Making the Best of My Circumstances

1.) Get out of bed

2.) Edit, write, research (for 3 to 4 hours, or until my body says “STOP”)

3.) Eat lunch

4.) Unwind a bit by playing video games

5.) Do vision therapy

6.) Relax again by watching anime or reading manga

7.) Eat dinner

8.) Do more vision therapy

9.) Go to bed

10.) Repeat

This is my daily routine. Steps 2 to 8 may vary in order (and even be different activities), but this is pretty much my routine.

One big problem: it’s sometimes soul-crushing. I know in my heart of hearts that one day, I will no longer be disabled by my vision and motor control problems.

The problem is that there is no countdown timer to that day. That’s what makes it soul-crushing. I can’t steel myself for that breakout moment. It’s a situation like this that would make most people give up and despair about doing any kind of therapy in the first place. Most neurotypical people can complete vision therapy in a time frame between 6 and 18 months. With autism, it can be significantly longer. I have been doing vision therapy for more than 8 years. The first 5 were marred by imperfect conditions and underlying anxiety. My first optometrist, Dr. Nolan Riley, and his staff were nothing short of supportive (as are my second optometrist, Dr. Marcia Moore, and her staff), but other things conspired to make those first 5 years of vision therapy less than fully effective (more on that in my upcoming book). Another wrench thrown in the cogs of those first 5 years is that I didn’t know about my autism until the final half of the 5th year. Dr. Riley later expressed regret that we didn’t know about my autism (not anyone’s fault), and he would have done things differently had he known.

As I recently said, most people would simply give up in the face of such a daunting task. As a single-minded Aspie, giving up on the elimination of my visual and motor disabilities is not an option. When I took up mindfulness again and started applying it to vision therapy, I had a moment where I felt a miniature, microscopic and atom-sized iota of the vast potential of my autistic brain unfettered by disability. Yet, at the same time, I felt a vast amount of the remaining disability that stood in the way of all of that potential. That disability is what stands in the way of living life as I see fit. It also stands in the way of my independence.

I’ve mentioned neurological transitions in previous posts and how they have prevented me from finding regular work for the time being. Can an employer really understand how brain change can make someone extremely lethargic, affect their mood, hamper work performance and the ability to get along with one’s coworkers? Probably not. I know that performance on the job matters and that disability can hamper it, but the chance of finding an understanding employer in East Texas who would work with me as I recover from my visual and motor disabilities is next to nothing. I’m not by any means lazy, but most able-bodied people don’t understand the straining journey of what it takes to recover full-time. More importantly, they don’t know how invisible disabilities (many are present in autism/Asperger Syndrome) can really hinder someone’s functioning.

Yes, recovering from disability is a full-time, around-the-clock job. Being an Aspie makes my chances of success much higher. There are, however, several obstacles in my way which I am diligently working to overcome.

The biggest of these obstacles is a huge psychological colossus that I have to grapple with every day. It stems from – you guessed it – my past of mental and emotional abuse (I’m not here to play the victim, I’m just stating facts as part of my healing process). On top of the post-traumatic stress that lingers, I have to fight the immense regret I feel almost every day. I feel terrible that years of my life were wasted under this abuse that were largely enabled by underlying neurological baggage that I didn’t know about while I was growing up. On top of that, once I broke free of the abuse, I couldn’t immediately get back to the life I had always wanted because of underlying disability.

In that regard, I have come to realize that not only do I have to take responsibility to fight for my health and become more able-bodied (something which I gladly took up a long time ago), but I have to take responsibility for my emotions during this trying time. How can I expect to be a more effective member of society if I can’t manage my emotions in the face of tough obstacles?

Let me frame my situation in context of this. Because of my Aspie single-mindedness, I can have the tendency to slip out of the present moment (ironic, considering that I can stay in it because of my single-mindedness). Often I find myself still so single-mindedly focusing on that life that I’ve always wanted. I have been wanting to go to Japan for almost 22 years. It’s something that I know that I was born to do. Since I’ve had employment problems for all of my adult life, I have never been able to save up enough money to travel anywhere. Couple that with vision and motor problems somewhat hindering my ability to acquire skills. Of course, the neurological baggage that accompanied my autism contributed to my employment problems as well as some social relatability problems. They also stood in the way of me accomplishing my Japan-related dreams. A multiple whammy. Combine that with the years of abuse that totally discouraged my love of anime, manga and all things Japan (amplified by vestibular system disorders) and you’ve got the perfect setup for wicked PTSD and frustration.

Fast forward to October 2013, I had eliminated the underlying disability that had been found at that point by then. Regardless, the improvement of my vision had stalled, preventing me from studying Japanese on the side and trying my hand in other pursuits related to the doctoral program I was in at the time. Coupled with other developments in my life at that point, I began to have frequent meltdowns.

In a turn of good fortune for me, one of my ADHD friends spotted my autistic behaviors and recommended that I go to a psychiatrist and seek a diagnosis. Not long afterward in March 2014, I received my diagnosis. After hearing my adult life story, the psychiatrist who diagnosed me said this:

I’m going to tell you this without mincing words. You really need to start thinking of a way to pursue your interests as directly as possible. Otherwise, you are going to have another major depressive episode like you had from 2001 to 2003.”

I left my abusive situation in 2010. It’s 2018. Do the math. All because that inability to use my vision and body efficiently is the reason that it’s taken me so long to get my life back on track. On top of that, I didn’t even discover any of my underlying disability until late 2012.

At the time of my diagnosis nearly 4 years ago, I had reached the limits of my physical, mental and spiritual capabilities. All I could focus on was getting to the life I had always wanted and knew that I was born to live. I was determined to directly pursue those interests. Little did I know that I still had a long way to go. After I moved back in with my folks, I quickly found that I couldn’t study Japanese full-time or other potential fields of interest without quickly developing intense headaches. This is because although I had eliminated most of the underlying disability that had plagued me at the time, I still had to deal with mopping up the residue it all left behind. My aniseikonia wouldn’t be discovered for another 2 to 3 years.

Because of this, I began to have intense meltdowns again. I couldn’t accept the fact that my brain and body weren’t immediately up to the task of going full-throttle again. Couple that with the intense emotions I was still feeling related to PTSD, and it was a perfect recipe for a self-pity party. It wasn’t the first time that I had one, but this time it was even worse than the one I had immediately after leaving my abusive situation.

Since I had time to properly explore my body/mind connection, vision therapy slowly alleviated my torment. Mindfulness is accelerating that alleviation. I haven’t had a major meltdown since November 2015, thanks to vision therapy alone. That’s a victory in itself.

Over time, I have slowly reframed my situation. More and more, I have noticed that it is far better to think of my situation as a challenge and not an impediment. I should gladly embrace everything and throw mindfulness into the boredom that I sometimes feel. As I perfect mindfulness, I find that everything becomes new and fascinating again. I am also slowly finding that I can bend my mind better to my will and waste less energy doing things.

Not only have I learned to embrace the present more and more, I have learned to embrace imperfection. Whenever I do vision therapy, I do my best to detach myself from emotions or thoughts related to distress at having still imperfect vision or the extreme desire to have fully functioning vision. There’s a difference between forcefully wanting something to happen versus gently letting it happen (yet still wanting it to happen). The sooner I get into that frame of mind, the sooner I get results. I become pleasantly surprised with discovery and novelty if I can just quiet my mind even a little bit.


My Cortical Chauvinism Guest Post on Vision Therapy and Autism

It’s been a couple of weeks since this featured on Dr. Manuel Casanova’s blog Cortical Chauvinism. I will repost it here now with a few minor edits.

Greetings, Readers of Cortical Chauvinism!

My name is Timothy Turner (Tim is fine). I am a 36 year-old autistic man from Texas who is currently editing the manuscript of my upcoming book about my life with Asperger’s and how vision therapy has changed (and continues to change) my life. Vision therapy is a specialty within optometry that consists of physical exercises and the use of devices such as prisms that help with vision problems that are often present in autism. I don’t have a time frame for its release, but the manuscript is currently under science review.

My primary interests are Japanese animation (anime) and its comic book equivalent of manga. I also like languages and linguistics, computer science, developmental optometry, video game speedrunning and mindfulness. I have a bachelor’s degree in French, a master’s degree in French and a second master’s degree in applied linguistics.

Where to begin? Since I’ll be talking a little bit about my upcoming book in the context of my autism, let me start out with some basic facts. According to the research I’ve come across for my book, vision problems are incredibly common in autistic people. The most common ones are:

1) Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to visual stimuli
2) Poor ocular motility (ability to move eyes to do things like track objects with the eyes alone)
3) Poor spatial awareness
4) Poor integration of all the senses
5) Poor integration of central and peripheral vision
6) Refractive problems that cause blur (nearsightedness, farsightedness, etc.)
7) Strabismus (an inward or outward turn of one or both eyes)

One major thing I’d like to start with is the poor integration of central and peripheral vision in autistic people. In order to have efficient vision, the brain has to quickly and unconsciously take three factors into account during each moment:

1.) What is it? (focal vision/central vision) Central vision has to do with seeing the outcome of events and with seeing static objects within the environment itself.

2.) Where is it? (ambient vision/peripheral vision) Peripheral vision helps a person to guide their movement and deal with changes in the environment and context at any given moment.

3.) Where am I? (ambient vision/peripheral vision) Self-explanatory. This is just as important as “Where is it?”

When most people think of vision, they think of going to an optometrist’s office to get a
prescription for glasses. This has to do with what is called focal (or central) vision, which is one of two domains of vision that most people are familiar with. However, central vision only concerns two degrees of a person’s total field of vision. Focal vision is involved with the identification of objects, people, etc. Autistic people can often have no problem knowing what objects are but can conversely have a hard time interacting with them. In other words, we have no trouble seeing an object itself.

This leads me to the next aspect of vision. Unknown to most people is a second domain of vision called ambient vision (also known as peripheral or instrumental vision), which a person uses to figure out where they are in space and is used by the brain to give rise to depth perception. Most autistic people fail miserably in this domain of vision. If you don’t know where you are in space, it can have detrimental effects on your social interactions and your behavior. In other words, focal vision alone is not enough to interact with the world.

As I understand it (and experience confirms it), most autistic people rely solely on focal vision to gather information the world. Another thing to note is that some autistic people tend to use their peripheral vision more than their central vision. In my case, I switched between the two (which is also another possible vision scenario in autism). For someone who is mildly autistic like myself, relying primarily on focal vision worked for a very long time. That came to an end in late 2006 when my vision catastrophically failed at the age of 25, making academic work and other tasks like driving so much more difficult. It has only been years of effort through vision therapy that I have been able to better integrate my central and peripheral vision. This previous July marked the return of my vision to its pre-catastrophic failure state.

In fact, fully effective central vision is not possible without fully developed peripheral vision, which is rendered impossible by a condition known as strabismus (Greek for “squint”). As stated earlier, strabismus is an inward or outward turn of one or both eyes (usually just one). I had an inward turn for most of my life up until a few years ago. It then became intermittent and is almost entirely gone today. A 1999 study by Drs. Melvin Kaplan, Bernard Rimland and Stephen Edelson (someone who was recently featured on this blog) estimated that up to 20% of the autistic population has some form of strabismus. Since strabismus can be intermittent, I think that even more autistic people than what they estimated have strabismus.

This is where my story begins in the book. I talk about how my both my maternal and paternal family display traits (both positive and negative) of the broad autism phenotype. When I was a child in the 1980s, most signs of autism appeared at around a child’s second or third birthday. My strabismus became fully apparent around the time I turned 3 years old. Glasses helped for a long time until the catastrophic failure of 2006. My book covers the time between my childhood and adulthood, documenting many things I experienced as an autistic person and noting how my sensory dysfunctions played a role in social interactions over time. Another thing that I’m putting in my book is how I actually had and maintained a friend my age from third grade to the present day; a rarity in autism narrative, it seems. This friend displayed traits of ADHD, so our differences drew us together and formed a tight bond that continues to this day.

Another factor played a role in the failure of my vision, which was mental and emotional abuse. For nearly seven years from early 2004 to late 2010, I was mentally and emotionally abused over my greatest interests of anime and manga. This was coupled with some conditions that accompanied my autism that I like to call “neurological baggage” that made my catastrophic failure inevitable. This included a neuro-visual condition called aniseikonia. This curious condition caused the perceived image from both retinas of my eyes to be different in size, preventing me from pointing each eye at the same point in space. As a consequence, I didn’t know where I was in three-dimensional space. Fortunately, vision therapy has exercises to correct it.

The biggest offender in the neurological baggage lineup, however, was vestibular dysfunction that affected my balance and even amplified the abuse I underwent. In fact, I was prone to psychological manipulation because of these vestibular system problems. A 1979 paper entitled Primal Terror: A Perspective of Vestibular Dysfunction by a Dr. Martin Shaffer on vestibular dysfunction sums up how poor understanding of and control over one’s own body due to vestibular dysfunction can lead to devastating results in interpersonal relationships. Dr. Shaffer’s observations echoed many parts of my life. In that paper, he invites the reader to imagine what laughter directed at a toddler with vestibular dysfunction can do to him or her during a critical point of socio-emotional development. The child then experiences bodily tension, resulting in confusion and anxiety among other psychosomatic results. Anything negative (or perceived as such) will lead the child to believe that he or she is stupid and lead to further anxiety and tension. The end result is a dysfunctional person who is hypersensitive to everything and remains vigilant for any potential threat in order to retain of some form of psychological homeostasis. This constant stress also interferes with overall sensory and motor function. This was my life from childhood, when my peers mocked and ridiculed me, to amplified abuse during my early adulthood.

Fortunately, I had a moment of clarity that triggered the beginning of the end for my abuse. Some time after that, one of my vision therapists spotted the telltale signs of neurological baggage. I was eventually able to work out of the neurological baggage with therapy. Now that my vestibular dysfunctions are gone, I am far less prone to psychological manipulation and can stand my own ground even when my emotions are tense. Even though I have eliminated all of the neurological baggage that my optometrists, vision therapists and I have managed to find, I’m still dealing with cleaning up the nasty neurological mess of what it all left behind after running roughshod over my brain for all this time.

It’s all a shame because my brain is packed with potential. I began teaching myself Japanese at the age of 15 and was really good at it. That was derailed by many personal developments that led to my abuse and therefore the catastrophic failure of my vision. A torch for my language talent was kept burning thanks to the gifted help of my French professors, but I have had trouble getting to the point of learning several languages at once like I was doing before the abuse. I have shown a lot of promise in other fields, too, but my visual disability has prevented me from being able to acquire skills efficiently. Sometimes I feel like the author Sloane Crosley, whose quote I read in an optometry journal:

I was diagnosed with a severe temporal spatial deficit; a learning disability that means I have zero spatial relations skills. It was official: I was a genius trapped in an idiot’s body.

Thanks to the abuse I endured, my talents and potential were nearly fully lost. The abuse turned me into that genius in an idiot’s body. I’m still fighting to get all of it back. Vision therapy will get me there. At the time of this blog post, I am still doing custom vision therapy at home.

Make no mistake, I’m going to turn my life around.

Another exciting thing I’ve found is how my experiences and some of the findings of developmental optometrists have matched up with some of the findings of Dr. Casanova. Finding Dr. Casanova’s blog and reading his descriptions of interoception helped me find the scientific literature necessary to add substance to my upcoming book.

On a related note, one of the experiences I talk about in my book is how I used mindfulness (an interest I share with Thomas Clements, a.k.a. “The Autistic Buddha”) to develop interoception. In an ironic twist to my life, one of the people who played a large role in the mental and emotional abuse over my primary interests of anime and manga introduced me to mindfulness. Years later, I “dusted it off” after the anger from PTSD settled and began to use it in vision therapy.

In his 1988 book entitled Vision Enhancement Training, the optometrist Dr. Albert Shankman talks about the importance of persistence in developing self-awareness and self-observation, which I liken to mindfulness as I have learned it. Here’s a quote from that book on it:

If he [the patient] is persistent, and keeps trying to be aware, it will become an action he will learn to do automatically and unconsciously.

Most people tend to think of mindfulness in the context of meditation. I learned about it much differently. Mindfulness is not just meditation. It is a tool to take with you and use everywhere. Here’s a quote about mindfulness from my upcoming book:

The goal of mindfulness is just to be in the present moment as much as possible. I’m not talking about a guided mindfulness meditation session that you do while sitting in a yoga pose during a break from work while listening to a babbling brook or something like that. No, I’m talking about a portable kind of mindfulness that you can take anywhere and can use at anytime and in any kind of situation.

It’s also amazing to see how Dr. Shankman described interoception in basic detail in the 1980s. In Vision Enhancement Training, he hints at interoception and its potential in vision therapy:

The skill of self-awareness is not easily achieved. But the more sensitive one is to what is happening in one’s own body, the greater is the skill of solving problems.

A really funny thing is that as my brain develops a more accurate picture of my body through interoception, the more three-dimensional the external world looks. My cognition is also a lot faster, enabling me to guess possibilities in social situations (this was also thanks to the help of yoked prisms). Thanks to me improving my interoception, I found out that I was unconsciously straining my legs and tearing up my knees without knowing it.

Switching gears a little, another similar experience in autism treatments that are out there that I have undergone came in the form of neurological transitions. John Elder Robison’s Switched On has some places that eerily parallel my experiences in vision therapy: being extremely touchy, anxious, fearful, etc, all easily triggered by external events. John Elder Robison was experiencing Cubby’s trial (among other new life experiences) during the period of the TMS sessions which ignited the emotional powder keg within him. Mine was ignited by post-traumatic stress and deep regrets. Any little thing could set off extreme emotions. I owe John Elder Robison a great debt of gratitude for sharing his experiences because I thought I was the only one going through extreme emotions during brain change.

You can read about neurological transitions by the optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Getzell here:

Vision therapy isn’t a cure for autism, just like TMS isn’t. In my case, vision therapy has been a very effective treatment. Some might respond well while others won’t respond at all (again, just like TMS). It has been used to varying levels of success with both verbal and nonverbal autistic people. This is probably because the etiology of different types of autism (suggested by DNA studies) can play a role in the outcome. I will point you to some of the more successful nonverbal cases.

This is a 1994 account of successful nonverbal autism cases by Drs. Marcy Rose and Nancy Torgerson. One of their case studies, known as BG, gained some expressive language after being mostly nonverbal.

