Interview #2: Was Yosef on the Spectrum? Interview with Author Professor Samuel Levine

We sat down with Professor Levine to discuss his insightful book exploring if Yosef (Joseph) from biblical times was autistic. Also, we discuss his disability rights and inclusion project at the Touro Law Center.


Thank you to Professor Levine for his time and insights. Be sure to connect with him via LinkedIn or at Touro College.


For more information on the Disability Rights & Inclusion Project click here.


His book is available on Amazon and links to scholarly articles on the text are in the description of the video.


The video is Closed Caption and the transcript is below.






Transcript Starts...



>> Tas

Hi, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. This is Professor Levine. And today we're going to be discussing his disability inclusion projects, and also his book, Yosef on the Spectrum. And we'll go ahead and get started with some introductions. If you'd like to share a little bit about yourself, what you do for a living, and how you became involved with neurodiversity, and autism advocacy.


>> Professor Levine

Great, thank you. And first, I want to thank you for having me today. it's really a pleasure and really an honor for me to participate in your important work on autism awareness, inclusion, acceptance, and neurodiversity. And it's an area I've been trying to promote for a number of years now. And on that note, just to go back a bit, my formal training is as a lawyer, I practice for a number of years as a prosecutor and other areas of law. And over the past several years, I've been teaching full time as a law professor, as part of this work initially tangentially for both personal and professional reasons. But over the years, more so, I have been involved in efforts to promote advocacy, inclusion, awareness, acceptance in the areas of disability rights, generally, as I've had a specific interest in the area of autism.


>>Tas

Great. Do you have any personal experience with autism?


>>Professor Levine

So I do. And without getting into details, I have both personal and professional connections extensive, both personal and professional work in the area of autism and with autistic individuals.


>>Tas

Wonderful. And so as far as it goes with autistic allyship and being an ally of the community, and being able to advocate alongside the community and people that are on the spectrum, what is your personal philosophy on how that looks and how it should be done?


>>Professor Levine

That's a great question. Thank you. And I know different people have different views on this. And I think it's important to have these conversations. For like-minded individuals, I think, on some level, we are all on the same page, and what we're trying to promote the results that we're trying to bring about and achieve. So it's important to talk about different strategies and different philosophies when it comes to advocacy. And as you mentioned, allyship. So as an ally, I recognize first and foremost, I'm a proponent, and I recognize nothing about us without us. And I think that's a basic principle. And I say that basic, most basically, as a matter of dignity as a matter of autonomy. If we're talking about advocating on behalf and in behalf of autistic people, autistic individuals, as most basic matter of human dignity, and autonomy, and respect, it's important that we include autistic individuals in that advocacy. And in those conversations, it's also as a strategic matter. And here's where my background in the law, my background in advocacy really comes into play. As an advocate, I recognize that if someone has their own lived experiences, if someone is promoting their own needs, desires, importance, justice that they deserve, then they will bring knowledge information, and at times, often passion to the table that even well meaning allies can't always achieve on their own. So when I say nothing about us, without us, it's again, it's a basic matter. Strategically, when it comes to advocacy, it's important crucial to have the individuals that we I am advocating for part of that conversation. And on that matter, for example, when I'm involved in an event, and I'm asked to speak on the panel, when I organize my own events, I do make a point a bit to request and if possible to insist it's not always possible. If I'm speaking on my own as the individual speaker, we might not always be able to include the autistic individuals on the panel, but you make a point of it to make that request and when possible, when I'm organizing an event to include autistic voices in those conversations, at the same time when it comes to advocacy. I think it's important that the principle, nothing about us without this doesn't become us against them. And that's where I think allies enter the picture. I think it's important that again, like minded people who are really trying to achieve to promote to reach the same results, the same goals, find ways to work together, and to highlight and draw on the strengths that different individuals bring to the table. I am also recognized and I also promote the understanding that if you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person. So we're not talking about a monolithic community, no community is fully monolithic. But there are certain areas where I think we recognize as a society that as autistic individuals have certain strengths, neurotypical individuals have certain strengths. And sometimes we view the same characteristics as a strength, or as a deficit or a liability. Yeah, sometimes we talk about someone being a perfectionist. Depending on your circumstance, depending on the context, sometimes perfectionist can be meant, and can be a compliment. Sometimes a perfectionist is someone that we're not so thrilled about. If you're at work, and the job has to be done correctly, I like my doctor to be a perfectionist, I want them to make sure that they're doing everything right. If someone's cooking you dinner. And it's not exactly the way you wanted it. And you make a fuss about that. Well, that's kind of kind of perfectionist that we resist. So there's a time and place for everything, I think many neurotypicals have an edge when it comes to advocacy. Because advocacy. And here I think analogies are sometimes helpful. I view autism advocacy, as a form of justice, as a form of social justice and as a form of civil rights. And we know from experience that in other areas of civil rights in other areas of inclusion of diversity in other areas of discrimination, which is where I see autism advocacy, pushing back against really often open and certainly hidden forms of discrimination. We know as lawyers, or I know, we the legal community. And society at large is well aware that to change hearts and minds, it's not always enough to speak out about what you know, to be true, and to be correct and to be right. But you have to speak to the listener in a way that will appeal to them. I think it's a generalization, I hope it's not a stereotype. So I think this is again, based in studies, certainly based in countless experiences I've had with autistic individuals, there is a tendency to be direct, to be very truthful, to be very open, honest, and to demand rightly so the correct result to demand justice. But when it comes to advocacy, sometimes you have to temper that justice with a form of spinning. Again, that term often has negative connotations. You don't want to spin the situation, you don't want to dis describe the inhibition the situation in a way that's not accurate when it comes to your friends when it comes to your family when it comes to many areas of life. But when it comes to advocacy, sometimes and the work of lawyers, I trained lawyers, I worked as a lawyer, the job is to describe truthfully, the situation to describe the facts in a way that's going to promote the goal that you're rightfully trying to achieve. And that's where, as an ally, I like to bring those skills to bear changing hearts and minds is not limited to. And we've seen once again, other areas, we've seen it in areas of disability rights, we've had the ADA for 30 years. And without diminishing the importance the value of the success of the ADA. It only gets you so far. When it comes to society's attitude. And when we're trying to change hearts and minds. And just in the area for example of employment for autistic individuals, which is an area I become increasingly interested and involved in. We know that an employer can discriminate often will discriminate and a wrong minded employer will find ways to avoid getting caught. They will find ways to paper over the discrimination if they want to if someone really wants to discriminate if someone wants to do the wrong thing. So as much as we have to continue fighting those fights, as much as we have to continue implementing and enforcing ADA, another anti discrimination laws and other areas, whether it's special education in other fields I'm involved in where we have federal laws. The IDEA based on the ADA, requiring certain civil rights be provided for students but we all know from experience that school districts all too often will find a way to avoid implementing their legal obligations. So we need something else, it's not enough to say, this is wrong. It's not enough to say these are the statutes. These are the laws on the books, this is what you're required to do under the regulations. It takes anything else a spinning, finessing, describing things in a way that a are going to achieve a legally successful outcome. And I think more importantly, to achieve a change in the mindset amongst society.


