Autistic Behaviour has a Purpose: –

Or How Being a Social Skills Holdout Resulted in a Richer Life.

It feels like I have been warning people against eliminating autistic looking behaviour for the sake of it without recognizing it’s functionality for many years now. I wrote about it over 12 years ago even but had spent several years cautioning parents about choosing therapies that had this as a central premise. a The drive to value being indistinguishable from peers over being functional has dominated the market that is autism treatment for far too long. Autistics behave as they do for similar utilitarian reasons that “normal” people do. Behaviours have a use for the way our brain is wired.

Today someone posted http://pdresources.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/encouraging-eye-contact-may-disturb-autistic-kids-thinking/ Which for the holy grail of social skills treatment- eye contact actually demonstrates this. Granted the subject pool is a bit small but I would guess anyone thinking about their thought process can do a micro-experiment and get similar results.

Autistic people need more processing time on a lot of situations that are “easy” for the typically wired. It would then make sense there was more gaze aversion overall. If your face tells me nothing useful about what I am processing looking there is a waste of available processing capacity.

Eye contact is something I have refused to fake. If I feel comfortable with someone and the situation is not overly taxing it will happen. If not it won’t. I have never been cooperative with those helpful hints to look at the forehead and so on and since I spent 6 years studying psychology I have enough of a neuroscience background to know that those hints – often complied by educators and job coaches don’t make good sense on a neurological level.

Not a single time has my lack of eye contact been an issue unless I have been with the kind of professional type person who really cares about eye-contact in i’s own right. I have never not gotten a job I interviewed for. Granted one of those jobs was in university where my autism was not exactly a well kept secret but my lack of eye contact has not had the impact darkly predicted. People do tend to trust me and not once has anyone ever expressed concern about it beyond medical types. I recently even asked some people why and most responded along the lines that I had some other hard to describe qualities that conveyed a sense of honest and decency to a high degree. I suspect indeed that were I inclined to force myself whatever is coming through to the relevant people might be compromised.

For all the years I was ashamed of my autism I still wasn’t very tractable when it came to certain things. Before I made an uneasy peace with it (I say uneasy only because while I have come to terms with my autism, I am not always at terms with it’s sometimes catastrophic impact on my life) I still routinely told people why they were wrong to include some things in their social skills programs. My biggest one wasn’t eye contact though. My huge burning autistic behaviours that shouldn’t sought to be changed were a lack of social lying and self stimulatory behaviour. Because stims are a big topic of more interest to the average person than social lying I will save that for it’s own post or posts and let myself write about the big issue in my own mind.

My BIG, issue is the whole social lies as useful, teachable and desirable. This is such utter bologna. If one stops to think how much more confusing and labour intensive polite, lies make the world I am really shocked more people don’t stand up and say to heck with all our ritualized niceness. It would be an autistic paradise if one could be certain you were getting an honest response to some enquiries on the first go at it.

If you are neuro-typical think about how many times people who don’t know you or care about you ask how you are. If you are North American and complying with social norms you probably say fine. In all European countries I have been in there is some variation in the ritual but a range of socially acceptable answers all the same. Indeed in Europe the ritual is slightly more informative as there is more than one answer considered normative, a range is technically okay here but fine is very dominant as the correct answer, the more interesting issue is why are random people asking? Why do we engage in this ritual that strips sincere enquiries by actual friends of the liklihood of getting useful information?

My transformational I am absolutely never even going to pretend to go along with this ritual happened in my 20s. I passed a good friend on the street. I already was strongly inclined to only ask if I cared and considered the data I got back to be valid. This encounter would change that.

I had been in group therapy with this particular person. In that, especially aggressive form of therapy they even discouraged the use of the dreaded “fine”. As a result of being considered socially isolated I had been allowed to break one of the cardinal rules of the group which is while friendships were normally discouraged in mine they were encouraged. That made me a handy person to be friends with I guess as only by doing so could you have permission to carry on hanging out with others you got along with. So for a surprising number of years afterwards a group of about 8 of us met regularly for cards and similar activities. I became quite close to a few of them and the person in this encounter was one of my closer friends at the time.

I asked her how she was and she responded fine. I took that as valid information and carried on towards my bank. I heard her call my name. I turned to see her burst in to tears, clasp her face, and exclaim, “I can’t believe I just said that.” It turned out her mother had killed herself that very day.

Surprised that even a person who had had so much conditioning towards good communication I had to take action. I engaged in a couple year process of experimenting with the whole “How are you? I am fine.” ritual. I experimented with leaving out any answer at all over 2000 times to determine to a high degree of certainty that people actually usually respond as if you have said fine. You don’t even have to voice it. Most people either hear it or at the very least automatically respond with the next line. (It would taint the spontaneous experiment to question which so I still don’t know) I haven’t performed any recent studies on it but I suspect it is not that different. For the benefit of the few people who would notice and be uncomfortable with the lack of answer I experimented with humorous but still true answers. Overall simply omitting any answer at all moved things along faster. Perhaps my humour was geared a little too much in the direction of science but if the goal of a forced, ritualized encounter like at the grocery store, or bank is a fast return to the business at hand simply not replying worked best.

The problem is all around you are people like my friend. If you actually care about them the habit of an automatic fine response and other similar socially done, sometimes nonsense scripts is they generate an invalid response by default. Since I only ask if I actually care I don’t want to have to ask really. I sure don’t want to have to ask that a second time, yet for the most part if my question was motivated out of a concern I do. Asking a third time gets annoying but is still sometimes useful. If I care about keeping a friendship I eventually have to spell this out to people. I want to be a good and caring friend but the switch in my brain is a bit stuck on literal and since by virtue of being my friend I expect you to know that I will only dig around so much before I go back to either considering your answer valid or not asking if you want me to actually be a good friend then you should comply with the expectation that you return good data. It’s not blatantly lying to participate in a prolonged exchange where you fail to get a real answer but it is not something I want to encourage others to do or to participate in myself.

It’s the same with the classic social skills story line about say Aunt Edna. You are shopping with your somewhat massive, entirely hypothetical, Aunt Edna and she asks you if the pants she is trying on make her look fat. In reality your aunt is actually fat, the pants have nothing to do with it but the pants in the scenario are not helping matters. The taught social behaviour tends to either be to reassure her they don’t or to compliment some other aspect of the pants. “That shade of blue looks good on you.”

Pretend you are Aunt Edna. (It cracks me up that the people who come up with these programs test out normal on the empathy scale and I get a 3 to 4 depending on how I interpret the questions any given day – I don’t think they are actually measuring practical empathy) If you are Aunt Edna you probably know you are overweight. You actually do want to do the best you can with the clothes you buy to emphasize your good points. You have just received bad data about these pants. You may act on that data and buy them and wear them. People will think they are hideous on you and so on. How is it more caring of your hypothetical aunts feelings and experience to encourage her in this folly? Obviously it’s not, yet scenarios very similar to this one abound. (I know because even at my ancient age the occasional very keen person tries to get me into a social skills program)

The Aunt Edna situation where your “white lie” is used to spare someones feelings is the usual explanation given to kids about when you can lie. What a slippery slope. I would think so especially for people who tend more towards seeing things in black and white which I have no problem admitting I do. (Honestly who cares to deal with shades of grey anyway? Aren’t they just confusing and annoying in pretty well every situation where an obvious answer doesn’t exist?)

Look beyond autism even. We have a society where the routine thing to do is lie. You will if you are an average person who works in an average workplace probably participate in more meaningless, devoid of good data chatter in a day than real authentic exchanges. What does that do over the long term to what we view as okay? We expect people in certain professions to basically be liars and corrupt. One of the biggest places we expect that is in government. Hmm… Is there a chance if everyone treated honesty as a binary situation we would have better communities? If we didn’t desensitize people to lying by expecting it and teaching those without a typical sense of social norms how valuable they are. Could we actually attract and keep honest politicians on board? What kind of society could we accomplish if we expected and tolerated nothing but the truth?

I live like this. I refuse to be anything but honest. Like eye contact none of the disastrous consequences in the rationale for teaching social lies happen to me. I am typically viewed as polite not rude. (With a tinge of abrupt I can’t quite get away from because I sometimes have to terminate an exchange before I lose key skills) People seek my opinion out more than normal not less. They don’t get hurt by doing so because I suppose they self-select. You learn to ask other people when you want a dishonest answer I guess. I don’t seek to hurt people so I nearly always remind people that they will indeed get an honest opinion. The result has never been a withdrawal of having sought my input. More and more often I am told that’s why they ask me. The only “bad” side effect from my point of view is that the circle of people who will seek my opinion extends past the usual rings of acquaintanceship. This would not be viewed as bad really overall. I don’t even view it that way most of the time as I am fully aware being a hermit isn’t healthy. So people make it a point to come to me because unique among sometimes a large number of known people they could ask they trust me to be honest. In literature about developmentally delayed children an option parents are given to encourage friendships is to make it attractive for children to seek our your child. (Cool toys, better than average snacks and so on…) Have I hit upon an adult equivalent out of sheer obstinacy? Well okay obstinacy combined with ethics and a value placed on logic that makes behaving inconsistently with those values not something I can tolerate.

I’ve explained why honesty should be binary to a lot of people. I only have one actual neurotypical convert to the cause though as far as I know. Well maybe not so typical if having listened to my 20 minute mini-lecture on it the response was that I was on to something important that he had not given much thought to so he would try it. Who knows? It works for me it, it appears to work for him. It could work for you even. It takes a bit of training of the people around you but less so if you are actually on the spectrum and people secretly fear you are a social skills hold-out. Still even if you are “normal” I suspect you could adapt this with relatively little training to those around you without anything but good consequences. This would be especially true if you love someone with autism. How great it would be to be a person who that person doesn’t have to spend a lot of time and energy trying to decipher. Still I suspect it has payoffs beyond that.

I know this honesty issue is described by some clinicians as part of my deficit. The degree of black and white thinking to fully flesh out the societal implications for going along with a keep Aunt Edna from wearing nice pants model of behaviour is probably pretty extreme but is it harmful? I am a person like other people who has certain values in my case honesty, integrity and rationality. How would it improve my life outcome to try to take me down a few notches there? How does it improve the quality of life of those around me? I think the answer is it doesn’t. The benefit to having me in a social skills program is being able to write in my chart that I am attending one. For those teaching these “skills” to be able to bill my government and so on. The only real benefit to me is satire. Any social skill that doesn’t conflict with my values I already know.

My binary theory of honesty, however black and white is still a conscience choice. I am 44. I could have learned how to fake all sorts of social scripts by now but what would it achieve? A magnitude shift towards insincere illusory closeness with people? I would seem more social and more like other people but it would be entirely artificial. To reject that is a conscious choice. It’s not driven by my “disorder” at all. It may have set my factory pre-sets a bit but I could have chosen to be otherwise to some degree by now if it seemed one bit logical or useful to do so. Ah pragmatics I guess I left out a core trait.

You may think I am deluding myself but as I am honest and do make conscience decisions about living honestly I am also authentic. While around me I see people have goals of being authentic and sincere if one avoids participating in rituals that would subtract from that I would guess it should be a default state. The thing is being real scares people. If you present a false you to the world you have less at stake. A lot of people enjoy Hallowe’en and Purim because the costumes are a concrete expression of the unrealness we live with day in and day out. That polite, insincerity that keeps your innermost thoughts and feelings safely stowed away and hidden under a babble of meaningless scripts and in some ways the world is more manageable. More manageable but not better.

I have a surprising number of very good friends at this point in my life. They all have a strong tendency towards being of the more genuine variety although perhaps not to the furthest extreme. I suspect other kinds of people would be too taxing to interact with in the long run. Even with those friends say at a dinner party my processing delay while I work out if something is a joke is a source of benign amusement. I don’t know why but I have yet to learn to put my tongue on pause while I process the content so I inevitably have responded to the literal content of a joke and then having heard my response it dawns on me that it was a joke. I am not stupid. Depending on how people react I sometimes wind up feeling stupid when this happens. Among my friends they don’t exactly try to hide they find this funny (which is good as that would be insincere) but that is covered for by a genuine affection for me so I can do the unthinkable and be at a party for 14 and realize hmm everyone here is an actual friend. Since I am selective about how I use words like friend that’s a shocker for me and not an expected outcome but I actually do think part of the reason for it is I am who I am.

My autism causes chaos for me at times. I am a great source of stress for my friends and family at those times. But like any real friends they are there for me. Should they need me I am there for them. I understand that is how it is supposed to work and that is the outcome for this totally social skills defiant, black and white thinker who won’t even pretend to humour you on the eye contact issue. Could we really hope for more? Could you hope for more if you changed your opinion on some of the classic “deficits” in autism and instead of teaching that autistic in your life to be more like you tried it the other way around at least for a little while out of fairness?

A Day of Laundry, Chaos and Rest.

It’s been a terrible week. Care that was supposed to happen and was somewhat vital for me didn’t. My father wound up in hospital briefly as well and there’s still all the grief and all the issues I had before my mother died. Felt very much like I was dangling from a precipice with something about as thin as a spider web to cling to but without the tensile strength.

I didn’t cope well. Mostly I coped by staying in bed and asleep as much as I could which isn’t ideal but was the only way I knew things wouldn’t get worse. I did decide I couldn’t bail on my band as the Country band I got roped into playing the drums for (The Haywires) had the concert on Thursday night and it’s a small group. Oddly popular it seems to me given how easy country music is to play. I take my responsibilities seriously so as much as I would have loved to just continue to stay unconscious as much as I could I wouldn’t stand up our group or the audience which admittedly not big was about three times the usual crowd so I went.

All my autism related problems get exacerbated by stress of course so my ability to shift my attention, get ready for band and get there was so much more complicated than in 2011. I actually started preparing four hours before I needed to be there and I still only made it by 4 minutes. Along the way I got one of those calls I don’t believe are so random. Without the call I probably would have hid out all of today in an unhealthy way, probably dragged myself to temple to not cause worry and then gone back into full on hibernation mode.

It wasn’t anything stupendous. It doesn’t take much to make a difference. The person had read my mother had died on Facebook and thought since she would be in my area she would offer to come by and give me a hand with my place, reasoning between my worsening physical issues and my grief I could use help. (I think she was probably among the many volunteers who packed up my last place so honestly she probably thought I could use help anyway)

I’ve grown in my relationships with people. It used to be hard for me to accept help. I felt embarrassed or ashamed. I had done a lot of that growing prior to my huge, life blowing apart reaction to my move early last year or the levels of help I had then would have been unthinkable I suppose. I didn’t have any choice in the matter really as sick as I was if people hadn’t been willing and wanting to step in and manage everything I could have done little about what needed to be done.

It’s 15 months later though and life hasn’t really improved. It many tangible ways it is worse. Every time my doctor got enough supports in place that we made forward progress someone would undo them with a stroke of a pen and so I don’t even take surviving for granted. When you can forget to eat for long enough that more and more kilograms vanish and forget just about everything else even if the long term effect of living like this wasn’t wearing me out that in itself would be dangerous.

There’s no appropriate support to be had. I fall through a gaping hole in the system that doesn’t know what to do with people who have both an autistic spectrum disorder and a mental health issue. My autism they say makes my depression untreatable but our entire system has been reworked to a medical model. The very premise of everything they do now is that some magical pill will make the patient better if only you can get them to take it. Eventually they will, as they have before say the autism is primary and I am thus not even their problem.

So we struggle and struggle, and get exhausted and mad and sometimes just want to give up entirely. As long as I can still get mad I think I will be okay actually but I know that eventually that anger turns into resignation.

So this woman who is close in my age but has young kids, wanted to come by and help but my place isn’t suitable for a toddler. There was a time I would have just said as much and not had the temerity to suggest something alternatively helpful. I don’t have access to a washer and dryer here and my landlords suggestion I suck up to the people in the two other suites where he managed to put ones in hasn’t exactly seemed reasonable. So I said how about if I went there and did my laundry instead and it was agreed.

That meant an early day for me. My schedule has become more erratic due to the international nature of the little work I do and I don’t unwind from band easily and tend to be up until 4 or 5 am on band nights so I was a bit hesitant. Yet I knew two things – that I did in fact badly need clean sheets and so on as I had last managed to have access to laundry facilities in this town at Chanukah, and that the guarantee of eating at least one meal and having some human companionship was not something I could afford to miss.

I miss being with kids. When I did respite care my charges grew up and while I continued to do the adult care for the only client I kept when my arthritis got worse kids are another thing all together. So there was a certain appeal to just spending time with a three year old. I had looked after him and his brother during the High Holy Days but had not seen the little guy since so my better instincts weighed things out in favour of going, of making the healthy choice for probably the first time this week.

It was a chaotic day. The three year old had grown up considerably since fall and was very verbal and very keen to tell me how things should be. He was also very eager to be helpful with my laundry. So that was enjoyable as they had a front end loading machine I actually would have gotten a lot sorer without my miniature helper there. A noisy day as well of course. As said three year old could and did have a few champion tantrums when tired, hungry, or surprised but that’s part of the package.

Improbably we managed to get through all the laundry as other changes kept developing to the plan so I wound up staying until it was time to go to shul. We had a brief period where we were left with just my three year old over-lord and he had a brief and complete tantrum at finding he had been left even though he had been fine with it when his mother said as much. I pulled out my tablet and he was quickly lured into playing with the piano program on there and then a board game. So I played with him and monitored my laundry and it was briefly almost quiet until the older child and a classmate arrived.

I was then in demand as an improbably old playmate but all the kids were keen to involve me in some sort of play about a monster. So the older one demanded I be various things the younger one protested no I should be a person until vampire was suggested. (I had tried zombie and werewolf to loud protests from the toddler) I immediately objected that I couldn’t be a vampire without a cape as the other vampires would make fun of me. (Vampires have standards I gather) That set all three children to assuring me no problem and going to get a cape. I remarked to the mother, that I had meant that as more of an obstacle than it was but sure enough a child sized reversible, batman/superman cape was produced and the 6 year old on seeing I got it on the wrong way around the first time gave me a lesson in how to get it right. I think I must be good for the self-esteem of children because I actually do have problems with things like that although for this particular cape I just hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that of course the batman side must be the vampire one. Silly adults.

It was fun enough to forget everything else. I don’t have a lot of energy. When you don’t remember to eat, or take your thyroid medication or much else and spend too much time sleeping at times and not enough at others well you get run down. Still I managed to hunt the kids as a vampire for a reasonable amount of time until allowing myself to be slain by the youngest so I could go back to the laundry.

The kids suspected a trick. I kept saying, “I am just a normal human doing my laundry,” as they lurked so I had to throw my arms up to a vampire pose and bare my teeth from time to time to get them scrambling. I don’t single task well right now so this child generated multitasking was enjoyable. I felt almost competent.

You shouldn’t feel refreshed after a day of endless loads of laundry and keeping up with high energy kids but I did. Even before we got to the Shabbat part of the day. Earlier in the day when the house had contained a more manageable single child who had been recently fed and was thus content we had talked a bit about the challenges of Shabbat for her. She was torn between her desire to have everything Shabbat ready and the fact that the kids pretty well undid everything as fast as things could be cleaned. She asked if things looked better than when I arrived at one point and the truth was really they looked different but that didn’t matter. I couldn’t remember when the actual candle-lighting time was even though I stick it on facebook for those who like to do things by the book. Shabbat is much like any other thing you think you feel like you don’t have the time to get ready for in that it still happens and sure enough the candles did get lit. Food was on the table and we ate.

When the eldest found out his mother was basically sneaking out to shul when she was honest that she wasn’t just dropping me off he wanted to come. He loves services but hadn’t slept well and we don’t finish until close to 9:30 so it’s not exactly kid friendly. I joked that she should keep this up and then he would rebel when he was old enough by always going to shul.

Services were much like always and not like always. I didn’t get to sit in my chair. I suspect there may have been some concern when I didn’t get there before things started as the importance of being in my chair means being early is practical. There had been some discussion between my friend and I about the temptation to just hang out with my dog and not go but I knew that actual worry would occur if I skipped entirely. We arrived half an hour after it started but we were not the last to arrive which is typical for our congregation but not so much for me. I must have been oddly healed just by the rambunctious company of the children as not being in my chair was not as distressing as it can be sometimes. There have been times when I go to great lengths to be in my chair.

There were several not so regulars at services tonight which I also sometimes consider distressing but I coped with that as well. People talk about inclusion a lot but they don’t tend to think about how the things you can’t control impact some people in your congregation. Everyone is trained not to mess with my blue cup by now but of course we can’t ensure that everyone is always there who my brain has decided is always there and that no one new come and so on. I know it’s not even healthy or rational to want to control that but my reaction to those human changes fluctuates. They are things I cope or don’t cope with and oddly enough after what should have been a day one would expect to leave me frazzled and frayed and clinging desperately to both my chair and my blue cup I was fine.

This was my second time being able to say the Mourner’s Kaddish among my friends so it should be easier and in some ways it was. When we got to the mediation we say before and I got teary. Hands reached out from both sides just as a matter of course. A year ago this sort of contact would have been difficult for me but now it was comforting.

It was hard when it was all done to accept the condolences of people who had been travelling the previous weeks. I somehow keep expecting this whole mourning thing to be tidier than it is. People keep telling me it won’t be, especially for a mother but I can’t stop wishing it was quite so tidily contained as the structure of the year of mourning suggests.

I’m very tired now of course but mentally feel better than I have all week. That’s somewhat normal for Shabbat but I suspect the invigorating effect of child’s play helped a lot as well.

Part of tonight’s service the service leader talked about what Reform Jews believe. It came up in contrast to the very precise rules and directions in the Torah portions this week. Rational is always part of the definition when reform Jews define themselves I’ve noticed, and I always considered myself rational and still do. I know a lot of atheists who by the very act of my engaging in any organized religion have now written me off as irrational but there are not many people as rational and logical as I am day to day.

You may protest well there is that notion you own chairs that are essentially public etc… but my preference for things to be the same is something I have to put up with while getting a similar scolding from my brain. Still until 15 months ago I only had believed in one miracle. One single time where something happened that I could prove fell outside the laws of physics. Perhaps the easiest kind of miracle to believe in I guess where you can do the math and say nope a falling body of your mass shouldn’t be able to wind up in a concave indentation in the mountain on top of the glacier I fell off of. I had like a moron reached for a can once we were safely at the top and unhooked from each other. I had no time to react in my fall and considerable time to lie there stunned and listen to my team speculate on which blobs and bits might be my body before I could rouse myself to yell I was in fact alive.

The miracles that are hard to even recognize though are the ones like today. How is a day filled with children and laundry and a rush to services in anyway miraculous? We could miss the miracle in there if we didn’t recognize that the deeds that sustain us against all odds may be dressed up as the totally mundane.

I have thought a lot about the fact that having spent the better part of a decade, after realizing I just could no longer try to worship Adonai in an Anglican setting, and getting up the courage to actually go to a service and join a congregation, I did so at a time when I was actually doing very well for me. Without that sudden burst of courage that got me across the threshold of the Jewish Community Centre I would have not had my rather big gang of people to see me through the worst of my health crisis. I would not have the fairly steady supply of support and encouragement both practical and emotional. I’m alive due to a burst of courage that experience has told me really couldn’t have come solely from within.

I had previously often referred to myself as a hermit but our congregation doesn’t believe in hermits I guess. While I was still in my pre-crisis mode brought on by my move I had more social invitations than in probably the entire prior 20 years and had started to do more than just survive them ,which is always the baseline expectation I had to go into them with, but to enjoy them. Call it a sudden, improbable social growth spurt if you must but it was a miracle.

Part of our belief is that we are partners with G-d in the repair of the world and as strange as it would be to describe a day spent doing many loads of laundry and being bossed around by children as miraculous I am in better state of repair now than I went into the day in. I don’t know about the world but as I am part of the world thus far my repair has to count for something I suppose.

Through this long ordeal there have always been these perfectly normal seeming things that are not so normal for me. Long ago most of the friends I had close to my age died or moved away. So even spending the day in the company of someone close to my age was not typical for me. I couldn’t imagine making friends and wasn’t even convinced new ones were not more trouble than they were worth. When you have serious social anxiety and social skills issues you can of course rationalize and probably have to to some degree, why you don’t try harder.

This was just a woman trying to be kind and useful in light of the fact my mom had died and I was struggling. But there is no just for me in that sentence. The ordinary parts of life have been the most elusive for me. I choose to see the hand of G-d in that I somehow do feel better. People inclined to be be blind to the everyday miracles might just say well this person was just filling a community norm. It’s right there in black and white to comfort the mourner.

I always prided myself in not being all what I phrased “hippy-dippy west-coast” like inclined to see the holy in everything and in the past 15 months I have realized how very wrong I was. I remember being really frustrated less than a year ago at the ingratitude of the people during the Exodus. I protested that they had lived in the time when miracles were the most obvious and they were getting direction straight from G-d and yet they complained about the food and so on. It drove me a little crazy really as I really wanted that very explicit direction and while some of that was coming more from my depression and my autism another big part was still that I was failing to see the less obvious miracles and thus be appropriately grateful for them.

Bread isn’t going to rain from heaven but the oneg might keep getting suspiciously large so that there are enough left overs to keep you going for a few days when living on just a disability pension while having to replace your clothes and so on is making life a little more stressful.

G-d isn’t going to put up a sign that says go here now and do exactly this it seems yet I can’t deny that as the only place my courage could have come from as far as even meeting the people who would become more than my congregation but also many friends. I had sat and prayed and studied and known where to go for ages and had never, not once, been able to actually get myself there. I’d even wept over my failure to do so. It had to happen that I managed when I did or I would not have survived I am certain but at the time while being shocked and amazed by finally getting there I didn’t really properly attribute it. I didn’t know what was coming but I do choose to think G-d did.

There are all sorts of theological debates that rage about whether as a group, we even believe in an interventionist G-d at this point. I do. I don’t believe in one who cares who wins the hockey game, or one who necessarily mucks around constantly in human affairs. One could get mad I suppose if one thought G-d was like that as I could choose to think well instead of providing this sudden burst of social courage, that ultimately provided me with the community I needed to get through my crisis wouldn’t it have been simpler just to skip the crisis?

I’m tired and worn out and far from well and the outcome of said crisis since new ones keep coming up is far from certain. I should probably have a strong preference for a G-d who just lightened up a bit on the amount of horrible things that happened. I haven’t decided how much G-d even does choose to  control these days or what governs the why and the when. I suppose I will never know so the best I can do is come up with a position that seems most likely one day. A position probably that will keep changing. I do know on our end we have to actually be open to letting G-d do what he can and being grateful for what he has done, which we cannot do if we fail to recognize His hand in the totally mundane yet life sustaining aspects of our life.

All my life I have tried to do what I thought G-d wanted of me but I think I often failed to let G-d help me because those angels in human form have been so hard for me to cope with. I’ve been insufficiently grateful during all those years when I saw myself as too rational and above seeing the miracles in the entirely mundane. We don’t know how things will end. I guess we never do but however things end here there will have been growth. Painful, scary, perilous growth which still has to be better than stagnation. Even for a person with a very strong preference for things staying the same.

My Not So Little World

Last month during rehearsal while our conductor was trying to get someone’s attention he uttered the words, “He’s off in his own little world.” While in that specific situation it had nothing necessarily to do with autism, 44 years of hating that saying welled up inside me.

I am the well behaved one at band usually. If I “misbehave” in musician terms it is nearly always due to sensory issues and because the conductor knows that while he sometimes forgets, I just have to remind him that I am not prone to being disruptive or wandering away from my drum set so he can assume there was a reason. Because I tend to sit quietly at my drums behaving myself for the most part when I spoke up it stirred a longer debate than is really good given we had music to rehearse.

I asked, “What makes you so sure his world is little. It could be huge. Bigger than yours.” The band I play with is part of a non-profit society. I am a founding member. It’s stated intent was to use music in partnership with those with a mental illness and those without for re-socialization, rehabilitation and destigmatization. I was dragged into it, slightly against my will by our first pianist as they had a drummer and all I had was a keyboard that was barely better than a toy but 24 years later I still play.  I replaced the drummer they had in the early years after a bit and there I have sat since. (http://www.friendsofmusic.ca/ for more infomation)

Our group is considered a performance group in the way that we speak of our groups. That is the members of the group as a whole can put on a performance in a public venue and people will enjoy it. As the society has grown we have added other ensembles some with a teaching emphasis or a purely recreational one that do not generally perform or have the expectation of it so our rehearsals in our group are by necessity supposed to be a bit more structured.

I take my long time membership, and my board membership pretty seriously so I normally try to be a good example. In 24 years I have forgotten my music twice, I always have a pencil, I always phone in sick and so on. So my speaking up was not typical. I suppose I spoke up because it was a safe venue to challenge the little world notions. Even though I didn’t directly tackle it with regards to autism but a venue where I felt safe enough and confident enough to challenge the pairing of little and world.

There were murmurs of assent, and murmurs of what the heck happened to the drummer and eventually we played on and my conductor didn’t even give me too much of a scolding. (The bonus of 24 years of being very well behaved I guess)

I don’t recall the first time I heard and made sense of those words. There was a time perhaps to outside standards it seemed like it was a little world I had and was frequently in. I sometimes, at times like this, when all seems bleak and fairly hopeless wish I was small enough to cope the ways I coped then. That is small enough to hop in a Big Wheels (the most awesome vehicle ever invented it had was red and yellow and you propelled it with your arms and steered with your feet – although the details may be lost in the mists of time) No problem I ever had in my first 4 years of life was so big that 8000 or so circuits around the basement in my Big Wheels couldn’t solve it.

It’s true enough when I was in that mode I wasn’t having any big thoughts. My activity was driven by a frenzied desire to escape whatever had put me there in the first place and not to think but that was only a fraction of how I spent my time in the years when I was viewed to have a little world.

I was covertly reading and soaking up information. Covertly because I had gotten the impression it was illegal to read until you went to school. I was having to process the abrupt to me shift from my homeland of Denmark to Canada a country I regarded as quite strange at first. I’ve since concluded at not quite 3 I couldn’t separate out the strangeness that was Canada and the strangeness that was the early 70s so Canada may have taken on more blame than is fair.

The internet name I use to this day was born in those years when I could be pronounced asocial, lacking in play skills and probably retarded.(I know it’s the day to end the word but in this context I use it in the medical sense it was used about me not in any other way)  It’s a combination of gargoyle and teeth and I viewed it as my alien name. Very early on in my life a narrative to make sense of being in a world that I did not belong in was needed. It turns out autistic as alien is so common as to almost be diagnostic but I had no way of knowing it. As I grew older and older more of my days were spent in a weird triple mode as in the story I told to survive the world I had to live in I was an alien who had to observe, but beyond that I was an alien in a boy’s body. There was much about my fictional non-alien self that was nothing like my own life and I suppose that too was a coping mechanism.

So I lived a reality several times removed from my own for close to 20 years. Not bad for someone without an imagination (That too is a separate topic in it’s own right) My alien name is a combination of gargoyle and teeth as the three year old me for some reason thought aliens would be very toothy and no doubt somewhat hideous (not concerns for me as I after all had my disguise on).

That the world I lived in mentally was my own I can’t quibble with. I had not much choice in the matter. I think to not create a world where I could make sense of the world I dwelled in physically would have been to go entirely insane or perhaps never to surpass the initial impressions of me. I don’t know. Children are survivors. Autistic children shouldn’t be viewed as an exception to that so the places they go when you feel as parents and family members and friends that they are unreachable, shouldn’t be regarded in diminishing ways but appreciated for a role they might play in making any joining in at all possible.

I liked to be under things a lot when I was a kid. Actually I still do but age and two joint replacements make it less practical. Stress me enough though and I will find a way and a place. I spent a lot of hours under tables listening, or lying under trees watching the dance of sun and shade and thinking the thoughts I had to think. So what if the wiggling of your fingers in just the right way can make that even more beautiful? Is it the autistic world that is small for noticing that or the neurotypical one for not knowing how to enjoy that and get some peace from it? Try it sometime. I dare you. Light a candle or two and crawl under a table and see how you feel. Notice the shadows and play with them. Did your world shrink or expand? Do things feel more manageable after a bit? What would happen to your own world if you dared to notice that the sunlight can catch a dust more in just such a way as to create beauty never captured on canvas?

It could be I am an optimist and some neurologically typical people can’t even see some of this. That would make sense given the who;e sensory hyper and hypo-sensitivity aspect so maybe you won’t see what I see or what if you are doing his because you love a child with autism what they see but I still think you will feel and see something different.

So much of what people think they know about autism is tainted by observer bias. The autistic person behaves in ways that make them look different from the observer. The observer seeks a reason. That the reason may not be true doesn’t seem to enter into it. The observers after all tend to be highly educated, very important types and what they are observing is some specimen of child viewed as likely to cost taxpayers millions upon millions but being a civilized society compassion is due I suppose they reason.

Only the theories they come up with are not compassionate. They are almost all completely, and entirely wrong. The treatments then that come out of those false conclusions are also wrong. They dehumanize those who undergo them. Rob them of their innate abilities to cope and mass produce organic robots. That is autistic people who have learned to suppress everything about them at huge cost and so have no energy to be anything at all but compliant. We all know what the cost of non-compliance is in some areas so let’s not even go there for now.

Autism is still viewed as so horrific that the number one priority of the biggest fund raising group there is for autism (and I am going to treat them like Voldemort and not say their name as they certainly do a more than ample job of self-promotion) is a prenatal test for it. Reading their mission statement I did so wish my world really was so small I never heard of them.

My background is in psychology. I took a lot of behavioural psychology in fact. I think all my university offered as it has it’s uses. However the blind application of it without regard to the utility of the behaviours in front of you isn’t something we were taught as reasonable or ethical. When the internet was first becoming more widely available ,over and over again, I protested what strict ABA would do. That the complete disregard for any functional utility of the behaviour that autistic people did have was a mistake. Over time a few people started to see this but not enough of them. Therapy programs still focus very much on making the person indistinguishable from their peers. In fact we have come full circle to the diagnostic practices of my own childhood where it’s mused that some people are in fact cured. (That they won’t be when they hit another developmental stage where demand once again outstrips capacity is not something I doubt but again a topic in it’s own right).

Think about that as a goal for a moment: to be indistinguishable from your peers. When you go out into that real, big world people are so fond of is that your goal? To not stick out? Surely at work you want to be distinguishable, surely you want someone to remark about you in some favourable way. You are the best at catching bots, or you bake the best challah in all of Canada and so on. So called normal people don’t really have this as a goal at all. In fact from books I get the sense they fear it. So why is this a therapeutic goal? Shouldn’t the goal be to embrace the person you are and make the most of it while at the same time since I am not a total idealist and blind to the pragmatics of coping, learning effective coping skills. Shouldn’t those coping skills be based on what you already have? That rock you carry in your pocket, the solar calculator that catches the light etc… Why is it up to autistic people to cope in the same ways that neurotypical people do when from where I sit many “normal” people don’t cope very functionally at all. How is reflecting light off your watch worse than drinking too excess? Why is reciting train-tables when you get stressed worse than using the kinds of drugs society tolerates to some degree? Does anyone out there have a good answer to those questions because if these were test questions so that the autistic person will fit in better would be a failing answer. It’s based on a false premise that that equals being happy. Happy after all should be a goal, no?

Until I was in my mid 20s I desperately wanted to be normal. That I even thought that it was within my reach is laughable in retrospect. If I had been neurotypical if we assume my intelligence isn’t completely tied in with my autism I would have still been a total outlier but in any case I wanted it and I tried oh so desperately hard. I had it all tied in with love somehow in my mind. That I could be lovable if I was normal and I want to cry sometimes for the child and young person I was then.

Data, of Star Trek’s The Next Generation, was my role model. I thought I could outgrow my programming and be more human. I feared what it would cost me too at times. I would argue with him out loud sometimes watching it especially an episode where he is about to install an emotion chip. (I knew it would be too much all at once for him) My brother got annoyed and made some remark about how to feel is to be human and since my own range of feelings or at least my understanding of them was still pretty narrow I was hurt but returned to convincing Data of the error of his ways.

It was through reaching out to parents on Internet Relay Chat that I started to see the value in my autism. That I had a role, while not one I would have signed up for necessarily if you got a choice, but a role all the same in trying to educate the educable parents. I watched some parents try every treatment possible but didn’t judge them for it overly harshly as that they were driven by love was clear enough.

I ran a chat for kids and their sibling for a time and some of those kids I sometimes hear from even now. Some parents would get grumpy with me because I always was keen to know their child’s interests. We had a difference in opinion as I viewed the interest as bridge to communication and the parents tended to view them as obsessions and perseverations and thus not to be encouraged. I would reply well if I get three kids in their perseverating on the same topic a conversation sometimes happens and so it was. To this day I know more about Pokemon than anyone my age should but that it helped some kids a lot was clear. A mother messaged me once to say her daughter had said she had a friend. I thought that was nice but didn’t grasp why the mother came on to say it and she then said she had never said that before. Never had one before.

My brother was not a fan of these kinds of friendships at first. The whole internet thing going a bit too much with being a hermit in my own world plus there was the whole axe killers things to worry about. Thankfully one of the parents I chatted with lived close to him and it was through observing that my online friendships could and did develop into real world friendships and supports that his fears eased.

Oddly enough to the extent I work at all these days I work in a virtual setting. Out of that same chat platform. My colleagues are no less real for my not having to smell them or hear the sounds of their music escape from their headphones. When my mother died they were still a comfort. People to seek out despite never having been in the same physical space with them.

Does that make my world smaller? It seems to make it bigger to me. I use multiple languages in my work and know people from so many more than I would if it was easy for me to go out into the local city and hang out and do what people do when they go out there. (I have no clue actually what they do)

In my hours of profoundest grief and shock it was the mother of my long time boss who provided some of the nicest words of comfort.

My world is not small. If the expert view of my world is small or was small that’s a problem with that view. Their view is small. I won’t go so far as to say as a result their world is but their world is clearly not as open to things outside the realm of things they think they know about being possible. In my “small” world I know I barely know anything. The rules of this “small” world require me to check when it intercepts with the “real” world. As a result oddly enough even people who legitimately belong to groups regarded as having normal sized worlds sometimes have had to comment how much better I understand some things. Some of those things are the very things the experts say we as a group are deficient in when they speak of our lacking some fundamental human attributes and what a problem our empathy is. Irony there entirely intended but sad nevertheless.

Just a Dog

During the days after finding out about my mother’s death and actually being able to get to my family I had one source of comfort. The same source of comfort and support that can nearly always be found within a few centimetres of me: my dog, Shadow.

Years ago when I was still in university and doing very well with the academic part but having some anxiety during the busy time between classes my doctor wanted to get me an actual Autism Dog. The notion of such a thing was still new to him and he thought it would be enourmously beneficial and given I don’t really react typically to any medication but do love animals it seemed logical to him.

I was still in my phase of if I try hard enough I can be normal though or at least so closely approximate normal – especially at school, that I wasn’t keen. I did desperately want a dog and didn’t live in a place where I could have one for several more years but between wanting to look normal and thinking that for me any dog would likely do whereas for the types of kids (and they were always kids) being featured in stories about them they did indeed need a highly trained dog so it could go to school and so on.

It would be years before I got a dog. I was never entirely pet-less even if my lease said I was. I had gerbils, and a mouse and when I moved somewhere where I could have a dog but hadn’t accumulated the money for a dog, rats. I wanted to be sure when I finally got a dog I could pay for emergency expenses so long after I could afford to either buy or adopt a dog I was still saving.

Eventually I got a dog. A friend in Alberta, I had met on a channel for support for autism (primarily parents on that channel) found one in the paper and I had a sleepover when I went to visit my family and the dog clearly chose me. She was a good dog but we had been lied to about some of her life history it seems and there were numerous health issues. She was however so devoted to me I often worried about the next dog. How would the next dog ever compare?

The impact of that first dog was dramatic and immediate though. Whereas before I was often hospitalized for depressions that the powers that be had deemed untreatable due to my autism, and actually offered a cingulotomy as my only hope (a cingulotomy in case people wonder is in some ways more horrifying than a lobotomy). Post dog I was never hospitalized again for that. (Well until my no good. very bad year)  There may be a few contaminating factors in the data there but the dog played a huge role without a doubt.

When my dog, Tiny was her name, died I knew I could not be without a dog. I was torn between feeling there was an appropriate mourning period where a new puppy might feel like a replacement and the cold, hard knowledge that without a dog my life would head steeply downhill. I could feel it heading that way when in my pain of losing her I had no dog to reach for.

Slightly less than a month after Tiny died I got Shadow. Not wanting to be saddled with an unknown history I unapologetically got a puppy. Countless semi-anonymous people felt they could take me to task on getting a puppy when so many dogs are abandoned but I said that after having gone through some avoidable things with Tiny I wanted any errors made with my new dog to be created by me, and known by me. So if he didn’t get care he should have had, or wound up with severe separation anxiety or whatever those would be problems that had their origin in my care of him and I would then live with them. Sorry any unmet rescue dogs I never considered but this was my health at stake which I had to place at least equal to yours I am afraid, and so a brand, spanking new puppy, with a nice health record of both him and his parents it was. It wasn’t the politically correct thing I suppose but I am seldom in danger of doing that anyway.

Shadow’s name is a source of embarrassment to me. I had had gerbils named after mythical figures and rats named after physicists. A teeny, tiny entirely pathetic runt of a mouse I bought during a moment of extreme crisis (my suicide prevention mouse) I had dubbed Sergei Brun Mussen Von Federovsky in homage both to hockey and a linguistic game my maternal grandfather used to play.

With Tiny I had an excuse. She came with a name and was old enough a change would be hard. I would inevitably on being asked her name follow up with the fact I didn’t name her. I did name Shadow.

Oh how I didn’t want his name to be Shadow. He’s black of course although he would be no less Shadow like in another colour. It’s the 6th most popular dog’s name in our municipality among registered dogs and indeed there were no less than 4 on our block (granted it was a large block but still…) He was simply unquestionably my Shadow from the first moment.

I didn’t go to get him the day I wound up with him. I had my eye on a female in another litter. My father had told me that females always make better pets and that combined with alert and active dogs were probably smarter was about all the information I made my decision with in the end. I had read some stuff on the web but it didn’t differentiate that much from what my father said, so it seemed like a female it would be.

My dear friend, Jim, who has since died drove me with his wife. His wife, Shirley had been against my getting a dog in the first place. Atypically for her quite verbally against it as her reasoning was I could barely look after myself how could I look after a dog. She admitted she had been wrong within a week of my getting Tiny as she happened to drive by me walking Tiny and had never seen me look so happy in the entire time she had known me. A convert to the notion that a dog was necessary she was keen to be a part of the process.

I noticed Shadow immediately. Of the puppies only he was at all alert. It could be the rest were sleepy because they had just eaten or whatever but Shadow watched my every move. As I dutifully studied the dog I had intended to purchase my eyes kept going back to him. I explained my dilemma to Jim and Shirley but they had not been what you call dog people and had no advice beyond thinking it was me who had to live with the decision so I had to make it.

I asked to spend some time with Shadow thinking I could get him out of my system, after finding no one had expressed any intent to buy him. His sister’s had been hotter commodities and although all but one was still there they were all spoken for. (Maybe everyone had fathers who taught them that a female makes a better pet) Not that his sisters were at all tempting. They were as sleepy and as disinterested in me as my intended dog and her litter-mates.

I took Shadow out of eyesight of the other dogs which is ridiculous as the puppy I had come in for couldn’t know the grand betrayal in the making. I held him. I sensed my plan to get him out of my system or to discover something disappointing about him was not going to work. I set him down and he was adorable as he promptly scrambled to try to position himself on my shoe. I thought, it can’t be he actually knows how this works and if I am able to walk away from him he will never see me and I wasn’t vain enough really to think in the grand scheme of things that should matter too much but to Shadow it seemed to.

The inevitable followed of course. It feels odd to me to buy a dog as I don’t look at myself as owning a dog but being in a partnership. (Shadow has written somewhat extensively on this in his own blog – okay he gets some help with the typing and translating from dog but still http://www.dogster.com/dogs/914607) He was paid for since my feelings about ownership don’t enter into the need for a transaction. We went and got some things that would be  uniquely his and not passed down from Tiny and then took him home.

I had never had a puppy of my own to train. We had dogs always growing up but my father looked after that and the last dog that had been more mine than the family dog was one that I had walked after school for her whole life, as her people were in busy professions but came to me fully trained. Even overly trained for the life she wound up having. But Shadow and I both proved pretty trainable.

The first night he was home I slept with him in my hand. He wanted to be with me and was having none of this crate business and even though I had read umpteen books on why crate training is the greatest thing since… well who knows what but I am a single human. There is no greater feeling in the world than a dog snuggled by your side. (Or in Shadow’s case often on top of my bladder but still somehow that works out) I was terrified I would crush him, but clearly couldn’t put him down so I slept in the most awkward position of all time- my hand holding him but stretched what I judged to be a safe distance from my huge self. I woke to find him on my heart as I always roll onto my back at some point and that was his place after that while he was small.

Somewhere along the line the more reluctant members of my family came to accept that I actually needed a dog with me had. Even my father who sometimes had tried to convince someone to convince me to leave my dog behind gave in by the time Shadow came around. He had a cat he loves and the perception of the cat being upset about the dog is a little warped by that love. Their first time together after that cat had drawn quite copious amounts of blood from my then 3 and a half month old puppy it took a feat of extreme will not to explode at all the expressions of sympathy for the cat. Anyway said cat can take care of himself and usually when I visit without the chaos of the rest of the clan, the cat is over it fairly fast. The cat hates me with a passion as I have never been found without a dog with me but we reached a state of detente.

This year in the eyes of some Shadow got promoted. Getting him certified as a service dog had been something my new psychiatrist had been keen on. I could see the practicality of it as we were having some problems finding housing but I had qualms about some of the requirements. Again Shadow has covered those in his own blog so I won’t repeat myself – or rather him.

That he is a support animal is without question. Despite 2012 being the year when my record absence from hospital was broken as I tell him what went on was beyond the ability of any dog to fix. I couldn’t cope in a completely predictable autistic way with the major change of having to leave my home of many years. The degree to which I couldn’t cope was a surprise and the fact I am still not over it also a surprise but given the number of very learned humans who also have not been much help in this time my inability to cope was not his fault.

He isn’t officially certified as anything yet beyond being certified as an emotional support dog on one airline. There has been some feet dragging on my part as a service dog is the more logical designation for my conditions and would grant him more privileges typically (although laws in our province are almost non-existent) but I have some ethical qualms with some of what would be required of him. Ultimately I suspect we will still go that route as I have been told that they do take the disability into account so the area that caused me the most concern was the requirement that a dog not greet someone without permission as it’s useful for me that he does and his friendliness is a fundamental part of him. One doesn’t tamper with the fundamental parts of a being in my ethical system so training him to seek permission from a human who would be slow to realize there was even someone who needed greeting and the attendant lack of social interaction that would go with that seemed unthinkably cruel to him.

Shadow isn’t just friendly. He is comically friendly. When he was a puppy and we were in Calgary for a funeral, a business man in full oil patch attire drove past us, backed up, parked his car and sat down in his very nice suit and simply played with him. He said almost nothing to me beyond enquiring about the breed so I have never been able to come up with a reason why that happened. Something more than the extreme cuteness of my dog surely but I can only wonder. Some days I suppose one just needs a dog urgently enough to break with societal norms in a city full of them. Who knows?  A commuting bicyclist did the same here although that’s slightly more typical for what the rest of Canada calls “la la land”, than Alberta.

When my friend had found Tiny for me she expressed a hope that having a dog  would make me talk to people. Tiny though was content with me as her universe so I was able to walk her at 1 am with no visible harm to her. I knew immediately that Shadow would need to be walked in daylight hours when there were people about and this was no small thing for me. I often find the daytime too bright, we lived in an area near a park so thankfully it was seldom also too noisy but if I am not doing well daytime is overwhelming. Add in the fact that suddenly neighbours I had had for ten years without them noticing me were it seemed, pouring out of their houses to say hi to Shadow it was all a bit hard. Hard but no doubt good for me.

I am pragmatic. I really struggled with those early months of his intense popularity in our area. I had read though that in a natural disaster people who know their neighbours have higher survival rates and better outcomes and as insane as that may seem as a way to rationalize what I went through to have Shadow’s social needs met at the end of every walk when I slumped at my computer to do comforting computer stuff that’s what I told myself as I started at my stockpile of earthquake water.

When I was in hospital my nephew would bring Shadow in. It was actually the nurses there who were among the most vocal that he should be certified as they had just had a dog stay for some time and felt it benefited everyone. I certainly missed him mightily as it was our only separation of longer than 2 days. I worried he would be a piner like Tiny and not eat but he was apparently loving the wild, student lifestyle with my nephew and having the attention of who knows how many university students who had left some beloved dog at home heaped on him but still I know I am number one in his brain.

In these days of intense grief, Shadow has upped his protectiveness to extreme levels. He had his bed beside my desk and would sometimes drag it even further to be warmer or less likely to have paper dropped on him. His bed wound up fully under my desk almost immediately after hearing the still unfathomable news.  I didn’t even see him move it just noticed that when I sat down the sensation of dog head landing on my foot was now part of the process.

He came with me, “home” to see my mother’s cold, cold body. Well he couldn’t go to the actual funeral home but was on her bed waiting for me when I returned. The airline we fly with had just changed their policy about service and support dogs so years of paying for him to fly were going to end. He’s more essential than anything else that travels with me and now they were apparently willing to accept the word of a person qualified to say I had a DSM diagnosis (heck I collect them so that’s no problem) . For their purposes he needed nothing else. The only hitch was they needed it 48 hours in advance. Which was of course impossible. They opted to waive his fare going out as a pet and have him come home as an emotional support dog. That would be the promotion some people refer to.

Only of course he hasn’t been promoted. Nothing at all has changed about my dear Shadow. There is no rank higher than my dog in our shared universe. That society might acknowledge his importance to my health and well-being is great but that’s society. It’s practical to jump through their hoops as on a small pension and the little extra I am able to earn legally because  it’s not easy to shell out for his fare and so on but he’s doing what he has done since he was 8 weeks old.

He’s very good at it. Back before the news while he still regarded me as needing more watching than I had in some time (it has as I say been a very bad 15 months) he was willing to have his eyes off me for a few minutes at a time. We have a very small space now and he must have realized I can’t actually escape without him noticing as his practices have changed a bit.

Right now he is back to the comical levels of surveillance he had when he was a puppy. We had a walk in shower at out last place. So reluctant was he to have me out of his sight back then that he would follow me into the shower despite it only taking a second at that size for him to be soaking wet. He would eventually settle for sticking his head around the curtain and then for lying down and complaining loudly about my being in such a dangerous device but that was slow progress.

We have a bathtub here. It’s a deep one and Shadow is not a fan as if I slide all the way down to soak my aching joints I am not visible at all from where he sits. Up come his paws and head on the ledge of the tub. I know it’s anthropomorphizing him to imagine he looks a little annoyed at having to check but I do imagine that. Today he seemed to feel the need to check so often I eventually felt guilty and climbed from the tub far sooner than my arthritis wanted me to. Still he is right to suspect in my pain and misery I need close watching. Nothing would actually happen in the tub but he can, I know, feel the pain and it’s that pain he is checking on. He must also feel the slight lifting of the pain as his paws and head come into view as annoyed as I imagine he looks it is also a bit comical and does give some relief.

I don’t really understand non-dog people because the love of a dog is like nothing else on earth. I can’t quite wrap my head around not knowing that or at least not taking it on faith enough to try it.

Back when I had Tiny who was so devoted to me people would marvel I would dismiss her devotion a bit as being a product of what I increasingly suspected was a more troubled background than I had been told. I knew she loved me but I thought that love was artificially enhanced in contrast to what she had known before. That I was good to her there is no doubt but still I tended to think I was just a huge improvement so her dedication to me made a sort of sense not due to my own qualities but in contrast to what she had known.

Shadow has changed my mind. When people remark on his attentiveness I tell them that I inspire devotion in dogs. Dogs by nature want to be devoted but mine seem to go that extra mile so people do remark. I have realized it isn’t every human or indeed the majority of humans who thinks of their relationship with their dog as a partnership to the extent I do. I’ve joked if I believed in reincarnation and aside from the practical limitation I would come back as my dog.

When I first got Tiny and would describe myself as Tiny’s human when booking an appointment people would sometimes laugh. The years went on and some municipalities started to adapt language for dog by-laws that was free of the term owner. I had nothing whatsoever to do with that but was simply using language the way I always do. That is I use the words that are true. Owner is not a true word for the type of relationship I have with the dogs I have loved.

While one can buy a dog and due to a dog’s forgiving nature even the most horrible human can possess it’s heart to a degree that makes me want to weep at times, I don’t believe you can own one. If you are lucky you can have one that recognizes that you are the human he or she was meant to have and tried as hard as Shadow did to prove it.

My heart is as fully his as his is mine. Since I am not being blessed with the ignorance of his mortality that he is perhaps more so, as having lost dogs it’s hard not to look at even a young one without looking ahead to that terrible day.

Still in the moment we have each other and much of the time that is all we are certain of. It seems unlikely that I will ever have the kind of relationships with humans I sometimes long for but don’t mistake this love of and by a dog as a poor substitute for that. It’s a deep and loving bond free from the complications and hurts that humans sometimes inflict on one another. I am not qualified to say it is a better relationship but I do know it is not inherently a poorer one.

Like the husband I will likely never have he is not perfect. He’s part Pekingese so he snores like a 400 pound truck-driver sometimes with that squashed in nose of his. There’s that aforementioned tendency to find the most comfortable part of my body to creep up onto in the night to be my bladder and I left out the part (although again he discusses it in his own blog) where he has a war with my reading material.

Right now I can’t really look after myself. I am losing alarming amounts of weight because of that and all sorts of regarded as essential things are not happening. Shadow however is looked after. On my worst days he has to advocate for himself a bit and I feel terrible guilt if his water dish is empty but so central is he to my universe that his care comes above my own and I do think that love has been defined that way by more than one poet or sage throughout time.

I titled this blog Just a Dog because it’s a phrase I hear so often, often preceded by “Don’t be silly,”. I feel sorry for people who can say, “just a dog”. There is no just about it. To not have been loved by a dog enough to know that just and dog don’t go together as it does them dishonour to so diminish their importance is a very sad thing. A sadder thing I think, (although the world again views this differently) than my condition. It probably breaks some fundamental neurotypical societal rule for me to feel sorry for those inclined to buy puzzle ribbons and turn facebook blue and all that meaningless politically correct “see how much I care about autism” nonsense and still say just and dog in the same sentence. So sorry any regular, well-meaning but insight impaired neurotypicals that read this. I mean no offense. This is just my truth about my dog and why he is neither promotable nor diminishable by any adjective.

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A Day of Grief, Rest and Worms

It rained today. It’s the first day of March on the Wet Coast of Canada so that’s almost a given. It was also a Friday which meant it was the first time I was able to be with my temple congregation as I mourned my mother. I had longed for today since getting home late Sunday, well really since learning the news.

That I am not doing well by any measure seems clears enough. I weighed myself today and found another 8 kilograms had vanished from my body, claimed by the forces that make texture in food intolerable at times like this and remembering to eat what I whip up that I think I can tolerate a long shot.

I tried to have a normal day other than not working. I went to my country band practice even though this week it seems habitual for me to wake after only a few hours sleep and so I found myself just starting to fall asleep again when it was time to get ready. It took me in this scattered state of pretty close to no executive function over an hour to locate my keys. I never did locate my music. When I got home I saw it was just where it should be even though I had a clear impression of looking right there many times earlier.

So I did my best to have the life I usually live or the recreational bits anyway which is what my friends have said to do. To ease back into the more arduous things as I am ready, but not to be a hermit. So I went to my rehearsal on Thursday and the one today. At one point I nearly burst into tears on Thursday over the fact that the recordings I had asked our sound technician to make of our last concert would never be heard by my mother.

I got myself to temple stopping at the library, despite not having a hope in heck of finding my library card. They know me there and usually you get two free borrows a year without one but since it was also Shabbat I didn’t have anything but my bus pass with me. I leave my wallet behind habitually and as stressed as I was words weren’t going to come to say as much but somehow the book I waited for 5 months got checked out to me all the same. The clerk said that for the record a bus pass does not work it should be something like a care card if I don’t have my library card. That got words out of me as I protested they are both issued by the government and the bus pass actually has more information on it that she is actually able to read. She demagnetized my book with more of a thud than seemed necessary and I escaped.

Our congregation meets at the Jewish Community Centre so every week there is a the usual hubbub of people getting ready on Jewish time. I have mused about how as a group, such unpunctual people even made it out of the dessert in 40 years but that has not sped up the pace any. So it was familiar. We donned our kippot and grabbed our prayer books and I headed to “my spot”. Then I realized there would be a bottleneck of people anxious to hug me so I left those behind and went to be comforted a bit. I wouldn’t have guessed 18 months ago that I would go out of my way to be hugged by people but the embraces that used to be something to endure were healing tonight.

The service was familiar of course but while familiar it is also different each time as different people read or give stress to different things and different meditations are chosen. I did not cry until the meditation before the Mourner’s Kaddish. Then I couldn’t stop for a bit. During the familiar rhythms of it I did stop until the last few words. But I was among friends. An arm planted firmly on me on both sides and so I suppose it served it’s centuries old function.

We gathered for the oneg after (-to delight ; so a bit more elaborate than a coffee hour). Our congregation usually spends twice as much time in this phase of things than the service which is not to say we skimp on the service bit but the social part takes a long, long, time. When I first started going it was so hard for me that they were so social. The eating and drinking together had always been something to flee quickly and now there was no fleeing without feeling like somehow you were failing to fully appreciate and take delight in Shabbat so I learned to enjoy that. Tonight especially when for most of the week I had been holed up in my place trying to sleep away my pain, or when I had ventured among humans been in more structured situations it was good to just sit and drink tea out of my blue cup, and eat what had been brought.

It’s important for me to eat when I am with people as I am so horrible at it the rest of the time so did. I brought my baby book which doesn’t go much past the age of 3 for me but since no one had ever seen my mom I brought it in case I had nothing to say or too much to say. Pictures it seemed would help.

My dog always gets a walk on Shabbat. I am Reform so no fear that I may inadvertently tame a wild beast keeps us from that. It is one of our rituals to walk with him and enjoy the peace and outdoors. In the summer before services often, as the days get so long that it feels Shabbat will never arrive but at this time of year afterwards. I think about and to marvel in whatever has come up or the portion for the week or whatever comes to mind, usually while simultaneously marvelling at the night sky when it is visible.

Usually I look up at the lights and think myriad thoughts and one would expect my thoughts to be on my mother tonight and they had been until then but as I said at the outset it was raining and had rained with only short respite for days. So my mission was clear. There were worms that needed saving.

When it rains for days on end hundreds of worms wash down onto the sidewalk. Some misguided worms crawl towards the street where if they are unlucky they will fall off the curb and be swept down the street in a torrent of water. Others will simply wind up in a puddle and meet a more visibly gruesome death as their body swells with more water than they can handle. Neither are ever acceptable outcomes to me.

People might be tempted to think I went at my worm rescue with more intensity than normal tonight because I couldn’t save my mother but that worms will be rescued is a given for me. There were rather more in need of rescue tonight and I had to give it up at the point where my dog became so wet I feared for his health but I relocated the worms who had only strayed near danger back onto nearby lawns. The ones who had nearly perished though I regarded as likely to do something stupid in worm terms if left too their own devices so into my pocket they went. They were in need of relocation to the worm sanctuary outside my door. Far from a street or gutter and where no one walks.

I’ve sometimes even wondered about the ethics or rescuing stupid worms. By actually placing the worms most likely to have come near death in the safest situation ultimately am I tampering with their gene pool? Am I breeding for stupidity? Should I, a mere mortal, even intervene? Yes, I can get more mileage out of the art of saving worms than some might imagine.

I used to anguish about this separation of the worms I viewed as not trustworthy enough to be left near the scene of their near demise (IE most likely to just resume crawling towards the sidewalk) . I had a nice backyard where I did a bit of gardening until this past year. When I did worm rescue and brought back some to there I would wonder if worms got lonely for their close kin or not. On a rational level I know enough about their nervous systems to dismiss this as silly but somehow just as some types of people might wonder if they are hurting a rock, despite being very logical and rational I always feel like I am weighing the likely sure death of the worm over it’s separation from the familiar. I of course am not one to underestimate how catastrophic separation from the familiar is.

Anyway into my pocket went the worms I had actually plucked from near death. Two so soggy I wasn’t entirely sure they would ever wriggle again (they did) one that had dangled right on the edge of the curb as we walked by and one I had plucked out of rivulet of water as it swept towards certain death. The worms are oblivious to all this I suppose. If I wanted to make this in anyway about my life and not just my habitual rescue of worms who will be stepped on, swept away or drown I might be tempted to think that I went at it this intensely because almost nothing this year has been in my control.

I couldn’t stop myself from losing my place that I lived, my health, more of my health, or my mom but dangnabbit that improbably long worm dangling from the curb was not going to get swept into the sewer system. I was tempted to think well it’s not an exercise of control over the fate of some barely sentiment being in a merciless universe because I always do exactly this but then I thought about it.

A lot of my life feels not unlike that of a worm in a long stormy stretch. The worm is battered by more rain than it can handle in a stormy stretch, swept from the familiar into the possibly dangerous and filled to a point of near death with water. The past 15 months it feels like the universe has rained down one horrible happening after another on me. There have been a few good but very few good. Like the worm that never gets to dry out enough to be out of danger, I never get a stable stretch enough to even begin to brace for the next deluge.

So then I have to wonder is this worm rescue I diligently perform even in more stable times still my attempt to control some beings fate all the same. It may be just an extension of other familiar repetitive rites made to comfort and create the sense of structure just in a more eleborate guise. Who knows? I don’t. Or maybe I do and it doesn’t matter.

I’m drained and sad, and have a hole in my life that won’t even begin to mend any time soon so if all I know at the end of the day is that I was finally able to mourn with my closest friends, and that approximately 80 worms were saved from possible squishing and drowning and about half a dozen from certain death isn’t that at the end of the day about all I could hope for from a day like today?

The day we flew home when my dog was so distraught by any separation from me I kept telling him tomorrow would be better but in fact the tomorrows of this week have not been. Not yet. We head into this tomorrow, a day that is always a day of rest so not as atypical from all the other days of rest we have had this week only able to claim some small victory over the elements that sought to destroy some worms. A very small victory except we are at least heading into another day. That hasn’t always been a given in all of the chaos and pain of the past 15 months so while some people no doubt would rate both the religious aspects of my life and the worm rescuing ones about equally pointless to me they have a point.

I don’t normally even try to defend the religious parts as they don’t need defending. The worm rescue parts well it’s something that some people knew about but most didn’t but it is how I spent the last part of a very long day, in a very long week, in a very long year and so on.

Anyone hoping for something more moving, or illuminating as far as either autism or grief goes is probably feeling a bit robbed and it’s not like the worms will be singing my praises as they dry out, and burrow into new soil but that was my today. It could have been much worse – although not much wetter.

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Summers in the Sun

Mombrorsajeg 1172x856Finding a trike for a Viking sized toddler is not easy.

My mom died a week ago. Such a short sentence for such a complex reality. There were so many times growing up I felt like a motherless child and so wanted to like the song that sings about that but now I really am one.

It wasn’t an easy time we had growing up for many reasons. My mother was a turbulent and troubled woman, shaped by an extremely early marriage to a very domineering and difficult man. She did her best at times. Or I suppose all of the time she did the best she was capable of at the time but sometimes that best was so painfully short of the mark it’s painful even now.

There is a subset of the human population that is blessed with a gift for denial so deep that having made up their mind something didn’t happen they can come to believe their version of the truth and live it. I saw my mother do this with many things over the years but the one people have wondered the most about has been my autism.

The way my doctor explained it to me when I was 18 and had been hospitalized for the first time making him seek access to my medical charts as far back as he could get it was normal for parents to be advised to forget about it once certain goals had been met (basically they knew you were not mentally retarded and your speech was okay) . You were labelled with residual autism but it was never to be spoken again or risk your backsliding into preferring to spin mad circles in your big wheels for hours on end, or stacking your pennies over playing with people or something more appropriately toy like.

No one may have ever followed that advice better than my mother. Every so often I caught a hint my parents still had some of the same concerns but the “A word” was not spoken. When we moved to BC at 12 and I not only wasn’t able to make friends but was relentlessly bullied there were many hushed conversations.

The next summer the girl who had been my best friend in the last subdivision we lived in in Calgary summered across the lake from us. I had the easiest babysitting job ever that year as it mainly involved sitting in a boat and spotting for a former professional water-skier while making sure none of his kids fell out of the boat. We skied across the lake and I swam in to fetch my friend, and my employer dropped us off on our beach.

We played Masterpiece in the basement as my friend was particularly fond of the art auction phase and had a phrase to go with it that I remember to this day. It was the best I had felt in almost a year. I heard my Dad come in and could hear some surprise in his voice and came up the stairs to fetch drinks for my friend and I to watch his face fall a bit as his statement that it was almost as if I was playing with XXXXX again was answered by my Mom’s statement I was. As I emerged whatever other intense discussion would have followed evaporated of course.

Although in those years concerns about my social life, my functioning and so on would get expressed at times nothing useful was ever done to re-mediate anything. To do so would have been to open the wound of my being defective in the first place as that’s the message I absorbed in my much younger years.

I don’t know if anyone ever tried so hard to not be defective. Probably some have but nothing I ever did was the secret to what everyone else could do so easily. Times were not easy for my parents and we went through many grim things which I will leave out of this for the moment.

In grade 11 I wound up in an unofficial foster care situation. A very caring man who was a teacher at my school and his wife took me in when enough was discovered that my removal from my family was certain. Everyone felt throwing me randomly into a very broken foster care system would be my undoing and so I went for a time to stay with this teacher and his wife.

I was still walking up the stairs, my pseudo foster mother was asking me what I liked to eat and questions like that. Questions I had not been asked in my life ever and couldn’t really work out why she cared. I was accustomed to eating what we had to eat and that was that. In the context I had at the time I thought this concern about my likes and dislikes and potential allergies was very odd.

One might be able to predict with all that I left out that I would wind up estranged from my parents and I did. For many years my doctors felt no contact with them was best and I do think I did need that to heal from everything I didn’t mention. My mother was first diagnosed with cancer just before I cut of connection with them completely and I got a lot of “your poor dying mother” guilt ladled on me but I did what was necessary to make my peace with the life I had so we could have a relationship at some point however limited it might be.

We did get to a point where I could indeed go and visit my parents. It was never free of stress by far but my mother and I had some good times all the same.

5 years ago the cancer that had been assumed to be beaten came back with a vengeance. Something miraculous happened those 5 years. It had started earlier but sped up considerably. My mother started to become the sort of mother I hadn’t known existed when I was young. When I was coming for my visit she was keen to have me dictate what I wanted to eat that I wouldn’t make for myself. She started to send me home with things to heat up and so on. I tended to visit in the summer and as the years between my first stop over really in the company of my brother lengthened the time I could manage also did. Two weeks in the summer started to be fairly routine and sometimes at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The world regards her courage as being tied into her long fight with cancer but is that courage? It’s true she seldom complained but it wasn’t a battle she chose. In my own mind her real act of courage in recent years was to actually confront in some way the mother she had been and to change that. She wasn’t much into talking about it although sometimes expressed regret for something she didn’t do but every visit, for the parts she controlled anyway, was better. To me it takes more courage to confront things you could have done differently but didn’t and what those things cost you and choose to change than to battle a disease that will claim so many of us. It’s true you get to make some choices even in a fight you didn’t choose about how you go about it but to tackle something painful head on is for most people it seems harder than charging into a battlefield.

She got really angry at my father back in July when I had had a heck of a time tracking down my brother’s phone number for her so she could phone him. I spelled out to her something I had never dared say about how that particular brother was more vulnerable to how our father treated him for whatever reason but that I thought it made it hard for all of us to have a relationship with her.

It was clear she knew that. My father enquired what we were talking about and she spelled it out for him and atypically for him his reply was very mild. In my entire life until that moment I had never really seen her stand up that way to him. There would be the occasional look or a shouting match but things inevitably ended in a draw. Not his quiet monosyllable in Danish that acknowledged he heard and understood and even accepted the truth of it, but apparently had nothing to say about it.

We all went there in December and had a few days together and it was better than one might dare to expect which is fortunate as none of us were able to make it to her bedside in time to say any other goodbye.

I was calling her almost every day the last few months. We had always respected the line about actually crossing the line and uttering the dreaded “A word” but for years already when my mom spoke to me about myself she would speak as if she understood completely how important some things were to me. I was bolder and bolder in how I spoke about my life and she did not yell or deny it but still there was a line I felt was inviolable without causing her pain.

I had as most people know a very difficult year. Well face it we are heading into difficult month 15 now but as part of that of course we wind up seeing a lot of doctors, and having a lot of professionals in and out of our lives. My parents had always previously spoken of me as sick. That being more palatable and I do have horrible depressions co-morbid with my autism although there was a long spell between my last one and this horrible one.

A few weeks ago I said my doctor wanted a new reassessment of me so he could get services more appropriate for my condition. For the first time since I was very young although she did not utter any word starting with a it was clear my mother wasn’t denying it anymore. She said, “I hope they don’t think you are crazy because you are not crazy.” Very firmly.

I said: “ I know Mom. Don’t worry they don’t. “

To which she replied. “Good”

That will be all I ever have from her to say whatever it was meant to say I guess. I know from how she treated me in the last years of her life she had comes to terms with the person I am but communicating how different I am from other people was some last taboo.

I searched her room for some last communication from her. There were things that suggested I had been on her mind in those last weeks of her life. She had added to my previously infamous 3 page baby book, indeed she had created a second album that I did leave with my Dad although it was primarily pictures of me that I had not seen.

People talk about autism acceptance a lot but the fact of it is I spent much of this year beating myself up for the way my autism so catastrophically derailed my life at a time when my mother needed to know I would be okay. I couldn’t go to her this summer. Will never sit on the beach with her again. Never coax her into the water with assurances that it is warm in years when warm is late to come. Never watch her own unique way of swimming from further out in the lake.

My acceptance of it is a not a done deal but a continual process not that different from my mother’s although free of the denial component for the last two dozen years. So many times I have wished I could have been the daughter my mother dreamed of when she tried so hard to have me and then to keep me viable.

Of course acceptance in any relationship isn’t a one time thing is it? I sit and struggle with the pain of wishing my mother could have reached the point she did sooner, or that I could have been stronger and not collapsed so completely as a result of change that I could have been with her this summer. I too would have many times preferred almost any other mother and that was fair enough for the times I thought those thoughts. I suppose in fairness the same might be said for her. That many other daughters may have been more in line with what she had in mind still in the end she was courageous enough to change her ways. She never spoke of the changes or what had driven them. People may speculate awareness of her mortality but I think it would have come nevertheless.

So I sit, and I cry and I miss my mother. The pain and the hurt of many years do not get completely erased by the seasons in the sun and sand and water but they fall into a different context for me. They make me appreciate the act of will it is – and always is to be a better mother to me as I chose to spend the years of work it took to be able to be a daughter.

I went into it all with low expectations but my mother far surpassed them. The love between a parent and a child is a bit of a given but that love in action is not always apparent. In the end we had that.

In the past year when it seemed clear to me her time was near. I sometimes remarked because I feared this very day that this improvement of hers in her mothering would make all this so much worse in the end. Your mother only dies once thankfully so there is no contrasting how it might have seemed if she had remained as she was through much of my life about some aspects of my being but now that my fear has come to pass I think I was wrong. Yes it hurts more I suspect because I have more to miss. I have lost something enjoyable and warm. However it could be that to have lost a mother without ever getting to the stage where the things I did in the end, experience were a given would be so much worse.  I’ll never know.

I love you Mom. Your memory is a blessing and I will remember you in every glint of the sun on the water and each time I glimpse a beach.

DanishbeachMombeachtowel

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G-d, Acceptance and the Autistic Spectrum

My sister-in-law pointed out that parts  of this blog post are a little confusing as they assume familarity with the events that were going on politically around disability at the time in the US)  I don’t think I would have gotten anything out at all if I had had to clarify too much my concerns about how autism is viewed and at the time I wrote it I was spending a lot of time in a virtual huddle with people in blogs and facebook following things so I was a bit blind to what might need explaining to those not as entrenched in the political aspects of disability) It’s true my English teachers would have subtracted marks for it but sometimes you just have to get words out.

 

G-d, Acceptance and the Autistic Spectrum

Years ago I wrote about G-d as far as autism goes. I wasn’t going to tackle that subject in my first actual new article for a number of reasons.

The first was one of those reasons is I am reluctant to express something that could be seen as the notion of people with disabilities are somehow more special in the candy coated ways that circulate on the internet now and in the “olden days” in print media, and make me cringe.

The second was was followup to my journey as far as love goes a discussion G-d is actually a step backwards. Related to the first reason, I had a certainty as far as G-d goes before I knew that’s what people called that presence. I have a certainty of G-d’s love for me that is far less shakeable than the human variety and of mine for G-d.

The third is probably the worst reason not to address the issue. People who don’t believe might dismiss everything else I have to say as it’s clear in the minds of some people that a belief in G-d, and intelligence are mutually incompatible. For some reason they identify all people with a religion of any sorts as belonging to the fringes of their faith and therefore have and no doubt will again ridicule things I don’t actually believe.

When I first addressed the issue many years ago it was in response to the question, “How do you feel about G-d?” I took it literally and replied I liked G-d. When I found out the root of the question was the notion that abstract things are hard for autistic people and secondly that if I had somehow managed to get my mind around the concept of G-d was I angry with G-d?

I will start with the original question I guess before getting to the reason I concluded I would write about this today rather than the topic I had all written out in my head.

Despite have a switch that no amount of reading and exposure to literature is stuck in a default mode of concrete and literal, I do not recall a time when G-d was something abstract to me. For many years in fact G-d may have been the least abstract of all.

I had some time when I was more typical as far as my distance from the world when I was young. Those times occur periodically now even when I am under great stress but for a time I had the luxury of mainly being an observer in a world that hadn’t made up it’s mind what expectations to have of me yet. When words started to have meaning I still had some time left in observer mode and by the time I was willing to have sustained interactions with people long enough to have any sway over me my mind was long past the point where religious education would have made a difference to my version of G-d.

G-d having always felt present and real for reasons I can’t properly articulate is not abstract. I do wish I could because often these sort of questions come from people longing to include their child in whatever faith they belong too. Of course G-d and structured religious observance are very separate things and for now we will leave the broader issues related to inclusion as a separate thing. I will attempt to tackle it at some point because it is a topic much discussed and seldom really properly achieved.

My father fell at one point into the people in my third reason for not taking this on. He had survived World War two in occupied Denmark as a person of Jewish descent. I don’t know if that is what made him so adamant in his atheism for sure but in the aftermath of that a lot of people of all varieties of backgrounds couldn’t believe anymore.

My father took his atheism to a degree most don’t. When I reached an age where he could teach me things he would explain how there was not only no G-d, but also no beauty or love. All three of these things were crutches for the less intelligent. We should respect their beliefs but pity them for being so stupid they needed them.

He had a forestry background so he could very much prove that what we describe as beautiful is actually functional. I suppose he thought he could lead me in a sort of backwards argument from design to share his belief system. I was willing to be flexible on beauty. I wasn’t entirely certain about human love that being a somewhat long journey for me but about G-d he met his match.

There was a time I was angry at my father for trying to impose these beliefs on me. Now that I am older I feel a twinge of sympathy for him as it must be incredibly frustrating to believe you can improve the world by bringing intelligent offspring into the world, have that offspring’s intelligence questioned (and by extension you own superiority) and when no one was questioning it anymore still not be able to make a dent in what must have seemed like the easiest of the three to convince me of.

So what does all this have to do with today? Why did I choose this topic. One that is hard for me to express today? One that I never feel I can adequately convey to a largely neurotypical audience. (or even many of my fellow dwellers on the spectrum)

I chose it today because the last two weeks have been filled with an incredible amount of spin as far as autism goes. Important goings on in the US and the like that dragged all the truly anti-science, autism as tragedy, people out of the woodwork and somehow they were allowed the lions share of the media time and as a partial consequence the US ratifying a UN treaty on the rights of the disabled didn’t happen.

It may not have happened in any case as somehow disability rights are somehow tied to abortion issues in the minds of people I can’t really understand at all. Not because they are neurotypical but because they are so illogical. Also because some of them choose to disrespectfully drag G-d in to prop up their irrationality and at times hate.

Even if one was adamantly opposed to abortion in pretty well 100 percent of circumstances then wouldn’t it make some sense to ensure the lives of those who are born are better? Entitled to some basic protections usually extended just by virtue of being human? Trying to get my mind around their oddly paradoxical stance and where the G-d I believe in enters into is far harder than believing in G-d. I suspect this must be the case for a lot of people or that segment of the population wouldn’t generate so much political comedy.

Except this wasn’t funny.

It wasn’t funny because for every other group on the planet including other disabilities the hyperbolic, nonsense that was heard would at the very least be considered not politically correct but a more accurate assessment of it would be hate speech. If you doubt the latter try inserting some other minorities into the transcripts you can find on C-Span.

I made some attempt to lighten the grim and disbelieving mood of some when tsunami was included in the long list of horrible things those with autism and the “epidemic” of autism is. I said we should claim that for our own as of all of them a tsunami has power. I may just get a t-shirt made warning people that that is what I am in fact. Not a tsunami somehow spreading my autism but a counter-tsunami against those with a financial stake in perpetuating myths about autism. Those with an emotional stake in believing those myths who are frankly as much victims here as autistic people no matter what mean things they say. Those who say they can love a person with autism but not autism.

So you might be asking where does G-d come in other than tangentially invoked by the “enemy camp” as it wages war on me and my kind? I could have addressed this whole issue from many other more comfortable angles after all. Why G-d? Shouldn’t I after all be even more angry with G-d in the wake of the pain all this caused? Shouldn’t I have attempted more of the logical kind of attacks on the arguments that are so very easy?

The answer is in the second word. Acceptance. Like speech it gets talked of more often than not as somewhat binary. Perhaps a journey to get there but most people talk of acceptance as a done deal. I have written about it that way in the past myself which is why I didn’t just recycle an old article.

In truth acceptance is a continuous process for me. Naturally it is easiest during the relatively stable parts of my life span. Times when the consequences of being autistic haven’t totally blown your world apart in ways you can’t really get a handle on how to begin to reassemble it. Yep. It’s easy to accept your autism at a time like that. The kind of assaults made on myself and my autistic brethren would have been easy to dismiss. Or I would have looked at it in an entirely logical way and no doubt have fired off a few letters but it wouldn’t leave me feeling shaken a week later.

I am prone to very severe depressions. It’s a very common co-morbidity with autism which for reasons that escape me neither the health system nor disability services can help much with it. They told me years ago mine would never be treatable and offered up a cingulotomy as my only option. (In some ways even more chilling than a lobotomy)

In a year where having to leave my home of 14 years plunged me into what has been my worst and longest lasting depression ever,  as I was completely and utterly unable to cope with that change shouldn’t I even be agreeing with the tragedy model of autism? Shouldn’t I be really, really, angry at G-d.?

No and no. I am no saint as far as arguing with G-d goes. As a Jew theologically it’s perfectly okay to do just that. I don’t have to repent for it in fact it’s a bit definitional. I do beg, and plead sometimes that maybe, just maybe the tap could get turned down a notch. I don’t just have autism and chronic treatment resistant depression but very severe (and of course treatment resistant) arthritis and so it goes. Much of my family is sick and my life circumstances right now are abysmal.

I can’t be angry with G-d though. Not because I think he is still into smiting people. I can’t be angry because the ongoing foundation of the continuous process of coming to terms with my autism and it’s consequences is rooted in the years I spent alone with G-d. I know for a fact that however the rest of the world may feel G-d loves me.

Well sure some people will say now. G-d is love. Of course G-d loves you. Some of those same people though will also be keen to tell me how G-d loves me so much I will be perfect in the afterlife. Nearly all of those people are perfectly nice people and don’t even really see how hurtful a statement that gives them hope could be.

They don’t see that that is essentially the desire that I be someone else down the road. Granted it’s a road that my own faith has some uncertainty even exists but it is still really a statement that yes I accept your autism for now. I accept it because at some point down the road you will be perfect.

The first time I encountered a large scale assault on my person-hood by proxy was of course on the internet. Many years ago I came close to being banned from a group for passionately stating that I am as I am meant to be and the G-d I believe in wouldn’t alter me at some later date so radically that I am no longer me. That presumably since G-d loves me that love unlike the kind many humans profess is for the whole package.

Autism is pervasive. People sometimes see that term and not give much thought to what it means. Since it is also developmental what I take that to mean is it has shaped pretty much everything I experience and thus the person I am. I’ve had even other autistic people object to this as over-ally deterministic but I can’t find a good neurological basis to quibble with it.

Unlike other conditions which may shape part of you autism is in the brain. The bits you can actually see of it are not but that’s where it lives. That incredibly complex organ through which all reality is filtered. How can there be a non-autistic me that is still me? Why would I want that or view that as somehow paradise like? Take away my arthritis and although a quarter of a century of dealing with pain and decline has no doubt shaped me a bit I would still be essentially myself. The same could be said about pretty well everything even oddly enough my depressions which also live there because that is not a constant state. I wasn’t born depressed. I am not always depressed and no matter how long they last depression is a deviation from my usual self.

So this vision that is somehow hope inspiring for many leaves me chilled to the very core. I love G-d. When I was younger because so many people say this I actually had some fear that this might be true. How does one accept oneself when even G-d apparently views you as needing tinkering to truly make things a paradise for your loved ones?

When largely neurotypical humans dehumanize people with autism in way that again could be funny given our supposed lack of empathy is one of their stronger talking points right now, G-d’s acceptance and love is the foundation upon which I rebuild my own acceptance. That solid, rock of conviction in the centre of me that is G-d to me, when I am hurting less arms me with courage. A very shakeable courage granted. One that has me trembling even now.

When I truly listen as to the answer to why do I have to be autistic when with my intelligence and other gifts something much more spectacular might have come of my life the answer comes from there. Even when I doubt it I am reminded I am not only lovable but loved. Not loved because one day I will be something else. Not loved in that syrupy way where I am placed here to be a learning experience for others that will test and then strengthen their faith but loved as I am.

So why does any of that matter so much? Anyone who has ever gone past grade 8 in a semi-decent school encounter’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. All the basic stuff is in there and the essential premise is the lower order things like food must be met first to ascend up the ladder. Since this is my blog and not an academic paper which I did write on the topic I will say Maslow is wrong.

People can go a fairly long time without much of what is there, or diminished quantities thereof but without meaning why? I get sometimes in the absence of an actual clinical depression what I call existential depressions where I wonder why the heck am I here, taking up space and not accomplishing much. At this point in this very long post you might be able to guess where the answer comes from.

The atheists and agnostics out there might try to be nice at this point and conclude okay the tragic figure writing this needs to believe all this to keep going. To give her a sense of purpose. So she has constructed a theology and an illusion to give that purpose extra oomph in ways that are not too dissimilar I suppose from the very ways my father insisted stupid people did.

My faith is strong enough that I don’t really even have to go there. G-d exists. G-d loves me. As to the existential bits the less abstract part of meaning is mission. If I accept the previous premises and I do. Then what’s my role?

I occupy a weird spot on the autistic spectrum. I’ve been kicked off lists for being too low-functioning. I have been deprived of life sustaining services for being too intelligent. Diagnostically people again treat functioning as fixed when in reality how severely your autism is impacting your life depends on a lot of other factors. So why be caught in what is probably one of the more uncomfortable autistic realities where it’s really no ones job to look after you but you can’t actually look after yourself?

The only answer that has made sense to me comes in the form of what I view as duties. To try my best to make things better for the next generation of those on the spectrum. To try my best to express things that others cannot express. To be that counter-tsunami opposing the storm of voices yelling words that strip me and my kind of my humanity. The constant flea on the back of massive organizations that have twisting the reality of autism as in their best interests. You can’t really raise money on the premise after all that autism comes in a variety of forms and that with appropriate supports all autistic people would have a better quality of life. Why can’t you though?

Why do we have to be cancers, and plagues and burdens to get people to write cheques to groups who then spend the bulk of that money perpetuating those same images. Again if it wasn’t so painful there would be some comedic value in that autistic people are supposed to be so concrete yet many people can only sort of define us by marching in step to a completely hyperbolic, tiny violin playing tragedy model.

Wait, you are going to say. You, yourself describe your life as hellish a lot. How isn’t it a tragedy that you live this life? You have as point there. The tragedy though isn’t my autism. It’s the ways of viewing it that create artificial distinctions among a group that by definition share key traits that are in fact quite disabling. These distinctions mean the majority of people with autism get no real help outside their families although there is regional variation there.

My gifts and talents go largely wasted not because I have autism but because people make money focusing on the very small portion of the autistic spectrum guaranteed to get the most cheques written. Even though people spend the vast majority of their lives as adults and the majority of those with autism do not actually have intelligence deficits those are too places the line gets drawn. The third is sometimes speech.

I very much doubt the adult autistic reality will alter in my lifetime. Sometimes when I read things I wrote 11 years ago I wonder if some of my optimism about how things were improving was totally misplaced. It would be easier to throw up my hands in despair, give in to the many nights of temptation just to walk into the sea and be done with it.

It would be easier and I can’t say the thought doesn’t cross my mind right now more than it should but it’s not what G-d wants from me. That really would be a life wasted much more so than now.

I am not alone in howling back against those who seek to make us less than human. Years ago there was no autistic culture. No way to support one another and then along came the internet. If one can say any group needed the internet more my money would be on those with autism.

Not everyone fighting the stereotypes gets their courage and conviction from G-d. I’m far from the most courageous one in the battle even. Although if one defines courage and beauty as Kierkegaard did as repetition then repeatedly throwing oneself into an onslaught of dehumanization from better armed and funded opponents will have to do for courage. You can call me a plague, a burden, an epidemic, a tragedy, waste of intelligence, and yes please, even a tsunami. Yet to the extent I am able I will reply I am Kis. I am human. I am as I am meant to be. If my life and the lives of those with autism seem tragic to you then by all means do something more productive than denying our humanity and basic rights.

So for me that is why I exist. That’s why in the face of acceptance being an ongoing battle this is a fight I could only be in with the conviction that comes from G-d. A G-d that loves me unconditionally. That loves me as a person in my own right. So illogical, hyperbolic, unethical spin-doctors say what you will of me. It might even hurt a bit, for a time. Yet I will just have to get up and launch myself back in some form or the other at you. You will dismiss me, ignore me and even block me. You cannot however, deny me something which wasn’t granted by you in the first place. While I may sometimes question why I would even want to be the same species as people who drag their own autistic kids to hearings where they say all this hurtful stuff at the end of the day I am not only human I am the human I am meant to be.

Hyperbolic, illogical, insensitive, unethical people can only hurt me temporarily. I wish I could say they don’t matter but since they are skewing the vision of autism at the moment sadly they do. Luckily for me none of them will ever read this.

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From Anthropologic Duty to Love

In what might be the strangest reblog ever I am reblogging this to my long suffering empty blog.

Emma's Hope Book

What follows is a guest post by Kis Brink (for those who follow this blog you will know her as Gareeth).  When she sent it to me, I was so taken with its insights, the power of her writing that I asked her if I could post it here.  Kis gave me her permission for which I am honored.  It was this piece by Kis that inspired yesterday’s post:  Yes, These Are Things I Think About, What About You?

“Love is a very controversial word in the history of autism. Hurtful ideas that autism was caused by the failure of parents to love their children and equally as hurtful ideas that autistic people were incapable of loving were put forward. Many still believe them. For me love was something I learned over time and it is still a word I use cautiously and sparingly. I do not say, “I…

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