What if non-#autistic “pretend play” is pathological?

board game with pieces
I’ve been thinking a fair amount about so-called “theory of mind” (ToM), lately, and I keep coming across references to it. Take, for example, the recent paper “Theory of Mind Deficit Is Associated with Pretend Play Performance, but Not Playfulness, in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder” They talk about how “pretend play” is impaired in autistic kids (oh, sorry – “children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”), and how “ToM significantly predicted pretend play variables”.

Well, okay. They ran the tests, they did the analysis, they made their findings. The paper says:

The results showed that children’s ToM was significantly associated with their pretend play in initiating play actions, object substitutions, property attribution, and pretending an imaginary object were present. However, the correlation coefficients failed to show a significant relationship between children’s ToM and their playfulness.

So, kids who did poorly on ToM didn’t “perform” pretend play very well.

From the paper (bold emphasis is mine, and I’ve taken out the citations):

Play, the main occupation of children, both reflects and improves the development of their physical, cognitive, and social skills. Play is the dynamic interaction between the individual child and the child’s immediate environment, and it is influenced by sociocultural factors. The two essential manifestations of play are external performance and internal experience. The former is observable performance, which unfolds in play activities; the latter is playfulness, which is the key to determining whether an activity belongs to play or not. Therefore, it is important to view play as a whole construct involving both external performance and internal experience.

Issues with this paper begin right from the start. First off, the idea that play is “the main occupation of children” seems flawed to me. And it seems to completely misunderstand the purpose of “play”. Kids aren’t just horsing around. They’re developing their inner systems, their senses, their reflexes, their relationship with the world. In my opinion, learning and development is the main occupation of children, and if it comes across as play, then great. But learning/development is not secondary to play, as the authors seem to believe. Quite the contrary — play is secondary to learning and development.

The paragraph then takes a turn for the better (sigh of relief) when the authors talk about how play has a dual nature — external and internal. It’s not just about how it looks to outsiders; it’s also about how you experience it yourself (the level of playfulness). And yeah, we need to consider both the internal and external sides of play, in order to assess it fully.

Pretend play is a form of external performance and is defined as play composed of both conventional imaginative play and symbolic play. Conventional imaginative play is preliminary pretend play. It refers to perceiving objects (or conventional toys) as real or small copies of things, and using them in a functionally proper way outside of the typical context. Examples are pretending to feed a doll using a toy spoon, using an empty cup to pretend to drink, or rolling a toy car on the floor and making engine noises. Symbolic play is sophisticated pretend play. It refers to using objects (or unstructured toys) as something else, attributing properties, or pretending an absent object is present. Examples are using a banana as a telephone, pretending a piece of cloth is wet, or making an imagined cup with the hands and pretending to drink. Therefore, pretend play provides an opportunity for children to practice events occurring in their daily lives or social worlds. Through engagement in pretend play, children learn the differences between reality and imagination. Moreover, pretend play reflects and facilitates the development of emotions, language, cognition, social skills, social awareness, and perspective-taking ability.

I’m sure there’s plenty of research substantiating the above, but I think there are a lot of conceptual leaps that hew to a typical line. And those leaps may be blinding the researchers to additional considerations.

Why is it so essential that children turn something into something it’s not, to show sophistication? Why is it assumed that children who substitute one thing for another are developing normally? Seems odd to me. Why wouldn’t they wonder if something was amiss with those kids, if they clearly can’t tell that what they’re holding is in fact not a telephone, but they keep trying to use it as one? And how is it heart-warming, for a child to not understand that their doll is inanimate, that it’s incapable of eating and drinking, so it’s pointless to try to feed it or give it a bottle? Maybe that’s standard-issue non-autistic childhood behavior, but it’s not the only kind of human behavior that bears fruit.

The bias becomes quickly clear. Pretend play appears to be the one and only precursor to normal development. So, one could say that if it’s absent, it’s logical to expect that “emotions, language, cognition, social skills, social awareness, and perspective-taking ability” would all be ultimately impaired. Ugh.

Pretend play deficit appears to be a clinical feature of children with ASD and has long been a focus of the study of child development. Previous studies have found that children with ASD are unable to understand the pretend actions in play. Wing, Gould, Yeates, and Brierly (1977) conducted the first research that directly examined pretend play in children with ASD and children with intellectual disability and found that the majority of children with no observable pretend play or those with stereotyped, copying pretend play behaviours were children with autistic disorder. Several studies have also found that pretend play is apparently less frequent in children with ASD, and that their play behaviours lack symbolism, creativity, and complexity. Rutherford et al. conducted a longitudinal study that measured children’s pretend play in a free play condition and a structured condition with external instructions. Their results showed that children with ASD found it significantly more difficult than typically developing children to perform pretend play in both conditions and that spontaneous pretend play was more impaired. Furthermore, in addition to difficulties in performing pretend play, children with ASD have impaired comprehension of pretend play as well. In summary, research has shown that children with ASD are unable to understand the pretend actions in play. Children with ASD have decreased frequency and complexity when performing pretend play, and the difficulties can present spontaneously or appear with external facilitations.

Oh, my. That’s chock full of bias, pathologizing, and outright cluelessness about what’s really going on beneath the surface of autistic play. It’s so full of … “incomplete understanding”… I’m not sure where to start.

There’s the deficit model approach. Talking about our differences as impairments. Citing research from 1977 (for heaven’s sake!), and not apparently asking any #ActuallyAutistic folks about why we played they way we did, when we were younger. Trust me, a lot of us remember. And we could shed a truckload of light and insight on this question of “Why do autistic kids play the way they do?”

I take issue with their assumption that autistic kids don’t understand pretend actions in play. What if — just what if — we actually did understand, but categorically rejected it, because we needed to play in a very different way? What if we’re just more interested in learning how the real world actually works, rather than fooling around with playthings that aren’t the real thing? There seems to be an assumption that children aren’t capable of that kind of reasoning, when we’re quite young.

But I remember clearly, so many times when I was young, being offered dolls and toys and other objects that were supposed to be played with a certain way, but consciously choosing not to interact with them the way I was expected. Because I wanted to find out how they worked. I wanted to see how they were put together. I didn’t play with the pretend vacuum cleaner my aunt gave me one Christmas. I took it apart and played with the different pieces, to see how they operated, how they felt, how they took up space. I had no interest in any dolls other than one that looked exactly like a real baby and had a body made of fleshlike foam. I didn’t think of that doll as my child, though. I thought of it as a friend. Because clearly, I couldn’t have a child of my own. I was too young. I was closer in “age” to that baby, than I was to my mother. So, you do the math. It made no logical sense for me to pretend I was that “baby’s” mother.

So, when all these adults are sitting on the floor, trying to get autistic kids to do pretend play like the “normal” kids, they might ask themselves if it makes any logical sense for those kids to do what they’re asking them to do. And it might also help if they tossed in a bit of reality along with the pretend. I just don’t get why children are expected to concoct their own version of what’s real and what’s not, when the real, physical, tangible world is right there in front of them, just waiting to teach them about all the laws of physics.

What the paper clearly misses, is the possibility that rather than being a sign of impairment, autistic kids’ modes of play are simply a sign of difference. Where non-autistic kids may pretend more, say, using a banana as a telephone or pretending that a doll is a real baby or imagining that a toy car is a real vehicle that makes real sounds, autistic kids might — just might — have more of an interest in non-pretend (or real) play.

What if autistic kids (who were shown in the study to be playful just like the non-autistic kids) simply have a different mode of play which emphasizes reality, which interacts with things as they are, rather than turning them into something else?

And what if that ability to actually play with the real properties of objects were essential to our development in learning to navigate the world around us and interact with our environments?

Looking even deeper, what if the researchers factored in sensory processing issues and rather than pathologizing their play styles, they realized that they actually served a purpose. To whit:

In this study, it was observed that children with ASD who had poor adaptation to change and more unique use of objects would exhibit play behaviours that were less changeable and lacked narrative. For example, the children might keep rolling the toy truck to watch the rotation of the wheels without any play purpose, and the children would also show resistance when asked to play with other objects or when the tester modelled the play actions.

Play, as many of us autistic folks know, can be “less changeable” for a whole host of reasons.

First, the situation might be overwhelming for the kid, which prompts them to stim, or find some repetitive motion that soothes their jangled nerves. Also, certain kinds of play might lead to a “flow state” which is blissfully consistent. Or the kid rolling the truck might be observing the rotation, seeing how it changes, based on the surface, sensing the vibrations of it, basically absorbing massive amounts of data about that seemingly simple scenario — all of which is invisible to the adult. What’s more, that adult might have had a childhood rich with pretend play, which got them in the habit of making stuff up in their mind that seemed to correlate with reality, but which was just the product of their undirected, uninformed imagination.

And if an adult comes along and interrupts your flow state, disrupts your experiment, insisting that you do something different that isn’t contextually appropriate, how is that supposed to affect an autistic kid? It’s annoying. It can be  hurtful. Why should we accommodate their non-contextual request to change what we’re perfectly fine with?

However, the results showed that ToM was not a significant predictor of children’s playfulness, possibly because of the small sample size. In addition, the results showed that autistic behaviour was the most significant predictor of children’s playfulness. It suggested that children with more autistic behaviours would look less joyful during play. As autistic behaviour encompasses the characteristics of ASD, the results are congruent with those of previous studies demonstrating that children’s playfulness is related to individual characteristics, such as age, sex, and other personality attributes.

So, stop with the pathologizing, already. And never mind the ToM stuff, period. I find it very telling that the researchers felt the need to say autistic kids “look less joyful during play”. How would they know what joyful looks like? Trust me, I can be ecstatic on the inside, and people around me think I’m pissed off. Seems the impairments of social detection aren’t only autistic.

After reading through this paper, I have to wonder, what if so-called pretend play were actually a sign of pathology, indicating that non-autistic children are prone to make up things  in their minds which simply aren’t true… and if left unchecked, that can ultimately develop into full-blown inability to deal with reality as it is. What if children who were skilled at pretend play eventually grow into adults who surround themselves with invented falsehoods which confirm their biases and are never challenged, because they’re seen as “normal” behavior? Given the amount of autism research like this paper, it would appear that too many pretend-play experts have been allowed to persist in their childhood habits of making sh*t up, and it’s now affecting their adult work.

Hmmmm… I think someone should do some research on that. Now that would be a paper I’d like to read.

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We’re all autistic, we’re all family… what’s the problem?!

three figures with one close up

Ugh. My familial disillusionment strikes again. I had hoped so much to be able to connect with my parents, this holiday season. I won’t be traveling to them, so I’ve been hoping we could interact with each other in a mutually satisfying way. I’ve been cherishing the idea that the distance will relieve me of some of the existential angst that used to push me to suicidal ideation this time of year… every . single . year . until I was nearly 50.

Yeah, I know I’m being unrealistic. Everybody’s bothered by family stuff, almost without exception. I know very few people who don’t have issues with their parents, who don’t carry some sort of painful “baggage” about their relationship, who aren’t haunted by unaccountable ghosts that seem to embed themselves in our sinews and make themselves known like so much arthritis when the weather turns cold. And when you’re autistic, family stuff gets even more… interesting. I’m no exception.

So, I’m all spun up about sh*t. And what, pray tell, is it about?

This morning, my father finally responded about a piece of writing I’d sent to him a few weeks ago, to see what he thought of it. He’s seen my writing before, and he hasn’t always had favorable reactions. He’s misunderstood a lot of what I’ve written and said over the years, and he’s lectured me on all sorts of non-issues that he got all worked up about.

I chalk it up to his own Aspergers… that clinical tone he takes, the critical eye he turns to things… he seems to think he’s doing me a favor by telling me where I’ve gone wrong. He doesn’t actually discuss my overall ideas. He looks at specifics, homes in on the things that he thinks are flawed, and then he tells me in detail what those things are… usually from his own dogmatic point of view.

Yeah… thank you, Aspergers. That whole big-picture thing isn’t a strength of his. My mom isn’t much help, either. She also homes in on a narrow slice of something I’ve written, she takes it out of context, and then she gets upset. She’s much more emotional than he is, and she’s been so beaten down by the rampant sexism in her world, that she has a hard time articulating exactly what’s bothering her.

And then I have two of them all twisted up about my work, when all I really wanted to do was share it with them so we could discuss some of the ideas I’ve been thinking really hard about. It’s generally a really tough situation for everyone, and I hate it every time it happens.

Part of their issue is that I don’t have a college degree. Both of my parents have Masters degrees, and my father used to teach at the college level. I’ve got a number of PhD-level academics/researchers in my family — some of them considerably younger than I — and the whole formal education thing is very big in my family. I still get little insinuating lectures from my parents about how inexplicable it is, that I never got my degree. I attended university for four years. I accumulated the debt. I did my time. But no degree. That just rankles them to no end… probably in no small part because of their Aspergers.

What they can’t seem to get their heads around is that my “issues” were severe and cumulative in college… to the point where I had a serious drinking problem, I was in trouble with the law, I’d “acquired” a stalker, and I literally couldn’t complete my coursework in a timely manner, so completing the whole gauntlet just wasn’t possible. They’ve always felt it was my fault. I just didn’t do a good job of… anything. I’ve embarrassed them. And what right do I have to write anything that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, when I’m clearly such a loser?

So, when I’m presumptuous enough as to write something for others’ consumption (they don’t know about this blog), they get all up in arms. Because they think the things I write about require years and years of study at accredited universities, to qualify to speak about them. If I haven’t done the coursework, I can’t use my voice. I’m not qualified. I’m not vetted. I’m just some upstart making noise. And I’m making noise in ways that might embarrass them, if other people find out. I’m making noise that embarrasses them simply by right of me making that noise. It has no order for them. It has no sense. Because I haven’t ticked all the boxes that tell the world I’m allowed to say the things I say.

And for this very reason, I am incredibly grateful that I’m not traveling to see them for Christmas. We were going to try to travel down, but… nah. It’s winter. Officially. There’s snow on the ground and too much traffic on the roads. Better to stick close to home, and just settle in with my books.

My comfort.

 

On my terms.

In my own way.

That’s not “wrong” at all.

Not by a long shot.

What a delightful week it’s been! Blissfully quiet

And I’m pretty wiped out. I’ve had most of the past week to just do the things I like to do, in the way I like to do them. Which means, a lot of sitting. And a lot of isolating. And a lot of reading and writing and researching and pulling out textbooks, thumbing through them and crying, “Ah-ha!” when I find the passage(s) I’m looking for.

I’ve been immersed in a certain mode of thought I don’t have the luxury for, in my regular everyday working life — where my co-workers are suburban parents who just want to make enough money to put their kids through school and/or climb high enough on the corporate ladder where they can vex more people than those who vex them.

It’s been so much fun, being away from that whole scene, that major drain of a scene. And while I do look forward to getting back to my routine, I don’t look forward to dealing with those people again. It’s been a real pleasure, not having to constantly come to terms with the mixture of sadness, pity, compassion, frustration, and intermittent admiration, that I cycle through each day.

But I have to say, I am pretty tired.

It takes a lot out of me, trying to catch up with myself and the kind of life I want to lead, when I have such limited opportunity. It kind of works against me. Except, it’s my choice, and I can do what I please. And in the end, I’ve got a lot of satisfaction out of the whole deal.

Tomorrow I head back into the jungle.

Wish me luck.

Working… waiting… working… hoping… working.

snow monkey sitting in water

Oh, my heavens. It’s Friday, which is both good and bad. I have a huge deadline tomorrow morning — we’re launching an application at work that’s at the center of a huge political battle. And I’ve been in the thick of it for about a year, now.

When I think about it, it’s pretty amazing that I’m still functioning. This project has torn the living crap out of me and lots of people who worked on it. The main problem is the politics behind it — four six different bosses from three different countries, all at cross-purposes, all using those of us “in the trenches” as cannon fodder to build their empires.

And meanwhile, all we’ve really wanted to do was get the job done. Just get the work finished to our satisfaction and the best of our abilities. The project had to be done. It’s replacing a couple of other software applications that have kept people from doing their jobs for years. Those old apps have made a lot of people miserable / mad / frustrated / apoplectic (me included). So, replacing them with a single “solution” just makes sense.

It’s been expensive. It’s been demanding. It’s been extremely detailed and time-consuming. But it had to get done.

And we were all prepared to do it. We were ready to do it. To make the concessions. To compromise. To collaborate. To do what needed to be done. And we’ve done exactly that.

No thanks to our bosses. If anything, they’ve been the blocking factors. They’ve been the ones who have been making everything harder and more complicated than need be. They all want to hang onto their power and influence and make sure they have a place in the evolving world around us. But it’s been at the expense of the people actually doing the work.

Like me. And the other person doing a job similar to mine in another division, who’s been in lockstep with me, the whole way. She might actually be dying. She’s got COPD and a host of other health issues, and she’s been out sick a lot, over the past couple of months. She’s having surgery next week, and I’m not sure if she’s physically strong enough to survive it. Others on the project have been on extended sick leave, because the pressure was just too great. We’ve all been pushing forward. And the thing holding us back, has been “management”. The people in charge. Who see imminent success on the horizon, and all want to jump in and take credit for it.

Of course, we’ll just be pushed out of the way, as people who had nothing to do with any of it step in and start to crow about how they had a role in the success. While those of us who put on the proverbial brakes and kept people from making really bad decisions are pushed to the side and dismissed.

I just want it to be over with. And then I want to go on vacation for Thanksgiving week and not think about any of this. I won’t be able to, of course. Oh, sure, I can take vacation, but I won’t have all that time off. Partly, that’s okay, because getting this thing launched is pretty exciting, overall.

And when it’s live, it’ll be a thing of beauty.

But man, oh man, am I tired. Just fried. Over it.

And sick of everything.

Well, once this is all put to bed, with all the nagging details settled and accounted for, the next batch of tasks identified and prioritized, and the political wheels put in motion to get those things on the radar of somebody Very Important, I can step back catch my breath, and go back to living my life.

I just have to get through today in an orderly fashion and in one piece.

Then, tomorrow, I can dig in for a few hours in the morning… get this puppy launched… and get back to my life.

And do something other than work 12 hours a day for somebody else.

Maybe immerse myself in Joy.

#Autistic joy – it’s a thing. And we should have more of it.

agora theatre wall
Agora Theatre Wall – isn’t it lovely?

This morning, during my morning exercise bike ride, I read a piece by John Elder Robison about My Life With Asperger’s

Sex, Lies, and Autism Research – getting value for our money

How to get tangible benefit from the millions we spend on autism science

The US government is the world’s biggest funder of autism research.  For the past decade I have had the honor of advising various agencies and committees on how that money should be spent.  Sometimes I’ve been pleased at our government’s choices.  Other times I’ve been disappointed.  Every now and then I turn to reflect:  What have we gotten for our investment?

Autistic people and parents agree on this:  The hundreds of millions we’ve spent on autism research every year has provided precious little benefit to families and individuals living with autism today.  Over the past decade the expenditures have run into the billions, yet our quality of life has hardly changed at all.

You can read the full piece here. It’s worth it.

And of course it got me thinking… along similar lines to yesterday’s post, wherein I pondered the irregularity of autistic joy.

Returns on investment. Getting our money’s worth. Having something to show for our investments… What a world it would be, if all the money spent were going to opening up chances for good to flourish, rather than some “war on autism” dedicated to <begin sarcasm> hunting down and eradicating the dread disorder that “steals” perfectly healthy and happy children from their families and tearing apart everything their parents hope for and hold dear </end sarcasm>.

Now that we’re all triggered, let’s take a deep breath and step back from that hijacking of the collective consciousness by ve$ted intere$t$ and pause to actually recognize and laud the truth of Autistic joy.

If there’s one thing that seems to set Autistic people apart from non-autistics, it seems to be the capacity for joy. Honestly, looking at the neurotypical world, all I see is pain. Frustration. Anguish. Predators and prey. And the best that most non-autistics I know can hope for is just a temporary relief from their pain. Drinking. Drugs. Facebook. Yes, they have their friends and family, their careers and reputations. But even those joys seem so fraught with danger and conflict, there doesn’t seem to be much purity there at all. And the times that my non-autistic friends and associates are happiest, are when they’re numbing their pain with a stiff drink or distracting themselves from their pain and fear with some form of entertainment.

Truly, it’s such a dreary world they inhabit. Where’s the joy? Where’s the ecstasy? They don’t seem to have much capacity for it, and they treat my (and other Autistics’) capacity for unbridled joy like it’s a disorder. A condition that needs to be fixed.

How does that work, exactly? I just don’t get it. I would imagine it’s a little like being a really tall person during the 1700s, when people were considerably smaller than they are today.

The thing is, I don’t think non-autistic people are completely devoid of the ability to feel and experience ecstatic joy. I think they have as much capacity as we Autistics. They’re just not allowed to experience it by their milieu. They’re smacked down. Held back. Shamed and blamed and pressured into being certain ways because that’s “normal”. Huh. How ’bout that.

Meanwhile, it just holds them back. It cripples them, not only in their own lives, but also in how they relate to us.

It’s a little like the inexplicable conditioning of women to not really move that much in their lives. I’m noticing this more and more, these days, as I continue to move and be fairly limber and spry and strong, compared to my female peers. I take stairs two at a time. I lift 40-pound water bottles on a semi-regular basis. I rake my own lawn. I shovel refuse into my wheelbarrow and push it to the dump pile down the road. Even though I have issues with chronic pain and scoliosis, I get up and move around with pretty decent mobility.

Meanwhile, my female peers — friends and family — move a lot more slowly than I. Their joints are giving out on them, and they just don’t move as well or as freely as I do. In some cases, I realize it’s because they’ve been focused on being “good girls” for their entire lives, and good girls don’t jump up and run across the room. Good girls don’t take stairs two at a time. Good girls don’t stretch their backs and necks to get them to crack. They might go to yoga. Or take a pilates class. But they don’t really move freely in the course of their everyday lives.

And after decades of being demure, it’s taken a toll. They can’t just hop up and run across the room. They can’t dart out of danger, if something is flying towards them. And they run out of energy pretty quick, pumping themselves up with carbs and sugar and caffeine.

I’m not talking about disabled people who are dealing with physical limitations. I’m talking about healthy, non-disabled people who have actively limited themselves with their choices and behaviors. Because good girls don’t move quickly. Good girls aren’t physical. Good girls don’t take stairs two at a time. That’s not normal. And it’s certainly not free.

I have no idea why some people can’t deal with freedom. Or joy. Or ecstasy. But that’s not really my problem. My job is to make the most of my own freedom, my own joy, my own ecstasy. And to protect and shelter it in the face of all the people who covet it but refuse to allow themselves to experience it.

Autistic joy is a thing. Today, for me, it’s about getting back to my routine, which allows me to do so much more than I could if I had to re-design the schedule for my day, each morning.  I have a lot to get done, and my routine allows me to focus on the new and exciting things that interest me, even while I can consistently complete the basics that form the foundation of my life.

With my routine, I can get myself out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, and get myself downstairs with relative ease. With my routine, I can get my daily exercise, catch up on my online reading, have my breakfast, and get some writing done before I start my day-job work. With my routine — which other people might consider mind-numbingly consistent — my mind is freed up to do more interesting (and far more complex) things than figure out how to fix my breakfast. With my routine, I can get a whole lot of things done, that most people wouldn’t think are even remotely possible. And there’s a lot of joy to be had in the doing. Having four(+) projects going at the same time, and seeing them all coming to fruition in their own times and their own ways, is a rare treat that isn’t even on the radar of most people I know.

Autistic Routine — as much as it’s pathologized by the diagnostic establishment — is the very thing that makes it possible for me to function at higher-than-average levels.

And it’s something that brings me joy, which should be more than enough reason to depathologize it.

So, yeah. Rather than getting hung up on all the downsides of Autism (and don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of challenges that can make your life really miserable), maybe we need to focus more on the joy that seems to come part-and-parcel with  Autism.

Autistic Joy is a thing. Let’s have more of that!

Through the river locks of #autistic joy

Quebec river locks
I’m coming ’round to my desired routines again, getting back to some narrow interests that have drawn me in and held my keen interest for years at a time. I’m finding myself able to think again, after a months-long hiatus of all-consuming DO-DO-DO–GO-GO-GO. I’ve been so busy “upping my output” that I’d lost touch with the simple act of taking in.

I had all but forgotten about some of those vital interests — the books I’d bought to read (devour, really) and ingest and think on, long and deeply, got stashed in my office and I haven’t spent much time there at all for months… the papers I’d downloaded to take in and consider also ended up in piles in my office… the theories and philosophies that have lit up my life so brightly for so many years, faded into the background of my day-to-day rush to Get Things Done…

Yeah, I got busy. And necessarily so. All of it was important. All of it held my interest and taught me useful things.

But as with any all-consuming effort that flames up in a series of inner fireworks, there’s a price to be paid, and that price was the steady flame of joy from what’s held my interest in a steady, rapt embrace.

I think perhaps this is a distinctly autistic feature of mine. I tend to be so completely consumed by what I’m doing at the time, I lose sight of everything else. And then my best-laid plans to do such-and-such a thing in such-and-such a timeframe… well, that all flies out the window like a caged bird that’s realized the keeper left its door unhooked. At the same time, my “interim” interests (intellectual sprints in the midst of my conceptual marathon) tend not to last long. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. And I can lose interest in them rapidly, so that the full roster of Productive Activities I’ve earmarked for doing… well, that just gets lost along the way, too.

So, I end up with a lot of things started, and not a lot finished in the intended timeframe. Ultimately, I do finish things. But it’s years after the original plan. One of my books took nearly 20 years to complete. While others took me maybe 6 months, tops. Other works have been under construction for a couple of years, and they still don’t feel like they’re ready to be done.

I guess I do need to let my imagination “off the lead” and let it run around wildly for a few weeks/months at a time. It re-invigorates me, when I’ve reached a point of overwhelmed ennui, and nothing I’ve been working on makes any logical sense anymore — not because it has no sense, but because I’ve pushed myself to the point of not being able to reason, to think, or to draw anything useful out of what I’m pondering.

It’s cyclical. It needs to be. And yes, it doesn’t conform to the usual timeframes of the neurotypical world. How do those people live that way, anyway? I don’t get it. It seems both forced and dessicated, as though there’s no room for anything human at all. Just a mechanization of our creative impulses.

I can say this (and complain bitterly about it), because I make my living as a Program Manager at one of the planet’s largest high-tech companies. I see (and have to live) this forced, artificial, mechanized way of doing things every moment of my professional life, and I don’t like it. I’d love to toss a wooden shoe in the whole works and grind the teeth off the gears. Stop the whole machine from working that way. But alas, ’tis not in the best interests of my ongoing employment to do that. I like to eat. I like having a roof over my head. I like being able to afford to live my life. So, I keep those gears turning.

It’s a master-class in Everything Not To Do, If You Want To Keep Your Spirit Alive.

Well, so it goes. Railing against the imperfections of the world is all very well and good, but it’s much more productive to counteract it.

And I guess that’s what I do, when I move at my own speed and meander through my personal projects. Like a boat moving between two bodies of water that are at different levels, I need to progress gradually through the “locks”, letting the waters flow in/out and lift (or lower) my proverbial vessel, as I move from one level to the next.

Maybe, just maybe, that gradual way is my own way reclaiming my own autistic identity and reinforcing my own “organic” process (much as I hate that expression). The daily grind really does show me how I do NOT want to conduct my own affairs. And while it does grind me down, and there’s a big part of me that wishes I could make a living doing what I love to do, rather than doing what others will pay me to do, because they’re under the impression that it “needs” to be done… I’m not holding my breath. I’m an inventor and a builder, not a marketer, and I’m not going to waste my time trying to force myself to work in a mode that doesn’t suit me.

So, the day job remains in place. Until I can make a living otherwise.

Well, the day awaits. I have a bunch of things I need to do, and I’ve got a social afternoon ahead of me. I’m looking forward to it. Hangin’ with another Autist. It’s always a pleasure and a relief.

Till Monday rolls around, and it’s back to the same old…

In the meantime, though, I’m good, just going along at my own pace, piecing things together as I go, and keeping my spirit alive and lively.

With joy.

All that joy.

Into the weekend

man walking on pathI’m working from home today. My first conference call is in 10 minutes, so I just “dash off” a quick post to get myself in the mood for the day.

I got a lot done, yesterday, actually. Finished three really daunting tasks, some of which have major political implications and may spark some in-fighting (which I hate). I just took care of it. Because it had to get done, and I was on deadline.

I’ll let the captains of industry duke it out. I did my part, sending out the emails and notifying people of stuff. And I’ll do some more today.

The weekend is looking promising. It’s not going to be easy, but it will go. Some good things. Some sad things. And errands. Always the errands.

An old friend of mine lost his wife to illness a few weeks ago, so there’s a memorial service tomorrow night, which I’m attending.

I took care of the biggest chores last weekend, so I won’t need to work on them this weekend. I will have time to write and read and relax and make some progress on some of my side projects.

I’ve found some good podcasts, and I can listen to them.

And rest. Nap. Catch up on my sleep. I’m a little behind.

But it’ll go. It will all go — who knows if it’ll happen according to plan, but it’ll go.

Dropping back – then stepping forward

road with yellow stripes and trees with snow along the sides
It’s been a while since I blogged here. There’s a good chance people have forgotten about me, or they figure I’ve moved on to other things.

Actually, I have been doing other things for the past few weeks. Good things. Challenging things. Draining things. Restoring things. I’ve been writing a lot, researching a lot, thinking a lot, which means I have to cut down on the amount of input from the outside world. That means less blogging, less getting on Twitter, because there is so-so much that is distracting (and distressing), and I can’t afford to be pulled in all those different directions.

I think something may be “up” with my parents. I haven’t heard from them in a number of weeks. My mother’s cards come on a regular basis, but my dad has stopped calling me every Saturday. That’s a change. I need to check in with them. He hasn’t been in good health, for the past year or so, and despite surgery that looked wildly successful, he’s still got additional issues — including diabetes, which will do a number on your brain function, if you don’t control your sugar.

I kind of dread it, actually. But I should call. I’ll find some time. I’ll make the time. It’s the right thing to do.

I’m not sure why, but the last couple of weeks have been pretty intense. Well, there was the big event a couple weeks ago, that had me leaving the state and “peopleing” with strangers and finding my way around an unfamiliar college campus (while I was nervous that my car would get ticketed or towed because I parked in the wrong spot without knowing it).

There was the doctor visit with my partner, who’s extremely anxious around doctors, and the new meds prescribed to her, which I needed to research (I found what I needed to avert some likely serious side effects).

And then there’s been the whole work thing, with the Big Project I’m on being generally doomed, from the top down, as managers battle for territory, and the underlings get the brunt of their poor thought process. If we were left to our own devices and didn’t get dragged into their territorial disputes, we’d have the whole thing sorted, by now.

horse racing jockeysBut no. They have to jockey for position. Racing for the front and pushing each other against the rail. It’s tiresome. I feel like a horse that’s been ridden hard and put up wet.

We all do. And I wonder how long it will take, till we just throw the “riders” who are whipping us to go faster.

Maybe never. People need their jobs. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of the whole thing. It’s futile. It’s pointless. And I’m traveling down to HQ in a couple of weeks to continue the pointlessness. I hate business travel. It throws me off. It steals precious time and energy away from me, and it puts me in the middle of throngs of strangers who will trample me, if given a choice. Heck, they do it by default.

Well… what-ever.  I’ll just make the best of it.

Actually, I’m doing better than making the best of it. I’ve given up caring. I don’t give a damn, one way or the other, how things turn out. Oh, sure, I want the thing to work perfectly, but it’s literally impossible for that to happen, so I’m encasing myself in a protective shell of divine indifference and just getting on with my life, regardless of what happens around me.

Seriously, I’m beyond caring. I’ll do my part. I’ll pitch in and participate. I’ll fulfill my duties and my role to the fullest extent possible. But I’m not attached to the outcome, one way or the other. I didn’t ask for this project to happen. I got shoved into it by default, basically forced to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and I’m expected to make it all work to everyone else’s specifications, even though I advised against it from the start, “raised red flags”, documented the risks, and so forth. I did my part. Nobody listened. At least, nobody at the top.

Maybe this works out. Maybe it doesn’t. What. ever.

I frankly have no personal interest in the whole thing. I’m not invested in the outcome. I’m oblivious to whether or not things are to others’ liking. All I care about is if I’ve done my best under the circumstances. I’m just “doing my thing” to the best of my ability, playing my part as is required, and letting go of any outcomes. It’s out of my hands.

So the project is doomed? So what? Who cares? Certainly not I.

And it’s wonderful.

So, yeah, I’ve dropped back a bit from life… Pulled back into my own little autistic experience… To work on some projects I’ve got going, and finally make some progress. I’m quite pleased with one of them. It has real potential. And there are several others that look promising, as well. Sweet. And these are all things I can do, myself, while I go through the motions of my everyday day-job, making a living, collecting a paycheck, getting what I can out of the situation.

silk purseHere, have a silk purse.

I have extra, from all the proverbial “sow’s ears” I have lying around.

#Alexithymia… again

snow monkey sitting in water

It’s been a very strange bunch of weeks. I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster for reasons that aren’t immediately clear to me. I go through my days with a combination of logical efficiency and having to fight back tears.

Take a break… find an empty conference room and compose myself… Or put on my headphones and hunker down in my cubicle till the emotion passes.

Either that, or I’m flying along without a care in the world, dealing with whatever comes up with surprising alacrity and presence of mind.

Or I’m in a numb state of overwhelm that just doesn’t add up, because my life is no more overwhelming than it’s ever been. If anything, it’s less overwhelming, because I’ve cut back on the sheer volume of stuff I do on a daily basis.

Maybe that’s it… maybe I’m feeling the loss of my intense focus and drive. Maybe I’m suffering from a lack of mental activity. I know I do feel unchallenged in my daily life, and my greatest cognitive challenges are not losing my mind in the emotionally, sensorily vacuous political atmosphere I function in, each day.

Come to think of it, I probably have a lot of good reasons to feel sad and bereft — yeah, bereft is how I feel. I can’t list all the reasons here. At the same time, I have just as many reasons to feel positively bouyant… which I do. Back and forth the emotional pendulum swings…

And all the while, I know that things are happening that I should be feeling something about. Something… But I can’t muster it. I can’t summon the sensation. It holds back, it keeps its distance. It’s just not there for the taking, whenever I need it.

Which makes me look cool, chill, sometimes even cold.

I don’t want that. So, I feign emotional responses. A lot. Based on what I see others doing. I do a lot of mirroring and mimicking, these days. And yes, it’s exhausting. Because there’s no room for someone like me who doesn’t feel something on demand, and people distrust others who aren’t like them. And I work with people who are skittish to begin with, what with all the layoffs happening and organizational drama taking place.

In some ways, alexithymia really comes in handy. It keeps me out of the pit of despair that everybody gets sucked into. But then my empathy kicks in, and I co-experience other people’s dramas, without really knowing why. I don’t sense things in the same way, with the same cadence/regularity that others. So, I have the dubious honor of sharing their emotional states without really knowing why…

And yes, it is exhausting.

So, I curl up in bed at the end of the day and weep. For whatever reason. Reasons I can’t imagine, that I can’t fathom… but which show up, days, even weeks and months on down the line.

Oh…… So, that’s why I was so upset!

Always an adventure. Always.


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What if I just let that sh*t go…?

danger falling rocks sign

“If you want to hear God laugh,
announce your plans.”
– Said someone somewhere, sometime.

I’ve been a pretty reliable source of entertainment for God, for years, now. And while I’m sure He’s gotten plenty of good laughs from me (you’re welcome, God), I’m kind of tired of being laughed at.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m autistic, so I’m used to being laughed at. And if anybody has a right to do it, that would be God. (I’ll overlook the fact that I don’t actually believe in God – I’m taking artistic liberties here.) But now, after all those years of striving and hoping and planning and wishing and working… I realize that God laughing at me really shouldn’t bother me at all.

Truth be told, the point of all my undertakings hasn’t been in the neurotypical mold. It hasn’t been in anybody’s mold. And that’s the point. I’ve frustrated my family and colleagues and bosses and recruiters for years, with my laissez-faire approach to career and undertakings, my lackadaisical, shifting focus from one fascination to another, not to mention my (shrug) “whatever…” attitudes toward advancement and achievement and worldly success.

The world’s idea of success is fine for everyone else. But I’m just so tired of it. What a time-sink it is. What a heart-breaking waste of time it is for me. All the shiny baubles and trappings and evidence of world domination that brighten the day of the Masters of the Universe… they just leave me cold. All the goals, the intentions, the schemes… yeah, I’ve had them a-plenty. But what I’ve gotten out of my life has been so much more than all the plans and hopes and wishes that urged me along.

I got a life. I got experience. I’ve failed fantastically at many things, and I’ve done so-so at others. Sometimes, I’ve nailed it. Just “hit it” exactly right, and I managed to ride a wave of success and achievement for a number of years, till I moved on to the next thing. And in the end, I think my failures have served me better than any of my successes.

That fact means more to me, every single day.

It’s not the end result of my plans and activities that’s meant the most to me, or that’s stood me in the greatest stead. It’s been the process… the experience… the peripheral collateral of joy that’s come along with the endeavors. The ultimate goals of specific intentions was really just the context, the impetus for moving me along. Ambition is the delivery agent of experience. And unlike some who revere the final result of a completed project/plan/scheme, for me it’s actually all the other stuff in-between that matters. Experience — good, bad, or neutral — is what’s made my life what it is — something cool and awesome. And far more valuable than any flush bank account.

So, I’m letting certain sh*t go. As in, the “end game” ideas that have progressively dragged me down and made me increasingly uncomfortable and frustrated. I’m shifting my ambition away from specific “targets”, and towards the quality of my experiences. I’m tired of being pushed and pulled by internal drives and external impetus toward specific outcomes… and then never getting to enjoy myself along the way, because the specifics haven’t materialized exactly as I’ve dreamed them up… or as others expect them to.

I’m also letting go of looking back in frustration, looking back in criticism, viewing my past as a series of failures. Failures at what? Some idea I had in my head about “how things should be”? Or worse, some idea that some marketer out there concocted to sell me? Those rocks and blocks are like so many useless, pointless obstructions teetering on a cliff above me (as I wait for them to break loose). It’s time to cut them loose myself, and just live my life, driving around the blockages with a gunning motor and a squeal of brakes… doing what I do for the love of it, rather than for money or quantitative measures. Quality, not quantity, is what I seek.

And interestingly, when I’ve put the emphasis on quality… on my own experience… somehow money and other quantitative measures have showed up.

I’ve still got a lot of dreams, still have a lot of hopes and plans… but the important thing now is really the process I go through as I make my way along those paths. The “final” destination I’m shooting for is just the carrot enticing me along… keeping me motivated… keeping me interested. But it’s not The Reason I do things, anymore.

Something much more intriguing is filling my life, these days — What Happens In Between.

And I’m finding, when I let go of specific outcomes, they actually show up — not always exactly as I envisioned them, but present, nonetheless.

Until they give way to What Else Is Yet To Come.