Category Archives: Analysis

On the Outside of the Outside

I’m giving serious thought to closing down this blog. As has happened so many times, I find that it’s difficult to keep more than one blog going with any regularity. It’s partly a matter of available time and energy. More critical is the difficulty of sticking with a specific topic, and staying within the bounds of what that topic is concerned with. Maverick Writer, my writing blog, has been running for almost seven years because the central topic allows for so many side paths.

The third reason why this blog may not continue is its lack of relevance to most people on the autistic spectrum. The title of this post: On the Outside of the Outside, has two meanings. One is that my personal experience of autism/Asperger’s is so “mild,” so “high-functioning,” that it barely relates to the experience of other outsiders, as that’s expressed in their own blogs. I am so far out on the fringes of the spectrum that I can’t relate to most of what they write about their lives and experiences. By the same token, it seems that my perspective is one that very few on the spectrum will relate to.

Blog posts by people on the spectrum tend to break down into two categories. There is the very personal post, which concentrates on the blogger’s experiences and feelings. Then there is what I call the “catch-all” post, which approaches autism/Asperger’s as a collective in which everyone is considered to be part of a community of similar experiences and feelings. “Me” or “we.”

Even if I believed my personal experience had wider relevance, as an introvert with a strong need for privacy, I have no interest in writing “me” posts. But I also have no interest in writing “we” posts, for the simple reason that much of what is considered the autistic community is a construct, created out of elements that, as often as not, have no basis in what we know as the autistic spectrum, but in the infinite variability of human nature and the human mind. I’ll go further and say that autism itself is a construct and the so-called spectrum is an attempt to unite all its elements under one umbrella. The impossibility of doing this is the root of all the arguments and dissension about who is or isn’t autistic, what autism means, how it should be regarded, how autistics should be treated and how they should think about themselves.

Because I see patterns of thinking and behavior in a much larger context than autism, I can identify the many ways in which thinking about autism is similar to or identical to thinking about other issues. In other words, much of what autistics think is special about the spectrum, isn’t. I would hesitate to say that autistics see themselves as special snowflakes, but that’s one perspective.

Here are a few of the patterns I see that are present in any group of humans but which autistics see as exclusively theirs. Creating “community” out of perceived commonalities (that may or may not exist), based on disabilities. Defining disabilities out of existence, disregarding the very real negative impacts they have on some people, and labeling those impacts as talents or special abilities. Further converting disabilities to a kind of superior status, negating the negative implications of disabilities and allowing for a personal sense of superiority. Insisting that the public at large should recognize their existence and problems, and alter their attitudes and behavior.

We see these attitudes among the blind, among the deaf, and probably in any disability group you can name. Any group of people who are in some way ignored, or mistreated by the general population will, if they can find each other, form groups that are not only supportive, but intent on changing public perceptions to the point where failure will justify withdrawing from the larger human community, and establishing their own culture and traditions.

All of this presupposes that you define your identity as a part of a group. But who were you before you knew of the group? Who would you be if you were no longer part of it? These questions are identical to those asked by people who have lost their religion, and the community that revolves around the religion. Not that constructed communities are without value. Without them, many people would be entirely on their own, without any type of support.

What I question is the tendency to identify with a group so strongly that it determines how you think and act, that it can become who you are. Everything in the rest of the world is either legitimized by it or rejected as valueless. More critically, it can become the sole measure of how you view and value yourself.

Discovering that I’m on the spectrum was useful because it explained a lot of my differences from the norm. But I have no more interest in defining myself as a person with autism (or as an autistic/aspie) than I have in defining myself as a _____ patient now that I’ve been diagnosed with a major health problem. In both cases, I deal with the problems individually, as necessary. Both may be decisive, in many ways, in determining how I’ve functioned in the world, but they do not change the core of who I am.

And that brings me to a question I’ve pondered often: why is it that so many people have no sense of self, or such a fragile sense of self that it’s dependent on external factors. That dependence is the basis for so many fights in defense against perceived slights or criticism of communities. If a community, or a belief system, is absolutely necessary to your self-image, then an attack on the community or belief system is an attack on you.