This is a partially (yet in some aspects very) successful case (PDD-NOS) handled by Dr. Nancy Togerson circa 2009.

There are other cases of the success of optometric vision therapy with nonverbal autistic people reported in the literature of Dr. Melvin Kaplan. Dr. Casanova has done some studies with Drs. Kaplan and Stephen Edelson on the effectiveness of yoked prisms (also known as ambient lenses) in treating visual problems associated with autism. Dr. Casanova also wrote the foreword to Dr. Kaplan’s most recent book called The Secrets in Their Eyes.

You can also read about vision therapy from the clinical perspective in Dr. Kaplan’s book entitled Seeing Through New Eyes.

(Interesting note: Dr. Kaplan emphasizes breathing just like Thomas Clements does in The Autistic Buddha and Yuval Levental mentions in this Cortical Chauvinism guest post: )

From all the research I have done, my vision therapy and autism book will be the first one told from the first-person perspective of an autistic person. I still feel the same at the core, but I feel like my brain’s capabilities have been expanded and added onto. I still display autistic traits, but they have expanded in their expression and softened some. I’m still wrapping my head around all of this brain change. My brain is beautiful, but it needed some help.

That’s enough for now. I’ll stop here before I beat myself up over every detail. My sincerest thanks goes to Dr. Casanova for posting this on his blog. Think of this as the first in a very small series of posts on vision therapy and autism. Through the encouragement of Thomas Clements, I have submitted an essay to Quillette magazine where I talk about how free speech in autism discourse changed my stance on neurodiversity from a fairly hard position to a much softer one. Please keep an eye out for it.

What’s Beyond the End of Vision Therapy? Some Thoughts and My Plans for the Future

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought for a long time. For the past 3 ½ years, I’ve been experiencing accelerated improvement in vision therapy thanks to me not having the pressure of looking for an ordinary job. I work odd jobs as they come, but they’re not steady.

Why haven’t I been able to work an ordinary job while doing vision therapy? It’s simple. Neurological transitions. They are a real pain in the butt, but they’re a huge sign of progress in vision therapy. You can read an in-depth description of them by the optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Getzell here.

I have been experiencing neurological transitions on a regular basis since the middle of 2013, which is also shortly before the time I began having constant serious meltdowns that caused me to retrospect on my life and figure out what my real priorities were. When the neurological transitions first began happening I was usually so lethargic that I had to sleep between 36 and 72 hours extra (48 hours was the average). I would have brief periods of time where I could go to Japanese class on campus, but sometimes I had to go straight home afterwards, even if I wanted to hang out with my friends. I taught an online class, so I didn’t have to worry about being on campus for an extra amount of time.

In July of 2017, my vision reset to the point it was at before it catastrophically failed in 2006. The amount of time I need to sleep beyond the average 8 hours per day extends between 6 to 24 hours (12 on average). As time passes and I work ever more diligently applying mindfulness to vision therapy, the time for these neurological transitions gets shorter. I do have to be careful not to strain my vision, though, or I could risk great pain. Fortunately, most vision therapy training is self-reinforcing, so I don’t have to worry about another catastrophic failure like I experienced in 2006.

I still have a ways to go before vision therapy becomes 100% effective and I can read for long periods of time again or see everything in crystal clarity 100% of the time, but I’ve nonetheless been noticing a lot of benefits:

1.) Sometimes the environment becomes so bright, engaging and alive. It’s like someone turned up the brightness on a TV.

2.) Everything old is new again. It’s a lot like being a child again, but I can adult at the same time.

3.) I catch glimpses of my brain unfettered by disability. It’s only brief flashes, but my brain set free will be something to behold.

This raises a lot of questions. Mainly “What will I do after I am officially finished with vision therapy?” and “What will I be able to do after my brain finally snaps into full stereo vision?”

I already know some of what my brain is capable of, and it’s a lot. One of my first priorities will be to start learning multiple languages again. I want to go live and work in Japan for a while. Right now as I edit my book, try to find an agent and cook up a book proposal at the same time, language learning is incredibly limited. I try to keep my French polished while trying to get the basics of other languages down and rekindle the flame of Japanese. It’s incredibly hard to do. I’d really love to be involved with the anime and manga industries somehow. I also love computer science. I’ve been able to spot errors in code, but my disability has prevented me from pursuing such a career.

What will be interesting is trying new things. One example of my brain’s capabilities that I didn’t know it had was the ability to do math beyond algebra. When I was working on eliminating my vestibular system dysfunctions, I actually found myself being able to do calculus for a short amount of time. Unfortunately, I still had many layers of disability to clear (and I’m still working on it), so that flash of talent disappeared. I am eager with anticipation to see what my brain constantly freed from disability can do.

I know a lot of people will be interested in hearing my story and will want me to give lectures and talk about my upcoming book. I would be more than happy to do so, but I don’t want my life to be just autism talk and autism advocacy. As Temple Grandin so aptly puts it (emphasis mine):

Way too many young adults with autism and Asperger’s have never had a job or only make a living speaking on autism without real life work-experience.

At the time of the writing of this blog post, I am 36 ½ years old. Most of my life before now was heavily defined by disability compounded by depression and anxiety rendering me unable to pursue the things in life that I have always wanted to do. It will be a little while yet before vision therapy finishes, so I will probably be 37 before it all comes together.

In other words, I have a limited amount of time left on this Earth and I want to spend as much of it as possible living it after my brain is set free. I’m more than happy to give talks and pitch ideas to professionals, but ultimately, I want to live. I don’t want to put autism on a pedestal and have my life revolve around it.

As I put it on Twitter:

I am determined to turn my life around.

More thoughts to come.

Some Thoughts on The Autistic Buddha by Thomas Clements

Edited on 1/27/2018 for minor spelling errors and other small details (e.g. – changed “a Mr. Michael Santone” to just “Michael Santone”).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s not only great because there are some parallels with my life, but the differences make the story refreshing to read. I’ll try to do it justice by talking about the parts that stood out the most to me because there are so many tidbits of wisdom that to try and analyze the entire book would lead to indecisiveness. Think of this as both a review and a kind of “compare and contrast” between my life and Thomas’s. There are just so many similarities that I just can’t help but do so (my affinity for foreigners is one of them). I’ll also offer my perspective on some of Thomas’s thoughts.

The first thing I’d like to say is that the greatest quality that really stands out about this book is that Thomas tells his story from a deeply personal and spiritual perspective. I will be also be telling mine in my upcoming book about my life as an autistic person and vision therapy from a deeply personal yet more scientific one. The manuscript is currently under science review and I hope that it will be published sometime this year.

One thing that really stood out in the similarities department was how Thomas and I both were shut-ins during our university years. For 9 months in 2003, I lived in Austin, Texas hoping to use a community college as a back door to get into the University of Texas at Austin (which is the only university in the state of Texas that offers a four year degree in Japanese). Unlike Thomas getting into university on his language talent alone, mine wasn’t able to help me do so. Standardized test scores precluded my entry into many universities and also prevented me from obtaining scholarships. I think in a way, that some standards in America are incredibly arbitrary and hurt more than they help. Anyway, I was suffering from deep depression at the time and had difficulty finding work, so I became a shut-in until I found work for a brief period of time through a friend that I had made in Austin. I’ve never spent time in a psych ward, so that was something interesting to read about.

Another element that really struck close to home was how Thomas lost contact with Oliver, someone who had made such an impact on him at a time it was needed. The same thing happened to me, too. When I was at the beginning stages of depression in 2001, I befriended a man named Michael Santone, a Japanese translator who recognized my language talents. When my depression got worse and I endured mental and emotional abuse over my interest in Japanese anime and manga, I slowly began to feel like a fake in the cognitive dissonance and lost contact with him, as well. Even after my abuse ended, I felt like such a phony and had a hard time re-establishing contact with him. I felt almost exactly the same way Thomas did. Fortunately today, I am in permanent contact with him and feel less like a phony with each passing day. I hope that Thomas has successfully re-established contact with Oliver.

The friends we made along the way to our current point in life is another striking similarity our lives. AJ is the friend who stood out the most to me. I made some friends who have hearts of gold during both the Lamar University and Texas Tech eras of my life who have stood with me through thick and thin. One of them (named Fox) you will read about in my upcoming book spotted my autistic behaviors and encouraged me to see a diagnosis. Another one of them (her name is Amanda) encouraged me to take steps to claim the life I had always wanted after I felt so stuck in my life’s trajectory. Friendship is the world and can make life so much easier for autistic people. It’s up to us to find and make those friends.

I really enjoyed reading about Thomas’s accounts of traveling overseas and teaching. I’ve never traveled overseas before because I’ve had trouble finding work that pays significantly higher than somewhat above minimum wage. The teaching I do have experience with. During my 5 year stint at Texas Tech University, I taught for 4 of them; 3 years as a French instructor, 1 year as a computing course instructor. I commend Thomas for teaching at least for a little while without training, as I certainly couldn’t have done it without some formula to teach! I panicked my first few days of teaching even though I had a year of preparation as a teaching assistant during my first year there.

