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?

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201509/does-neurodiversity-whitewash-autism

High Functioning Aspies Don’t Know What Real Autism Is

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201412/high-functioning-aspies-dont-know-what-real-autism-is

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

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201308/autism-and-aspergers-two-separate-conditions-or-not

The “Cure” for Autism and the Fight Over It

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/200910/the-cure-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.

http://theautismwars.blogspot.com/

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

http://theautismwars.blogspot.com/2015/07/where-is-sharisa-joy-kochmeister-autism.htmhttp://theautismwars.blogspot.com/2015/07/where-is-sharisa-joy-kochmeister-autism.html

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

http://archive.is/ls3fm

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:

http://archive.is/NOST0

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

http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3876/3405

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

https://autismandempathyblog.wordpress.com/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

https://autismandempathyblog.wordpress.com/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

https://autismandempathyblog.wordpress.com/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

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/05/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

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201303/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

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201212/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

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201212/the-iacc-weighs-in-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

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-with-autism-can-read-emotions-feel-empathy1/

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

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945216300594

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.

Becoming numb to negative rhetoric in autism research.

Content warning: Naturally I’m going to be writing about how the medical community regards us, so you know the drill. Prepare yourself.

So, I’m gathering articles and the like to supplement the experiences I’m writing about in my book, and I have to admit that it can get downright painful to read them. This is a Tweet I wrote earlier today.

So many instances of doctors saying that we are broken or somehow defective. I’ve run across so many instances of “theory of mind” and “lack of empathy” that it has made me numb. I feel that I have to become numb to what the medical community thinks of us in order to combat the outright hate and ignorance directed towards us Autistics.

There are some doctors who genuinely want to help us, though, and for that I am grateful. The optometrist who monitors my vision therapy, Dr. Marcia Moore, is genuinely caring about Autistics and is even more so since I have entered into vision therapy at the Vision Learning Center in Bellaire, Texas (a city which is kind of a suburb of Houston). The feedback I have provided her and the staff there has enhanced their understanding of the autism spectrum.

Nevertheless, the feelings that well up when I read autism research articles or their abstracts are intense (see my previous blog entry entitled – I shouldn’t cringe, but I do.). I can think nothing else but “Wrong, wrong, wrong,” with the occasional “somewhat correct” and somewhat more rarely “pretty accurate.”

Why do I endure the “spiritual Force Lightning?” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it over and over again: There are people out there who want to wipe autism off the face of the Earth. So many times in life, I’ve heard people tell me that there’s something wrong with me and have actively meddled in my life, trying to shape me in their (or society’s) image. At least my family was tolerant and accepting of my behavior as a child. I don’t know where I’d be today if my family had been hostile to me.

I have to numb myself to this ignorance (if not outright hate) in order to fight it.  I fight against those who regard us as animals or “incomplete humans.” One of the opening lines of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds comes to mind:

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

As I’ve said before, I know that not all doctors and scientists are intent on wiping out autism or “curing” us. I want to extend my thanks to those people. Thank you for listening to us. Thank you for championing us and helping build a world that accepts us. Stay with us and let everyone know that we are valuable and deserve respect.

Shout out to Dr. Sue Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze and an awesome ally.

The powerful simplicity of physical exercise for vision therapy.

In my hometown, there exists a track and stadium complex that was part of the middle school where I was relentlessly bullied.

Today, the old middle school building has long been torn down; all that remains are the old stadium, the gymnasium, the old auxiliary buildings where I fell in love with computers, the old band hall, and the former cafeteria. It is all now part of an organization called The Boys and Girls Club, with the track open to the public.

My mother and I have recently started walking there a lot. The main reason I walk there is that hardly anyone is there from morning to afternoon, so I have no fear of bumping into anyone or anything while I experiment with undoing almost 35 years of poor motor control habits.

On average, I walk at least 2 miles a day; that’s 8 laps around the track. Sometimes, my mother doesn’t walk with me (which was the case today) or she sits in my car when she has finished walking and waits for me. Earlier today, I found myself walking even more as my vision opened up. My field of vision widened to the widest it has ever been today, and I relished the space and open air. I still have a degree of double vision, but the past couple of months of therapy have diminished it greatly. As I savored the view of the stadium field, I found myself with more energy that I have had in a long time. I walked between 2 1/2 and 2 3/4 miles (I lost count). Had it not been for my hunger, I would have continued for a long time; perhaps even until I acquired full stereopsis.

