Ian and Elizabeth discuss humanism



Although this blog is intended to promote Iris Johansson’s book A different childhood, I am again posting a transcript of Ian’s lessons with RPM instead because I want to spread the word about this wonderful  teaching method to everyone who has loved ones with autism. You and see more transcripts on my blog www.adifferentchildhood.com, as well as more information about the book, including reading a chapter from it. Here is the transcript of Ian’s lesson on Humanism. Elizabeth, the teacher is in italics, Ian in CAPS

Humanism refers to any philosophical, moral, political, artistic or scientific system with a human, not religious, frame of reference.  In humanism, some believe that the ideals of human existence can be fulfilled without regard to religion. The Humanist Manifesto of 1933 took the position that the universe was “self-created;” that mankind was a part of nature.  A manifesto is a written or verbal declaration of intentions, motives or views of the author.

  • Name two systems that humanism refers to. ART AND SCIENCE
  • What did the humanists believe?  BELIEVES SCIENCE NOT GOD DEFINES MAN
  • Why would a manifesto be helpful to talk about a controversial topic? ALLOWS A TOPIC TO BE CLEARLY DEFINED

Renaissance humanism refers to a revival of classical literature and philosophy that began at the end of the Middle Ages, or middle of the 14th century.  Renaissance humanism features several important intellectual figures, including Nicolaus Copernicus and Leonardo daVinci. Nicolaus Copernicus was a mathematician, economist and astronomer who declared that the earth orbited around the sun.  Though Copernicus wrote “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Sphere” several decades earlier, it was not published until his death in 1543 as his theory was in direct conflict with teachings of the Catholic Church.  Leonardo daVinci worked as an artist, musician, architect, inventor, engineer, anatomist and geometer.  In his drawing Vitruvian Man, daVinci superimposed two views of a nude man in a circle to illustrate mathematical proportions of the human body as described by Roman architect Vitruvius.  Vitruvian Man was said to reconcile the main two parts of our being; the physical and the intellectual.

  • What period of time does the 14th century refer to? 1500s (Ian used the number board to respond to this question)
  • Tell me one thing you learned about Copernicus.  HE HAD TROUBLE WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
  • What was one of Leonardo daVinici’s occupations? PAINTER…..what is his famous painting?…MONA LISA
  • What was significant about the Vitruvian Man?  BLENDED BODY AND MIND
  • I showed Ian the picture (below) of the Vitruvian man and asked, “what impresses you about this picture?”….SYMMETRY OF THE BODY

The difference between humanist and religious theories are their understanding of what constitutes truth. The humanist regards truth as something constantly evolving.  Religious theory identifies a static, unchanging revelation from God as truth. A humanist is generally skeptical and open minded.  Religious theorists are often unwavering and live according to theological dogma.  Dogma is a principle or set of principles provided by any authority as incontrovertibly true.

  • What is the difference between humanism and religious theorists?  HUMANISTS DEFINE TRUTH VIA SCIENCE, RELIGIONISTS DEFINE TRUTH VIA GOD
  • Now that we have talked about both sides of the spectrum – where do you fall in terms of humanism and religious theory?  I CAN SEE MERIT IN BOTH SIDES

Creative Writing: The basic difference between humanism and religious theories is weather something can change or evolve over time.  In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue to prove that the world was not flat.  In 1543, Copernicus declared that the earth revolved around the sun; the planets did not revolve around our round world.  Each declaration required education, hypotheses, experiment and declaration to be introduced to an apprehensive audience.  

  1. Define a topic that you know a lot about.  
  2. Do you have a hypothesis or “new take” on that topic?  
  3. Given the chance, how would you research or experiment to determine if your hypothesis is correct?  
  4. In the event that your experiment yields proof of a breakthrough or new perspective, can you think of an audience that would be apprehensive about your findings? 


Ok, Ian, now you need to create a manifesto to go along with your findings.  Be sure to name your manifesto!









Ian’s eighth RPM Lesson


This is the transcript of Ian’s eighth lesson in RPM with Elizabeth, and the third day of his journey into the world of communication. Elizabeth’s words are in italics and Ian’s in CAPS.