One big interest that Thomas and I share is mindfulness, which Thomas describes towards the end of the book. From what I understand, most people think of mindfulness in context of meditation. I occasionally meditate, but not on feelings of compassion (because I feel it a lot without needing to cultivate it). From what I have read, our experiences in mindfulness differ somewhat. The afterward in The Autistic Buddha seems to indicate that Thomas’ experience with mindfulness is the meditative type. Mine is different from his. As a teaser (but not to spoil my story entirely), I’ll give a little excerpt from my upcoming book as to how my experience with mindfulness differs:

The goal of mindfulness is just to be in the present moment as much as possible. I’m not talking about a guided mindfulness meditation session that you do while sitting in a yoga pose during a break from work while listening to a babbling brook or something like that. No, I’m talking about a portable kind of mindfulness that you can take anywhere and can use at anytime and in any kind of situation.

In spite of our differences with how we do mindfulness, we come to more or less the same place: we are stronger today with its help. I also say towards the end of my book:

Vision therapy has given me the mental and emotional fortitude to be a far more effective member of society than before, and for that I am grateful.

And I continue to gain more mental and emotional fortitude as I continue custom vision therapy at home. I’m still working to fully heal the scars of the years of psychological damage done to me by the abuse I endured for nearly seven years.

One segment toward the end of the book stuck with me and gave me some food for thought. Thomas says:

Autism is a heavy burden. It’s a barrier to life, to being instinctive, free and spontaneous. It’s at the extreme end of the human predicament of pretending to be am isolated individual, of pretending to be a separate self. People with autism have to go on a much more tortuous and far less accommodating road than most before they can discover their place, their own personal nirvana, and breath a great sigh of relief.

To a point, I agree. There have been times where I have thought that “autism is a heavy burden” and “autism is a barrier to life.” In my experience, autism without some form of help truly is a heavy burden. Before I underwent vision therapy and practiced mindfulness, navigating social contexts was incredibly difficult. Now it’s much easier. What’s great about it is that I am still me at the core, but I am much more mentally and emotionally centered.

Another thing that I would like to offer my perspective on is Thomas’s statements on autism being an extreme form of egocentrism. While being egocentric can be a part of someone’s nature, it can also be on purpose (and a lot of people seem to think that autistic people are self-centered on purpose). In my experience, it was the underlying neurological baggage that accompanied my autism that made me seem that way. For example, one of the neurological conditions that accompanied my autism was a visual condition called aniseikonia. This caused the perceived image on both retinas of my eyes to be different in size, preventing me from from pointing each eye at the same point in space. As a consequence, I didn’t know where I was in three-dimensional space. Not knowing where you are in space can cause quite an amount of not only physical problems (such as eyestrain and headaches), but psychological ones, as well (such as anxiety). This, in turn, inhibits one’s ability to interact with the world properly and can unconsciously put an autistic person into a form of survival mode, where only the self reigns supreme. There are other neurological conditions that can accompany autism that can do this (and do a much greater job at it than aniseikonia alone can), as well, but I’ll be saving my descriptions of those other ones for my book.

In other words, neurological baggage that isn’t autistic traits themselves can amplify the autistic traits and twist them into something negative. For example, like my mother who shares autistic traits with me (but isn’t autistic herself), I can be perfectly fine in my own company and I like to do things in solitude. However, constant headaches and anxiety from vision problems sent me reeling from other people a lot the time. I was forced into exile when I wanted to be around others.

My journey in vision therapy was like peeling back layers of a disability onion. As my visual problems abated (and continue to do so), I found myself becoming able to read a greater variety of nonverbal cues and being able to understand other people more and more. This has helped with relatability issues with people who are less like myself. Overall, I can deal with a wider range of people than before I began vision therapy while retaining the best of my autistic traits and mitigating or transforming the worst. As I have experienced it, empathy and interconnectedness with others isn’t something that autistic people lack, but they are mostly dormant. They are hidden underneath a load of neurological baggage.

Another one of the greatest impressions left upon me by reading this book was that Thomas has had to find himself in the face of incredible adversity from within and without. Mindfulness has allowed him to accept imperfection and face life with incredible dignity. I, too, can attest to that. You have to accept imperfection while striving for perfection (without forcing it). Mindfulness allows one to face life with a certain grace that feels like you’re riding on air while defying the demons that desire to drag you down. In my case, I knew who I was when I was younger, but then I got severely knocked down and stayed down for years due to neurological baggage. I am reclaiming who I was bit by bit (and more) thanks to vision therapy and mindfulness.

That’s my take on The Autistic Buddha, a very genuine book that belongs on the bookshelves of anyone who has a stake in the realm of autism. I’ve offered my perspective on a life that is so similar, yet so different, from mine. That reminds me… it’s time to work on a post about free speech and its importance when speaking about such issues like autism. I don’t know when it’ll be ready, but it’s coming soon.

Transcript for Off the Top of my Head 002 – Autism, Impostor Syndrome, and the Consequences of Suppressing Autistic Interests

Transcript (Cleaned up for most instances of “umm,” “aah,” and “you know.” Side notes for clarification and descritions of certain actions are also present in [brackets].)

All right. So, um. Hey, everybody. It’s Tim again. Um, before I get started, I’m going to let you know that I’m going to be talking about some very serious topics like bullying, mental and emotional abuse, etc. So, I’m just getting that out of the way. So, anyways, today’s topic is about autism and Impostor Syndrome, and uh if you don’t know what Impostor Syndrome is, it’s about feeling like a fake. So, you know even when you’re skilled enough, you think you’re a fake. Basically, that’s what that is. And also, I’m going to talk about the consequences of suppressing the interests of autistic people. I know this is a big topic to discuss right off in my video series. But I, it’s one of the issues that weighs the most heavily on me. This has been bothering me for a long time. So, I’m doing this video as a way to get things out and feel better. So, it’s going to be intense. Excuse me if I pause to collect my thoughts or if my emotions get ahead of me ’cause sometimes I get really emotional about stuff like this. So, anyways, so, ‘kay, and another thing I might be repeating myself like I’m about to right here. Basically, Impostor Syndrome is when you feel like a phony, and like you’re going to be found out. I know at least of one autistic person who has reported this, and that’s John Elder Robison, who’s written books like Switched On and Look Me in the Eye. And, you know, I feel like a fake, too and I’m going to get into that, but, um, anyways, let’s get started.

My story of having my suppressed… my. My uh,. Excuse me, I’m jumbling words here. My story of having my interests suppressed probably isn’t unique among autistic people, so, it’s certain that what I’m about to tell you is but one of many iterations of one of the most evil things that can ever happen to an autistic person, and that’s having their interests suppressed. So, I’ll tell you about my interests. I have several categories of interests. Like… I’m stereotypical in that I like computers, but I’m not really that hot at math. I mean I’ve been getting better at it over the years, but I’m not like a math whiz. Um, yeah, I really love to build computers. This is one of the computers I built. This is my Linux box I like to play around with Linux in. And I’ve got my big computer I built about four years ago when I was entering into a doctoral program for education instructional technology, then my health started to go by the wayside, but that’s a story for another day. Photography is another one. I love film cameras and I love Super 8 millimeter film. And I have a 16 millimeter camera that I need to get fixed, but, um, I don’t have the money to get it fixed. I’d love to get it fixed. It’s about maybe $700 or more to get it fixed. I also like video games, of course, Whenever my vision is up to it, I like to do amateur speedrunning. I also, because I discovered my autism, I’m interested in neurology. I’m also interested in things like optometry and how that relates to autism. It’s taken me time to dig through that. Um, and I really love languages. I’ve studied several languages like Japanese, French, and all that. I have a bachelor’s in French, I have a master’s in French, and I also have another master’s in applied linguistics which is basically a field of linguistics that, like , say, one little specialization is how people acquire and learn language and how to make materials better so that people can absorb language better. But my number one interest; my biggest obsessive interest is Japanese animation (or anime) and manga (Japanese comics). I got interested in those when I was around fourteen years old. I watched AKIRA on the SciFi channel and I really liked it because it was different from what I had seen before. And the year after that I watched a series called Project A-Ko, and that was, uh, that was what sealed the deal. But, also, the same summer I watched AKIRA on the SciFI Channel, my friends introduced me to JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games) and the first one I played was Final Fantasy 6. It was known as [Final Fantasy] 3 back then, but I played that and I got hooked almost instantly. So, uh, anyways, soon afterwards, I decided I wanted to learn Japanese, and for my 15th birthday, my family bought me some basic beginner Japanese tapes and books. Um , audiocassettes and books. And I still have them and it’s been an obsession ever since. And I started learning Japanese… [Light flickers] Excuse my LED light, it flashes every now and… It’s the best one for lighting the situation. Anyways, I developed a reputation in high school, people would… [Light flickers again] People… I have to turn that off. Well, I hope that the lighting’s better. Oh, well. I hope the lighting’s okay. Um, but anyways, I developed a reputation when I was in high school. People didn’t believe I was learning Japanese, so they’d come up to me and ask me:

“Do you really know Japanese?”

and I’m like “Yeah”

“Speak some for me.” So, I’d say a few basic phrases and they’re like “Oh, wow!” and my reputation so preceded me in some cases that, you know, I mean, I was known all over the high school. And for my senior year, I was nominated for Brainiest Guy. Of, course, I lost that. But, oh well.

