Aphantasia and sensory personality

So the recent labeling of the inability to visualize is picking up steam, the BBC has run an article (Here) as well as IFLscience.com (and here).  I have often touched on sensory difference in my blog, and I want to take a moment to put forth a few thoughts on how our sensory baseline and toolkit influence our personality and choices.

We interact and understand the world through our sensory capabilities, everything we perceive and understand must be processed via our sensory functions.  No person can take in all of object reality, we do the best we can with what we have, and this is often part of the core of why our very notions of reality can be strikingly different. Someone who is a color synesthete and translates micro-expressions into a visible color spectrum may believe they are reading auras, some folks see music in color, some people like me have pronounced tactile responses to visual, olfactory, and auditory stimuli.  Since this is our baseline, barring degeneration or brain trauma, it is the only way we know how to view the world, it is comfortable and normal for us, and thus it is very easy to make the mistake that this is a shared human experience.  Our ability to take in, process, store, recall, and manipulate  sensory data is not the same, and it could potentially explain a great deal about our unconscious choices and personality, refuting in a way nulla ratio ad gustum  or in simple English “there is no accounting for taste.”

So, we all perceive the world a bit differently, and what we can do with that data varies greatly too.  If people have a better understanding of their sensory baseline, then they have a powerful tool into personality and knowledge of self.  When you think about your sensory capabilities, you should ask yourself a few important questions. How do I take in data (and which methods do I prefer)? How do I store that data? How can I manipulate that data? and finally, how do I utilize that data when I am thinking?   The answers are not the same for everybody, let me put a few bullet points below to get an idea of some possible differences and how they can affect personal choices. Also, realize that a great deal of research still needs to be done in these area, so do not confuse my questioning and hypothesis as fully vetted science, it would take a lifetime of research to even begin to touch on these things alone, so I hope anyone with a stronger science background recognizes this for what it is, thoughts, ideas, and questions.

  • Visual data: So aphantasia, the inability to picture something in your mind and Hyperphantasia the ability to build photo-realistic imagery in ones mind are two polemics on a bell curve.  Hyperphantasia has some obvious advantages, it is arguable for example that Nicola Tesla was hyperphantasiac, able to build and construct things in his own minds eye.  Where as I am aphantasiac, I cannot visualize at all and instead rely on an inner monologue and vague feelings to put together my conscious thought processes.  Now in the case of me, I have had pronounced and real trauma in my life, and I have often been baffled by people who are stuck reliving their trauma.  Visualization could be an important component in this, I cannot visually or auditorily relive this trauma, I have only feelings and verbal memories, in a way that may give me greater resilience. So when it comes to researching trauma, it might be a powerful clinical tool to understand the sensory personality of the individuals, if they are reliving it in full detail, then you can develop the means to help them work through it.  If they don’t you may be able to prevent a misunderstanding when the clinician thinks the person is not processing it, it may simply be it has less long term impact. Because I have experienced real and prolonged trauma in life, my lack of visualization may be why I am still here in reality with the rest of us, I tried so many ways to escape reality, books and games aplenty, if I was able to construct my own vivid imagery and fantasy world, I think it likely that I would have long ago retreated from a reality that was terrifying to me.  Likewise, our visual acuity influences some of our tastes, I often like to use a discussion between my wife and I as an example, my vision is above average 20/15 in my left eye 20/17 in my right eye (though that is a few years out of date, so degeneration may be setting in), my wife has poor vision and relies on bifocals to make the world anything less than blurry. We both disagree a great deal on how stripes look, for her the stripes tend to be softer, they blend into each other, for me they are stark and in contrast, if they did appear softer I imagine I would like them more.  It is a simple enough example though, our visual capabilities mean we do not see the same thing in the same way, our relationship to the aesthetic appeal of stripes is as much a function of visual acuity as some vague notion of personal taste.
  • Audio Data:  So I have had the (dis)pleasure of growing up with an older brother who is essentially a musical prodigy, he can hear something once, pick up any instrument, even one he has never used, and replicate it.  He has perfect pitch and lives in a world where music is a living and vibrant construct.  I can do no such thing, not only (arguably as a result of not being able to visualize, applies to maths as well) can I not read music, I cannot manipulate it or pull it apart in my head, though I can emulate it and I am a passably good singer as long as I have vocal warm ups before hand (or else I have a gap in the middle of my range).  His love and experience of music is very different than mine, and it makes sense he ended up using music for a time as his career (he was a semi-pro Christian musician, did the Nashville circuit for a bit and still has a Christian music band and is a youth minister). I enjoy music and singing, but I am strictly a vocal sort of person, the mathematical qualities of purely instrumental music are fascinating too me, but I look for patterns in cognition and thought as part of my ASD related obsessions, so I want words, and words that have meaning, so I am not a fan of pop music or fluff either, so to me music is as much about singing philosophy as a simple enjoyment of it.  Would this be different if I could hear a voice other than my own in my head? Most likely, then I could better piece together melody and harmony, I could manipulate it differently, but I can’t and I am no musical prodigy, just a competent singer and I used to feel inferior because of this, but I have different intellectual gifts that my brother does not have, and that is not such a bad thing.  So how we relate and manipulate auditory information is likely to have a profound impact not just on musical talents, but on musical taste as well.  Another noteworthy point in auditory processing is that some people cannot separate out conversations in noisy environments, they can’t filter out the background noise, and it is quite likely that most of us know people who dislike meeting in noisy environments to have a chat, they prefer smaller venues, this preference could simply be dictated by their ability to manipulate auditory data and make sense of it, I am one of those who cannot filter out specific sounds, as a result of this I am also the person who tends to get louder and louder at social gatherings, and when I am singing I must have either a source of feedback, or I cover one ear so I can hear my own voice amongst the clamor and surrounding noise.  What seems like a personality trait “I prefer quiet environments” could be a direct result of ones ability to hear and how they can utilize and manipulate what they are hearing, just more food for thought.
  • Tactile Data: Here is where I excel and also suffer, I am hyper-tactile, I am picky about clothes, hate having foreign substances on my skin, sticky hands drive me nuts.  I also believe that my tendency to chew my fingers is less of a nervous habit and more of a means to remove callouses that try to develop, I hate how they mute my ability to feel things. Likewise, I feel more pain than most people and this greatly restricts some of my activities, when someone wants to feel the burn, I cringe at the thought of it. I have trouble sitting in one position too long, the pressure becomes painful, it makes going to sleep a night difficult as I must toss and turn in an attempt to get comfortable, one position hurts my shoulders, the other my hips, and I have to dangle my feet off the bed or else the tendency to extend them against the bed causes me great discomfort as well.  And yet, there are positives along with these drawbacks, sure I was never good at manual labor or sitting still for long periods of time, but I am very good at feeling textures, even playing with air currents beneath the palm of my hand.  If something is painted and fixed, it may look visually the same, but it is easy for me to tell where metal ends and a bondo job begins on a car frame, the texture difference is stark and obvious to me.  I take in great deal of tactile information, and I can remember that tactile information.  As a child I played a game with my siblings, we would imagine while driving jumping from one mile marker or fence post to another, I could not see that being done, but I could feel it, even now just thinking about it my stomach reacts as if I am actually jumping, I can feel that movement, my muscles remember it and thus I have an excellent tactile memory, in fact it is what I most often use to get around my visualization difficulties. I also process information well this way, I am the type of person who takes notes but never looks at them again, the act of writing helps encode the information into my long term memory, it is the process not reviewing them that helps me remember these things.  But not everyone is as sensitive to touch and pain as I am, I see people wear articles of clothing with no discomfort that makes me itch just looking at it.  Wearing a tie around my neck? horrific, but so many folks manage to do it will no discomfort, this is simple tactile difference…well and folks who make themselves suck it up for business, etc.  How many of us know someone who when they get home get right into their comfy clothes? How many times have folks made fun of someone wearing sweats, PJ’s, or even a mumu when they are shopping? Is it that they are lazy or slovenly? Or does it indicate a person who may just be hypertactile and has issues with restrictive clothing and textures against their body, one is a moral judgment based on assumptions, the other is objective neurological difference that has real potential causation behind it, I naturally favor the later as the case.
  • Olfactory and Taste Data: I am clumping taste and smell together as they are both chemical senses and very closely linked.  Sight takes light waves and converts it to what we know as vision, auditory is a specific form of tactile sense that makes use of vibrations in the environment around us that we know of as sound. Tactile is actually very complex, we have specialized nerves for hot and cold, pressure, etc.  But olfactory and smell, these are a result of chemical compounds that fit within specific chemical receptors and thus are very different in nature.  For example, one can trick the nose with similar volatile organic compounds, I once tricked my wife and even my cats and dog into thinking I was cooking hamburgers, when in fact I was making an inedible combination of panko, egg, and fresh home roasted coffee grounds, because coffee shares volatile organic compounds with cooking meat.  And it worked exceedingly well I must say, my wife was rather stunned she had truly believed I was cooking hamburgers when she walked through the door.  And like our other senses though, some people can recall smells and tastes with vivid detail, others cannot, some of us have very sensitive palates and noses, some of us do not.  Again, neurological difference that sometimes is confused with moral judgments of character and personality.  A person with limited taste may get a fine meal and slather it in hot sauce or ketchup, some may see this as uncouth, but they simply may not have sensitive chemical receptors and thus need strong tastes, instead of picking apart the subtle and nuanced flavors. I am very sensitive to taste, I know well in advance if something is beginning to ferment or rot, and many folks I know still gladly eat food in that state, I avoid it like the plague.  In the area of smell, strong smells overwhelm me, they make me nauseous, sick, and even impact my ability to maintain my balance (connecting back to my strong tactile/kinetic reactions to other sensory inputs).  I cannot remember a smell on my own in my head, but I have excellent recall when exposed to it, I am one of those people who can walk into a kitchen, just grab a bunch of seemingly random spices and make a wonderful tasting meal (my presentation sucks though, shaky hands and such). To me it is easy to meld together those scents, even though I may not be able to actively recall them without them present (so I have limited ability to utilize stored scent data) I am able to do wonderful things with them (so I have a strong ability to manipulate that sensory data), once again this is difference, not everyone can do this.  But these capabilities explain behaviors, do you know people who douse themselves in fragrances to the point of nausea? What about folks who stubbornly refuse to go to crowded areas or complain about the smell of places or people? Are they being just picky and judgmental, or are they taking in more sensory data than other people do?  Our ability to use our senses differently can easily explain why one person may find a candle shop a bit of personal heaven while another has to be coerced into going in.