Subject of the lesson: Kyle Thompson, photographer

Kyle Thompson was born in Chicago on January 11th, 1992. He began taking photographs at the age of nineteen after finding interest in nearby abandoned houses. His work is mostly composed of surreal and bizarre self portraits, often taking place in empty forests and abandoned homes. He has no formal education in photography.  

What is the name of the person we are talking about?  KYLE

What does he do?  PHOTOGRAPHER

Where did I tell you that I found the inspiration for this lesson? FACEBOOK

What is facebook?  SOCIAL MEDIA

Do you have a facebook account? NO

Do you want one?  YES….(this may be something to consider as Ian is able to use the letter board at home.  I have RPM clients on FB and there are others out there who really enjoy using FB just like the rest of us)

Why didn’t Kyle use models for his photos?  ANXIETY


What makes you anxious?  CHANGES IN ROUTINE


How old is Kyle? .……… *I broke this down for Ian, had him subtract 1992 from 2014….22…..then asked him to calculate how much older Kyle is than Ian…..7 YEARS

Where does he take many of his photographs? ABANDONED HOUSES

What does abandoned mean?  HOMES THAT ARE EMPTY

What does bizarre mean?  STRANGE

How did Kyle learn to take pictures?  TOOK PICTURES A LOT

Have you ever taught yourself something?  I TAUGHT MYSELF HOW TO LEARN…..how?….BY LISTENING

Let’s talk about Kyle’s photographs.  (I showed Ian the pictures above and asked him to pick one that resonated with him.  He picked the top left photo).  I LIKE THIS PICTURE BECAUSE HE IS EMERGING FROM THE SWAMPY WATERS.  IT IS LIKE THE WAY I FEEL.  I AM EMERGING FROM THE SWAMP OF SILENCE.  (Beautiful!!!! Great metaphor!)

Kyle’s photographs have gone viral on the internet.  He has gone from a pizza delivery man to a professional photographer in a few years.

What does viral mean?  SEEN ON INTERNET

What inspiration can you take from Kyle’s life?  EVEN WHEN YOU FACE HARD CHALLENGES YOU CAN SUCCEED

Review of The autistic brain by Temple Grandin

This is a meaty book which provides and informed update of the current state of the art in autism research. It is a popular science book about brain research written by the research subject herself and gives a brisk and informative review of the state of the art in brain scanning with illustrations of the findings in the author’s brain. It reviews the latest findings in the genetics of autism and reports on the identification of genes associated with autism.  The author delves at length on the issue of sensory problems experienced by autistics and  decries the limited interest of researchers in this stressful issue for many autistics. She reviews the different diagnostic testing techniques and the labels they cause to be attached to people and appeals to people on the spectrum, and their loved ones, to resist being defined by a label. She talks about the employment possibilities for autistics and gives examples where their peculiar idiosyncrasies  turn out to be a competitive advantage. All packed into a narrative infused with Dr. Grandin’s life experience as a high functioning autistic.

As the grandfather of an autistic boy and as a friend of the autistic Iris Johansson, who I think of as the Temple Grandin of Sweden, I was intensely interested in the contents of this informative book. As the translator of Johansson’s book “A different childhood” I was particularly interested in Dr. Grandin’s discussion of the sensory problems experienced by many autistics, the visual and auditory processing issues in particular. In this context I was disappointed to not find any comments about synesthesia which I believe is often associated with autism. On this subject, the book by Johansson is a particularly rich source of material, describing her synesthesia (perceiving her mother’s anger or grandmother’s scolding as beautiful light-shows that delighted her), her out of body-like experiences (seeing her body sitting on the ground as she herself was swooping around in the sky with her spirit friends), her tactile problems (wearing her flannel shirt inside out and backwards to minimize the unbearable irritation of rough fabric).

As Dr. Grandin emphasizes, there are many variations in the autistic experience, but also many characteristic similarities. One way to possibly think about it is that what’s common is the areas in which autistic differ from neurotypicals, but the way they are different varies greatly. For instance, Dr Grandin refers several times to her poor short term memory, while for other autistics super memory is their most notable characteristic. Overall this book is well worth your time, even if you are not associated with anyone on the spectrum. If you are, then it is a book that belongs in your library.


