In some respects, Star Trek’s “heavy-handed message about tolerance” is as dated as a beehive on a yeoman. A decade after the launch of the International Space Station, Americans and Russians serving as crewmates is par for the course. Where the on-screen interracial kiss shared by William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols sparked controversy in 1968, Uhura’s make-out sessions in the current film don’t even raise an arched and upswept eyebrow. And lazy science-fiction authors can no longer use “black American president” as shorthand for “the distant future.”
Yet for all that, the message is still there—even if it goes unspoken. And, in some way, it may have more resonance than ever. As I watched this film last Saturday, and Mr. Spock walked onto the bridge with his stiff demeanor and his formal language, my initial reaction was: “Oh man, that guy is so Asperger’s.”
This is a pretty good article about Spock as an example of someone on the ASD spectrum. I’ve always been a big fan of Star Trek and so has my mom (There’s a picture of me at Old Sturbridge Village in the mid-1970s wearing a Spock-mock-turtleneck with the Enterprise logo on the breast), but part of the article is about what we as teachers experience as more and more kids diagnosed with ASD come into the classroom as mainstream children. Trust and mutual respect are critical to building and maintaining relationships with such children. Isn’t that so? A love of technology and gadgetry is also indicated, as the language of the DSM IV would have it.
I know that my own experiences with such children revealed a deep current of anger within myself. It wasn’t until I began to deal with that anger, and master the emotional stress within myself, that I became a moderately competent teacher of such children. That took exposure to Buddhist training, and a few other things, before I felt peace in myself when trying to help someone on the ASD spectrum. Maybe that’s what we all need: a chance to delve deep into our own psyches as part of our teacher training, so that we can reflect peace and calm back at our students who express such anger, fear, anxiety and resentment. Maybe if we become the calm competence we wish to see in our students, we will better teach them.