Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Autism: X-Men Superhero Mutations!

I'm autistic. (BUT I AM NOT A SPOKESPERSON FOR AUTISTICS! I just assume they don't want me as such. I'm just a leeeetle bit much much much too zany and annoying for spokesperson-type positions.) I'm just curious about how many people have given much thought to the possibility that autism is not a horrible disease, and that difficulties faced by autistics and those around can be addressed by each side understanding the other better. Joyce wrote Finnegan's Wake. Wittgenstein wrote the tractatus logico-philosophicus. Einstein made huge advances in physics. Disease? I don't want to sound arrogant, but all that sounds more like X-Men mutant superpowers to me. (Yes, I assumed for the sake of argument that Joyce, Wittgenstein and Einstein were all autistic.) Temple Grandin completely revolutionized the design of slaughterhouses, there's not much doubt that she's autistic, and she says she was able to conceive of those new designs BECAUSE she was autistic.

We're like the mutants in the X-Men stories in the way that many of us strongly oppose the idea that we need to be "cured."

I can't yet bend metal or lift nuclear submarines with my mind, but I am an excellent driver!

I don't feel diseased. I feel that I'm different in a very significant way from 99% of the general population, and very similar to the other 1% in that same specific way.

I know that very many very intelligent people who have devoted a lot of time and study to this subject disagree with me and are sure that autism is a disorder. And I don't dismiss that, I consider it, I weigh it. I hope people will weigh what autistics are saying when they're saying what I'm saying now. (Saying it often in a much more dignified, less zany, more spokesperson-like way than I am capable of doing.)

All the "thank you verr much pleez, yr verr nice person" stuff -- that's autism too. (Was Gertrude Stain autistic?) I knew an autistic woman who, when she was in a good mood, liked to say things like "Lay down lay down lay down" and "Very well-paved" and "Kiss my Play-Do head!" and then she would bow her head so you could kiss her on the top of her head if you were so inclined. It was very sweet. At the moment I don't really know how to explain why some of us sometimes do things like that, and spinning and rocking wringing our hands and so forth and so on. Yes, it's all called "self-stimming" and you can look up the standard descriptions and explanations of it. But do those explanations explain anything? I don't really know. I can't point to objective benefits of this sort of thing, whether you choose to call it self-stimming or not, comparable to those of Einstein's and Grandin's work. But on the other hand it certainly does no one any harm, and if it comes along with extraordinary abilities, why should we hide it? (Thinking of the mutants from the X-Men stories again, sometimes hiding things like blue skin and hair, and sometimes refusing to hide.) The point I'm struggling here to express is something along the lines of: do we even need to explain unusual behavior which stems from our autism, if it makes sense to us and if it's harmless?

Consider this: lots and lots of things which the neurologically-typical majority of people do on an everyday basis, without thinking of it as bizarre, seems bizarre to us, and generally speaking, we just accept it. We don't bother you about it or shun you for it.

Over and over in this blog I have pled for people to consider that just possibly there's not a thing wrong with us. So please, please consider that possibility. Thank yu verr much pleez, yr verr nice person!


  1. Hi Steven, is it really 99% that you feel different from other people? As a frequent reader of your blog I don't see you as so different from "normal", you have wide spread interests, you understand and often use irony and sarcasm, you can feel into other people and get other people's feelings and you can express your own. An autist -to my knowledge and understanding- is not able to do any of these things and needs help to lead his life - that makes it a disorder. I'm not a friend of too much labelling, it narrows the spectrum of normality, it stigmatizes on the one side and can be used as an excuse on the other side. I prefer a great variety of normal - being not very social or socially awkward and having special interests, abilities or quirks doesn't put you and shouldn't voluntarily be put out of "normality".Not two people are the same - that's normal!

    1. Thanks very much for your comment!

      I'm definitely autistic. I've had contact with quite a number of psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in the autistic spectrum. One of them, who saw me for one 50-minute session only, said I wasn't autistic; the rest have spent more time with me, and all agree that I'm autistic. The phrase "textbook case" has been used.

      Unlike many autistics, I'm also hyperverbal: I began speaking and writing very early, I've always been fascinated by language. This sometimes makes me seem more in touch with the general population than I really am. My differences from the general population are much more apparent face-to-face than what can be seen from my writing: I don't make eye-contact much, I'm not good at non-verbal communication such as reading facial expressions and body language and tone of voice and so forth. And I miss irony and sarcasm very frequently. I miss them very frequently in written form, too, although you're correct that I often use them.

      But there are other things which I'm exceptionally good at. I'm good at writing because I'm very interested in it and because I've read a lot of very good writing. Another autistic person may not have spoken until he or she was 4 years old and may always lag behind in language, but may be exceptionally good at fixing machines, because he or she is fascinated by machines the way I'm fascinated by language.

      I don't feel stigmatized by the label "autistic." Not at all. And I don't think that autistics are better or worse than others. We're just different. An apple is not better or worse than an orange. Being unusual is perfectly okay. I've never been normal and I've never wanted to be. I know that for many people, there is a lot of stigma attached to the label "autistic." The term began as an indication of something which was considered to be a disorder. But I hope that changes, without us having to try to be like everyone else, when we're not. I love that line from Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" : "I try my best to be just like I am."

    2. Hi, thank you for taking the trouble to reply.
      First; I'm sorry, if I offended you in any way. I don't want to say the medical term "autistic" doesn't apply to you. Actually I mean the same as you when you stress that nothing is "wrong" with you. You might be different in this special way, but we all are different from one another in one way or other. That "everyone else" is not a uniform entity, there are so many different kinds of human beings, more or less intelligent, musical and not musical, sportive and not sportive, hyperactive and immobile, people with all kinds of special abilities and so on - I want people to realize that our society consists of a lot of normal individuals and "normal" means being different in many different ways. In a fruit basket there are apples, pears, oranges peaches etc. and all are normal fruits.
      Again, I'm sorry, if that got too personal.

    3. You did not offend me in any way whatsoever. Relax. Everything's fine. I got that you agreed that nothing is wrong with me. I like your messages, I think they make a real contribution, and I'd be delighted if you continued to comment on my blog whenever the mood strikes you. You are more than welcome here. (You should see how nasty some of the comments from other people are, and I still publish them!)