Is this post an attack on the autistic community? It isn’t intended to be, but can easily be perceived as such. How any reader views it will depend on the extent to which they have allowed autism to determine who they are.

Social Chatter — Not Exactly Phatic

If we’re at all self-aware, we’ll gain new insights about our selves throughout our lives. I spent a good two years of deep self-analysis to determine whether I was or wasn’t on the spectrum, so it’s somewhat amazing how much I continue to discover about myself. Phatic communication, for instance. Long before I heard the term, I was aware that I sucked at the short, shallow responses to the short, shallow questions that are a part of being superficially social. It turned out, that like many on the spectrum, I relied (when I could remember them) on scripted resonses. I still stumble and mumble if the right script doesn’t pop into sight.

But it’s the bigger social thing — still mostly superficial, but seemingly a big part of normal life — that I can’t deal with unless it’s with a few people that I know very well, and can share at least a few things with in casual conversation. That insight was nowhere to be seen the day a Very Important meeting was declared for the volunteers of a charity thrift shop where I donated a few hours a week. The store was closed, and meeting time came, but instead of business, everyone was standing around, chatting. And chatting. And chatting.

So what did I do? I told the woman I worked with to give me the highlights of the meeting, and anything important, and went back to work. As it turned out, the meeting wasn’t about anything terribly important, and the necessary information could have been conveyed in less than five minutes. So why all the standing around and chatting? Today, I understand, but back then, I just saw it as a mysterious waste of time that I could be putting to better use. Today, I recognize it as a socially necessary waste of time that could be put to better use, and one that I still avoid.

Just like forum sections that are set aside for conversation about anything but the official purpose of the forum. Social lubrication, a way to avoid getting down to work, an amusing distraction — whatever. I avoid them like the plague.

And They Just Keep Coming

Insights, that is. After two or three years reading everything you can find about Asperger’s, and digging up the forgotten aspects of your life as you read, you’d think you know every relevant fact about your relationship with the spectrum. Then you realize, having it shoved in your face by a new source, that an essential part of yourself is so blatantly Aspergian you wonder how you could have overlooked it. Just didn’t make the connection because it didn’t seem that significant? A rampant case of denial?

I didn’t have any negative emotional reactions to discovering that I was on the spectrum. In fact, it was a relief to learn that there were valid reasons for the many ways in which I don’t function according to society’s expectations, so denial is pretty out of character. Most of my Asperger’s traits are more or less invisible, while this one, if you’d known me for a long time, would be clearly visible. But that’s the catch. There’s no one who’s known me for more than a few years, and the evidence is so spread out over the decades that you’d not only have to have known me for all that time, you’d almost have to be an aspie yourself to have noticed it.

So the insights keep coming, though I think some facets of my early life, the ones that would have been identifiers if diagnostic measures had been available at the time, are unrecoverable. It’s been a long time, and memories fade. I also believe that in some areas, I simply didn’t form memories. That made taking the online tests more difficult and added to the length of time it took to persuade myself that I was going about the process of self-diagnosis honestly. How can you answer  questions for which you have no answers? That might be something to take into account if any of those tests are ever revised. Allow for “I don’t know.” Because there’s a lot I don’t know, and I sometimes wish I did.

I’m about halfway through Neurotribes and wish I’d read it much earlier.

Women and Autism Over the Life Span

This is a theme I’ll be getting into now and then, but very carefully. The lives of older women on the spectrum have hardly been touched on, so it’s something that’s going to be difficult to do right. I’m skimming over a research study that is a rather sad commentary, since it was conducted recently, with a group of only 14 woman, and limits the age range from 22 to 30. That’s what they consider late diagnosis. And, “To our knowledge, this is the first study to specifically investigate the experiences of late-diagnosed females with ASC…”

One reason I’m not rushing into writing about older women on the spectrum, particularly those who have never been officially diagnosed, is that I want to avoid using my own experiences as the template. If this blog’s readership grows large enough that I can construct some sort of questionnaire, or just ask for personal experiences, I might have enough data to draw useful conclusions. The alternative, not an entirely bad one, would be to theorize broadly.

