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.

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.