Category Archives: Creativity

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.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ockhamsrazor/stories/2006/1711792.htm

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.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Just as Temple Grandin’s view of autism, in her book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, doesn’t speak to every person on the spectrum, neither does this blog speak to everyone. I write from my own experience as an 80-year-old woman, self-identified as high-functioning Asperger’s in my late 60s, and from what I’ve learned over the years, both before and after. Much of the learning has been about intellectual development and creativity, and that is what will guide this blog.

There’s a quote from author Toni Morrison that can apply to blogging as well as to writing books: If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. This is the blog I’ve wanted to read, but no one has written, so it’s time to write it myself.

Disorderly Minds isn’t a personal confession blog, nor is it a guide to living on the autistic spectrum. It will focus on the intellectual and analytical aspects of Asperger’s, with particular attention to imagination and creativity. For comic relief, it will also wander every so often into the stranger aspects of the neurotypical world, including the daily news.

What is it going to be about? Here are some of the ideas I’ve jotted down so far:

  • Aspie views of the world around us, how it functions, why people behave as they do
  • How the outsider view affects mental development, from early childhood through adulthood
  • If you are a writer, or want to be one, how the outsider view and a differently wired mind affect creativity
  • 
How undiagnosed Asperger’s affects intellectual development, creativity
  • Growing in wrong directions under “helpful” hands — or no hands
  • 
Is Asperger’s a basis for unusually original writing?
  • The influence of temperament — introversion/extraversion
  • Cognitive complexity
  • Identifying and learning to use the hidden gifts

Disorderly Minds will reflect my exploration of these topics, so I may change my mind about some of them over time, or pick up topics I’ve already discussed and look at them from another angle. I’ll be looking at what the “experts” have to say about Asperger’s functioning, and what aspies themselves have to say. If there is a central theme here, it is to help intellectually talented aspies do an end run around the concept of disabilities and learn how to use their differences creatively.