But the late 90s and early 2000s, that period was one of great optimism for me because I wanted to learn Japanese, you know, I wanted to go to college and learn it. And, uh, but, Texas is a really poor state for Asian languages, learning Asian languages. The only university in the state of Texas that offers Japanese is UT Austin. And, you know, the SATs, you know, I did poorly on the SATs, so there was no chance of getting into it. You know, right away. And, you know, my optimism started to end in early 2001 when I got sued by this guy I rear-ended. I only did $400 of damage to this guy’s vehicle. But he sued me and his lawyer treated me like I had attempted to murder somebody. And my autistic brain back then couldn’t handle that. You know, I was like “How could anybody treat somebody else like that over something so minor?” And, it caused me to spiral into depression, and despite my depression, I wanted to try to go to Austin Community College; move to Austin in 2003, hoping to use Austin Community College as a back door to get into UT. Because I figured that if I could test out of all this Japanese that I could, that I would impress an admissions board at UT and get in. But my depression got the better of me and I couldn’t find work. I only had a temp job for about a month and then I had to move back in with my family. And when I moved back in with my family, I just felt defeated. I felt like a failure. Like a huge failure. And even though my depression lingered when I moved back in with my family, it just lingered.

Now, depression leaves one vulnerable and muddies the waters of perception and judgment, regardless of neurotype. If depression clouds the faculties of a neurotypical, imagine what it does to an autistic person. The inability to quickly process social information and cues – and yes, non-autistic folks, we can process such information, but not as quickly as you can – the inability to quickly process social cues coupled with my depression paved the way for extreme vulnerability and the most painful period… extremely painful period in my life from early 2004 to late 2010 where I met the most despicable, evil people you can ever imagine.

Now I’m not going to talk much about… much details about these people. I’m not going to talk about how I met them. I’m not going to talk about a lot of instances of abuse. I’m racking my brain for… you know, I’m racking my brain for examples. It’s hard to think about that period still, even though I haven’t talked to these people for almost seven years. It still hurts to think about what they did.

So, in early 2004, I encountered a small group of people who seemed friendly enough at the time. They shared some interests of mine, except for anime and manga. And it was an attempt for me to branch out as a person, but it backfired terribly. Um, let me pick up my notes here. So, after getting to know them for a while, you know, both ways, they decided after about hearing about my interests and how enthusiastic I was about them, because you know, I’m really passionate about anime and manga, They decided to toy around with me thanks to my very, very, very clouded perception. And they wanted to, they made it, they talked to me in such a way that they basically made it sound like my hobbies and geekiness were what was wrong with me and that needed to go. They implied that if I wanted to be a decent and acceptable person that I would have to give up anime and manga and reinvent myself, and it, you know… Excuse me for a moment.

This, this, you know. There was a cycle of abuse. You might have heard of battered person syndrome, where… Hang on. I’ll put a link or something in the description. It’s just hard for me to talk about. But I’ll describe as best I can the abuse I went through without giving away too much. People don’t have to touch or hit you to abuse you.

Now these people had some of the same intellectual interests as I did and we talked about academic topics and everything. They would intellectually engage me and be friendly. Then they would ask me how it was going to reinvent myself and I would talk about my efforts and then they would tell me that I wasn’t doing well enough and then they’d berate me. They would make fun of my interests and it would contribute to my depression. Now although I haven’t been clinically depressed since 2003/2004, I was diagnosed with chronic depressive disorder. Talking about this to the psychiatrist who diagnosed me with autism, he said “You have this underlying melancholy related to the abuse you’ve gone through” and said he told me… this is what my psychiatrist told me. He said that “You’re going to have to do the best you can to get back to going along with your interests… To doing the best thing with your interests as possible or you’re going to end up with another major depressive episode.” And when I took a Beck Depression index not long afterwards, I was right on the cusp of having another major depressive episode. But the big story of that is for my book. So, anyways… let’s turn the page to my notes. So this abuse, it affected my ability to learn Japanese during this period from 2004 to 2007… that early part I was still making plans to go back to Austin. But they made fun of my anime… my anime hobby, my Otakudom, so much that by early 2007 I had given up on plans to go back to Austin. And when I moved to Lubbock in 2009, a year before I cut all ties with these people in the back of my mind I was like “I still want to do Japanese, I still want to do Japanese, I still want to do Japanese.” You know it was there and anytime they’d tell me to watch less anime and try to do something else, you know, anytime I would watch anime, I’d feel guilty because of that but anime made me really really happy. So this cycle went on for almost 7 years until I started breaking ties with them in April 2010, and I finally quit talking to them altogether in November 2010.

And I want to take a moment to say… let me stop here and acknowledge and thank some people for getting me through these times. I want to think Dr. Kenneth Rivers. He is a retired professor who was at Lamar. While all of these interests of mine were being suppressed he got me into French and kept me hooked on it. And, you know, it takes a really special person to do that and to work with an autistic person like that. And that and Dr. Yaw Oteng who is also a professor of French at Lamar and you know he increased the motivation that Dr. Rivers gave me. And several other professors like Catalina Castillon, Dr. Bridges getting me interested in Spanish. And then when I got to Tech, Texas Tech Dr. Diane Wood and Dr. Price, Dr. Joe Price they really helped too.

And I’m grateful I was obviously depressed and my vision had catastrophically failed and affected my ability to learn and study language but I’m grateful… I’m grateful… I’m grateful to them for that. So thank you so much. And I’m grateful for the friends I got at Texas Tech, too. There are so many I can’t name who were so nice and I’m grateful… I’m grateful that you befriended me. You know, sometimes I’d be really happy but sometimes I’d be real depressed. But in spite of all that… but in spite of all that you befriended me. Anyway and I’m happy. I wouldn’t trade any of you for the world. If I could rewrite my life, I’d meet you in different circumstances but I’d never get rid of the people I met while I was at Tech or at Lamar.

So anyways, I’m going to talk about my instances of Impostor Syndrome and the health consequences and some of the psychological damage that this abuse did. Let’s see here. So on top of my untreated sensory impairments; and I didn’t start to receive any treatment for my sensory impairments until about 2009, but I didn’t know about my autism until 2014, so it was like the vision therapy I had been getting [hadn’t] been effective because I didn’t know about my autism until much later. But on top of the sensory and motor impairments, it made it hard for me to study language. And another thing, too, I’d like to thank the people I’m working with at Bellaire Family Eyecare, The Vision Learning Center in Houston/Bellaire Texas because my vision is at the point before catastrophically failed. My vision catastrophically failed in 2006 and it made it hard for me to study language, and I think that part of it was because of the abuse. I think that was part of it, but thanks to the people I work with in the Houston area my vision is where it was before it catastrophically failed. But now I have to take it beyond that, and that’s another story for my book. But the sensory and motor impairment impairing my ability to learn language and to use it made me feel like a phony. For example, like in the French program at Tech I was afraid I was going to be found out for my poor usage of French but all these native French speakers were telling me “Wow, you’re pretty good! You’re really talented with French!” and one of my French professors said that my French was “formidable” [pronounced in French]. And there was a native Parisian, his name was Arnaud [pronounced “ARE-NO”], he told me that my accent sounded really cool in French. And a Haitian who spoke French told me my French was pretty good. And I took a test, I took a proficiency test and I ended up on the near-native part. So, when I first started there, I felt like such a phony. I was like “I’m not going to be able to say a word in French and I’ll be found out as an impostor and be deemed unworthy for the French program.” and I would practice my Spanish a bit with native Spanish speakers and I felt like a phony because I would strain. I’d have muscles all over my body strain because of my motor impairments that made it hard for me to speak sometimes. But, you know, I felt most like a fraud with the Japanese students, my Japanese peers at Tech. I was so afraid of being found out as a phony with Japanese, that I wasn’t so good. And pile that on top of the abuse I received that affected my ability to learn Japanese and I felt just like a phony. And, I know this sounds ridiculous, but I have a translator friend who lives in Tokyo who has had such a big impact on my life. I first met him years and years ago. His name is Michael Santone, he’s a really great guy. I had translated some things for the former band director in my hometown. He was the band director then. The band director was a friend of the Santones and he had bought this item from Japan and he had locked himself out from this technological item, it was like an early predecessor to VR goggles and he knew that I knew Japanese. So he asked me to translate the password section, the password lockout section, and I got him out of the password lock, and about a month or two later, Mr. Santone saw my work and wanted to meet me. So, over the years, my plans to learn Japanese got affected and stuff, you know I kind of felt like a phony, and it made me afraid to talk to him or a long time. And I’d occasionally bump in and out of contact with him but earlier this year I decided to get back in touch with him for good, and doing that made me feel better. Now that I think back on things, it was pursuing my own interests again that led me to all kinds of things, like, someone in my Japanese class noted my autistic behaviors. This was back at Tech when I decided to go for Japanese again. When I started to feel less and less like a phony. Uh, anyways, it was deciding to pursue my interests again that helped me discover my autism, and being in touch with people makes me feel like less of a phony. I’ve still got some things to shake off, but I know I’m going to shake it off. It’s just a matter of me finding a way until my vision is fully functional, finding ways to work around my disability now that my vision has recently gone back to the point it was at before it catastrophically failed. I’ve got this. That’s how impostor syndrome made me feel around certain people.

