The Autism-Expert Spectrum

I’ve started seeing a new therapist. He’s a Clinical Psychologist, PhD, and although his advertised expertise is in helping people with sleep disorders, chronic pain, and mood and anxiety disorders, apparently his own sister is autistic, and he has a long-standing personal and professional interest in autism, as manifested in his professional training and especially the various autism-related research articles he’s co-authored and published in a variety of peer-reviewed professional journals.

So after interviewing me for 45 minutes last Friday afternoon, this kind gentleman informed me that in his opinion, with regard to my location on the so-called “autism spectrum”, he’s inclined to see me as being near some hypothetical “borderline” (his word), which I understood then and still take to mean that I’m somehow not actually autistic (perhaps like his sister is autistic), but am perhaps, say, merely autistic-ish.

And even though I rather like autistickish[1] to describe myself — hence the name of this blog — somehow I still felt wounded or invalidated by this man’s (initial) assessment of me. It felt like an insult of some sort. In the session I tried not to seem wounded or insulted, and definitely didn’t try to defend myself against the slight, but in the days since I have been somewhat preoccupied with this incident. My mind keeps returning to it, replaying it. I keep trying to figure out what I will say to him about it in our next session. I definitely feel a significant urge to defend myself, which is a key component of the “ultimately self-defeating” lifelong habit #2 that I wrote about in my recent post Validate Unto Others….

Basically, I feel somehow invalidated by him, and now I feel the urge to reciprocate his invalidation. I’ve considered various approaches to this. I might criticize his apparent assumption that a 45 minute interview is long enough to reach some sort of conclusion. In comparison, my initial ASD diagnosis came only at the end of a full day of psychometric tests and interviews, and has since been corroborated by a psychiatrist at a prominent university autism clinic who trains medical students in autism related topics and who has been interviewing me almost monthly for a year and a half.

I might ask him whether he’s afraid that fully endorsing my ASD diagnosis might one day lead to his being accused of fraud by an insurance company. If he is worried about that then the conflict of interest between his wish to help me and his wish to protect himself from ruthless insurance companies could be affecting his judgment.

At the moment my favorite approach would be to postulate first a spectrum of autism expertise that ranges, say, from “has seen a few episodes of The Good Doctor” to the collective of the World’s 100 leading autism researchers; along with a hypothetical “borderline” that separates the real autism experts and everyone else; and then ask him how close he thinks he is to that borderline.

Yeah, that’s the old me. As I explained the other day, I’m committed to changing this habit, which implies that I should really be trying to figure how to validate him in some way.

But at the moment I’m at a loss for how to do that. Let’s call it a “work in progress”.

Suggestions welcome!


[1]I think the k is required in the spelling to clarify that the c in the suffix is hard and not soft as it is in words like mysticism, criticism, ostracism, etc.

Image Credit: hschmider on Pixabay.

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My Excuses Made Me Do It

I have lots of excuses, but nobody likes them. In fact, as a rule, the more someone seems to need my excuses, the less he or she will like them.

I find that weird. If I feel upset by someone’s poor behavior or bad judgement, it always makes me feel better if I know their excuses:

“OH MY GAWD, WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME FOR MY BEST FRIEND!!!”

“I’m sorry! It’s just that he smells so nice and makes more money than you do. Also, he’s better looking, and makes me feel special.”

“Oh…anything else?”

“He’s a good cook.”

“And?”

“And he doesn’t make excuses. He takes responsibility for himself. I find that appealing in a man. In fact, I find that appealing in pretty much everybody.”

“I see. Thanks for explaining that. I feel better now about your leaving me for my best friend. In my defense, I don’t actually “make” excuses either. I mean, I have my excuses, but I don’t make them. They’re just there…a built in part of the world, influencing my behavior, pushing me to do some things, blocking me from others. There’s a lot of them. They’re everywhere.”

“Now you’re just making excuses for your excuses.”

“What can I say, the world is complicated.”

“No, you’re complicated.”

“Yeah, I get that from my mom. We can’t choose our parents, can we?”


