Just Thinking Out Loud – From slaughterhouses to serial killers in two easy steps

[298044-2300x1702]-karkat-vantas-karkat-vantas-3359A few days ago I watched a documentary called “Earthlings” (which you can find of a review of here earthlings-a-documentary-not-for-the-faint-hearted/ ) which detailed the disturbingly inhumane ways in which animals in slaughterhouses are being killed for their meat.

The documentary is filled with graphic footage of cattle being shot in the head with bolts, (which don’t actually kill them) and hung upside down on great metal machines by one hoof so that their necks can be more easily sliced open by the slaughter-men, who, if the cattle don’t die quickly enough for their liking, stab them in the heart and then reach in and pull the animals entire trachea out of their bodies, whilst the animals are still alive.

Gasping for air they kick so hard with their legs, even with their trachea’s dangling down, that they actually managed to free themselves of the giant metal machines holding them upside down, only to land on a hard, blood soaked concrete floor and suffer the further harm of being kicked in the head and stabbed multiple times until they finally die.

As I watched this I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of person would choose to work in a place where they torture and kill not just one animal but hundreds of animals, day in day out, week in week out, as if it were nothing?

I also couldn’t help but notice, that without fail, all of the people shown working in jobs that involved active killing were male.

It didn’t even really seem to matter whether the killing was occurring in India, Japan, America, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, Indonesia, Canada, England or even what species of animal was being slaughtered or why.

The workers were all male.

(That’s not to say that there aren’t any females actively working in slaughterhouses, but if there are, they aren’t in the documentary).

This gender anomaly led me to wonder whether or not the lack of women in that kind of work place is a reflection of social and cultural norms towards killing  being seen as “men’s work “ or if males for some reason do genuinely hold a greater propensity toward being attracted to jobs that involve inflicting pain and killing.

I know that I wouldn’t be attracted to doing a job like that even if there were a million dollars waiting for me at the end of every week and I doubt that any of my female friends would even be tempted either.

But here’s the weird thing about it all:

The men working in the slaughterhouses, most of the time, weren’t even getting paid a decent wage, let alone an extravagant one..

So they weren’t doing it for the money.

And most of them were also regularly getting sick due to bacterial contamination from blood and fecal matter.

So, if men are not doing jobs like this because they offer greater money, and are instead actually getting physically ill from doing them, then why are they doing them?

Could it possibly be that some of them actually like it?

With the vision of that documentary clearly still fresh in mind, today I began reading a book called “Predators – killers without a conscience” by Howard and Wilson, which sets out to examine why serial killers kill and  to explore what parts social and/or psychological issues may play in it all

Within reading the first few pages of this book I was instantly struck by two very clear similarities that seem to somehow flow, eerily neatly, between the documentary and the book, even though they are both about very different subject matters.

Firstly there’s a striking similarity between the ways in which the serial killers in the book choose to kill their victims and the ways in which animals in slaughterhouses are killed.

The book quite literally contains page after page of men rendering their victims immobile while stabbing, raping, strangling, mutilating and cutting the throats of not just women but also children and all , so the authors believe, for their own “male sexual gratification”.

Here are just a few examples that almost mirror in places, the acts of violence that were perpetrated against the cattle in the slaughterhouse.

Trigger warning, if you have a sensitivity towards violence please do not read the following quotes.

“She was hog-tied on the ground. I walked around to her left side and I cut her throat two or three times…but she just started thrashing around on the ground. She was trying to scream but nothing was coming out. I kicked her and put my foot on her to keep her still. It didn’t work so I stabbed her in the throat again. I aimed and stabbed at the hard thing (her windpipe) in her neck. I pushed the knife all the way in but she still wouldn’t keep still so I worked out where the heart would be and I stabbed her on the left side of the chest. She still didn’t stop moving so I stabbed her in the chest again. I needed two hands to get through her chest. She kept moving so I kicked her in the head a couple of times. She still kept moving but she was slowing down. I waited.” (Confession of a man who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl quoted directly from “Predators – killers without a conscience”).

“He dragged the girl’s dying body…blood still dripping from the wound in her throat…then cut the crotch out of her swimmers and raped her dying body”.(murder and rape of a 15-year-old girl quoted directly from “Predators – killers without a conscience”)

“The killer drove her to a secluded area where he sexually abused her, using a knife to inflict horrific injuries on the girl’s body, before disembowelling her while she was still alive.” (murder and rape of a 12-year-old girl quoted directly from “Predators – killers without a conscience”).

