Wednesday, 26 August 2009


23 Oct 2008

How can we begin with the minutiae of what people do and not use it as a distraction but as a fundamental component of learning?

How do people learn? How do autistic people learn?

Are they manually activating a synaptic leap- leaping into the unknown with the faith they will reach the other side- half flying half propelling- using surfaces like parkhor experts who gain footholds on railings, slopes and banisters- feeling out the landscape according to utility in a mobile navigation.

Response is about responsiveness but this needs to be activated- it is not up and running but needs to be practised. The brain and the body is not a self defining unit. Nor is it fully formed at birth. There is a learning interchange where our endings become the open circuit to something else. Systems are forged together- slammed together- cobbled together- conjoint systems that create momentary vacuums like the air trapped between the clap of two hands- impossible to know or elicit that sound without the ensuing action- the speed of this coming together- the bounce or a coming undone- two directives exploding into sound- that is a crafting immersed in the moment.

Autism is a learning program- the questions it opens up is about how we learn. It is an enactment of a process of activation. The techniques of autism- spinning, flicking, bouncing- stimming- momentary explosions of sound – composed sensory overloads that create threshold responses and send the parkour leaper into oblivion and over to the other side. A monitoring of synaptic firings that otherwise never get going or double and redouble into a labyrinth that if unchecked would tangle into immobility.

How to use that excess- the never-ending multiplication to go somewhere- or else to cobble together resonating chambers- informational pockets that reverberate and echo and harvest their own bifurcations.

Interesting. How do we learn from our own learning- from the strata of responses in between the chosen and accredited pitch frequencies or the colour red or blue? How to mix the palette and have it mean something even when it is not translatable into a chronological scale?

Memory- How to mix up events- rotate ourselves into different composite support structures that somehow lean up against one another and before collapsing, or moving on into a different sculpture, recognise position.
This has to be done from within the situation itself- from the practices already underway. Physically enacting ones own synaptic firing system can be exhausting as the testimony of any autistic person and their periods of over bearing tiredness, irritability, anger and melt-down will tell you.
Environments need to be sounding boards- open circuits for momentary inclusion that activates not only one synapse, one person, one surface but a network of inter-activating responses that can hold one another in a certain charge, and then allow for rest, for a period of release from a necessary but provisional constraint.

Sensitivity can be used when navigation is an on-going enquiry into multiple dimensions- objects are never closed- nor are persons- they come into existence and become what they are as the seal of a contact is made- like the articulation of the vocal chords through a certain pressure chamber in the labyrinth and the elastic mobility of the lips that seal, purse, puck and then allow in to the body a fresh trail of air at just the right moment. Soundings are crafted, sculpted in this way, in tandem with our need to take in air and redistribute its components according to what is most useable by our systems.

From gesture to sound to thought to expression- an interflow that is not causal but a simultaneous generation of one to another- the pressing into place of a haptic patterned circuit- a modulation of depth through an active gaging that is mediated from opposing sides.Where is the surface- the wall, the skin, the organ of apperception? It is situated through alignments which is a staged forging of space.

Perspective is a meaningless abstraction that depends on our pretending that the body could ever be still.

Waiting at a platform for a train- bodies jostle, sway- accommodate a further jet of passengers from the stairwell. The signal lights, rumble of the tracks- we sway from foot to foot, not together as one unit but accommodating one another into sudden absences and fillings. The on-off pump is enacted at every level from the infinitesimally small to the gross and through it all we realise our presence- a molecular adaptation of indentations and incursions- fingers, eye-brows, slight rockings from the balls of our feet to our toes- ankle bones bracing and giving way- hips re-angling into minute tilts and inversions reapropriating the bulk of our standing weight. Gasps of air flooding systems and transgressing borders to bond with blood and become, what essentially they are not. But just because it is not that outside our bodies does not mean it is not that inside our bodies. We are systems of negotiation spanning impossible islands. To be upright- to be more or less still is a continual set of tiny tectonic shifts and compromises. We are crafting that integrity all the time through near falls, by sacrificing the integrity of impossible categories.

Boats on the river Thames- muddy water in the dark, picking up and reflecting out lights from the towering glass buildings all around. The bridge that spans a section of the river- lit up red on one fa├žade- that red tumbling into the water- colouring it without ever penetrating it.

Could the boats be stilled- manufactured never to move even with the distractions of continual ebbs and flows, currents and jetties that constantly pile up the water in localised enclaves and cause it to crash and collapse in on itself? The idea is ludicrous to create an absolutely still boat. The only still boat is a sunken boat- one lying at the bottom of the muddy river where the water fills every space – caresses and wears away the very outline that describes it as a boat until it barely resembles it- certainly does not function as one.

Into City Hall- a conference on Autism hosted by the TV presenter Jon Snow who finally gets up from behind the table and whose mobile presence encourages debate, along with the chromatised colour tie- that is more of an activation than the material of some of the speakers.But it is hard to still a debate in this way between the polar opposites between a “Cure” campaign and a “We exist” campaign.