Image Credit: yourstagedrama on Pixabay

Validate Unto Others…

If you’re interested in the general topic of (in)validation, I recommend What is… Invalidation by blogger Ashley L. Peterson, a.k.a. ashleyleia. Here I mainly want to declare my commitment moving forward to strongly favor validation over invalidation in my interactions with other people. In the last couple of years, thanks to lots of therapy, self-observation, and introspection, I have come to recognize two lifelong habits that I have and which I can see now have been ultimately self-defeating:

  1. I have a compulsion to correct people whenever they say or do something that I think is either factually incorrect, self-harming, or wrong in some way (morally, legally, etc.). I have come to see that despite my best intentions, this kind of other-corrective behavior is usually experienced as invalidating, annoying, hurtful, etc., that it is mostly ineffective, often counter productive, and is essentially an invitation for the other person to invalidate me in return, and is generally corrosive to the relationship.
  2. Whenever someone invalidates me in some way, I tend to respond first by feeling hurt, rejected, anxious, etc. and then I often try to defend myself by invalidating the person who invalidated me, often by getting angry at the person. This in particular has been highly destructive to all kinds of relationships, especially those with romantic partners, bosses, and work colleagues.

Yup. That’s about the size of it for now. Not quite sure how any of that might be useful for you, but I’m putting it out there just in case.

Let me know what you think! 🙂


Image Credit: niekverlaan on Pixabay

So, You’ve Just Been Diagnosed: Please Learn from My Mistake!

I first learned that I have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) back in 2016 at the age of 53. At first I was skeptical, but I eventually came to see that my doubts were mostly grounded in my own ignorance regarding autism, and somewhat grounded in the fact that many autistic people have huge challenges that make my own seem quite trivial in comparison. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an ASD, or that my autistic neurology doesn’t create significant challenges for me, but it does mean that I’ll probably never be the subject of any Oscar-winning movies.

For the record, I am also visually impaired, but I don’t need my books written in Braille. My eyeglasses work just fine.

In any case, the last two years of my life have been intense and overwhelming — not just for me but for my family as well — and in retrospect I think a lot of that chaos arose from a single assumption I’d made early on and which turned out to be false: that my medical diagnosis was some sort of credential that automatically entitled me to things like sympathy and respect from others.

I called it my “license to weird”. It was a joke, of course, but only partly so. In my mind I really thought I could just go around telling people that I was autistic and they would automatically know what that meant, accept it as true and subsequently adjust their perception of me in some sort of favorable direction. Maybe they would find me more likable, or maybe more understandable. Maybe they would find my irritability and frustration less irritating and frustrating.

Well, in the past two years I have learned the hard way that this is definitely not the case. Although folks differ widely in their responses, the general principles seem to be that almost nobody understands autism, lots of people flatly refuse to accept the diagnosis as correct or relevant, and telling people that I have an ASD is possibly even more likely to harm my reputation than to improve it.

At it turns out, my ASD diagnosis is really nothing like a “licence to weird”.

I hope that’s helpful!


Image Credit: succo on Pixabay

In Which My Son Discovers Crapitalism

I don’t know why my children hate the grocery store. Is it because I routinely refuse to buy them absolutely everything they suddenly and passionately crave simply because they’ve looked at it? Or maybe it’s because I won’t just let them loose to run around screeching and pulling merchandise off all the shelves. I don’t know. In any case, yesterday I randomly broke discipline and caved into my son’s desperate plea to buy him a toy “dinosaur egg” that came with a small brush and plastic chisel to be used to dig into the dusty grey plaster “shell” thus revealing the tiny plastic “dinosaur bones” that had been entombed therein by the manufacturer. The package promised that once excavated, the bones would snap together to form a little skeleton.

Yes, yes, it was a mistake to buy it; in my defense it was “only four dollars please daddy can we it’s so cool!” Also, it’s been almost two full weeks since Christmas.

At least it made him happy for a little while. He couldn’t wait to get home to play paleontologist, which he did for about 5 minutes before remembering that his real mission in life is to play Roblox, and it wasn’t until several hours later, in response to my announcement that it was bedtime, that he suddenly felt compelled to get back to work on the “egg” and, oh yes of course, on covering our dining table with a layer of gritty dust.

But there’s a happy ending here, as I see it, because as I mentioned the packaging had promised that the little plastic bones would snap together to form a skeleton, and they didn’t. Not at all. Try as he did, the pieces just didn’t fit together, and when he finally gave up he bemoaned his disappointment and frustration. “Wow, I can’t believe it!” he whined. “That was a complete waste of four dollars!”

I hear you, son.

