It’s an Intense World, After All

Some people think that autistic people…

  • don’t have emotions
  • don’t care whether they hurt others or not

Some of those people are professionals, even, in the field of psychology or a related field involving interaction with autistic people (like special education teachers and therapists of various stripes).┬áSuch people think my mind is impervious to emotion, as if I’m a robot. Hence, when I voice an opinion about emotion, it seems to them like a toddler opining about economics.

Here is my model of emotion, the way I experience it:

Each person emits an emotional wavelength. Everywhere they go, ripples tumble out in all directions. And each person absorbs the emotional ripples of those around them. Except most people have soundproofing blocking most of the interference out and damping the intensity (for the sake of the metaphor, imagine everybody rides around inside sound-proofed phone booths mounted on Segways). This enables them to filter the noise and tune in to the frequencies they desire.

I’m one of those with the glass of the phonebooth replaced by tissue paper, sound-proofing stripped away, such that I absorb almost everything. So much that it is painful. This is why I make so little eye contact. The emotional signal is so intense, it pierces through me like an electron through a thin gold foil.

It was even more painful when I was a young child. And when a young child faces intense pain without being able to distinguish the signal (the emotional content) from the noise (the intensity and echoes of the emotional wavelengths), it is practical to shut it all out. When shutting out the emotional noise, we also shut out the emotional information. Missing that flood of information during the time the social parts of the brain do the most developing, it is entirely predictable that the individual will proceed to struggle with social skills. When finally learning to filter well enough to look for and interpret social information, there is a permanent disadvantage, like an adult learning a foreign language. They may learn to speak it very well, but will always speak with a bit of an accent. The analogy works just as well (perhaps better) when applied to sensory overstimulation, but the social/emotional connection seemed slightly less obvious.

The Intense World hypothesis of autism is highly intriguing, but it has not been confirmed. I suspect that aspects of it will be evidenced in future studies, I find it unlikely to work as an overarching explanation. There is good evidence that seems to lend support to various competing ideas about autism etiology, but much as relativity and quantum mechanics have modified physics while the theories of Newton and other classical physicists remain valid and useful but incomplete, so will a more complete understanding of autism and human neurology in general yield a theory which explains the current evidence, but with an altered, broader theoretical framework that leaves few aspects of evidence in apparent contradiction (like the evidence for light as wave vs. light as particle before wave-particle duality).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“He just offered coffee!”

I will be brief. I’m a little late to the fray, admittedly, but I must say my piece. I am referring, of course, to the Internet shitstorm dubbed ElevatorGate.

Let me relate a story. This occurred a couple weeks ago. I was walking down a busy city street on a sweaty summer day, wearing shorts outside for the first time in years after record-breaking high-humidity heat and a cloudless sky had prompted me to get a good dose of much-needed sunshine and exercise. (That week I got about half a dozen harassing comments from strangers.) A SUV/minivan type vehicle going the same direction as me, on the other side of the street (I was walking against traffic) honked. I thought nothing of it, as they could’ve been honking at another car. Even if the driver were honking at me, I really don’t give a shit if other people look at me with sexual thoughts when I’m in public, as long as they don’t try to involve me in their boners (or vice versa).

The car slowed. After a brief stop, it gradually backed up. This alarmed me, but there was a decent chance that they had missed a turn or were parking on the side of the street for a reason having nothing to do with me.

Then he rolled down the window. Okay, maybe he wants directions. It’s not like he’s close enough that he could grab me if this is all a ruse. That wasn’t his intention, though.

The driver honked the horn a couple times. “Hey, you want a ride?”

“No,” I said, still walking.

He left, and nothing came of it, though I was very wary of large white vehicles for the rest of my walk that day. There is no question that his behavior is creepy, and most people would pounce on anyone who suggested to me that he was “just trying to be nice” or that the creepy vibe I got was unreasonable, that surely he’s on the autism spectrum and is just a clueless loner hard up for a date.

But technically, he “just offered me a ride.” Or, as Richard Dawkins put it referring to the elevator incident:

“He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.”

Yeah, neither incident resulted in an assault (fortunately), but surely a materialist and biologist such as Dawkins recognizes the physical reality of “intangibles” such as fear and other such human emotions, as they are biochemically based? Not taking magnitude into account, what exactly does he think makes an emotional response, particularly a rationally based emotional response, less real than an assault?

When a guy offers “coffee” to a woman at 4 a.m. in a hotel when she just explained that she doesn’t like getting propositioned at conferences where she’s speaking, pretending you believe it was not sexually motivated and the guy must’ve had Asperger’s or something is pointless and insulting the audience’s intelligence. FYI – I’m autistic, and I understood that “coffee” probably means sex when offered late at night by the time I was 12 and saw that episode of Seinfeld.

While I’m sure there are autistic people who are literal-minded enough to not get that connection, it’s a stupidly speculative diversion. Even if it was proven that he was autistic and oblivious to the sexual connotation, that in no way obviates the right of the woman to feel creeped out, because 99+% of the population gets the meaning of an offer like that, so it is reasonable to assume that the person making the offer understands it too. Just like when a man checks me out, I do not assume that he’s wondering where I got my shoes.

The lesson: when discussing issues of a social nature, it is prudent to recognize the silliness of turning Sheldon Cooper-esque literalness and sexual naivete up to 11. Many people doing this do it because they feel an overwhelming need to defend the creep, maybe because they worry (or know) that they have said or done creepy things, out of cluelessness or immaturity, and don’t want everyone coming at them with pitchforks. I understand this defensive impulse, but the more social license women have to point out creepy behavior and be LISTENED TO, the more often the truly clueless guys get told why they are putting women off and the less social license the jerks have to be jerks and get away with it.

Every human does asshole things to other humans. The thing that signals maturity is the willingness to acknowledge the asshole things you’ve done as unacceptable and put in real work to improve yourself. Owning up to some creepy advances does not make you a rapist any more than having passed on a racist stereotype makes you a Nazi. All are bad, but there is a wide range of degree, and the milder, more socially acceptable creepiness is much easier to grow out of (provided the urge to be defensive doesn’t outweigh the desire for growth). Assuming the guy intended a sexual message is no more an insult to autistics than assuming the next random stranger you see is not open to a homosexual relationship is an insult to LGBs. It’s basic math.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hello world!

I’m going to use this blog to write down stories of things that happen or expressions of opinion that are too long for FB and not interesting enough for a book.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment