Something really interesting happened to me earlier today. I was talking to a friend of mine, who in the past has refused to believe I’m on the autism spectrum. At the time he refused to believe, I was pretty hurt, and I considered ditching the friendship. But this friend and I had more things in common than not, and I realized I was able to talk to him about things that I can’t really discuss with anybody else. He’s a total brain geek, and he’s got some deep and broad interests and experiences with many things brain-related.
I don’t have direct access to a lot of people with his background. So, I decided to keep him around as a friend — but not (ever!) bring up autism with him. It was pretty easy to do, because we had so much else to discuss.
We were just talking earlier today about fMRI scans and the Default Mode Network(s) in our brains. I don’t yet fully understand DMN, but it sounds fascinating. And for some reason the topic of autism came up. He was telling me about how fMRI scans show a direct correlation between certain types of connectivity in the DMN – or lack thereof – and autism. He said — with a straight face and in all earnestness, that this contributes to theory of mind problems in autism.
Deep cleansing breath… Pause to settle my startle and fight-back response…
I have to say, I’m very proud of myself for not flipping out over it. This friendship is one I really value, so I simply, calmly googled “default mode network” autistic adults, and I quickly found a paper (Sex Differences in the Default Mode Network with Regard to Autism Spectrum Traits: A Resting State fMRI Study) that shows how differently men’s and women’s scans turn out to be. I mentioned this to my friend, and my friend was genuinely glad to learn about it. I guess in all his 40+ years of neuroscience he’d never heard about the differences between men and women on the spectrum. I also forwarded him a link to the paper – which was as recent as the end of 2015 – so he could read it. He actually seemed happy and grateful to hear about it and get more information.
I think sometimes that our conversation nearly 10 years ago about how I can’t possibly be autistic, has stuck in his mind. I also think at times, he has got to be on the spectrum, because he is so excruciatingly detailed about things, so one-track-mind about certain interests, and he actually has many of the same autistic tendencies that I do. But, because he’s almost 20 years older than me and he’s been practicing deep in the heart of mainstream neuroscience, mostly in a different area than autism, his conception of autism is very different from my own. And he may not even realize that he’s on the spectrum.
The funny thing is, I’ve been toying with the idea of broaching the subject of him being on the autism spectrum for a number of weeks, now. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but it’s interesting to think about. Being the person I am, I can’t help but imagine about 100 different scenarios that could occur, each of them branching off a different decision tree in the imagined conversation.
But even if that never happens, at least today there was an inroad I was able to make with regard to this subject. I really value his friendship and would love to be able to discuss autism with him, because we are like two geeky brain nerds, when we get started talking about things. And it would be so much fun to be able to just be as artistic as we want to be, without having some overshadowing misconception diluting the conversation and making some of our characteristics seem like something they’re not.
Anyway, who knows what will happen… I’m just glad I have this friend, and that we talk on a regular basis. That will suffice, for now.