““The killer tortured and mutilated his body. As his killer sliced away … he died a slow suffocating death. The killer cut the boys throat.” (3-year-old boy, abducted and murdered quoted directly from “Predators – killers without a conscience”).

Time and time again the authors report that all pleas for mercy were met with the same callous and cold refusal by the killers to even recognize their victims as human beings.

The second similarity between the documentary and the book is the fact that 99% of all the serial killers, not just mentioned in the book, but also statistically, are indeed male.

In the entire book there are only two women listed and of the two, one was an accomplice to her partners crimes and didn’t kill anyone and the other was an horrendously abused woman herself with clear psychological issues who, unfortunately for her and perhaps because she was already psychologically vulnerable, became romantically entangled with a man who was already a serial killer.

So, as of now, I’ll be staying well and truly clear of anyone who works in a slaughterhouse.

Not that I’m claiming to have found any definitive link between people who kill animals and people who kill people.

It’s simply just one of those instances in which two very different mediums, concerning two very different issues have gelled within my mind to form a web of connections that I feel may, at the very least, be worthy of some consideration.

Let me know whether or not you think there may be a valid connection between the two.

A Day in the Life – Doing things differently.

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Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly aware that the way I go about my daily life has a tendency to either annoy or confuse other people.

No matter what I’m doing, I always appear to be doing it wrong.

Take shopping and bill paying for example.

I’ll choose one day out of the week to go off into town and do absolutely everything that needs doing in one big hit.

This often includes paying bills ahead of time simply because I have no idea whether or not I’ll actually feel like going out on the day that the bills are actually due.

Standing in line and waiting my turn to be served by real life people inside a bank, rather than using ATM’s as I really don’t like the idea of withdrawing money out of a machine on the side of a street.

I also insist on paying for all of my purchases in cash and in person rather than using internet banking or being tempted to buy something over the phone with a credit card.

By the way, I actually don’t even have a credit card as I see no point in going into debt just to buy something that I obviously cannot genuinely afford.

No, if I can’t pay for it in cash, then I’ll either wait and save up for it or I simply won’t buy it and no amount of gimmicky popularity tripe will make me change my mind on that

According to my sister, I’ve also developed the bad habit of grossly over shopping.

Only, I don’t see it as a bad habit at all.

I see it as common sense to buy all regularly used items or any items of use that happen to be on special, in bulk, whilst grocery shopping.

Yes this means that my trips to the supermarket often take much longer than your average person’s do, but I’d rather struggle with an overly laden trolley than face the horrors of having to return to the store later in the day, or even later in the week, simply because I’ve run out of something.

Once all the bills are paid and the banking and the shopping are done, I like to decompress for an hour or so inside of the only building in town that I actually like being in.

My local library.

For me, no trip into town could ever be complete without raiding the local library for as many books and DVD’s as they’ll let me leave with.

The thrill of returning home and bolting up my lane way is only dampened by the reminder that I’ve yet to face the thankless task of unloading the car of all of the bags of groceries I’ve brought and then in turn unpack their contents away in to cupboards.

So that when my children come home, it looks to them as if I’ve been nowhere and done nothing all day, as the car is back safely in its garage and all of the shopping bags have been removed from sight.

Yes, the irony of it all bites.

Despite the fact that everything that needs to get done does actually get done, my family and friends keep questioning why it is that I continue to insist on venturing into town only one day per week.

Especially when it means that doing so equates to me becoming completely exhausted and overwhelmed by the world.

They continually tell me that trying to do everything that needs to be done all in one day is completely nonsensical and they insist on questioning me as to why I keep doing it.

Yet the answer to me is really quite a simple one and I cannot understand why they can’t see it.

You see, for me, the very idea, let alone the reality of having to go into town, is, in and of itself, so overwhelming that I can only face it if I know that I’ll only have to do it once.

I wish that I could tell them that once a week is quite enough, thank them for their concern and tell them to just go away and leave me to it.

Without offending them !

Even though they seem to have no concerns about offending me by telling me how silly I am for doing the things I do.

Once again the irony bites.

I wonder why it is, that just because I do things differently, I’m often automatically seen as doing things wrong, or in the wrong way.

