Theory of War

by Julia Bascom

I’ve told this story before.

I didn’t have any theory of mind until I was 13.5. I have a very poor autobiographical memory, but I remember the acquisition vividly. I was in gym, attempting to serve a volleyball, and I turned to Sarah, monologuing in my head about something (a strategy I had developed last year to help me with thinking) and she was thinking. I had a mental stream of consciousness in my head. So did she. I looked around the gym. So did everyone.

I was thinking about them. They could think about me.

I would never feel safe again.

A lot of things changed with that realization. I’d never gained any information from eye contact, but now it terrified me. I’d been abused by my peers, but now I realized that there was a persistent mental component as well. That they wanted to hurt me. They thought about me being confused and scared, and they liked it. I’d been doing very well without any sort of therapy or medications for almost a year—I was back at the doctor’s within a month, got another new therapist, and soon started medication. My panic attacks began to last upwards of 36 hours. I started banging my head. I damaged my eyes. I started gouging out my skin. I got a staph infection, and I almost died, twice. I am covered in scars and discolorations.

I am told that I was not, before this discovery, an anxious child. I generally felt safe.

(Inside, if not out.)

I owe a lot to my discovery of theory of mind. I just can’t think of one positive.

I can’t pass the Sally-Ann tests, even now. The language confuses me. But I do know, now, that other people have minds, and they can think with them. About whatever they want. About me.

Which means I will never, ever be safe. I never was.

After all, it’s not just that other people have minds. It’s that they can think things I don’t. They can be thinking about me without my knowledge. But it gets worse.

They can be wrong.

Maybe because I’m autistic, and people think (there we go again, theory of mind) that this means I am a robot. I would love to be a robot, personally. I am always very concerned with accuracy. The thing that upsets me most about “autism science,” isn’t actually the dehumanization and the consequences—it’s the bad science. The most terrifying and distressing thing in the world to me is something being incorrect.

Maybe it’s because I’m autistic, and thus a robot. Maybe it’s because I’m autistic, and therefore a simpler, lesser, smaller brain and in desperate need of order. Maybe it’s because I’m autistic, and therefore abused, and I know the consequences of acting on mistaken beliefs about someone, know them in my bones.

It’s terrifying.

My ability to acknowledge other minds means that I can converse more effectively than I could before. It also means I am never, ever safe. It means that I can see people being wrong, and I can see other people accepting and believing and spreading the misinformation, and I have to keep quiet. But to me, danger and anxiety and this is wrong are all the same.

So I am never safe.

I have theory of mind, now. I’d like to call it something more accurate.

Maybe theory of war.

About the Author: Julia Bascom is an Autistic writer, and Just Stimming… is her internet home and the official depository of her collected writings about disability, disability justice, and growing up and living as an Autistic girl. Julia started writing when she was twelve and now makes speeches and presentations on Autistic identity and culture, as well as contributing to the blog LOVE-NOS.

Theory of War first appeared on her blog, Just Stimming…, and is reprinted here by permission

Share

Empathy, Autism, and Taking Things With a Grain of Salt

by Forgotten

You touch my cheek, tell me I’m beautiful and hug me fiercely. You crawl up in my lap at just the right times and you snuggle with me when I need it the most.

You giggle when I wiggle my eyebrows at you or cross my eyes. Sometimes all it takes is a smile to get a full belly laugh out of you.

You point out booboos and tell me they’ll be okay. You kiss my bruises and my scratches and offer to get me a bandaid for everything whether it needs one or not.

My tears bother you. You don’t like to see Mommy cry at all. You will wrap your little arms around my neck and hug me tight. You sit in my lap and let me sniff your hair as I regain my composure.

No one can tell me that you don’t have empathy. You love me like no one else. You are so sweet and caring. Even when you’re in the middle of a meltdown and your body is moving like a tornado, you will melt into me. You like nothing more than to be curled next to me as we sit on the couch together.

Early in the mornings on the weekends, you come to my room and wake me with little hands in my hair or a tiny voice that asks around fingers in your mouth if you can climb up. You lay beside me with your cold feet stuck to my legs, your arm around my head, your hands and face buried in my hair. You bring your stuffed animals and we all snuggle in together as you take each one and tickle my cheek with it.

You are fascinated with bugs and like to watch them crawl around fly all over the place. You will watch a necklace rocking back and forth on a display for as long as it moves. You love to watch the wind blow in the trees and make the leaves shake. You love to roll cars on the edge of the table and watch the wheels turn.

