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.)

The assumptions we make about “real” connections

In the last few days, this Look Up clip has popped up on my Facebook timeline at least a half-dozen times. I finally took the time to watch it after reading the feedback of several friends, all of whom raved about it. While I get that the artist’s message is one of connectedness, I’m left feeling like he’s not talking to me. 

I discovered “social media” in the early 1990s, with BBSes and Usenet groups. Rather than leading to an inability to communicate with other people, I felt more connected than I had in, well, possibly my entire life. I didn’t have to worry about the social expectations and pitfalls of meeting people in unstructured moments in time in person: I could think about what had been said, and be considerate before responding. I could work through the various potential meanings of what people wrote to me without feeling pressured to respond in a certain way. The best part was that I could still choose to meet and hang out with these same people in person, having figured out a shorthand on how to interact with them ahead of time. 

Today, I rely a fair bit on texting for communication outside of my work. When speaking is hard for me, as it sometimes is, I’ll even text someone right beside me to have a conversation with them. What the Look Up video misses is the accessibility issue of social media. I’m nowhere near the only person in the world whose social world has opened up as communication technology has become more easily accessible. Cell phones, tablets, laptops – they’re assistive technology devices for many of us, and platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow us to use the technology to communicate on a broader scale. 

I agree that balance is wonderful, and making sure that you’re happy with your level of connection with the people in your life is important. Connection comes in many different packages, however, and for many of us, looking down sometimes helps us to be able to look up. 

Happy World Autism Day

Yep, happy. 

April is Autism Awareness Month, and there’s nothing wrong with being aware of something. The question is how, though, are we celebrating autistic April: the way we would Women’s History or Black History Month? Or are we mourning the loss of the children we thought we had before diagnosis, wishing things could be different? A little of both, maybe? Maybe. 

Do we talk about the accomplishments of famous and everyday autistic people in April? Do we list the strategies autistic people have used successfully so that parents of younger autistic children can learn from real experts what works for us? Or do we highlight scientific or pseudoscientific interventions that have been experienced as traumatic or dehumanizing by those who were once autistic children? 

Do we seek out success stories – and not the big names, but the small-scale, people in your neighbourhood successes, or do we look only at the tragic family breakdowns that we blame so often on autism? 

Here. I’ll start with an everyday success. Hi. I’m 40. I was diagnosed at 38 with Asperger’s Syndrome. It took a long time for me to know for sure in part because of my age, in part my gender. Believe me, though. It fits. So, here I am. I’m an extreme introvert, but that hasn’t stopped me from being successful in caring professions. I’m also really good at retail, for what it’s worth. Right now, I’m a teacher, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I’ve managed to have had effective enough social skills to make two humans. I have a few close friends, several casual friends, and a strong complex romantic relationship. I’m raising two children by myself. I pay the rent. I sometimes have three or four jobs at a time, and generally manage to stay on top of things. I’m starting a PhD program in the fall. 

That all sounds pretty successful for anyone, really. I have a good life, as an autistic adult. My friends and partner are understanding, and when something doesn’t make sense, they ask. 

Do my words sometimes stop coming when I’m stressed or overwhelmed? Yep. Do I say the wrong thing and make people really angry with me? It happens. Do my special interests sometimes take over my life? Um, see the above PhD reference. Do my sensory impairments make things harder? They make things hard, yes. But I figure it out, and I keep going. 

Parents of autistic kids, please listen to autistic adults. A lot of us are also parents of autistic kids, and we have a lot to offer you in terms of support and understanding. We can also be remarkably practical. And we want to celebrate the kid(s) you have, with you.  

Your semi-annual reminder: autism isn’t the problem.

A friend just asked if I’d read what was happening on Gina Crosley-Corcoran’s The Feminist Breeder Facebook page. (as an aside, the question referred to The Dentist Breeder, which made me kind of scared, because, well, breeding dentists sounds terrifying.) I went to check it out, and I’m left with a lot of feelings. I too am feminist, and a breeder, and the autistic mom of autistic kids. So when self-identified feminist breeders say they wish they could wish away something like autism, I pay attention.

I get why so many parents of autistic kids wish their kids weren’t autistic. I’ve been there myself, more than once. I’ve supported parents who have gone as far to say that if they had it to do all over again, they’d rather not have had any child if an autistic child were their only option.* To be clear, that’s not what Crosley-Corcoran has said (though maybe she has said it somewhere, I haven’t come across it).

