Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Former autistics?

The orthodoxy among most of the autism bloggers I tend to read (mostly via lurking the Hub), especially those who identify as autistic themselves, is that people do not stop being autistic when they grow up; they just develop and adapt to their strengths and weaknesses like anyone else does.

This subject is interesting to me, because my boyfriend could probably be considered a "former" autistic, depending on how you define autistic. If it requires diagnosis or diagnosability by a medical professional, then technically speaking my self-diagnosed boyfriend is in all probability a "former" autistic. After all, he did fail to get an official diagnosis from a professional, who told him that he didn't seem like that professional's Asperger patients.

However, despite the degree to which he has obvious autistic traits or the ability to hide them, his history of autistic traits is a huge part of his past, and his past is a huge part of who he is now, especially given his long-standing (but lessening in the last few years) tendency to fixate on it and long for the authoritative certainty, freedom from responsibility, and special interests he enjoyed in childhood. Had he not grown up with autistic traits, he wouldn't be the person he is now. His comfortably-paying career grew out of his childhood passionate interests; his limited palate grew out of his childhood sensory sensitivities; his charming naivete grew out of his past and continuing difficulty catching onto the political games neurotypical people play; and his past and continued persistence at problem-solving and ability to easily think in text made him something of a wizard at pinball, board games, puzzles, and some video games requiring exquisite concentration.

The combination of past and present autistic traits also affects important day-to-day interactions - for instance, he has trouble understanding dark or cynical humor, seeing it as a sign of the person being upset and feeling a need to fix the upset in case it is or will become directed at him, when in fact the other person (usually me) is effectively using the dark humor to handle any negative emotions and doesn't really need anything to be fixed.

So, regardless of whether a person with spectrum traits fits the criteria to be formally diagnosed with a spectrum condition or not, autism is still very much a part of who these people are. So in that sense, autism is for life even if the outward symptoms are not, and well-adjusted and possibly subclinical adults referring to themselves as autistic or aspie are not entirely off-base in doing so. But, technically speaking, people with spectrum traits can lose or experience a great reduction in the strength of a number of those traits over time, and so would never have the "legitimacy" of official diagnosis to help cover their backs if people challenge their authenticity as people who have lived on the spectrum. (Not that that would stop the most adamant "shut this person up" voices from questioning the autistic person's authenticity or right to speak anyway.)

As for some people who seem to "outgrow" their autism while still children, it's possible that what they had was not like most of what is called autism - the kid was misdiagnosed, or had some quirk with short-lived autistic-like qualities that nobody has a name for yet.

And what if a person has a history of autism but is subclinical or nearly so as an adult, and does not want to identify as autistic? They certainly have the freedom to choose what they want to be called. Maybe they will decide later that their history of autism is important to who they are now, but there's probably no use trying to push that decision on them.

And another one gone...

While Autism Hub bloggers are still mourning the loss of their administrator, another blogger, an autistic adult relatively new to the scene, has already been scared away from the often lawless and ruthless land of the Internet. At least she reassures her readers that she's not quitting activism altogether. That's good. But I was looking forward to reading more of her long yet interesting posts on religion, politics, activism, prejudice, and so on. For most people, who probably have no idea whether autistic adults exist outside of institutions or whether they might have actually met one who was able to more or less pass for "normal," the Internet is still the best place to learn about autistic adults, so it sucks that there's one less resource for autistic adults to find on Google. She could have been the one who had that crucial thing in common with a neurotypical reader's autistic relative, friend, or lover that helped the NT to understand and relate to the autistic individual in a new and better way. Or she could have been the one who had that crucial thing in common with an autistic reader that allowed the reader to realize that he or she is autistic and it's okay for him or her to be as he or she is despite what society says.

Monday, October 15, 2007

ND and Me

Joel of "NTs are Weird" just wrote a good post on the nature of the neurodiversity movement: it's not limited to vaccines or even autism.

