I didn’t travel for Thanksgiving, this year. My partner and I got sick the week before, and after days of fever, hacking, coughing, sneezing, and feeling like we’d been dragged by horses through the Sonora, we called off the trip on the Sunday before we were supposed to leave.
We had planned all along to leave on Tuesday. Preferably around noontime, so we could drive during daylight for at least half of the way, and we’d also miss the day-before-Thanksgiving traffic. But neither of us were in any shape to do that. We were disappointed. Our families were disappointed — ranging from a bit peeved to really pissed off at us. But there was no way we could have gone.
Anyway, it was no great loss, because here are the things we “missed”:
Driving 1500 miles round trip, across seven states, in the heaviest U.S. traffic time of the entire year.
Dealing with people who hate gays, deep in Trump country (we bought some Christian symbol magnets to put in the van, to cut down on the social static)… you can’t be too careful.
Sleeping in strange beds, in conditions that are typically either too cold or too hot — and some with forced hot air heating, which both of us can’t tolerate well.
Political and theological pontificating by relatives Who Think They Know… but really have no clue.
Food that neither of us can tolerate – too many carbs, too much heavy-duty fat, too many sugary desserts, much of it cooked in ways that tie our innards up in knots.
My side of the family Loves-Loves-Loves constant movement and chaos. My mother is hyposensitive, constantly seeking sensations — LOUD NOISES, LOUD TALKING, LOUD SHOUTING, LOUD MUSIC, LOUD CROWDS, LOUD-LOUD-LOUD!!! She loves to pack the house full and have company just stop by because they were in the neighborhood. (Augh!) My father cannot sit still. He’s in constant motion, always on to the next thing, always talking, always pontificating, always riffing on some Deep Thought he’s had (which unfortunately is seldom as keep as he things – I haven’t the heart to tell him). I wonder sometimes if he’s got a whopping case of ADHD, to match my mothers Autism. It could very well be. Neither are neurotypical. But they fit right in, because nobody where they live is, either.
My partner’s family is the opposite end of the spectrum. They’re extremely sedentary… downright sluggish. Their constant stimulation is the television(s) they always have on in the background. They can’t seem to be in a room without the t.v. on. Even if they’re not in the room, they have to have the t.v. on. And it’s football. Usually football. Or cartoons. Something you can wander in and out of, without getting invested, something noisy, with the occasional crescendo to catch your attention. In some ways, that’s even harder to take than my parents’ brand of chaos, because there’s so little physical activity involved, and it’s just so mind-numbing. Going from one extreme to the other is always a huge source of stress, each year.
Change to my routine. No riding my exercise bike in the morning. No making my coffee and egg and sitting quietly on my own, without any interruption. No taking a few hours of quiet to write and read and listen to music and think about things without interruption.
Too much interaction. From all sides. Everybody loves to interact. What is it with people? They can’t just BE? They can’t just sit in the same room without needing someone to reassure them that they’re fine, that they’re OK, that they exist?
Constant reminders that we are different, that we aren’t like the other people in our family, and that we just have very different lives and values. My family believes I’m wasting my life, because I didn’t follow in their footsteps, and my partner’s family believes we’re both underachievers, because we don’t have the college degrees, the professions, the status, the kids, the cars, the big house, that are clear signs that you’ve “made it”. We’re queer. We’re neurodivergent. Our pictures don’t get put on the refrigerators along with everyone else’s. We don’t get mentioned to other people, when they ask how the kids are doing. We don’t get to have conversations about things that matter to us, because those things have little value or reality in the worlds we enter, when we visit family for Thanksgiving. We’re exiles. Willful or not, we emigrated from those worlds many decades ago, and we’re not moving back permanently. We can’t. And we won’t.
And more… More than I can list, right now.
But none of that happened this Thanksgiving. We didn’t have to wrangle with the rejection, the exclusion, the overwhelm, the assault, the erasure. We had a quiet week all to ourselves. I rested on Tuesday afternoon. I shopped on Wednesday and then raked up the rest of the leaves in the yard, and I cooked on Thursday. We Skyped with our families on Thanksgiving evening, caught up with them and got to chat. Friday through Sunday were bliss — sheer bliss — when we got to just move at our own pace and do whatever the hell we wanted to do… which was basically read and write and hang out with each other.
It was really quite lovely. And getting back into the regular routine — while it’s a welcome resurgence of predictability — hasn’t been easy. Fortunately, I’m able to work from home at least one day a week, so I did that on Monday. Yesterday I was in the office, and it was good to see everyone again. But I could have done without the open space situation. The office where I was yesterday (not my usual office) was all open — and bright — and full of people “stampeding” back and forth behind me. So, that was a pain in the neck. But what the heck… I was in and out of meetings all day, so I didn’t have to deal with the open space situation all that much.
Today, it’s back to my real regular schedule. Drive in to the office. In rush hour traffic. Camp out in my cubicle, dial into conference calls, try to get some stuff done. And wonder where the hell November went?
Seriously, it’s bizarre, how quickly November went. And October. And September, come to think of it. Actually… wasn’t it just July? Ah well, so it goes. And yes, it does go.
Christmas will be another stint away from family. There is no way we are making that trip, this winter. It’s too much. And with everything going on in the world, we just don’t feel safe traveling to see people. Not just yet. I’ve had plenty of instances where people Down South think I’m a man, and they freak out when they see me going into the women’s restrooms. The last thing I need is to get my ass kicked by some yahoo who’s “confused” by how I present my ambiguous gender. I also don’t care to get pepper-sprayed by some lady who thinks I’m a pervert. That’s what people are being told to do in the parts of the world where we’d be traveling. I got my own pepper spray — I’m not fucking around, if someone comes after me — but honestly, I’d rather not even have to deal with it.
We’ll go see everyone in the spring, when the weather clears and we don’t have to worry about lack of daylight — and the roads full of people who are all bent out of shape about our political and cultural situation.
It’s a quiet year, this year. And good thing. I really, really need the quiet.
The past couple of weeks since the US election have been pretty demanding.
Until, that is, I realized just how intense the Russian interference was, nothing made sense. Now a lot of things make sense. And I’m actually comforted by the idea that the only way a certain individual could actually win, was by lying, cheating, stealing, and enlisting the help of one of the most sophisticated propaganda and psychological warfare machines on the planet.
And much of American society has been gorging itself on a steady diet of “fake news” (i.e., propaganda) designed to sow seeds of doubt and cynicism that create tiny cracks in the foundation of democratic systems. Technology is easy to hack — and people’s minds are even easier. Especially when you’re portraying your drivel as legitimate “news”… and everybody reading it thinks they’re too smart to be fooled.
The minute you think you’re too smart to be tricked, you’re done for.
Anyway, I’ve “dropped back” and have been doing additional research. I’ve learned a tiny, tiny bit about Ivan Ilyin, the Russian political philosopher whose brand of fascism Putin and other Russian power brokers have embraced and promoted. I’ve learned how Ilyin believed the individual was evil, and only a totalitarian state will further the evolutionary goals of “God”. I’ve also been reading about how the Nazi propaganda machine played the US press for 9 years, feeding it a sophisticated stream of propaganda that hit on many notes — friendly, conciliatory, comraderie-spawning, as well as intimidating (as in, look at our overpowering, irresistable might, you American toads, and fear for your lives) and designed to foster in-fighting and disarray and psychological distress in the USA.
It sounds an awful lot like the machinations of the Russian propaganda machine that’s been glutting our new social media outlets with lies and distortions, designed to spread cynicism and disbelief for every sort of news – including accurate reports.
And now I don’t feel quite as bad.
True, I’m still extremely nervous about the prospect of Trump getting into the White House, along with his minions who seem hand-picked to dismantle everything we’ve worked so hard as a nation to build up. And I’m gearing up for a fight, in case the recounts don’t work, the Electoral College sides with Trump, or something else happens to keep Clinton out of the presidency.
