Severe meltdown at McDonald’s

I just got back from McDonald’s, where my girlfriend’s son had the worst meltdown we’ve ever seen him have.  He was playing very nicely at the video game kiosk with a kid who was hogging it and yelling at him for taking his own turns at the game they were playing.  Then he finally left and he was playing with a MUCH nicer kid.  Everything seemed fine, but then we noticed that our Little Dinosaur had some liquid leaking out of the legs of his diaper, so my girlfriend went to change him.  As soon as she picked him up, he completely lost it.  He screamed, he kicked, he threw up, and then he screamed, and kicked some more.  Instead of take two minutes to change his diaper and let him continue playing, we had to leave.

We strapped Little Dinosaur into his car seat and waited for the meltdown to subside, which took approximately 18,000 years.  We did everything we could to stay calm and prevent the situation from escalating, and I think we did a great job.  We didn’t even consider spanking him or yelling at him.  It wasn’t a matter of discipline.  It wasn’t L.D.’s fault.  He had taken as much stimulation as he could take.  He was as rational as a 3 year old with no more patience can be.  Every eye in the place was on us.  It was quite a scene.

Once he calmed down, we got in the car and drove back home.  Little Dinosaur was asleep by the time we arrived.  Now he’s laying on the couch perfectly calm again.  We’ll have to remember this the next time we decide to take him to a noisy, crowded place.  You’d think that such environments aren’t good for aspies. :p

Aspergian empathy

So another thing I learned from a fellow Aspie at the last Houston Aspie Info gathering was that something I believed is just common sense and common courtesy is not always viewed that way by NTs.  Namely, someone shares with you a terrible experience they had and how badly they feel about it, etc.  What I do, what I think many Aspies do, is search our memories for a relevant, comparable experience that we ourselves went through that might lend insight, or at least let the other person know that we know at least a little bit of what they’re going through.

Or apparently not;  According to a fellow Aspie friend, this sometimes gets turned around on an Aspie by an NT who becomes angry that you’ve shifted the focus away from them an onto you.  And I guess are mad that you aren’t holding their hand and letting them vent and feeling that emotion alongside them first.

This just leaves me at a loss for words…the former is the natural Aspie expression of concern and empathy.  The hostile reaction described by my friend just leaves  me baffled and thinking “Wow, what a dick move to respond to my kindness that way…” and “jeeze, pity party much?!”  I had assumed that all sane, rational people would understand that someone trying to commiserate with you by sharing from their own grab bag of hard knock experiences counts for something universally.  That this would not be so is literally incomprehensible to me.

I’m not physically capable of sharing that kind of immediacy of empathy with someone that many needy NTs seem to want and can only get from each other.  And it’s wrong of them to write me off as unfeeling or uncaring because I can’t…I express my empathy in my own Aspergian, more logical way; you shared an experience with me, seems only right that I should share a meaningful story with you.  Some Aspies may have difficulty in judging if an experience is roughly equivalent or not–I don’t think that I do, but that’s a separate issue.  I think I’m pretty good at gauging comparable experiences and I’ve yet to actually experience a negative reaction like my friend describes, but I think I’d be desperately confused and upset if I ever did.  I’d probably be angry and resentful that someone whom I’m trying to help is lashing out at me.  I’d probably just give up in frustration and incomprehension and just leave.

Sometimes people need to be left alone, it’s true.  I know I do.  But probably in past relationships I’ve opted to leave someone alone when really what they wanted was my company and emotional support and they think I’m being cold & indifferent, while I’m just applying my interpretation of “The Golden Rule”, albeit with less than optimal results at times, trying to give them space because that’s what *I’d* want in their shoes but it’s not actually what THEY want.  But I do need them to VERBALIZE what they want/need, especially if our relationship is new-ish and we don’t know each other intimately well.

Anyway, just wanted to write these impressions down before I forget them.

Empathy addendum

I forgot to include this in my last post, but please consider this post an addendum to that one.

In my younger adult years, I used to abuse alcohol as a method for coping with my inherent social awkwardness.  This seems to be a common thread among many adult Aspies my age and older.

In any event, I was arrested for DWI in the 1990s and made to attend a speaking event given by the local chapter of MADD, to listen to a mother tell about her son whom she lost in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver.  It was a wrenching story, and I teared up myself listening to it.

Looking back, and thinking about the recent lecture I attended at Houston Aspie Info….I think I can put the puzzle pieces together and better understand why.  I think perhaps because the story of this woman’s son’s death was conveyed to me in words, in language, I was better able to process it mentally, logically, and be moved emotionally to tears by the account after the fact.  Which is why I will continue to resent any implication that we autistics are somehow emotionless robots as we are sometimes (mis)characterized.

