Questions and Answers About "Eikona Bridge: LIVE Communication with the Autistic Species"
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Q: What is your book about?
A: It's about raising children with autism, particular in their early childhood stage. However, the book also serves as a 360-degree understanding of autistic people's mind.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: Parents and educators. If you are the spouse or a co-worker of someone with autism, you may find this book useful, too.
Q: What made you decide to write this book?
A: Persistent pressure from my wife. Her motto is: "It takes an autistic person to understand another autistic person." She believes that my book will help many children and parents out there.
Q: Why did you choose the title Eikona Bridge?
A: Autism is a Greek word, so I felt the usage of a Greek word is proper. Eikona means "image" in Greek. I chose the title because I believe people with autism are visual, and because I use images and video clips to communicate with my children.
Q: What does LIVE stand for?
A: LIVE is an acronym, standing for Letters, Images, Voice and Experience. The Experience here refers to the experience of the children with autism.
Q: What year did you graduate?
A: 1992, PhD in Theoretical Physics, from Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA.
Q: What do you do for a living?
A: I work as a data scientist. I have compared my children to my data: neither my data nor my children talk (in their early childhood), but they all have stories to tell. If we persevere, we can find out their stories. Earlier in my life, I have worked as a software developer, producing children educational games. And much earlier in my life, I have worked as a farmer, growing corn, pumpkins and watermelons, and making friends with farm animals.
Q: What's the main message of your book?
A: Autism is a communication problem. Once you solve the communication problem, everything else will fall in place.
Q: Isn't autism a behavioral disorder?
A: No, it is not. Behavioral problems are manifestations of communication problems. If you solve the communication problems, the behavioral problems will go away, by themselves.
Q: But autism is a disorder, right?
A: No, I am autistic and I am not sick. People with autism simply have a different way of thinking and a different way of developing. They belong to a different species (or subspecies if you want), but are fine human beings otherwise.
Q: But children with autism have developmental issues...
A: No, they simply need to be communicated in a different way. They are speakers of a different language: the visual language.
Q: If children with autism don't have problems, then where is the problem?
A: We are the problem. We the adults are the problem. We are the ones that need to change our behavior and our way of communicating.
Q: Is it really true that you have never shed a single tear over your children's conditions?
A: That is correct. I am proud to be autistic, and I am proud of my children, too. I feel sympathy towards other parents with children with autism, but behind their backs, I have to scratch my head as to why they make themselves so miserable.
Q: But raising children with autism means a lot of work...
A: No question about that. But that is what evolution is about, right? What other animals spend as much effort as humans in raising their offspring? We humans spend a lot more work in raising our children, but we are the ones that send people to space, write poems and compose symphonies. What other animals have ever achieved that? Those weak human youngsters are the ones that have made all this possible, when they grew up. Similarly, I believe that children with autism have special talents, and they can solve problems that we are not able to solve today. They hold the key to the survival of the human race tomorrow. More work, yes, but it's all part of the deal, and it's totally worth it.
Q: But doesn't raising children with autism divert our resources?
A: I have some questions: What other animals wear clothing or send their children to schools? Why do humans divert resources towards clothing and schooling? Our ancestors certainly needed no clothing and no schooling, right? How did textile manufacturing and fashion models ever become such a glamorous industry? Why are colleges and universities charging an arm and a leg for tuition? If you know the answers to my questions, then you know the answer to your original question. In short, it's because we, as consumers, believe all these things are worth it. Of course I agree that we need to be smart about where we spend our money, and in my book you will realize I go out of my way to tell parents to be nimble. But with the arrival of the information age, particularly with the arrival of robotic technologies, I believe that education will take a front seat on how we spend our resources. We need education reform, not just for children with autism, but for all children. We need to stop destroying the creativity and the potentials of our children. We have no right to complain about income inequality, when we are not addressing the very root of the problem: education. Our current education system is churning out a workforce that is incapable of adapting to the speed of modern learning, and we send this workforce into non-creative job positions that are at risk of automation. And we then complain about income inequality. Autism care is not about diverting resources. We need to be smart and nimble about our resources, but the fact is that we have not paid enough attention to our children's education, be them autistic or not. As a society, we stand to gain by investing in our children's education. Education does not mean just getting a degree or spending tons of money: many advanced courses from top universities are available for free to the entire world. Education is about developing our children's creativity, it's about teaching them how to solve problems, it's about providing them with meta-learning skills, so they can stand on their own, go out, and teach themselves for the rest of their lives. If our young men and women cannot go out and stand on their own, then we have failed as a society. We need education reform, and there is a lot of work to be done. With the arrival of the robotic era, we have bigger issues than just autism care. Autism special education is just one small component the much-needed education reform. Without education reform, the alternative is social unrest. Education is the only way for humans to preserve their value and dignity. And that goes for both children with and without autism.
Q: So, autism is not a medical issue?
A: Autism falls into the grey area between medical science and special education. There is no question that only a clinical psychologist is qualified to issue a diagnosis on autism, because there are just too many forms of developmental issues. There is no question that children with autism need services. There is also no question that severe autism cases may require further medical assistance. However, in my opinion, most of the autism cases fall under the umbrella of special education. It is debatable as whether resources should come from the right hand, or the left hand.
Q: What is autism to you, then?
A: Unmitigated auto-feedback due to an overly connected brain.