This idea that if someone’s doing things differently to them, then the different person is automatically wrong, seems to be a default position for some people

Have you noticed this and if so, how do you deal with it.

Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are not Sociopaths. Sociopaths are Sociopaths.

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How many of us shudder each and every time there’s “breaking news” of some lone teenager somewhere, (almost always a male), reported to have gone on a shooting rampage, just knowing that sooner or later the initial shock of the rampage will turn to the tried, but oh so rarely true speculation, that the lone teenage gunman in question, has Asperger’s Syndrome?

I know that I sit and cringe, firstly for the harm inflicted, and secondly for the offensive accusations that cause the fear and mistrust of all individuals with Asperger’s which inevitably accompany each and every report of this kind.

And frankly, I’m baffled by the media’s constantly misaligned assertions as there seems to be  no genuine link between Asperger’s Syndrome, in either men or women, and a propensity towards violence.

There is however a genuine link to be made between those individuals who experience sociopathy and a propensity towards acts of violence.

Clinically, individuals who experience Asperger’s Syndrome are purported to share some of the same challenges as those who experience sociopathy, however, sharing the same challenge is in no way the equivalent of sharing the same underlying traits.

So what are the challenges that both individuals with Asperger’s and sociopaths are said to share?

Well, according to a jaw droppingly chilling autobiography titled “Confessions or a Sociopath” written by female author M.E. Thomas, who is herself a clinically diagnosed sociopath, they are, an inability to read people’s facial expressions and body language, difficulty with understanding social rules and most importantly an overwhelming lack of empathy for others.

Um…..well…. yes, to the first shared challenge, yes to the second shared challenge and an enormous NO to the last one.

I’ll admit that there were some parts of Thomas’s book that I could relate to, and dare I say it, even empathize with.

Take for instance the high levels of confusions she describes feeling as her early awareness that she felt as if she were running on an entirely different operating system to other children her own age blossomed , and how these self-identified differences within her were ignored by the adults around her, purely because she had been born female.

Such feelings and challenges are common to many adults with Asperger’s, particularly those diagnosed later in life, and especially women.

So too are Thomas’s descriptions of both being initially unaware of and confused by her inability to automatically read social cues, body language and the facial expressions of others.

Yet this is where any and all similarities end for me as Thomas then goes on to describe how her inability to feel any form of empathy towards the suffering of others empowered her life for the better and made her feel like a superhero.

Thomas openly states that she felt as if her differences, far from lowering her self-esteem, and making her feel vulnerable, actually served to build up her self-esteem to the point where, from a young age, she believed herself to be far superior to those around her.

She felt that she was mentally and physically stronger than other girls because she was not weakened by emotions.

She also states that, despite her claimed lack of ability to read other people’s expressions and body language, she nevertheless became extremely good at “reading people”.

So good in fact, that whilst still in primary school, she was able to pit girls against each other simply by befriending those she viewed as being overly emotional, hence overly trusting, and learning their secrets, only in order to tear them apart by sharing those secrets with others when it either most suited her for personal reasons or at times in which the unleashing of those secrets would cause the most possible harm.

She describes in great detail her relish, both as a child and an adult, in applying her skill set to the ruination of other people’s relationships, careers and basically their lives, for little more than amusement.

As far as I can tell from her descriptions,  for Thomas, unlike those of us with Asperger’s Syndrome, she either learned the social rules extremely quickly with little or no trial and error needed or, she never really genuinely lacked an understanding of those unspoken, but oh so ardently adhered to social rules that so often throw us off-balance.

It seems to me as if she must have understood the rules, how else would she have been able to use them well enough against those she chose too, even as far back as primary school if she didn’t at least have some idea what they where.

Hence, the rational conclusion is that she knew them but just didn’t care enough to obey any social or moral rules, that did not in some way amuse her or benefit her own ends.

For me, this raises the question of whether or not individuals with sociopathy are actually lying about being unaware of body language and social cues in order to down play or “mask” the true level of deceit behind their manipulation of others and in this way garner sympathy rather than condemnation for engaging in their chosen sport of destruction.

As many individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome can attest, we don’t “ignore” social rules simply because we figure we’ll get more out of life if we blunder around annoying, using or offending everyone else.

Far from it.

Our social blunders are never calculated manoeuvres designed to get us what we want as quickly as possible, because if that’s what they’re meant to achieve for us then clearly, we’re doing it all wrong as they often have the opposite effect of seeing us shut out of conversations, friendship groups and even family units.

No, individuals with Asperger’s do not play at being unaware of social rules simply to garner attention or bring about another person’s destruction.

We are not willingly choosing to “ignore” them in order to get what we want; we genuinely do not understand them.

Yet for a sociopath, or so it would seem, “ignoring” social rules in order to gain an often unfair advantage over another is both a willful choice and a tactic, while for individuals with Asperger’s, it is neither a choice nor a tactic, it is for want of a better word a form of “social blindness.”

Due to this “social blindness” there is often a very clear trajectory of vulnerability that flows through our lives as a result of our difficulties/ inability to accurately discern the actions and intentions of other people.

Time and time again we’ find ourselves falling victim to those who are good at lying and deceiving us with their false sincerity and intentions.

In other words, individuals with Asperger’s are more likely to be the victims of the vicious mind games that sociopath’s like Thomas describe playing rather than being the perpetrators of such games.

After having read all that Thomas has to say in her book about living the life of a sociopath, all be it a high functioning one, I hold no doubt what so ever that I am not one.

I do not fit into any of the clinical markers of sociopathy.

In fact, I’m not even close to it.

I do however fit within the majority of the clinical markers for Asperger’s Syndrome or high functioning Autism if you prefer and have been diagnosed accordingly.

As an individual with Asperger’s I can tell you that I love and care about people, shed tears of sorrow simply watching the nightly news, and do not try to deceive, mislead or harm anyone.

But that’s just me and I accept that everyone on the spectrum is different.

However, I do believe that after reading Thomas’s book there is an argument to be made that perhaps too many sociopaths are being misdiagnosed at an early age as having Asperger’s Syndrome based purely on the erroneous assumption that because individuals with Asperger’ share the challenge of being unable to read body language and social nuances correctly, and do not respond as expected in social situation, they therefore share the same inability to feel empathy in the same way that sociopath do.

Most professionals worth their title now agree that individuals with Asperger’s do not lack empathy, far from it, if anything they are entirely overwhelmed by it.

Yet despite this the myth remains within the public’s mind that every lone gunman must have Asperger’s and here’s why….

There’s been an indelible link carved into the minds of the public regarding any and all persons who are perceived as having a lack of empathy.

Basically as far as most people are concerned having a of lack of empathy, even if it’s only a perceived lack of empathy, thanks to sociopaths like Thomas, means that people will view you as the kind of individual who has the capacity to kill, harm or maim, any living thing, without remorse.

Hence individuals with Asperger’s, who are merely perceived as having a lack of empathy due to their lack of facial expression or lack of socially appropriate responses to highly emotionally charged situations, are viewed as being as dangerous as a real sociopath, a person who genuinely feels no empathy for others and because of this, is indeed prone to acts of violence regardless of whether they be cold and highly calculated or random opportunism.

Sociopaths like Thomas provide example after example of what a life truly devoid of all empathy looks like and it’s not pretty.

From childhood on-wards her life has been filled with manipulating people, lying to them, winning people’s trust purely for the purpose of betraying, wanting to physically kill people for the slightest of perceived infractions, mask wearing, deceit and corruption, and even the wanton killing of a small animal simply because it had the misfortune of falling into her pool on a day that was inconvenient for her.

Given these examples, it’s little wonder that people would rather not mix with Sociopaths, heck I wouldn’t either.

Which is exactly why I don’t  want either my son, my daughter, myself or anyone else to be even remotely thought of as being a potential sociopath simply because our differences for some prehistoric reason place us in line beside those for whom it’s a well proven fact that a lack of empathy is a marker of sociopathy.

The truth is that sociopaths do indeed lack empathy whereas individuals with Asperger’s are often merely perceived as not showing any outward signs of empathy, whilst feeling such emotions just as keenly as almost everybody else.

Perhaps there is also one last, but very salient reason as to why young sociopaths are predisposed to being diagnosed erroneously as having Asperger’s, and that is the rather inconvenient fact that, according to the strictures of the DSM-V Sociopathy, unless it is extreme, cannot be diagnosed in a child under the age of 16.

