Self-Awareness and the Examined Life

Even at the ripe old age of 80 (nearly 81) it’s possible to learn new things about yourself — if you are self-aware. Not everyone is,  Whether neurodiverse or neurotypical. I agree with Socrates’ statement that the unexamined life is not worth living, but most people seem to be perfectly at ease with their ignorance about themselves. It’s sort of ‘I know what I know and I don’t want to know any more.’ They have a self-image that they’re happy with, and woe to anyone who disturbs it.

Understanding human psychology has been more or less an obsession of mine all my life, and I have no problem seeing myself as a subject to examine and analyze. Naturally, that doesn’t mean I know myself perfectly or that I’m always aware of when I’m acting in a less than optimal way, either in relation to my own needs or to the requirements of the social world around me. So there’s always something new to discover, something old to rediscover, something that I realize I need to pay more attention to.

I’m mildly faceblind, and was aware of it long before I ever heard of autism or aspergers. But I had no name for it, and no way to understand just why I had so much trouble recognizing people I’d seen before. So I blamed myself. I didn’t spend much time looking at people’s faces and assumed that I was just being careless about something that most people do every day. I didn’t question why I didn’t look at faces. I determined to do better in the future — and didn’t.

In the same way, I was aware that I had problems with auditory information. Even the most fascinating conversation or lecture went in one ear and out the other, leaving no trace behind. Something like a street address or a phone number had to be repeated so I could make an attempt at remembering it. I eventually learned about short-term memory and how defective mine was. More time passed and I learned about auditory processing disability. Along the way, I managed some adaptations that moderated but didn’t eliminate the problems, and the new knowledge helped somewhat.

Very recently, I learned just how subtle and hard-to-identify the problems could be, even when you’ve gained knowledge that is presented as “official.” After a short conversation with a neighbor, in which she did most of the talking, I realized that I had no idea what she’d said, past the first few statements. I had nodded and done the usual appropriate social gestures, but I had, effectively, tuned out. Now I could look back and see that this was a habit. But was it a fairly new development or had it always been there?

I don’t do boredom well, and most social encounters are boring. So it makes sense that, as I become more and more the hermit that I’m happy being, I would tend to zone out when trapped in a boring social encounter. But it also makes sense to accept that zoning out has always been there, to one degree or another. What I have now is not just a new awareness, but a way to understand it. Knowing that my speech-processing is slow and my short-term memory is weak, I don’t have to blame myself for something that’s wired into my brain. I can become, with effort, more aware of when I’m zoning out, but there’s really nothing I can about not remembering what I’ve heard, even when I’m paying attention.

There’s a limit to how self-aware we can be, probably even a limit to how far we can go before sinking into self-centered navel gazing. But I’ll go for the examined life.





Autism Blogs Listings

Blogging is supposedly losing ground to podcasts, videos, and whatever other media are out there. Maybe so, but for millions of people, it’s still the favored way to participate on the internet. Blogging is particularly a good choice for those of us who have something to say and aren’t necessarily in synch with the highly public world of social media. So here are the results of an hour or so of blog-hunting.

“Best of 2017” There’s bound to be some bias here, given that the site is devoted to medical news. So, every recommended blog is maintained either by an organization, with Autism Speaks at the top of the list (which should tell us something), or by parents of autistic children. What’s missing? Blogs by people on the autistic spectrum. It’s possible that some of these parents may be on the spectrum themselves, but the focus is on raising autistic children.

This “best of 2017” list is broken down into categories, which include organizations, personal blogs (further broken down into male and female), vloggers, and communities.

Another “best of 2017” and another list that focuses almost entirely on parents’ views of raising an autistic child. Unlike the Medical News Today listing, this one does inform us that some of the parents are themselves on the spectrum. John Elder Robinson’s is the only personal blog dealing with his own autism. Why this one? Who knows, except that over the years Robinson seems to have become an acceptable spokesman for autistics at least as far as neurotypicals are concerned.

A “top 50 autism blogs” which starts with Autism Speaks at the very top. There’s a great deal of overlap with other lists, of course, which is true of any collection of “best of…” lists. And once again, the focus is on organizations, group blogs, and parenting blogs. There are two or three personal blogs dealing with adult autism.

Actually Autistic isn’t a “best of…” blog, but rather an inclusive listing of blogs as submitted by bloggers who identify as autistic. There are many ways to access the type of blog you’re looking for since the list is broken down into sublists (alphabetical and age of blogger.) Some basic information is available for most of the blogs, but it depends on how much the individual wishes to share. The actual number of blogs is seemingly endless, but there is also a search engine (which I haven’t tried out, so I don’t know how well it works). Overall, this should be your go-to site if you are looking for new autism blogs to read, particularly adult-oriented rather than child and family-oriented.

Random Sunday Thoughts

Not every blog post will be a discussion of some topic. On Maverick Writer, some of my posts consist of a bunch of random thoughts, some of them inspired by whatever I’ve read on my morning round of news sites, or by my current mood. A lot of that revolves around story ideas because, even though I have enough ideas for novels and short stories to keep me busy for several lifetimes, the ideas just keep coming. To the point of distraction.

Currently, I’m somewhat consumed by a new idea for a novel, near-future science fiction. And it occurred to me, as I was rereading an article from Electric Lit: Stop Using Autistic Characters as Plot Devices. The point of the article is that most books, movies, and tv shows that include people on the spectrum are written by neurotypicals. Which means that the neurodiverse characters are often misrepresented, and they are almost always foils for the neurotypical characters.