Q: Care to elaborate?
A: The brains of children with autism are simply "too powerful," so to speak. When left unmitigated, their brains will enter a resonance mode, manifested in repetitive behaviors, sensory problems, and inability to focus on isolated concepts. It's like they have all these super-highways inside their brains, but the problem is that these super-highways don't have any exit ramps. Highways without exit ramps are useless, no matter how fast you can go on them. However, if we develop these children by communicating with them through their visual language, we will succeed in connecting their super-highways to the other streets inside their Brain City, and these children will be able to shine with their talents. Best of all, their behavioral and sensory problems will subside and eventually go away, by themselves.
Q: But some adults with autism are very low-functioning...
A: So are neurotypical adults, if they are not properly developed during their childhood.
Q: My child has autism, is over 24 months old, and is non-verbal. What should I do?
A: The brains of children with autism are not damaged. They have all the wiring in place for verbal skills. However, they belong to a different species and have a different path of development. Teach them to read first. Talking can wait. We should not turn the lives of these children upside down, just because we want them to follow the development paradigm of typical children. By leveraging their reading skills, children with autism will talk sooner, and better.
Q: My child has autism, has poor eye-contact, and does not socialize. What should I do?
A: The brains of children with autism are not damaged. They have all the wiring in place for social skills. However, they belong to a different species and have a different path of development. Talk to your children through video clips and picture images. Use the modulation technique mentioned in the book, and start developing their visual-manual skills first. Socialization can wait. We should not turn the lives of these children upside down, just because we want them to follow the development paradigm of typical children. By leveraging their visual-manual skills and developing their talents, children with autism will socialize sooner, and better.
Q: My child has autism, and is constantly throwing tantrums. What should I do?
A: Children with autism have long memories. They keep an accountant's double-entry ledger inside their brains. You have accumulated too many negative points in their double-entry ledger. Starting today, whenever your children throw a tantrum, please remember to sit down and talk to them at bedtime, by using pictures. Picture-aided talking brings you closer to your children. They may not be able to fully understand your explanation, but they will appreciate your effort, by erasing today's negative mark from their double-entry ledger. You need to do picture-aided talking with your children as soon as possible, otherwise you risk making those negative marks permanent, and your children will lose faith in humanity.
Q: What is the most difficult issue with children with autism, in your opinion?
A: Slurred speech. I will take tantrums from children any day over their slurring. Slurred speech tells me there has been neglect: these children have missed certain window of opportunity in their development. I compare it to the building of a 100-floor tall skyscraper. We cannot wait until after finishing the last floor to think about building an elevator. Not all is lost, but it will take a lot of effort to address this problem. Prevention is always better than treatment. Please teach your children to read before teaching them to talk, and communicate with them through pictures. Slurring happens because these children have been forced to follow the development paradigm of typical children, which is learning to talk before learning to read. Slurring may also reflect other issues, including self-esteem problems.
Q: How many types of autism are out there?
A: I see only two types: pro-picture, and pro-video. Pro-picture children tend to be on the quiet side, and they are good with pictures and phonics. Pro-video children tend to be hyperactive, and often cannot focus on pictures during their early childhood. Pro-picture children are concept-oriented, pro-video children are process-oriented. From my personal observation, these two types of autism are equally prevalent.
Q: What about Asperger's? What about low-functioning vs. high-functioning?
A: I do not see them as good classifiers. "Asperger's" is widely misused and there is no consistency in the application of this term. Also, I don't believe in the existence of a low-functioning form of autism. It's a misnomer. It blames the children for the failure of adults to understand them. Instead of the terms "low-functioning" and "high-functioning" forms of autism, I prefer to use the terms "less well understood" and "better understood." Instead of describing some adults with autism as being "low-functioning," I would describe them as "underdeveloped" or "permanently underdeveloped." Don't blame the children for something that is not their fault.
Q: What causes Autism?
A: I don't know. But I believe autism was statistically encoded into human genome already thousands of years ago. I believe that modern human's life style, particularly the fact that people are marrying late and having babies late, has amplified the importance of this genetic trait. Mother Nature is trying to tell us something here, and it's our job to decipher her message. Mother Nature works with more DNA molecules than the total memory capacity of all our supercomputers, combined. I wouldn't underestimate her intelligence.
Q: I have some friends and their child just got diagnosed with autism. They are devastated. What can I do?
A: I scratch my head at their reaction. To me, my species just scored another point, and we are taking over the world...More seriously, please tell your friends not to worry needlessly. I am autistic. I work, I am married, and I am raising a family. My two children repeatedly receive compliments as being happy children. Happy children with big smiles. Your friends need to channel their energy into positive aspects and help their child develop. Worry-free parents mean happy children, please remind them about that. Yes, it's more work, but blame that on evolution. We can't turn the clock back. Please keep in mind that the robotic era is coming. This is no longer science-fiction, but a reality that is affecting our economy profoundly. Children with autism have powerful brains and many have hidden talents. Also, they don't show the greediness/selfishness of typical children. My wife always tells me that if she had a choice, she would still choose to raise children with autism. Once you understand them, you will come to appreciate them as fine human beings. Tell your friends that raising children with autism can be a beautiful journey, with breathtaking scenery at every stretch. And who knows, one day, these children may be the ones to save our world.
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