Some more impostor syndrome things I felt, like fears at a job, like a translation job. I would have these irrational scenarios thinking of a boss going “Can’t you interpret in real time?” or “Can’t you do things quickly?” or “You don’t know every word? You’re not ‘fluent!'” Although there is a difference between fluency and proficiency. Language nerd moment here, being fluent means you’re able to speak with the least amount of stuttering/stopping. Proficiency means being able to use the language grammatically accurately; grammatically correct and accurate. They kind of play into each other, but in some ways they’re kind of separate. So, that’s another example of how Impostor Syndrome plays out.

Now another thing that impostor Syndrome did to me is that as the years since I left high school went on, I would avoid my former classmates like the plague except, like, a couple of them who stayed real close friends with me after high school. And I felt embarrassed not because I didn’t live up to their expectations, but they were expectations I had for myself. Because as I said, [the] late 90s/early 2000s were a period of optimism for me. I was like “Yeah! I’m gonna go on and learn all these languages and be a translator and all that.” But as the abuse went on and as the sensory issues got worse – untreated – it made me feel more like a phony and I would be deathly afraid to run into high school classmates because I would expect them to go like “Yeah! What have you been up to? Going to Japan?” and stuff and I would feel embarrassed and I would feel terrible I hadn’t fulfilled my goals that I had set for myself [that] I was so optimistic about. People who knew me in my late high school/early college years would, you know, they noted that I was a very hyper person. I was very hyper and optimistic until I got depressed and sometimes it would come out and then it went away after the abuse started. I’m trying to get that person back. I’m working so hard to get that person back because, like, being myself is the only way that I’m ever going to be happy. I’m gonna do the best I can to become who I Know I’m supposed to be. And one of the examples of me avoiding high school classmates. There was this jerk who bullied me in civics class my senior year. He like, made it hell. I’m not gonna give any names out, but, back in 2007, when the abuse was at its height, I ran into him. He’s like “Ah! Tim Turner! How’s it going?” and I’m like “Not this dude!” and then, like, another person distracted him; another friend of his distracted him and was like “Heeeey!” He [the guy who bullied me in civics class] was like “Wait here, I wanna talk to you.” I just up and booked. I ran away from him because I didn’t want to talk to him about my stifled plans – my frustrated plans and, you know, I didn’t want to talk to him. People who were nice to me made for an even more awkward meeting. I would be like “Uh, uh, uh” because of my brutal honesty as an autistic person. You know, I don’t like lying, I don’t like deceiving people, and it just hurt anytime I ran into a high school classmate who was nice. But, in 2015, I got back on Facebook because of the crushing isolation and I’m like “Well, might as well tell my story now.” But, that’s what Impostor Syndrome did and still does a bit to this day.

So, some of the damage to my health and psyche. I would avoid stuff about topics I love for a long time. Not only would I feel like a phony when it came to Japanese or other languages and traveling, but I would just avoid anything to do with Japan because I hadn’t gone. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for almost 22 years now. 22 years! But thanks to employment problems and everything else; because people were like they were because of my autism, I was like; I would just avoid stuff about Japan, which leads me to another thing. People who traveled, especially if they went to Japan; I would feel this terrible envy. And , to me, my take on envy is envy is supposed to push you to… Envy can push you to do better, and that’s what I tried to do while my sensory impairments were rampant, but as they got worse, and I couldn’t channel my envy into something productive. Well, my take is that if envy can’t be channeled properly, it becomes one of the most corrosive emotions that a human being can ever experience. I mean, we’re talking Alien creature blood corrosive. You know, from the movie Alien in 1979; that series of movies. That corrosive. And, I know it’s petty. It sounds petty talking about how I feel, but in an autistic person like me who’s obsessed with this stuff, it can be the worst thing ever. Envy can be a very corrosive emotion, not just for regular people, but especially for autistic people. And, I would feel so petty for being envious of people who traveled or went to Japan. You know, that’s just terrible.

But another consequence of the abuse was that it kept me from wanting to share my interests and ambitions with people, especially after I quit talking to these people [my abusers]. I didn’t want to open up to anybody because I was afraid that they were going to mentally and emotionally abuse me over my obsession with anime and manga. And, the envy, the anger, the post-traumatic stress, my heart would occasionally feel like a stone. That’s a terrible feeling to have; to have your heart feel like a stone after having your interests suppressed for so long. Because after I quit talking with these people, after I quit talking with my former abusers, I would feel angry, then I would feel depressed again, then I’d feel angry, my heart would feel like a stone. The envy, ooh. That is something that I would not wish on my worst enemy – something like that.

Let’s see. And feeling left behind is another psychological consequence of having my interests suppressed, besides the envy. You know, I feel years behind in watching anime and reading manga because I can’t afford it, because of certain things. It’s just terrible. I feel left behind and it makes me feel like a fraction of the person I should be. And then I get really emotionally numb sometimes. Sometimes, I can’t feel anything. And I have to be reminded constantly of my passion for anime and manga. And shout out to my friend Amanda for cheering me up like that recently. And, you know, this isolation and envy and all these other feelings make me feel hopeless sometimes. That I’ll never get to do what I’ve wanted to do in life. That I won’t have a job – a Japan-related dream job – or a job related with Japan at all and be able to use my French or my Spanish. You know, and things like that. And, you know, it’s just… that’s just the long and short of it; of the consequences of having my interests suppressed like that. Had my family known about my autism; had we known about my autism back then they would’ve taken measures to help; to prevent me from falling into depression or being abused. And you know, that’s one of the things not knowing about my autism while growing up. It really hurt. It hurt more than it helped not knowing about my autism. But I’m thankful to my parents. They did a really great job raising a person, as they put it in their own words “marches to the beat of his own drum” and not knowing about the ins and out of autism specifically, but they did a really great job and I’m always grateful to them and I’m grateful to my family, too.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. I’m surprised I didn’t melt down or anything while that was happening. I haven’t had a major meltdown since November of 2015, which is good, but I’ve had kind of mini-meltdowns, and as long as I don’t… as… I’ve gotta find a way to get back to where I’ve always wanted to be in not only… not only in… You know, I’ve gotta reach out somehow and be involved and be the person I’ve always wanted to be. And one way or another, I’m gonna find my way out of this.

So, that’s pretty much a wrap. [Notices TV has turned off] See. Well, my TV went off. How about that? [Laughs] Well, anyways, let’s see here:

You can find me on Twitter: @AdAstraAspie



I’m also on Instagram, too. (adastraaspie)

So, anyways. This hasn’t turned out to be a short video, but I’m glad I got this off my chest. So, I will see you around. So, until next time, I’ll see y’all.

Tired, Old, Lazy, and Plain Dangerous Stereotypes – My Take on The Accountant (plus some quick references on relevant issues)

Content Alert: (discusses and includes language featuring harmful stereotyping, Theory of Mind, dehumanization of autistic people, etc. Trying to cover all bases here.)

Before I begin, let me note that I haven’t seen The Accountant yet. On one hand, I’d go watch it, but I have neither the time nor the money (not to mention that I still have yet to get a car again; I have no idea when I’m going to get a suitable replacement). On the other hand, why should I buy a ticket to a movie that, for all intents and purposes, lazily demeans people like me for the sake of a plot? I’ll pass and wait for it to come on one of the movie channels. (BTW, I’ve read spoilers of it already, because I don’t really care). This blog entry is a quick discussion over my feelings about it and links to resources about issues related to the harmful stereotypes that this movie perpetuates.

I’m coming out of my period of blog silence to talk about something that always concerns me: autism and empathy (plus its portrayal and speculation about it in the media).

There are going to be many links to many resources, so pardon this looking like rambling. But let me make it clear that every link I am about to post is worth your time reading.

There are three main categories of links below: (Autism and Empathy/Theory of Mind, Autism and Violence, and Autism and Alexithymia)

Let’s begin.

While I enjoy a good movie and am well aware that many are a portrayal of fiction, I hold my breath every time one of them deals with autism. Long before I found out about my autism and long before I watched Rain Man (which I didn’t watch until 2015), the movie that introduced me to autism was the 1998 movie Mercury Rising with Bruce Willis. Like Rain Man, it plays into the savant stereotype. It also gave me the idea for the longest time that autistic people are people who huddle in the corner screaming at the slightest change. No discussing how people can feel fine one day and bad the next. No discussing how verbal autistic people like me even exist or how, when we have meltdowns or overload (be it sensory, cognitive, or emotional), we can resemble those children “huddled in the corner.”

And before you say that I don’t take the plight of more severely impaired Autistics into account, let me redirect you to Join Elder Robison’s blog on Psychology Today (I hold many of the same views he does, thus these links):

Does Neurodiversity Whitewash Autism?

High Functioning Aspies Don’t Know What Real Autism Is

Autism and Asperger’s: Two Separate Conditions or Not?

The “Cure” for Autism and the Fight Over It

That said, there is a lot that needs to be done in alleviating sensory impairments in more impaired autistic people. There are things that need to be researched and done to help more severely impaired autistic people be helped when it comes to life-threatening conditions that endanger them or put them at risk (such as epilepsy).

Here’s a quote from that last entry above:

The problem starts with autism itself, and how people see it. Unlike cancer and most other medical issues in the news, autism is a stable neurological difference. It’s not a progressive disease. At the same time, autism’s impact on people varies tremendously. Some people are totally disabled which others are merely eccentric. It’s no surprise that the individuals at the two extremes would have totally opposite views of their condition.

