dating while autistic
January 16, 2015 3:14 AM   Subscribe

 
and that clattering resentfully around a messy kitchen, say, will not pass on the message that it is my turn to clean, but simply asking me for help will. Also, he must tolerate my asking if he is angry when he is not.

As someone in the comments notes, this is probably a good policy in general for a healthy relationship.

A good article. It has me thinking though, as we get to know people with the intimacy that a romantic relationship usually has, we will discover that they have quirks of behaviour that can be incomprehensible to me. I went through a period of being really annoyed with my wife when I had cooked something and she didn't come to eat immediately. I just found it immensely rude . We had to negotiate this, and other behaviours we had, and we still have to negotiate these things. But ultimately we don't have to accept behaviour we can't cope with. Her first boyfriend here comes across as uncaring and ignorant, but I can imagine the emotional damage of being with someone who is incapable of comprehending your emotions on the level you want.

Sometimes two people can be incompatible because one has a set of behaviours that the other simply cannot comprehend/stand. That's sad for both people involved, but it's not necessarily a failing on either person's part: after all we have no duty to remain in a relationship we find unfulfilling.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:03 AM on January 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


I couldn't read the Atlantic piece because of functioning language and gross erasure of nonverbal people's desires in the first section. Did I miss anything?

The first two articles were great.
posted by lokta at 4:27 AM on January 16, 2015


of course there's nothing worrisome about a medical diagnosis for women who aren't hypersensitive to social and emotional cues...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:40 AM on January 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


HFA here- experienced a LOT of the same frustrations, awkwardness and personal problems that come with trying to date neurotypical folks. As with NT-NT relationships, all we can do is try and discuss, think about and solve problems as they come up. If most folks don't just turn and run at the sheer incomprehensible weirdness of us, that is...
posted by The Zeroth Law at 5:08 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


of course there's nothing worrisome about a medical diagnosis for women who aren't hypersensitive to social and emotional cues...

you know, i'd be more concerned by that if

and that clattering resentfully around a messy kitchen, say, will not pass on the message that it is my turn to clean, but simply asking me for help will. Also, he must tolerate my asking if he is angry when he is not.

wasn't my life every god damned day as someone diagnosed with aspergers at a young age.

reading through a lot of it i was like "oh yea, yep, pretty much, yep".
posted by emptythought at 5:11 AM on January 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


clattering resentfully around a messy kitchen, say, will not pass on the message that it is my turn to clean, but simply asking me for help will.

Shouldn't you be doing that anyway? Speaking up and asking for what you want rather than being a passive-aggressive, resentful sulker, is good policy when you're dating anyone. I'd be PO'd at Sulky McKitchenclatterer, too, and I'm not autistic.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:22 AM on January 16, 2015 [33 favorites]


Oh man. I'm vaguely on the autistic side of the spectrum, and have a hard time reading other people's emotions. However, I am also Sulky McKitchenclatterer. Way to make me feel useless. :)

(It also results in somewhat of a reputation of being a deadpan humorist when I say things that are true but not necessarily always intended to be funny.)
posted by doomsey at 5:41 AM on January 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


and that clattering resentfully around a messy kitchen, say, will not pass on the message that it is my turn to clean, but simply asking me for help will. Also, he must tolerate my asking if he is angry when he is not.
wasn't my life every god damned day as someone diagnosed with aspergers at a young age.

and also the basis for several successful sit-coms.

reading emotional and social cues and (perhaps more importantly) anticipating emotions is work that women are very much expected to do in relationships. at the same time, men are expected to be emotionally tone-deaf, to blunder through social situations. It's *funny* when a man msireads a woman's emotional state.

I'm not saying the women in the first two essays don't have profound differences which have made their romantic relationships more difficult. But, at the same time, I know that, as a man, I could have totally gotten away with the behavior they described in any of my relationships without taking on a diagnosis. It's the sort of question, I would think, an editor at an explicitly feminist magazine like 'the toast' or 'autostraddle' would have brought up.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:41 AM on January 16, 2015 [18 favorites]


I get what you're going for, ennui, but the problem seems to be that autism in women is currently underdiagnosed. I definitely think there's the possibility of pathologizing normal behavior in women who aren't emotional ninjas or heavy lifters, but it doesn't seem to be happening in these essays, nor does it seem to be a demographic trend.
posted by almostmanda at 5:55 AM on January 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


The comments to a lot of these things often read as if people are talking past each other:
"Hi, I suffer from micro-seizures that might make me drop everything I'm holding or suddenly collapse."
– "HAHA, I'M A BIT OF KLUTZ TOO!!!"

"Hi, I'm seriously allergic to seafood. I carry an EpiPen in case of emergency -"
– "DON'T WORRY I HATE FISH!"

"Hi, I find it hard to interpret social cues and can't read body language very well. I need your your expectations of me to be conveyed verbally rather than by changes in posture or intonation."
– "THAT'S GOOD ADVICE FOR EVERY RELATIONSHIP!"
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:29 AM on January 16, 2015 [63 favorites]


As someone in the comments notes, this is probably a good policy in general for a healthy relationship.

Yeah, by the standards she describes there, I'm not sure we're not all kind of autistic.

In my case it was more about being some kind of social Kaspar Hauser, an only child raised by parents who - due to their own particular backgrounds - were never very socially adept, in serious isolation in the countryside. There were other kids at school, but it apparently wasn't enough. It was mostly a controlled situation and I didn't really have uncontrolled interactions with other kids all that often. I basically had to figure out most of the basic getting by social skills that most people have mastered by the time they're 13 or so in college. I've largely been able to do that. I'm far, far more socially capable and comfortable than my mother. But it wasn't natural. It was like picking up a second language as an adult and my fluency is still not what it should be.

But nobody's ever suggested that I was on the autism spectrum and I don't feel the need for any pathological explanation for things.
posted by Naberius at 6:37 AM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


clattering resentfully around a messy kitchen, say, will not pass on the message that it is my turn to clean, but simply asking me for help will.

I must imagine Minnesota is a freaking nightmare for people in the autism spectrum. Clattering around the kitchen is our primary means of communication, coupled with muttering under our breath and staring daggers at the back of your neck.
posted by maxsparber at 6:44 AM on January 16, 2015 [41 favorites]


I have the same diagnosis that woman in the article does, Nonverbal Learning Disorder. But while I have many social problems, I'm not sure as an adult how many can be boiled down to "can't read facial expressions" types of things. Also, I didn't really think NLD was definitively considered part of the autism spectrum. It's an LD that's not even officially in the DSM, so they have to use "Learning Disorder NOS" for it, and whether it's the same as Asperger's or not was a matter of some controversy. Since Asperger's is no longer in the DSM, I'm not sure if that's an issue anymore.
posted by eternalstranger at 6:50 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was thirteen, I pissed in a crisp packet and then held it out to some girls who bullied me at school break time, waiting for them to put their hands in to try to get my crisps. I am not proud of this

Maybe I'm a bad person, but I wish that would happen to more bullies.

I liked the essay. I've never dated anyone on the spectrum, but I definitely have a couple of coworkers who are and at least at a workplace level of interactions the adaptions and flexibility seems to run both ways reasonably smoothly. But as mentioned here, women are often expected to do a lot of the emotional heavy lifting in a relationship, so what the essay is describing is going to be very different, since there isn't necessarily an expectation of adaption from both sides, or experience by the man of having done so before.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:59 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


It seems a bit weird to me that people should complain about you not recognising their anger, as though anger were admirable.
posted by Segundus at 7:00 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


maxsparber, this also made me think of Minnesota Nice, and Ask vs. Guess culture, and Southern Nice. That shit has to be really hard to parse when you're on the spectrum.
posted by almostmanda at 7:01 AM on January 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


Yeah, I know someone with a Nonverbal Learning Disorder / Learning Disorder NOS (not me! I am very communicable, stranger! do not grimace at me!) and there's a real qualitative difference there.They're constantly trying to figure out "what is this person saying? is their behavior consistent with what they said? what are the consequences if I misread it?" Except that a lot of the time they have created a mental model of what the person is saying, and they have a lot of difficulty noticing that their model is wrong.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:03 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Man. I wondered for a long time whether I'm on the spectrum. I eventually concluded that I'm not, but...these stories have me second-guessing that. So much that's so familiar. How does one get properly evaluated for this sort of thing?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:13 AM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the generally accepted answer is ideally a neurologist, but a psychiatrist or psychologist will also give a good professional opinion.

I am on the Autism spectrum, with what was known as mild Asperger's pre DSM-V, and I have to say that yes, it does make any social relationship more difficult. Social skills can develop with practice, but it's not really my strong suit. The toughest part for me to accept throughout growing up and even today is that other people relay their thoughts and feelings nonverbally and I'm meant to understand that, but that I can't count on myself to send those thoughts and feelings nonverbally. So I've always heard a refrain of, "You're perceptions are so off," and "I'm not a mindreader," usually in the same conversation.

However, if I had one piece of advice to offer for dealing with autistic people, it'd be my advice for dealing with all people. Patience and respect go a long way.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:36 AM on January 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


"are you angry with me?": dating as an autistic woman
posted by and they trembled before her fury

Eponysterical?
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:40 AM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


lotka: I couldn't read the Atlantic piece because of functioning language and gross erasure of nonverbal people's desires in the first section.

Are you referring to the distinction being drawn between "high-functioning" and not-so-high-functioning in the Atlantic piece?

Genuine question: what's wrong about that? I'm not that clued in to issues related to autism, so to me this just sounds purely descriptive: some people are autistic but able to integrate into the overall social order, "high-functioning", while some people's autism makes that difficult or near-impossible.

I can dig how one might say that the difference between high and low functioning is really a societal problem, since given the right accommodations, the "low" functioning are perfectly able to contribute to society, perform highly complex intellectual tasks, etc. But that doesn't change the fact that some people are a total mismatch for the world as it is now. It does say we ought to change the world, however, so that it makes room for those it currently excludes.

But in any case, society is a game of language and gesture and it seems like a key aspect of autism is not picking up an intuitive sense of the rules of the game, or, if the rules are learned, not really developing the "knack" of making moves in the game in a natural and reflexive way. And the further away from being a social player you are, the less functioning you can be in society, right? Am I totally off base here?
posted by dis_integration at 7:40 AM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Francesca then told me something else: “When you were a child and first came to me, you could pick up some social signals, but the one you didn’t understand — couldn’t begin to understand — was anger.”

Hunh. A close relative works with kids deep on the spectrum, so she often deals with helping NVLD children. But I wasn't aware that one could have problems with reading some emotional cues but not others. Is this a common thing for those on this point of the spectrum?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:52 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems a bit weird to me that people should complain about you not recognising their anger, as though anger were admirable.

It may not be "admirable" but then I fail to see how any emotion is. Emotions are just emotions. Anger can be a justified and reasonable response to a situation. It can also not be. And being disregarded when you are expressing justified and reasonable emotions would, under a lot of circumstances, be considered a dick move.

(obviously it is not a dick move if the disregarding comes from an inability to process the cues. But it is still infuriating and hurtful, even if not intentionally so.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:02 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


If this is a derail, I can take it to AskMe, but: what does an evaluation for ASD, as performed by a neurologist, typically entail?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:06 AM on January 16, 2015


Dip Flash: "When I was thirteen, I pissed in a crisp packet and then held it out to some girls who bullied me at school break time, waiting for them to put their hands in to try to get my crisps. I am not proud of this

Maybe I'm a bad person, but I wish that would happen to more bullies.


Yeah - my first thought was... This is inappropriate? Hmm... Maybe I'm on the spectrum then. (actually it does seem to run in my family, but still...)
posted by symbioid at 8:07 AM on January 16, 2015


By the way...

But nobody's ever suggested that I was on the autism spectrum and I don't feel the need for any pathological explanation for things.

This is kind of a shitty thing to say. It's as if someone told you "I have crippling clinical depression", and you said "yeah, I get sad sometimes too, but you don't see me claiming that I have some kind of special snowflake disease".

Mental disorders (a problematic term, especially when it comes to ASD – but you get my meaning) are real. I know that you weren't talking about depression, but: I've suffered from depression for much of my life, and people really do say things like "it's not real; it's all in your head; you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop expecting people to feel sorry for you". And fuck the hell out of those people. Because unless you've experienced real, clinical, life-threatening, life-destroying depression yourself, you have no idea what you're talking about and seriously, just go play in traffic.

My point is, I imagine that having one's ASD similarly dismissed as "something everyone experiences" is just as obnoxious.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:17 AM on January 16, 2015 [34 favorites]


I'd like to second dis_integration here... maybe it's a derail of the thread, but I am also genuinely interested in knowing more about what is appropriate language when it comes to autism spectrum disorders. (I can certainly see how being described as "low-functioning" would be dehumanizing.)
posted by mr. manager at 8:41 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


My point is, I imagine that having one's ASD similarly dismissed as "something everyone experiences" is just as obnoxious.


I was a socially-awkward child who has mellowed into a socially capable but uncomfortable adult. My son was just diagnosed with ASD. Our experiences are not remotely the same - I desperately wanted to connect with people, he can't understand why he would ever need to - so I disagree that we can easily extract general life lessons from this article. And I am so, so, so tired of friends and family telling me that he's just going through that normal pre-teen awkwardness when there is so much more going on. We are not going to be able to help him until we recognize that he experiences the world differently than we do.
posted by bibliowench at 8:45 AM on January 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


My point is, I imagine that having one's ASD similarly dismissed as "something everyone experiences" is just as obnoxious.

Well, sure, nobody likes a tourist.

At the same time, people like to relate as a show of empathy, so even if it's sort of backhanded and clumsy it generally comes from a good place. If someone wants to be an ass, I prefer to make them work for it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:01 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


> We are not going to be able to help him until we recognize that he experiences the world differently than we do.

Unfortunately, this is something most people can't even manage to do for other neurotypical people.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:05 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think we're going to find different "modes" of autism.

We have the "spectrum" (hfa/aspergers and "full" autism) but I really think there are different traits on this spectrum that people mix/match exhibit that aren't so much a ladder of verticality of low->high, as a horizontal division, recombination of these traits.

I know a guy at the gas station I'm across the street from. I think he's autistic in some way. He has this way of... staring at you. Sort of half smiles. Tries to talk to you about stuff that you aren't necessarily interested in, in fact, has repeated the same things, initially... I had a shirt, and a few times when I've gone in he said "I couldn't help but notice that shirt..." and I think this was sort of a social cue he was trained to try to strike up conversation. I'm sympathetic to his plight, but even with that sympathy, it felt creepy. I've grown accustomed to it and am ok with it, but it took a long time to get used to it, and I wonder how people who know nothing about ASD feel/relate to him.

I talked with my nephew for the first time in 7 years (long story, don't ask) on the phone, the one w/autism, and I felt sad because it was a short conversation and it felt awkward (not just autism, but also since it'd been so long), and I wasn't sure if he was sad it was short or not.

My father and I both have sensitivity to overstimulation in the environment. He used to flip the fuck out and get angry. When I saw the "are you angry?" story I had to laugh a little, because I sort of ask that to people sometimes, partially joking, partially serious, because, while I know "anger" in an outright expression, I think my history of an explosive/reactive father from the stress has made me hypersensitive to potential anger, and pro-active in trying to know my cues... But generally I'm very empathic, but other times I almost feel like a fraud, like - I express empathy, but on the inside I feel more distant/removed from the situation. Which is good for helping remain calm (coping mechanism, I guess?) but then I wonder if I'm actually empathic or just faking.

One day I was at the medical equipment store and there was an autistic girl very clearly in her own world, and rocking and fidgeting... And I would say that's "low functioning" though a nicer term would be nice, sure. But it's clear she couldn't generally focus on the external world in that state.

I saw a theory that people with autism are not lack of empathy, but hyperempathic and I can sort of understand that. They restrain their own impulses and get overstimulated because they feel the energy too much, not too little. It's like, as an introvert, I go in very quietly to a room and try to make myself small, but inside I have a very rich and deep emotional process going on... Similarly, I think they try to make themselves "small" and not cause too much emotion for overstimulation, so they try to do what they can to maintain a stable situation... That's just an opinion, of course.

Still, yeah - I think the spectrum isn't just vertical, but also horizontal, and we'll find clusters of "types" based on symptoms that can delineate more particular kinds of autism than merely basing it off of "functionality" in the world.
posted by symbioid at 9:18 AM on January 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


The high vs low functioning label issue is not 100% germane to the post, but the basic reason many Autistic people reject it is twofold:

1. It's basically bullshit; there is no one "functioning" axis and no one's level of functioning is static. I got a PhD; I wasn't diagnosed until I was 24; does that make me high-functioning? How about now, when many days I can't leave the house without a sensory-bombardment meltdown, and mostly can't talk on the phone and am trying to figure out how to get a TTY relay? Some days I have access to speech and some days I can't make words, verbal or typed -- how "functional" am I now? Amy Sequenzia is non-speaking but does some of the fiercest activism I've seen in the community, yet she gets slapped with a "low-functioning" label on the regular.

2. It gets weaponized against us as a way of removing agency from people who get labeled "low-functioning" and telling those of us who seem "high-functioning" that we're not true Scotsmen Autistics.
Here's Lydia Brown (Autistic Hoya) on functioning labels.
posted by dorque at 9:19 AM on January 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


I am hypersensitive to the environment, and hate talking on the phone. I'm also a slob. A long time ago I wondered if I had ADD, so I read a pamphlet in my doctor's office. It said, "if you have ADD, you may have these symptoms. Or, the symptoms may be the complete opposite." It was then that I gave up on labeling and trying to make sense of people.
posted by Melismata at 9:29 AM on January 16, 2015


I must imagine Minnesota is a freaking nightmare for people in the autism spectrum.

Actually, it's not so bad. Sometimes, when I have difficulty reading people, I just assume that people acting "Minnesota nice" actually are nice, and I'm amazed at how nice everybody is. Obliviousness has its advantages.
posted by jonp72 at 9:37 AM on January 16, 2015 [20 favorites]


lotka: I couldn't read the Atlantic piece because of functioning language and gross erasure of nonverbal people's desires in the first section.

dis_integration: Are you referring to the distinction being drawn between "high-functioning" and not-so-high-functioning in the Atlantic piece? Genuine question: what's wrong about that?

I'm not lotka, but the glaring thing that jumped out at me was this:

Though the American Psychiatric Association defines autism as a spectrum disorder—some people do not speak at all and have disabilities that make traditional relationships (let alone romantic ones) largely unfeasible, but there are also many who are on the "high-functioning" end and do have a clear desire for dating and romance.

Which falsely asserts that nonverbal people don't desire relationships with other people. Which erases the experiences of nonverbal people who do desire relationships, dating and romance with other people, but face even greater difficulties in finding them.
posted by talitha_kumi at 9:42 AM on January 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I really can't tell whether I am hypersensitive or hyposensitive to body language or not (I am not autistic). What I can say for certain is that I notice all these little things, and I can't understand what they mean. Is the person signalling, or am I imagining things that aren't really there? And then when I don't notice something, I wonder if I really can't see it, or I've just trained myself to ignore it, because I can't differentiate the signals from the noise.

So, although I can't actually tell whether it's the case or not based on my own experience, I would be likely to believe research that says the autism spectrum is related to hypersensitivity, or just inability to filter.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:44 AM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


People forget emotions are internal messages they can choose to read, or choose to externalize. Once these messages are projected outwardly, people also forget others are under no obligation to be manipulated by shows of emotion they have not evoked or agreed to earlier.

Emotional blackmail is what I call the routine use of, or threat of, angry outburst. This also goes for the emotions attendant to attraction of any kind, people may not act out emotionally to have intimacy if that has not been verbally agreed upon.

Because certain women/ people do not respond to or fail to be manipulated by emotional projection, that does not mean they don't get it, or are autistic, or didn't say no.

As for pissing in the chip bag, I am sure the bullies are still trash, and the victim received help. I applaud her brilliant maneuver, since at times "reality" requires a complete deconstruction, signalling the end of the game.
posted by Oyéah at 9:50 AM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Because certain women/ people do not respond to or fail to be manipulated by emotional projection, that does not mean they don't get it, or are autistic, or didn't say no.

This seems like a weird thing to say in a thread about someone who is actually autistic, and it kind of falls under the above-mentioned umbrella of "neurotypical people can also have feature X, therefore this shouldn't be considered an autistic issue." Speaking as one single Autistic, it's kind of painful.
posted by dorque at 9:52 AM on January 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's basically bullshit; there is no one "functioning" axis and no one's level of functioning is static.

The reality is that there exists a continuum from the profoundly disabled to the barely disabled and no matter what words you use to convey the idea, the negative connotations are inescapable because autism is a disability and disabilities - on some level - suck.

Whatever. I was diagnosed when I was 28 and take the "high functioning" label as a reminder that it could be worse - and it can always be worse. And anyway, whatever words you choose to describe me can only convey a subset of my experiences. They don't define the entirety of me or my experiences, and that applies if you talk about me as an athlete, a father, or a high school dropout.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:07 AM on January 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


My point is, I imagine that having one's ASD similarly dismissed as "something everyone experiences" is just as obnoxious.

But at the same time it is empathetic to share that everyone has problems and struggles and that it's OK to fuck up sometimes, even without some sort of mental health diagnosis. A person who has has a single migraine can be empathetic to someone who has them constantly even if there's a huge gap in the way migraines impact their lives.

If it makes you feel any better non-neurotypical people, I am also terrible at flirting. I'm a big awkward nerd - which is not the same as having an actual diagnosed condition - and flirting and dating. Ugh. Terrible. So you have my empathy.

If it doesn't make you feel better, well, I dunno. Good luck.
posted by GuyZero at 10:12 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, anyone who wants to dismiss these womens' experiences as "something everyone goes through" is actively harming women with autism. Dismissing and hand-waving away this sort of account is another way in which women with autism are told they don't really count. It's already hard enough to get your autism taken seriously as a woman; there are five times more autism diagnoses for males than females, and many researchers and women with autism believe that this is because autism manifests differently in women than in men, and that the differential diagnosis rates reflect the male bias in the current clinical definition of autism. Many women with autism go through multiple rounds of misdiagnosis and inappropriate medication, often ending up with bipolar or borderline diagnoses before they find a psychologist who gets it (ask me how I know!).

For example, women with autism tend to have more socially acceptable "special interests"; instead of being obsessed with trains or dinosaurs or whatever, they might obsessively collect makeup or books, or read Metafilter obsessively, or something generally innocuous. Since their special interests tend to be less notably strange, it doesn't stand out to a clinician as much even though the obsessive behavior around it is identical. Women also receive a ton more messages about how to be socially adept because it is much more expected of women than men, so women with autism can often "pass" (as the author of the first piece describes) due to their social conditioning.