Those are just quick anecdotes for examples, not remotely an exhaustive list, but enough to really help illustrate just how different people can be based on nothing more than difference in our sensory capabilities.  One mistake often made in our current cultural paradigm is that we test these abilities for the mean, we often do not test to see if someone has a superior sense of vision or hearing in our annual screenings.  We should though, that information is important, it can tell us about possible strengths and explain aversions to certain things. Not everyone is suitable to be a wine taster, it can be trained to a degree, but someone with exceptional chemical sensory capabilities is going to be able to pull more data out of the sip with the same training as someone who is not as sensitive.  It is not a point of superiority though, our brain has finite room and finite capabilities, so strength is some areas are likely to result in perceived deficits in other areas (such as sensitivities to chemicals and smells as well, want to get me to run out of a room? Open a bottle of bleach and see me haul tail out of there, and good luck dragging me to a public swimming pool).  Much of what we assume are character flaws or quirks, can be understood as very natural consequences of our sensory capabilities, thus our sensory personality.  And every interaction we have with object reality will by it’s nature be influenced by these things.  The world becomes much less black and white when people realize just how different our brains are wired. So the next time you call someone a wimp because they complain about something hurting, remember that science is showing that some people do in fact feel more pain. I for one am far from a wimp, I live every moment with pain, I still get up and get things done that I have to, but I will not enjoy it while others might, the pain I feel may often exceed the endorphin rush I would get from certain exercises (or I lack the gene that influences dopamine when it comes to physical activity and thus would not get more pleasure out of it anyway).

As more people begin to understand this difference though, the more we talk about it, and the less judgmental we will be out of completely understandable ignorance.  Science is opening up the human brain, Barack Obama called this the decade of the brain, and he is correct.  We can communicate with folks in vegetative states (check this out here) and we can even see a person’s answers before they are even consciously aware their brain made a decision (here and here). We live in a fascinating time, but our society needs to catch up before we implode.  So much rigid belief, judgment, and biases are putting us at odds, we attack each other over perceived slights, morals, and politics and expect folks to see the world the way we see it, which is not a neurological possibility.  We need to take a collective breath, recognize how alien and different we can be, stop labeling one as superior, one cannot be morally accountable for inherent neurological difference, there is no fault to be had, and instead start talking dialectically instead of using rhetoric and sophistry to attack and undermine each other.  As closing example I have used before in my writing is the use of the hoodie and how people perceive it. To some it is the clothing choice of criminals up to nefarious purpose, others a comfy way to show off their school logo, and for some of us it is a critical piece of clothing for reducing stimuli.  The hoodie is often made of comfortable materials, with the hood up it reduces peripheral vision that many people over-utilize, especially on the autism spectrum. It can dampen sounds coming from behind and to the side of the head, but helps funnel sounds directed at ones face, helping those of us who have difficulty isolating conversation is noisy places better hear the conversations around us. The hoodie becomes more than just a fashion statement, for some it becomes an unconscious tool to help deal with an overstimulating world, and before we pass judgment on the person wearing one with sunglasses on, we should ask ourselves what else could be a reason for wearing such an ensemble, the results could be surprising indeed.

Epigenetics, trauma, and why it is a crime against humanity.

So I am trying to do a shorter, more targeted topic today, we shall see how it goes. In particular I wanted to talk about Epigenetics, which are possibly inheritable traits not linked to the DNA itself, but found in the “daughter cells”.  More importantly, and specifically to this post is that trauma, fear, stress, anxiety, etc can cause epigenetic damage that has been shown to be inheritable by progeny. This has far reaching implications for us as a species, and when someone is bullied, demeaned, abused, forced to live under constant stress, or has issue with PTS, these changes to one’s epigenetics can be passed onto their children.   So, the moral argument here is actually a very simple one, as we continue to demean others for their race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, intellect, ethnicity, perceived disabilities, etc we are not just harming that person, we are harming their children and their grandchildren, we are harming true innocents, hijacking their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness before they are even conceived. The ramifications of this are truly horrific, and as more folks suffer from inherited trauma and stress, and then we layer more of that upon them when they fail to thrive for all those factors outside of their control, we are damaging the human species.

When I was an active duty USAF Ammo troop, we laughed about how one cannot drop rusty bombs on the enemy, it was cruel and unusual, if you are going to drop bombs then the ideal was to kill them outright and not risk them suffering from tetanus or other infections.  We laughed, because when you job is to inflict harm and trauma, it seemed ridiculous to worry about how rusty a high explosive casing was.  But, due to some level of conscience, it was banned, and I am not against this. But we still view it as okay to bully, demean, and traumatize folks for there difference, and were as one with tetanus aka lockjaw will certainly suffer, the intent was to kill them anyhow (which I do wish we would stop trying to do to each other, has not solved anything yet). In the case of epigenetics, we are traumatizing future generations, harming those who are defenseless in a way that is hard to wrap you head around, because a child who has not even been created yet is the one being harmed. And yes, many who are traumatized may not even make it to breeding, so many kids kill themselves each year as a result of trauma and bullying, of internalized fault, of stress.  But those that do, and who cannot find more peace and balance later, will themselves have children epigenetically pre-disposed to dealing with these issues as well.   That is a true crime against humanity, it infects our very fundamental road map for the construction of our minds and bodies with unnecessary anxiety, stress, and trauma, and that is horrific thing to inflict on a child when we now realize that it is a scientific fact that it does occur.

Therefore, it becomes a moral imperative that we more actively and aggressively tackle issues of mass trauma to populations (we see the results of epigenetics reinforced by cultural ideology and fear in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for example), trauma to individuals and this must include so called “character developing” forms of bullying.  If our actions against populations and individuals do harm over generations not just in the subjective realm of cultural memory, but in the very genetics of the population, then to continue to cause harm is criminal.  And sometimes, with the world in the state it is in, we may very well have to still inflict some trauma to stop future trauma, in the example of ISIS, the damage being done to themselves as well as those who they seek to purge, we must stop it, but we must offer a path for those who did not realize what they got themselves into to get themselves out, if we cannot forgive youthful exuberance coupled with rigid ideology from feeling demeaned, then we cannot effectively disarm them.  But ISIS itself is born out of trauma, born from ideology that views the western worldview has harmful to them, and in the case of those who are maladaptive to the western time obsessed consumerist paradigm, we need to make room for them to thrive as well.  To find harmony in the world, we must expand the dominant paradigm, forgive those who in their pain, trauma, and ignorance caused great pain as well.  For the future of unborn generations, it is time we looked at both science and spirituality, faith and reason, and take the correct knowledge found in all, discard the old and rigid ways, and create together not a utopian future, but a better one.