Hosted in the name of a school, it is in the name of schooling that the debate needs to configure. Not “cure us” or “accept us for who we are” but engage in the minutiae of the practices that are undertaken as a way of activating on-going awareness; on-going presence. There needs to be a questioning of what it actually takes to be present- of the price paid for a kind of immobile myth of distance learning- of concepts before experience, of uprightness before modulation. Of the impossible dream of a presentation of functionality with everything else erased or discouraged in the schooling process. Would we be left with any kind of adaptable system if this were the goal? Can we abstract sociability, sitting behind desks, asking for what we want, without the complex and mediated interface of a haptic negotiating- an on-going plasticity of word and deed and thought and form? Of an always bargained for presence?

If we look at this level of activity, even in the supposedly non-normative we may find the filaments of a system that can work and adapt, renew and alter- in other words of a learning system. When it is recognised as such, encouraged and furthered as such it becomes this.

How do we employ the countless acts that are put outside of learning- the distractions when we are looking out the window at the play of lights on the river, the feel of the soft pad of our fingers against the grained wood of a desk, the rise and fall of voices that do not agree as a kind of musicality, the tensile muscles, slightly aching in the small of our back and their connection to our neck muscles keeping our head up. Our chest, our breathing pattern, our air passages. The gravitational shifts as we tilt our head from side to side to try to stay awake. And through all this a reattribution of our sense of looking- a perception that goes all the way through the body and shifts and adapts between muscle and bone and organ as we too adapt and shift between ourselves even far from the point of touch.

How do we let these things in as meaningful without every interaction becoming so intense as to be unbearable? Here is the crux of the debate- a question of consciousness. Of how we honestly manage ourselves and others. Of how we behave and acknowledge the connections, even across vast chasms of identity and of people and of ways of being seemingly different from ourselves.

How much more would the debate shift and modulate to accommodate and make use of these differences if we were all moving- constantly arriving like a never ending influx from the stairwell that is a curvature a continual arrival as people descend, wrapping around the glass interior of city hall in order to occupy their chosen and fixed seats.

Is that final arrangement workable for the leap that is needed between the “cure us” and the “we exist” camps? Would not a different configuration work better- one which mirrors the practices of activation so necessary and literal to autistic people and at every level to all forms of creative and mobile learning?

What about making a learning environment within the flowing spiral inside out-ness of city hall, which lets in the river whilst embracing passers by on the river bank? Which lends itself to this poetic composition. Surely this inside-out approach that inspired the special practice of the architect who proposed such a building could be part of the learning experience as an on-going proposition. No longer a distraction of boats passing to the inner workings of focused utterances, but a literal metaphor for turning things over, navigation, mobility of course through constant adjustment and a working with environmental shifts as a way of guiding perception. Rather than spending energy locking out the random passing ship, the autistic heckler in the crowd, why not make such an element central.

What about a market place? Small sites of special interest known to autistic people in their art practices, spinning practices, haptic formulations, sculptural and bodily configurations displayed as a casual conglomeration of stalls where the space between the walking between stalls- grouped sitting areas, areas too to move in and move through are equally important.

To have that open space would mean that many more people who would be excluded from the seating arrangement and the need for verbally tuning in whilst continually and exhaustively repressing the activation from other sources of input could be involved- indeed central to a present research environment of actually happening practices.

Not only John with his coloured tie could move around, or the camera man, crouching, hopping and stooping to perceive but not to be perceived. Suddenly the entire environment could be put to use as a roaming pacing device for activating conversation in its broadest meaning. The camera and the reporter would roam as well picking up elements and engaging practitioners, autistic and not autistic, within this necessarily bubbling and chaotic market-place.

Fragments would be picked up, other things slip through. Autists would present not their pathologies but their techniques for activating thought, meaning, memory; their special interests; their roaming focus. And research would be the conjoint coming together of these practitioners, neurologists, care workers, doctors, teachers, siblings. The definition of who the heckler became would constantly shift, from autist, to researcher, to teacher, to sibling in a democracy of dispersed practices that represented very many different takes on expertise. They would need to thrash it out together by entering into very many different platforms of experience. That would necessarily put different views of the world at a disadvantage and at an advantage at different times.

A working method would be developed through such encounters, rather than two already closed camps arguing their corners in static verbal exchanges that already discredit the foundation of certain types of mobile learning by the very seating arrangement.

Over the duration of such working practices, rather than pitching words against actions, “cure” against “let us be”, the them/us factions would become less clearly defined in an investigation of what it means to learn and how different learning systems have been fashioned from out of every day practice within the neurological, social, physical, environmental condition that each person find themselves belonging to would open up a discussion that implicated every person’s subjectivity- where the observer and the observed coincided.

This might open up the debate about how we can learn about learning and take ideas about awareness- about what it means to be social, to be thinking, to be feeling, to be human, out of their rather jaded boxes. For these do not do credit to any of our capabilities.

In this age of networked involvements, autism and haptic learning styles could be a way of exploring dispersed knowledge systems, not of re-enacting Wild West clean-up or shoot out programs between the untamed “Indian” and the law abiding “citizen”. Surely that particular story line has got us into enough problems already.

Autism is an excuse to open a discussion about how we develop rather than to close it up into criteria of those who can and those who can’t develop. It is a chance to ask questions about why and how we learn differently and given that we do learn differently ,how best to support learning in all its various capacities, formations and growths. It is at this recognition of differences in perception that learning necessarily deepens into various techniques for approaching age old human questions that we all share. In that sense we must all become continuous researchers of our own methods and practices and to use this as a basis for perceiving other practices and the ways of knowing that they open out.

Ruth Solomon

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