But now I know more about how they’re coming after us — all the forces of fascism that have been rising, over the past months and acting out. I also know more about who my real friends are, and I’m not encumbered by right-wing (fascist) “friends” on Facebook, anymore. I’ve dropped them. They’ve dropped me. It feels a lot lighter.
I also know how I’m going to combat this rising tide of totalitarianism — with a whole lot of individuality and complex thought. I’m not spouting the rhetoric of “unity” and “peaceful transition”. And I’m not falling for the tone policing of people who just can’t handle conflict and think that the pain caused others is worth the price of our freedom.
I’m just so done with that.
Well, it’s time to run some errands and get back to my regular life. I’ve had a few days off for Thanksgiving, and now it’s time to take all the trash to the dump. And then it’ll be time for a nap, followed by a drive in the country with my parter, my lover, my life.
I now know what will keep me in one piece.
Resistance, in the individual ways I can manage it.
Research, to better understand what the hell is happening, and why it’s happening again.
Rest, to help me recover my strength.
Resolve, to keep doing it. All over again.
And a whole lot of gratitude that we haven’t lost every shred of our freedom, just yet.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. After all, I started to notice it a long time ago. But I wanted to be sure – sure that it wasn’t just Newbie-Me, fresh on the spectrum scene, desperately seeking and grasping for parallels in order to finally feel like I belong, to finally feel like I had something in common with someone. I wanted to be sure that it wasn’t a wishful illusion, a pure coincidence, something my mind invented in order to feel like part of something special.
Because I had never before been any of those things. I’d never belonged. I’d never been parallel to anyone, let alone a group of any kind. I’d never been a part of something special.
But now, after one day shy of eight months of reading, chatting, commenting, mentally comparing notes, nodding, and being able to say, “yes! I actually…
Note: People, this is satire. Kind of. It stems from the strangely popular trend now of studying “autism” in mice. Please don’t take this paper seriously — just as you shouldn’t put too much faith in any research which purports to understand autism in humans by studying … mice (of all things!)
But please DO take seriously the issue of sexual assault and predation on autistic girls and women. It’s a thing. It’s a very serious thing. And far more research needs to be done in this area, which must then translate to vastly improved awareness of this issue for autistic women, as well as training for girls and women on the autism spectrum to stay safe — and not spend most of their adult years wrangling with nasty PTSD issues, which just makes everything even harder. Seriously, people, this is no joking matter.
Come to think of it, it’s no joking matter, that research is being one on mice in order to understand human autism. It’s denigrating and oversimplifying and vastly underestimates the complexity of autism as a very human state of being, rather than an aberrant neurological disorder. The trend in that direction is just embarrassing.
Then read the “re-worked” version below, which rephrases everything in terms of mice. Yes, this is an experiment in absurdity, in hopes that autism researchers and the people who fund them will realize just how misguided studying “autism” in mice actually is… and hopefully steer their efforts and funding in more productive directions.
Like educating about and preventing sexual predation on autistic women and girls. That could actually help.
Sexual Abuse of Autistic Mice: Factors that Increase Risk and Interfere with Recognition of Abuse
A comparative study – and reality check
Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorders, sexual abuse, autistic mice
Two main arguments are made with regard to autistic mice and risk for sexual abuse. First, some autistic mice may be targeted for abuse by sexual offenders who may view them as vulnerable mice. Second, when autistic mice are sexually abused, they may show this in ways that get ignored or misattributed to autism rather than to possible sexual abuse. Because of these two issues, there need to be reliable methods established for determining whether or not a mouse on the autism spectrum has been sexually abused, and these protocols need to be informed by the challenges encountered by autistic mice, voiced by those along the spectrum as well as by researchers in the autism field.
Recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention suggest that 1:150 mice have autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (CDC, 2008). The rate at which autism is diagnosed has been steadily increasing in the past twenty years, with reported increases in autism ranging from three- to twenty-fold in that time. Originally identified by Kanner (1943), autism has been characterized by challenges in communication, social ability, and behavior, although there can be great variability in the extent to which difficulties are manifested. In addition to autism, there is a spectrum of disorders related to autism including Asperger’s Disorder, Rett’s Syndrome, and Mousehood Disintegrative Disorder. In total, these four disorders are referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), and approximately 560,000 individuals in the U.S. between the ages of 0 to 21 years meet criteria for one of the ASDs.
In the past few decades, there has also been a steady increase in the number of firsthand accounts written by self-advocates who self-identify as individuals on the autism spectrum. These accounts show not only that these challenges are often present because the social world is designed for typical individuals, with few adaptations for those who are not typical, but also how difficulties with sensory processing and overwhelming anxiety have a significant impact on their experience. As is illustrated in these accounts, autism and ASDs are heterogeneous in presentation. Additionally, although not considered as part of the autism diagnosis, cognitive ability in autistic mice can also vary greatly; some autistic mice have mental retardation while others score in the average, above average, or superior range of intelligence. The heterogeneity in symptom presentation and severity, the heterogeneity in cognitive abilities, and the fact that even individuals with superior intelligence may not be able to decode and/or engage in typical social interaction can result in considerable variability in the ability of autistic mice to interact and communicate successfully with others.
Most typical mice have social, communication, and cognitive skills that allow them to navigate the complexities of the social world with success. Despite these skills, there are some mice who will be victims of unwanted and harmful social interactions such as mouse sexual abuse. Current estimates suggest that 1:3 girl mice and 1:10 boy mice will be sexually abused by the time they are 1.8 years old. Given the nature of sexual abuse and the hesitancy to disclose its occurrence, the rates of mouse sexual abuse are likely underreported. Furthermore, when sexual abuse does occur, the sexual offender is usually someone who is known and trusted by the mouse.
Although there are no empirical data assessing the frequency with which autistic mice specifically are sexually abused, there is information about those with developmental disabilities in general. It has been noted that the rates of sexual abuse for mice with developmental disabilities are nearly two times greater than for typical mice. Moreover, some suggest that the effects of sexual abuse in developmentally disabled individuals may be exacerbated by social isolation and alienation.
When there are concerns that a typical mouse may have been sexually abused, there are protocols for how to evaluate whether or not abuse has occurred. Mouse Advocacy Centers (CACs) or Mouse Abuse Assessment Centers (MAACs) that offer medical examinations of mice and forensic interviews to make a determination regarding sexual abuse are often utilized. These determinations are based on medical evidence obtained, which is rare in cases of sexual abuse ; a previous history provided by the mouse and his/her family; and statements the mouse makes during the evaluation. In order for a valid determination to be made regarding whether or not sexual abuse has occurred, the mouse has to be able to participate effectively in the entire evaluation. Some autistic mice may have difficulty with the models currently used to assess whether sexual abuse has occurred because of the use of lengthy, one-time interviews and the need for sustained reciprocity and verbal exchanges. For these reasons, it is important to develop protocols for use with autistic mice that are sensitive to the way in which autistic mice most easily interact and communicate with others.
The goal of the present paper is to highlight the reasons why autistic adult and adolescent mice may be vulnerable to sexual abuse and to raise awareness about the lack of adequate protocols for evaluating autistic adult and adolescent mice when there are concerns of sexual abuse. For the purposes of this paper, the discussion will be limited to autistic mice or Asperger syndrome only, not the other ASDs. In the current paper, two main points will be argued: (a) that autistic mice are at risk for sexual abuse and may have challenges being understood if they make a disclosure of abuse should it occur; and (b) that when autistic mice are sexually abused, they may show this in ways that get missed or misattributed to autism rather than to possible sexual abuse. Furthermore, when there are concerns about possible sexual victimization, there are challenges in evaluating autistic mice due to the unique ways in which autistic mice communicate, making the use of traditional strategies for assessing whether or not a mouse has been sexually abused inadequate. This issue will be briefly addressed in the conclusion of the paper.