For some time now, I’ve thought about how to include characters with behavioral traits and ways of viewing and thinking about the world that is distinctly different from the norm. Diversity, as an issue, hasn’t been a conscious concern for me as a writer, but I have no doubt my thinking has been influenced by it. Autism doesn’t always present itself in recognizable ways, but in line with my thinking about it as not a defined and graspable thing, I don’t think that a book or story has to point out that a character is autistic. That would probably be too subtle for many readers, but I’ve read enough book reviews to realize that a fairly large proportion of readers don’t even get the most obvious points the author is trying to make. But we shouldn’t make every story a drum to beat for recognition of autistics as fully human and even worth writing about.

There is a real danger that in keeping diversity in mind when writing about people who don’t fit standard scripts, we will churn out propaganda instead of literature. This is something I’m wanting to work out while developing the central character in Penitents, (the working title). Rather than waving the banner for autism, I want to bring all the contradictions to life: He’s not sure what love is or how to demonstrate it, but is willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others. He can care deeply for someone, but easily set the relationship aside as over and done with once it has ended.

I might have made a decent start of how to approach it with a fragment I wrote this morning.

“With the back of his hand, he wiped away the sudden rush of tears. His memory of her face was imperfect as usual, but the expression stood out as if illuminated. Was it anger or grief? He hadn’t been certain then and he wasn’t certain now. Grief was painful, but anger always felt good. It didn’t seem possible for those two emotions to exist together. He tried to imagine feeling both at the same time, now too immersed in his hunt for understanding to notice that her image no longer stood behind his eyes.

“Anger felt good, but it was no longer something he would allow to take him over. Anger felt good, but it hurt other people, and it was non-productive. Even in the face of such analysis, it had taken time to overcome the yearning to let himself feel it, to justify it. It was one of the few emotions he understood well.”



What’s Coming Up on Autism is Not a Thing

I thought it might be a nice idea to give readers (and potential subscribers) some idea of what will be coming up on this blog. Highly opinionated blog posts, of course. I’m putting together a list of possible topics, as they occur to me, and the list is getting long. Twenty-three so far, and most of them can be developed into far more than just the basic idea.

Articles — I have an enormous backlog of articles skimmed from the internet back when I was in my What is autism? and Am I autistic? phase. Actually, I wasn’t looking to find out if I was autistic. It was Asperger’s I was trying to figure out, just a few years before Asperger’s was declared by the experts as no longer a valid category. That decision and the uproar it caused reminded me how often a change in definition can change lives. To get back to the articles, many of them still contain inspiration for thinking about autism and the spectrum as a whole. So I’ll be quoting and referring those that are still accessible.

Book reviews — Of course. I’m not crazy about writing book reviews, but I consider books as just one more target for my sideways looks and off-the-wall perspectives. There’s no hope, of course, of discouraging people from falling all over themselves to promote books that are pure hogwash, but it’s still worth the effort.

Blogs and Bloggers — I’m a dedicated — not to say obsessive — blog reader so I’ll be offering my comments on other spectrum blog posts.

It’s likely that there will be other not easily categorized odds and ends here every now and then. Stay tuned.

Why Autism is Not a Thing

I can imagine a day, probably far off, when autism doesn’t exist. Not because someone’s pinned down the genetics and found a way to ensure that no child is born autistic. Not because an unarguable, uncontroversial definition finally evolved and, along with it, a more accurately descriptive label. But I don’t believe either of those will happen. Maybe, in my imagination at least, we will come to understand that human neurology is infinitely variable. It’s acted on by a multitude of influences, many of which we may never recognize or understand. So we will eventually accept that terms like autism, autistic, Asperger’s, high-functioning, spectrum, etc., are not useful except in strictly limited ways. In the absence of any solid basis for agreement, they will always be subject to being redefined.

So, autism is not a thing in the way that diabetes or cancer is. It’s an amorphous, ever-shifting combination of neurological characteristics that, even in the same person may change over time. Early diagnoses, aside from providing a label recognized by care-giving agencies, including schools, may seriously interfere with natural developmental processes and lock individuals into a box which defines them for the rest of their lives.

Psychology is not even a science in the same way that medicine is, and the constant DSM revisions concerning what autism is or isn’t should be sufficient evidence that autism can’t be pinned down to a set of symptoms and behaviors that apply across the board. Granted, science is not a static entity that never changes. But when it comes to physical diseases and conditions, there is always a well-established base that remains more or less constant even with the revisions necessitated by new discoveries. This is not true of autism, and that single fact is not likely to change.

The wide-spread adoption of autistic spectrum is no more useful, unfortunately, since it refers only to conditions described and defined by the DSM. And those conditions are purely psychiatric and regarded as mental health disorders. The natural consequence, among many others, is that anyone diagnosed with autism is automatically mentally defective in some way, and must, for their own welfare, be treated by knowledgeable professionals. The natural variations in human neurology, some of which may be considered disabilities, depending on their severity, have effectively been shoved into a box which dictates what a person can accomplish and how they are to accomplish it, and creates a dependency on outside “help” that turns neurodivergent people into helpless victims.

Looking For the Needle in the Haystack

What is autism? Whose definition should you accept?

What causes autism? Why do the theories just keep coming?

Should/can autism be cured? Who decides?

We might find usable (not final) answers if we step away and change our perspective. Maybe throw out some of our filters. Ask new questions. Explore unexamined corners of the neurological universe. “Autism is Not a Thing” aims to do all that. Consider it an experiment. Expect it to offend. Hope that it will enlighten.