I consider myself more of a dabbler or contemplater than part of the movement. I don't really feel that I'm even qualified to be part of the movement, in part because I'm neither a parent nor an autistic, just a friend/girlfriend of a gentleman who grew up with Aspie traits and is now probably subclinical as an adult (given that the one time he sought an official diagnosis by an MD, he was diagnosed with depression instead of Asperger's or PDD/NOS). So depending on who you ask, he may not be autistic now and may have never even been autistic. But he is neurologically quirky. As are we all, to some degree. Heck, I was a quirky kid myself, even though they couldn't do better than the ubiquitous "AD/HD" diagnosis-wise. The other reason I don't feel qualified is because, well, all I'm doing is blogging. I'm not out campaigning to local groups or governments to end institutionalization or anything grand and admirable like that.

I do also have an Internet friend on the spectrum, but she lives far away and I've only met her in person twice. Long before either of them, I had a real life friend with nonverbal learning disabilities, which has some social skills issues similar to those of an indivdual on the spectrum. She was the person who got me interested in psychology and neuropsychological conditions in the first place, and the reason I'd heard about adult and non-classical autism before I'd even met my boyfriend. I didn't keep in touch with her after leaving college, though...I've never been good about that kind of thing.

I came into the ND blogosphere with the idea of providing a positive perspective on relationships between people on and off the autistic spectrum, given that I was frustrated with the excessive emphasis on what I call "angry wives' clubs" in the world of adult autism and relationships. I had been turned down from a support group for adults in relationship with autism-spectrum individuals because of my youth and relational inexperience not matching the majority of the group, but I still wanted to share my unique perspective to offset the pessimism set forth by certain books and forums about autism and romance. So my interest naturally lies in the realm of the need for better awareness and accommodation for issues related to neurodiverse adults. Autistic-spectrum conditions and other conditions traditionally diagnosed in childhood are largely ignored in adults - little in the way of information, awareness, and service seems to be out there, and well-adjusted adults like my boyfriend constantly run into the "you seem normal to me, so just stop whining and get with the program" problem.

As I got into blogging, though, I diverged from my original idea into writing almost anything remotely related to society and its expectations regarding conformity and disability issues, and I think it's been a while since I've actually written something related to the issue of adults on the spectrum and relationships.

When I started lurking regularly on the Autism Hub, I noticed two things: (1) even the Hub is heavy on parents debating how to treat children, although the next highest component is the writings of autistic adults themselves, which were what really piqued my interest; and (2) they have no category for "friends of autisitc people." Lately there's also a third thing: the administrator is stepping down due to the petty fighting among parents having gotten too serious and dangerous for him and his family, and so the Hub's future is uncertain. (Aspergian Pride's Cure for Ignorance campaign, whose linkroll I've kept on my sidebar ever since I discovered I'd been added to it, could also be a decent place to look for adult autism blogs, and it has some that aren't even on the Hub...but it's kind of harder to navigate. I noticed another form of the listing on their website, though, where they have the blog links available by category.) And on autism forums open to friends, peers, and the general public but centered on the autistic individuals themselves, which my boyfriend introduced me to long before I knew of the Hub, you're going to need a good self-deprecatory sense of humor (which I thankfully have) to deal with all the joking and non-joking anti-neurotypical sentiment there. So it seems like there's a lot of room for improvement with regard to resources for adults and peers. I found a couple of really good forums on Delphi with the help of my boyfriend doing searches, but alas, their best stuff is private, so there's still not a lot that's both out there and easy to find.

I'm still working on forming my beliefs, positions, and causes. Hell, I hope I always will be, because if I stop refining my beliefs I will be closed minded. But here's my list of things that I would at least nominally support at this point: greater awareness of autism, learning disabilities, and the like in adults; destigmatization of neuropsychological conditions; debunking of the myths of what the autistic mind is like, e.g. lack of empathy and seeing people only as objects (autistic adult blogs are great for this); reasonable accommodations without fanfare (I really liked ABFH's "left handed scissors" post on the issue); and more positive perspectives and resources out there for the friends and partners of people with neuropsychological quirks (so we don't have to live in ignorance and wonder why our peers can't just act as normal as they seem, or else to feel like we're not officially qualified to care about or take interest in the well-being of our friends and people like them). In fact...not only are friends and nonmarried partners likely to feel unqualified to speak out about autism and neurodiversity issues, parents and autistics will sometimes even fight with each other, each saying that the other's category either doesn't belong in the advocacy movement or belongs on the sidelines! That is just pure suckage. Infighting is unlikely to help people get what's best for themselves, their friends, and their loved ones.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why do people even need to be normal anyway?

Reading "The Dictionary of Bullshit" by Nick Webb, I saw a reference to "lovably eccentric aristocrats" in an explanation about some political BS about the alleged golden ages of the past. Why, I started to wonder, were aristocrats of the past allowed to be eccentric, while today's middle and lower classes are expected to all be clones of each other?

Then I remembered back to Alfie Kohn's book "No Contest" (which my boyfriend regretted pointing out to me in the bookstore because it solidified my aversion to competitive games, which he likes to play because they're one of the few ways he knows to really engage with people, but I liked the book because it validated my feelings as a lifelong sore loser.) Kohn asserts that the nature of competition promotes conformity: we all have to try to be the best example of the same thing if we want to win the same prize in the same contest.

So insofar as we want to play these commercial games, in this large economy that can apparently afford to willfully expend people as long as the corporate leaders can adequately pad their paychecks (compare to what Sigrun writes about people in old Northern Europe needing everyone to contribute in whatever way they could given their abilities), we have to try to conform to some narrow standard. Society often - but not always, given the expendability factor - rewards people who are most able to fit the narrow standards that are necessary to win the contest. If you can play office politics just right, dressing like and mingling with people above you and making sure not to offend anyone or miss anyone's birthday or whatever, you climb the corporate ladder. May the best drone...er...get the consolation prize. Winning is only for those who are already winning and cheat to maintain it, or who are endowed with enormous luck, charm, and craftiness and diminutive conscience.

People probably did...er...as well as anyone in the social class they were born into could do...in less competitive and less heavily populated societies, whether they showed their quirks or not. Communities were small and geographically bound (or in hunter-gatherer days, kinship bound), so everyone in the community would interact with and have a chance to get to know those who had more trouble mastering superficial charm. And if they cultivated talents, then they would put those talents to use in whatever way was appropriate for their social class.

Since the business sector seems to dominate our society, employing very large percentages of the middle and lower classes, and we have factories to do the kind of work that individual craftsmen and craftswomen used to do, the demands of business seem to dominate popular culture. And business jobs tend to require a lot of conformity, and especially in the white-collar sector, superficial charm. So these qualities seem to be valued by society in general to a certain degree. It's harder to employ people who can't fake the factory standard of business well enough to ditz about in a white collar job until their sociopathic boss decides to fire them to increase his or her bonus during a bad or average year.

Schools are set up, mostly, to train people for these kinds of business jobs.

I don't know how hard it would be to develop a more cooperative society where the disabled and those who can't hide their quirks well (everyone has quirks, but some are better at hiding them than others) can thrive, and those who can play the "normal" game don't have to and can thus enjoy more of what their own personalities have to offer. At this point, it might require a dangerous and costly revolution against the CEOs of all the major American-based megacorporations.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Personal Pleasures

After I was done spending some time journaling and listening to music by candlelight this evening, I thought, "**** the thought that I'm too normal. I can just enjoy what I enjoy."

Worrying about your social worth in the context of how you spend time is unfortunate and unnecessary. There's so much to enjoy in life, with one's own individual preferences, perceptual style, and imagination, no matter what those are. Well, chronic depression could get in the way of enjoyment, but I don't think every depressed person experiences constant anhedonia. I am not so pathologically normal as to lack the basic equipment to enjoy solitary pleasures. That's a good thing. Then again, apparent lack of solitary pleasure may only be "normal" in a pro-extroversion society where poorly done psychological studies go on about how extroverts are happier and healthier than introverts. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the "introverts" in their studies are actually subclinically depressed extroverts, or are depressed because they think they should be extroverts.

Too weird? Too normal? As long as you're not seriously hurting anyone, yourself included, you might as well enjoy what you enjoy.

If you like ice cream, cool. Creme brulee, fine. Parties, whatever. Nature walks and journaling, ok. Simple repetitive behaviors? Hey, I was playing with a stretchy ball toy at a party today while I was withdrawing and listening to conversations and my Aspie BF was trying to socialize with everyone. (I'm more introverted than he is. So much for the stereotype of Aspies as all asocial flaming introverts. I've seen Joel of "NTs are Weird" debunk that one too. The thing with my boyfriend is that he seems to have more trouble managing overwhelm than I do.)