How the education system breaks difference

I want to take a bit here to talk about the current westernized education system, though the model has been applied in many places across the globe.  With human populations being the sheer size they are, it is easy to understand how being able to quantify a person statistically is appealing, but it is also dehumanizing and cannot truly objectively get the results it desires.  Our very methods of testing are based upon what is valued or considered the ideal, or even just normal by the dominant paradigm, and thus when a child fails to thrive in that, they are defective, disabled, morally inferior to others.  This is a judgment based on ideology, not neurological fact.  When one talks about the bell curve and intellect, the measure of intellect is biased by the society measuring it, it has pre-conceived expectations on what makes someone a “functional” member of society.  Introverts for example, those who may favor deep thought, or have their “heads in the clouds” are often demeaned as lazy, because many in our society believe you need to see the activity directly in front of their own eyes, they fail to understand how many variables there are to meaningful human endeavor.

The current education system continues to try and apply one size fits all approaches to education, even though there are so many of us who keep saying clearly that we need to teach to the difference.  While working on my Masters in Education, a common theme for the US education system was the notion that an educated population is needed for a healthy democracy, but our standards for what makes an educated person are both limited and woefully out of balance.  The intersection of the industrialist mindset with our education system, coupled with the cost of it due to varying amounts of legislation, red-tape, and bureaucracy has turned it into a rigid behemoth, that serves only those well adapted to the dominant paradigm.  We favor rote learning and knowledge over critical thinking and being able to apply that knowledge, it allows ignorance to flourish, because no amount of quantifiable facts and statistics can truly indicate an individuals ability to think and apply that knowledge.  Knowledge that is never applied, might as well not be taught at all, facts, figures, names, and dates do not a truly educated person make, we have confused these notions with being able to think critically, wisdom, and the not so common “common sense”.

Compartmentalized learning is the backbone of the current education system, an obsession with certain skill sets linked to specific subject matter, and for many this is a perfectly decent way to learn, but many of us, those who naturally favor logical thinking over “observant” or as I call it, empirical thinking, do not learn well this way at all.  Rote learning lacks context, it does not allow for an immediate value assessment for us, because many of us need to see it applied, see the interaction of different subjects to better grasp it, rote learning stands alone from a complex intertwined system, and some of us learn best by trying to understand the entire system, not just bits and pieces kept distinct.  I have said before, and will say it again, though I am bad at math as we currently teach it, I have a very naturally mathematical mind, my lack of visualization and thus ability to manipulate numbers in my mind, does not mean I do not do math constantly, that I don’t assess angles and degrees, subtract, multiply, add or divide constantly.  Yet there is no system or test in place where I can show competency, because we have a rigid idea of what it means to understand such things.

There are so many different ways people think and learn, we approach basic questions from so many different points, and those of us who think differently are often demeaned for it, we then fail to thrive because the way we are taught does not make sense.  And this is not just an autism spectrum issue, the school to prison pipeline exists because of a failure to teach to difference, that the logical mindset found in so many cultures and genotypes is disdained in our society, it reminds us of the indolence of the old European aristocracy for example.  But the failures of the European Aristocracy is not how they thought and what they valued, it is the same issue as we see today, in that they failed to understand, utilize, and value other ways of thinking and interacting with the world.  So in old Europe, the empirical, grounded in the here and now, was demeaned, it was the “peasant” mindset, considered short sighted and intellectually inferior, while it was never any of these things, it was simply difference.

Yet, through our one size fits all approach, many of us fail to thrive within the academic system, and somehow that becomes our fault, either being “disabled” like many of us on the spectrum are listed, and we do have some differences that make us maladaptive to the current paradigm, but that is not disability, it is the failure to expand the system and teach to the difference (once again, there are severe forms of autism that are lifelong disability, but we create a great deal of that artificially). We continue to allow the mentality of “kids will be kids” as an excuse to let us be demeaned and bullied, and yes kids will be kids, but that is not an excuse to ignore a teachable moment, to expand their understanding about different ways of thinking, and the value of that, when kids act this way, it is our duty in a democratic society especially, to teach them better than that.  When cultures clashed historically there are ideas exchanged, these ideas foster innovation, but this is also found on the individual level as well, difference pushes us forward, and to demean one inherent way of thinking over another is not just morally reprehensible, it is self defeating in the long term, it leads to trauma, mental illness, caste systems and social classes. Sure, there is mobility within the US economically, but that mobility is based upon certain careers and endeavors, and not everyone can do those things and thrive, it is a pleasant lie we tell ourselves, because many people do not value those things, and we should not be forced to suffer because of an inherent way of being we had no choice in.   When I think about the school to prison pipeline, I see logical thinkers greatly affected, be them autism spectrum or populations of African descent, see, logical thinking is very common throughout the world, it is very beneficial for survival, it is flexible and reads the patterns of the natural world easily, and thus many genetic populations favor that way of thinking.  In the US and many areas of Europe, there are so many Empirical thinkers, this lends itself well to changing the environment, constructing and building things, taming instead of adapting and moving with the natural world.  Both of these ways of thinking have their benefits and their limitations, these are different gifts and we must make room for that to flourish.  “Being White” as discussed by many educators as a plague amongst many school populations, most often associated with African Americans, is more than just flouting the dominant paradigm out of spite and an effort to maintain their own cultural identity, it identifies and demeans those who think close to the dominant paradigm and value rote book learning over wisdom and life experience.  It identifies a difference, and that difference is demeaned because it is not consciously understood and applies to the dominant paradigm that has in turn consistently demeaned them.  It is a cycle, and cycles can be broken, and our education system is the tool that is used to break so many of us, to make us feel unworthy and under valued, that our failure to learn in a way that is contrary to how we build up our understanding of the world somehow makes us faulty.

Life today is very rigid, we say we are free, but few people understand what liberty really means, the ability to say what you want without consequence is not freedom, it is A freedom, a singular example, but that alone does not make us free.  One might argue that we are able to go into a host of careers, we just have to buckle down and get our education. But when that very education does not teach to how we learn best, then we have already started passing a subtle moral judgment on what types of thinking are valuable, and what are undesirable.  The cards are stacked against us based on so many differences that no child has ever had a say in, not just inherent thinking, but privilege based on race, sex, and social class, often found in the very poor funding found in some schools, with leaky roofs and old, outdated text books, vs cutting edge technology.  And this is tied to enclaved communities, communities so fearful of difference than a black or latino family moving in can cause home values to drop, based of ignorance and fear, instead of giving those who are culturally and racially different a chance to flourish on their own merits.  Ignorance and fear are great movers and shakers in our economy, and as a result, based on how we fund ours schools currently, that leads to enclaves that demean and keep out difference, that label children, before they have even had a chance to establish a healthy sense of self identity as doomed to fail, as defective, as trouble makers who cannot just listen and do what they are told.

Well, some of us are experiential learners and skeptics, we will not take you at your word, we need to come to our understanding of things in a different way, this is not defective, it is simply different.  I remember keenly more than a few times where I was told by an educator, an authority who is supposed to nurture my knowledge and understanding, that I was going to amount to nothing, simply because I did not thrive or relate to the education system, because I questioned it, questioned my teachers, questioned their credentials, and always tried to see things from multiple points of view.  Coupled with facing a scary and overwhelming future, tied down to repetitive work force tasks, soul numbing and devoid of value to me.  I avoided studying many topics, because I was constantly told I would starve if I did so, but for the few who regularly read my works, there is little doubt I have a philosopher’s mind, coupled with a love of empirical data and science, both forms of thought inform me so much more than just one way of thinking ever could.

When you cannot learn the way you learn best, then you suffer. When you are told that you are less worthy, because you think and approach things differently, self-defeatism creeps in, mental illness, lethargy, anger, and a host of other traits that further alienate us from the dominant paradigm.  We end up being “degenerates”, “hoodlums”, “future criminals”, and a host of other labels, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, it hijacks out self-identity and sense of self worth, and thus we make those who do not fit in the “other” and based on faulty context and false dichotomies, this status makes us undesirable in society, and this society closes doors of opportunity to us, and we deviate from the dominant model.  In many ways, this is a sizable chunk of criminality, self employment in a fashion that does not force one into a boring and pedantic 9 to 5 job, it has more excitement, it allows for more self-determination, and for many that makes it worth the risks.  We created a system that is so rigid, that is literally becomes almost prophetic in it’s ability to predict the course in life for certain ways of thinking. Add in further bias, in the form of racial profiling and cultural demeaning, then the deck becomes further stacked against certain groups, we see it now in the constant struggles of black men in our society.  And when people do stray, when they make mistakes, commit a crime, or a host of other things as a result, it becomes a label for life, even though we never gave them a chance to thrive in the first place.  We are not a nation that forgives, we are a nation that judges, and believe that heinous acts are the work of someone evil, heartless, or cruel and never allow them to find a better path, they become the label and the record of that label haunts and follows them for life, it is a human tragedy of epic proportions.

