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natsu's picture

Fixing the brain

A topic that came to mind when I thought of fixing brains was early diagnosis. Though I do not know too much about research on this topic, from experience I know that anything is easier to learn or get accustomed to when we are younger.  In other words, the brain is more plastic and easier to be “fixed” when we are younger.  I think this is one reason why early diagnosis is stressed so much these days for children with autism.  If we can diagnose autism sooner, we can “fix” their brains better.  Going back to the example that I brought up in class, I truly felt that it was important for me to help him learn (or perhaps to “fix” his brain) that it is inappropriate to touch people all over their bodies , when he was younger than when he is a grown up man.  When he was five, it was easy to say, “Look, that girl didn’t like it when you put your hands up her T-shirt, can you say sorry?” and children can make up even after such an incident.  On the other hand, if he still continued such behavior as a 25 year old man, he would probably become ostracized by the society.  While I agree that the culture can change to be more accepting of differences, people also have the right to have different beliefs.  For people with different ideas to live together, they must compensate for and work to understand their differences, and these efforts must occur on both sides.  When I was working with this boy, we tried hard to teach him that he could hold people’s hands if he did so gently and if he asked first, but that touching people’s butt in the classroom was not allowed.  At the same time, we talked to the girls in the class about how he likes to hold their hand, but that if he touches them in places that make them uncomfortable, they can and should tell him in words that he can understand instead of running away or trying to bear it because he has “a disorder”.

Just to clarify though, I did not mean to say that Japanese people will feel offended about the idea of shaking hands.  I just brought up the fact that we do not even shake hands to illustrate how much touching is an unnatural thing to do in the Japanese culture (which I guess may not have been clear, given Emily’s post).  Also, the touching behavior that this boy presented was extreme and would probably make anybody uncomfortable, but I wanted to say that it would be especially inappropriate in a culture like Japan. 

One reason I brought up this example was because there seemed to be several comments on the ideas of superiority and adaptability and how that relates to culture and disability, and I wanted to bring up that there are some aspects of culture that develop for neither of these reasons.  In Japan, do we decide not to hug , kiss or shake hands when we greet people like one might do in western countries because we think that not doing so is a more superior or a more adaptive way to survive in our country?  Of course not.  If asked why we don’t, I think all we can say is that we don’t because that is our culture, not because it is better to do so.  To answer Emily’s question about what culture is, I would say that to me, these common beliefs or customs that develop for reasons that have nothing to do with adaptability or survival is what culture is really about.

I definitely agree with Emily that “a culture must consist of more than one individual”, which is why cultural beliefs can be so distinguished from personal beliefs.  For instance, today when I am at Bryn Mawr, I feel that it is very natural to hug my friends because my friends and I share the Bryn Mawr culture.  Yet, I could not possibly imagine hugging my own father and I know I would feel extremely uncomfortable if somebody forced me to do so, because we share the Japanese culture.  I find it intriguing that the brain can accept one thing when in one culture and but not when in another culture.


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