Tag Archives | autistic

A Conversation with a Friend

Jim, I just finished reading “Letting Him Out.” I’m sorry you’ve suffered for decades, protecting that little autistic boy inside you. But I’m glad you’re considering letting him out of that walled prison you’ve kept him in all these years. I like knowing the real you.

Thank you, but I don’t get enough credit for how well I’ve done without him. I’ve accomplished a lot — so much that people don’t recognize the sacrifices I’ve made. They can’t see my deep scars. It is so tiring, still. I’ve had to be strong. I’ve had to protect that little autistic boy.

I wrote a year and a half ago how I wanted to let him out, but I’m afraid he won’t be strong enough to survive. I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough for the both of us.

Which is the greater pain?

What a Shame

derived from <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/leshaines123/8066229321">Reivers Cursing Stone Carlise</a> by Les Haines/flickr, used under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">creative commons by 2.0</a>

I have cursed myself, as a matter of survival. As a child, walking past a table of classmates in the cafeteria, and hearing their mocking laughter, I avoided emotional collapse only by — paradoxically — supporting the claims of my tormentors. I distracted myself from their words by doubling down with internal, vile self-indictment. Somehow my uncontrollable mind screams was able to mask the external cruelty. Stumbling in the din, I scarcely felt the chairs or people I stumbled into, as I sought escape.

This was typical. To recover from any childhood social ineptitude, from bungled interactions, from awkward moments of clear otherness, I would repeat a self-abusive phrase so foul, even as an adult I have not dared reveal it. I lived my youth with this brutal, effective and uncontrollable method to cut out the rest of the world and distract myself from the shame-filled pain of social ignorance.

A Mind Apart

Two masksAs a child, I needed three skills to effectively communicate with humans. First was the physical capacity to vocalize. Check. The next requirement was a reasonable vocabulary. Roger. The last ability was putting my voice together with the right language to express myself. Two out of three ain’t bad.

I struggled to assemble words to convey meaning to others. It was easier to keep my mouth closed and suffer the occasional, “Why is Jim so quiet?” — uttered within earshot by well-meaning, but pain-inflicting, humans — than to give them more evidence to fuel their theories by trying, and failing, to speak. Instead, I smiled, enhancing my reputation as a happy silent child, as my frustration grew.

My younger brother Doug was my voice to the outside world. We shared a bedroom and a mind — as close to twins as siblings separated by two years could be.  Beyond the home, we clung together. He knew what I needed. He spoke my thoughts.

Infographic – Off the Spectrum

Infographic sticker: How Autistic Are You? It's not that simpleThe use of the term “Autism Spectrum” is misleading. It gives the impression that there is a single scale by which you can classify every Autistic person. The Autism Spectrum was created for diagnosis, which, in many cases, is valuable. I myself have benefited from it. But there is a danger in using this oversimplification, especially when it spreads beyond the bounds of diagnosis. It leaves the impression that every Autistic person can be characterized by where they stand — a single position — on this spectrum. It makes Autism a single thing. It allows for the question, “How Autistic are you?”

There are so many dimensions to Autistic individuals that a single spectrum cannot contain them. There are people who are left-handed and Autistic. There are musicians, swimmers, chess-players, politicians, mountain climbers, CEOs, stockbrokers, cowboys, programmers, fashion models, polar explorers and so much more.

This infographic delves into the disorder of the Autistic Spectrum.

I Have of Late

derived from <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shakespeare_Droeshout_1623.jpg">"Shakespeare Droeshout 1623"</a> by Martin Droeshout, used under <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Reuse_of_PD-Art_photographs">Commons:Reuse of PD-Art photographs</a>

A little more than boredom, and less than bard-dom

I started writing here a year ago, unsure of the path it would take. I was exploring what it meant to communicate about autism, and my personal brand of it. Through this web site, with the associated social media it spilled onto, I contacted tens of thousands in a few months. These strangers were overwhelmingly kind. Nearly all the hundreds of comments were a delight to read and respond to. They were invariably on topic, mostly considerate, often thoughtful and generally complimentary.