How to Christmas More Effectively

I’ve never been especially good at Christmas, but I think purely by accident this year I stumbled upon a really effective way to go about it and I can hardly wait to do it again next year! It goes something like this:

  1. Start by pretending that Christmas doesn’t actually exist. This is surprisingly easy for most of the year. Just don’t think or talk about it as much as you can. Don’t try to “get ready” or buy gifts for people in advance. If the topic comes up in conversation blurt out “Oh crap, I just remembered that I have an urgent and very private matter I must attend to immediately,” and then run off like your going to “deal with it”.
  2. As Christmas day draws near it will gradually get more and more difficult to ignore it. When that happens it’s actually better to “go with the flow” and act like you’re really good at it and really looking forward to the big day. Be careful not to lie outright and tell people that you’ve bought some gifts for people, but if anybody asks you can put a sneaky look on your face like you’ve been building a secret gift-cache all along and that the intended recipients are going to feel just thrilled when they see what they’re getting.
  3. During this immediate pre-Christmas phase, you may receive invitations to visit relatives, friends, etc. on either Christmas itself, or maybe Christmas Eve. ALWAYS ACCEPT THESE INVITATIONS CHEERFULLY AND WITH GUSTO. Be sure to ask if there’s anything you can bring. All this enthusiasm is crucial because you don’t want give anybody reason to doubt what happens next.
  4. The day before Christmas — so-called “Christmas Eve” — suddenly fall into a deep depression. Now, if you’re like me, you won’t have to fake this because the very thought of having to spend hours and hours making small talk and probably even arguing with other human beings while having exactly zero gifts to offer them while they’re all exchanging gifts with each other and probably offering gifts to me as well tends to hit me like rhinoceros tranquilizer. For example, Christmas morning this year I had a very hard time crawling out of bed and the thought of talking to or seeing anyone that day left me quite speechless and blind (in a manner of speaking).
  5. Allow your depression to block you from calling or otherwise reaching out to anybody, but when they eventually contact you, be sure to respond but sound lethargic and gloomy when you talk. Explain that you’ve never understood Christmas or how to do it right and that you feel overwhelmed and depressed and just need to be alone. If they ask if you have thoughts of harming yourself reassure them that you don’t and that you’ll feel better once the whole Christmas thing has blown over.
  6. After hanging up, rejoice in your release from your Christmas hassles and spend the day studying Spanish, or doing whatever else you’re into.

Hope that’s useful! 🙂

Disclaimer: although in the above I try to use humor to address what I see as the very real problem of Christmas, the sober fact is that depression and especially suicide are no joke, so if you think you are having a psychiatric crisis and especially if you have thoughts of harming yourself please seek medical attention immediately. You may wish to start with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can call them at any time 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a counselor.


Image Credit: Pixabay

How to Vaporize an Ocean of Sympathy

We’ve all been there. You’re struggling with some insurmountable difficulty, other people see you struggling and suddenly you’re overwhelmed with the outpouring of sympathy. It seems to be coming from everywhere and everybody. Everyone that becomes aware of your predicament wants to help out — perhaps with hug, an earnest look, some good advice — God bless’em. In extreme cases they may try to give you canned goods or antibiotics, but before you know it you’re overwhelmed. You’re drowning in a sea of pathos and you just want to feel solid ground under your feet so you can continue your struggle in isolation and despair.

If only there were some easy way to transform that pesky flood of goodwill into a large puff of vapor that would float gently up and away into the sky, thus leaving you free to obsess about your real problem.

Well, guess what? Turns out there is a way to do exactly that. It’s called ingratitude and it really must be if not the fastest then certainly one of the fastest and most effective ways to encourage — dare I say coerce? — even the most fanatical otherwise-would-be sympathizer to buzz off and sympathize with someone, er, more grateful for it.

As it turns out, sympathy is what economists refer to as a “scarce resource”, and folks (all of us) have to make tough choices about how and when and to whom they’re going to allocate that resource. In making those hard decisions one highly favored piece of information they use is whether and how much gratitude is felt and expressed by the sympathy recipient. A total lack of gratitude — a.k.a. ingratitude — is widely interpreted as a cue to go away and sympathize with someone else.

So, there you have it. No longer need you feel overwhelmed by the sympathy others may express when they observe your struggles. Whenever it all gets to be too much, all you need do is express some ingratitude and believe me they will get the message. If they don’t get the message, then it’s probably because you’re holding back in some way. Maybe you’re being too polite. Maybe you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Maybe you don’t want to seem, er, ungrateful?

Hope that’s useful! 🙂


Image Credit: Pixabay