I'm sure some will still want to dismiss it as "the way most people are" but here are some helpful lists and charts trying to describe the way that autism manifests differently in females than in males. Obviously some of those entries are fairly common but when taken together, it's a pretty distinct suite of symptoms. I wish I had found this stuff earlier in my life, and I wish there weren't still so many stereotypes about autism that enable people to dismiss my experience of the world and tell me I'm "normal" when I'm not.
posted by dialetheia at 10:23 AM on January 16, 2015 [25 favorites]


The reality is that there exists a continuum from the profoundly disabled to the barely disabled and no matter what words you use to convey the idea, the negative connotations are inescapable because autism is a disability and disabilities - on some level - suck.


With autism it isn't exactly a continuum - one of the reasons I dislike the term "autism spectrum" is that it implies a straight line from lowest to highest, and any one autistic person occupies a particular spot on it. How well one "functions" is more a function of one's environment and other people's willingness to accommodate the challenges one has.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:27 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oyéah: Because certain women/ people do not respond to or fail to be manipulated by emotional projection, that does not mean they don't get it, or are autistic, or didn't say no.
No one on Earth is suggesting that that such women are therefore autistic due to this singular trait.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:06 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that the concept of the 'autism spectrum' is even a useful one from a casual, lay perspective. All it really is in the most general terms is a constellation of traits that occur in as many different manifestations, clusters, and degrees as there are people who have them.

It is absolutely possible that someone classified as neurotypical might have a similar manifestation of a specific trait as someone classified as neuroatypical. It is a spectrum, and there are a lot of people who fall in the middle of the spectrum--so 'high functioning' or more neurotypical people diagnosed as autistic, and people with autistic traits but not enough of them for a diagnosis--who might have very similar experiences.

In a lot of cases, it is of course useful for people on the spectrum to have access to services designed specifically to help them integrate, but those services are usually targeted toward specific symptoms or traits, such as helping with verbal skills, navigating sensory issues, or learning social cues.

Thinking of it as some kind of monolithic pathology isn't all that useful for most purposes, and doing so (again, for casual lay purposes) tends not just to further pathologize traits that are considered 'on the spectrum,' but it also further normalizes neurotypical traits, which begs a pretty big question as far as I'm concerned.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:08 AM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have empathy with the article, the people in the article and for dramatis personae, not so much.

What might happen is, and since I have never been diagnosed with autism, this is only conjecture: people with autism may be engaged by emotional sorts, because their signals are so strong and possibly more perceivable. At the same time relations may not turn out well.

Someone mentioned up t h e thread about diagnoses attendant only to women.

I, in no way mean to diminish the difficulty or reality of people with autism. From my personal experience friends I have, students I have worked with, they seem super empathic verging on telepathic. I am careful with these treasured contacts.

I didn't suggest that women who require verbal input regarding emotional states are unhealthy, unempathetic, cranky, cold, bitchy, or have autism. There is not a standard recipe for successful relations, only some broad guidelines in the western societies.
posted by Oyéah at 11:59 AM on January 16, 2015


I'm not sure that the concept of the 'autism spectrum' is even a useful one from a casual, lay perspective

Agreed! In all sincerity, it would more properly be called the autism n-dimensional hypervolume.
posted by dialetheia at 12:25 PM on January 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


dialetheia: "the autism n-dimensional hypervolume."

Imagine a perfectly spherical cow with autism.
posted by symbioid at 12:32 PM on January 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Autism is not immune to intersections, and gender plays a huge role here. I think, especially in terms of dating, the first author tries to address that. She's appreciated for her quirks, until she misses cues also related to gender performance. I think gender is also playing a role in the comments, where her experiences are minimized as normal and she is labeled pathological.

Women who have been diagnosed or suspect they may be autistic, often encounter similar responses within social and medical circles. In part, because Autism is often seen as occurring more often in males. HFA (ick) is often described as an 'extreme male brain'. Of course, that description is then used to explain the disparity in M:F ratios. Researchers are exploring alternative reasons for this disparity, and Autistic women are increasingly sharing their experiences, much like this post.

I'm not sure experiences written about Autism can be separated from gender, so the usual questions need to be asked: Does the way children are gender-socialized affect presentation of autistic traits? and Is there a tendency to question women's experiences compared to men's? We see these questions play out all the time in feminist posts.

Related to this post: A teenager boy may engage in more physical acts (such as peeing on food) and escape with less repercussions. In the article it is linked with being sent to a residential treatment school. Of course she is going to focus on how inappropriate the behavior was - her actions were held to higher stakes.

Same with other social behavior. This multitude of school psychologists, references the ways, maybe not described in this dating article, people felt she was 'off'. The diagnosis, of course, isn't just about a bag of chips. relationship issues aren't just ignoring a boyfriend stomping around in the kitchen.

In both examples, however, gender is intertwined, and she recognizes that autism impacts those types of performances. Seems like gender plays a role in our responses as well.
posted by bindr at 12:39 PM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think we're going to find different "modes" of autism.

We have the "spectrum" (hfa/aspergers and "full" autism) but I really think there are different traits on this spectrum that people mix/match exhibit that aren't so much a ladder of verticality of low->high, as a horizontal division, recombination of these traits.


Oh, there are definitely different modes of autism. There's a saying, "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." I see it most clearly in my own family, where my brother and I have been both been diagnosed with autism, although I am conventionally viewed as the more "high-functioning" one. On the other hand, my brother's long-term memory and recall are much better than mine, and my memory is better than most people. For example, my brother can remember every single person he has ever met, while simultaneously keeping a permanent Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon diagram in his head over how they are all interrelated with each other. (He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of old TV shows, to the extent that he can name character actors who played minor recurring characters on the Rockford Files. He can also remember phrases from children's TV shows he watched thirty years ago, although to a lesser extent, I can do this too.) The downside to this amazing gift is that he is dead set against traveling outside of a two-county area corresponding to where he grew up. It's as if he does not want to venture out to meet more people for fear that it would overload the diagram in his head. It's as if everything on the map except for the county where he lives can be rendered as "Here Be Monsters."

Another way autism can manifest itself differently is via hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity. Hyposensitivity is where your much less sensitive than the average person to certain stimuli, while hypersensitivity is where your much more sensitive than average. Like many autistic people, my brother and I have extremely sensitive hearing (the reference to Sheldon's "Vulcan hearing" on the Big Bang Theory, always felt to me as a clue that Sheldon is high-functioning autistic to me). On the other hand, my brother can be extremely hyposensitive when it comes to pain. He has an almost superhuman ability to recover from cuts, injuries, colds, chicken pox etc. very quickly (i.e., all he needs to do is "sleep it off" one night), whereas it usually takes me considerably longer.

On the other hand, my ability to remember words and process information extremely quickly are highly valued in a society where everybody with a white-collar job seems to sit at a computer and type in symbols all day, whereas my brother's narrower ability to remember names and TV shows are viewed as less relevant. As a result, I'm what society views as the more "functional" brother with the two advanced degrees, while my brother is a high-school graduate who works as a custodian.

My autism definitely made dating difficult for me as I grew up, but I'm a happily married man now. My brother, on the other hand, prefers to be asexual and vows never to marry. I know he means this, because the physical stimulation involved any two-person intimate relationship (any combination of straight or gay, man or woman what have you) would be just too much for him to handle mentally or physically. When I go back to my hometown to visit my brother, my brother will let me hug him, but he has to prepare himself mentally and maybe wince a little bit, just to get ready to handle the sensation of being hugged. I'm different in that I'm more likely to prefer to be hugged tightly, even "smooshed" a little bit. There's even a tendency of some men on the spectrum (yeah, yeah... I've got this "friend," see...) to like women who are a little on the chubby side, because feeling extra pressure or weight on yourself can be comforting & soothing when you're feeling overstimulated. At least for me, I also had a tendency of dating women who were older than me. I'm not sure whether it was because older women were more forgiving of social awkwardness if you were a "diamond in the rough" or if older women felt more "maternal" or if they just liked the attention from a younger man. Whatever the reason, it fit into a common cultural script of how an older woman fulfills a romantic and sexual "teacher" role for a less experienced younger man. I was even in a long-term relationship with a woman 11 years older than me who would jokingly say I had "ass-burgers," even though I had never been officially diagnosed at that point. In fact, I didn't get diagnosed officially until after I was married, but before then, my wife's aunt who works with autistic children had already had me pegged accurately as being on the spectrum.
posted by jonp72 at 12:43 PM on January 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


What might happen is, and since I have never been diagnosed with autism, this is only conjecture: people with autism may be engaged by emotional sorts, because their signals are so strong and possibly more perceivable. At the same time relations may not turn out well.

