You are magic, and you don’t even know it.
Being autistic, I have a gift. That’s not to say that every autistic person has a gift. We can’t all count cards or solve second-order equations in our heads. Honestly, I suck at math. As with any group of human beings, we are individuals. We differ just as much as NTs do.
That being said, I happen to have a gift.
I can see things normal people can’t. This is not an “I see dead people” thing. What I mean is, I have the ability to see connections between things that most people can’t… or won’t. This gift lets me come up with answers to problems that a normal mind might never find. To use a well-known saying, I am good at thinking outside the box.
People often tell me I’m very smart. They tell me how impressive it is that I could come up with this or that way of doing something, solving something or just seeing the truth of something. I appreciate the praise, but there is a flip-side to my gift. I am never inside the box.
See, the reason normal people think it’s so great to think outside the box, is because they live most of their lives safely inside it.
The box is a good thing. It’s the luxury of well-defined borders, of knowing exactly how far one should go. The box is the comfort of belonging, of feeling secure in one’s place. It’s being able to wake up, go to work, come home and repeat. I’ll never have that security. I’ll never know what it feels like to belong anywhere.
I can see things you can’t. To some, what I can do is like magic. To me, a paycheck is magic. Schedules are magic. Medical insurance is magic. I’ve been asked why I write. The reason is simple. It’s the closest thing to a real job I can manage. I would trade my writing career for the ability to keep a regular job. Maybe that surprises you. I suppose that if, years from now, my books are best sellers and my financial life is assured, I might think otherwise. But for now, when I look at what you do, sitting there, taking calls, filling out forms and knowing that payday is coming up, know this – to me, you are magic.
Right off the bat, let’s get a few personal truths out of the way.
First, I’m biased. I’m autistic. So, of course, I seek to view myself in a way that makes me more than the product of some toxic element of our environment, or a disease or what-have-you. It would be unnatural for me to want otherwise. But just because I may be biased, that does not mean I am wrong.
Second, I’m not an expert, unless you count personal experience and years of trying to understand my own autistic mind. But I’m not a doctor, a scientist, a psychiatrist, and I have no specialized degrees. Everything that follows is just my mental ramblings on a subject that affects me. But again, that doesn’t make what follows wrong.
If what I’ve revealed has already informed your opinion of what you are about to read, then I advise you not to waste your time reading it. If, on the other hand, you are still able to read my words with an open mind, then let’s get to it.
What if autism is not a dysfunction in the sense that it is something that “should not” be happening? What if autism spectrum disorders are in fact a micro-evolutionary response to our rapidly changing cultural and social structures? This is not a new view, but I’d like to present it my way.
Human history has been defined, contrary to the common view, by a growing isolationism of the individual. While yes, we have come together in larger and larger communities such as cities, we have grown ever more emotionally distant from each other. This internal distance is a survival trait, I believe, to protect us from the intense physical closeness we have been forced to endure as humanity has grouped itself ever more tightly together.
There was a time when meeting another person was an occasion. When contact with strangers was a novelty, we extended ourselves to get to know the newcomer. We exchanged stories and goods and emotion, and we were happy to do so because doing so was a rarity. After the newcomer left us, we were able to retreat back to the mental safety of the handful of people we knew our entire lives, who presented no randomness, no surprises and required no great emotional effort. We had a lengthy period of time before the next stranger in which to “refill” our emotional wells.
But, as time passed, human groupings became bigger and bigger and we were called upon to extend ourselves emotionally more and more often. We had no time to refill before the next encounter with the unknown. As a response, people became less interested in each other. It became less common for an individual to get to know a newcomer, and more common to simply try to ignore other people. How many of your neighbor’s names do you know? First and last? How far afield does your interest in such information spread? One house? Three? Ten? Probably not.
So, as society groups closer together physically, we’ve become less willing to extend ourselves emotionally, less interested in reaching beyond our comfortable inner worlds. We, as a species, have learned to raise emotional walls, not because we can’t experience emotion, or even that we don’t want to, but rather because if we were to extend ourselves emotionally to every person we encounter in a single day, the mental fatigue would be ruinous.