With us Aspies, yes, you really to have to spell it out for us, explain it in language.  We can’t read your (NT) minds telepathically, our ability to read body language and eyes and facial expression is much more rudimentary and basic.


My adoption, and a few more thoughts on that empathy thing

I am adopted.  I love my mom & dad, could not have asked for better parents.  My adoption took place and was processed in South Carolina in 1971.  During the last year, I filled out the paperwork for and obtained all the legally available documentation pertaining to that adoption.  While so-called “identifying information” (proper names of persons, institutions, etc) have been redacted, basic descriptive information on my birth parents were included.  I know that my birth mother was a college freshman.  I know my biological father was a college senior about to graduate.  I know (from the documents) that he did graduate and go on to graduate school in Florida and was the son of a doctor, though it is unclear if what is meant is a physician or PhD.  He is described as “very intelligent” but also it is noted more than once that he is a “nervous”, “anxious” man.  It is little clues like this that lead me to believe my biological father was probably an undiagnosed (and for that day and age, undiagnosable–as he evidently did not qualify for the full-on autism diagnosis of that era) Aspie.

I must have been conceived some time in the summer of 1970.  According to statements given for the record, both persons had been under the influence of alcohol (presumably at a college party) and neither in full command of their faculties.   Immediately after their congress, my biological father reportedly professed his love for my biological mother…again, this strikes me as very impulsive/immature and “Aspie”-like and offered to marry her, but she rebuffed him, as the feeling was not mutual.  Without the social lubricant of alcohol, I can only further assume–based on the assumption that my biological father was indeed an Aspie–that with both being stone cold sober, my father’s inherent social awkwardness could not be so easily hidden and that without “beer goggles” his attractiveness as an actual prospective mate fell off markedly.  Documents show he was a relatively handsome, tall blond haired, blue eyed man.  Based on the physical description of my birth mother, it seems I mainly inherited my looks from her.  She was relatively short, with brown eyes, athletic (well, ok, didn’t inherit that), and had brown hair with a reddish tint.

Before I knew all of this, I had grown a quasi-van dyke beard/mustache combo while I was still married which I’ve subsequently shaved off.  I was quite shocked at the time to note among my facial hair not only the expected dark brown hairs but some bright red and even blonde hairs that were mystifying to me at the time but make perfect sense now given what I now know of my biological parents.

My biological father evidently married another woman and was pursing a Masters-level graduate degree when my biological mother discovered she was pregnant by him and contacted him.  He offered full financial support, though he was constrained by the fact that his current wife was evidently unaware of this situation initially and it might put incredible strains on his marriage.  He was subsequently unable to follow through with financial support, despite his good intentions, owing to his own strained circumstances in Florida (even in the best of circumstances, it’s not like graduate students are exactly rolling in the dough, then or now).

All this exposition is a long winded way of getting around to the point of noting that I received on my birthday a genetics testing kit from the organization 23 AND ME, which is a genetics testing lab that is collecting samples of cheek cells in saliva samples in order to conduct DNA testing on the samples.  While it won’t give me direct information that I can use to identify my birth parents, it will give me more abstract information such as my general ethnic background, what part of Europe my mother and father’s respective families came from, etc.  It can also potentially identify more distant relatives, which could lead to clues tracing (eventually) back to my birth parents maybe.  This was my atypical 42nd birthday present that I asked for and my (adoptive) parents endorsed.  Yes, on Friday I turned the same age as the Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. (“Six by nine equals forty two? I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe.” –Arthur Dent).

23 AND ME requires users to register their kits with their website.  Unregistered kits will not be processed.  I have done so.  23 AND ME also has surveys that users are allowed to take at their leisure.  One of them was an Empathy quiz, evidently designed (or made with input or inspiration from) Simon Baron-Cohen.  I took it.  I was largely unsurprised by the result, which indicated I have “below normal” levels of empathy.  I still have problems with Simon Baron-Cohen’s thesis and methodology, and I still assert that Aspie empathy is different than NT empathy, that measures of empathy are not some objective quantity that NTs have and Aspies simply lack, full stop.

Some of the questions definitely made me think, however.  It made me wonder why seeing an animal in pain & suffering is more upsetting to me than seeing a human who is a stranger to me crying in the street or on television, say.  I do remember I cried very much when my paternal grandfather died, as I was very close to “Pa” and missed him dearly.  I was very young, and it was not long after we’d first moved to Houston in 1979.  With the much later deaths of my maternal grandmothers and great aunt, which were also far less sudden (the proverbial writing had been on the wall, so to speak such that all knew it was only a matter of time) and less of a shock…while I did feel a general sadness, I was not moved to tears by those deaths in my adult years.

