Mea Culpa*


(Off to a quiet start…)

Why I imagined our brains experience in the same way is a mystery.

Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr.

Male and female brains seem to work differently. Do we imagine individual brains develop the same despite environmental differences? Cultural practices produce mutations similar to those produced in the brains of laboratory animals over two generations. Children of stressed out  grandparents show adaptations in the way their brains process perceptions.

Sweet Pang Is Innocent Kate McGrew 2014
Sweet Pang Is Innocent
Kate McGrew 2014

While we see similarities in cognition and behavior in people diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, autism and  neuroses, we have difficulty seeing such phenomena as the result of physical differences in brains. We prefer calling them illnesses. But we do view gender orientation as a difference in physical brains.

The politics of genetic psychology.

Toshiro Mifune, Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune, Akira Kurosawa

I feel there are differences in the way my brain works from people I’ve known. It responds to stimuli differently; sometimes more aware of that which is less obvious to others while oblivious to that which is obvious to others. I can identify people with similar functional differences as my own regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or culture. In fact, it is typical of dogs and fish and birds and lizards. I can understand St. Francis.

As a result, I connect and understand people differently because I feel affinity or antipathy intensely in the presence of another and if more than one at a time, nervous until relationships are established.  I’m in a jungle of fear and sub cognitive activity.  This is why music is  important to me.

 

Longhorns, Los Olivos 2011
Longhorns, Los Olivos 2011

We expect a brown cow to be essentially the same cow as a black or white cow but of a brown color.

 

Color is a characteristic of cowness.

Color doesn’t distinguish cowness;

 

Autism is a characteristic human experience affected by early childhood experience. It is hypersensitivity to social interactions but you’re likely to see it as insensitivity because of defensiveness.

The trait is present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships and using language and abstract concepts. We have issues with non-verbal communication, i.e., social interactions, activities that include play and banter. We don’t get the joke or we do get the joke but no one else is going there.  The genetic traits of autism spectrum disorders are similar for ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and clinical depression.**

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Note to aliens (and/or public agencies): if you expect autistic spectrum in another, you are likely on the spectrum yourself. We expect people to be like ourselves and they are, somewhat. We relate to the world through similar mechanisms but we don’t see, hear nor feel the same way about very much. Essentially, we get what we expect.

Autism inhibits my ability to understand nonverbal communication and meanwhile I’m getting what I expect. You can imagine.  Abstract concepts are difficult but not always and it sneaks up on me. Spoonness, fatness, sidewalk… I can get things like smarmy and inconsiderate, of course,  lovely and indomitable! But roundness has always puzzled me. Perhaps, it’s in the way my brain processes language.

I take things literally. I’m logical about language, disambiguating expressions carefully parsing words or music or images. I’m a foil to chaos. I eat entropy and sing it. I’m good with maths for practical purposes. The arbitrariness of numbers irritates me. Intuitive processes are my forté: dancing, composing, painting, sculpture, photography,  sailing, anywhere context is visual or audio, intuitive math, synthesis, inductive logic. My condition puzzled people when I was a child because my analytical and intuitive functions unite.

Relationship is about interpretation in the presence of emotional, limbic and other triggers; a misunderstanding could catapult me from missing a word to losing a friend. As a child, I made decisions about the likely intention, motivation and consciousness of others.

Teachers in schools I attended mistakenly assumed that human beings are a certain way, specifically, not semitic. This preference was reflected in the models presented to children in media. My childhood was so completely unlike this model that I felt always like an impostor and yet had no idea this was my inner fear, that  the posture and face I present to the world is a fraud. I had no father and not only was my older brother unsympathetic, but competitive. We were like Harpo and Zeppo. If he had only been  musically gifted we could have gotten into a freak show. The more I tried to resemble the typical model, the less authentic I became so that, as an adult, I only valued that which couldn’t be me and since I’m an impostor, I deserve nor expect satisfaction from anything I’d struggled to achieve and I thought this must be typical of life for human beings.

What’s really typical?

Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx

Extraordinary is typical. The only ordinary people are in movies and badly written novels. Fortunately, ordinary is a concept that goes right over the heads of your average autistic and, at an important level, there’s as much or more difference between human individuals than there is between species. The difference may be too subtle for ordinary people to see?

Media stereotypes also empower the idea of normal. This is the principle allegory of H.G. Wells’ novel, 1984 and of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, both of whom described worlds in which human beings are absurd because they believe that which they think is expected of them, whether or not it makes no sense, which is my life. Every novelist since Cervantes showed it isn’t that some of us are autistic. It is that we are each more or less autistic than each other. And the kicker? When you understand that the more of this trait that flavors your persona, the more you have in common with the whale.

Shift gears… we’re approaching a grade in traffic.

During the first half of the 20th century, peer approval became the primary source of core values in America. Prior to this period, core values were transferred from generation to generation in traditions. Today, media presents models of successful peers against which we compare ourselves, which turns us into perennial wannabes. Media offers remedies for our weaknesses: low-calorie food, golf, make-up, marriage, masters degrees, shamanistic and tantric knowledge, divorce; fashions we adapt to change who and what we think we are. Marketers take advantage of our confusion about who and what we are to excite us about products we hope will make us lovable but which takes us away from accepting ourselves as we are. Everything seems arbitrary and that’s called, normal, typical, average, ordinary… successful but strangely unsatisfying. For some, experienced as time to get a new spouse or wish for one, which explains the purpose of Christian evangelism. (Ah, entropy!)

Michael Myrow 1945
Michael Myrow 1945

After a traumatic peer disapproval event, a child, whose brain shows up on the autistic spectrum, is literally in PTSD; sensitized to alienation and, since the child wouldn’t know how and why they are different, they may feel that they are the problem, that they are not enough, that something is wrong with them.  I once had a friend like that. Extraordinary skills and terror. I felt a great relief, when I read Heart of Darkness. If that’s as bad as it gets, things couldn’t get much worse.

When I was a child, scientists hadn’t distinguished differences between human beings related to differences in the way our brains work. We thought something is wrong with people who had physical differences, hearing deficiencies or blindness, not to mention, behavioral or cognitive differences, gender, gender orientation, age, appearance, ethnicity, language and other cultural differences.

The economic and social advantages of being included in a favorable category requires exclusion of others on the basis of differences. Communities are based around what isn’t tolerated. Media constantly reinforces this with stereotypes. There’s a danger in this:

Adolph Hitler
Adolph Hitler

For those of us whose thinking is more characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts, i.e., with brains that support autism, our view of the world affects social interaction in such a way that additional stress reinforces fears and decisions to see ourselves as separate and assume we “do not belong here”. Suicide, drug dependency, emotional co-dependency, criminality, all of these things are possible. It’s a threat to humanity more deadly than HIV but unlike the virus that attacks the human organism, the threat of autism is that it is a quintessentially human condition and the problem isn’t that we need to stamp it out but rather, nurture it.

Autism shapes each persona in a different way. Extremes can be irritating. Some are capable of the focused intensity of Adolph Hitler or the linguistic power of William Blake, the visual skills of Vincent Van Gogh. Difficulty with intimacy, feeling and expressing love is a trait they have in common.

The Kiss, Marc Chagall
The Kiss, Marc Chagall

Our brains are structurally, electro-chemically different, analogous to differences in the operating systems used by a computer processor and this is a difference in degree, not kind.

 

We are not to be pitied. Is it appropriate to pity a person whose body develops differently, dwarfs and giants? Why not pity a woman for being female? Patronize a person because they are blind, deaf, old or gay? Segregate children  based on their skin color or ethnicity? Not appreciate the mystification of a person with dementia? (What!)

Traditionally, the social purpose of ostracizing and alienating those who are different is to homogenize and force cooperation, which drives away those on the spectrum.  Cultures are defined by what they don’t tolerate and a bi-product of homogenous stereotypes in media is that people with autism are not tolerated. But, since the positive side of the spectrum is creative power, under the circumstances we now face, throwing away the gift of genius seems so extraordinarily stupid as to be predictable.

I find it interesting that autism was distinguished as such by my generation. What happened that forced us to look at a condition that has always been with us in this way? Has this anything to do with the rising of intolerance expressed in neoconservative biblical literalism?  Biblical literalism is intolerant of diversity of views and distinguishing autism exempts autistic people from social rituals.  Attachment to stereotypical models of human perfection prevents us from seeing the potential value of the untypically autistic person.

For instance, on evidence, the technology that allows us to manage unplanned growth of  the human population is producing and exacerbating global climate change by evaporating the atmosphere and retaining heat. This has resulted in catastrophic destruction and deaths. Ultimately, extinction of all life is threatened. This is a time when we need creative leadership and since it appears there’s a correlation between autism and creativity, it behooves us to understand and respect the sensitivities of creative people. Not long ago, we didn’t accommodate those with mobility differences by providing ramps where there are curbs and staircases and chirping traffic signals at highway intersections. How must we accommodate the emotionally and intellectually gifted among us? What kind of ramps can we build at the curbs and intersections of social compatibility?

Ways of thinking that are common with autism are not only creative. We possess an ability to sustain the imagination of vastly complex ideas while at the same time, absorbing and accommodating new information in real time, making global changes in huge networks of images, sounds and ideas “on the fly.”  Among those of us who maintain in the mainstream “normal” population, many of us have a flair for driving cars, flying airplanes, surfing, playing video games. In my experience, I’ve seen a difference between this kind of ability and an advanced facility for synthesizing and sustaining an intuitive grasp of complex conceptual systems outside of language, while still maintaining analytical functions that are linguistic in nature, the fusion of which allows some autistic people to intuitively predict the probable future location in time and space of hundreds of objects moving at different velocities and directions.

Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx

Because of one popular motion picture, many people imagine autistic focus in terms of the Rainman’s facility with maths, but when this ability is applied in music, you have a Stravinsky, Coltrane, Monk, Messiaen and so on, individuals who fed their hyper-cognitive brains with harmonic relationship data and synthesized complex systems of music and then reduced this to notation on a page. Similarly, the ability can be nurtured in sciences and any of the arts and even spirituality.

However, the area of suffering for many of those colored in the spectrum of autism, is emotional hypersensitivity. The problem is not our sensitivity but that we protect ourselves by avoiding intimacy and group situations in which emotional gaming is common, aspects of life in our culture that are primary themes of motion pictures and television soaps and sitcoms: fear of separation.

I identify with people on the autistic spectrum. I identify in this way for the same political reason as others might identify as gay: as a way of standing for my right to be me in a culture that identifies as not like me. I identify with other types of mental differences because they put up with similar stigmata: those who are depressed, suffer (enjoy?) mood swings and schizophrenics. Unlike many who have identified as gay in this culture, however, I’ve never had to face placard waving gangs of homophobes or laws preventing me from forming a domestic partnership but throughout my life I’ve sequestered thoughts of separation. I don’t wave an autism pride flag but my brain works fine for me. Where I am on the spectrum was never clinicized but I create from imagination very powerfully.

As a child and as an adult, I’ve experienced extremes bullying and ostracism, I learned to avoid exposure to derision by hiding my abilities. I learned to forgive the pity of  parents, who saw my peculiarities of brilliance coupled with social denseness as an imperfection. However, my patience wears thin as I watch sane, “normal” people methodically dismantling our global ecological system because they aren’t able to see how they are doing it and don’t respect those who do. I’m obligated to reveal what’s so about this and my area of expertise is language, media and music.

*Many things written on this website are figuratively rather than literally true. I have never been diagnosed with, nor even examined for Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The spectrum wasn’t postulated until recently. I relate strongly to experiences described by autistic people.

**(A team at the Cross Disorders Group of the Psychiatric Genomic Consortium suggests that the five mental disorders and illnesses have the same common inherited genetic variations.” (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/autism/)

One thought on “Mea Culpa*”

  1. I feel like technology is bringing more people into the fold of perceived normalcy, particularly people with autism. I watched a program on PBS about the impact of iPads on children who had been almost completely unable to communicate. There was one mother wiping away tears and saying that she knew there was more to her son than they could see, but she could never prove it; and now with the iPad he can communicate. Everyone was shocked at his extensive vocabulary.

    And I particularity love that technology can help us find people who are like ourselves who we would never run into in the real world… like a kayaking partner!

    😛

    I like your blog. I blog as well. You and I are going to be friends, I can tell.

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