You like to line your breakfast up across the table in front of you or stack it in perfect little piles. You are fascinated with buttons and can’t keep your hands away from them. You hate for your sister to ride her toy towards your feet. You’re terrified that she might try to run them over. You will chase after the huge spiders that have been getting into the house but as soon as one comes toward you I hear shrill squeals and feet pounding against the floor as you run away.

I took you to the Monster Mash at your new school. You stayed close to me and your Mamaw because the kids running in circles was just too much for you. You found a little boy with a “Scream” mask and you were so fascinated with his mask that you walked right up and touched it. He was startled at first but then he figured out you were harmless and so he played with you and your brother. I could tell he recognized that you were a little different but he put the effort into playing with you. I’m so grateful he looked past the little boy jabbering incoherently at him and saw your curiosity. He made your brother giggle and squeal as he would sneak around and poke his head out at him. He wasn’t afraid and was actually enjoying the game. He loves to be chased, after all.

I’m proud of you for not having any meltdowns even though I know that was overwhelming for you. You all did so well. You are all doing so well. Mommy is proud of you. So proud of you all.

About the Author: Forgotten is a mom to three children, including five-year-old twin boys with autism. This piece first appeared on her blog, Fairy Tale Forgotten, and appears here by permission.

Share

Who is the Empathy For?

by Charli Devnet

When I was in high school, the U.S. was fighting a war in Vietnam. One day, I heard on the radio a story about a young Vietnamese woman who was returning one evening from her work in the rice paddies when she saw American warplanes soaring overhead. She ran for her village as fast as she could, but when she arrived, she found the village strafed, the huts burning, and her family and neighbors decimated. I instantly identified with this Vietnamese peasant girl who, through no wrongdoing on her part, had seen life as she’d known it destroyed in one fell swoop.

From that time on, I became an adamant opponent of all wars of aggression. Do you remember the first Gulf War? When the U.S.-led coalition had won, and the Iraqi army, along with many civilians, was retreating from Kuwait, U.S. warplanes followed them and picked them off, one by one, despite the fact that firing on a retreating army is contrary to the rules of international warfare. The photos were all over CNN and the newspapers. It was called the Highway of Death. Like shooting fish in a barrel, CNN called it. I especially recall one photo of a bombed-out Chevrolet, the body of a young man half in, half out. Beside him was an open cat carrier. He had just been trying to get home with the family pet.

Most people in America thought that our actions were brave, heroic, splendid. I live near New York City, and I went down to see the big celebratory parade for our returning soldiers. People were  clapping in transports of ecstasy and shouting “US is No. 1!” as though it had been a football game.

Yeah, that would have been the Pittsburgh Steelers playing a death-match against the local high school team.

Several months ago, President Obama told the U.N. — without a trace of irony in his voice — that “peace cannot be achieved through violence.” Now, I voted for Obama twice and may do so again; I  only point him out as an example of typical thinking. It is only violence when they do it. Most people have plenty of empathy when 3,000 people like us were killed  on 9/11, but none at all for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and others who were subsequently killed “in retaliation.” People from places like Iraq and Vietnam, people who are homeless, people who look or act strange — well, the empathy of most people is not for the likes of them. Most people have plenty of empathy, but only for people like themselves.

About the Author: Charli Devnet lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, with her cats, Boots and Heather. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 54, although she had suspected it for a long time. Her whole life has been spent on the outside, looking in.

Who is the Empathy For? was written expressly for Autism and Empathy.

Share

Lack of Empathy and Reprehensible Monstrosity ≠ Asperger’s Syndrome

by Nominatissima

So I was reading and clucking in horror about what horrible monsters people can be on this story about an internet troll who had serious issues with taking pleasure in the pain and grief of others, when I am confronted with these quotes in the story:

The court heard that Duffy has Asperger’s syndrome and lived a “miserable existence” drinking alcohol alone at his home in Reading.

She said his condition meant he was not aware of the effect he was having on his victims.

*Twitch*

What an absolute load of urchin’s gonads. I could feel tingling when I read this story about something not being right, but I attributed that to the “Yuck, what a horrible human being” feelings I was getting, and wondering whether the reaction was a bit over-the top in terms of it being a freedom of speech issue. But no, it was my usual “Please, don’t let him be one of us” tingling that I get whenever someone with symptoms of Asperger’s ends up doing something reprehensible and making a splash in the news.