Specialisterne, a company for autistic employees

In November 2009 The Atlantic magazine ran a series they called brave thinkers. At the top of their list, which included people like Ben Bernanke,Steve Jobs, and Barack Obama, was Thorkil Sonne of Denmark, the father of an autistic son, who started a company dedicated to hiring AS individuals. His business model is to market services that take advantage of the particular skill sets that people on the spectrum typically excel at such as sustained focus and attention to detail. Their website is at http://www.specialisterne.com/

From The Atlantic:

Name: Thorkil Sonne
Job: CEO and Founder of Specialisterne
Why he’s brave: He launched a software-testing company and staffed it with employees who have autism spectrum disorder.
Quote: “I think normality is whatever the majority decides it will be, and in our company people with autism are the norm.”

After his son Lars was diagnosed with autism in the late 1990s, Sonne had an epiphany. Autistics tend to have poor social skills and difficulty responding to stress or changes, which makes finding work a challenge (one study suggests that only 6 percent of autistic adults have full-time employment). But Sonne realized that they also tend to be methodical, possess excellent memories, and show great attention to detail and tolerance for repetition—in other words, they might make excellent software testers. With this in mind, Sonne launched Specialisterne, in Copenhagen, in 2004. Thirty-seven of its 51 employees have autism (though most have a mild form called Asperger’s syndrome). The firm now pulls in $2 million a year in revenue and serves clients like Microsoft and CSC. Sonne refuses to run the company like a charity: he competes in the open market and aims to make a profit. This makes government support unlikely, but it may lead to a sustainable new model for companies with disabled employees: Harvard Business School now uses Specialisterne as a case study in social-enterprise business. People on the autistic spectrum are not superhuman memory machines; but neither are they incapable of work. Sonne treats them as employees with strengths and weaknesses that smart employers should respect—and capitalize on.

Question on Autism-Aspergers yahoo group


My 6 year old son is in kindergarten and receives services (ABA) through the Special School District in Missouri. My son is on the autism spectrum and has a para with him throughout the day. He lately has not been completing his work – so last Wednesday I learned that they withheld his lunch from him until 2:00 until he did his work. I am sick about this. My son does not perform well when hungry and I thought ABA was supposed to be  a teaching method based on positive rewards and not withholding basic needs  as punishment. As anyone else come across this?!

Iris Johansson’s comments:

For us who have autism the issue is that we can’t use our feelings to understand and therefore both rewards and punishments are ineffective. If we get rewards we lose the idea of what we were supposed to learn and if we get punishments we get irritable and lose concentration. It is important to realize that we want to learn everything we can, but we have no feeling for something that is new to us. It takes us a long time until we have oriented ourselves and are able to put the new into an existing context and this doesn’t work the same way as for those who have feelings to lubricate the process with. We are not like children without autism, who are imprinted at a deep level, not by what someone says, but by what someone does.  It’s not like that for us, we have to figure it on an intellectual level what we should do and then the tendency is that we slip back into the known and familiar, however wrong that may be, and then both rewards and sanctions tend to bind us in our stereotypy, instead of helping us make progress.

What is required for us to learn is that we get to watch somebody else doing it and that somebody teases out our interest in it and then we eventually do what is wanted but in our own peculiar way. So you are absolutely right, using reinforcement and sanctions is not a good method.

With Son-rise where somebody joins in the autistic persons stereotypy and continually opens it broadens it, that helps us become high functioning and it is without preconditions and therefore works. That way our nervous system releases the cramp a little and we get somewhat freer impulses that can flow and we can develop. Our body will not obey our intentions unless we can get our cramp released and the great task for those around us is to make it to help us be as cramp-free as possible, and that is not possible with sanctions.

A link from “Autism from a father’s point of view”

This is from a post on Stuart Duncan’s blog where he makes the following interesting observation:

As a result, Autistics make the best Autism Advocates but because of the nature of Autism itself, it also makes them the worst advocates.