Ideally, I’d like to work just with women who grew into adulthood and even into old age before the possibility of diagnosis even existed. Most of the women in the study said that their lives would have been easier if they’d been diagnosed earlier. In contrast, I’m mostly glad that I never even heard of autism until I was well into seniorhood. One of the themes I’d like to explore is the pros and cons of diagnosis, at whatever age.

So this is just a little introduction to what will be coming up eventually, I don’t want that single issue to dominate the blog, though. The blog’s central theme is creativity, intellect, and Asperger’s, not gender.

The Experience of Late-diagnosed Women with Autism Spectrum Conditions: An Investigation of the Female Autism Phenotype

Asperger’s and the State of the World

People with Asperger’s have enough of a job just coping with their own world. Asking them to care deeply about the rest of the world is an imposition, right? When I say care deeply, I’m not talking about the cheap and easy emotions of love and empathy. Neither one is intrinsically cheap or easy, but they’re tossed around as sufficient solutions to big problems, or used as props for egos, or reduced to greeting card platitudes that are available for a couple of dollars.

Being the information packrat that I am, I have dozens of articles on my computer, from back when I was learning about autism. Skimming around in them can bring up some pretty interesting stuff. Brain food. Matches to spark ideas. What was it about Profile of a Post Modern Outsider that prompted me to keep it? I’m not particularly interested in post modernity as a philosophy or a movement, if that’s an appropriate word, but this essay runs in parallel with my own approach to reality. What is post modernity? Because you do need to know that for this post to make any sense. Author Christopher Nagle offers a brief explanation.

“Post Modernity is not just an aesthetic of fragmentation or intellectual deconstruction. It is an emerging transitional period in which modern institutions and ways of life become damaged, dysfunctional, defensive and eventually defeated. (my italics) In such a time, as it becomes more turbulent and insecure, individuals and eventually entire populations must move on into uncertain and probably hazardous journeys into the future.”

Here is where Asperger’s comes in.

“It really helps to have a lifetime of outsidership under your belt. The earlier the start, the better the chances of escaping the immense gravitational pull of the dominant consciousness.”

Nagle says that his career as an outsider started very early, by age five, at least. He eventually discovered himself to be an aspie, which explained his outsiderliness. Unfortunately, he uses sufferers and disease, but this was in the less enlightened days of 2006. Everyone knows better now. Right?

He goes on to discuss a bit of history, including his own, which reached the point where, “It was as if I lived in a world that kept itself frenetically busy by overproducing and consuming mainly junk, so that it would never have to look into itself.”

Over time, “I never completely embraced the world I found myself in, partly because I couldn’t and partly because I didn’t want to. However, what I continued to do was meditate on that world to create an overview of what I was going through and how it and I had got there. I assembled both a personal and potentially collective ‘ride out’ strategy for what I felt that overview was pointing to.”

Coming back to the purpose of this post, I’ll quote Nagle one last time.

“The world is already very amply supplied by insiders whose reasonable, balanced and orthodox judgments re-enforce the overwhelming status quo. Negativity is not necessarily a vice just because the dominant culture repels it in favour of institutionalised megalomania and hubris.”

What I’m doing here is setting in motion an attack on the narrow self-involvement of so many aspies who are obviously intelligent and capable of deep levels of analysis, but never raise their heads to see beyond the autism “community.” For people who despise the idea that aspies are sufferers from a disease, they manage to collectively convey exactly that image. But that’s a topic for the future.

Personal blogs are personal, but they are also public. Collectively, aspie blogs resemble all those confessional books about abuse, drug addiction, whatever. There’s a huge difference between mea culpa or poor me, and material that can inform and show others the way to overcome. The difference between such books, and blogs is that once the book is written, it’s done. It either has a beneficial effect on others or it’s forgotten. Blogs can go on and on, with the potential for endlessly ripping off scabs and collecting sympathetic followers.