But let me explain why, in fact, Mr. Duffy’s autism is not a suitable defense in this case. And I promise it will go beyond, “I have autism and I don’t take joy in the pain and suffering of grieving people.”

There seems to be this pervasive myth that autistic people cannot relate to the emotions and feelings of other people. No, that is not the attitude of someone with autism. That is what a sociopath is like, not an autistic. They are not the same thing, though Mr. Duffy here proves they are not mutually exclusive. Most autistics are perfectly capable of understanding the distress and pain of other people. We just don’t express it the same way that most people do, or we may miss out on a person feeling pain or anguish because we misunderstand the signals, or we don’t understand unless the person says very clearly, “I’m upset because of xyz.”

That’s not what happened here.  Regardless of whether you have Asperger’s Syndrome, are completely socially clueless, or were raised under a rock, it is common enough knowledge that the type of behaviour he exhibited is not acceptable for a mourning ritual. Even if there were a slight chance that he was unaware of the grave nature of his cruelty, I’m 100% sure the feedback he received would have reminded him of it. He knew what he was doing was wrong, that it was distressing people, and that it was causing them emotional anguish. He just didn’t care. He prioritized his own amusement and getting the negative attention over consideration for them.

Duffy’s defense therefore isn’t just lazy and evidence of poor researched on the nature of autism. It’s also dangerous. Each time something like this happens, it jeopardizes the ability of tens of thousands of openly autistic adults who are not sociopathic creeps to lead healthy, normal lives among their non-autistic peers, because they have to field ignorant questions from their coworkers, friends, and acquaintances about Asperger’s Syndrome 101, and explain that they are in no way like that awful man.

I should know. I’ve done it repeatedly. There is no law that says that we have to disclose our disabilities, but guess what, most of us cannot effectively “pass” and it comes out sooner or later. I’d appreciate that when it does, it doesn’t mean that people I associate with will automatically have the wrong idea about me because a lazy defense attorney and an irresponsible news media jumped on this story.

Duffy may lead a miserable existence, which may have contributed to him being an irredeemable troll, but you know what makes me have a miserable experience? People looking for a quick scapegoat and using the disability that I share with him to absolve him of any responsibility for his actions. Keep this fact in mind the next time there’s a criminal who just happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome hitting the news.

About the Author: Nominatissima is an undergraduate student at the University of Victoria studying history and social justice issues. She is on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of fifteen. This post first appeared on her blog, nominatissima, and is reprinted here by permission.

Share

Professor Aspie and Me

by Nominatissima

I have the same professor for two different classes this term. We’ll call him Professor K. He is one of those professors who, if he had taught at UM, would have been held up as an example of “evil commies” brainwashing innocent minds, because he has a special interest in the history of military industrial complexes and war machines, with a special focus on his native Japan. He is also incredibly autistic, setting off my “autdar” five minutes after I met him. This is probably the first time I’ve had a professor who was very obviously autistic, and it’s made me realize certain things about myself and my own style of learning.

I’ve been talking with some other students, and their opinion of him is not unlike that of Percy Weasley towards Albus Dumbledore: “Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’s brilliant, but half the time I don’t know what he’s saying;” “He’s very bright, but the class is difficult for me. I don’t really get how he lectures;” and “My God, he’s all over the place! His mind must be a crazy hurricane!”

I’ve not noticed this, though. Everything he says makes perfect sense to me, and I’m able to understand the lectures and the points he makes with ease. I’ve already done three assignments for his course, and gotten great marks on them, so I know it’s not just me  thinking I understand what he’s on about.

Jaime very astutely observed once that the way my mind works “is so logical to you that you don’t need to really explain or think about how you get from Step A to Step Z. You just do, and then you can’t understand why other people can’t see the blatant logic behind it.” Methinks Professor K is the exact same kind of thinker, which is why he and I have such a great rapport, and why his NT students struggle to keep up with some of his lectures and assignments. Without any real verbal one-on-one communication, our minds synced up, and the lectures and assignments came naturally to me, because his way of thinking mirrored my own.

This experience makes me realize just how truly silly it is to claim that autistic people have no empathy and can’t relate to others intuitively. Moments like this one demonstrate how wrong that assumption truly is.