>>Tas

You know, all really great points that you made. And one that really stands out when you when you talk about the spinning, that is, like you said, often has a negative connotation, but it's important to meet people where they are, so that they're receptive to the information. And it is true A lot of times, people in the advocacy world, whether you're doing social justice for other communities, or if you're autistic, a lot of times, especially if you have lived experience, you want to just say I'm right now accept it. And that's doesn't work. And and a lot of walls can come up when that approach is taken. So I definitely agree with you with that it's important to have people in the advocacy world that are on the spectrum off the spectrum, anyone involved with social justice and things as far as anti discrimination laws, and support for marginalized communities, to be able to persuade in a way that people can understand and not be defensive towards it. So definitely really love all of the things that you said there. And it really is a good segue into your book. So I took another read through, because I wanted to read it again. And I know that previously, when we had talked, I was a little uncomfortable with some of the terminology in the book and, and some of the way things were said, but doing a second read through, I really kind of took some time to digest it. And I think I understand more clearly what you were saying. And I want to go ahead and dive into what inspired you to dive into this research onto whether yo sieve or some will know as Joseph and the Bible, Yosef in the Torah was on the spectrum, what inspired you to do this?


>>Professor Levine

So thank you. And again, thank you for your interest in the book. And I appreciate your taking a close look at the book, which was primarily intended of all things, not as a piece of advocacy, not as a way which has developed into in to my pleasant surprise in many ways, a way of bringing autism to the attention of readers who are unfamiliar with autism as reality and the different aspects. And again, no two people are like, but the lived experience of many people on the autism spectrum. But my particular interest began, like many, and I'd say the majority of readers, the majority of viewers of Broadway shows or movies. The story of Joseph is a story, Joseph, son of Jacob, as you mentioned, is a story that we culturally, the United States and elsewhere. In fact, much of the world is very familiar with, whether it's as a result of studying the Bible, whether it's a result of reading the Bible, whether it is a result of seeing the Broadway play Joseph having Techno Color Dream Coat or the many variations of the play, or the this is my barometer of cultural significance, the DreamWorks animated film, if you can make an animated film about a story that means it's got some cachet, that means there is an interest that we use. It was the few of the Hollywood producers that this is important enough and culturally significant enough that we're going to get an audience of children and presumably parents when it comes to DreamWorks and other animated movies. So this was a story I was already familiar with. And in addition to my legal training, I have rabbinic training. And I've read the story from when I was a child, and continuously reading the story with an increasing interest in the commentaries in the traditions and the Jewish biblical tradition. And exegetical tradition includes looking at texts written 1000s of years ago, through the gloss and understanding of commentators throughout the world who have continued to try to understand to peace through the story. And whether I've consistently found in many I've found that part of the reason the story is fascinating is because of how puzzling this figure of Joseph seems to be on the one hand, he is this brilliant, seemingly precocious individual with these dreams that end up being true With these dreams that he knows to be correct with these dreams that on the other hand, get him into serious social trouble with his brothers in ways that likewise, we often find puzzling. Why is he telling them his dreams, and they resist, and they express their resentment and their hatred for him. And nevertheless, he goes back to them again. And that's one of the puzzle pieces of the entire story. And then as we continue to look to the story, well, his brothers, isolate him ostracize and marginalize and bully him, until they sell him into slavery. Now his father loves him. But his father Jacob, is in here, this seems a bit puzzling as well, unable to navigate and to manage the conflict between Joseph and his brothers. So what's that about? And then Joseph, arrives in Egypt and becomes a star, although the heir to his path is not direct. He experiences this uneven sense of success, where he has the opportunity to demonstrate his talents. And at the same time, he continues to encounter the social difficulties, where he's taking advantage of by others as a result of his trust and keep putting them as a result of his honesty, his candor, his willingness to express what he believes to be true, until finally, he's probably for Pharaoh, Pharaoh has dreams as well. And Joseph has demonstrated his skill in interpreting dreams, Pharaoh calls him in, and he tells Pharaoh, this is what your dreams mean, including the bad news and the good news. Pharaoh recognizes this skill, and Joseph provides him the supports that he needs, and the circumstances the structure through which he will now leave Egypt and the rest of the surrounding world, at least through this famine to great success. so fascinating story. What's it all about? How is it that this very same individual can have these characteristics? For example, and here's where I found it fascinating. There are some biblical commentators that talk about some of his behaviors, in manners that I think very much match what we consider to be self stimulatory, stimming behaviors. And at the same time, commentators discuss and describe just how wise Joseph seems to be wise beyond his years using the biblical text, the language in the text of the Torah itself. And it struck me one day, wow, based on not the goal of looking for autistic individuals in the Torah, I believe there have always been autistic individuals, they've always been all kinds of neurotypes, among people, but I wasn't looking for that. But it struck me that understanding just as an individual on the autism spectrum, really does explain in a very plausible way, the possibility that an individual can have these seemingly contradictory characteristic characteristics, but they're not a contradiction now that someone can have social challenges. And again, here, I'm not certainly not blaming Joseph, I'm not sure I'm blaming, although they certainly deserve fault here. His brothers were his father, who's clearly well meaning, but the reality is that there were these tensions, there were these difficulties. And to me, one of the potential explanations for why it is that these challenges continue to arise is a suggestion that if Joseph was autistic, well, that's why people looked at him differently. And that's why Unfortunately, some individuals took unfair advantage and marginalize them.


>>Tas

Definitely, and you know, that is it's a really interesting concept. A lot of people will take different figures in history and dive in to their past to see if they could have been on the spectrum of Nikola Tesla and Einstein and different scientists. Well, honestly, this is the first time that I have met someone that's gone that far back. And it's a really important thing to to do that and set that precedent of, it's a neurodiversity, and it's been around a really long time. And that really bridges that gap that people have between being afraid of it or confused into awareness and then acceptance of it to show like, this isn't new. It's been around and we just didn't know it till now. And one of the things I wanted to ask you when you're talking about how Pharaoh took him in and was using his gifts, do you feel based on your research and what you've written that Pharaoh had good intentions or was it malicious intentions for self promotion in his own ideas?