Yes. I have wished that my kids weren’t autistic. I’ve wished that I wasn’t autistic. When things are dark and hard and nothing feels good, I dream about the greener grass many tell me comes with neurotypicality. Is the autism what I need to hold up as the cause of my distress, though? Sure, sometimes. There are definitely parts of being autistic that I would consider impairments that need support. My executive functioning goes out the window when my stress levels get high, and it takes much more energy to stay on top of everything that needs doing. I’ve had some success with reducing that feeling of shut down by cutting gluten out of my diet. It’s a treatment strategy that works for some of us, and is completely useless for others. As a lovely side effect, the absence of gluten in my life has also reduced a lot of my chronic pain issues. I also see a psychotherapist on a regular basis, as well as a massage therapist. I don’t take medication for my anxiety and depression at this point, but I’m not against it, either.

Are my kids gluten-free? Nope. Are they dairy-free? Not even a little. Do they see any specialists related to their autism? Nope. Might they benefit? Sure, they might, but at 13 and almost 12, they do have a fair amount of sovereignty over their bodies. They have the right to be involved in decision-making over how they want to make things work better for them.

I should mention something about my kids. I was talking to them about the IEP process, as I think it’s important they know when I’m talking about them with the other adults in their lives. I explained that it’s a document that’s mostly for kids with a number of different disabilities, to ensure that their learning needs are met well in the classroom. My 13-year-old’s reaction was telling:

“Wait, what? I have a disability?”

He’s known since diagnosis (at 3.75) that he’s autistic. We started off with All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, which I cannot recommend strongly enough. Seriously, if you have a child in your family who has recently been diagnosed, this is a great introduction to what it means (though I get frustrated at all the male pronouns, given that there are two people in our household who do not use them).

But I digress. Where was I? Oh. Yes. There are times I wish I weren’t autistic, or that they weren’t autistic. When I ask myself what it is I wish was different, though, it’s almost never the autism that’s the problem. It’s the world that’s the problem.

Did you see that?

It’s the world that’s the problem.

Do I want to change some fundamental parts of me, of them, to fit the world better? Or do I want to work to changing the world to fit us better? That’s the question we all have to ask ourselves, disabled and able-bodied alike. As a feminist who does her best to see the world through an intersectional lens, I can tell you that my understanding of where disability fits into my identity is inseparable from where woman, queer, mad, and white fit. I’m not sometimes only a disabled person any more than I’m ever only white. I am all of these things, and just as I wouldn’t de-queer myself (and I chose this one because it came up as being particularly contentious on Crosley-Corcoran’s page) because it’s easier to be heterosexual in the world, I will not choose to eliminate my identity as disabled person. It’s not my autism/queerness/madness/femaleness that creates disadvantage, after all. It’s others’ interpretations of what that all means. It’s not skin colour that creates disadvantage – it’s racism. It’s not autism – it’s ableism.

Do I have privilege because my kids and I are (most of the time) verbal, because we don’t have any intellectual impairments, because two out of three of us could easily pass (and I often do, and feel a lot of ambivalence about)? Yep, I sure do. I’m raising two kids entirely on my own, generally hold down at least two jobs at a time, have never bounced a cheque, and I have many complex and wonderful friendships. I’m the effing poster girl for what high functioning looks like, and lots of people have it harder. I will never tell anyone that their parenting load isn’t as heavy as they think it is, because who the hell am I to do something like that?

What I will say is that your kid is your kid, and please be careful that they don’t grow up internalizing the message, “We love everything about you except your autism.” If parents of autistic kids could say (and believe) “We love our autistic kid, and we’re working to help them love all of themselves,” that would be so great. And you know what? Loving your kid doesn’t mean not looking for ways to make some things easier. Fight for access. Help your kids develop good coping strategies. Love their quirks, and reassure them that we’re all a little different in our own ways. Help them learn to self-advocate to minimize the impact of their impairments on their school and work and independent lives.

Reassure them (and yourselves) that autism isn’t the problem.

*By “supported” I mean offered emotional support, not agreed with, in case that isn’t clear.

Context is everything.

I’ve written before about how people have put me in the box of the “high functioning” autistic person, that because of my ability to adapt to the world and perform “normal” when needed, I must either be very minimally affected, or have good coping skills in place to mitigate the more frustrating traits of my wiring.