I am on the spectrum, and I think your conjecture has some merit to it. Let's just say I've been there, done that.
posted by jonp72 at 12:46 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I saw a theory that people with autism are not lack of empathy, but hyperempathic and I can sort of understand that. They restrain their own impulses and get overstimulated because they feel the energy too much, not too little. It's like, as an introvert, I go in very quietly to a room and try to make myself small, but inside I have a very rich and deep emotional process going on... Similarly, I think they try to make themselves "small" and not cause too much emotion for overstimulation, so they try to do what they can to maintain a stable situation... That's just an opinion, of course.

This has some grain of truth to it, but it gets complicated. Empathy has at least two components: (1) understanding what a person's emotion is and (2) forming an appropriate response to the other person's emotions. Some unempathetic people know perfectly well what other people are feeling; they just don't care. With autistics, the issue is not understanding what other people are feeling. Many autistics desperately want to be empathetic; they just don't know how.

In my case, my brother, who is also autistic, had much more difficulty regulating emotions than I did. So, when I was growing up, I just remember a lot of yelling in my house, both from my brother and from my parents who were dealing with the struggles of raising a "difficult" but undiagnosed child. As the more "high-functioning" child, I tended to keep quiet and withdraw a lot at home, usually learning how to spending a lot of time alone, keeping myself entertained without input from others. On the other hand, I was constantly absorbing a lot of intense emotions from my environment, and I still have trouble in the sense that I can sympathetically absorb the emotions of the people I live with. For example, it can sometimes be difficult for me to comfort my wife when she's in a bad mood, because her bad mood means that I will feel bad too, which makes it harder for me mentally and/or physically to provide her the emotional support she needs. But on the other hand, I can be very good at sniffing out when somebody else is going to be angry or in a bad mood, whereas some more neurotypical people don't see it, because their own optimism bias makes it more difficult for them to detect when other people are suffering in silence.
posted by jonp72 at 1:02 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Autism in girls and women is hugely underdiagnosed; as the first article mentions, this is largely because of gender stereotypes. The "extreme male brain" theory proposed by Simon Baron-Cohen (who has done enormous legitimate research in autism; and, yes, is cousin to Sacha) is still the leading conception of autism in many/most areas--and it is almost certainly completely wrong. It is itself largely rooted in gender stereotypes that we try to dismantle in other fields (that men are good at "systems"/maths, while women are good at empathy/socialization) as well as assumptions about autism that are looking increasingly inaccurate.

The "intense world" theory--which emphasizes the sensory experiences of autism--is something that seems much closer to accurate understanding. Further knowledge here could also combat common stereotypes of autism such as autistic persons' lack of empathy or apathy toward socialization (something that not a single autistic person I have met has claimed resonance with; many autistic people report being overwhelmed by too much empathy and a deep desire for meaningful relationships that is strained by not intuitively knowing how to navigate them--needing to learn and constantly relearn all social cues and roles "by hand" is enormously taxing). While it seems like obvious good communication to be upfront and direct about feelings instead of relying on body language and nonverbal cues, that isn't really quite a workable parallel with the experiences of autistic people.

A comment in an older thread on the intense world idea compared the experience to psychedelic experiences, which I think makes huge amounts of sense. The idea is that in both cases there is a removal of sensory "filtering" that is typically done by neurotypical brains as a matter of course. In many cases I suspect it's not that autistic people are "bad" at reading nonverbal cues, as they are too good at picking up on them, such that signals are lost amid all the noise. When people imagine the autistic experience, they imagine the hyper-rational, apathetic math genius vampires in Peter Watts' novels, a stereotype that contributes directly to the very low diagnosis rate of autistic girls/women, as even if girls exhibit these things they are usually "corrected" for inappropriate behavior and end up faking competence at gender roles deemed appropriate--and nonautistic. But the reported experiences of many autistic people are more like living in a chaos of constant overstimulation. Day to day nonverbal communication for neurotypical people is like knowing five stock phrases by rote; for autistic persons, it's more like needing to exhaustively scour a thirty volume encyclopedia set to find just that one phrase with almost no context clues that everyone else knows and uses intuitively.

Interacting with the world this way is difficult enough, but for women (or nonstereotypical men) there is the added difficulty of swimming against deeply ingrained stereotypes. It is common for potential partners to perceive autistic traits in women as "adorkable" rather than as evidence of a different neurology. This does often make things initially easier, until an inevitable explosive end. Maintaining friendships and platonic relationships is often hard enough for autistic people; romantic and sexual relationships just add so many more complications that probably nobody in the world really wants to deal with.
posted by byanyothername at 1:16 PM on January 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


until an inevitable explosive end.

What does that look like and why does it happen? I'm a few weeks into seeing someone who immediately seemed to me to be "on the spectrum." I've been slowly working on understanding her inner universe and how she experiences and frames the outer world.

I'm cringing as I type this, but it seems very obvious to me that gears are turning very hard beneath her "performance"(??) of neurotypicality(??) and that that could come with surprises in situations that I can't yet predict or understand.

Very curious, again--what does this "inevitable explosive end" look like and why does it happen? Why is this supposed to be a thing?
posted by zeek321 at 2:24 PM on January 16, 2015


the problem seems to be that autism in women is currently underdiagnosed

I think a lot of it has to do with how we treat autism. We tend to classify it as neckbeard category - for example, every time someone is an antisocial jerk, people say "They must have Aspergers". And so when people tell women they're not autistic, what they may be trying to say is, "Don't worry, you're not in this category of Bad that I put autistic people in! You're great and deserve happiness!"

Which is actually pretty ugly for other reasons if you think about it.
posted by corb at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2015


From the first article:
The language of the body, that which makes up an estimated 60% of communication, was almost closed to me. So instead I fell back on words — the safety of which I could understand, as their clarity left nothing to puzzle over or decipher.

I found the writer's idea that words are clear and straightforward, in comparison to action, to be really surprising. Is that how other people feel? For me personally (not autistic) I assume the opposite is true.

Not because I instinctively understand what someone is trying to say when they're clattering around a kitchen (I dunno, maybe they're drunk/clumsy/angry/distracted/high-spirited/etc -- no idea, not enough data. I find it an asshole move that her boyfriend expects her to "interpret" his random stomping around (apparently him having a mild tantrum while she's in the other room?) as anything in particular, regardless that she's autistic). But because, in my perception, words and language are more complex and their uses more subtle than physical action is. I'm wondering whether other people interpret language as straightforward and clear in comparison with actions or expressions -- and also what it even means for language to be straightforward and clear, actually.
posted by rue72 at 2:42 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think a lot of the, well essentially goalpost moving in here is a huge and awesome example of ableism.

I'm not going to make a MeTa, because i don't this is a problem with MeFi. I think it's a problem with society, and i think mefi handles it better than most because there isn't a brick wall of "nah, shut up" that shuts all discussion down and is incredibly anxiety creating and silencing.

Basically it's two pronged. People who see some traits in themselves go "hey, i'm like that, but i couldn't POSSIBLY have any of that gross icky autism stuff, so she must just be fishing and exaggerating and is probably pretty much like me". It's sort of reverse othering, saying i can't be other, so you can't be either since we're similar.