>>Professor Levine

That's a great question. And here's where it's so ironic, and tragic, of course, looking at it from the perspective of Jacob and his son that he loved and, and Joseph, of course, he was the victim of all this. Jacob loved Joseph. He wanted to include him. But his method of inclusion well intended was, I'll give you this beautiful quote, I will highlight your skills of being a good shepherd, another fascinating aspect of Joseph's personality. We're again, commentators. And just to make the point, these are commentators going back 1000s of years, all over the world, coming to us from Spain, from North Africa, from the Middle East, from Europe, to the present day, who made comments, not because they use the term autism, certainly not because they necessarily understood autism the way we do, but I think they saw some of what we are seeing. And some commentators know that based on the biblical text that Joseph was really good, as a shepherd, he had this skill with animals, again, with that stereotyping, a common characteristic that we do find among some individuals on the spectrum, with that connection to animals that in a way that may not apply to others. And here Joseph's skill with animals gave Jacob an opportunity. So he thought, let's demonstrate to your brothers who have this resistance to you, or bullying you, let's show them how good you are at shepherding. But of course, if these efforts at inclusion are not done correctly, they often backfire. And here's where Joseph's brothers see him has. And he said the term special see him as needing some extra help. And they are there for a reason. But they don't see this as Justice. They don't see this as the right thing to you. They see this as unfair favoritism. And that's where Jacob went wrong, tragically. And the Talmud points is that the Talmud points out that this was an error that Jacob made the well meaning well intentioned, are ironically, we fast forward to Pharaoh, I have no reason to believe Pharaoh at any good in his heart, right. This may be the same Pharaoh at different Pharoahfrom what we know of the ancient world, and from what we know the biblical descriptions of the Pharaoh, who shortly thereafter is going to forget everything Joseph and his people have done for the Egyptian nation, and is going to start initially exterminating and ultimately enslaving through a brutal slavery, the nation of Joseph's people. So I have no reason to ascribe to Pharaoh any well meaning. motivations. And in fact, as in the story, Joseph is comes to Paris attention, based on his experiences with the Butler and the baker, in prison. The Midrash in the Jewish tradition teaches that the Butler and the baker, the Royal Butler, and Baker, were in prison because of minor, truly minor errors they had made, the butler allowed a fly in Pharaoh's drink various wine, and that was enough to send them to jail and almost execute them. And the baker had left a few pebbles and those days in particular yet to really sift the flour to get all the pebbles out and there have been a few pebbles, and that was a capital offense, per se. When it came to Pharaoh he casts him in jail, and ultimately executes him no justice property for this Pharaoh. And I don't think Pharaoh had any interest in helping someone in supporting someone to help that individual. I think Pharaohs looking out for his own self interest. Pharaoh's got a dream. He no one consulted for him. He goes to all of his they're described as wise men. They're described as magicians, all of his aides, all of the people working with him. And they can't resolve the dream. They can't figure out what is the dream mean, they can interpret it in a way that Pharaoh finds acceptable so he figures for last resort. I'll listen to this individual. And by the way, the way Joseph comes to the attention of Pharaoh is at the clinical recommendation of the Butler because Joseph had interpreted the Butler's dream correctly when they were in prison together. But the Butler has a very unusual might say, we have quote unquote, recommending Joseph. The butler says to Pharaoh, you know what, when I was in prison, there was this slave. There was this Hebrew. There was this notar this child who was with us in prison. And that's very coded query coded language, suggesting that with the recommendation, there's another caution because and this is in my reading. But I think this is borne out by both the text and the interpreters. My understanding is that the butler was concerned that if he recommends Joseph, and he feels that he has to because no one else can solve, can interpret power streams correctly. So he knows he holds the key to the answer, because he met this really talented individual. But he's reluctant, because he's concerned that Joseph might do the wrong thing. Joseph might say the wrong thing, Joseph might be too direct, too honest with Pharaoh. So he kind of couches his recommendation, by hedging his bets just to let you know Pharaoh, and again using COVID language. This is someone who and the term Hebrew in those days was considered in Egypt to be outside really a derogatory term, almost a racist term in that sense. So just to let you know, this is a notar Now the word notar. Fascinating, it means context, because that's the word that often typically would mean a young child when it comes to Biblical Hebrew. But interpreters understand that meaning in the context of Joseph, an indication of what seems to be the others challenges child's like behaviors. And that's where this self stimulatory behaviors come into play. That's where some midrashim interpret Joseph's behaviors as tending to his hair, kind of playing with his eyes, kind of kicking his heels, maybe toe walking, types of behaviors that we often associate with autism. So in my reading, this is what Pharaoh was expecting, or protect, perhaps anticipating. But he was willing to take the talents, the skills, he was willing to overlook those aspects of Joseph's personality, or behaviors that may have bothered others, to accommodate them. And to see, all he cares about is his own self interest. What do these dreams mean? And how am I going? Am I going to deal with this? Joseph gives him the bad news. Joseph says, guess what your dreams mean? There's gonna be seven years of famine. Now, travel