About the Author: Nominatissima is an undergraduate student at the University of Victoria studying history and social justice issues. She is on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of fifteen. This post first appeared on her blog, nominatissima, and is reprinted here by permission.

Share

Why the Golden Rule Can Suck It

by Kirsten

Being an obedient rule-follower by nature has gotten me into trouble. That darned Golden Rule. I’ve always followed it. I’ve often wished I hadn’t. Ultimately, I decided that as an Aspie, my Golden Rule is this: Do NOT do onto others as you wish they would do unto you. Below are my reasons why:

Breaking up over the phone. Apparently people don’t like this. Me? I’d take it over a face-to-face dump any day. The last thing I want to worry about while getting the axe is an audience. Scratch that. The last thing I want worry about is trying to maintain conversation immediately after getting said axe. Hanging up right after the news is out allows us both to mourn in peace. A text dump is even better yet. To all you former suitors left stunned and bewildered with the dead air of a disconnected phone call in your ear – I did it for you.

Thank you cards. Seriously, do neurotypical people actually like these? Receiving a hand-written letter in the mail is the best thing ever. Immediately finding out it’s a sucky thank you card? The worst. I would never inflict this disappointment upon you. Not sending you a thank you card is my way of saying thanks.

The handshake. Please, Americans – either do it all the time or don’t do it all.  This confusing sometimes hand-shaking thing is for the birds. To those of you who have enjoyed my thoughtful gesture of dropping eye contact and shoving my hands in my pockets upon meeting you, you’re welcome! I spared you the ambiguity and unease.

Reacting to your news about the death of a loved one with an amusing anecdote about myself. Many would say this is where I display my brazen lack of empathy. But nothing could be more empathetic! Because in my mind, there is no torture greater than having to feel in front of someone. The more profound the feeling, the more privacy I need. So, as your whole life falls to pieces and I prattle on about that balloon animal I tried to make that ended up looking like a penis, please don’t feel alone. I’m comforting you.

Have any Golden Rule attempts blown up in your face? Please share below!

About the Author: After 36 years of wondering why she was so quirky, Kirsten recently discovered that she’s quirky in the clinical sense. She has Asperger’s. She blogs about the horrors and joys of daily life in a world where most people aren’t wired like her. Because if you, too, are wired for life on some distant, unknown planet, you probably need to commiserate. And you definitely need to laugh.

This post first appeared on Kirsten’s blog, quirky and laughing, and is reprinted here by permission.

Share

The Secret Language of Aspies

by Kirsten

I think we have to do something about the mainstream definition of Asperger’s. Seriously, bullet points like lacks empathy and inability to read nonverbal cues and theory of mind limitations make us sound inhuman.

We aren’t.

Saying Aspies don’t have these abilities at all is like saying a Spaniard is mute because he can’t string sentence together in English.

It’s a different language, people.

For example, the other day at little Yoda’s school, an autistic boy* walked by me with an expressionless face as his aide led him into a magic show on campus. I had to fight tears. Why? Because I could tell that he was about 45 seconds from a meltdown and the magic show would traumatize him. None of the other adults around noticed. 45 seconds later, he ran out screaming and self-harming, his stunned, neurotypical (NT) aide running after him, the onlooking adults writing it off as a random act of autism.

I can practically communicate with Aspies telepathically. Empathy. Body language. Theory of mind. I have them all. With Aspies. I just stumble with NTs. Just like NTs stumble with me when I have to haul ass out of the grocery store because Kenny G is playing. Or when I go bonkers because someone gently strokes my forearm (no light touches!). Or when my face goes deadpan because I’m losing my shit.

Aspies and NTs just don’t get each other. We speak different languages. We need Esperanto.

Since the real genius and eloquence on this blog always presents itself in the comments section, I turn to you for supporting evidence, readers! Or arguments. Those are always good, too.

* This autistic boy is a veritable animal whisperer and is fluent in some extraordinarily empathetic silent animal language that I can’t even begin to access.

About the Author: After 36 years of wondering why she was so quirky, Kirsten recently discovered that she’s quirky in the clinical sense. She has Asperger’s. She blogs about the horrors and joys of daily life in a world where most people aren’t wired like her. Because if you, too, are wired for life on some distant, unknown planet, you probably need to commiserate. And you definitely need to laugh.

This post first appeared on Kirsten’s blog, quirky and laughing, and is reprinted here by permission.

Share