I do not think those words mean what you think they mean.

People think of me as “high functioning” primarily because I have an identification of Asperger’s Syndrome, and because I am verbal. But what if neither of those things were true? I mean, Asperger’s doesn’t exist on the books anymore (and no, DSM 5, I’m not sure how I feel about it), and I’m not always able to express myself verbally at all.

Also, there’s this. I related so much to this. I figured out really early on that who I was didn’t match others’ expectations of me, so I spent a lot of time watching other people – in real life, on tv, in books – to develop a performative identity that made me stand out as less … othered. I spent so much time focusing on what others seemed to want from me that I never really got around to figuring out what I needed to grow. I suppose a bit of it happened anyway along the way, but for the most part, there is a disconnect.

So here I sit. I’m almost 40 on the outside. Cognitively, I’m a person who’s 3 weeks from finishing her fourth university degree. I’ve been gainfully employed, I can manage to keep our bills paid. Emotionally, though? I haven’t even hit puberty most days. At my oldest, I’m about 12, and that’s a rarity. I am emotionally easily overwhelmed, particularly when in situations where the behavioural expectations of me are much older than I can meet in that moment. When I am at my most emotional, I’m not capable of performing in the more adult ways most people are used to seeing from me.

And if things are too much, I shut down. Completely.

I had a recent experience where I tried to be as prepared as I could be for the potential emotional fallout. I believed I was capable of being stoic, of being a grown-up, of performing functional adult well enough. And then, I just wasn’t. I was agitated, couldn’t make eye contact. I wasn’t able to reason, to take criticism, or to respond to it. If I had to pinpoint an age, in that moment, I felt about 7. The muscles in my mouth and my throat got tighter and tighter. Talking became more of an effort, to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was so exhausted from the effort that I found myself curling up in a chair in public, struggling to stay awake. I tried eating during this time, only to find out that all the muscles that refused to work for talking were also paralyzed against eating. I couldn’t make my mouth work. The act of even chewing a single french fry left me completely fatigued. In the end, I was so depleted that I couldn’t continue the interaction to a mutually satisfying conclusion. I bailed.

A choice a “grown-up” would make? Probably not.

Do I wish things could have gone differently? Of course. Do I wish I could have communicated my thoughts and needs out loud, and not just with a pencil and notebook? Who wouldn’t? I recognize that I’m not an easy person to talk to when my emotions run high. I get that being non-verbal after demonstrating I’m capable of spoken communication can be frustrating to the people who are trying to reach out to me. And believe me, I know it can be annoying to deal with an adult who is suddenly behaving so much more like a child.

If I can control all of these things some of the time, why can’t I control them all of the time? The simplest answer to that question is because I can’t.

Evil. Insane. Mentally Ill. Autistic.

Every time I read or hear about another violent multi-victim crime, I hold my breath, and I wait. How is this crime going to be described? Who are the victims? How are they painted? Do we hold up the most seemingly innocent first, as a way to make the crime seem that much more obscene in the eyes of those watching from afar?

And the perpetrator – what do we hear about him (because, for whatever reason, they are almost always men)?

Evil. Insane. Mentally ill. Autistic.

This. This is what I wait to hear every time. And almost every time, I hear some variation of the above. We are still, as a culture, feeding the stereotype of mentally ill people as being possessed (“evil”). It can’t possibly be a medical condition, or a result of decades of abuse, or something that can be socio-scientifically understood. It is a character flaw, and something that comes from not being strong enough to withstand the temptation of the devil. And people with mental illness are uncontrollably violent and dangerous.

And then there are the autistic people. They’re so unpredictable. They show no empathy, so you just know that they’re capable of something like a mass murder. They wouldn’t feel anything after such an event. They’re volatile, and heartless, and already pretty much psychopaths. Is it any wonder when they’re accused of horrible events?

I live with mental illness.

I am autistic.

One of my children lives with mental illness.

Both of them are autistic.

None of the three of us is going to suddenly snap and kill everyone in our wake. In fact, all three of us are at much higher risk of experiencing violence as victims than we are of committing acts of violence ourselves. Media and cultural focus on mental illness and/or autism as a significant risk factor for violent acts puts the three of us at even higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of those trying to protect the rest of the world from us.