at that point, as a couple of options as to how he can respond. He can say, How dare you tell me that we're going to have a negative future, I don't want to hear from you. And it was certainly within his power to say no off with your head, as he had done to the baker, Pharaoh instead says, You know what, this person has something to tell me. And Joseph convinced Pharaoh, not because he was a particularly skillful orator, as we see from his other encounters with other individuals who are not sympathetic him, not because he knew how to spin things again. But because he spoke the truth in a very direct way. And Pharaoh looked at the truth that he saw and said to himself, and said openly, you're my man, you're the right person for this job. And Joseph actually recommends himself, he continues, his is essentially a soliloquy, he goes on and on, and tells Pharaoh, hire me, I'll be the one to not only recognize their problem, but I have a plan, I have a method of how to deal with how to manage this issue and economic plan to save Egypt again, and surrounding areas and Pharaoh is convinced that Joseph is the right person for the job. And again, I don't think it's added any goodness in his heart, I think it's completely with his within his own self interest, that he ends up appointing Joseph. And here's where, to me, there's the irony, but maybe an important lesson in the area of autism employment, as I mentioned, the area I'm increasingly interested in. And I'm finding, and this is based on many reports for many individuals, both the autistic individuals who were applying for these positions, and many individuals working in organizations promoting employment for individuals with disabilities and autistic individuals. And it's often the interview. That's the touchy point it's often the interview where the employer sits down with an applicant. And the reality is that typically, when it comes to interviews, we expect an element of spin, as I put it before, we're expecting someone to promote themselves, and to put a good face to advocate for themselves, even when it may not be deserved. And you know, one of the great examples that we often find is there's kind of that typical question at the end of an interview where the interviewer says, so tell me some of your weaknesses. And, of course, the effective answer, not the honest answer, but the effective answer. Is Oh, my weakness is I'm a perfectionist, my weaknesses, I work too hard. my weaknesses, I'll just stay in the office to get that job done. And I'll take the blame for other people. I'll take responsibility. And of course, the other things not in any way, suggesting any weaknesses. Yeah, it's just trying to build themselves up in a way that puts this element of spin that re characterizes their own self promotion to sound like it's okay for this type of conversation. And the interviews typically proceed along those lines. Now, if the applicant would say something like, Well, to be honest, I have these deficits. And whether they're deficits that are common among autistic individuals, or deficits that anyone might have. Imagine someone saying in the interview, well, you know what, I'm a pretty rude person. You know what, I make snide remarks. So, understandably, the employer would resist would recoil from that type of response. Why is it that people get hired, who are rude, people get hired, who are nasty, who are malicious, and we make accommodations, so to speak, for those conditions, as you might call it. And the reason is, individuals like that are hiding, of course, they know the game. They know how to play the game. And when they're interviewed, they would never think of bringing up their actual deficits, their actual negatives, their weaknesses. Well, unfortunately, if an autistic person says, Well, I'm autistic, and that sometimes brings with it certain types of behaviors or characteristics. It's a form of discrimination, of course, for the employer to say, Oh, well, we can't accommodate that. And that's where Pharaohs saw certain aspects of Joseph's answers that might have given him pause and Pharaoh heard the warning signs from the Butler, be ready for someone that might say things that you don't expect them to say. And Pharaoh instead of responding to the bad news, Now, again, think of an interview, someone's saying. So we think we're a company. And the applicant says, Yeah, I did a lot of work investing in your company, and you're in for a very bad quarter. Yeah, here's all the things you're doing wrong. But I've got the plan, well, applicants probably not going to get to the plan. Because who wants to hear, oh, you're in for bad quarter. But you know what? A wise employer, I would think, wants to hear the bad news. A good employee or smart employer in their own self interest, doesn't need someone to keep repeating, oh, this is going to be great. This quarter is going to be better than ever. And then be surprised by the reality. Well, why is it? And this is fascinating in the context of the story of Joseph, why is it that all of Pharaoh's wiseman, all Pharaoh's magicians apparently they had, you know, pretty good skills, let's pause it. Why is it that none of them could interpret the dream properly for Pharaoh. So there are some who suggest that none of them wanted to tell Pharaoh the bad news, even if they got a sense that these dreams and these dreams on their face to suggest that there is going to be a famine, that's at least a plausible way of interpreting it. No one wants to say that, because they were all sycophants, they were all yes men. They were all people telling Pharaoh what he want to hear. Joseph told Pharaoh something he didn't want to hear. And again, not because Pharaoh thought, Oh, I feel bad for you. Not because Pharaoh said, Oh, you're special, you need some help. And ironically, maybe this model of the self interested employer, in some ways is a more effective model of inclusion may be the model of networking to give you a special coat, as well meaning as we are not, oh, we feel bad for you. So a form of charity will give you this job, but we don't really take you seriously. That really, in the short run, you might feel good. And here, you don't want to diminish in any way, the importance of charity, the importance of helping someone who needs help.