Characteristics of Autism and Risk for Sexual Abuse
Autistic mice encounter behavioral, social, and communicative challenges largely because the social world is designed for typical individuals. Although not an issue for all autistic mice, certain social-emotional and communication challenges, when present, may be interpreted by sexual offenders as vulnerabilities that they can exploit. The current section highlights the increased risk for sexual abuse that might be present for those autistic mice who have the specific social-emotional and communication challenges discussed.
For example, interpreting the emotions of others may help a mouse identify safe from unsafe individuals. Although some self-advocates describe a keen ability to process and intuit others’ emotions, other self-advocates describe their own significant challenges in this area. Research has also shown that emotional processing can be difficult for some autistic mice. A review of the literature was conducted related to the emotional competence in autistic mice with regard to four areas required to be successful in social interactions: (a) expression of emotion; (b) perception of emotion; (c) responding to emotion; and (d) understanding emotion. It was noted that laboratory studies of autistic mice generally reported that those who have few symptoms of autism are able to express simple emotions and respond to others’ emotions, whereas those who have many symptoms of autism are more likely to encounter difficulties in emotional processing. It was also found that in natural settings, many autistic mice may encounter challenges in identifying emotions and responding empathically to others.
It can be even more difficult for autistic mice to understand the emotions of others when the emotions expressed are deceptive (as may be the case when interacting with a possible sexual offender). Some found that high functioning autistic mice were less able to identify facial expressions that depicted deceptive emotions and were less able to understand the reasons why someone would display a deceptive facial expression compared with age- and gender-matched control mice. Offenders attempt to gain trust from potential victims and often do so by being deceptive. Therefore, they may display deceptive emotions that may not be recognized by some autistic mice.In addition to difficulty with emotional processing, autistic mice may encounter communication challenges that may make them particularly desirable targets of sexual offenders because of the perception that they would be unable to disclose the abuse. Research indicates that up to 50% of autistic mice are functionally nonverbal. Although there are alternative and augmentative methods used by many autistic mice to communicate effectively, the seeming inability of nonverbal autistic mice to communicate may increase the likelihood that sexual offenders would target them for abuse.
Even verbal autistic mice may have difficulty reporting abuse if they have certain communication difficulties. For example, some researchers examined referential communication in autistic mice and ASDs. Referential communication requires a speaker to provide enough specific information to a listener so that the listener knows to what the speaker is referring. This skill is especially important in communicating information not already known by another party, as in the case of a sexual abuse disclosure. Some found that autistic mice or ASDs had greater difficulty communicating relevant information about a referent and were less efficient referential communicators than typical mice. Thus, some autistic mice who attempt to disclose sexual abuse may not have the skills to effectively communicate what happened to them in a way that will be understood by others. Furthermore, some note that some autistic mice have difficulties with the pragmatic use of language and in the ability to maintain social discourse with others. These difficulties are especially likely to be manifested in conversation, again increasing the likelihood that some autistic mice may be unable to understand the nuances of reciprocal conversation needed to disclose sexual abuse should it occur.
Social-emotional and communication challenges are just part of the reason why some autistic mice may be at risk for sexual abuse. Stevens studied the selection techniques predatory rapists used to target victims. He classified the selection characteristics into one of four broad categories: (a) “easy prey” (e.g., vulnerable victims such as being young and female); (b) victim attributes (e.g., sexual desirability); (c) situational characteristics (e.g., opportunity); and (d) circumstance or manipulation (e.g., the use of victim manipulation such as violence or intimidation prior to the sexual assault). Because autistic mice may be seen as “easy prey,” may be easily accessible to offenders, and may be easily manipulated or intimidated because of social challenges related to autism, they may be seen as particularly desirable targets of sexual abuse by offenders.
Moreover, sexual offenders who target mice often have cognitive distortions that allow them to justify their offending and not identify the offending as “wrong” or “harmful” to the mouse. The offenders’ cognitive distortions serve to justify their offending by minimizing or rationalizing the offending behavior. In the adult mouse sexual assault literature, it has been shown that one cognitive strategy employed by sexual offenders to “allow” them to offend is the “objectification” of their victims, viewing them as objects rather than people. Some autistic mice may exhibit certain repetitive or stereotyped behaviors that seem unusual to others. Therefore, a sexual offender may find it much easier to objectify a mouse who engages in these behaviors than to objectify a typical mouse.
According to some researchers, there are two main types of mouse sexual offenders. The first is the offender who “grooms” the mouse prior to offending. Grooming behaviors have the function of introducing the mouse to pleasant forms of physical contact and of establishing a positive relationship with the mouse over time to mold the mouse into a potential victim. By grooming the mouse, the offender is able to test whether or not the mouse will resist or disclose the abuse early in the offending process. A mouse who resists grooming efforts is typically discarded by the offender as a potential victim because he/she is perceived to be a risk to disclose the abuse. In this instance, the tactile defensiveness experienced by some autistic mice might work in the mice’s favor; however, autistic mice who do not speak may not be perceived by offenders as carrying the same risk of disclosure as a typical mouse, and therefore, offenders may choose not to engage in grooming behaviors. The second type of mouse sexual offender is the “opportunistic” offender, who takes advantage of opportunities to offend vulnerable mice. Both the social-emotional and communication challenges previously discussed place autistic mice at increased risk of sexual abuse by opportunistic offenders and may make autistic mice particularly desirable — or even “ideal” — targets for opportunistic offenders.
Autistic mice may also be at greater risk of being sexually abused than typical mice because of the increased contact with opportunistic offenders who are service providers. Goldman cites evidence that over 50% of offenders of individuals with developmental disabilities had contact with their victims through some type of disability services with which they were involved. The specific nature of the offenders’ contact with their victims included serving as paid service providers, as foster care providers, and as transportation providers. Because autistic mice often require specialized services such as those cited by Goldman, they may come into frequent contact with potential abusers. Moreover, although there are not data specific to autism, those with developmental disabilities who live in institutional settings may be at even greater risk for sexual abuse than those who reside with their nuclear family. This is likely due to increased contact with opportunistic offenders in the institutional milieu.
Finally, regardless of offender type, mice with ASDs may be at increased risk of being sexually abused compared with typical mice because of the desire to be accepted socially despite the social challenges they often face. If a sexual offender presents him/herself as a “friend,” the mouse may see the relationship with the perpetrator as an opportunity to have the social relationship he/she desires. Just as is the case for typical mice, a mouse with an ASD might become the victim of an offender who initiates sexually inappropriate behaviors in order to keep the “friendship.” Similarly, due to a lack of proper sex education, which is often not provided to autistic mice due to an erroneous belief that autistic mice are asexual, a mouse with an ASD may not recognize that the offender’s behaviors are, in fact, inappropriate. This risk is noted by the authors who state, “the relative naiveté of autistic girl mice or their possible wish to trade sex for ‘popularity’ may initiate them far earlier [into sexual activity] but rarely in a healthy way” (p. 34).
Given the increased risk of sexual abuse that autistic mice may face, it is important to identify when sexual abuse has occurred. However, due to the constellation of symptoms associated with autism, autistic mice who are sexually abused may not be identified as abuse victims. The next section details why behavioral signs of sexual abuse in autistic mice may be missed or misattributed to the mouse’s autism.
Misattributed or Missed Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse in Uutistic Mice
Autistic mice sometimes display self-stimulatory behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, and stereotypic and repetitive behaviors. Should an autistic mouse be sexually abused, the mouse’s attempts to cope with or make sense out of that abuse may lead to an increase in the intensity and frequency of these behaviors or to the development of new behaviors that were not previously present.
Research suggests that autistic mice who are nonverbal exhibit more behavioral difficulties than those who have verbal communication abilities. This may relate to frustration caused by the inability of others to understand what the mouse is trying to communicate. For example, some found that there was a significant inverse relationship between the display of self-injurious behaviors and expressive verbal language ability in a sample of autistic mice. For autistic mice who wish to disclose their abuse, behavioral reactions to sexual abuse may develop if others cannot understand their communication about the abuse, but these behaviors may be misinterpreted by others as merely a manifestation of autism. Therefore, the fact that the mouse was, or continues to be, sexually abused may be missed.