This is the learning disability equivalent of "haha, look, that guy stood up out of the wheelchair to grab some booze from the shelf isn't it hilarious he's totally faking it! lets get our pitchforks!". It's not as violent, or aggressive, but it's part and parcel of the same crap.

Now before i go on, i'm absolutely not saying that i can speak for women who experience this, but there are absolutely some parallels. The big different part is the blast shield of "haha that's cute!" with weird behavior that essentially gets you to let your guard down, thinking you're safe around someone and then they get weirded/grossed out or angry. That shit is an extra heaping helping of garbage that women with autism have to deal with.

But no, the part that really gets to me is the "haha, nah you can't possibly have that, you're so normal! you have a job/significant other/are part of some group/etc".

You opened yourself up to someone, and told them you struggle with this. Then they laughed it off, and when presented with evidence that you are indeed struggling disregard the previous conversation and assume you're just an asshole/passive aggressive/insensitive/willfully ignoring signals to be manipulative/etc.

This is inherently, deeply, disrespectful. And it creates large walls inside of people who suffer with this. Why bring it up if it wont help, and will maybe even hurt? Why not just find someone whose ok with your weirdness that you don't feel the need to disclose to? when is it safe to?

It's a big bag of shit to carry around.


I don't know, this is sort of disjointed. I just wanted to bring this up because seeing all this here really upset me. I don't know why, but i expected better. And the dismissals weren't even like, long "well maybe..." thoughtful stuff, a lot of them were super flip "well i feel like that sometimes too!". I don't think i'm going to, but earlier today reading all this, i understood why many people have closed their accounts and left when MeFi as a community shit on something that directly effects them.
posted by emptythought at 2:58 PM on January 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


I think online communication is actually more challenging for me, as someone on the spectrum. You'd think it might be more of a level playing field, but those physical cues of annoyance that I'm hypersensitive to just aren't there. It's very hard for me to "read the room" online, and when people get frustrated with me, I'm supposed to know what's wrong and how to fix it. It's frustrating for me, too, believe me. People really do need to say what they mean. As with many other autistic traits, I am not acting this way on purpose. It made me reluctant to join MeFi after years of lurking because tone is so important here and people can easily be misinterpreted. I think I'm getting better at finding the right words to convey my thoughts, but for awhile, everything felt so deeply confusing that I almost felt like adding footnotes to my posts, or trying to state everything in three different ways, or something.

I can pick up on anger in person, but I don't usually know the correct response. People need to meet me halfway in terms of communication. I had an ex with a habit of sulking whenever he was upset. I remember him standing there in the living room, glowering, arms crossed for probably a good five minutes until I walked up to him and asked what was wrong. He burst out, "I was waiting for you to come over here and hug me!" How was I supposed to know? That was not an established routine with us or anything.

I know that I can come across as flirtatious when I only meant to be friendly, and I'm bad at distinguishing friendly outings from dates. When I described one such encounter to a friend who is good at reading people, he laughed: "He took you for coffee? So you were on a date!"

I can relate to the woman in the second article who didn't know how to respond to a flirtatious request, so she simply walked away. I hadn't even considered that an autistic trait until now.

The social rules never stop coming at you; they just get more nuanced.
posted by quiet earth at 3:38 PM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think that a fpp like this can difficult to parse, because Autism as a spectrum is very complex and not easily generalized. Gender is also complex, and the presentation of both, may not match general expectations/perceptions. Except in the most general of ways, I had difficulty relating to the examples provided in the post. I could however recognize some of the themes I encountered, albeit differently from my life.

I think that's why the saying "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." becomes so relevant. It's not a singular perception or behavior, even if some of the traits seem similar. I appreciate people choosing to speak on their experiences. This variation is also part of the push back around functioning labels. Functioning labels simultaneously minimize disability on one end, and minimize competence on the other.

While I can't speak to the validity of the article or its methodology, Gender differences in emotionality and sociability in children with autism spectrum disorders quickly summarizes where research stands wrt autism and gender. It also, as the title suggests, describes potential differences in social interaction. Much like the fpp, I see this article more as a 'starting point' for research than definitive.
posted by bindr at 3:40 PM on January 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


emptythought: Autism itself is not a learning disability. While it often occurs with learning disabilities, it should not be conflated with those, particularly in light of the big umbrella that's opened up in recent years classifying a range of previous diagnoses as 'autism.'

The generally accepted definition is that it is a 'developmental disorder,' but even that description is controversial among those who consider it simply an atypical neurotype. Along those same lines, person-first language isn't always appropriate, as it treats that neurotype as something separate from the person. People tend to identify themselves not just with but as their neurotypes. People ARE their autism. Calling it a disability or a disorder implies that it's something that can and should be fixed, and implies that neurotypical behaviors are the ideal. Most people wouldn't argue that it does put you at a disadvantage when navigating a lot of cultural norms, but that raises the question of how much people need to adapt and how much the culture does. Much of the treatment for people in the 'high functioning' categories involves adapting to a culture, and there's rarely any talk of making that culture more accommodating as a whole and not simply as special accommodations doled out individually.

If you collect all the traits that are measured to come up with a diagnosis of 'autism,' and you lay them all out, each on its own discrete spectrum, it is absolutely plausible that a person not on the autism spectrum could share certain discrete traits with someone on the autism spectrum. Autistic people are not aliens and do not have wholly alien experiences, just a particular constellation of traits that occur at varying points on a series of discrete spectrums.

Which is not at all to say that it's acceptable to minimize or handwave away anyone's concerns or difficulties. If someone tells you they have had lifelong issues reading social cues or tolerating certain stimula, then no, it's not equivalent to the time you misread someone or did something dorky, or how you can't sleep when someone's car alarm is going off.

But the idea that maybe people should be more considerate and inclusive of traits and tolerance levels common to the autism spectrum, without necessarily having to classify them as special accommodations that require a diagnosis, is a good thing. And the best way to go about that is to reverse-other, or normalize, those things.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:05 PM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm wondering whether other people interpret language as straightforward and clear in comparison with actions or expressions

(I'm tired and not holding on to speech very well, so this may be a bit disjointed, sorry.) I don't know if I feel that language is necessarily more straightforward than nonverbal communication methods, but it seems to have the capacity to be. With physical cues, I have a long lookup table of things each cue might mean, and many of them are wildly dissimilar; for a given set of words, the lookup table is much shorter (if I can trust that my interlocutor is saying what they actually mean, which can require some pre-communication to set up), so I'm much less likely to pick the wrong one.

One of my biggest sources of stress is people whose physical cues and words don't match up. Someone who is saying "angry" with their body and "no, it's fine" with their voice, for example -- is that the "no, it's fine" that actually means "fuck you", or is it the "no, it's fine" that means "I'm upset for reasons that are not actually your fault and I want to deal with it myself", or is it the "no, it's fine" that means "I'm super angry but it's probably because Joe in the next cubicle is an asshole and you got caught in the crossfire"? In all of those cases I'm expected to react a different way, but distinguishing between them is brutal.

But If I already know someone and I know that they will try to say what they mean, it's basically giving me permission to discard the dissonance from the voice/body disagreement. It's a huge cognitive processing load and similarly it's a huge relief to not have to do it.
posted by dorque at 5:47 PM on January 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Though the American Psychiatric Association defines autism as a spectrum disorder—some people do not speak at all and have disabilities that make traditional relationships (let alone romantic ones) largely unfeasible, but there are also many who are on the "high-functioning" end and do have a clear desire for dating and romance.

This only claims that the nonverbal don't want traditional relationships if you don't know what 'feasible' means. The article is saying those who don't speak at all (and other disabilities) will find it hard to have a traditional relationship, which, if they don't or can't speak and have other issues also, is true.