If we want to reduce mental illness and criminality, then we must look at our education system and our culture of demeaning difference.  If we embrace teaching to the difference, allowing rote learners to keep learning the way they do best, but allowing logical and experiential learners to do the same, we will have more well adapted people who will endeavor and contribute to society, since feeling that one is valued and belongs is such an important part of self-identity and mental health.  So what if they cannot tell you the exact date something was written, a ballpark figure is just fine, all they need for history for example is an understanding of chronology, the fine details are just knowledge not likely to be ever applied, that does not mean the learner did not learn the important aspects of history for example.  “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”, well folks, no culture or society has yet to properly do this, we keep assuming we have, but the cycle of demeaning, violence, and trauma is still alive and well, and we are working our way up to another cycle of it right now.  It is not names, dates, and specific locations that inform us of the lessons of history, it can all be paraphrased and understood in the terms of the intersection of human difference, individual and cultural.  Sometimes I wonder (seriously, this is a correlation, an interesting idea, not something I believe to be scientific fact, I am a pattern thinker after all) if the volume of empirical thinking we see in Europe and the Middle east is not tied to the amount of Neanderthal DNA in a population, that within our human genome there are two very different fundamental ways of learning.  I will use the China example again, after all trace amounts of the Neaderthal genome exist in Asiatic and Indigenous North American populations, that they developed a system of testing to identify empirical thinkers to help run the bureaucracy, An interesting thought to think that two races shared DNA and that as a result two ways of thinking exist within the human genome in regards to how we learn our schema and build up understanding. Regardless of origin, fun idea that it is, it benefits us all, the thinkers, the do’ers, nurturers, teachers, and so many other different ways of thinking once you begin to factor in inherent chaos in the wiring of the brain. So much difference….and yet we continue to assume that a one size fits all approach is desirable and beneficial to society, and that a child is to blame for that difference.  How short sighted we have been, even when science continues to indicate that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in how a brain can function.  But even those scientists often work within the dominant paradigm, and thus they too are biased, their subjective cultural lens applying judgments based on difference and it’s failure to flourish in what they consider to be an enlightened society, we are so very far away from being enlightened, we are still at war with our selves and each other, and we still fail to learn the lessons of history, and thus still hostages to the choices of our ancestors.

Chaos, morality, Christianity, difference, and part of my world view.

This is almost pure moral philosophy, my philosophy, some will take offense, some with think I am way off base, but for all who dare to read further, there is truth in this, maybe not your truth, but mine, so I take this chance to make public a few thoughts on Religion I have kept close to my chest, it is not an attack, it is an attempt to illuminate.  It also includes some of the very chaotic nature of how I think, and thus has some academic value for those who wonder about such things.

My mind has been exceptionally chaotic of late, I have wanted to write so many things but cannot maintain the focus I want, I am stressed and overwhelmed as usual, unable to sequester myself away from the myriad of distractions in my world. My mind is ever seeking more and more knowledge to prove what I have already hashed out as a worldview.  I worry I am re-inventing the wheel, or that I will offend, or a host of other things.  My mind is chaos, by it’s inherent nature, where one person may see one clear path or a very discernible paths, I see a multitude that is so overwhelming, I cannot shut out the voices of individuals, I try to hear and listen to them all, in this the internet is not proving to be my friend. I am trying to stop, trying to spend less time learning and adding to my extensive body of knowledge and instead put together a world view, an ideal, my interpretation of massive patterns of human thoughts, fears, and difference into a manageable form, and I am not sure I can.  My mind does not prioritize well at all, unless something becomes an immediate concern in the here and now, it will go beneath notice, I am a truly cerebral being to such an extreme I fail to even take proper care of myself at times save for forcing it into ritualized behavior.  This mind craves structure though, which is why it is so easy to imprint another perspective onto my own conscious thought patterns, where a book or movie I watch can alter the very cadence and tenor of my thoughts, because I am unable to do so on my own.

In regards to autism, I have wondered why I have been so hesitant to not simply lump myself in with say Asperger’s, besides the mirror neuron function which is so common, because I am not high functioning at all. To even get this blog as messy as it is required a shocking amount of hand holding from my wife, I cannot focus enough to translate my thoughts into action well at all, and the constant bombardment of stimuli makes it all the worse.  I understand now the pull and desire to be a hermit, but I do not wish to cut myself off from the world, but I cannot sanely remain mired but feeling ever impotent at the same time.  My daughter is both a source of great joy and extreme distress for me, a conundrum in a small package, a beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, and sadly hyper sensory child, who is precious to me beyond words, and it is for the children today and ones yet to be born I feel so compelled to define humanity’s context, to demonstrate as clearly as possible just how wrong we have been, how cultural detritus and a failure to understand inherent and fundamental difference continues to create societies filled with haves and have nots.

It comes down to healthy self identity, and for me, that may be forever out of my grasp, but I know one thing, I am special, special needs but a special view point as well.  The same ability that allows me to act, to imprint another’s thought patterns onto my own is the same ability that allows me to empathize with anyone, no matter how horrid, no matter how damaged, I can put on any pair of shoes and walk in them for awhile.  And this is an ability that is both crippling and valuable, that of the tortured soul seeking to stop the insanity and cycle of demeaning difference and harm, that seeks to speak out about how no one worldview as it stands is even close to ideal, because there is too much difference inherent in our brain’s wiring, let alone the differences of culture and society for folks to grasp it easily.  When you are part of the dominant paradigm the universe makes sense too you, but a safe sensible universe for some is phenomenologically speaking  impossible, a confounding and confusing hell.  The ABCD approach to life and credentialing seems so sensible for so many, but for people like me it is insurmountable, the never ceasing questioning of a mind that must get to the underlying functions, I am so tired of seeing so much human endeavor wasted throwing itself insanely at the symptoms and not even looking for the subtext, the underlying cause, why do we see these patterns repeat, why do individuals and cultures and nations rise and then inevitably fall, we have missed something, and that something is being made clearer every day through science and understanding, but that does not mean spirituality and faith must be sacrificed upon the alter of science, some aspects are being proven false, whatever form a supreme being may take, there are rules and laws found in object reality, the possible and impossible as far as our limited comprehension goes, to even attempt to qualify or quantify such a nature is an act of hubris.We cannot understand truly that which we have no context for, it is like shooting darts in the dark hoping something hits the target and sticks.  Some feel individuals channel the divine, that prophets have an open communication pathway with the divine, but there is no solid evidence of such, often it flies in the face of logic.  I often think of Paul/Saul, logically speaking alone there was no need for a prophet after Christ, I see him not as anything divine, but an earnest mind trying to understand the teachings of someone he never met, and he translated it well to the needs of his culture at the time, with the best of his understanding, but so much harm as come from it as well. I see more quotes of the Old Testament and Corinthians than the true words of Christ, Christ who found disciples from various walks of life, who interpreted his words in different ways based on their understanding of him, but we excluded 2/3 of those different voices when the Bible was put together, we muzzled difference in exchange for a more black and white and simple understanding, the Gnostic texts show differences, but so does the Bible.  Did Judas hang himself or did his guts spill out upon the ground? Biblical literalism certainly does not hold up under such scrutiny, but the different disciples had different perspectives and it is through the understanding of all we have some notion of the mind of Jesus.  When you silence some in favor of another you lose context, you disregard some voices because they may not have thought in accord with the belief system you have, and what a shame that is.  Let me state this now, I am a pattern thinker, I personally perceive Christ in terms of a man seeking understanding much akin to me, if I did not triangulate my logic and the correlations I see in my patterns, this is how one would end up with someone who has a Christ complex, but I see it as a specific part of the minds hardwiring, certain minds cannot stand the pain and trauma in the world, they cannot carry that burden alone but for some reason we continue to try, like any one individual could have all the answers, absolve the world of perceived sins, while tackling the real demons and real sins of false knowledge and ignorance, the demeaning of difference instead of at least trying to understand just how different one human can think to another. We must expand our understanding, we must make room, even if you do fundamentally disagree, if there cannot be an accord on some matters, than maximum self determination and arguments based on principle are the answer, not demeaning, or attacking.  I used to read the Daily KOS frequently, but I see it as demeaning as more conservative media, it calls folks who think different idiots and uses fear mongering as much as the right to get their point across, instead of trying to understand why we think so different, why somethings threaten one group but not another, and we cannot get passed that without communicating that difference, without understanding how the animal mind is alive and well living in tandem with our conscious mind, that we all have a little bit of fate tied directly to how we think and understand the world around us.