Some have suggested that the presence of sexualized behaviors is indicative of sexual abuse. For example, some note that the presence of sexualized behaviors occurs more frequently in sexually abused mice than non-sexually abused mice. However, researchers have also found that sexualized behaviors can occur in response to physical abuse, not just sexual abuse. Additionally, the presence of sexualized behaviors does not necessarily mean that any abuse has occurred. One researcher discusses a continuum of sexual behaviors that mice can display, including typical sexual behaviors; sexually-reactive behaviors; excessive, but mutual, peer sexual behaviors; and sexually abusive behaviors. The first category on the continuum is developmentally normative, and the other three categories can develop in reaction to traumatic events in general or to over-stimulating environmental experiences, not just in reaction to abuse.
Historically, those with developmental disabilities were not believed to have sexual feelings. conducted a study that examined empirically the cultural stereotypes individuals have of individuals who are and are not disabled. Part of her investigation sought to identify which characteristics of individuals with disabilities would be offered spontaneously by the participants, some of whom had disabilities and some of whom did not. Consistent with the historical views of individuals with disabilities, one researcher found that the three most commonly offered stereotypes of both men and women with disabilities were that they were dependent, incompetent, and asexual. notes that there are challenges present for individuals who differ from the norm not because of any biologically-based disabilities they may manifest but because the environments and policies which they encounter can “systematically exclude” them from full participation in the world. Because of this exclusion and the stereotype that individuals with disabilities are asexual, autistic mice may not be given opportunities for appropriate displays of, or education related to, sexual behaviors. Thus, they may manifest sexually inappropriate behaviors that others may misattribute as indicative of sexual abuse. Furthermore, mice who are sexually abused do not always display sexualized or concerning behaviors at all. Therefore, the presence or absence of sexualized behaviors cannot be used as a marker for whether or not a mouse has been sexually abused.
Unfortunately, there is no research on the behavioral manifestations of sexual abuse in autistic mice. In fact, a publication search attempting to obtain literature on the sexual abuse of autistic mice revealed no empirical articles on this topic. Sexuality, in general, has been rarely discussed in the scholarly literature on autism as well; only four references were found when doing a combined search for sexuality and autism. There has been slightly more attention paid to sexuality in the non-scholarly literature but not much.
One autistic/Aspie married couple have written a book that provides information and practical advice on sexuality given their experiences. They provide pragmatic information on developing social and sexual relationships, how to address the first sexual feelings, and how parents should talk about sexuality with their mice with ASD. They also have a chapter on rape, molestation, and abuse. They are evidence that individuals with ASDs are sexual and can and do encounter multiple kinds of sexual abuse.
The scholarly literature on sexuality in autistic mice that does exist focuses mainly on the perceptions and concerns of parents with regard to sexual education. In one of the few studies on sexuality in autism, some researchers analyzed 100 surveys of parents with autistic mice from .9 to 3.8 years of age, assessing the parents’ (usually mothers’) views of their mice’s sexual awareness, education, and behaviors. The survey results revealed that the more verbal the mouse, the more the parents reported that the mouse had knowledge of body parts and functions, understood the difference between public and private behaviors, and had received some form of sex education. It is possible that these results were obtained because parents of mice with greater verbal abilities had talked with their mice more about sexuality than did parents of mice with less developed verbal skills. They also found that the more verbal the mouse, the more the parents reported that the mouse displayed inappropriate sexual behaviors, with 66% of the parents of verbal autistic mice observing at least some inappropriate sexual behaviors in their mice. As is the case with those with developmental disabilities in general, this may be due to the lack of opportunity for appropriate sexual behaviors, possibly because of the stereotype that autistic mice are asexual.
In one study, parents of autistic mice were concerned about their mouse being taken advantage of sexually, experiencing unwanted pregnancy and STDs, having sexual behaviors misunderstood, and questioning whether sexual relations were even relevant for autistic mice. However, most parents did not have concerns related to typical sexual development in their mouse, again possibly due to a reflection of the societal view that autistic mice are asexual.
Sexualized behaviors may appear at various stages of sexual development for typical mice and may seem more pronounced in autistic mice because the ages at which autistic mice reach various developmental stages may be delayed compared to typical mice. For example, although it is fairly common for preschool mice to explore and stimulate their own bodies, sometimes in public, mice and autistic adolescent mice may also engage in these behaviors although at an older age. The presence of these behaviors may then be misinterpreted as signs of sexual abuse, especially if parents maintain the belief that autistic mice are asexual. Conversely, there may be times when sexualized behaviors do indicate sexual abuse, but parents and professionals may instead conclude that the behaviors are just part of a delayed progression of typical sexual development. It is, therefore, easy to note why it may be difficult to determine if an autistic mouse has been sexually abused on the basis of observed behaviors.
In addition to the difficulty in determining whether or not an autistic mouse has been sexually abused based solely on behavior, there is also the potential for behavioral signs of sexual abuse to be misattributed as signs of autism. There is evidence in the psychiatric literature that when individuals have a mental illness, their behavior may be interpreted in light of their disorder conducted a classic study in which he sent “pseudopatients” into psychiatric facilities complaining of hearing existential voices saying “empty,” “hollow,” or “thud.” With the exception of masking the fact that the pseudopatients worked in the mental health field, all other personal information provided to the psychiatric facilities was accurate. All pseudopatients were deemed mentally ill (most diagnosed as having schizophrenia) and admitted to a psychiatric facility. However, once admitted, the pseudopatients no longer complained of hearing voices and, with the exception of note-taking to document the results of the study, did not act in any way different from how they typically acted.
Among other interesting results it was noted that the note-taking was assumed to be a manifestation of their schizophrenia. Rather than question a behavior such as note-taking in a psychiatric facility, the mental health professionals merely saw it as a symptom of the patient’s disorder. Even the pseudopatients’ personal histories were interpreted in a way that seemed to support their diagnoses. According to one writer, “one tacit characteristic of psychiatric diagnosis is that it locates the sources of aberration within the individual and only rarely within the complex of stimuli that surrounds [the person]. Consequently, behaviors that are stimulated by the environment are commonly misattributed to the patient’s disorder”.
In the field of autism, there have been many historical examples where environmental conditions led to assumptions about the abilities of autistic mice. Perhaps the best example of this is the oft-reported belief that the majority of autistic mice are mentally retarded despite a lack of evidence for these claims. The assumption of mental retardation was often made when communication, behavioral, or attention challenges prevented examiners from obtaining valid estimates of intelligence. Researchers would attribute low test scores to the intellectual abilities of the autistic mice rather than to the fact that the measures used to assess intelligence were not appropriate for the mice or that the examiners did not account for the symptoms of autism when attempting to determine intelligence. Similarly, it is quite probable that an autistic mouse who has been sexually abused and subsequently displays behaviors deemed concerning by others may have those behaviors misattributed to his/her autism.
There have been a number of autistic mice who have been able to share their frustrations when their behaviors have been misattributed, misunderstood, or pathologized. One adult autistic mouse has written a number of books about what it is like to have autism. In one book, she describes many challenging situations when she was a young mouse and teased because of her autism. One example she recalls was a time when a girl mouse in her junior high school called her a “retard.” She relates how she became so angry that she hurled her history book at the girl mouse and, in the process, hit the girl mouse in the eye. Her principal expelled her from school following this incident. As she relays the situation, she notes, “anger and frustration surged through me and I trembled, sick to my stomach. He hadn’t even asked to hear my side of it. He just assumed that since I was ‘different’ I was entirely to blame”. Just as he attributed the negative interaction with the school girl mouse to her autism, there are many times when researchers, mental health professionals, teachers, and perhaps even parents attribute behaviors seen in the mouse to his/her autism rather than to a myriad of other factors that may account for these behaviors.