I have seen some in the autistic community speak out, separating autism from mental illness in relation to yesterday’s tragedy. This is a shortsighted move, and a dangerous one. Claiming that the shooter (whose name I will not share) was mentally ill and that autism had nothing to do with his actions indicates agreement with the idea that mental illness was the cause. Given that over 2/3 of autistic individuals will also experience a significant mental illness over the course of a lifetime, this lack of solidarity does none of us any favours.

How do we shift the discourse? I had a conversation with my 12-year-old last night about the incident. Here is his (autistic) feedback:

His first question upon hearing about the incident: “Where did he get the gun?”

Pretty practical question, no? Doesn’t delve into motivation, mental health, or what he may have eaten for breakfast. Killings were accomplished with a gun, so let’s trace the origin of the weapon. Sounds like a logical starting point.

I explained that the culture of guns in the United States is very different than that in Canada, mostly because of the Second Amendment.

His response? “Think about it this way. If the Second Amendment were never made then people would not need guns for self defence because nobody would have guns in the first place.”

Uh, yeah. The US has created its own internal arms race with the Second Amendment as its justification. Pretty astute observation.

When I told him that it was reported that the shooter was autistic, he got a confused look on his face: “Who says his doing it had anything to do with autism?”

He could not fathom how anyone would connect autism to mass murder. It just didn’t compute.

He ended the conversation with,”Walmart sells semi automatic guns?”

I am not arguing that some people aren’t more likely to commit acts of violence. I’m not even saying that it’s impossible that psychotic or schizophrenic people can’t be compelled to do these acts. I know it’s possible. I also know that the compelling voices aren’t an across-the-board symptom of either of those conditions. I know that one can only be compelled by one’s brain to do something if one has access to the tools to carry it out. I know that one’s risk factors increase if one does not have access to affordable and appropriate mental health services.

You want to put an end to this kind of violent crime? Don’t lay it at the feet of “the insane” or “the autistic.” Question your cultural values: is having ready access to guns made specifically to kill multiple people in a short period of time a legitimate interpretation of the Second Amendment? Is the “Gd-given right” to protect yourself from tyranny worth the lives of the people who were murdered yesterday? Is the philosophy of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps more important than a country prioritizing funding for excellent accessible mental health services (and don’t think Canada is doing much better with mental health – especially for children)?

The cultural/media slant of yesterday’s incident has put my entire family and so many others at increased risk of stigma and physical violence. Change the conversation. Make all of us safer.

“You’re obviously high-functioning autistic, though, right?”

I never know how to answer that question. Mostly because it’s a bullshit question. Today, I am not functioning very highly at all. I got up, woke up the kids, showered, and walked them to school. I spoke the entire way there, reassuring an anxious child that school would be okay today, and that they could do it. I left the school, and haven’t said a word since. 

This weekend, I was in a situation where I had to disclose my autism during a training session that had gone right off the rails for me. I was unable to attend to anything by that point because of my sensory defensiveness, and was struggling with a migraine, to boot. When I was required to figure out where to stand based on which metaphor resonated most with me as a response to a question, I was done. I sat down, disengaged, and waited for the activity to end. When the trainer asked for feedback, I explained that I was unable to participate in the activity because thinking in metaphors is a challenge on a good day and impossible on the day in question. 

And so she stated that I must be high-functioning. Because how else could I be in a teacher certification program? How else could I have been actively participating up to this point? How else could I not be rocking in a corner, banging my head against a wall? (believe me – that’s pretty close to what I wanted to be doing by then, but, well, time and place, right?) 

a) It’s none of your fucking business where my levels of “function” vs. “dysfunction” lie, unless it is directly relevant to you and unless I am comfortable sharing that information; 

b) I don’t think we have the same definition of “function.” My being able to play the neurotypical game doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost me more than I can afford at times. Yes, I am capable of accomplishing tasks in the way that the NT world requires. Can I do it at a sustained level without break? Not so well. 

Today, I’m at home, in bed. The last four days, I dealt with mind-killing pain. I walked for an hour and a half this morning, and can barely type this post now. “Too much” is relative, but wow, have I gone long past its definition for me. 

The kids’ll be home in 2 hours, and the one task I said I would do, I haven’t. I will do my best to turn on again for them when they come home, because while they get the need for quiet disengagement, they also need me to be present in ways that can feel like too much on days like today. 