I have been seeing more and more in stereo lately. I marvel at my growing sterovision. If I am enthralled with it this much at this point, in how much enthrallment will I drown upon acquiring full stereovision?

Physical exercise has a powerful simplicity that supplements vision therapy. It allows simplicity to come into your life and frame it in a new sense.

Help needed from the Autistic community for writing my book.

Hello everyone,

I feel that I am going to gain momentum in writing my book manuscript again now that I have help from a great ally, Dr. Sue Barry (aka “Stereo Sue”), who was a friend of the late Oliver Sacks and wrote a book on vision therapy called Fixing my Gaze. Now that I have one great amount of assistance, I need another great amount of help that will make my book shine even greater and drive the point home: I need help and input from self-advocate organizations and Autistic people themselves.

I’ve managed to write a few questions I would like to ask for my book. They’re not easy, as they have to deal with how people in general and the medical profession see us, but I feel that our voices need to be heard in order to let doctors/scientists and other non-Autistic allies/potential allies know that we Autistics are here to stay and that we are valuable, and that our potential is vast. I need help to come up with more questions that will give substance to my book, among other things.

I’ll also be addressing a couple of criticisms of the Neurodiversity movement, such as that we “whitewash” autism.

Please contact me on Twitter for details. @AdAstraAspie

My Plans: A Book on Vision Therapy on the Autism Spectrum

While I wait for Do Not Link to come back online for another blog post I’m working on, I thought I would take time to open up and talk about what I plan to do this year.

For 6 1/2 years, I have been undergoing vision therapy to mitigate comorbid visual conditions that have accompanied my autism. I began in 2009 (when I was not yet diagnosed), but my vision did not improve as quickly as it does for most people. The tinted lenses I wear are part of that therapy.

On average, vision therapy takes between 6 to 18 months. As you can see, I have been at it for much longer than that. This is because there are unique circumstances that make vision therapy more difficult for Autistics than the average person. My book will talk about these unique circumstances and how I worked through them in order to make the progress I have made. All this so other Autistics won’t have to fumble through it like I have and take as long as I have. 6 1/2 years is an eternity for Autistic people.

But during this time, I have gone from seeing a flat world to now (as of February 19, 2016) being close to seeing in FULL 3D. I am STILL AUTISTIC (one of the goals of my book is to dispel fears that this is an effort to change Autistic peoples’ personalities). I hope to be done with the manuscript of the book (as well as my therapy) sometime this year.

All this, too, because I want scientists to quit messing with our genes and research stuff that actually helps us, instead of looking for ways to prevent us from being born or  (attempt to) extinguish harmless behaviors like stimming. I want my book to be a feather in the cap of Neurodiversity. I want people to look elsewhere to help us and improve our quality of life to the extent our bodies will allow with that help.

To quote Shannon Rosa:

It’s not accurate to describe people whose epilepsy or anxiety, say, is under control as ‘less autistic’ when in fact their autism is unchanged. They are instead happier, healthier versions of their autistic selves.

To all the big self-advocacy groups reading this, I hope that maybe you can help me in some form or fashion.

An Open Letter to Dr. Steven Shapin

Trigger Warnings: Discussions of the elimination of autism, descriptions of autism as a tragedy

Dear Dr. Shapin,

I am a rookie self-advocating Autistic adult. I was diagnosed in March 2014 at the age of 32 by a psychiatrist during my last year of graduate school at Texas Tech University. I write this because I am curious as to what you were thinking when you were writing your article.

As a professor of History of Sociology and Science at an institution like Harvard, you should hold yourself to better standards (your title doesn’t excuse the language of your article, though). History includes current events as well as historical events. Self-advocacy is becoming more important than ever and you completely missed it. Well, read my story: a genuine one from a genuine Autistic person. Know that I am not a soulless husk in the shape of a human being.