I do get tired of those who self-diagnose with autism without ever doing much more than a bit of internet reading, maybe a checklist or two. But then, self-diagnoses in general can be irritating because of how little people take into consideration things like the way mental disorders can warp your perception.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:57 PM on January 16, 2015


At this point i put self diagnosis in the same category as(ohmygodi'mgoingtoregretsayingthis) the zomg looming threat of "false rape accusations" that MRAs constantly bring up and stuff.

You do a lot more harm treating everyone who says they're struggling with something with skepticism than you do validating people who are making shit up for whatever reason.

Accepting those people at face value does not "cheapen your movement" or whatever. It has a very marginal cost compared to the added high wall of skepticism and "suuuurreee buddy" going the other way does.

This was very hard for me myself to accept, as i was at one time a hardcore "lol otherkin furry buttheads" type of chan troll who loved to mock those stupid livejournal kids and whoever who made stuff up. You know, the "stereotypical deviantart (l)user".

I realized though, that calling out phonies is more about shaming, identity politics, and some weird "a HA, GOTCHA" sort of internet detective BS than it is about like, only helping the people who truly need and deserve it or whatever the party line is.

Any time you create an artificial wall that someone must be better than to pass, you're agreeing to some amount of collateral damage of people who decide to suffer in silence rather than run that gauntlet.

The older i get, the closer that acceptable losses amount gets to zero.

If someone has the motivation to go take a test like that, i'd imagine they haven't been having a good time of things beforehand anyways. People, even depressed people, don't just go "wow hmm maybe i'm on the spectrum" or something.

I don't know. I guess i just understand that impostor syndrome feeling of not feeling like, you know, like you're suffering enough or whatever very well. And encouraging that in someone else seems like low level psychological warfare.
posted by emptythought at 9:08 PM on January 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


> I found the writer's idea that words are clear and straightforward, in comparison to action, to be really surprising. Is that how other people feel? For me personally (not autistic) I assume the opposite is true.

I am in the group that thinks words are clear and straightforward, or at least they can be. I think most people are very sloppy with words, and I find this frustrating, especially when it's me. I am a computer programmer. I grew up in a family of mathematicians, engineers, programmers, physicists. I learned BASIC when I was 8 years old because it just naturally made sense when I read the manual; I'm pretty sure I think in algorithms and symbolic manipulation of sensory memories.

So, for me, well constructed speech should carry the precision of a program or mathematical formula that another person can execute in their head to decompress the intended meaning, but I actually find it somewhat difficult to figure out the programs that are supposed to reconstruct those symbolic combinations of sensory information (whether visual or otherwise) in other people. But trying to do that with body language is even more hopeless.

I was classified as "Learning Disabled" in elementary school, and I was diagnosed with ADD in middle school. I've never had any formal autism-related diagnoses, though perhaps that's an error.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:30 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


From this thread, I've learned that you can self-apply the label "autistic" if you are over-sensitive to sensory stimulation or under-sensitive to sensory stimulation. Also if you're over-vigilant in social situations or under-vigilant. Also that if an autism specialist analyzes you when you're 5, you'll probably get labelled autistic.

But when that same psych sees you at age 20, she'll say you were socially adept except for one area, contra to any clinical definition of child autism ever (??)

In any case, having a close friend who experiences significant day-to-day disability from autism makes it tiring to see so many people wrap themselves in the autism cloak. "HF" autism is so disconnected from (I guess in their terms low-functinoning?) autism that it doesn't look like a continuum to anybody but those who place themselves at the top.
posted by SakuraK at 1:40 AM on January 17, 2015


From this thread, I've learned that you can self-apply the label "autistic" if you are over-sensitive to sensory stimulation or under-sensitive to sensory stimulation. Also if you're over-vigilant in social situations or under-vigilant. Also that if an autism specialist analyzes you when you're 5, you'll probably get labelled autistic.

I get the frustration, but... yes? Sensory-seeking vs sensory-aversive are two known and AFAIK clinically accepted poles of the same autistic feature. Over- versus under-vigilance falls out pretty straightforwardly: here are a bunch of situations that don't make sense! Do you: a) desperately cling to any shred of information that might help you parse things, or b) mentally shrug and say "fuck it" and not bother? (That implies much more intentional/conscious thought about the situation than I personally have, but I think it illustrates the point.) As for the last part, most people don't get seen by an autism specialist at age 5 unless there's already some adult who's concerned about them.
posted by dorque at 5:55 AM on January 17, 2015


Um, I would like to apologise, as the thread has gone in a slightly unexpected direction, and that might be partially my fault. In my post upthread I didn't mean to demean the lived experience of anyone with autism or autism like symptoms. I appreciate that it makes life difficult in some very specific ways I do not have to deal with.

I guess I was trying to get at two issues

1-Some of the methods for being a good partner for an autistic person could apply to being a better partner in general (which is just awesome!)
2-A more nuanced point, almost a question here: I don't want anyone with autism to be alone, but I think when it comes to romantic relationships in particular, this is a difficult one. I am OK with saying that we should make allowances for who our partner is, and any health issues (if that's a fair way to put someone being non neuro-typical) they might have is part of that. But ultimately we are not obliged too date other people, and if one finds that one is not compatible with someone else due to their capabilities to process particular kinds of emotions then that is a very sad thing, but not necessarily something I can fault a person for.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 10:53 AM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The people who self-diagnose lightly actually do make life harder for those who really have that problem. Autism, especially Aspergers for example, gets regarded less seriously, even if you have a more accurate clinical diagnosis, because of all the arseholes who claim to have it instead of admitting they just don't care about other people's feelings enough.

All sorts of mental illnesses get minimised when they get claimed by people who don't actually have them. It's not about 'calling out phonies' or them 'cheapening the movement', it's about reducing the public perception of mental illness as actually detrimental; if all you're exposed to is a handful of self-diagnosed depressives on the internet, it's much more likely that you'll think that depression is essentially code for lazy.

Something I've seen bandied around a bit that's actually deeply untrue is that compassion isn't a finite resource. It actually very much is; as a person, you simply can't care about everything. Compassion fatigue is a very real thing, as is simply getting overwhelmed by trying to engage with even a fraction of the world's problems on any equivalent level. If you walk past five charity workers and the first four turn out to be for fake charities, how likely are you to give to the fifth one?

It may be your truth that you were about shaming and identity politics. It's far from ideal, insulting, even, to suggest that's true for everyone though. For many people, the persistent idea that their illness is not 'real' has been abetted in part by the number of people who claim they have a disease without getting checked out. This isn't about shaming people who try and empathise by sharing their experience, however light, of the same issue. This is about not respecting the self-diagnosis of someone who has effectively said, say, "Well I've got pneumonia, not that I need to see a doctor about it, or even talk to one about getting better. But I can just tell that I do, because I coughed this morning."
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:16 AM on January 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, the real problem is people who inevitably derail autism discussions with a bunch of dismissive bullshit about this supposed epidemic of self-diagnosers, not the people who are at different places in their journey and are just trying to figure out what's going on. Many of those "self-diagnosers" go on to actually get diagnosed, and dismissive bullshit like this where you presume to tell people what they are and aren't actually experiencing makes it harder for everyone with autism to get taken seriously.

What's insulting is for you to decide you know better about what's going on with people you've never even met than they could possibly know about themselves. What would help me as somebody on the spectrum who had a lot of trouble being diagnosed because of attitudes like yours, gadge emeritus, is for everyone to simply take everyone seriously when they describe their issues and stop kneejerking about people faking it every time autism comes up. Autism can be a very invisible disability in certain ways, especially if you can "pass" in certain areas but not in others, and this kind of judgment of who does and doesn't "really" have autism is super hurtful to everyone on the spectrum, diagnosed or not.