Pushing through really hard stuff doesn’t make me more functional than those who avoid or melt down. I *want* to avoid. I *want* to melt down. It takes an astonishing amount of energy to force myself to stay “appropriately” engaged. Inevitably, I pay for it. In, as it goes, sweat. 

So, no. I am not high-functioning. I function. And then I don’t. Repeat repeat repeat. 

Fake it ’till you make it

If you pretend that you’re okay with something for long enough, eventually, you’ll be okay with it.

That’s kind of a problematic statement, though. It’s more or less the same thing as 

Be someone else until you become that person

Isn’t it?

There are times when I force myself to fake it ’till I make it. In order for me to have gotten to this point in my life, my key coping strategy has been performance. I assess a given situation, figure out the expectations, develop a persona that can best meet those expectations, and move forward wearing that costume. I’m starting to realize, in retrospect, that these personas start to disintegrate over time, and eventually I’m unable to hold it all together. So much energy goes into maintaining my situation-specific identity that I can no longer also accomplish required tasks as effectively, or in the case of friendships and relationships, be emotionally available. 

I am extremely successful at meeting expectations.

Until I’m not. 

In spite of my apparent successes, after falling apart so many times, I think it’s time to redefine success for myself. For all my talk about not wanting to intentionally pass as typical,

By performing normal,

Is that not exactly what I’m doing? 

Every time I take on the task of being someone else until I can comfortably be that person, I tell myself that the person I am isn’t worth as much as the person I’m pretending to be. 

The true irony of this for me is that I absolutely cannot abide when people lie to me. 

And yet. 

That seems to be all I do, at times. 

To everyone. To myself. 

If I give myself permission to show myself,

Awkward,

Run-on chatter word association,

Flappy hands,

AND I kick ass at the work I do and the love I give, 

Maybe, 

Just maybe, 

The only person I’ll ever need to be again is the one I already am. 

Adjusting to the new normal

It’s been almost three weeks since it was confirmed that I am autistic/have Asperger’s/however I’m going to end up self-identifying. The labeling is still a work in progress. I keep forgetting, and I find myself talking about autism in the third-person outsider way I’ve always done before this. It doesn’t feel natural to say “we” instead of “they” yet, and maybe it never will. Maybe it doesn’t need to.

I’ve told a few people about my not so surprising news here and there. Um, well, I guess I’ve told anyone who regularly reads my blog. But in person, I mean. A few. To mixed results. It’s tiring to have to explain my “sudden” disability. That it is invisible makes it even harder. I’m trying to keep a positive outlook on these interactions, and am working on using them as opportunities for me to get more comfortable with my own understanding of disability as well as highlighting the teachable moments for others around their expectations of what autism can look like, sound like, be like. The hardest part of this is feeling like I’m in a position where I have to justify this label, and explain how it fits. It was suggested to me that I get a second opinion. After having had more than a dozen medical and psychiatric opinions over the last thirty years, can’t I just feel relieved that something finally fits?

I have thought I was crazy my entire life. And maybe I still am crazy. I’ll likely always have a good chunk of anxiety, and I don’t expect my depression to disappear overnight (if at all). Sixty-five percent of folks on the autism spectrum will experience issues like anxiety and depression, so that seems pretty par for the course. But what of the rest of it? I was diagnosed with a dissociative disorder, once upon a time. When I’m profoundly overwhelmed, it’s common for me to go nonverbal and shut down entirely for a bit to regroup. With this new understanding of autism in me, that behaviour takes on an entirely different, non-pathologized context. Shutting down IS coping. It’s not disordered behaviour. It’s not irrational in the face of so much interference in my brain and my inability to process everything simultaneously. It buys me quiet, and time, so that I can search for patterns, for meaning. So I can figure out the important, most pressing pieces, and focus on them when I get everything in the right place in my head again.

It has also been speculated by psychiatric professionals that I may have Borderline Personality Disorder. To qualify for diagnosis, individuals must exhibit 5 of the following characteristics:

1) Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
2) A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
3) Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
4) Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, excessive spending, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving).
5) Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars or picking at oneself (excoriation) .
6) Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
7) Chronic feelings of emptiness
8) Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
9) Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms

(Bolded items are what I have experienced.)

If I have difficulty communicating on an emotional level, it stands to reason that my interpersonal relationships are often going to look like a giant clusterfuck. Within friendships and intimate relationships, I have always struggled with feelings of isolation and confusion. I also regularly experience fear of looking stupid if I express that I have no idea what someone’s words or behaviours mean.