But that can't be the end of the story. Because the limitations there are, you're relying on the goodness of someone's hard. On the one hand, the employer, which can only last so long as we know it from human reality. And you're also not recognizing the dignity, the potential, the humanity, in some cases of the person who's being held to charity is great when it's necessary, and when it's appropriate. But if you give someone charity and they're looking for a job, that's not going to speak to the dignity of that person. So to me it was not for any good intention. But to me, Pharaoh saw this potential in Joseph. And when, in his own self interest, Pharaoh gave Joseph the opportunity to shine, the opportunity to bring to fruition the talents, the potential that Joseph knew he had. But he couldn't get anyone else to agree with. He kept getting in trouble because there was a limit to how much his family or even his employers at a time, even when he had success, how far they were willing to recognize his skills and his potential. And it was only when Pharaoh said, I'm going to give you the responsibility that I think you deserve. And the responsibility that I think you can handle and you can achieve, that's when Joseph actually reached his potential.


>>Tas

That is such a good point, you know, when you are talking about..*microphone echoes* oh microphone, there we go...When you're talking about how employers want, don't actually want to know your deficit, that is so true. When you work with a vocational rehabilitation counselor, when you work with coaches, and people that are there to do interview training, you are taught to twist it so that you're not actually answering the question. And that is something I know, for myself, it's always been a struggle to do because I just want to be honest. And, and so it's a great example of how sometimes, even though Pharaoh's intentions weren't good at all, and they were self serving, but sometimes being direct and just authentic as yourself can open doors that you might not necessarily expect. Thank you so much. Really, I appreciate your breakdown of that. And when you're talking about employment and things, I kind of want to jump into your disability inclusion project. And I would love to hear a description of your project. What is it? What's your mission? What's the vision? And where are you in the process?