Herein lies the problem because according to Thomas, not only did her sociopathic tendencies first emerge during childhood, so too, did her blatant mastery of them to bully, cheat, lie, steal and manipulate those around her.

She even instigated and encouraged a group of girls to make a false sexual harassment claim against a male teacher for her own revenge against him for not receiving  an A in his class.

If you combine the existence of such sociopathic childhood behaviors with the inability of Psychologists to actually diagnose sociopathy in children, along with parents for whom it is much easier to be told that their child has high functioning Autism rather than that their child’s a sociopath, for whom there are no treatments, hence no pharmaceutical remedies, then you are in effect creating a breeding ground for misdiagnosis and confusion.

And people are genuinely confused by all of this and given the circumstances, who can blame them.

There needs to be a much clearer way to discuss and define the intrinsic differences between those who purportedly initially share similar social challenges, yet who have an entirely different etiology and outcome as a result of those challenges.

I’ll end this post with one of the questions that Thomas herself regularly challenges the readers of her book to ponder is over………

“Could you be a sociopath and not know it?”

Perhaps if you are an individual who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s but truly feel you have a complete inability to feel empathy, I challenge you to ask yourself the same question.

You may well wish to consider taking the Sociopath test instead of the Aspie Test.

If you do, be sure and let me know how you go as I’d love to know.

Girls with Autism / Asperger’s Syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado
Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

There’s wonderful documentary called “Girls with Autism” that’s just been released and in it, for perhaps the first time ever, the  girls themselves, their parents, carers and teachers, all speak openly about the realities of having Autism and the behavioral issues that some of them face within their everyday lives, including the very real and significant impacts that Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) has on them.

Pathological Demand Avoidance ( PDA) is real.

And how do I know that it’s real?

Because I live with the consequences of PDA every single day of my life due to my daughter’s experiences with it.

So I am thrilled to see this often debated aspect of Asperger’s Syndrome / Autism finally being so openly accepted and discussed within a format that has the potential to encompass a worldwide audience.

Firstly, let me make it clear that not everyone with Asperger’s Syndrome / Autism, will also experience Pathological Demand Avoidance.

I’m an adult with Asperger’s and I don’t experience it.

My daughter, on the other hand, who also has Asperger’s, does.

For many years I struggled to understand why my daughter’s behavior was so different from my own, when we both have Asperger’s Syndrome.

I mean, surely the fact that we shared a similar way of looking at and experiencing the world, should have meant that we’d be more likely, not less likely, to be able to understand each other.

And yet, it did not.

I simply could not figure out how I could be so peace-loving and routine based, while she could be so explosively unsettled from day-to-day.

To me, our differences did not seem to indicate a similarity of diagnosis.

If anything, they seemed to argue that one of us required a completely different diagnosis altogether.

So great were our differences, that I began to feel that we couldn’t possibly both have Asperger’s Syndrome.

Something was going on with my daughter that could not be explained by the outlining of our understandings of Asperger’s Syndrome alone.

I became so bothered by our differences that, back in 2012, I began writing a few articles which sought to explore and explain why I felt the differences between us were so significant and what such differences could potentially mean for many on the Autism Spectrum.

You can find those posts here https://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/pathological-demand-avoidance-pda-and-autism/ and here https://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/aspergers-syndrome-autism-and-pda-is-it-a-comfortable-fit/

Yet, when I first discovered PDA and began expressing my view that it might have been something that was affecting my daughter’s behavior, many adults on the spectrum became quite angry with me for doing so.

Many also suggested that PDA had always existed as a normal aspect of having Autism / Asperger’s and that I should leave it alone as all I was doing was simply adding another label to my daughter and in the process feeding the hungry bank accounts of psychologists.

Yet still I persisted and as I did so I began to understand that Pathological Demand Avoidance is both a very real and an extremely pervasive experience.

One that’s not only felt by those who are living with it first hand, but also felt by those who are trying to continuously deal with the fall out of it, second hand.

The level of additional understanding that PDA gave me, in terms of helping my daughter, was and still continues to be, utterly invaluable as it changed both of our lives for the better.

I went from constantly feeling lost and completely unable to understand my own daughter, (even though for all intents and purposes, given that we both have Asperger’s we should have been on the same page),  to feeling far more grounded, less to blame and completely able to figure out how to approach different aspects of her day-to-day life, without making her feel as if any requests I made of her were necessarily demands that she instinctively felt she had to avoid fulfilling at all costs.

Whilst some Autistic Adults still disagree and believe that PDA is a worthless label, I have found it to be quite literally,  a life saver.

To me it’s not just some sneaky little label that healthcare professionals have dreamed up in order to acquire more money, as some within the Autism community have argued, but rather a valid way of explaining why some individuals on the Autism Spectrum love and find comfort within a routine and why some either don’t or can’t find the same level of comfort in it.

Please, if you have the time, watch, “Girls With Autism” as it successfully debunks many of the myths surrounding Female Autism, PDA being just one of them.

 

 

Asperger’s Syndrome – Could the concept of Superpowers be causing more harm than good?

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There’s been a lot of talk about the increasingly popular idea that people with Asperger’s Syndrome possess some kind of superpower.

Indeed, many people seem to genuinely believe it.

Search any website on the topic and you’re sure to find groups of people who freely name their superpower and then describe in minute detail the extraordinary things that whatever their particular superpower of choice may be, enables them to do.

To me, such talk of there being any form of an Asperger type superpower is ultimately harmful as it reflects the misbegotten and much argued against concept that those with Asperger’s Syndrome view themselves as being, in many ways, superior to everyone who does not have Asperger’s.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were fighting against the claim that all people with Asperger’s Syndrome were arrogant, detached, cold, sub-human, robot type intellectual beings, who were capable of memorizing complex physics equations , but who were also seen as being every bit as humorless , heartless and as incapable of feeling empathy as a toaster is.

Fortunately, we’ve come an awfully long way since those days.

As a society, we are now able to openly acknowledge that individuals with Asperger’s are extremely loyal and loving people who are just as capable of feeling empathy and sympathy as everyone else.

We also know that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome give as much care and devotion to those whom they love as the rest of the population do.

We simply could not account for the fact that there are so many happily married and/or dedicated and loving parents with Asperger’s if the opposite were true.

Yet it seems that correcting the many myths and multiple misnomer’s that once served to create the image of individuals with Asperger’s as cold, heartless, intellectual machines, is simply not enough for some people.

Now, we are being encouraged, if not told, to believe that we must all tow the party line and admit to having some kind of hidden, yet terribly important, superpower.

A superpower that only those with Asperger’s Syndrome can have.

A superpower that serves , once again, to prevent us from being seen as existing within the realms of common humanity by re-framing us as having powers that go beyond the scope of an average human being.

Given that we’ve spent years fighting for the acknowledgement that we are human beings who just happen to be differently neurologically wired, as opposed to being weird, cold and sub-human beings with a superiority complex, I find it incredibly ironic that there is now a movement out there that is openly seeking to regenerate the whole ‘superiority’ angle by declaring that we have superpowers.

Apart from the fact that such claims are all pretty much bunkum, to what end does it serve to seek to over emphasize a whole range of weird and wonderful , mystical, new age types of manifestations or hidden talents within individuals with Asperger’s ?

Okay it may be good for an individual’s level of self-esteem to believe or feel as if their talents are valued, but as for the rest of the en mass movement toward claiming superpowers as an Asperger’s only thing….. Well I just don’t get it.

Yes we have empathy for others and in some cases we can be overwhelmed by the empathy we feel due to not being able to process it and understand it for what it is, as quickly as others do, but why on earth are some people striving so hard to rename this difficulty in storing empathy and in not being able to release it, as a superpower?

Why are some people now saying that someone who is good at storing information, regardless of whether or not they actually want to store that information, now has an information storing superpower?

Or that someone who has a photographic memory now has a photographic memory superpower.

Should someone who can play a piece of music after only hearing it once now be said to have a music playing superpower?

Should someone who can sing in a pitch perfect tone each and every time they sing, now be given the title of having a pitch perfect superpower?

Does someone who can draw a perfect skyline based solely on memory have the superpower of drawing, memory or both?

You’ll have to forgive me but not so long ago, we simply called these unique attributes skills or talents.

We certainly didn’t call them superpowers.

And we certainly didn’t ascribe to the belief that only those with Asperger’s Syndrome could do such things and thus hold such superpowers.

There are many people out there who are good at storing information that don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. Take pub trivia nights for example or quiz shows like Sale of the Century or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. You cannot seriously tell me that every single person who’s ever won big on any of those shows has Asperger’s.