I have tried to connect with people on a number of levels. While I hate that having multiple sexual partners is pathologized within BPD’s definition, I will admit that my own choices around unemotional sexual connections have been motivated by my need to connect at some level with someone. I know the rules around sex, most of the time, and if there isn’t an emotional component, I’m less likely to look like a freak. (in theory.)

And the cutting? Well. Self-injurious behaviour is pretty common in folks who have communication difficulties. Add in the sensory dysregulation I regularly feel, and you get someone whose skin literally feels like it’s too tight, but can’t explain what that means. Cutting can be regulating, and can explain frustration and pain that I can’t always put into words.

I’ve already addressed the dissociation, and the emptiness? Well, that crosses over into depression territory.

This is making me wonder, as I type this all out: is there a connection to the disproportionate number of women who have been labeled with BPD, and the under-representation of women on the autism spectrum? It’s sadly commonplace for people of a certain age to have been traumatized and mis/labeled by the psychiatric system on the way to finding autism. It’s so easy to believe that the experts know what they’re talking about when they tell you that they know exactly what makes you crazy, but it’s a lot harder for them to step back and see the crazy as part of the bigger picture. I am a very big picture in a pretty small body, and what I call that picture is currently in flux. Maybe it will stay that way. I don’t know. What I do know is that for the first time in my whole life, I’m starting to not feel broken. I’m starting to accept that I’m complicated, that I don’t fit, and that there is no shame in that. I am not crazy for having to tune out when too much is happening, and I’m not stupid for not understanding when people speak to me in ways that are unclear.

All that being said, my own communication impairments will not always be the reason for misunderstandings. My autism (and therefore I) will not be held solely responsible for when shit goes south. I am working hard to be open about my impairments and what helps me function better, and I’m trying my best to listen for meaning and not get trapped in the white noise that often accompanies messages. I can’t accomplish that by myself, though, and I will not let my disability act as a scapegoat for every problem ever.

Wishing and hoping (an #autismpositivity2012 post)

It appears that my recent diagnosis of Asperger’s was ideally timed. Today, an autism positivity flashblog is taking place, and I’ve had all week to figure out how to come at this in my own way.

If there’s one thing I know a lot about it’s autism (I know a whole lot about one or two other things as well, but we’ll focus on just one thing at a time today). Sure, I agree with the expression, “when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Because it’s just as true as saying, “When you’ve met one person, you’ve met one person.” We’re all spectacular, unique snowflakes, and autism is just a part of what makes some of us shiny.

Are my kids and I impaired by autism? Yes. Of course we are. The way our brains are wired makes it difficult to understand the world sometimes. Two of the three of us are extremely clumsy. All three of us feel emotionally overwhelmed a lot. The sensory stuff is enough to make us want to climb into a sensory-balanced cave and never come out.

Fuck it, though. No, really. Fuck it.

This is who and how we are, and it’s okay. Do I wish the world were an easier place for us? Yeah, sure. But that is not the same thing as wishing away the autism. Without it, we wouldn’t be the same people, and I LOVE the people we are. “I wish I didn’t have Asperger’s” is, to me, the same as saying, “I wish I weren’t queer.” Both labels and what comes with them are part of how we form identity. Wishing away the parts of me, the parts of my kids that are different only reinforces the idea that different is bad. It isn’t. Yay, neurodiversity! Long live the myriad of wiring options for our brains!

These are the things I wish for: I wish I had more grace. I wish I could be more organized. I wish the world felt less overwhelming. I wish it didn’t feel like the world was ending when I experience communication difficulties with my partner. I wish my children never felt stupid or incapable of success. I wish we could all stay on top of life’s expectations for us. I wish people would stop wishing us away.

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize my privilege. I have kids who talk to me, who toilet independently, who have much more potential to join the capitalist system that accords more worth to the conventionally employable. I am also far from Miss Mary Sunshine all the time, as I curse my son losing his one pair of shoes, in the house, again, or as I cry myself stupid after my daughter has had another explosive meltdown. Not every single moment of living in the house that Asperger’s built is going to be stellar for me, for them.

It’s neither curse nor blessing, though, this world of ours. We’re not special for our disability, nor am I a poster girl for being successful in the face of such adversity. It is what it is, and we are who we are. Autistic, all of us, and more or less okay with that.

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