>>Professor Levine

Okay, thank you for asking, it's great opportunity to share my work there as well. So it really started a few years ago, I had my own personal and professional interest in primarily special education as it started out as well as autism. And then just a few years ago, I had a student at Touro law school where I teach a law student who approached me. And she too, had an has a strong interest in special education, growing out of her own experiences. And it's fascinating to me, we sometimes lose sight of history, and forget, with all the challenges that still are out there with all of the obstacles that are still in the way and have to be overcome how far we really have come. When this student was a child, no one was talking about, in her experience, learning disabilities, no one was talking about special education, no one was talking about supports and accommodations. They just saw a child who wasn't like the other children. And they didn't know what to do. They didn't know how to properly educate this child. And out of that experience arose, as is often the case of passion on her part, to help others as we are progressing now. And again, I don't want to diminish the success of the IDEA the success of the ADA, the reality that at least on a legal basis, at least on paper, and as again, I know as a lawyer, it's sometimes a long way from the law on paper to the law and practice. But hopefully now she's in a position like many of us to help promote implementation to help promote actual awareness and acceptance of these principles that we should have been accepting for all these years. So she suggested that we put together some programs and I initiated what I call the Disability Rights and Inclusion Project, we started with special education as our first topic. And we've had speakers who were themselves either lawyers who described the special education process and parents need this information. I think we also have to recognize those of us who are in the field, so to speak. Those of us who are familiar with autism, with even terms like neurodiversity, with special education, resources, the laws out there, I think we can't lose sight of the fact that most of the world and even most of the American society is not familiar with these concepts. Somehow, sometimes as sort of an insider, you get too used to using these terms and assuming these concepts and this information is known to everyone. And the reality is that, in my experience in the areas of special education, most parents of children who do need deserve, and it's the right thing to do. It's the lines, the just an appropriate thing to do. To provide these different forms of accommodations in the school, most parents aren't aware a of what the law requires and be, as we mentioned, when it comes to advocacy, how to get the school district to comply with their obligations under the law. So we had lawyers who started from step one in the process, and we get parents attending who realize there's an issue, realize there's a need, but don't know where the term. So that was one opportunity, I think we had and in addition to lawyers, we brought therapists who have been involved in the IEP process, who could also describe for parents, who again, don't know what they're up for, don't know what they're going to keep running into. And I know this is a lawyer, that as lawyers, I worked for judges, as an insider in the legal system and the legal process, we're so used to the way the system works, that we sometimes lose sight of how it looks to the clients, to the parties to the people whose lives are actually being affected by the process itself. And parents who are entering an IEP meeting are up against all too often, a school district that has again played this game before, I hate to say, that already knows how to respond to a parent who doesn't understand the nuances who doesn't recognize what they're entitled to and whether it's outright lies, which in my experience is not uncommon, or whether it's, again, as an advocate, the school district or their lawyers spinning things in a way that's going to be to their advantage. And unless a parent is either represented by a lawyer, which is asking a lot for someone to hire a lawyer, or an advocate, which is also not always readily available, or parent, or obvious to a parent that they should expect to have an advocate their expectations are we're going to go into a room and create the school district is going to work with me in a way that's in the best interest of my child, wouldn't that make sense? Isn't doesn't that seem to be the way to work. So we had to bring the unfortunate truth to the attention of parents that they have to be more prepared, they have to be better equipped before they walk into that room, that when there's an IEP process, and the lawyers that we brought in, explained to them how it's going to go. And the therapists who often participate in the IEP meetings also had to explain to the parents, for example, that if a therapist believes that the child requires certain therapies, and makes that statement, at a meeting, that's not the end of the story, that doesn't mean the school's always going to approve anything, if they approve on paper, it doesn't mean necessarily, they're going to implement it in practice. So these are challenges that I think a lot of parents are not aware of. And we continue these efforts to educate at the basic level, to educate parents in the interest of their students. And as students are aging, you know, I mentioned my students. And when we talk about employment, we're talking about autistic adults who are not diagnosed. And I'd say in most cases, because here to our view of autism, I think it's important to recognize how far we have come at least, we're 20 years ago, that public view of autism was very different, even from where it is now. The term neurodiversity, if it existed, still is not widely known, but exists maybe within the realm of, you know, a few individuals, very specialized community. So we have come very far. But for autistic adults, it's as if they missed the boat, because now we're finally catching up on some level to children now with the child's autism spectrum. So we recognize parents, there's still the stigma. Again, that's another challenge to overcome. But parents are more and more recognizing, okay, their child's on the spectrum now. They require services, they require accommodations, etc. What about the adults who weren't there? What about the adults who are diagnosed? Well, what about the adults who, when they were if they were diagnosed, it was sending a message essentially, your child can never be educated. So that's where we, as a society, you know, again, unfortunately, are very late to the game, but we have to try to build on whatever progress we have made and continue moving forward. When it comes to educating the parents, they're the ones who are in the position now to advocate for their children. And that's where I think we can, at least, again, moving forward, at least, build on the success and build on the very hard work that's been done over the years by individuals by organizations who have pioneered, and at least put the structure into place where now it's going to be our job to continue implementing, and educating, beyond special education, in why that my particular interest in autism in the area of writing my book, and what I've encountered, both before and since and I'd like to say, as I mentioned, my book was designed primarily, my motivation really was to understand the story of Joseph. And as part of that my rabbinic tradition. We try to understand the stories and interpret the stories in the Bible as best as we can. And sometimes new glosses new understandings, new insights based on contemporary insights, contemporary understandings, in this case of autism, to my pleasant surprise, as I mentioned, and it's really gratifying, in particular, when individuals such as yourself individuals, themselves autistic or their families at the most gratifying responses, where I'll hear comments like oh, I that resonates with me. Your description of Joseph's experiences being connected to autism matches my own experiences, or my grandchild's experiences, or people I work with, who I know are autistic. And again, no two autistic people are the same. But many of the experiences that I see Joseph having are consistent with many of the experiences that individuals have told me, they've experienced themselves as autistic individuals, both as children, and as adults. So moving forward to I've really been trying to incorporate more programs directly related to autism. And on that note, we had a few events over the years, where I would speak about autism where I'd and as I mentioned, I try to always include autistic individuals to share their own experiences. And I'm particularly pleased and I appreciate that you attended apparently, you told me that if you watch it last week, and appreciate your kind words about the program, we had a program with sweet and well with COVID. On the one hand, we've kind of slowed down some of our programming because we're not able to have it in person events. And as you well know, organizing events online have their own challenges, technological and otherwise. But I am pleased that just last week, we had an event where we featured John Elder Robison, who, to me fits the or presents the ability to speak out of both his live experience and through his research, scientific and historical research regarding autism. And we presented John Elder Robison insights through a panel that included Dr. Alan Kadish, who's the President of Touro College and University system where I teach, who is himself a medical doctor, not in the field of autism, per se, but he was able to demonstrate and describe some of his medical insights. And we also included Shira Ruderman and who's worked for the Ruderman Family Foundation, has promoted for decades now. Disability Rights and inclusion primarily in the Jewish community, elsewhere as well, and they've really branched out and made quite an impact on many different communities in the United States and abroad. And what I really enjoyed about this event, and I'd like to organize more events along these lines, is to include different voices to include different perspectives. No one has all the answers. We have a lot of questions we continue to have, and then anticipate anyone having all the answers about anything in the near future, certainly not having all the answers when it comes to autism. As some have described it, you know, it's a mysterious condition. It's an unusual by definition, minority condition, a neurotype that's uncommon, relative to a neurotypical neurotype. And therefore, I think we continue to have a lot of questions. There's been a lot of scientific research done no other social research done, a lot of historical research done. And I think the more voices that can contribute their expertise, and I try to bring to bear as I mentioned, the advocacy piece, the more progress we can make on what we're all moving toward with is promoting the success, whatever that may mean in an individual's case.