Autism will always be misunderstood, reviled, ignored, a subject of controversy. It will always require explanation by people who live with it, understand it, and have a talent for clarifying the complex issues that are central to it. And it is a valid personal choice to remain within that framework and be an explainer. Such people are needed because the bulk of autistic writing makes the same logical and intellectual errors that we find in any general selection of writing by NTs. In many instances, people on the spectrum know too little and assume too much, and add to the confusion.

So there are two issues here. 1. Understanding and explaining autism from the facts rather than one’s personal experience. 2. Moving beyond autism to the larger world and making a contribution that benefits everyone.

High IQ is no guarantor of creativity, of the ability to think through and analyze important issues, of original thinking. It isn’t a mark of superiority. That’s just as true for anyone on the spectrum as it is for the rest of the human population. The possession of those qualities should be a challenge to think large, rather than shut yourself in a narrowly defined, self-involved community. There aren’t many of you out there, just as there aren’t many truly creative artists or poets, or composers. High IQ makes you an outsider. Being on the spectrum makes you an outsider. Together, they give you a choice that most humans don’t have. To take the challenge or not.

Nagle’s article is a worthwhile read.

Pick and Shovel Work — Generalizations

I have a trait that annoys the heck out of most people, so I’ve learned to keep it out of sight– usually. But it turns out that this trait is what makes a lot of my writing  useful in helping people see things in new ways and understand them better. The heart of the trait is that generalizations make me twitchy. Almost every time I read or hear a generalization, my mind goes into high gear and comes up with objections — No, not everybody…, No not always… Then the drilling down begins. What does that generalization ignore? What are its implications? What unlike things is it lumping together and treating as if they are the same thing, or very similar?

Sometimes it feels like an addiction that I can’t control and sometimes it seems like the most useful and wonderful mental tool anybody could have. And… you probably know where this is going: Asperger’s as a subject of speculation, discussion, and controversy is my field of dreams. Picking apart the generalizations is going to be a big part of this blog, so be forewarned. If you hate messy details, you need to back away right now.

Issue: the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s, and what they might or might not mean, depending on whether you’re a therapist, a parent, or an aspie. There’s nothing like thinking something is perfectly clear and straightforward when it isn’t. People look at something like those criteria and go away thinking that now they understand it, when they still don’t have a clue. A lot of the time it doesn’t matter, but if you’re an employer who can’t deal with behavior that doesn’t fit your idea of normal, even from employees who are outstanding in their work, it does matter. If you’re a therapist with the power to have someone medicated or even committed to a hospital on the basis of your misunderstanding, it does matter. If you’re a parent trying to cope with a difficult child, it does matter. If you’re an aspie trying to live independently, find employment, make friends, it does matter. It all matters, and depending on generalizations isn’t the way to solve problems.

Temperament Makes the Difference

Extravert or introvert? Outer-directed or inner directed? I don’t recall ever seeing a discussion of temperament and the way in which it can affect how aspies adapt to a neurotypical world. So it probably looks like a way-out-there statement when I say that temperament may be the most important trait in the ability to adapt.

I’ve read a lot of “confessional” essays, “confessional” being my way of classifying essays and blog posts that are based entirely on the writer’s personal experiences. All too often, the personal essay/post slides seamlessly from being my experience to an experience we all share. It’s such a normal human way to function– generalizing from our own experience–that I doubt many aspies realize they also do it. It isn’t an exclusively neurotypical trait, and it produces, among aspies, and in their communities, such as they are, the same kind of stereotyping that is supposed to be the domain of neurotypicality.

I’m a very private person, an introvert, which makes this kind of discussion somewhat more difficult than it may be for others, but I still have to work to avoid generalizing from my own personal experiences. I’m also an extremely inner-directed person. In the light of those two statements, what follows is my attempt to lay out a theory that may or may not work for others on the spectrum. The intent, here, is to analyze how two different temperaments respond to interactions with the neurotypical world, and propose a possible way of making those interactions easier.