I wish at times I could stop caring, use my gifts to ensure the thriving of my family and the rest of the world be damned, but that is so against my fundamental nature, and that is something many should be thankful for, I do not lie when I say I can conceive of myself breaking bad, in a horrible manner, someone like me who succumbs to the damaged and scared animal part of their mind can do untold damage to others, though it is lost in my writing because I always provide too much context, I know it is well within my power to utilize my face to face charisma for poor ends, to take the truth as I understand it, which is not everyone else’s truth, and abuse it for my own gain. But I refuse, much like I sucked at sales, because I refused to manipulate folks into spending their limited income on things I knew would not live up to expectations, fulfill them, or add greater meaning to their life.  I do not like lies, I do not like lies of omission, I do not see myself as a predator taking what I want from the world without repercussion, because I see children in adult bodies, damaged, scarred, scared, and demeaned, I see the repercussions of all my actions constantly, ever single choice I make, even the small ones not anchored in ritual as having the potential to do both great harm as well as be beneficial.  This again talks to the chaos of my mind, ever branching probability and options, a world of color and patterns, a world filled with joy as well as trauma, we must expand our understanding of difference, it is a moral imperative to stop demeaning and start understanding, the dominant paradigm will not remain the dominant forever, it will be over turned at some point and replaced, and in this culture of bullying in the US right now, were we speak words of sophistry but fail to truly communicate we are in danger of fracturing, of turning upon ourselves, because we lack the understanding to reach out and communicate. We label one side or the other as evil, and thus believe we are good, false dichotomy.  We must move beyond, seek morality and fight against amorality and succor the immoral so they can see and understand the harm done to them and thus transferred via cultural meme like a virus to others.  The spirit of the Sanhedrin is alive and well and even flourishing right now, but instead of trying to divest them of power, we must learn to share it.

I need translators, I am sure I am missing huge points of my worldview here, it is expansive, such a large pattern, but the underlying causes are there…stop fighting the symptoms, and start finding the underlying cause, and for much of that, it lies in the failure to understand the difference that drives us forward but currently often drives us apart, and that is a human tragedy writ large.  I yearn for the days of Old Toledo Spain, when Muslim, Jew, and Christians worked side by side trying to understand the universe as well as each other, and there are so many more voices than that, so many faiths and world views. Once upon a time, like many, I viewed religion as a source of great evil in the world, but religion itself is inherently neither, there are atheist traditions that have also caused great harm, it is rigid ideology that cannot make room for difference that is the root cause, it is the failure to expand understanding even when it is frightening, to play it safe, to enclave, to avoid that which you cannot understand or comprehend that is the great failure of all cultures and ideologies up to this point, as I have stated before some have done better than others, but in the modern world those who are maladaptive suffer, or become scapegoats, or who pay for privilege hoisted upon them by external powers in the form of market dominant minorities a la Amy Chua. No one path leads all folks to the same end point, we need different paths for different minds, we must expand, we must grow, and we must nurture that difference, for within this diversity is the key to not just our success, but the survival our species, it is in short a moral imperative that we get this right.

Freeing ideas from the grey matter

So I am continuing to explore new ideas and directions all the time, often I get lost in my thinking, hijacked by tangential ideas and thoughts when something new catches my attention.  My curiosity makes me wonder, makes me seek solutions to problems constantly, and right now I am in danger of slipping back into depression, allowing the old neural pathways of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to start trouble shooting myself instead of trouble shooting other issues.  I am unsure how to proceed these days, I am confused and often at war with my amygalae, suffering in my fear, my feelings of impotence, my inability to communicate properly, I am most effective face to face, always, but at the same time, I am easily intimidated into silence because sometimes my thoughts and ideas seem like attacks on people’s long held ideals, and I abhor making people upset, I am controlled by my own daughter and cats for the love of all that is irrational, my sense of self identity continues to try and subsume itself to those around me, it is a reflex, like a dog who has been beaten too many times, so I am trying to break free, but I honestly do not see how, I see several unlikely scenarios that could benefit me, but fishing for a Patron or a new mentor is hard, I cannot sell myself worth a damn, because I honestly still struggle with finding value within me, I still feel the stares and comments, my father’s advice on the nail that sticks out gets hammered still holds sway within my mind, even though it was never possible for me to not stick out, there are many lessons I am still unlearning and still hold me back.

My fear of subsistence and survival is one of them, it is at odds with my desire to let go of such concerns and lose myself in the depths of thought, or my art, or writing, singing, and a host of other ways I learn.  But out of this fear and confusion comes ideas, some transitory, hard to catch, other’s practical and seemingly not overwhelming, but I do not perceive it as worth my time, the ideas I love, I have no desire to devote all my intellect to polishing one of turd out of many though, I cannot choose one path or one route, I must meander and take the circuitous route, I must find my own path outside the traditional avenues because those avenues cannot handle me, I do not thrive and people around me have failed to engage me properly because I keep my masks on, I do not share my ideas because I lack faith in them often enough, but it is not the practical aspects of them, it is because I struggle with the results of a life lived being demeaned and misunderstood, the cowering canine mentality, it makes it hard to endeavor when even with great ideas I cannot even take compliments on them, I assume all too often I am being placated, the walking on eggshells scenario were folks pay lip service but do not actually process or contemplate my ideas…I know this to be wrong, I know there are folks who find value in my thoughts, ideas, and advice.  But rigid habits and my neural wetworks still believe deep down that I am too broken, too damaged, too different for anyone to relate to me, even surrounded by friends and loved ones, my existence is a lonely one, so it is time to change that, it is time to give birth to a few ideas and put them forth for others to use freely.  And I realize by posting that they are free to use that I will never see compensation for someone who makes a profit off it, but I cannot allow myself to be tied to notions of profit, because it has no meaning to me, I dislike paying for services, folks view that as a contract, I view it as an exchange of goods that has no real investment in me as a person. I loathe that if I want to take Tai Chi or Yoga I would have to pay outrageous sums to get a tutor in my home, I fear going to large groups because I know I will get frustrated, anxious, or even panic.  I cannot trust a person I pay money to look out for my interests as a person in need of help and guidance, I cannot trust that cash is able to buy that which is what I need more than ever, simple human investment in me, I refuse to be a transaction, like I refuse to answer phone calls from machines.

So here are some of my recent ideas in no particular order, most of these are new, I do not retain my ideas long.

Cherry Pit heating pad/stuffies:  I see a lot of weighted items out there for autistic folks to use to soothe and calm, I have been using a cherry pit heating pad because the added warmth helps.  So simple enough, stitch together some cherry pit heating pads in friendly and engaging forms, long arms to wrap around them, able to be heated or even chilled if desired, utilitarian but also comforting, cute even, and soothing.

Autism Art Awareness Auction:  Briefly hinted at this in another post, I think a large scale organized event to sell art for autism awareness and education would be a fantastic idea, various autism spectrum artists could devote works to be auctioned off, with some proceeds (along with increased name recognition) going to the artists and then a large chunk of that going towards Autism awareness, or even better…just awareness of difference in general.

Taunting Pro and Anti-gun activists:  Say What? Why would one want to taunt both these groups? Because they are fighting over a symptom and not a cause.  If people could start a letter campaign to groups on both sides to try and convince them of the underlying benefits in working together to tackle mental illness.  If we make an effort to help folks find value in themselves and in this life, if we can see clearly how demeaning difference leads to mental illness, how mental illness can lead to violence, then the greatest part of gun ownership can be tackled.

Demeaning Difference Ad campaign: Using gender, biological sex, race, ethnicity, autism, and whatever else to show in simple ads how making anyone feel they are less because of something they inherently have no control over is damaging. And how this damage and trauma spreads, feeds into mental illness, which increases uncertainty in human behavior, further increasing fear and demeaning and enclaving behaviors.