The “High Functioning” autistic group says, “We don’t need to be cured. We just need tolerance and understanding.”

The Highly Impaired group says, “Enough with the understanding! We need some cures, fast!”

Parents of affected kids say, “I want my kid to have a good life, whatever that means or takes.”

To a large extent, those points of view are mutually exclusive. HF people tend to see the HI desire for a cure as an indictment of their very being. “Get rid of autistic disability” morphs into “get rid of people like me,” in their minds. From the HI perspective, the desire for tolerance and the HF statement that, “we are fine the way we are,” seems to be a callous dismissal of their very real disabilities.

Mind you that there are nonverbal Autistics who can use technology to communicate, like Amy Sequenzia:

Assumptions and Ableism

There are also many others such as Dillan, who is nonverbal yet uses an iPad to communicate:

There are also people who blog about other nonverbal autistic people who communicate with technology. For example, Ms. Kerima Çevik’s excellent blog entitled The Autism Wars, where she blogs about her son and other nonverbal autistic people.

Where is Sharisa Joy Kochmeister? The War for Safety, Personhood, and Competence

That’s plenty of resources about nonverbal Autistics for the time being.

And now, the meat of this blog entry.

I’ve been hearing about this movie called The Accountant, which is full of dangerous stereotypes about autism (and the now defunct diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, something I would have gotten had I found out about my autism before 2013).

Have a look at the loaded language in this link (content alert for harmful, stereotypical language about autism):

‘The Accountant’ miscalculates how to reach its potential: 2.5 stars

This review of The Accountant buys into Theory of Mind (like the movie itself appears to do), which I and many other Autistic self-advocates have a huge problem with.

If you don’t know what Theory of Mind (ToM) is, you’re not alone. It was first part of animal research into primates such as chimpanzees in the late 1970s. Later, with a flawed study by Simon Baron-Cohen (a cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen, the guy who played Borat), he extrapolated that autistic people basically have an “impaired theory of mind.” This has opened the door to many practices and assumptions that assume that autistic people are somehow broken and less than 100 percent human.

Look at this archived copy of an article from TIME magazine to see a result of this harmful stereotype, thanks to Theory of Mind:

It would be smarter to be cautious, because the Internet’s personality has changed. Once it was a geek with lofty ideals about the free flow of information. Now the web is a sociopath with Asperger’s. (emphasis mine)

I’m too busy right now trying to finish vision therapy and doing research for my book to deal with all of this, but in the meantime, here are some links to articles that explain how Autistics like me can have a problem with Theory of Mind and how it is used to dehumanize people all across the autism spectrum (with some juicy quotes from each to entice you into actually reading them).

Category 1 of 3: Autism and Theory of Mind (i.e. – “Lack of Empathy”)

Review: Michelle Sutton’s THE REAL EXPERTS

Review: Michelle Sutton’s THE REAL EXPERTS

When autistic people speak, who listens?

Simon Baron-Cohen has built an entire career on his theory that autistic people cannot predict or interpret other people’s mental states – or, as he puts it, that we have no Theory of Mind (ToM).

Because we have no idea that other people have minds, ToM argues, we have no concept of audience.  Without a concept of audience, we can’t speak to persuade others.  What others?  We live in a perpetual echo chamber full of babbling; there are no others.  If we cannot speak to persuade others, we literally cannot participate in rhetoric or exist as rhetorical subjects.*  We’re the lone creature shrieking into the abyss, except even that image has no emotional content, because we have no concept of “lone” or “into” or “abyss.”

We can’t fathom audience, and this is SBC’s excuse not to give us an audience.  Because if I’m not “really” talking to you, if I cannot understand that there is an “I” who can talk “to” “you,” why should you listen?  I’m shrieking into an abyss.  Why bother?

The image gets attention because it’s heart-wrenching.**  The wrenching of the heart neatly covers for the fact that the game is rigged.

Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists Who Theorize Theory of Mind

Across disciplines, ToM operates as a binary between the humans who have it and those distant Others who do not. Particularly iconic of this has/has not dichotomy is the following passage from Baron-Cohen’s Mindblindness (1997): “A theory of mind remains one of the quintessential abilities that makes us human. …The theory of mind difficulties seem to be universal among such [autistic] individuals” (3). And so, if autistics possess anything, it is decided lack. On one side of the continuum are those whom Baron-Cohen has termed “mindreaders,” that is, those individuals whom we know to be human precisely because they possess a ToM. Meanwhile, on the other side of the continuum are the “mindblind,” that is, individuals who lack “one of the quintessential abilities” that makes one human. In other words: Humans are human because they possess a theory of mind, and autistics are inhuman because they do not.

An Empathic Debunking of the Theory Of Mind

An Empathic Debunking of the Theory Of Mind

Simon Baron-Cohen, the man who has single-handedly done more damage to the perception of Autistics than any other human being (though there are arguably a number of people vying for that title), depresses me.

I need to say that before continuing.

Simon Baron-Cohen developed the “Theory of Mind” based on the results from the now famous “Sally-Anne” test.  The Sally-Anne test, where the child is shown two dolls, is an example of dubious “science.”  Sally has a basket in front of her, while Anne has a box.  Sally, presumably made to move by an adult, which further complicates the test, puts a marble into her basket and leaves the room.  While she is gone, Anne takes the marble from Sally’s basket and places it in the box.  When Sally returns, the child is asked, “Where will Sally look for the marble?”  Only 20% of the Autistic children were able to correctly answer the question – Sally will look in her basket.

A Critique of the Theory of Mind (ToM) Test

The most common form of the ToM test is called the Sally-Anne Test. The ostensible purpose of the test is to measure a person’s ability to attribute false beliefs to other people. In the original version, the clinician uses two dolls, Sally and Anne. Sally has a basket, and Anne has a box. Sally puts a marble in her basket and leaves the scene of the action. Anne takes the marble out of Sally’s basket and puts it in her box. When Sally returns, the clinician asks the child where Sally will look for the marble.

To pass the test, a child must say that Sally will mistakenly look in her own basket first, evincing the belief that Sally is unaware that the marble has been moved. A child who fails the test will say that Sally will look in Anne’s box, where the marble is actually located. In a 1985 study of ToM in autism by Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan M. Leslie, and Uta Frith, 80% of the autistic children failed this test. The conclusion drawn is that the autistic children have an impaired (or non-existent) ToM and cannot understand that other people have information and beliefs different from their own.

I am very bothered by this conclusion. Very, very bothered.

Saving a Theory, Dismissing Its Subjects

And then, I read a 2004 article by Uta Frith, and I moved away from my stance of critical detachment toward one of absolute moral outrage.

There I was, enjoying a quiet day at home, reading by the woodstove, minding my own business, and wanting nothing more than to have an enjoyably uneventful time, when I stumbled upon the following piece of remarkably nuanced thinking and stellar prose in Frith’s Emanuel Miller lecture: Confusions and controversies about Asperger syndrome:

“One way to describe the social impairment in Asperger syndrome is as an extreme form of egocentrism with the resulting lack of consideration for others.” (Frith 2004, 676)

Unwarranted Conclusions and the Potential for Harm: My Reply to Simon Baron-Cohen

This is not about anyone hurting my feelings. It’s about the perpetuation of stereotypes and oversimplifications that, in my opinion, have the potential for tremendous harm. Consider the possibilities:

Autistic people describe our empathic experiences in detail, only to be told that we have such low empathy that we are the last to know it.

Autistic people protest abuse and ill-treatment, only to be told that we can’t understand other people’s motives and intentions, much less respond to them appropriately.

Autistic people are treated without empathy because other people believe that we have none ourselves.

Autistic people face lives of substandard care, isolation, and abuse because we are considered to have been born without a core component of humanity.

Note: I highly recommend that you read the whole of the Autism and Empathy blog.

You think autistic people have no empathy? My little boy is so empathetic it hurts

But apart from all of that, the idea that people on the autism spectrum don’t know or care about other people is offensive and wrong. It makes their ability to navigate a path through this world so very vexed. Let’s be very clear: how people with autism might appear in company and what they know or think about, or care about, are quite distinct things.

My boy cares deeply about other people. He tells his little sister, his dad and me that he loves us many times a day. Sometimes he misreads people’s intentions – difficulty with interpreting facial expressions is a hallmark of autism. But he is so empathetic that sometimes it seems to literally hurt. He can’t bear to see me cry – it’s like he’s been stabbed. I have seen him, when another child is hurt, run over and pat the child and loudly console them (and sometimes he tells them that he loves them). He adores babies and told his five-month-old cousin the other day he was “the most beautiful baby in the whole, whole world”. He doesn’t say the “cool” thing; he doesn’t check his behaviour like a neurotypical kid would. He just does what feels right.

Category 2 of 3: Autism and violence

Adam Lanza and Look Me In The Eye

Every time there’s speculation about a connection between Asperger’s and murder innocent people are put at risk.  Many of us with eccentric interests have already learned the hard way how others may misunderstand our actions.  My own son fell victims a few years ago, when a publicity-seeking prosecutor tried to twist his innocent scientific experiments with explosives into imaginary terrorism.  That story is described in my newest book, Raising Cubby, which stands as a cautionary tale for what can happen when those of us who are different fail to understand how the public may misconstrue our actions, and how other people may try to twist our eccentricity into something much worse for their own petty gain. I’d like to see the question of what went wrong in Adam Lanza’s mind answered as much as you.  Unfortunately, they present speculation isn’t going to get us that data.

