Monday, December 28, 2009

A recent discussion on the Wrong Planet forums led to a person pointing out that an autistic's brain is miswired.

I'm sorry. Maybe I'm slow, but what is it, exactly, that makes an autistic's brain "miswired" and the neurotypical brain "correct"? Because we're different? In my last post, I explained that one of the reasons I have pride in autism is because I wasn't told for hours each day that I was inherently wrong. Another important factor in that, however, was my father (my mother as well, but my father was the one who imparted to me the wisdom I would need here). One of his favorite quotes was, "What is popular is not always right. What is right is not always popular." One could then make the argument that being neurotypical is "popular," but does that make it right?

Is there a "right" way to be?

I constantly see people missing the simplest of patterns. People who don't recognize that, when a bus is coming with a rounded front, it means that it has a new fare box that allows for quick swiping of a bus pass. When it's an old bus or a box bus, it has the old fare box where you have to put your pass in a different way. I see people getting on old buses prepared for new fare boxes and new buses prepared for old fare boxes. I could continue listing patterns that are so clear to me that other people miss, or the lengths people go to to be accepted, but my point is this: I cannot imagine life as a neurotypical. That would be a terrible punishment to me. I am sure that many neurotypicals feel the same way about being autistic.

If autistics are meant to be autistic, then why is there such a high instance of anxiety, stress, and depression amongst autistics? The answer is quite simple: We are told that we are wrong. Constantly. I escaped this by having a loving mother and a wise father, but many autistics don't. It's not just professionals and people we admire (such as teachers) constantly telling us that we are wrong, it's the way we're treated. Autism is not the same as retardation. When autistics are ostracized, we understand that it's because people don't like us, but we don't understand why. I escaped this by feeling sorry for them. As Katie explains, "Don't they know what they're missing?"

Some say that being neurotypical makes it easier to function in society. Well, wouldn't having 12 fingers make it even easier? A little work on the genetics and we're all set! Right? Ah, right. 10 fingers is "normal." 10 fingers is "right." 12 fingers makes a freak. That's what it's really about: Normalizing people. I take it Harrison Bergeron didn't "stick" with these people.

But reality, and especially what is right, is subjective. Actually, in Taoism, we are told that being the way we naturally are is what is good. Denying our nature is what makes a person evil. This could be understood as why autistics who work to "fit in" tend to be more stressed than those that do not: They are denying their nature. Naturally, one could argue that this couldn't be evil, but again I say: Who can say what is good or bad? None will ever know what would happen if they did not try and fit in. Even then, causing yourself stress, anxiety, and depression unnecessarily is quite obviously evil (doing damage to oneself unecessarily is as bad, or perhaps even worse, than doing damage to another).

Please, stop telling us that yours is the right way to be. We have enough trouble with people implying that.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I have never been officially diagnosed with autism. Recently, I have gone through various traits of HFA individuals vs. Asperger's, and I believe that I may actually be a high functioning autistic rather than an aspie. There are numerous reasons for this, which are beyond the scope of this entry.

This post, oddly enough, can be considered somewhat political, what with the current issue of universal health care.

I found out after I had self-diagnosed myself with autism that I had been suspected of it at a young age. I was only two or three at the time, but my parents immediately inquired as to what it would take to diagnose me. They discovered that their insurance would not cover testing. My dad said, as my mother told me, that it didn't matter. He didn't approve of what he saw as the over-diagnosis of autism.

And so I went for 20 years without knowing I was autistic. I went 20 years without someone telling me every day that the way I was born was wrong. That the way I was was worthless and I needed to work against my nature to be worthwhile to the world. I went for 20 years with pride in myself, and when I learned I had autism, pride in my autism as well. If I had been diagnosed as autistic all those years ago, I may not have the confidence I do now. So many people seem to think that it would be such a horrible thing if an autistic were to go without social training. How do you explain me? Yes, I was ostracized as a child, and I didn't know why. No, I don't think it was a horrible thing. I don't think that the ostracism (out of ignorance) outweighs the fact that I've grown up without being constantly told that the way I was was wrong. Kids told me that, but what do kids know? My parents were very clear that the way I was wasn't wrong. Despite what parents think, their kids trust them, especially at a young age, much more than their friends.

Here is a story, attributed to Taoism, that says something about that:

A farmer named Sai Weng owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sai Weng for his great misfortune. Sai Weng said simply, "Who can say what is good or bad?"

A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sai Weng for his good fortune. He said, "Who can say what is good or bad?"

Some time later, Sai Weng's only son, while breaking in the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sai Weng's misfortune. Sai Weng again said, "Who can say what is good or bad?"

Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sai Weng's lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sai Weng's good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But Sai Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, "Who can say what is good or bad?"

The version of this story I originally heard merely had them drafted. Still, the point is the same: You have limited perspective. You cannot know the ultimate consequence of any particular event. You may not even live long enough to see any significant consequence, and often times when we do, we do not connect it to the event.

I remember an episode of Scrubs I watched where a young girl was stabbed, and Laverne said that there was a reason for it, and they'd see it. It turns out that she had a tumor that they never would have caught if she hadn't been stabbed. In reality, we are never shown the ultimate consequence of an event simply because the ultimate consequence of any event is carried to the end of human existance.

There is a Cracked article on this sort of thing entitled "5 Great Things You Didn't Know Came from Horrific Tragedies".

I would like to make one final statement: The thing that must be understood about the Tao is that it is not necessarily good or bad, and thus, unlike Laverne, I believe that the ultimate consequence of an event can be good or bad.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I was doing some research on polyphasic sleep cycles (the uberman, in particular), when I came upon the site of a man by the name of Steve Pavlina. I had never heard of this man before, but I went through the information he provided, which was quite well presented. Then I noticed something on the side: 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job.

This article should be close to every autistic's heart. In employment and in schooling, autistics are discriminated against like no other, because it's still considered OK to discriminate against us. Read that again.

There's another reason I agree with this article, however, and that reason is because of my Taoist beliefs. A nine to five is absurdly unnatural. You work when you feel like working. And when you don't feel like it? You're still working. This is unnatural and also contributes to poor productivity. When you are happy with your work, you do more, but you also produce a higher quality of work.

For the vast majority of people it becomes necessary to take a break from work after some time. Working in four 2-hour blocks spread throughout the day would allow a person to produce a higher quality of work, and more of it. Naturally, each person is different. Some cannot stand to work on a single task for more than a half hour, some do like working eight hours straight, and some would choose to work more or less than eight hours each day. In the end, though, my message is the same: Working when you are not enjoying your work is unnatural and, thus, unhealthy for the mind and spirit, which leads to poor bodily health.

Of course, there are ten reasons why Steve Pavlina believes we should not have jobs, and I will now shine my lens upon them:

1. Time for money & income generation while you sleep

The Newtonian autistic side of me cries out against the idea of trading time for money. Look at it this way: I have three pounds of a substance. I take away three cubic inches from the substance. How much of the substance do I have now? You don't know because pounds do not equal cubic inches. Despite conventional wisdom, time does not equal money.

Most certainly money can be used to buy many things, and time is one of them, but just as substances differ in density, time differs in monetary value based on the person, the day, or the time of day. Is my sleep time exactly equal to the time I spend watching TV (which I admit I do far too frequently)? Is my time watching TV equal to my mother's time watching TV? What about when either of us is asleep?

Time is very often precious and far too often is traded for much less than it is actually worth. Moreover, the money that is often paid for that time is used to purchase things of such minor value that the Taoist side of me is shocked that people do it at all. How important is it to be able to load webpages from your phone, or to go out and get drunk (something else that's rather unhealthy for the mind, body, and soul)? Did that trip to Vegas bring you happiness?

2. The wrong kind of experience

Autistics tend to do very poorly in the realm of social ritual, so being in the workforce would logically be a good thing for an autistic to do, as it would build their understanding of social rituals. Even if that were totally true, maybe we should also look at this:

A truly good person functions without ulterior motive.
A moralist acts out of private desires.
A ritualist acts and, when no one responds,
rolls up a sleeve and marches.

When we lose the Tao, we turn to Virtue.
When we lose Virtue, we turn to kindness.
When we lose kindness, we turn to morality.
When we lose morality, we turn to ritual.

Ritual is the mere husk of good faith and loyalty
and the beginning of disorder.

~Tao Te Ching, Chapter 38, as translated by Tolbert McCarroll

I have had people say the most horrible things merely because I forget to say "thank you" or because I don't wave. For some reason, we hold the ritual in the highest regard. "Your thanks are enough" is supposed to be the kind of thing that a wonderfully good person would say. What if I forget to thank them, though? Will they turn their back on me?

Finally, as a minor autodidact in a number of fields (from trigonometry to law to religion), I must protest the idea that the experience provided in the workplace, where it is structured and determined for you, is superior to experience gained outside of the workplace.

3. You are not free

Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P'u River, the king of Ch'u sent two officials to go and announce to him: "I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm."

Chuang Tzu held on to the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, "I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch'u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?"

"It would rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud," said the two officials.

Chuang Tzu said, "Go away! I'll drag my tail in the mud!"