>>Tas

You know, and one of the things I wanted to mention is it was wonderful to attend that panel, because one of the things that we noticed is the diversity in the panel. And everyone brought up really good points in on all aspects. John Elder Robinson, wonderful to listen to his perspective. And it was wonderful to also to see somebody that was autistic that is so successful, and in his industry, and, and just his voice. And also, I really appreciated how you did have medical professionals on there as well, because it really bridges together all of the experts in the field ones with the knowledge of it, personally ones that have been in the medical industry, and seeing that come together. And it was a really good discussion. And I definitely anyone, if you're ever able to attend one of these panels or webinars that Dr. Levine organizes Touro College organizes it's really great experience. And I would definitely recommend going to those. So one of the things I wanted to ask is, how can people get involved with your, your projects your work? What things can they do to support your mission and how you ally ship works for the autistic community?


>>Professor Levine

Thank you for asking, I'd be happy to connect with anyone who's working in these fields. As I mentioned, I'm branching out myself in terms of my interests. And increasingly, as I alluded to, in the area of autism employment, where I've really connected with a number of individuals who are in the past several years, I think, increasingly turning to employment as one of the key areas, keeping in mind education. And keep in mind, other areas, services and accommodations are necessary. Independent Living is certainly an area that I think we have to really move forward on in many ways. But I think employment is one of those particular areas where I have an interest and I'm considering putting together our next panel, or a future panel, specifically focusing on disability and autism employment, I see that as, in a way, in some ways, one of the easier efforts to achieve. Because it seems again, so obvious that if an employer encounters someone who has the skills that the employer needs for that job, wouldn't they want to hire the person, it almost doesn't need to be said, but at the same time, it's an area where autistic individuals and individuals with other disabilities are often discriminated against. So it seems like it's easy to achieve but has turned out on a practical level to be very difficult to achieve. It's an area where the law, as much as it does have something to say, doesn't have that much to say when the individual trying to break the law finds a way to avoid letting it come to the surface. And these are the stories we hear from autistic individuals who get this sense. And it seems very clear that the employer has it out for them, that the employer. And I just want to mention, in addition to the interview, which is often a challenge for autistic individuals, there's the office politics, that arises invariably, and I've worked in many offices, and I've generally had good experiences. But no office is perfect. No perfect person is perfect. And certainly, no employment, place of employment is going to be perfect. There's always going to be politics, there's always going to be altercations and counters. And what's fascinating here, when it comes to Joseph, going back to the book, is that Joseph does despite his success, he has encounters with other individuals. And he's not always sure of how to play that game. And it struck me that his inability to anticipate some of the predatory per se behavior that he encountered in his different jobs. It was like the #metoo but you know 1000s of years ago and kind of you know, role reversal where it was actually the wife of Potiphar that propositions Joseph and he was able to anticipate and unable to navigate her dances and her accusations are ultimately false accusations that got him in serious trouble. That's how he landed in prison in the first place. Well in a way, the place of employment goes back to becoming the school yard goes back to becoming and this is where we find autistic children being mostly, or most seriously, I should say marginalized, ostracized, isolated. When it comes to unstructured situations. When it comes to a situation where there are no official rules, there are those unwritten rules that somehow we expect people to know, either in social cues, social mores expectations, that we expect people to know. And if they don't somehow catch on, then the assumption is they're doing something wrong, or at the very least, the assumption as well, who wants to be around them, they're not acting the same way as everyone else. And this is the story that we hear from many autistic individuals, certainly in the schoolyard, it's certainly in those unstructured times in school. And it's what we hear increasingly, from autistic individuals at the workplace. Where and just one story I heard recently, there was a part of the office party. By definition, I've been to many office parties, they're kind of unstructured, kinda a little bit more informal, the rules are not written as to how you're supposed to behave. But there are certain behaviors that are beyond what's acceptable. Well, there was a situation where people were kind of giving each other small hugs at the party, and the autistic person gave a hug that was too strong. lets say and the complaint was filed, and the person got in trouble. And his response was, everyone else was giving hugs without your room. And no one could point to any rules. No one can point to any written rules. That said, you were