This mental isolationism has, contrarily, only increased with the growth over the past century of methods of instant communication. Telegraph, telephone and now the Internet make it almost impossible to withdraw from the outer world long enough to refill our emotional wells. Yet, at the same time, these methods of communication, most especially the Internet, create a society in which physical proximity becomes ever less necessary.
As we are inundated with communications, it becomes a natural tendency to eschew actual meaning. By this I mean that communication becomes more and more impersonal. And, as humanity has become dependent upon social networks, email, etc., as our primary means of communication, when we are forced to interact outside the impersonalized framework of technology, we have difficulty.
Now comes autism. While certainly autism is not nearly as a new a thing as some would have us believe, this only contributes to the notion that ASDs are a function of cognitive evolution rather than a historical aberration.
There are, really, two kind of autism – dysfunctional and functional. Dysfunctional autism is when an autistic simply cannot manage everyday tasks without help. This is a dysfunction only in relation to the requirements of modern life such as social interaction, earning money, etc. Functional autism can be seen in people who exhibit autistic traits, but who are able to manage the expectations of neurotypical society.
The first objection to autism as evolution is usually from anthropologists who say that evolution takes tens of thousands, even millions of years. It doesn’t happen in a few centuries. To these learned people I would suggest reaching beyond your field into the realm of genetics where it has been known for many years now that our very DNA can be affected in significant ways even within a single generation. This is called epigenetics. It is not only possible but proven that our genetic linage can and does change all the time in response to immediate environmental factors.
The second objection, and one that carries somewhat more weight, is that evolution provides increases in survivability, whereas autism appears to not. Fair enough. But to this I would remind that we are looking at autism from the inside, which is to say, while it is actually happening. All other evolutionary changes, such as the change from homo erectus to homo sapiens, can be observed with the benefit of hindsight. We can intellectually encapsulate the entire process from beginning to end and say, “Aha! That’s why that happened!” But, because we are inside the time of autism, we don’t have that kind of view.
Consider what it might have been like to observe other evolutions from the inside. Certainly the earlier version might have established a clear “way” of things. Those who did not fit nice and neatly into that established way would have been looked upon as aberrations, which of course in context they would have been. Also, those aberrations would likely have had some difficulty “fitting in.” In a culture requiring instinctive reactions to avoid threats and establish dominance, a “thinker” would have been less valuable than a “doer.” It makes one wonder how many of what we now think of as “advanced” human beings died because they failed to act on pure animal instinct at the right moment. Contemplation of one’s existence is all fine and good in the safety of the cave, but when you’re seconds away from being bear-food, overthinking things isn’t a survival trait. My point is, there was undoubtedly a period of time in which what we now think of as an evolutionary advance was anything but a survival trait. It was an example of incomplete evolution, which requires both change and context to be complete.
“But eventually Sapians won out!”
Yes, but consider what is happening right now? Many of those we have come to see as the elite of our society, which is to say, those who can invent the next “need to have” thing or those who come up with the crazy ideas that turn out to be worth billions, are exhibiting traits of autism. Bill Gates comes to mind.
Evolution is not really about strength, you see. That’s a common misconception about Darwin’s actual theory. Evolution is about breeding potential. Breeding potential almost always comes down to having the greatest resources. In our modern world, the ability wield a spear is not nearly as important as the ability to accumulate money and influence. Can anyone argue that Gates does not have this ability? Of course not. Which makes him prime breeding material.
So, why autism? What is the eventual result of such an evolution? As society continues to increase its recognition and accommodation of neurodiversity, it will become less important to “fit in” and more important to be able to think outside the box, to see things in new and unique ways, a specialty of autistics. Conversely, the value of highly repetitive tasks such a computer coding and manufacturing quality control is only growing. These are perfect tasks for many autistics. There are companies even now who seek to hire autistics specifically because of our attention to detail, our ability to hyper-focus.
As these social trends continue, and society becomes ever more accommodating of ASDs, functional autistics will overtake neurotypicals as the optimal breeding partners. Autism will eventually equalize into a new and dominant form of human.
Homo Autisticus? Maybe. Why is the current scientific community so reluctant to even consider this idea, so eager to view autism as something to be cured? Well, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, no species is comfortable acknowledging that its time may be coming to an end.
Sam’s hands shook as he shaved. Today was the day. He was coming out.
He couldn’t recall a time when he didn’t know he was different.
Sam’s parents, bless them, had always been supportive in private, but they had taught him to hide his true self in public. It wasn’t shame, he knew that. It was fear. They had grown up before it was commonplace to be out. When people might hurt him just for being different.
Today he would tell his co-workers, his friends and the rest of his family. The hardest part was going to be Father Mark. The old Catholic priest had always been so kind, so much a part of Sam’s life. Sam was a believer, one of the faithful. He believed in God and took the Sacrament every Sunday. So many of those like Sam had simply given up on the Church when they’d discovered their personal truth. But Sam held to his faith, even though that faith considered him an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. To be fair, the Church had recently taken a somewhat less hateful stance, but people like Sam were still not fully accepted.
As the day progressed Sam was surprised by the response he got from the people he told. It was almost, well, disappointing really. He’d prepped himself for days, psyched himself up to handle even the most shocked and disgusted of reactions. But, far from being either shocked or disgusted, his coworkers didn’t even seem to care. Randel shook his hand and Patti gave him a hug and told him how brave she thought he was. That was it.
Sam liked old sci-fi movies and one of his favorites was Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland. There’s a scene at the end when a survivor of the alien attack meets with Sutherland’s character, thinking he’d been spared. Instead of offering a sympathetic hand, Sutherland points at her, gets this freaky expression on his face and lets out a siren-like scream to alert the other aliens of her presence. Secretly, Sam had been expecting something like that to happen.
After work, Sam met with his friends at the pub they frequented. After a few minutes of bitching about this and that, Sam announced he had something to tell them. He just said it. No build up, no sugar-coating, he just laid out the simple truth, his truth. Then he waited. They were silent for a few seconds. Sam knew that this was his moment. He hated the idea that he might lose friends, but he had to know which ones loved him for who he really was.
“Well,” said Steven, “that explains so much!”
“What do you mean?” Sam asked.
“Like,” replied Steven, “how in school you never use to shower with the rest of us after Gym. I figured you were just shy, or maybe had a thing about germs, but this makes so much more sense!”
“Yeah!” This from Larry. “And you never take your shirt off at the beach. You’ve got a great build, you’re always working out, but you’re always so shy about showing it off! Now I get it!”
The rest of the evening was spent in cheerful conversation. His friends were mostly just curious. Sam was glad to answer the many questions they had. Even more so that the majority of those questions stemmed from genuine concern about his future and his psychological wellbeing. They would be there for him. They all promised. If he ever felt threatened by anything or anyone, they all promised to be available at a call. By the time the evening ended, Sam was nearly in tears, such was his relief.
But next came the hard part. The church was on his way home and Sam knew Father Mark would be up late. The old priest was a workhorse, practically not knowing the meaning of the word ‘relax’.
Sam found Father Mark sitting in a pew near the front of the small church. He had a notebook and a pen and was scribbling notes for a future sermon. Father Mark didn’t need a Bible. He knew it by heart, word for word.
Sam just told him. He respected the priest too much to do anything else. This was a man to whom Sam had told his every sin for decades. How could he be less than honest now?
“My son, I know this has been difficult for you.”
“Father, the Bible says it’s wrong to be what I am.”
“Well, the Bible also says it’s a sin to wear different types of fabric together, and that if a man should trim his beard, that also is a sin.”
“So,” Sam asked, feeling like a small child again, “is the Bible wrong?”
“No, not wrong. But you have to remember that while the Bible is the Word of God, it was written by people, in the language of people. Language, like all things human, is imperfect. God is perfect in all things. We are neither perfect nor are we able to truly know all that is known by God, much less put such vast, divine knowledge in a single book. The Bible is a guide to life, but anything forced into mere words can never be as complete as the mind of God. So, no, the Bible is not wrong, my son. But, perhaps, neither is it entirely complete.”