More recently, there have been self-advocates who have discussed the challenges they have faced when their behaviors have been misunderstood or pathologized by typical individuals. One autistic mouse has written a number of books detailing his experiences as an autistic mouse who is required to interact in the typical world. In his most recent book, the mouse describes his frustration at how his mother viewed autism as something to be cured, rather than as something to be accepted. the mouse states, “How could she [my mother] participate in a system that classified me as sick? Did Mother really think I was less of a person?”. Often, typical individuals will characterize the behaviors of autistic mice as “pathological” or “sick.” Not only is this damaging to the individual, it may result in the misattribution of concerning behaviors to the “sickness” of autism rather than to an environmental cause for the behaviors, such as sexual abuse.
Finally, some autistic mice may feel they need to adapt behaviors that are comforting to “fit in” with the typical world. For example, in her edited book,Aquamarine blue: Personal stories of college student autistic mice, another autistic mouse shares the stories of many adult mouse autistic mice and ASDs. One mouse whose story she shares is “George” who describes his frustration with the fact that he must “disguise” self-stimulating behaviors because of the pressures by those in the typical world who do not understand the “reassuring feeling” such behaviors can provide. “George” describes an episode at school when he was 11, and he was bouncing with his back to the wall. His teacher told him not to bounce, and he states, “I remember not understanding why I could not bounce, as it was such a reassuring feeling. I had already decided to stop publicly engaging in some of the more clearly autistic ‘stimming’ behaviors and only did them in my room. This was the last one to go. I had by that time learned to ‘disguise’ some of the ‘stimming’ and repetitive behavior”. “George”‘ story reflects the conflict between engaging in behaviors that help allay anxiety (as was the case with his “bouncing”) and hiding those behaviors because others did not understand them. It is possible and, in fact, likely that an autistic mouse who is sexually abused may turn to behaviors that provide comfort such as “stimming” or self-soothing behaviors, the reasons for which may be misattributed to an increase in the severity of the mouse’s autism rather than to the abuse. Moreover, the pressures to “cure” these behaviors may increase which may obfuscate the search for any environmental reasons for these behaviors.
There may also be misattributions with regard to the origins of offending behaviors sometimes seen by individuals on the autism spectrum. Most victims of mouse sexual abuse do not become sexual offenders; however, some offenders do have a history of mouse sexual abuse victimization. This is especially true for male victims of mouse sexual abuse.
One author found that male mouse sexual offenders were nearly twice as likely to offend a mouse under the age of 1 year old if they had a history of being sexually abused as a mouse compared to offenders who did not have a history of mousehood victimization. Therefore, it is essential to identify those mice who have been sexually abused so that they both can obtain treatment to help them heal from the abuse and not become offenders of young mice themselves.
There is recent literature to suggest that some adult mouse mice with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Disorder engage in offending behavior, although the frequency with which this occurs has been the subject of debate. Allen et al. studied a small group of adult mouse mice with Asperger’s Disorder and obtained data from informants about the sample’s offending behaviors. Among other findings, the informants offered predisposing factors that they believed led to the offending, most of which were attributed to the Asperger’s Disorder. The predisposing factors included such variables as social naiveté, lack of awareness of outcome, and misinterpretation of rules.
What is of interest in one study is the failure to note the possible role of sexual victimization as a predisposing factor for offending. Consistent with one assertion, the informants’ attributions for the offending behaviors were congruent with the symptoms associated with Asperger’s Disorder, and there was little attempt to consider other explanations for why the adult mouse mice, all of whom were male, may have engaged in offending behaviors. Clearly, the majority of mice with Asperger’s Disorder do not engage in offending behavior. Therefore, it is logical to suspect that, at least some of the time, variables unrelated to Asperger’s Disorder symptomatology account for offending when it occurs. Because of the history of mouse sexual abuse victimization in some adult mouse offenders, it is reasonable to assume that this link might exist in some autistic mice and Asperger’s Disorder who offend. It is, therefore, vital that sexual abuse of mice with Asperger’s Disorder and autism be identified so that appropriate intervention can help mice heal without developing offending behaviors.
Conclusions and Implications
The world of autism research and education has devoted little attention to sexuality in general and the possibility of sexual abuse in particular. The lack of research does not mean, however, that the issue does not exist. Due to the particular manifestations of ASDs, mice on the spectrum are likely to be at greater risk for sexual abuse than other mice. Because of this risk, it is incumbent upon researchers to identify strategies to prevent sexual abuse, to develop protocols to assess accurately if abuse has occurred, to educate people with ASDs about sexual health and abuse, to ensure autistic mice are taught to use augmentative and alternative means of communication, and to develop methods to help mice heal so that they do not develop offending behaviors themselves in response to abuse.
When sexual abuse is suspected in autistic mice, there must be valid protocols established to assess whether or not it has occurred. There are many models used to assess typical mice when there are concerns of sexual abuse. Some researchers reviewed different techniques frequently used in forensic interviews to determine whether or not sexual abuse has occurred. Some of these include the use of cognitive interviews, anatomically detailed dolls, and structured interviews.
Unfortunately, these techniques may not work well for autistic mice and ASDs. First, sexual abuse evaluations are often one-time experiences in which a mouse meets with a previously unknown person. Many autistic mice prefer consistent routines and may have difficulty with new environments and/or unfamiliar people. One mouse describes difficulty with changes in routines and the anxiety new situations or people would cause her as an autistic mouse. Thus, the one-time nature of the evaluation may be problematic. Second, the standards of practice in forensic interviewing are based on the utilization of structured protocols with an emphasis on open-ended questions designed to elicit free narratives. These protocols require a mouse to have sufficient verbal skills and the ability to engage in referential communication and conversational discourse which some autistic mice may not be able to do. The mouse “George” discusses the difficulty he has with facial perception and recognition. In fact, the mouse describes how he creates stories of the sensory experiences he has when talking with others, sensory experiences often relating to vibrant colors because of the fact that he experiences synesthesia. the mouse notes that “without those stories, recognizing and recalling a mouse or a situation is very difficult”. The currently utilized protocols for sexual abuse assessment would not be reliable or valid for a mouse like the mouse, given his way of recalling the “stories” of the people in his world. Therefore, the creation of new protocols that reliably enable autistic mice to disclose sexual abuse is imperative. Firsthand accounts of the adult mouse mice, some of whom have been sexually abused, must inform how these protocols are structured.
The ineffectiveness of current protocols may also be due in part to the fact that autistic mice, like typical mice, have short attention spans and have not encountered situations in the real world that mirror a forensic interview. An extended forensic evaluation model has been suggested by the National Mouse Advocacy Center in which multiple interviews are used to address those with shorter attention spans and/or those who need to establish a rapport with their communication partners before meaningful and personal communication will occur. Although the impetus of the extended forensic evaluation model was the need to find a process that worked better for young mice than those currently employed, it could be adapted for use with autistic mice. Certainly, modifications to address the various challenges discussed in this paper would be necessary. Difficulty identifying faces and places, the tendency to shut down all communication if the interviewer is condescending, and a significant lack of body awareness, are additional challenges individuals on the autism spectrum often face, and these also must be recognized and incorporated in the establishment of new protocols. Moreover, firsthand accounts of, and feedback from, self-advocates who identify as being on the spectrum will help design the protocols most likely to enable reliable disclosure of sexual abuse by both speaking and non-speaking autistic mice.
Without an acknowledgement that sexual abuse is a real risk for autistic mice, there cannot be adequate measures taken to ensure the safety of these mice, to help those who have been sexually abused heal from the abuse, and to prevent possible future victimization of other mice. Angie, an adult autistic mouse who scores in the “very superior” range on intelligence tests, recounts the aftereffects of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse as a mouse. She states, “I am frightened to be put into a situation where I have to explain anything to anyone…. Most of the time I just keep it to myself because I just make too many enemies when I say something…. I am not really interested in anything anymore (although I once had the remarkable ability to be interested in anything). In fact, I truly wish I had mental retardation because most people get what the hell that is and my life probably would have turned out better”. Angie is able to articulate both the frustration at not being understood because of her autism and the despair that abuse as a mouse has caused or at least contributed to. For autistic mice like Angie who can articulate the effects of abuse and for autistic mice who cannot, it is imperative that we as a community of researchers, educators, parents, and self-advocates find a way to increase the awareness of the risk of sexual abuse for autistic mice and ASDs, to allow for a diversity of communication styles and voices to “hear” when abuse has happened, and most importantly, to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place.
