What happens when autistic young men meet up with pick-up artists? Pretty much what you’d expect.


I’m taking a big risk writing this post. I recognize that it may be misinterpreted as an agreement with concepts that go completely counter to my intention. It’s time, though. 

The media is currently abuzz with the planning and execution of Friday night’s murders at the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. He must have been mentally ill, people argue, to have written a 100+ page manifesto explaining his motivations. No one sane would have uploaded a YouTube video detailing his plans for retribution against the women of the world who refused to date or have sex with him. While most mainstream media outlets gloss over the inherent misogyny of his actions (and the clear connection between his choices and those of Marc Lepine in Montreal in 1989), the speculation of the role of mental health is high. Described as disturbed and unstable by people who claim to have known him well, the preferred focus appears to be on demands for greater gun control in the US as a way to prevent this from happening again. 

The other media focus has been (as with many mass murders committed by white men before Elliot Rodger) on his status as an autistic person. He had Asperger’s, folks say, so this is obviously why he hated women, killed his roommates, and planned to slaughter every woman he encountered. Because autism makes you disconnect, socially isolated, a dangerous loner. Because autism means you are incapable of empathy or of seeing other people as human beings. Because autistic people are volatile and unpredictable.

You do all realize that’s bullshit, right? 

Here, however, is where I may lose a few of you: while autism does not make someone more likely to be a misogynist, autistic men are definitely disporportionately more vulnerable to the messages of pick-up artists (PUA)  and men’s rights activists (MRA). The reasons for this are complicated, and deeply tied into our ableist, sex-negative culture. 

As a culture, we traditionally do as little as we can get away with when we discuss sexuality with children. We describe the mechanics of puberty in technical terms, we talk about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in as abstract ways as we can, and we avoid avoid avoid as much as possible, with the assumption that kids grow up and figure most of this out as they go along, or that they don’t need the information because it won’t be relevant to them, or we hope, as parents, that the school will do the awkward work for us. I’m just talking about kids who are perceived as able-bodied in this description. Disability compounds the conversation. As parents of autistic kids, we’re told to lower our expectations. We’re indoctrinated with the idea that our children will grow up to be asexual misfits who are incapable of making intimate connections and partnerships. 

For young autistic men who are seen as “high-functioning” (as I’m going to assume Rodger was), the two scenarios combine: we assume that they’ll probably not be interested in dating and relationships, but if they are, they’re smart enough to figure it out when it’s time. 

It’s not about being “smart enough.” The common understanding of how autistic people learn is that direct instruction is integral to comprehension. A lot of us are not so good with abstract concepts and figurative language. We are often concrete thinkers who benefit from step-by-step explanations. Guess who’s really good at offering young men step-by-step explanations on how to get a girlfriend? 

Pick-up artists. They demystify a terrifying process. While social skills groups and parents go around the idea of dating and sexuality, PUAs jump right in and offer concrete steps on how to get exactly what you want. They give advice on appearance and approach, and offer praise for attempts at contact. They acknowledge that autistic young men are capable of and interested in being sexual with other people (in this instance, women) – validation few others in their lives are willing to consider. 

So, yeah. Autistic young men who are interested in women are definitely at risk of embracing MRA philosophy, and of emulating misogynist pick-up artist practice. There. I said it. It’s out there. Now, what do we do about it? Simple answer, more complicated execution. The short answer is that we ensure that every young person has access to comprehensive sexuality education that’s based in respect, mutual pleasure, and consent. We humanize sexuality, and include the emotional parts of it in our conversations with youth. We acknowledge that sexual interest lies on a spectrum. We reinforce the idea that no person on this planet is owed sex by another person, for any reason. 

For autistic youth*  in particular, we incorporate dating and sexuality into social skills curricula. We talk frankly about dating behaviour, about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. We study examples from popular culture and role play how to talk to women respectfully. We model concrete ways of interacting with romantic interests, and provide young people a tool box of strategies. We provide a space in which they can talk freely about their feelings of frustration and isolation, but also about their successes. We replace the PUA step-by-step approach to getting laid with our own step-by-step approach to building confidence in interacting with attractive-to-us people. 

Yes, the fact that Elliot Rodger was SEEN AS autistic matters. The fact that the only people he felt took him seriously also actively encourage men to hate women matters more. 

* Throughout this post, I’ve spoken exclusively about young autistic men who are sexually attracted to women. I have not talked about men attracted to men, nor have I talked at all about autistic women’s experience of sexuality. I am in no way ignoring that comprehensive sexuality education needs to include a concrete approach for young women, nor am I overlooking sexual orientation as a piece of this educational approach. For the context of this particular piece, however, men who want to have sex with women are my target audience, for what I think are obvious reasons. 

(edited to clarify that we don’t actually know if he was autistic, only that it’s been reported.)

9 Comments

  1. Fritz V said,

    May 25, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    I’m a 32-year-old autistic man, and a virgin, and I’m so thankful you wrote this. It clearly distills and offers solutions to a problem so few of us want to acknowledge.

  2. chels744 said,

    May 25, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Yes, autistic people in general are far more likely to get manipulated by some toxic groups of people, especially if they are desperate for friendships and romantic interests.

    One thing that needs to be made clear to all people, especially heterosexual men on the spectrum, is that NO ONE IS ENTITLED TO BE IN A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP! On top of that, having a “significant other” is not a requirement in life to be happy. You need to first be happy with yourself, your family, and your friends if you ever want to be happy in that type of relationship. And you need to treat your partner respectfully, and take “no” for an answer.