Attacking modern group think in pedagogy: So, I have a master’s in secondary education, spent a year in a 6th grade class room, so I see teaching to the difference as an imperative, I watched as standardized organizational practices were implemented, the argument is that it benefits the children who do not have organizational skills, sometimes this is true. But I also watched as it was applied to all, kids who were naturally organized in their own way, struggled with an imposed system that ran contrary to how they think, in the name of standardization and expedience though, we are too willing to rely on a one size fits all, and this is never the case.  Our public schools in theory prepare folks not just for having a job like many think it’s primary focus is, but the origins of this system are related to our democratic values and the notions that a well rounded person makes a healthy and active citizens.  But, how you get to that goal is different, and when you force people to learn in ways contrary to how they think, when they are demeaned for their failure, when they do not thrive not only do you introduce mental illness, you feed into the school to prison pipeline for those who cannot thrive. One size fits all cannot and will not work, we must teach to the difference. But this becomes expensive, the ways our education system is funded can often hinder this, so we end up relying on things like charter schools, which though great for different learners, is problematic with resource allocation as well. So we need to think about other methods, I have often wanted to start a school for children with cyrcadian disorders for example, outside the enforced daytime routine that some folks have problems with, and by having problems they fail to learn readily, fail to thrive.

Autistic Children books: Patterned people, abstract, fragmented but meaningful thoughts, books written that go beyond the accepted and standardized prose and instead inform different people in different ways. Sadly, I cannot effectively replicate the same thing frame to frame for continuity purposes, be more like Pablo Picasso and Dr. Suess had an alien love child.  But I wonder what the response would be, to write a book for children targeted at the pattern thinking mindset, one that allows kids to be proud of that difference, instead of being taught to avoid thinking in a way that is natural to them.

I have tons more ideas, some decent, some horrible, I outlined only the vagaries because they are just nascent little ideas, not fleshed out plans of action. It feels alright to get out a few here, even though it seems mostly duds, honestly I have so many more actually solid ideas, but they seem to not be coming at the moment, writer’s block of a sort because I am highly agitated today, seriously spent a sizable chunk of the day contemplating yet again how to run away and disappear, something I cannot do to my daughter, but a large part of me truly wants to do…I want to escape into a fortress of solitude, to sever my ties with the outside world for a bit, because I need time to rebuild myself and heal.  But the funny thing is, I see the solution in spiritual and pseudoscience practices, but I see an underlying science based benefit to these things, but the very thought of someone thinking I had embraced the spiritual aspects of these things inhibits me.  I am well aware of the teachings of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ, or great philosophers, I see the patterns of moral action repeated over again as well as unification of the mind and body which in my case is fractured. But I do not need some un-provable guiding spirit or any such nonsense to my mind(and I am NOT demeaning folks who believe firmly in these things, I just can’t, I am not wired that way, be easier if I could I think often), but I need investment in me, and I do not see that forthcoming, so suffer I will until I can feel free to be who I am without having to define myself in contrast to everyone else.

My “Autistic Credentials” =P

Ok, this has come up a lot lately in my personal life, not in a bad way or anything, but enough for me to feel it is easier and more expedient to write a list here of my specific behaviors, habits, etc that have resulted in the fairly substantial shift in my view of my own self identity, which let’s face it, folks who know me are curious about, or grappling with, or what not. So, I am going to list some of my rituals, habits, childhood indicators, personal obsessions, and pretty much a host of behaviors I have mostly spent the better part of my life trying to hide from public view, so this will be different to say the least.  This is not an exhaustive list by any means, I am still pulling apart certain behaviors I have not really questioned but been ashamed of showing, so I may add to this later. Yeah I know, bad blogging right here, too much information as usual, but valuable to me, and hopefully valuable to others. Also, I have not hit upon specifically hypersensory issues, maybe in part 2.

Childhood indicators:  In my childhood there were several very obvious and observable behaviors.  Most obvious was my extreme energy levels even without much sleep, as an Infant and toddler I would sleep often as little as 2 hours in 24 hours, often around 4 hours.  Despite my seemingly sleep deprivation, my energy levels remained extremely high until about third grade, I have noticed of late a return in energy, so I speculate it was stress, complex PTSD, increased socialization expectations and a few other things that resulted in the increased suppression of a mind that still would like to not have to sleep and despises being tired and fatigued.  This led to me being labeled at a young age as “hyper-kinetic” one of many labels I would acquire.

On top of this were the aggressive outbursts, such as temper tantrums that would spiral out of control until in anger and frustration I would smash my head into walls, objects, or sometimes via a charge, people.  As my language capabilities increased, increasingly my tongue would get into the mix, I would either rage and say barely coherent things, or often enough I would go cold, say calculated things to inflict pain, or more likely to force them away or make them share it, to this day I think of one habit I formed, and that was to portray my Mother as not being my Mother, I would go cold in tone and start referring to her with snide comments like “Sorry Mrs. Buzby (she has since returned to her maiden name), whatever you wants Mrs. Buzby, etc.”  To this day I regret those moments, those harmful words to a woman who always did her utmost best to understand and assist me, much of what I came to value over the years came from her, and it saddens me that in my pain, I so readily and easily inflicted pain on those closest to me.

Some more common physical behaviors were biting, spiting, carrying weaponry, fighting, destruction of property (mostly my own, but not exclusively, my siblings lost a few items of value to them).  I also had a dangerous fascination with fire, both as utility and entertainment.  I set my room on fire when I was four or five years old for example, I had Raggedy Ann and Andy curtains and a brand new Lone Ranger sleeping bag that I loved, and it bothered me to no end that I still had to have those curtains, so my little logical mind decided that if my curtains were no longer there, then my mother would be forced to buy me new ones, so I set them alight and when it got out of control, having been sent to my room earlier for some behavior that I cannot recall, I attempted to extinguish it one dixie cup of water at the time.  It was winter, thankfully for us, the fire chief lived across the road and the small fire department was literally a stone’s throw away, the result was a charred room, and a destroyed Lone Ranger sleeping bag along with the loathed curtains.  That tendency to play with fire continued, but I was cautious, I would play with the chemistry set, iron fillings, sparklers, etc outside on exposed dirt, but I still did risky behaviors in the home, I just made sure I had the materials to extinguish it on hand, I would spray perfume and hair spray (old school CFC laden Aquanet) onto the frames of doors and ignite it, putting it out before the paint could bubble, I would light matches and place them on my tongue, these were dangerous behaviors, and because I had ceased truly communicating with folks around me, I think now, it was some preparation, but also a good deal of luck that I did not cause further damage.

Running away, I was the master of running off, not just mad either, when I was four and five I was noted for streaking down the road buck nekkid and having to be chased down, I recall vaguely that it was a lot of fun.  But as I got older, when I got stressed I would run, I was a fast lil bugger too, might have been awkward in groups of people, but I could tear through the woods and up a tree with ease.  More than once the police had to get involved, I remember in Junior High, my last day playing any organized sport until High School where I tried swim team (strike that, tried Volleyball, got a compression fracture in my thumb on the second practice, called it quits). That last day of little league, I had finally hit a run worthy of mention, plenty of folks on base, we were gonna score well, and I was called out for throwing the bat, I did no such thing, as I moved to start running to the first I led off with the left side of my body, the bat slid naturally out of my hands with the carry through of the hit, it unfortunately had some force still and skittered a bit of distance, not throwing, not an imminent threat to bystanders, but I was called out, and that was it. All those folks let down, and I could not help it, so I took off, and they had to send police with a K-9 to find me, they didn’t, I got caught when I got hungry. I avoided the dog by going up into the trees in the woods surround the school, I traveled from branch to branch jumping with adrenaline fulled humiliation and anger, dogs suck at climbing, and I watched cops go right by me multiple time, totally oblivious to my presence.  When I got hungry, I sneaked back and got busted trying to get the attention of another student I believed might go along with things and get me some food so I could go back into the safety of the woods.  I was spotted then, and to this day remember clearly the brief conversation, the officer approached me and asked “you the kid we are looking for?”, my response? seemed ever so clever then, but was more amusingly lame “No, I’m King Tutankhamun” was my sarcasm riddled response. There were other times that police and bodies were used to search for me, I feel bad about the waste of community resources, but I was always just so overwhelmed, I could not get folks to understand me in any way, and the need for escape was great. Running away is still my preferred approach these days when overwhelmed, the onslaught of thoughts and possibilities overwhelm me as much as the sensory, where some folks see one or just a few options in a conversation for example, I see many more, I try to anticipate outcomes, I try to ensure I do not make people uncomfortable, I try and suppress my body language, all of these things happen all at once, so I would multitask, something being shown to be not possible, and by bouncing around between things I got lost, confused, and overwhelmed,  and when that happened I made mistakes, and when I made them I became humiliated, so my option was escape, to run,  I continued doing that in my adult life actually too in some ways.