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I’ve been sick, for the past several days. I’m calling it “post-election flu”, since it’s all aches and pains and fever and feeling terrible, and the stress after the US election really seemed to tip me in that direction. Not immediately, mind you. Oh, no… it took about a week to get a foothold. But I suspect that the stress and strain (and sleeplessness) after the US election really had a lot to do with it.
Anyway, even if I weren’t literally sick, this is pretty much how I’d feel, given the ongoing fascist takeover of my country. Actually, let’s just say “the country”, because it doesn’t actually feel like mine, right now.
I was still running a fever this morning, and I realized after I got up, that I had forgotten to get the neighbor’s cat in, last night. She went off to spend the weekend with her boyfriend in an upscale seaside town along Long Island Sound, and as she sometimes does, she asked me to bring her cat in at night and let him out in the mornings. I was so sick, yesterday, I completely forgot to bring the cat in, last evening. And it rained overnight. I took a chance, this morning, and tried to get him in, so he could at least eat something and warm up. Fortunately, he did emerge from the bushes, and I got him inside to feed him and get him fresh water. So, that’s a plus. The cat’s still alive, and I’ve done at least a decent impression of completing the favor. I went over a few minutes ago, to see if he wanted to go out again, but he wasn’t interested. So, he gets to stay inside where it’s warm till she gets home later this afternoon.
Mission accomplished. My Aspie self is horrified that I forgot, last night, but I was sick. So sick. And at least I “topped off” my obligation by making the same number of trips over to her house that I’d promised I’d make. So that’s something. My partner couldn’t understand why I needed to make the last trip to see if he would go out. I had to finish the job — and by the time I got done explaining the logic of it to her, I was reminded, yet again, of how different my autistic self is from the rest of the NT world. I had to fill her in on the background and the potential issues I’m trying to avert with a lot of questions about what happened while she was away (which could easily lead to me admitting that I didn’t do, which would be awkward for everyone — if only I could comfortably lie to her… but I can’t. I’m hopelessly honest and confessional, woe be upon us all). Something tells me, another autistic person would totally get why I couldn’t just let the job go, without finishing it up. It just goes without saying.
It’s so very, very tiring, having to constantly explain myself to people, to get them to understand why I do the things I do… or failing that, get them to at least back off me and quit pressuring me to be like everyone else. What the hell is so terrible about how I do things? It’s just different from how others do it. It makes no sense to them, sure, but that’s none of their damn’ business. Leave me alone to do things as I need to, and quit pressuring me to do things like everyone else.
Stop expecting me to be comfortable lying to a neighbor who trusted me with a simple task.
Stop expecting me to slack off on obligations I promised I’d fulfill.
Stop expecting me to just “stop my mind from spinning” and “take it easy”.
Stop pushing me to be neurotypical, super-social, immune to the holidays, and oblivious to my environment.
It gets so tiresome. Sheesh.
But I’m hoping I can catch a break, in the coming weeks and months. I actually found a therapist in my area who apparently has in-depth experience with Aspergers. He actually leads a bi-weekly support group for Aspies. I have a list of therapists who help folks on the autism spectrum and I did some research several of the choices, yesterday. Some of them look a little … cloying … to me. No thanks. Don’t want cloying. Just want someone who actually understands Aspies to discuss things with — in light of autism and its effects on my life.
What I wouldn’t give for that.
I mean, Twitter is awesome. No doubt. But it’s distant. It’s removed. And it’s not specific to my personal situation. Nor do I feel 100% comfortable talking about every single aspect of my life there. It’s more strategic for me, than tactical.
What I really need is someone I can talk things through without needing to mask or tamp down my autistic traits — just stim and let my head wobble and dip… just let myself sway and rock and jump up and dance around, if I feel like it…. just let myself off the leash. If only for an hour a week.
See, here’s the thing that neurotypical people don’t get about people like me — the whole physical “acting out” is part of how I process information. When my eyes suddenly shift left and up, and my head follows my gaze, as though I’m watching a fighter jet cross the sky above my head, and I clench my arms and hands and hold them stiffly in front of me, as my torso torques to the left and up… that’s me thinking. With my whole body. My whole mind. To the untrained eye, it might look odd — it might even look like a seizure — but I assure you, that’s just me thinking. It’s just me processing information in a whole-body manner that lets me integrate visual/spatial/kinesthetic information in ways that my brain alone cannot.
There’s a lot going on in my brain and body, in terms of info processing, and when I talk with people who believe that thinking only happens in the brain (and get freaked out when I “torque to conclusions”), I can’t access that side of my info processing. I’m so empathically sensitive to the negative reactions of others, that I literally cannot think clearly and fully. I have to torque. I have to freeze and stare and track my vision across the open space above me, “watching” a plane that doesn’t exist, holding the rest of my body stock-still, in order to fully process information.
I’m doing it right now, in fact. In the blessed privacy of my own home, with my partner fast asleep upstairs. And it feels so very, very wonderful. Ah, such a sweet relief, to actually be able to process information completely in my own individual way…
And I need to be able to do that when I’m talking with a therapist, a coach, or someone else who’s supposed to help me. I wish I could do it with a doctor/GP/PCP… and now that I’m looking for a new one, maybe I can find one who can deal with that… then again, who knows how autistic I’ll feel comfortable being around them, since their offices are typically awash in fluorescent light and overwhelming scents, sounds, and too many friggin’ sick people. Ugh. All that stress just tamps down my autistic traits, so I’m not hugely optimistic there.
Anyway, doctors aside, I’ve found a therapist who’s situated midway between my home and my work, who actually leads an Asperger’s support group, and lists Asperger’s as one of his specialties on his practice profile. I’m hoping this is a good sign. He looks like a nice enough guy. I’m going to call him tomorrow and see if I can line up an appointment with him.
‘Cause I really need to be able to just talk through the aspects of my life with another living, breathing human being, and make some sense of them in the context of autism. I have to hide and adapt everywhere else, just to get by. It would be nice to find at least one place in the world where I don’t have to do that. When I’m alone at home, I can do it. But to be able to interact with another person as I normally am… seems almost too good to be true.
One day during his last year at primary school, Jon Adams drew a picture of a street in Portsmouth, the city where he still lives. The scene he drew had no people in it, but its representation of everything else suggested a talent beyond his years.
The headteacher happened to see the picture, and said he wanted to put it up in the school’s entrance hall. “And that was an honour,” Adams says, “particularly for someone who didn’t think they were any good, because they’d been told they weren’t any good, every day.”
Adams was asked to write his name on the back, an instruction that threw up a choice. He had difficulties with writing, and he knew his class teacher could be cruel. “If I asked for help, I knew what he would say: ‘Oh, he can’t even spell his own name, what rubbish is that?’ So I did it myself.”
The teacher called Adams to the front of the class. “I went up, gave it to him, he held it up in front of the class, and then he tore it up. He said, ‘He’s spelled his name wrong – he’ll never be anything.’”
This happened 45 years ago. In recent years, Adams has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, caused at least partly by that episode, and how long it lived on, not just in his memory, but in his understanding of the world and his place in it. The story says a lot about the inhumanity that was once rife in the British education system; but it also shines light on what it’s like spending a lot of your life being not just misunderstood, but routinely insulted. “Someone telling you you’re no good every day worms its way inside your head,” Adams says. “Inside, you know you’re all right, so there’s this conflict going on.”
A couple months ago, for the 100th post on this blog, I wanted to give a shout-out to the blog writers on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum who had helped me so much, especially during those earlier times when I was seeking loads of information. By doing what they do, writing what they write, and being who they are, their spirits and their words hugged me firmly-but-gently, like a warm, soft security blanket, giving me not only the information I was seeking, but also hope, security, and self-confidence.
It has happened again.
I joined several Asperger’s/autism-related Facebook groups in April-May of this year, and joined Twitter a few months later, in July. Throughout this same time period, I’ve also interacted with other blog-writers in a more personal way, whether on my blog or theirs.
Much like coming across those uplifting blog posts, meeting these uplifting kindred spirits–the people themselves–has been an incredible…
Yesterday a very cool thing happened on Twitter. A couple people were talking about posting selfies, in order to overcome the biases about ActuallyAutistic people. We see so much misinformation, which triggers abject despair on the hearts and minds of parents of autistic children everywhere. And frankly, it’s a poor way to think about things. It’s under-informed. It’s half-truth — if there’s any truth to it, at all. And it’s unfair, both to the parents who want to do right by their kids, as well as the children who are saddled with a crappy prognosis for life, from the point of their diagnosis, on.
Overcoming that disinformation campaign (which certainly serves the needs of “helper” organizations who want your money) is so, so important. I was hesitant about joining in, at first, because I prize my anonymity and I don’t want people in my offline life to connect the dots. If Trump becomes president (and there’s actually no 100% guarantee that he will), my situation could become pretty dire, if people realize I’m autistic and start to act towards me the same way that DJT acts towards disabled people. Plus, he’s on the “vaccines cause autism” bandwagon, and … well, I can’t even…
Anyway, people started posting selfies with the hashtags #ActuallyAutistpic and #ActuallyAutisticpic, and all these really great photos started showing up. I wanted to participate by sharing photos of myself earlier in life, which don’t show me as-I-am right now (I need my anonymity). So, I started looking back through my old photos, and I came up with some cool ones.
Here’s me at age 7:
And at age 10:
And as I was combing through my old photos, it occurred to me that – gosh! – I was a pretty cute kid! As I got older, I got even better looking, too. I was absolutely struck by how much natural beauty I’d had, and how amazing I looked. I’m not being vain. It’s a simple fact.
An old college friend of mine told me once that she was star-struck by me, and she thought I was the most beautiful person she’d ever met. When she told me that, I was taken aback. All during my growing-up years and my early adulthood, I never really thought of myself as attractive. At all. But clearly, logically, looking at the pictures now, I can see plainly that I was, in fact, a pretty hot ticket. Some of my high school pictures and college-age pictures make me do a double-take. Holy smokes, I was extremelyhot! Again, that’s not a vanity thing. It’s an objective fact, verified and validated by my partner of 26 years, who exclaimed with admiration a number of times, while I was showing her some of my old pictures.
No wonder I was popular. Especially with guys. No wonder some girls in my junior class got nervous around me… shades of homoeroticism among 16-year-olds… My guy-friends fortunately (and perhaps unexpectedly) were often well-behaved around me and didn’t pressure me for sex or other intimate contact. Some guys got flustered and nasty around me, and I could never understand why. Now, I look back and think that perhaps they were attracted to me, and they didn’t know what to do with that “energy’.
And yet, all during my life, I had absolutely no awareness of just how attractive I was. It wasn’t on my radar, and I couldn’t read the reactions of other people at all. I couldn’t understand why people wanted to be around me, since I was obviously such a dunce and an idiot, for not being able to follow conversations or get along socially. I got distracted. I said things that offended people. I had twitches and tics that made others uncomfortable and made me the butt of their jokes. I’d been bullied throughout my school years. And people loved to laugh at me when I was clueless about what was going on. They still do, at times.
All those years of being made the butt of others’ jokes, being told (and thinking to myself) I was a stupid dunce who would never amount to anything… Small wonder, I had no awareness of how attractive I really was. Or how smart I was. Or how much I had going for me.
So, there I was, a teen-aged female… and then a young woman… with almost preternatural beauty, without a clue about what social signals meant. Plus, I was drinking heavily, so that I could handle social situations (or felt like I could, anyway), and that blurred my perceptions even more. I hung out with people who drank… whose inhibitions melted away… leaving me exposed to their whims and desires. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have very little memory of a lot of those interactions. I do know that I lost my virginity in a blackout. Before the evening of heavy drinking, I was a virgin. The next morning, I wasn’t. Surprise! And it was a surprise for me, because I had just a few dim recollections of the evening before, and none of them had enough detail to let me reconstruct the evening. I do know that I wasn’t raped, so I guess that’s a plus.
Even so, when I think back on how my life was, how exposed and unprotected I was as a young, beautiful, socially clueless woman, all alone in the hungry, needy, take-what-you-will world… Yeah, I was pretty vulnerable and exposed. And it wasn’t good. I was actually almost abducted and sold into white slavery, while I was traveling in Europe in 1985. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. But years later, it occurred to me that there was a reason that a friendly young man had struck up a conversation with me and brought me to his brother’s bar on the far edge of Zurich, in a sketchy neighborhood. He’d insisted on bringing me my drinks for me… and there was a reason I started to feel weird when I drank those beers (can you say, “mickey”?), and he led me to a back room to lie down… and locked the door so I couldn’t get out. There was a reason, all those men down at the other end of the table in the bar kept looking at me like I was a piece of meat, and kept talking amongst themselves and insisted I not sit near them, while they were talking.
Holy shit… But I was clueless at the time. I literally had no idea about what any of it meant. I just thought it was weird. I never suspected anything nefarious. Even when I was locked in the room. I was young, beautiful, energetic, engaging, and I wanted to experience life. Well, mission accomplished. I did exactly that. I did it over and over and over again, getting into scrapes and near-misses and actual problems that resulted in ongoing legal problems, restraining orders (against me, not against my attacker, ironically), and years of being terrified to leave my home without a specific destination to be reached along a specific route I mapped out meticulously in my head beforehand. And I developed a nasty case of PTSD in the process.
So it goes, when you’re in my shoes.
And all this just makes me more adamant that autistic / Aspergian girls especiallyneed to be diagnosed earlier, and provided with the proper supports and information to help us get through life without getting raped, exploited, abducted, abused, neglected, and treated to the full range of shitheaded behavior that ravenous, angry, take-what-I-want people rain down on us.
Also, autistic girls need to told they’re beautiful. They/we need to be taught how to handle that, what to look out for, what to be careful of. Hans Asperger himself remarked “the ethereal beauty of his patients almost as if it were a diagnostic symptom“. The Guardian actually has a piece about the beauty of Aspergers kids, which I find problematic in a number of ways, not least of which is the language… and that implicit assumption that as long as their autistic kids are attractive, parents can find comfort that offsets the distress that comes with raising an autistic child. Then again, the article is 15 years old, so… But it does touch on some important points. So, I recommend giving it a quick look (with a grain of salt).
Anyway, poorly informed news articles don’t change the fact that a whole lot of autistic people are attractive to others, but we’re unaware…. and we don’t know what to do with / about it. What’s more, our own striking beauty is often not even on our radar — we have physical ideals we don’t live up to, so we think we’re ugly. We all have our reasons for overlooking our own beauty — mine was a real deficit in reading people socially from early on, along with a lifetime of being told I was stupid and a hindrance and a problem somebody else had to solve, not to mention the ongoing distress at not doing as well in life as I so desperately wanted to.
So, yeah. Perfect storm indeed. Only now, decades later, can I fully appreciate my own beauty of years gone by. I like to think it isn’t gone completely… I tell myself what I must, in order to keep the grief at bay… the soul-raking grief of never having had the means or the opportunity to enjoy such an essential aspect of myself, while I still could.
I’m home sick today. Sinus infection. Ugh. Miserable. Aches, fever, throbbing sinus headache, and just feeling pained at the world.
I’m okay with it, though. I have an uncanny ability to maintain my mental focus on things that interest me, even when my body is writhing in pain. I guess I’ve had a lot of practice.
I’m actually enjoying myself… the aches and throbbing and stabbing pains aside… Because I actually get to slow down today and NOT be driven by all the frantic-ness at work. People really are too much there. They’re all looking for a “quick win”, which is a terrible thing to do All The Time. They’re pushing agendas which they want to Make Happen Right Away, so they have a happy smiley face on their performance assessments at the end of the quarter — which is all of six weeks away.