    However, I disagree that social skills training helps autistic children learn to be respectful. From my personal experience, and from what I have read from professional sites, it fails to recognize the fact that autistic people ARE an oppressed minority, and that passing for neurotypical will never work in the long run. And don’t even get me started about the emphasis on making eye-contact, keeping quiet hands, and not behaving in ways that make others think we are “weird.” When time is wasted teaching these children how to “fit in” with their same-age peers, less time is spent on teaching them about boundaries between friends, and helping them learn about the concepts of oppression against women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc., and how to approach the diversity of humans respectfully.

    • May 26, 2014 at 7:30 am

      I agree with you, and realize I could have been more clear. I think “social understanding” might be a more accurate way to describe what I’m talking about than “social skills,” as the latter is laden with a lot of baggage around getting autistic people to behave like NT people. Not what I’m talking about at all. Helping autistic people to understand NT motivations, non-verbal communication, and expectations? I don’t have a problem with that. If we consider the language and communication aspects of autism as just that – language and communication differences, it’s not unreasonable to want to learn to interpret others’ more nuanced forms of language. Ideally, NT people would also be doing this work to better understand the cultural and language differences of autistic people (and some do). I have no interest in encouraging autistic people to pass or blend. I do have an interest in making the world a far less confusing place for us.

  3. Sandra said,

    May 26, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Rodger was a sexist, racist, classist and woman-hating, all-around vile young man with autism.

    He was lonely because, frankly, he deserved to be. He was — even by HFA-limited social skills standards — repulsive. The autism was the least of his social handicaps.

    Was he entitled to behave like a jerk? Yes, it’s a free country.

    His actions had consequences — people gave him a wide berth.

    (I grew up as a physics faculty kid and have a Master’s in geophysics. While I’m not on the spectrum, pretty much every guy I’ve ever dated has been. As were all my babysitters, aka my parents grad students. When all the proverbial eggs go into the brains basket, very few are left for the social skills basket… and, well, none of the many, many quirky and on the spectrum kids/grad students ever EVER behaved like Rodger. His lack o’ socials skills is probably partially due to something else!).

    • May 26, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      It appears that he wasn’t autistic at all, after all the hullabaloo. Regardless.

      As an autistic person myself, I know that we’re not automatically predisposed to violence. Having worked with young men who are so desperate to connect with women, though, I know that the vulnerability is higher in our population. Whether or not a particular misogynist murderer was on the autism spectrum, we do still need to understand that we need to embrace a lot more explicit straight talk with young people. And to be honest, I think this straight talk needs to be a universal design approach, not just targeting autistic people.

      • chels744 said,

        May 26, 2014 at 7:56 pm

        Absolutely.

        And from my experience, I have noticed that many autistic men are taught that “hot” blonde neurotypical women are more valuable as sex partners than perhaps socially marginalized women who are more likely to understand such men. The idea that having a trophy girlfriend/wife is part of having a good social standing is a very messed up way to think of women, and it is part of the patriarchy.

        During my teens, I was dumped by an aspie boy who thought that I was lowering his reputation. He then decided to ask out a popular NT girl, only to be rejected. A popular boy said that I was “his only chance at getting a girlfriend,” as though that were a bad thing.

        Congratulations to everyone who teach autistic teens to hate themselves so much that they cannot even associate with others of their neurology. They are taught to associate instead with the “cool kids”, where they will FOR SURE be marginalized, especially if they are not also rich or white.

  4. Ann Kilter said,

    May 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Well, everyone wants to be with the cool kids including neurotypicals. HFAs get the same message. It’s the awkward execution that is part of the problem. My son was too intense and exclusive with girls in high school. We would get phone calls from concerned teachers and youth leaders. They all said he had “great taste” in girls- a wrong way of looking at things in my opinion. We had many talks with him about boundaries. He has been fortunate to grow up with two sisters who he loves and respects. Girls have generally been kind to him…however, he is now in his mid 20s. He wants to get married. He has a good job and does not want to end up alone. He is aftaid to ask a girl out. We have encouraged him to consider christian girls (his priority also) who are not necessarily the model of “good taste” in women (a mysogenic look at women). But women of good personality, tall, maybe overweight, cheerful. Ordinary. Like him. He has many good qualities. I pray thst he will find a good wife who will not take advantage of him, and love him. Isn’t that what all parents want? And all young people want?

  5. May 27, 2014 at 1:19 am

    As an autistic male, I understand the difficulty in dating. However, I have found PUA techniques to be very useful and productive. Currently married to the girl of my dreams. I have read Elliot’s manifesto and watched his videos. I can feel his pain, but to be honest, he had far more knowledge than I did at his age. He was so full of envy and rage though, that he had no chance. He had a sense of entitlement that if he was just attractive enough, then the girls would flock to him. He actually understood PUA, but just didn’t want to do the work necessary to suceed. He was actually a member of PUAhate, which is kind of an anti-PUA site. There was really no hope for this guy.
    One of the things that PUA teaches is that you have to go through a lot of rejection. You are expected to keep trying. Some say go out and talk to five girls a day, even if it is to just say “hi” and smile. He never even did that most basic thing.

    • chels744 said,

      May 27, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Or, he could have tried dating women who were not the “elite” blonde girls, but maybe shy girls who would have probably been more accepting of his awkwardness. Of course, being as entitled as he was, he clearly thought he was too good for any women who scored below a “10.” He refused to sacrifice the “trophy wife” standing in order to just have a loving relationship with a woman.

      MInd you, a woman like me would probably be a “6” by PUA standards, but that did not stop a guy from choosing me. We have been in a wonderful relationship for two years, and we have always been straightforward with each other. Neither of us needed any “good first impression” tips because we already knew each other as friends. It was very helpful to have a third friend invite him over to my house and give me a chance to make a little bit of eye contact (and blush), and it was a little awkward, but it worked.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 119 other followers

%d bloggers like this: