Autism. A little understanding goes a long way.

I have often written and said that I have no experience with autism, that I don’t know anyone who is autistic.

I was wrong.

For years, I had been following Henny K and her music work with autistic children – many of her clients cannot speak – to some degree. I had e-mailed her once or twice and gotten slightly unexpected responses, but figured that she was simply very busy.

Then I ran into the video below (bottom of page). Oh! I had no idea that Henny is autistic! A whole new world opened up.

Some time ago, when I found myself slightly annoyed with the responses from a friend in the Netherlands, the coin dropped. Might she be…? I looked at some checklists, thought back to experiences I had had with her over the years. (I have known her since the early 1980s, from before I went to university.) Some things seemed to click. Yes, she might be slightly autistic, and that realisation suddenly put my experiences – the one that annoyed or exasperated me, lol – in a very different perspective.

I also looked into what you should do if you suspect that someone may be autistic. You cannot “diagnose” someone else, but you can tell the person about your suspicion so that they can look into it and possibly find tools and methods that may make life a little easier for them, if they are indeed autistic. So I did.

There was no specific response.

A few weeks later, while we were Skyping, she said “Oh, by the way, you asked whether I might be autistic.” Turns out that her sister’s daughter is a psychologist and she bluntly told her mother “You’re autistic.” one day. The two sisters have talked about it and have also concluded that their dad is slightly autistic as well.

She is not highly autistic, my friend – to the extent that I can assess that – but the puzzle of her has now clicked into place for me. I’ve for example been in discussions with her in which she would suddenly apply such a “warped” kind of logic that I didn’t know how to respond. And I have gotten angry, too, a few times.

But there was something else that happened in recent years that had baffled me and that, so I now understand, comes from that inability to assess certain things from the perspective of others, who apply a different kind of logic. This is not “lack of empathy”. They step into other people’s shoes a lot. More than most of us. It’s just that when they step into another person’s shoes, the view can be very different from ours.

(Logic is not always what we think it is, no. We often apply logic on the basis of what we already know. It was one of my parrots who made me aware of this, that others can apply logic and still arrive at very different conclusions.)

Below is the video that I referred to at the start of this post. It took me a while to wrap my head around this. But eventually, I started to get a sense of it and once you do, you understand why environments with lots of flickering lights and lots of noise can be so hard to deal with for autistic people.

A little understanding goes a long way.

From now on, I can approach my friend with a lot more compassion than I had done in the past decades. (Oh yeah! I can be amazingly patient – or so I have been told – but I can also be very impatient – and I know it.) All it takes is for me to step into her shoes and try to see the world from her perspective. And then a lot of things start making a lot more sense and you – I – stop demanding the impossible.

My friend is only slightly autistic but the way in which she is little bit different has often annoyed me in the past and I have also sometimes attributed too much importance to remarks she made. At other times, the way in which she is different has also delighted me.

Observing the extent of neurodiversity can be like tiptoeing through a fairy tale land with delight and wonder. Oh, look at that elf and that gnome and that troll! Oh, saw that fairy flutter by on her delicate gossamer wings? And there, there is a genuine giant!

Challenges of (some areas of) neurological diversity

A few days ago, I saw a neuroscientist whose name I won’t mention tweet about the “dark triad”, which is not an existing condition but an old-fashioned police term that works well in books and films.

He followed it up with a tweet on “snakes in suits”.

If he was someone’s abused husband, I would have understood, but coming from a scientist who is supposed to be working toward greater understanding and solutions, it was disappointing.

And I haven’t even mentioned yet that he was talking within the context of women and attraction, (not in a scientific way).

“Hollywood here I come” he may have been thinking?

Neurodiversity is a multidimensional space. It includes autism, dyslexia and synesthesia, but also whether you are good at languages or music or maths.

The videos below give you an idea of some of the more challenging aspects of neurodiversity.

There is a TED talk in which a neuroscientist mentions that psychopathy can result from being exposed to too much of certain chemicals (hormones) during pregnancy (in utero). (If someone can tell me which TED talk it is, I’d be grateful. I’ve been trying to find it again. I think it may have had a New Zealand connection or something like that. It was a talk by a man.)

There are also indications that psychopathy can result from severe child abuse.

Some people will read this as an “excuse” and will say that not everyone who has a horrific childhood will go on to do terrible things, which is true, of course.

Repetitive horrific abuse – cruelty – can affect a very young, developing brain. Does not have to.

It is also true that some psychopaths make up that they were abused, scientists who know about this stuff say.

The good news is that we used to think that neurons were not capable of healing or even forming after a certain age (young adulthood). That is not true.

The science and medical knowledge of the brain have lagged behind on the science and medicine of other organs, but are catching up.

That the brain has much greater plasticity than we were aware of may mean that one day we will be able to fix broken brains. Not by stuffing people with pills but by stimulating the brain to do things differently.

We are all our biology. I cannot even order my brain to become a speaker of fluent French or Spanish overnight or turn myself into a composer. I am fairly neurotypical (boring, yes) and I cannot order myself to wake up with a psychopathic brain. So why do we keep expecting the reverse?

There is, however, a lot of great stuff we will learn and be able to do with the brain in the future and that will be good news for all of us.

Warning: These videos contain triggers, notably the fourth one.

This last guy, he intuitively and instantly gives me the creeps. That is not the kind of guy I would ever want to encounter anywhere. That is the kind of condition we clearly urgently need to find solutions for.

Perhaps we will one day be able to diagnose those particular children at birth and coax their brains into forming the parts that contain compassion and “brakes” in neurotypicals.

If you wonder why I talk about this kind of stuff, well, I learned a few things the hard way after I came to the U.K. and I am still learning a lot the hard way, not necessarily always because I choose to but because I have to.

In addition, I’m often driven by scientific curiosity and I like learning more. The more you learn, the more questions you have.

I found that a lot of the problems with some forms of neurodiversity seem to be created by neurotypicals, just like society has created many hindrances for people who use wheelchairs and mobility scooters but also because we have bad mental health hygiene.

We brush our teeth obediently, but we don’t do much for our mental health. If people with narcissistic personality disorders (NPD, which is not the same as being called a narcissist) can knock us off our feet so easily, maybe we neurotypicals could look into how we could become a bit more stable.

People with NPD are always on an emotional seesaw, as far as I can tell. One little thing we say or do can cause them to start lashing out at us verbally because what we did or said undermines their sense of security.

We neurotypicals could learn how not to get flustered by someone else’s verbal torrents, perhaps. We could learn how to observe those verbal torrents as if it were the tide rolling in or out or the breeze making the leaves of a tree rustle.

Instead, we feed the torrent and sustain it and reinforce it.

(You can see this in “I, psychopath”.)

I know that these are very easy words to write but hard to put into practice for most people.

A second type of problem is also created by neurotypicals. If you watch “I, psychopath”, you will eventually get to a section in which Sam Vaknin explains what he did to the son of a holocaust survivor. A child. It was a form of what is known as sadistic stalking.

Even if you’re an adult victim, if you try to explain this kind of experience, you are the one who will be considered the problem. That way, society victimises the victims further and rewards and supports psychopathic behaviours.

Now you may need to watch this:

Peace

It helps tremendously if you can VISUALIZE brain-related conditions for which other people tend to assign blame and make remarks such as that one should be able to grow out of it, admit it and seek help for it, and what have you.

It appears that people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) simply lack part of the brain in which empathy is created (though it is not the only part of the brain that is related to empathy, apparently). If you can’t feel empathy for others, you cannot feel empathy for yourself either.

That explains the usual Catch-22 aspects of the condition.

This could also mean that/why people with NPD rely on notably empaths to “create” empathy for them. Symbiosis.

(People with NPD, by the way, lack emotional empathy, not cognitive empathy, apparently, according to a 2010 paper from the same research group.)

So, yes, the brains of people with NPD are wired differently. They did not ask for this, so stop blaming them. Look for what is good in them, and embrace that instead.

They’re like, hey, albinos. Or hey, people who go grey prematurely. Not their fault.

They’re like giraffes that people insist are, say, antelopes.

Or, like I wrote before, table lamps of which we demand that they change themselves into coffee makers.

Let go of it… All the frustration etc. It’s futile.

They are right. They are special. It’s part of the neurodiversity we have on the planet. (The brain is a miraculous thing!)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23777939

Now I am done waffling about narcissists in a rather chaotic manner. Continue reading

The Irony of Susceptibility to Manipulations: Grooming Neurotypicals for Social Ineptitude

Henny Kupferstein

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The stereotypes of autistic people perpetuate a myth that they are socially inept. Yet non-autistics, also known as neurotypicals, portray ineptitudes on the basis of their susceptibility to body language, communication, and perceptual manipulations. How we learn these signals opens the debate for nature versus nurture, and the acquisition of social skill aptitude. Who is more socially equipped? The one who is capable of surrounding himself with pretentious body language, or the one who is mindful of her full spectrum of awareness? A neurotypical who communicates with learned body gestures is currently considered evolved, while the acquisition of those skills are a direct result of the inability to survive otherwise. The autistic who remains authentic in order to adapt to the current environment is potentially most equipped to function in society.

The cycle of life requires attracting a mate, reproduction, and adaptations for exploitation to those who threaten…

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