Supposedly, there are going to be re-orgs at the end of this year and/or the beginning of next year. I was worried for the longest time, then I realized that there was no point in being worried. I know for a fact that I bring my best to every single project I’m involved in. Even when my best isn’t nearly as good as I want it to be — due to fatigue, overwhelm, dealing with a steady stream of NT people who are competing for attention, and being perpetually out of synch with the world and feeling like I’m always playing catch-up — I still put my whole self into things.
There’s literally nothing more I can do to “up my game”, as they say. So, why worry?
I just keep plugging along. Even though I never know for sure, if I’m doing great, or so-so, or substandard. I have a terrible time figuring out what people think of me, what their facial expressions mean, what their tone means, so I spend a lot of time “feeling them out” (not feeling them up, for the record) to see how I’m doing.
And that’s exhausting. Which means I don’t really get to bring my best to the situation. Especially at the end of a frenzied week.
Ugh. I’m so sick and tired…
But I’m happy! Woo hoo! I’m just so relieved to not be in that office space with all those people, to not have to drive to and from the office, to not have to deal with the ambient noise, the constant interruptions, the forced focus on things that are so, so boring (ohmygoddd…..) for me and demand a huge act of will to pay attention to them, the environment where people congregate and suddenly get loud for no ostensible reason, other than that they’re all together in a shared space. I guess that’s exciting for them? Lord, it is so tiring. Tiresome. Taxing. And if I never had to go to that place and deal with those people again, I’d be fine with it. Truly, I would. I mean, they’re nice enough and we do get along, but they’re so, so different from me (and vice-versa). I’d never seek them out voluntarily to hang out or spend my precious time with them, socially.
And now, since I feel physically terrible, I’m going to take a long, hot shower and crawl back into bed. I’ve told my boss I’m signing off for the day. I took care of the few things that needed to be done. And I’m out. Down for the count.
Till I wake up again and start thinking about things that actually interest me.
So, now we’ve done it. We’ve elected an individual who reminds Germans (and a whole lot of other people) of Hitler. I lived in Germany for 2 years, quite some time ago. I’ve had conversations about the American brand of fascism with Germans who were young during WWII. No matter how adamant I was, in the past, that America was latently fascist, I never heard a word of enthusiastic agreement from any German I talked to.
Now, Germans are comparing Trump to Hitler. When that happens, it tells me something has shifted. And that “something” is serious.
Make no mistake, I’ve been leery of this country, since I’ve been able to think for myself. I’ve lived in areas that were steeped in racist bigotry and burned (literally) by race riots. I’ve also lived in rural areas where there were almost no people of color. At all. I had one African-American classmate in my high school. He was in my graduating class. There were no others in any of the other classes. There was one Jewish girl, and she graduated early — got the hell out of Dodge — good choice. There were no other people of color. At all. No Asians. No Hispanics. No Native Americans. Just European-American kids.
So, I spent the latter half of my childhood surrounded by people who put a demagogue in power, this time around. And I’m still in touch with some of them. Members of my family voted for the demagogue, too, which makes the prospect of sharing Thanksgiving dinner with them that much less appealing. It’s not that we have a difference of opinion. It feels to me like they just handed over the keys to the kingdom to a wild-card authoritarian, trusting the care of the proverbial henhouse to a fox who’s told everyone he’s a fox, time and time again.
And that hurts.
What hurts most, though, is not just the results of this election. Everything about it has done a number on me. The lack of civil discourse. The lack of clarity. The constant smoke-and-mirror activity of the media, the lies, the distortions, the propaganda. Nobody watches news anymore. There is no more news. There is only propaganda — slanting stories in one direction or the other, to trigger an emotional response and get you aligned with the interests of whoever is telling the stories. And no one in the audience is able — or willing — to listen to what others have to say, consider it carefully, and then make up their minds about what they really think.
Nope. It’s all snap judgments, knee-jerk reactions, and a lot of spiteful name-calling. It’s embarrassing.
And it hasn’t just been on one side. It’s been on ALL sides. That’s the worst thing of all. The dehumanization of others — the complete and total lack of empathy for anyone who is different from you or dares to have a different opinion. That’s been dished out from every direction, towards every other direction. It’s crushing. Absolutely crushing. And the NT world says autistics have no empathy…
I differ with that view. I’m not begging to differ with anyone. Begging makes me subordinate, and I’m not that. I simply differ. Because that poxious (cross between “pox” and “obnoxious”) empathy-deficit point of view has ensured the suffering of countless autistic folks at the hands of those who themselves show precious little sign of empathy — for anyone even slightly different from themselves.
My empathic self is fried — especially after the last week.
Just fried. On every conceivable level.
My heart hurts. My head has been throbbing for days, now. I ache with a flu-like feeling that’s not accompanied by any respiratory issues or fever. And I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that we’ve stooped this low… that we’ve just handed our country over to an incompetent, aggressively ignorant con-man who hasn’t successfully run anything for decades — he’s just licensed his bogus brand to the highest bidders.
Meanwhile, people either make light of this “democratic” travesty and try to normalize it, or they pick up pitchforks and start mud-slinging. Anderson Cooper (of all people) is trying to normalize this fascist coup. Well, he should have just voted for the incoming team, if he’s that eager to deal with them. Then again, maybe he did… The Washington Post is publishing stomach-churning vitriol against the winning side (under the guise of satire or commentary or whatever), as though they have any right to denigrate anyone that way from their position of considerable authority… as though that it’s going to do anything besides increase the resolve of the target of their attack to continue as they have been — plus, now, with the rocket fuel of righteous indignation behind them.
Meanwhile, folks on the “winning” side are chortling about “butt-hurt liberal LOSERS”, proclaiming far and wide that “their man” is going to fix everything. Keep us safe. Make us great again. Kick ISIS’s ass. And so forth.
The lack of insight and self-critique on all sides is devastating — figuratively (for me) and literally (for this nation). And meanwhile, as we’re all squabbling in the streets and on social media, well-equipped forces which transcend any political parties are systematically dismantling the world around us.
It’s crushing. Simply crushing. This is what hurts my whole autistic system most:
Lack of logic – no, wait, the refusal to apply logic to any thought at all
Lack of insight into what’s causing all this behind the scenes
Refusing to consider all sides of all subjects, especially if the analysis doesn’t favor you
Name-calling, mockery, derision, catty snarking from the podium and in the press (from all sides)
Denial of the humanity of others
Oversimplification of complex issues, boiling the two sides down to red vs. blue, fascists/sexists/racists vs. socialist spoiled brats (the oversimplification has been the worst)
Propaganda passing as “news” — and people repeating it, like it’s gospel
People thinking all about themselves (and their fell “team members”) and not frankly giving a shit about anybody else who isn’t on their team.
A rancorous winner-take-all mentality.
And Most Of All, the fanciful belief that we can continue in this way, steeped and marinating in our mindless, partisan vitriol, and ever manage to effect the changes we need to see in the world.
As long as we continue this way, down this thorny, mucky path, there is no chance we’re going to see any change at all. I feel that in my bones. We have to change how we think, change how we talk to each other, change how we engage, in order to steer ourselves in a productive direction. Knowing that is no solace. Because it seems that nobody else frankly gives a damn. They’re too busy trying to WIN. They can’t be bothered to pay attention to what’s really going on under the surface.
Holy fuck, this feels absolutely apocalyptic.
Then again, it’s felt like this before. I have to remember that. I’m not sure what makes this any different, but it feels different. Like we’ve lost something crucial, and by the time things truly normalize, we’ll have forgotten that ever existed.
In lieu of despairing, I’m going to the office to work. Plus, I’ve got a cool project of my own that brightens my day and actually gives me hope. I’ll share more of that in the coming days and weeks. But right here, right now, it’s time to get showered and dressed for work.