It’s also been my experience that I am capable of flashes of empathy while watching Anime characters…especially when I’m watching alone, in the dark, and let myself fully participate in the fiction of the story on screen and develop an emotional bond with the characters.  I have winced when a favorite character was slapped, insulted, punched, etc, or hit with an emotionally shocking revelation, etc.  I have cried watching emotionally impactful anime stories.  I recognize that I often feel more emotional connection and concern for these fictional characters than I do for real life co-workers, casual friends, etc.

The survey also reminded me of situations like being with my former in-laws, that is, my then wife’s family, when my former father-in-law was dying in the hospital hospital.  I remember them all crying when he died, embracing and hugging.  I remained respectfully quiet, but did not tear up myself.  I really didn’t know the man all that well, and actually, he was not a particularly nice person, only “slightly left of the KKK”, as it were.  I had no direct emotional connection to this man and thus was not moved to tears despite all the crying relatives around me.  I remained clearheaded and sober and after a brief silence, began to ask his ex-wife (my mother-in-law) about funeral arrangements and other business that would have to be taken care of.  NTs can react with shock and call this “lack of empathy” if they like, but they should be thankful for Aspies who, in crisis situations, are not overwhelmed by emotion and can still think and act logically and rationally.

I have experimented with watching Anime and trying to remain as emotionally detached and objective as possible…and wind up surprising myself after a tear splashes down on my cheek involuntarily after a particularly sad or emotional sequence.  I then let up on the emotional “brake” lever in my mind and allow myself to feel the emotions generated.  It almost feels like my body has rebelled against my mind in instances like that.  I don’t know what it means, I’m merely reporting the results of my experiment.

I recall reading in John Elder Robison’s writings that with emotional situations, it seems to take the Aspie longer to process an emotional event, but it’s not as if we feel absolutely nothing…but because we are not immediately “in synch” with our NT colleagues, oftentimes we are “written off” as lacking empathy, full stop.  We are processing the same emotional content a bit slower and sometimes reaching different conclusions and responses.  Plus, all people on the spectrum are not only at variance with the NT population, but with each other as well.  I realize that Simon Baron-Cohen is trying to be as scientific as possible by making the assumption that empathy is like a zero sum game, as an easier way to quantify data and come up with more manageable metrics,  but I still question the downsides to this approach.  Good first effort, but in the long run I think this approach will have to be replaced with more nuanced, more holistic and qualitative measures.

The Answer To Our Biggest Problems

The best treatment for our deepest issues as aspies is not for us to try harder to fit in or modify our behavior.  Much better than a treatment, we have a cure, and that’s to understand that there is nothing wrong with us.  We are different, not defective.  We can do things that neurotypicals can’t even dream of, and our value to society has been demonstrated on numerous occasions throughout history.  We are an elite class of human being, and we should be proud of what we can do.  Once we accept ourselves, we no longer have to tolerate others trying to “cure” us, and they will have no choice but to accept us as well.

If I hear this one more time…

I recently updated my Facebook status with words to the effect of: “If I hear one more professional Anime (or Anime Fan) reviewer go off on a rant about ‘autistic anime fans’, I’m going to reach through my iPhone and punch you in the face. I have Asperger’s (a mild form of autism) and you are being a bigoted asshole. It’s not cool, it’s not funny, and you’re insulting a large (and quite diverse) swath of your own listners, many of whom are on the autism spectrum (and huge Anime fans). Please knock it the fuck off.” I may not be quoting myself precisely correctly from memory (and I’m too lazy to go cut & paste from my FB profile), but it’s close enough.

I posted this still in the grip of quite a bit of rage and passion, remembering precisely just such a slight from an anime reviewer I listened to just this morning. At the time, I simply winced and kept listening. Generally speaking this reviewer is interesting, deliberately provocative, and yes, sometimes funny. He seems to delight in taking very edgy, contrarian positions. Sometimes I found myself agreeing, other times disagreeing. But his extended rant on “autistic anime fans” which he equated with people who like/obsess over genres in Anime he strongly dislikes and whom he characterized with the usual stereotypes (single men in their 30s living in their parent’s basement with no social life or job), etc…really stuck in my craw. And it’s not as if I haven’t heard this kind of rant or expression of exasperation before even from more “professional” reviews and reviewers (looking at you, Anime World Order) using the term “autistic” as an insult rather than description.