I have no way to determine whether introversion correlates strongly with inner-directedness or extraversion correlates strongly with outer-directedness, and don’t know if it’s ever been studied, but it seems a logical connection. If anyone knows of relevant studies, please point me to them.

What I propose, purely as a theory, is that introverts are more likely, on average, to be inner-directed, and thus will make less effort to conform to neurotypical expectations for behavior and accomplishment. Anyone who is primarily inner-directed, and this can include neurotypicals, places less importance on social demands than on their own inner needs. The problem is that introversion is so often seen as a problem to be overcome, and probably more so in people on the autistic spectrum, that its benefits are inaccessible. When you are constantly diagnosed as shy, unsociable, unfriendly, self-absorbed, even as oppositional, that is how you will see yourself. You will spend all your energy trying to conform to the demands others make. In the process, you will lose yourself and, as so many aspies confess, live a false life, wondering who you really are.

You will allow your opinions to be formed by the people around you, even if you sense, however dimly, that they are wrong, or not something you really agree with. You will make choices that make you unhappy, if not downright miserable, because those are the “proper” choices. You will waste whatever talents you may have by fulfilling society’s needs instead of your own. You will be left with what is known as the inauthentic self.

Inner-directedness may develop slowly, as the individual becomes aware of making choices that set them apart, and deciding whether to uphold those choices or give them up in the face of disapproval. Introversion has the potential for being a sort of mask, but one that protects rather than falsifies. It allows for a polite withdrawal that, with maturity becomes more self-assured, and less prone to seeing direct confrontation as the only way to maintain personal integrity. It’s a quiet corner from which to observe and analyze what goes on around them, and to make choices that encourage personal growth and risk-taking rather than acquiescence and conformity. An authentic, creative life cannot exist in a state of dependence on external value judgments and pressures.


Autistic and Proud?

How to get into the meat of a new blog when its purpose hasn’t quite jelled yet? How about doing what I so often do: take what neurotypicals would call a negative position. I’m almost always in opposition to something or other, it seems, so why not tackle the issue of pride?

When someone says they’re (fill in the blank) and proud of it, I wonder what they mean. Autistic and proud? I understand that on a purely intellectual level. But feel it? Nope. It’s one of those concepts that has never clicked with me. I am what I am and that’s all there is to it. Pride as a rejection of shame I can understand. Pride in accomplishment I can understand. But when it comes to my own feelings, both are abstractions. I can’t even say my lack of gut-level understanding is an aspie thing because the person whose blog post inspired this one is an aspie, a popular writer, and proud of being autistic, as are many individuals on the autism spectrum.

I recently came back around to an interest in autism and Asperger’s after a years-long burnout on the subject, so people like Samantha Craft are new to me. Her statements remind me once again of that old saying, in its autistic variation: when you’ve seen one autistic, you’ve seen one autistic. Or: when you’ve seen one aspie, you’ve seen one aspie. We can’t use our own state of being as a template for everyone else. We may overlap in many areas, but remain distinct in our own versions of selfhood. I bought her book, Everyday Asperger’s, and chucked it halfway through. There was nothing wrong with it, but it didn’t speak to me, except for a short section early on.

Sam says: “I am pleased to be part of a unit. I no longer feel like a lonely floating piece of a missing whole.” The concept of being part of a unit evokes something close to horror in me. I may be a floating piece, but alone, not lonely, and certainly not in the context of some missing whole. For all the things in which she finds pride, I would substitute words like satisfaction, enjoyment, or gratitude. There’s a whole range of vocabulary out there that would fit me better than pride.

What do I feel when a novel I’ve labored over is finished and available for people to buy? Pride? No. Satisfaction that my skills keep improving. Relief that the darn thing is finally out of my hair. Hope that it might sell a few copies, and that readers will enjoy it.