For years, I have struggled (and continue to do so) with understanding why I didn’t fit in with everyone else. People were hostile to me for no reason, I always fell behind in conversations, and I always seemed to be stepping on everyone’s toes (in a figurative manner, so to speak). I’ve botched job interview after job interview. In fact, in my early 20s, an interviewer stopped the interview and showed me the door without explaining what happened with a cold “Thank you for your interest in the job position.” I was confused and hurt. This was during a part of my life where I was rejected in many things. I am still reeling from that era of my life because Autistic people like me absorb hostility and retain it longer; it hurts us deeply.

Like that job interview, your article in the New Yorker was very hurtful and insensitive. You probably have had Autistic students in your classroom without even knowing it. Some of them probably didn’t know, either. Your article is based on outdated views of the autism spectrum and, if taken at face value by the population at large, would reinforce those hurtful views and stereotypes. Those hurtful stereotypes are the reasons why people want to cure and eliminate us.

I became a self-advocate when I read that people are actually trying to find out what causes people like me to exist and that those people WANT TO PREVENT US FROM EXISTING. Whether they be verbal or nonverbal, regardless of skin color and sexual orientation/identity (or lack thereof), Autistic people are here to stay. If you intended to inspire an image in the reader, you most certainly did so, and in the most harmful way possible. We are not shells of human beings with soulless, black mirrors for eyes who cause our parents grief and hardship. The imagery evoked is wrong on so many levels.

Far to the contrary, my eyes have done many things. They have earned me a bachelor’s degree (French) and two master’s degrees (French and Applied Linguistics). I was a doctoral student at Texas Tech for a year, but dropped out because I was becoming increasingly unhappy with how my life was going among other things (but that’s a story for another day). I have been a graduate instructor. I have studied several languages: French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Latin, and Mandarin Chinese. Although the vision problems which are comorbid with my autism have hampered my language learning, I still pursue what I love. I am in the process of mitigating the visual hypersensitivities that hinder me in that respect and the tinted glasses I have recently acquired have been wonderful in doing so.

Like many self-advocates, I am not against treatments that respect the Autistic individual (see my previous blog entry for details). I am against a cure, I am against normalization, and I am against ELIMINATION. Your article’s language pushes these points of view, whether intentional or not. I give you credit for looking at both sides, however, your article did not accurately cover self-advocacy. Anyone can go to any corner of the Internet and see organizations like Autism Speaks saying the exact same things found in your article. That is, the worst-case scenarios found in your article. You added yet another article that describes autism as a tragedy to the mountain of hate.

If you’re writing an article that’s supposed to be middle ground, you should watch what kind of language you use. Most importantly, ASK Autistic people about their self-advocacy. Don’t make it one-sided or lean heavily towards one side (i.e. – the understandably frustrated parents of nonverbal/severely disabled Autistic children). Go beyond the surface!

Inspired by the Autistic author Deborah Lipsky, I view exchanges between people of different neurotypes as a cultural exchange. You have crossed a cultural line and went beyond faux-pas. Understandings between individuals, cultures, etc. cannot be attained without dialogue or explanation, which brings me to ask you a few questions:

1.) How long did you spend researching for this article?

2.) Did you even read Neurotribes? I saw no other mention of it in your article after the only one; only references to In a Different Key.

3.) Did you research self-advocates like Ari Ne’eman, Amy Sequenzia or Lydia Brown (among many other  great self-advocates from all walks of life) in the Autistic community? Did you seek their input?

4.) Did you even take time to consider that you would cross a line with the words you used?

Whether or not you answer is up to you.  I’m listening. The WHOLE AUTISM COMMUNITY is listening. Also – most importantly – listen to US, as well.  ALL OF US.

Let’s communicate.

Sincerely,

Timothy Turner
a.k.a. – The Ad Astra Aspie

P.S. – Here’s some extra reading for you, in case you’re lacking in self-advocacy resources:

Lydia Brown’s Autistic Hoya – http://www.autistichoya.com/p/resources.html

The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network – http://autisticadvocacy.org/

Autism Women’s Network – http://autismwomensnetwork.org/

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism – http://www.thinkingautismguide.com