I won’t deny there are individuals out there in Anime fandom that may be judged to be creepy or strangely obsessive or even goddamn annoying online when arguing with people who disagree with them in even one iota. Sure. There are individuals, even fellow autistics, who creep ME the fuck out. It’s legit to criticize specific tastes one disagrees with, or call out particularly egregious behavior, say. What is not legit is to demonize an entire and quite diverse class of people (those of us all along the vast Autism spectrum) as a lazy shorthand for all the specific little things that annoy you.

I’m sure it feels hip and trendy to praise the stuff you like while condemning “those people” in Anime fandom who are “ruining” Anime as a whole in your opinion. But slinging around the word “autistic” as a broad insult is bigoted and wrong and needs to be called out. I’m autistic and just as revolted as you by certain familiar trends in Anime that get under the skin of many North American viewers. I also resent it when others suggest untoward things about my sexual preferences based on the kinds of Anime artwork I happen to like.

One anime reviewer/commentator I recently listened to speculated that sometimes there may be projection going on, too; A concrete example: Someone else looks at Anime images of young females and feels aroused then disgusted with themselves and then projects this disgust (unfairly) onto others who view the same image much more innocently. That could easily happen because of an Aspie/NT divide in worldviews.

Yes, sometimes I think there are certain images that go too far in Anime. There are sometimes certain animated sequences in certain shows that make me squirm and laugh uncomfortably, even avert my eyes. But other times there are images I sometimes post to Facebook that I view as innocent and aesthetically pleasing and it is *other* people who sexualize their interpretations of these images and project that back onto me by insinuation and god fucking damn does that piss me off so very, VERY much. I tend to suffer such unjust slings and arrows stoically, keeping tight lipped. But I do burn with anger on the inside at this.

I’m bothered/disturbed by certain Anime fetishes like incest themes, and anything that skirts into “pedo” areas disturb me as well. I am not aroused by underaged individuals of any sort, animated or real. I value a potential partner’s mind and values as much as their physical appearance. In Anime/Manga, I’m far closer to “Ecchi” preference than outright “Hentai”. And I decidedly prefer stories with mainstream romantic relationships between consenting adults to anything outside those norms, which quickly go outside my comfort zone. What people want to enjoy in the privacy of their homes is their business, but it may not be for me. It bugs me how Japan draws characters a certain, very adult way yet lists the official character ages as something ridiculously less than their appearance would suggest. In such cases I privately ignore the canonical age often derived from Manga source material and mentally re-assign the character a more believable age in my head that I stick with.
I’m also not overly fond of depictions of characters that are supposed to be High School age but are drawn more to look like children.

I also understand there are just some profound cultural differences between how Japan views things and how Americans view things.  And I’ll be the first to admit that I could be wrong/prejudiced but that I also think there are some pretty f*cked up/disturbing things in Anime that are there because of the peculiarities of Japanese culture but also recognize that not even all Japanese agree on these things, and many of these disagreements and questions are borne out in the motivations and actions of different characters in Anime and Manga.  It is bound to be true that there may be certain topics or views where Americans and Japanese will never quite see eye to eye on, too.  But there’s also obviously some universal themes we DO agree on or Anime would not be the worldwide phenomenon that it actually is.

But getting back to my main topic, I do have to praise ANNCast generally and host Zac Bertschy specifically for his careful sensitivity in focusing specifically on behavior in online forums that annoy him and not reaching for the broad brush labeled “autistic”. Would that other reviewers and critics of Anime & related fandom followed Zac’s example and showed the same level of sensitivity and restraint…

This was a difficult post to write, but I feel some of this just had to be said.

Aspie Superpower: x-ray vision

I don’t mean that we can literally see through objects. (That part is a secret.) I mean that we can see through situations and social facades once we learn how to cognitively interpret a person’s unspoken language.  I think this is because our emotional detachment makes us objective, and we are able to analyze the situation more clearly than someone who is being affected on a more emotional level by the other person.

For example, when a person goes on about how his religion gives him hope and strength, we can generally see that the person is clinging for dear life to anything that makes them feel better.  We can tell that devoutly religious people are actually desperately unhappy and aware on some level that their beliefs are just made up, but they have all kinds of ways to trick themselves into going on with the farce that, on a conscious level, have them completely convinced that they really believe what they say they believe.  I’m sure there are religious aspies, but I would guess that the percentage of aspies that are atheists is much higher than the percentage of atheists in the general population.  I would even go so far as to say that many neurotypicals are incapable of breaking free from games of pretend that they play with each other in order to maintain their sanity on a day to day basis.

I’m not saying that all NTs are like that though.  I just think that aspies, for the most part, have an awareness of reality that doesn’t allow us to be swept away by glamour spells cast by people in the NT world.