“How can I know if God still loves me, Father?
“How can any of us know? We must have faith.”
“Thank you, Father.” Sam was crying now, and it felt wonderful. His whole life spent in fear of others knowing. But now they knew, and they still cared, still loved, and still had faith in him.
The walk home was a blur. Sam’s mind was so full. His lifetime of hiding was over. His truth, revealed.
He checked his email, as he always did before bed. Among the messages of encouragement and friendship, there was one from Larry inviting him to a beach party the next day.
Sam dug through his closet to find the backpack with his beach stuff. He pulled out the trunks and tossed them in the washer. Next came his snorkel, mask and flippers. Sunscreen, towel, bug spray, etc.
The last thing, at the very bottom of the bag, was the crumpled tee-shirt, his armor against the world. Sam looked at himself in a mirror, the shirt clenched tightly in his left hand. He was a good-looking guy. His right hand traced down to his stomach, coming to rest upon the perfectly smooth area between his well-defined abs.
He let the shirt drop, smiling as he did. For years he’d covered himself, never letting anyone see the truth of him. His hand came away from where his navel would have been had he been nature-born. Tomorrow, he would revel in the feel of the sun on his chest. He would not wear the shirt. He would no longer cover the truth of his birth. He was a clone, and he was proud.
I am having an Aspie moment. Right now, as I write these words. It’s hard to write, to be focused. It’s a fight. I’m not going to have anyone look at this. No editing. No double checks. Can’t do link words. Just word words. I’m not even going to use the back button. Total stream of consciousness. Because I want you to know what it’s like. I’ll keep going as long as I can.
Everything is loud. Way too loud. Not noise loud. It’s something else. Loud inside, not outside. I’m melting. Not really. But yes. My skin is crawling off my bones. I have to concentrate to keep it on. I know it’s not doing that. But I feel sticky. The hairs on my arm are moving too much. The ceiling fan is on, which is good. Sometimes the fan helps blend everything together. White noise for touch.
My body is what’s too loud. One big ear, except it can feel and see and taste and smell as well as hear. If someone knocks on the door right now, I might scream. I wouldn’t be able to answr it because someone would probably be on the other side. I can’t stand the idea of seeing anyone right now. Except my wife. My wife lives in my inner brain, so I never mind seeing her. But she’s in bed.
Everything is wrong. Just a litle bit. Not enough to ignore. Just enough to get to me. The fabric on the chair is to rough. I have to take my socks off because my toes want out. My feet get very sensitive when I have a moment. My toes can’t be contain.
My bran is getting foggy.
I’m tried, but I don’t want to sleep. If I slep I’ll dream. Aspie dreams. Crowds. Speaking, but I won’t understand them.
Its lke that. All at once but stretchd out. I think Im shaking now.
I don’t do politics. However, something kind of interesting occurred to me. If, as the numbers would seem to indicate will happen, Sanders does not become the Democratic candidate, wouldn’t it be wild if Trump took him on as his VP? It’s not nearly as unlikely as you might think.
It used to be commonplace for the losing candidate to become the Vice President. Also, what has been the key word for the past few presidents, that thing every politician says they aspire to when trying to pander to a crowd? Bipartisanship. What better way to establish genuine bipartisanship than to have both candidates assume positions of power?
Trump is the Republican candidate. No one in politics likes this fact, not even the Republicans. But, obviously, there are a load of voters that do. Good or bad, that’s just the fact. Trump’s entire campaign consists of being the outsider, the guy who doesn’t do things the usual way. Wouldn’t it make sense for him to choose the most unlikely running mate possible?
Imagine Trump announcing the following.
“I know I’m extreme. I know that I’ve said things that made people wonder if I would be a good President. Look, I’m not a career politician, that’s what everyone says. But I believe that’s a good thing. This country doesn’t need another professional politician as President. But I understand the need for moderation, for balance. So I’ve decided to do what I believe is best for the people. I am proud to announce that I have once again made the right choice for America and chosen Bernie Sanders as my running mate. Trust me, this is going to be huge.”