doing the wrong thing. But and this is a fascinating way of doing it. I've heard from many autistic individuals, it says if someone doesn't tell you the rules, and then punishes you for not following the rules. So we see that happening when it comes to the office, where an employer decides they don't want to accommodate this individual, because they're autistic. And as I mentioned before, they're accommodating others everyone needs some sort of accommodation, so to speak at work. And the boss didn't fire the person was being nasty. That for the boss didn't fire the person who was very attuned to office politics, and backbiting and looking out for themselves and bad mouthing other people. But the boss looked at the autistic person and said, I'm not able to handle those types of behaviors that bothers me for whatever reason, insecurity intolerance. So I'm gonna watch them very carefully. And you know, what, if a boss wants to fire someone and find a reason, this we know from employment discrimination, generally, they can usually find, again, on paper, they can find reason to fire that person. And that's an area where the interview process is one obstacle. But even if autistic people get the job, there's the serious concern, that once they have the job, and sometimes job coaches can be helpful with this. But more than anything else in my it requires a change in the mindset of society and the change in the mindset of the employer that they recognize. I'm not hiring this person to be a good interviewer. You know, another thing I like is, if someone's good at interviewing, they've shown that they're good at interviewing, right? That's the only skill they demonstrate they haven't demonstrated that they're good at the job. Now, if the job happens to be, you know, the PR person, maybe if the job is be the press secretary who has to spin everything. So I guess if someone's really good at skinning in their interview, that's exactly the person you want for that job. But most employers are hiring someone because of a particular skill. In some ways, this is where technology and this is again, in some ways this stereotype in some ways borne out by a fair amount of studies, where autistic people often succeed in the areas of technology. I'm not sure if that's based so much, it may be on a particular skill that's common among autistic people, it might be more in the sense that when it comes to technology when it comes to being good at math, science, computer programming, there's an objectively demonstrable skill there. And in that sense, if the boss has the choice of hiring someone who can produce or hiring someone who can produce well, it's more likely in that case that they will hire someone who can produce even if it means certain accommodations or someone that they're not so used to. But when it comes to other types of skills, that's where we find a common phenomenon of a boss just making that decision that they can find a way of criticizing, they can find a way of faulting someone that they just think was a mistake in the first place, why they hired this person, I don't want to deal with them. And find a way without being sincere or honest, without, of course, admitting discrimination, finding a way to discriminate. So I'm looking to do more work in that area, and to your very kind suggestion to anyone out there who would like to become involved in our work in that area, or more generally, if you're interested, by all means, please reach out to me. You can find by email, on my webpage, you can you can just google Samuel Levine Touro Law and you should be able to find it. They're more than happy to work with you. And I'd be thrilled to have more connections and more allies in my own work.


>>Tas

Wonderful. We will have all of your contact information linked below as well, for everyone. get in contact, go check out all of the great information. And one closing question. Will there be a second book?


>>Professor Levine

That's a great question. You're not the first to ask it. And on the one hand, I'm not so sure there will be a second book about autism because well, in terms of the Bible, I might, you know, read about autism in other areas. And I have written I just wanted to mention, if I may, when it comes to legal scholarships, so as part of our project, we are trying to develop a literature as well, because I think the scholarly literature is a big piece of these efforts. And I did organize a symposium where scholars from across the country, leading advocates and scholars in disability rights contributed to a law review issue, The Touro Law Review, looking at disability rights, and the current and future of disability rights. So I am working in that area. I recently published an article about individuals with developmental disabilities and the disproportionate ways they've been affected by COVID-19, which is something for another time, but we'd have to have that conversation as well. Not so much in terms of the Bible. And as I mentioned, I wasn't looking for someone autistic in the Bible. I was looking to understand Joseph and the idea that he might have the autistic kind of jumped out at me, but I do have a lot of other thoughts about a lot of other

biblical figures. And maybe there's a book there sometime.


>>Tas

Wonderful. Great. Well, so thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and speak with us today. I really appreciate your insights. Everyone, go check out Professor Levine's information below and thank you again for your allyship and the work you do.


>>Professor Levine

Thank you so much for having me.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai