Friday, February 3, 2012

Autists are "square pegs" in a world filled with "round holes"

“Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg.”
― Paul Collins 
 I saw this post on Facebook earlier and it reminded me of something that is frequently on my mind.  As mentioned in previous posts, I grew up watching the film "Apollo 13."  If I were given a few hours of sustained concentration, I could probably recite that film word for word.  That being the case, it should be known that I am reciting all the background information for this blog post from memory using what I can recall from the film and my interests in space travel from when I was younger.  I ask everyone to bear with me as I build this up to my point. 
One of the problems facing the astronauts on their journey back from the moon is something that we all deal with on a daily basis without really thinking about it: carbon dioxide.  This is the waste gas that is exhaled every time we take a breath.  Under normal circumstances on the Apollo missions, both the command module, which was the section of the vehicle that the astronauts use to re-enter earth's atmosphere, and the lunar module, which was the part of the space craft that landed on the moon, each had these filters to recycle carbon dioxide exhaled by the astronauts.  In a confined space 100,000 miles from home, the carbon dioxide exhaled by the astronauts has nowhere to go and would replace the oxygen, if not for the filter.  The Apollo 13 mission was far from normal.  The astronauts and the ground crew below had to push the capabilities of the space craft to the ultimate limit.
What happened in this case is the astronauts were forced to shut down the functions of the command module to conserve power for reentry and spend their trip to earth within the lunar module.  There were three crew members that traveled to the moon using the Saturn V spacecraft.  They were the flight commander, the lunar module pilot, and the command module pilot.  Under normal circumstances, the command module pilot stays in the spacecraft orbiting the moon while the other two crew members descend to the surface in the lunar module.  This being the case, the lunar module was designed to accommodate only two people.  The Apollo 13 circumstances exceeded this capability, so the carbon dioxide filters in the lunar module were saturated by circumstances the designers never expected them to face.
This brings me back to the quote above.  The given alternative for the astronauts was to use the carbon dioxide filters from the command module in exchange for the saturated filters in the lunar module.  However, both filters were designed by two different companies.  The filter in the command module was square and the one in the lunar module was round.  With the lives of the astronauts at stake, the crew on the ground had to find a way to literally fit a square peg in a round hole with the lives of the astronauts at stake as the slowly suffocated from excess carbon dioxide.
The ground crew bellow was given the task of building this filter to ACCOMODATE for the difference in specifications.  This was a high stakes craft project using nothing but the items the astronauts had access to in their space craft.  Once the design was complete, mission control relayed the instructions for the filter to the astronauts and walked them through the construction process for the make-shift device that saved their lives.
In a metaphorical sense, this is what individuals with autism face on a daily basis.  Ranging from a parent who has a child with Aspergers Syndrome, to another parent who has a nonverbal child with severe autism, the concept is the same.  Those children are square pegs in a society designed for those who are round, so the world functions around base assumption that everyone is round.  Trying to hammer an autistic child into a situation that they are not able to handle does not solve the situation.  My mission while raising autism awareness is to show people that those with autism are not disabled or incapable of functioning in a world made of round holes.  With the right thinking, experimenting, and accommodations using what people have available to them can make these situations work.  Given that this Apollo 13 filter was built by the brightest scientific minds of the day, not everyone has access to reasoning capability like that.
Parents of children with autism: can anyone really claim to know your child better than you do?  You have been through everything with them as you try to understand how to accommodate their individual needs with the resources you have.  Through the human spirit of becoming greater than you are presently, I guarantee that it can be done.  I am living proof!                                                                                                                                    

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful! It's a parable, a story. People understand that better than stuff from experts, which only seem to help their own agenda's.

    I found this by accident, I'll mail it to my son on purpose!