Rituals (Past and Present):  This one actually comes up the most in conversations of late, folks wanting to know specifics about the ritual behavior associated with ASD. My rituals exist, but I am extremely introverted and cerebral, many of my current rituals are not obvious to observers unless I really forget my situational awareness.  My longest ritual by far is the mental routine I require to get out of bed when I do not want to, it takes me about a good five to ten minutes of laying there and going over and over in my head exactly what I must do to get whatever needs done that day done.  When I was in the USAF and school, this ritual was especially important, as a child if someone interrupted me during this important ritual the result was rage, many times I lost my temper first thing in the morning when one of my siblings, sadly often my little sister, would interrupt this and I would charge out of the room trying to enact revenge on the one who kept me from being able to prioritize my day.  To this day, I rely on this routine and it is detailed, I mentally go over putting my legs over the side of the bed, getting dressed, attending to hygiene, food, scheduling, etc…and I repeat it a few times to make sure I have it all, it is almost like a required pep talk to make sure I stay focused and get what I need to done.

Another ritual of note is down right gross to most folks, and that is the need to inspect all substances leaving my body. Now, I do not touch, handle, or manipulate these things directly unless it is blood from my chronic picking at things.  For example, I utilize smell and vision to inspect my urine stream…every single time I urinate, no exceptions unless I have had a few too many beers, which is pretty rare these days.  I always visually inspect a bowel movement before flushing (gotta make sure there are no worms or parasites obvious, yeah hyper inflated probability right there).  When it comes to a cold, hacking up a lung, etc. I will inspect the tissue I use to catch the nastiness for color and fold it over when done and move the substance a bit to analyze consistency, this has actually proven to be very beneficial over the years as I can readily identify post nasal drip and coughs related to just a season change (dry cold air causes the snot works to kick in almost 24/7, I hate winter weather).

“Wubby Coffee”  over the years in the evening especially, my wife would make me a cup of coffee, the problem is, it became more than just a ritual for me, it became a burden to her as the rare times when she has not fulfilled the request I have reacted with extreme agitation and anger, I have been actively working to dismantle this one, I dislike it now that I realize the nature of it.

Smoking, oh yeah smoking and nicotine addiction is a big one, more than a ritual, a physical addiction, but it was very easily integrated into my tendencies and it is a tenacious one.  Nicotine addiction is the least of my issues in regards to this, seriously with enough engagement I can go quite sometime without succumbing to the physical need. The problem is that smoking also gives me a very convenient excuse to escape social situations, it also has what to most would be a drawback, but to me is a sad but definite benefit…smoking decreases my sense of smell and taste, in my case, that is not completely bad and when I have managed to quit for brief periods in the past, smell and taste have been a very difficult thing to deal with, on the upside, I don’t tend to over eat as a result of quitting smoking, I just chew on stuff til my jaw hurts.

Chewing on stuff! Ok, I chew on tons of things, over the years it has become less obvious, but if I pulled down my lower lip or turned out my cheeks you would see the damage from years of chewing on those things.  I also chew my nails and skin callouses (I also rub my fingertips in a way that forces the tips over the extremely trimmed nails) ensuring I never developed callouses on those fingers, so they remain very sensitive even today.  I also am notorious for chewing pencils until they fall apart, grabbing small pieces of paper (mmm chemicals, yeah that is good) and chewing on them was a habit I had for a long time…but yeah the chemical thing pretty much killed that habit, shame too, blue lined paper was one of my faves.  My chewing was so bad in elementary school that when the family was in Philly, I would chew through the collars of my shirts, to the point that my mother made me wear a blue pretzel chew toy to freaking school, yeah big socialization benefits right there (sorry Mom, know ya tried hard on that one, but it twas a painful dud), I can still remember hitting my teeth on the wire inside that pretzel.  Honestly, I chewed on so many things, chewed through the cord on my fisher price record player while it was plugged in, nothing like a zap of current to ones pearly whites…did not work though, I still chew, or at the very least grind my teeth daily, and it is a habit that is hard to break.

News, since the age of internet news, everyday I check it, if I don’t check it for novelty and existential threats as I like to say, then I get agitated, the sole exception being when I am camping, camping is an acceptable escape from routine, so I do not mind a long weekend away, I also like the fact that my phone has crappy service too, the electronic leash is not my friend usually.

Other kinetic rituals:  I have a few odd kinetic habits, but a few actually qualify as ritual behavior as well.  For example, I pace…a lot, if I am thinking I am ideally pacing, another reason I have trouble getting my ideas out in text, can’t pace and type at the same time and that just sucks.  Besides pacing I also engage in hip swaying, I kinda think of this like John elder Robison’s back and forth, I do it often without even realizing it, just swaying back and forth every so slightly, I find it very soothing. When sitting I will often rest my leg so it bounces due to pressure on the nerve, this is a habit that many folks find distracting and I am constantly called out on, which usually results in me finding a reason to no longer hang out or share a location with folks, I get very agitated if I cannot engage in these things, they are soothing and grounding behaviors, but they become rituals when I become agitated at their disruption.

Mirror Practice: I am constantly practicing facial expressions or even dialogue in the mirror, I model my facial expressions and adapt them, folks often comment on how emotive my face is, it should be with all that practice, I tend to over express things because once again I dislike ambiguity, it has caused me a great deal of pain over the years.  On the plus side, in person it lets me get away with breaking taboo and using scene violations because I can communicate very well with my face, even to those not usually adept at reading them if I know I need too, also helps I spent a year in 6th grade, really got to practice those emotive communication skills there.  Anyhow, pretty much everyday at least once or twice I catch myself doing this, I actually start doing it without any thinking about it at all, it is not until I finish whatever thought my subconscious was modelling in the mirror some days that I realize I was doing it at all.  Up side, now that I am less depressed and arguably less stressed (though still overwhelmed usually), my facial muscles have relaxed more and it is pretty damn funny the faces I can make now, moving eyebrows, asymmetrical facial expressions, etc.  so, it is pretty neat, but if you read the obsession section below you will read more on the drawbacks in regards to my fear of judgment and theater.

Personal obsession: A great deal related to this is going to be under Human Context and communication, I have spent years trying to holistically understand humanity writ large and at the same time find the means to reduce my understanding down to something understandable and testable or at least decent enough to prove of actual use.  I still speculate I may have gone towards more hard science had I not had my visualization issues that inhibit my ability to do math and had I not suffered so often for nothing more than difference at the end of the day.  So currently I am trying to take my insights as well as my new found understanding of self and expand it, as it expands and I continue to connect the dots I am seeing more and more patterns that I had missed mostly because my own logic had been flawed, my troubleshooting and problem centers hijacked into obsessing about what is wrong with me, etc.  This is what I would consider my life’s work, a mix of philosophy, neuroscience, and anthropology.

I am also obsessed with art too, but I stopped doing it for almost two decades in any real form (save fantasy maps), after thousands of man hours spent trying to learn and draw realistic images that are more than a rough sketch or contour line drawing, I kinda gave up.  So I am mucking around with abstract, but I feel it is ambiguous, I dislike that, maybe I can use it to raise Autism awareness, thought about writing a few emails to see about getting an Autistic Art Auction going or something, such as some profits to the artist but most to non-profits that help raise awareness.  Seems like a decent idea, but like so many other ideas of mine, I will most likely never follow through, I already see issues with monetary variations, self esteem, production values to draw the most attention, and it seems overwhelming in it’s complexity, I do realize that most of that comes from me more than the reality on the ground.