Maybe I’m defective even by aspie standards. Or maybe I’m just more analytical about how I function at deep levels. After all, I’m a writer. If I’m going to obsess, it will always be about something that further clarifies what it means to be human, whether on the autistic spectrum or as a member of the neurologically dominant segment of the human species. So my current obsession, for however long it lasts, is with the role of autism, and particularly, high-functioning Asperger’s, in creativity. And, since I’m a writer, the focus will be on writing.

Along the way, whether specifically or by implication, I’ll also be writing about, and illustrating, aspects of a particular type of Asperger’s mind that aren’t well-known or understood. Are they rare? Or are they so submerged in the more usual ways of looking at Asperger’s that they are invisible even to the people who possess them?

Consider this blog an exploration, complete with stops and starts, false moves, lots of uncertainty, and occasional gleams of light.

Those Self-diagnostic Tests

I became aware of the subject of autism very late in life. In the course of trying to determine whether the characteristics that had always set me apart and given me problems were signs of autism or just me being weird, I took several online self-diagnostic tests. And for a long time, they just complicated the problem of whether I was or wasn’t on the spectrum. Every test said that I was barely on it, nearly as neurotypical as autistic.

Why did I persist in my search until I was sure, one way or the other? Not to be part of a group, not to be officially recognized. Not to add to my already numerous physical and mental problems, to see myself as a collection of disabilities. It was to better understand who I was and what had made me the person I became, and, possibly, stop blaming myself for traits that are inherent in my makeup. To better understand them so that I might find ways to ameliorate some of the problems, as far as that’s possible.

I now understand that there was an important factor keeping me close to the edge on those tests. I answered the questions as the adult I was at the time rather than the child or adolescent I once was. The importance of maturity is mentioned now and then, in articles, but it isn’t given as much emphasis as it deserves. Depending on intelligence and the severity of the traits, we gradually learn ways of coping with our differences from the norm, not all of which have to be viewed as disabilities.

If you are an older adult with a high IQ you have a lifetime of learning and adapting behind you. Add to that, the design flaws of many tests, not just those concerned with autism. One major flaw is that most tests force you to make choices that don’t in any way reflect your personal reality. I can go all the way back to high school in my memories to support this. On a job aptitude test that all students were forced to take each question had two choices: either this or that. Every question had to be answered. The result was that I supposedly had an aptitude for and would work best at a job that, in actuality, I would have hated and eventually rebelled against.

Why did this happen? Because the test was oriented to the standard jobs that the majority of people do, in fact, work at. There were no choices that would allow for creativity of any kind, certainly not the desire and ability to create your own job. No entrepreneurship, no chance of opting out of the pervasive work ethic and doing something else altogether.

In the same way, most self-diagnostic tests for autism force choices based on assumptions. – does take account of changes with maturity. But it also forces yes or no answers to poorly stated questions. A typical example is “It is difficult to figure out what other people expect of me.” You can’t answer sometimes; the choices are never, now and when I was young, only now, or only when I was young. Is a failure to understand caused by your supposed disability or because the other person hasn’t made it clear what they want from you? The assumption is that failure is an outcome of a disability. I retested myself on this one quite recently, and came out barely on the spectrum, just as I did when I took it several years ago. It was designed by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at the Cambridge Autism Research Centre, and allows for the fact that whatever problem you might have you don’t necessarily have it all the time. But it is entirely present-oriented. “I am…” “I enjoy…” And that’s the crux of the problem. It tests for who you are now as if you never learned anything over the years about how to manage the factors it asks about.

If you are intelligent, analytical, and self-aware, you will have found ways to avoid problem areas, or to compensate for them. Which means that if you’re taking this particular test or one like it, you will get a more accurate score if you answer as if you are much younger, before you learned, either with assistance or on your own, how to work around the “disabilities.” Not that it will be completely accurate if the test requires you to answer every question. Why not? Because you probably won’t remember what certain things were like when you were younger. For instance: Question 3. If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind. Today, I would slightly agree. But I have no memories about that kind of thing from earlier in my life.

Self-tests can be useful, but they may not be completely accurate. Proceed with caution and common sense.