I’ve learned about humans in these interactions. I’ve learned about myself by writing these pieces. Also, with all due modesty — based on their statements — I’ve enriched others with what I’ve written. For these reasons, and anticipating at least more of the same, I plan to continue. But it has been a while since I’ve added anything new. I feel an explanation is necessary, at least to those who have graced me with their willingness to wait for more.

Mixed Doubles

Rowing Together at Windsor on the Thames - original photo

Rowing Together at Windsor on the Thames – original photo

Twenty years ago, I worked at a small company with two Mikes. One Monday, Mike A and Mike B were walking down the hall together, each dressed in the same shade of khakis and a light blue oxford shirt. As they drew close. I joked about their uniform appearance. Mike B replied, “The real question is, are we wearing the same color underwear?” Before I could think of a response, he added, “It’s a trick question. I’m not wearing any.”

That is the funniest thing I have heard in my life.

Ever since, when it strikes me, I repeat those words—sometimes for hours—delighting in each iteration. “It’s a trick question. I’m not wearing any.” When with dear friends, they appreciate my glee and suffer my repetition. The person who suffers most is my wife Karen, my closest confidante. With her, I can be my unadulterated, ridiculous self. With her, I can be purely autistic while being accepted and cherished.

But it was not always so.

New Infographic – Demystifying the Puzzle

Colored jigsaw puzzle pieces with a question mark in the center

The ubiquitous symbol of autism, proudly and compassionately displayed by parents, caretakers and professionals, is the multi-colored jigsaw puzzle. It is an apt symbol from that point of view. Some of these people, though, as well as a much larger percentage of autistic individuals, believe the symbol objectifies a class of people. It associates them with an illness, in the same sense that a pink ribbon does so regarding breast cancer. Autism is, in some sense, and to varying degrees, a disability. Autism is much more than that, though. It is a difference—with challenges, delights and surprises as much as any other human variation, especially those involving the most complex object we know about in the universe: the human mind.

This new infographic makes clear to the world of humans that there is much more to autism than can be captured by a puzzling symbol.

Making Sense

derived from <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kermitfrosch/5376271001">"Time Expired"</a> by kermitfrosch/flickr, used under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">creative commons by 2.0</a>

It was 1971. It was nearly four decades before I knew I was autistic. It was 25 years before soccer moms. It was the year, on one particular day, I discovered magic inside my brain.

I had orchestra rehearsal that day. I played string bass. Both the bass—quite a bit larger than my slight thirteen year old body—and I needed a ride home when practice was over late in the afternoon. We both made our way to the doorway of the school, to wait for my mother to pick us up and drive us two and a half miles in time for one of us to have dinner.

My mother had six children. Keeping up with them, even keeping track of them, was quite a challenge. This time, as was typical, the other orchestra kids had already been picked up. The staff had locked up the school for the day. A cold, rainy evening was settling in. In this age there was no handheld wizardry to occupy me. It was too dark, too wet, to read. So I retreated into the only truly comfortable place I have ever known: my mind.

Now Open to the Public!

derived from <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/lord-jim/5314814349">"Nov07 314"</a> by Lord Jim/flickr, used under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">creative commons by 2.0</a>

I hate shirts. I have a herniated disc in my neck and sciatica in my right buttock. Both are constant sources of pain. I would gladly live with either for the rest of my life if I could only eliminate the hours I spend each week, trying on different shirts until I find one that doesn’t make me scream inside my head. My torso is extraordinarily sensitive to touch. The slightest breeze makes me flinch. Cloth that doesn’t feel right, doesn’t lie right, causes real mental pain.

It’s hard to explain this pain to humans, but I’ll try.  Imagine being totally exposed from the waist up and stepping inside a walk-in freezer, standing still for 15 minutes and willing yourself not to shiver. Or instead of walking into the freezer, consider what it would feel like to take a cheese grater to your chest, looking down in amazement to see your skin shredded yet somehow not bleeding. Now imagine both of those together. Every day.

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