Comments like yours, which perpetuate this idea that many people with AS are just faking it or whatever if they don't fit your preconceived ideas of what autism looks like, are far more hurtful and destructive than somebody who recognizes some of their behaviors within the autism spectrum and identifies themselves however they see fit.
posted by dialetheia at 11:46 AM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is actually a phenomenon where people self-diagnose as autistic as an excuse for being an asshole. I've seen it multiple times. So basically, they'll say or do something that's rude or insensitive in some way, and when it's pointed out to them, instead of apologizing and learning from their mistake, they claim to be autistic and persist in doing the same thing over and over again. And a lot of the time, being an asshole is the only 'symptom' they exhibit. And that sucks from any angle you look at it.

However, that's not the only reason someone might self-diagnose. It's just the one that I think causes people to bristle.

As to the spectrum of severity, you know, yeah. That really is an issue. People on the 'high functioning' side really do experience some of the same things, just to different degrees. Those degrees matter a lot, though, and can often be the difference between being able to integrate and not.

I was diagnosed when I was about 7, back in the 70s. And I really did have issues. I was verbal, but I talked funny. I was kind of monotone, or overcompensated by overemphasizing or emphasizing the wrong things, and I didn't really have a grasp of social context with language. I stopped speaking up in a lot of contexts because people would laugh at the way I talked. I was also very sensitive to stimulation, and would just shut down entirely when I was overwhelmed. So if it was noisy or there were too many bright lights or if too many people were looking at me, I'd either run away and go sit in a closet for a while or I'd just freeze like a deer in headlights, and get worse when people tried to snap me out of it.

So I needed to adapt and learn things, and I did. I increased my tolerances, I memorized social rules and affectations, and by the time I was a teenager, I was pretty much fine. I am an old lady now, and I still have to manage a bunch of different things, but for the most part, I'm done accommodating, and no, I don't accept that I should have to wave some special status flag in order to have others accommodate me. There's nothing wrong with me, I don't want to learn to be like the people who annoy and intrude on me, and I won't be patronized by them.

Which is a big part of the reason that I think normalizing is important. So much of how we approach these issues is just a matter of framing. This thing on allism is largely tongue in cheek, but there's a lot of truth in it. Somehow people don't get 'diagnosed' on the spectrum of pathological allism, but if I'm considered diagnosable on one end of the spectrum, I know a lot of people who should be diagnosed on the other end, too.

So for example, I still have sensory issues, which I manage by various means. I have difficulty in environments with excessive noise and visual stimula, particularly when they include unnecessary distress signals like car horns, sirens, alarms, and yelling and other emotional outbursts. I am distracted and annoyed by background noises like constant music, televisions in waiting rooms, etc., and can only really tolerate things like that in very small doses. This is not an unreasonable position, though, and it is no more a disability than an allistic person's need for those stimula. I could make a very good case that there is something wrong with them, not me. If you are not alarmed by distress signals, and if you require constant external stimula such as background noise, YOU are the one who has something wrong with you. It is your turn to accommodate, because that's totally unreasonable and antisocial.

Similarly, social cues. I know social rules pretty well at this point. In fact, I often know them better than people who have a more innate understanding of them, sort of like people who are not native language speakers often can articulate language rules better than native speakers.

I get tripped up sometimes, and people frequently misinterpret things I've said, but this is where text communication is the best thing ever: I can go back and look at something I actually typed sometimes and see what I actually said about something and compare it to how an allistic person interpreted it. And often, it's because I was conveying a subtle point that they parsed as a polar position on some issue they see as black and white. And especially when they know I'm a woman, they'll often add some dramatic, emotional subtext or personal motivation. But I can go back and look at my literal words and see that I expressed myself clearly in text, rather than second guessing myself. I spent waaay too much of my life second guessing and blaming myself for other people's misinterpretations.

And if you depend heavily on nonverbal cues like passive aggressive behaviors or something to convey something you want me to know, I'm not always going to pick up on that, and I'm not sorry. Sometimes I can, but it's actual work, like, I dunno, like doing math or something I guess. If you expect me to do that on a regular basis because you are too cowardly and inarticulate to talk to me directly, then ha ha, well, good luck with that. I'm done accommodating that kind of bullshit.

Oh, and stimming. I have tons of cool tricks for unobtrusive stimming that I have perfected over my life. I am happy to accommodate others by doing that, but it is not my goal to stop it entirely. If you do happen to notice me stimming somewhere and it makes you uncomfortable or you think it's inappropriate or whatever, then stop fucking staring at me, asshole.

Gender really does come in, too. We have these dumb social models of gender that require women to display this sort of superficial empathy for others, where we're supposed to be constantly reading others' social cues to determine how best to respond to them in any given situation, and we have a very low tolerance for women who don't do that. Fuck that, though. It's not my job to constantly monitor everyone's emotional temperature and try to personally regulate it. That shit is exhausting, and I'm tired of wasting my energy on it. I am totally incompatible with people who vent their problems by banging kitchen cabinets around, and that is not my deficit.

I've met you more than halfway, and it's time to start pathologizing crap like that instead of treating it as though I am the one who requires all the special accommodations.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:47 PM on January 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


Thanks for saying what you said. Perfect.
posted by Oyéah at 1:43 PM on January 17, 2015


dialethia, seems like you've both decided to take super-personally something that wasn't directed at you, and also ignored that it's not taking seriously people who lie about having a mental illness, pathologising behaviour that would otherwise be considered normal just not particularly flattering to them. If you don't do this, congratulations, this wasn't about you.

It might offend you that I make my own judgements about people who's claims of mental difficulties never actually get backed up by anything other than being solely used as an excuse for bad behaviour. Notably, they will never mention it at any other time. Also notably, I never said anything about actually bringing this up with them, merely my own thought processes.

Perhaps you live in a world where no-one has ever lied about their mental difficulties. Good for you. I'm not alone in living in a world where they have, and that has negatively affected me and others who also suffer from such conditions, including you apparently, because people cannot take you at your word. Perhaps before you yet again bring out your high horse you should direct your ire at those who do, in fact, make it harder to simply believe anyone who claims mental illness - those who lie about it.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:01 PM on January 17, 2015


Interesting how self-diagnosis is being argued by someone who has decided a professional diagnosis is illegitimate based on reading a single essay by an autistic woman.

Also, while autism is in the DSM, it's both offensive and disingenuous to describe autism (and the accusations of faking) as mentally ill. There is a connotation of dismissal, that isn't invoked when discussing other intellectual delays (or differences).

Comments relating autism (or faking) to bad behavior and mental illness feel more like some sort of personal grudge, than good faith engagement on this subject.

It's a shame that instead of discussing the author's experience with autism and dating - including how responses from others gave her hope these differences (and diagnosis) didn't exist - we're having to repeatedly legitimize our diagnosis and experience. I'm not here for that.

I struggled for a long time to understand how someone like me could be autistic. I had many mistaken beliefs about autism, and a ton of internalized ableism. Once I accepted the diagnosis, I was able to view and approach my life through a different lens. I've worked hard and am a better person for it.

Like people who learn they have adhd late in life, it's difficult to not internalize blame for struggles seen as personal ineptitude. Personally, I'd encourage people who wonder if they have autistic traits to get it checked out, instead of labeling them shitty human beings.
posted by bindr at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also that if an autism specialist analyzes you when you're 5, you'll probably get labelled autistic.

But when that same psych sees you at age 20, she'll say you were socially adept except for one area, contra to any clinical definition of child autism ever (??)


Adult diagnosis can be quite difficult, especially for the higher-functioning, as the underlying characteristics can be masked by learned adaptions. Input about how one was as a child is very useful. As a result, an attempt at diagnosis by someone less experienced can often produce diagnoses of stuff like personality disorders etc.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:50 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


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