The complex
ties between the
justices and the
sels together with administration
officials should thoroughly dotheir
homework to be confident that
the issue at hand is "real" before
pursuing or appealing a lawsuit.

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