Asperger’s, Autism, and Mass Murder

Whenever something horrible happens the public and the media look for answers . . . factoids to explain what may be truly inexplicable.   Whatever information can be discovered is tossed out into public view in the hope that somehow a bunch of discrete facts and data points will somehow provide the answers everyone is seeking.


Unfortunately, on other occasions, early speculation proves unfounded, wrong, or irrelevant.  When that happens, innocent people are often harmed by the rush to judgment.  I’m very concerned that is occurring right now, as the public digests news reports about the Sandy Hook school murders.

Reporters are saying the killer had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.  Every time a news story does that – by tying “killer” and “Asperger’s” in the same sentence – they are at some level implying that there is a connection between autism and mass murder.

There’s not.

Statisticians have a phrase for this situation:  Correlation does not imply causation.

The IACC Weighs in on Autism and Violence

There is no scientific evidence linking ASD with homicides or other violent crimes. In fact, studies of court records suggest that people with autism are less likely to engage in criminal behavior of any kind compared with the general population, and people with Asperger syndrome, specifically, are not convicted of crimes at higher rates than the general population (Ghaziuddin et al., 1991, Mouridsen et al., 2008, Mouridsen, 2012)

And finally, Category 3 of 3: Articles about autism and alexithymia, which is the fancy name for not being able to express and/or recognize emotions in mainly ourselves (and occasionally others)

People with Autism Can Read Emotions, Feel Empathy

There is a persistent stereotype that people with autism are individuals who lack empathy and cannot understand emotion. It’s true that many people with autism don’t show emotion in ways that people without the condition would recognize.

But the notion that people with autism generally lack empathy and cannot recognize feelings is wrong. Holding such a view can distort our perception of these individuals and possibly delay effective treatments.


So we looked into the overlap between autism and alexithymia, a condition defined by a difficulty understanding and identifying one’s own emotions. People with high levels of alexithymia (which we assess with questionnaires) might suspect they are experiencing an emotion, but are unsure which emotion it is. They could be sad, angry, anxious or maybe just overheated. About 10 percent of the population at large — and about 50 percent of people with autism — has alexithymia.

Emotional Dysfunction: Alexithymia and ASD

Emotional Dysfunction: Alexithymia and ASD

A typical aspie-NT conversation about feelings:

NT: What’s wrong?

Aspie: I don’t know.

NT: You look upset.

Aspie: . . .

NT: Are you sad? Angry?

Aspie: I don’t know.

NT: It’s okay. You can tell me.

Aspie: . . .

NT: Fine. Don’t tell me. I was just trying to help.

When an aspie says they don’t know what they’re feeling, it’s a literal statement. We aren’t trying to dodge the conversation. We aren’t withholding information. We aren’t being rude, mean, cold coy or vindictive.

Alexithymia, not autism, is associated with impaired interoception

It has been proposed that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is associated with difficulties perceiving the internal state of one’s body (i.e., impaired interoception), causing the socio-emotional deficits which are a diagnostic feature of the condition. However, research indicates that alexithymia – characterized by difficulties in recognizing emotions from internal bodily sensations – is also linked to atypical interoception. Elevated rates of alexithymia in the autistic population have been shown to underpin several socio-emotional impairments thought to be symptomatic of ASD, raising the possibility that interoceptive difficulties in ASD are also due to co-occurring alexithymia.

Whew! All done! Hope you learn a lot reading these!

Silence in the Midst of Intensity

Hey everyone,

Just giving you all another little update.

I’m still taking care of myself, but I have been fairly silent on Twitter for some time now. Things have been intense for the past 6 weeks. In mid June, I got in two car accidents over the span of four days, with the second one totaling my car (the first one happened while riding with my parents). I now have no vehicle to call my own.

It’s hard talking about everything I’m going through, especially when I’m going through it; that’s for my book to tell you. I promise it’s going to be EPIC!

I’m also striving so hard to improve my quality of life. My planned YouTube channel is stalled because I live in an area with crappy broadband internet and I can’t afford a TV/gaming console capture card. I have to go over to my grandparents’ house to even upload a video. In fact, a lot of my plans are on hold for a myriad of reasons. It seems that every time I steam ahead that something halts my momentum.

Things kind of suck, but things aren’t 100% bad. At least I’m alive and not injured from the car wrecks.

Still alive… Taking care of myself…

As much as I want to write blog entries and stuff, I am constantly struggling with a lot of personal issues. Constant fatigue, writing my book, doing my therapy, etc. I hope to have the manuscript done by the end of the year.

And as much as I want to talk about what’s going on, I can’t do that right now. I’m focused on taking care of myself and finding ways to cope with everything. I still check my Twitter from time to time, but I’m so busy.

As an Autistic, taking care of myself is top priority. I am sorting out my place in the world and getting to know myself better. I hope all of you are doing the same!

Take care, everyone!

What I have learned about writing thus far.

Another day and another few pages of manuscript written.

It is also the first day of Autism Acceptance Month.

Not long ago, I had a phone conversation with Stereo Sue about many things: writing was one of them. In this vein, we talked about the writing habits of Oliver Sacks. Basically, he wrote a lot in journals to think. A video on YouTube also shows that he had the habit of carrying a notebook everywhere he went (one I have adopted myself). Check out the video below.

As I write my manuscript, I have been transported back in time to some very painful moments, such as the mental and emotional abuse I endured over my interests during my early adulthood from people I thought were my friends. Although vision therapy has made me much happier in general, it still hurts to think and talk about these moments. In fact, I will only mention a couple of painful moments of the nearly seven years of abuse I endured. I decline to talk about it in too great detail to this day, and very few people know the whole story. But I will tell it anyway, because I feel that writing and telling my story will play a role in autism acceptance.

Writing, I have found, is a messy process. It isn’t as linear as I thought because random memories resurface about my life on the spectrum. My notebook has random paragraphs and sentences detailing random moments I have remembered while away from my computer (high and low tech approach). The emotions follow later and give richness to the narrative.

At least modern technology allows those random thoughts to be sorted out. When I first started writing my book, I organized by logical categories such as “What is the Autism Spectrum?” and “The Particulars of Vision Therapy for Autistic People.” I made them their own separate files and typed as random thoughts came up. However, I had a lot of trouble remembering things this  way, so I decided to make a file called “Random Thoughts for Book” and typed them as they came. This produced far more than limiting myself with categories.

As I typed my random thoughts, it turned out that I could not tell the story of my journey in vision therapy without talking about my life on the autism spectrum, so I started new files by the periods of my life. My vision therapy journey might start later in the book, but many things led to that part of my life.

My book will portray the hopes and dreams I still have after being somewhat put partially on hold for 17+ years. It is a portrayal of my experiences of humanity; not only that, but it is a portrait of my own humanity itself.

Initial thoughts about Switched On

EDIT NOTICE: Small typos and details clarified

No terrible spoilers here, just a couple of notes about what I’ve read thus far. This book is amazing!

I’ve been digesting the wonderful book Switched On, by John Elder Robison.

The foreword by Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone was incredibly touching. As I read his words, I unconsciously found what he said to be like the compassion of Oliver Sacks that Sue Barry told me about. Then, to my surprise, he talked about that very same compassion of Oliver Sacks in the same way Sue Barry described.

I’m not finished with Switched On yet, but in some parts, my jaw was dropping because his experiences with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) parallel mine with vision therapy in a few ways. Sharper senses is one big experience that we share in common. Mr. Robison and I also share the same desire to mitigate debilitating aspects of disability. I don’t want to say too much because I want my book to be novel (no pun intended).

In some ways, of course, we are different. I’ve had a better sense of reading and sensing emotion than what Mr. Robison describes, but it has always been uneven. Due to my powers of observation, I have come to the point where I can also guess what people are thinking or have a good idea of what’s going on (and that can be uneven, too). I’m just not equipped to really play the game (and that depends on the people I am dealing with). Another difference is that I finished high school and went on to earn a Bachelor’s and two Master’s degrees, but the autism spectrum burst forth because I was burning out from a certain degree of passing. Of course, one Autistic person is one Autistic person; every one of us is different.

Most of my book manuscript, which is now around 10,000 words at the time of this blog post, is autobiographical so far, because I really can’t talk about the wonders that vision therapy has done without talking about how my comorbid vision problems have affected my life. I’ve felt some intense emotions as I have typed it, and Switched On has brought back many memories of my life that I will share in my book.

I feel that I must tell my story for two reasons:

1.) Vision therapy is much more difficult for Autistic people. I’ll write about the issues I came across as best as I can. I’m still at it (but much improved after 6 1/2 years doing it on and off with great strides taking place even now).

2.) I want to claim the life I have always wanted.

I’ll save the details of that for my book. My book will be a tale of growing up in rural East Texas without me knowing about my being Autistic and the life that came after high school. It’s been rough, but there are as many good things as bad in my story.

Every day, I type more and more manuscript after finishing my rounds of therapy. I feel as compelled as John Elder Robison to write and advocate, plus I can’t wait to tell my story of autism to the world.

Disclosure to John Elder Robison: I haven’t read your other books yet (employment situation), but I plan to do so as soon as I can afford them.