Being judged, yes I obsess about being judged, I live in fear of reprisals for unintended actions, I feel a great deal of my coordination and neurological issues are very closely rooted in my repression of natural and comfortable body movements as misunderstandings over and over and over again over the years has left me hesitant to allow my body to act in a relaxed and genuine way.  It was not always like this, I did a lot of theater as a child, my proudest moment was doing a full length version of “Auntie Mame” as young Patrick (and his son), but I let that go to my head sadly and ceased doing school productions, and then ceased acting in general after a few promises went unfulfilled and it just became yet another thing folks could find fault in.  I lack the resilience to stand firm in what I enjoy, I am working on it, but that once substantial self confidence was long ago beaten into submission, and I do not think local theater with crowds of folks who might actually have lives that intersect with mine or my family’s as being all that desirable, that and I am a bit scared to do it, I know how deep into character I can get, I know that even after watching a movie I can take on accents and mannerisms of the people portrayed in the movie, on one hand that may be an enviable skill, it happens in conversations too, my Brother and Mother also do it, but my brother and I are the worst, we talked to some Welsh girls regularly one summer and come the end of the day my brother and I both had such garbled accents I am sure my Mother ended up with a huge headache hehe.  I think I relate well with Daniel Day Lewis’s acting approach, I think it is immensely exhausting to immerse oneself in another personality and internalize it to a point that it in a way becomes you, it is a scary thought to think of one’s self identity as that plastic and malleable, so I find the thoughts about it uncomfortable.  Not to mention odd and unsettling behaviors for folks I would work with, so unless there is locally produced a film that needs a guy who still uses a cane (I know I can stop that someday, I just have to find other ways to cope with over stimulating crowds and movement)

An Autistic Veteran’s take on Veteran’s day

Hopefully for once I will keep this reasonably short, today is Veterans day and I often think about those who came before, those I have served with, and sadly those who have forgotten how to work as a team despite substantial differences.  The US Armed Forces are a phenomenal force for breaking down and integrating difference together to work as a team. Though one may argue, that my autistic ass should never have even served, and that may not be wholly unfair, I really was not able to hack it in the long run, my mind and body began to fail me, but that was not the service, that was too many hyper-sensory functions that I could not explain, articulate, and thought mostly made me a whiny lil wimp.  But even still, while I served I was wielded, those above me recognized my unique skill sets and utilized them, and though I broke and broke badly, I still accomplished great things with great people, because that teamwork dynamic meant we were all working together towards the same goal.

So right now, I am a bit annoyed with my fellow Veterans of any specific political orientation, see today our civic and political discourse is about attacking the person not the ideas (nothing like modeling bullying for the nation while giving lip service to stopping bullying for example). I see many Veterans or still active but due to retire in the not so distant future as bitter, angry, and mad, labeling the other side of the political spectrum as trying to attack and destroy them, instead of understanding what is actually going on, which is failing to debate the key issues and understand that for team America to work, we need to get past that difference.  I want to believe that our greatest generations are not just behind us, but also ahead of us as well, we must return to attacking bad ideas, debating the value, and stop this mass paranoid notion based on fear-mongering and willful ignorance that the other side, which ever it is, specifically wants to destroy your way of life.  Neither side wants that, they want to preserve their comfort zones, or make life better for others, or offer more chances, or ensure the government does not overstep it’s bounds anymore in creating more and more laws that inhibit personal liberty and self-determination.  But this is not a Republican vs Democrat thing, if I could share my Facebook feed you would see tons of military and dirty hippy post’s all favoring a more libertarian ideal, the idea that we need to be more free than we are today, because guys, our freedom is more illusion than it has ever been. We still have more in common than not, but if we continue to attack each other based on difference, instead of utilizing that difference to rebuild our nation into something great, then it is we, not some external enemy that has dropped the torch.  It is we, who have fought over the words of our founding fathers, when even they did not always agree, but they attacked the ideas they thought were bad and vetted them, what they did not do was call out to a mass of angry constituents to do everything they could to personally inhibit the goals of other free willed free thinking people.

Finally, I want to again refresh our memories then on the notions of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness.  For many, life in this age is a misery, the expectations for almost all of us to fill some productive slot in the economic machinery is not fulfilling, there are so many damaged great thinkers, nurturers, and artists now, that we have forgotten that living life is more than continuing to breath and continuing to pull a pay check, we are forced to specialize to survive, when many of us are more generalists.  Low income families need to work man and woman alike, but if they move up the social ladder, the woman who is then working is devalued for not spending more time at home, double standards exist everywhere, and this system saps the joy of life for many of the people who do not live in the here and now, but instead try to live and anticipate the future, to think and plan and not just do, but right now the system demands do’ers everywhere and demeans people who can only teach, not much of a life when your great nation disdains you just for being born and thinking different.  So, connecting the limitations of Life to Liberty, we then realize that we lack a great many freedoms, we have confused the ability to say whatever the fuck we please with freedom, not realizing fully that we cannot simply move, explore, or adventure, due to property taxes someone who wants to subsistence farm, can’t.  See, if we all must be productive members of society as it is currently designed, then a large chunk of the population forced into roles best fit for automatons are going to be miserable, when you are miserable or depressed, parts of the brain used in problem solving and utility start working on what is wrong with you for not being happy, that in turn hijacks the problem solving circuitry of the brain to work on itself, resulting in poor decision making, poor performance, and if one wants quantitative efficiency, then unhappy people are absolutely not the best approach, we must make room for all folks, poorest to richest to find joy in their endeavors, and then we have a freaking chance. But to continue to insist we break ourselves, that it is ok to be miserable in this life when some say there are rewards in another that we cannot prove, and since we cannot prove it, then we should ensure this life is not suffering either, and to stop that we must start talking about difference, how best to help people find their joy and meaning in life, and then human endeavor, not profits and wealth that has only value because we subjectively agree it does, can drive our economy, our society, and our species into a future than has greater Liberty, and a better life, because we remember how important the Pursuit of Happiness is, and right now so many people cannot, and will not find joy in the current system.

So I call on the Veterans of today, those brave service members who worked with people of so many different background to get an unpleasant job done, and I ask us all to model civility, civics, honesty, and principles in our discourses, to show everyone that there are those who still remember how to get past difference to get the mission done, and we need to hold our politicians and pundits to task, to stop sullying the name of our Founding Fathers through petty bickering and personal attack.  The greatest generations will remain behind us if we cannot walk in their footsteps, if we cannot engage those who oppose our personal views and way of thinking in productive dialogue.  When I see Veterans on either side of the political spectrum attacking each other over political differences, I have to ask, have we become so damaged, has our Armed services become so biased in the last decade since I left, that we can no longer tolerate differences? And if we cannot tolerate these differences now, with a current military skewed more towards the conservative than ever, then how long does it take for them to begin to see themselves as a solution to a perceived problem of nothing more than needing to understand how folks think, approach, and value things differently.  We need to talk, we need to communicate, we need liberals and conservatives alike to serve together, with honor and pride, for we are supposed to represent the best of this country, and right now many of my fellow Veterans are dropping the ball, letting bitterness, anger, and hate to defeat them, Team America is broken when our Veterans can no longer see how to achieve a goal by working together with difference instead of needing to destroy it, and that is a sad day for everyone, worldwide, our ego has surpassed our humility, our desires and wants have become more important than someone else’s need, and that is decadence, not asserting individuality, but valuing it over the suffering of others, and even a cold rational mind should be able to see that for us to move forward and be greater than the sum of our parts, we need to allow difference to find it’s way so we can all flourish and truly enjoy Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

On a final note, I am pretty pissed actually, see…I have had to fight tooth and nail every day of my life to effectively communicate with others, and I may be too verbose and love run on sentences, but I have never stopped fighting to just be able to talk with others. Something neurotypical people take for granted is communicating and right now we are not doing it, so when a verbal autistic man is able to communicate more effectively than your average citizen, something is right screwed up.  The burden of communication is on all of us, it is the sacrifice we all make to be more than just an individual, but a great people and a great nation, and if my constantly worried, timid, afraid autistic ass can sit here and type something I know might offend other Veteran’s by calling bullshit, then damn well the neurotypical’s can do the same, this shit is supposed to come naturally to you, how far have we fallen when we cannot communicate, even those who have served and learned the value of communication to meet an objective, so yeah, some of you should feel ashamed, you dropped the fucking ball and instead of forgiving yourself and being accountable, you now blame the other side, the other view, hilarious that when one lives in poverty it is their fault, but when one dislikes the way public discourse is going it is the other side’s fault, we don’t get to cherry pick accountability, we don’t get to demean others because we cannot stand to look at the perceived fault within ourselves, when the internalized fault is bullshit that stems from social bullying and failure to accept, understand, and utilize the great amount of difference than pushes us forward, that allows us to innovate through the clash of ideas, but during this process, we must never forget who we served for, who we were willing to fight for, and that is the citizens of the United States of America, be they Christian, White, Black, Gay, Straight, Male, or Female, we serve all American’s even the ones so many claim to hate, that so many would threaten, just because you disagree with their ideas and words, stop threatening and start fucking talking, or else all of this is for naught, and we will dig our own graves with our own shovels and lie down in that hole, roll over and die, because we did not have the self identity, the principles, or the character to not yell and scream because someone’s idea of what will make this country great is different than yours. No party, no economic block of special interests, no one person can make this nation great again, it takes all of us, with all of differences working together, even when it is hard, to make us the best we can be, and right now we fall so short, right now we shame our forefathers not for failing to view the world the same way they did, the world changes and we cannot prevent it, but because we have failed to engage in conversations based on principle and high ideals, instead of attacking, demeaning, threatening, hating, harming, devaluing, and a host of other things that we do to each other every single day.