~Chuang Tzu, Chapter 17, translated by Burton Watson

That's really all that needs to be said about that, ever. Drag your tail in the mud.

4. You lose a lot of money from your pay before it even gets to you

I once again go back to my earlier argument about the value of time versus the amount of money people are paid for their time. It's not enough.

5. Employment is risky

And even moreso for autistics. Autistics are fired far too often for merely not being social enough. Autistics tend to deal in ideas, and wherever there are ideas, there will be people who wish to hear them, and especially support those with these ideas. The wise will always seek more wisdom, no matter its source.

In the workplace, however, ideas are considered to be nearly useless compared to how well your boss or your coworkers like you. Neurotypicals don't like people who don't follow social norms so well, or ones who have an expressionless face, or those that don't like to be touched. As such, an incredibly bright and productive autistic can and often is fired for the simple infraction of not being well-liked.

6. Boss means evil bovine master

I have nothing to say, but the word "boss" is apparently very descriptive.

7. Asking others for more income, rather than producing it yourself

A long time ago, if you were hungry, you went and got food. If you wanted a new spear, you made one yourself, or you traded some animal skins to a guy with little clothing, but a lot of spears. The point is this: If you needed something, you did what needed to be done to get it.

If you need something now, it takes money. If you don't have enough, you need to go and ask someone else to do something about it. This is unnatural, and thus something that Taoism teaches us to avoid.

Also, as stated before, autistics are not the most charming of people. I have a hard enough time selling myself in an interview. I have little faith in my ability to sell myself as deserving of a raise.

8. Socially active amongst coworkers only

Neurotypicals are wonderful at being able to avoid offending people. To the average autistic, this ability seem superhuman. Autistics bring up controversial topics, are extremely blunt about their beliefs and opinions, and I, at least, am very good at picking apart any argument placed before me. I also tend to be in constant debate mode. Conversations are a mystery to me. All this ends with the autistic sitting alone, wondering why everyone else has stormed out, and why they refuse to speak to him the next day at work. Normally, it wouldn't be a problem for me. I prefer to associate with people who are not so easily offended just by someone not agreeing with them unconditionally.

When that person is a coworker, however, the issue becomes serious. I can choose to not associate with others. With a coworker, either we must associate with one another, or one of us must be out of a job. Who would they fire, do you think? The person who is hated, or the one who is hating them?

9. No more freedom

Human beings always long to be free. It is so much a part of our nature that no one is really sure how to separate it out from us. It has happened in the past, but it is rare and difficult. We long to seek what we choose, and why should we not? After all, Chuang Tzu claims that the reason why people are so confused today in matters of Virtue is that the sages came and spoke to our ancestors of our duties, of things we must do.

Autistics have a terrible time integrating into groups. If you want to see what a person who embraces true non-conformity is like, look no further than the autistic. Naturally, I don't mean coloring your hair pink because you want it to look different, just like everyone else. What I mean is that we don't bend so easily to pointless rules or to what we must do. Many autistics have done this because it is the only way they can exist in the workplace, but that is changing an inherent part of who we are. Or, if we do not truly change, only pretend to, then we are presenting a false face to the world; we are lying to those around us about who we are.

No one should have to lie about who they are because of the intolerance of others.

10. Afraid to change the situation

Objectivists would cry out against this, and though I am a fan of Terry Goodkind, I will leave the objectivist rallying cries to the objectivists.

Taoism has a concept that is very complex and difficult to understand for most, but is vital for living a natural life. This concept is "wei wu wei," often translated as "ideal inaction" or "ideal effortlessness." What is means is this: Do not expend more energy than you must. Use your energy to better your life or the lives of others (if you feel like doing such a thing). It takes energy to complain. That energy could be used to instead better your life, bring your closer to a natural life.

As an autistic, I am often faced with great challenges in my social life. Perhaps the greatest challenge is this: I must stay silent when I see a simple solution to the problem another person is complaining about. I've failed it nearly every time. It's a social ritual to listen to a complainer and do nothing about their complaint. It boggles my mind why such a thing is forbidden, but I am, apparently, not allowed to help them. It is in my autistic nature to see the practical. Complaining without action is not practical. Action without complaint is.

Normally, I don't buy into self help (despite my claim that Faith of the Fallen saved my life), but I have been browsing some of Steve Pavlina's blog entries about earning money online, increasing site traffic, and polyphasic sleep, and I have to say that it's extraordinarily helpful. It would definately be a good resource for me to look into in the future. I doubt I would be able to monetize this blog, for the simple fact that there really are few ways I would be comfortable with receiving money for it.


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