Then Sanders might say this:
“When Mr. Trump offered me the opportunity to be his running mate, I was conflicted. But this election is not about me, it’s not even about politics. It’s about doing what’s right. Given the chance to do otherwise, would it be right to put aside an opportunity to be a moderating influence, to be a voice for the poor and disenfranchised? Vice President may not be the role I wanted, but it is the responsibility of every American to make positive change wherever he or she can. I believe Mr. Trump is sincere in his desire to be a good President. It took a lot of nerve to cross party lines and ask me, someone so directly opposed to many of his views, to aid him in making this country great. I am proud to make the hard choice and accept Mr. Trump’s offer. Not for me, not for Mr. Trump, but for the people of this nation and for the future.”
Be honest, wouldn’t that be awesome, even if just for how crazy it would be?
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I had a shutdown a few minutes ago. You may wonder what that means. You’ve probably heard of meltdowns, those episodes when a person with ASD flips out. Screaming, crying, self-abuse, even rage – think Rain Man when he couldn’t watch Wapner. Too dated a reference? Sorry, that’s my age group. Look it up.
There is another side to the ASD experience, I call it a shutdown. When I get stressed, overwhelmed, over-stimulated, it comes on me. Sometimes it happens all at once, but more often, it’s a process.
First, it seems like a panic attack. I get a bit twitchy, my fingers start moving on their own. The technical term in psychology is “stimming.” Stimming is pretty common with autism. In fact, it’s probably the most well-known physical expression of autism. Rocking back and forth, twiddling fingers, tapping feet etc. You’ve seen it.
If the stress continues, it gets worse. I start to zone out. At this point it all happens pretty quickly. Usually, I withdraw into myself. Then, just like that, I’ve jumped forward in time. Minutes, even hours, it depends upon what’s going on. As a child I would withdraw for hours because my entire childhood experience was basically one long stressor. These days, it’s usually a matter of minutes. My wife can break me out of it with gentle words or a light rubbing of my arm or forehead.
Afterward is terrifying. It’s as though my brain needs to reboot. Confusion, memory gaps even physical difficulties with balance and dexterity, as though the connection between my brain and my body has been interrupted. It takes time for these things to go away. I think of the memory issues as my brain going to the backups and unzipping the files. The data feeds in slowly, but it does return.
I suppose if this entry has a point beyond being a way for me to refocus and talk through my fear, it would be to remind you that ASD is not about being immune to emotion, or being unable to feel things. It’s about feeling things too much. Physically and emotionally, autistics at any point on the spectrum share one thing in common. We experience the same world you do, but more intensely.
So if you see a meltdown, or a shutdown, don’t panic, don’t yell, don’t create a scene, even if you are just trying to help. Be gentle, be patient and be aware that we’re afraid and doing our best to cope.
Welcome! That’s the polite thing to say. Welcome to my blog. Okay, that’s out of the way.
I’m an aspie, which is ASD community lingo for a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m overly direct, generally unaware of social niceties, don’t like change and am easily over-stimulated in crowds and when meeting new people – great traits for a career requiring almost constant social interaction, right?
I have a range of interests – technology, paranormal, making things, and patterns, I’m big into patterns. That’s part of my ASD, but also I believe that everything operates according to a pattern of some kind. If you can find the pattern, you can understand the thing.
Years ago I wrote a few dozen articles for some newspapers and magazines. Got paid and everything. Most of them were boring crap about hybrid cars, patio furniture and businesses. But there were a few fun ones. I wrote an article for Fangoria Magazine which gave me the chance to be on a horror movie set. There was another one where I interviewed Dan Tyminski who sang George Clooney’s part in O, Brother Where Art Thou. Also, there were some product reviews where I got to keep the stuff afterward. LOOT, BABY!
So yeah, I’ve been a professional (paid) writer, but now I am trying to be a professional author, which means paying my bills with the profits from my books. Not quite there yet, but sales are growing.
These days I’m working on the second book in the series, Primacy Fall. While writing is awesome, to make a career of it one has to building a following. That’s where you come in. But I would not expect something for nothing so, in addition to producing great full-length books, I will also be providing regular writings here.