(Here’s a hint, a contestant with Asperger’s would likely by so nervous or stuck in the midst of experiencing sensory overload due to the bright lights, movement of cameras and audience noises, that they’d have to be working extremely hard on just hearing and processing the questions, let alone getting out all of the answers required to win in that environment).

There are also numerous people who can play music by ear, draw pictures from memory and sing pitch perfectly every time, without ever first holding the prerequisite of having Asperger’s Syndrome in order to have their talents recognized without turning them into superpowers.

As far as I’m concerned, the minute we claim that the skills and talents that have always been apparent within a sub-set of the general population belong only to one particular sub-group, and we then name those skills and talents superpowers, we are falsely claiming a degree of superiority over every other group or individual, no matter how talented, that are not of our chosen ilk.

I believe that anytime a sub-set of the population declares itself to be the holder of superpowers; they are in a very real way, also declaring themselves to be superior to every other group and are therefore actively seeking to set themselves not just apart, but above, all other groupings within society.

I believe that in making the claim toward having superpowers and therefore superiority over the rest of society, some within the Asperger’s community are indeed trying to set themselves both apart and above society.

Which to me makes no sense at all, as up until now, the emphasis for many within the Autism Community has been on creating acceptance via the understanding that we are all, each and every single one of us, equal as human beings, no matter what our neurological status may be.

So please, think about what it is you are actually saying when you say that [insert type of skill here]  is my superpower because when you actually claim this as an individual with Asperger’s, you are effectively adding to the erroneous myth that each and every person with Asperger’s either is or considers themselves to be gifted and talented beyond all normal human measures.

After all, isn’t that exactly what a superpower?

So I ask you, is this really just a harmless way of making individuals with Asperger’s feel better about their unique traits, skills and talents, or is it something that could potentially cause more harm than good in terms of the concepts of equality and acceptance for all within our society?

We’re Women with Autism – Not Mystical Imps, Sprites or Fairies….. Get it right.

Artwork by Devushka
Artwork by Devushka
Sorry to disappoint all of those who wish to believe that Women with Autism are made out of some kind of unique fairy dust that endows all of us with “special talents” or “super powers”, because we are not magical beings.

We are Women Wired Differently…. not Women Wired Magically.

Please stop confusing our different skill sets, ie, our tendency to focus on the finer details of life that often make us more likely to pick up on the inconsistencies that are usually hidden within the bigger picture that people present to us, with being the equivalent of having a “super power”, “gift”, “unearned talent” or whatever else some would like to call it.

The truth is, that for us, our intense focus on fine details, whilst it may have started out as a fascination, has also become a survival mechanism.

Our intense focus is not magical. It’s practical. It’s what we do when we can’t “read” a person’s level of sincerity simply by looking into their eyes, listening for and recognizing the tonality in their voice or knowing automatically whether or not a smile is authentic at a glance.

Yes we may see the world in ways that others do not, but it’s still the same world and we’re still viewing it with eyes that are made up of all of the same biological matter as everyone else’s eyes are.

Yes at times it may seem as if we see more, but that’s not because we’re psychic beings floating about in fairy dust, it’s simply because we look harder and longer at the simplest of gestures, in order to decipher and makes sense of them for ourselves.

When we feel an emotion, we often feel it deeply but that’s not because we’re “super empaths” or somehow magically connected to the pain of another, it’s because we feel in fine detail too.

Yes we have a degree of empathy for others that may run deeper than most, but that’s not because we’re psychic, it’s because we’re focused.

Just as we focus visually and intellectually on the finer points that others may have missed, we can also focus our feelings on the finer points of emotions that others may have by passed.

We feel all of our emotions often simultaneously specifically because we live our lives without the benefit of having the filters that other people apply to their thoughts, their feelings, even their ways of seeing.

Which is why we can become so overwhelmed by our emotions that it makes it difficult for us to talk about or even explain them.

The depth of our feelings does not make us magical beings simply because we can feel that which we cannot explain.

It in no way means that we are magical beings. It simply means that we are unfiltered beings.

We’re not made up of different stuff or fairy dust at all. We just don’t have a way of filtering out the world around us the way that other people do.

I know that some would like to believe that this state of affairs somehow also makes us “purer beings”…. but does it?

Does it really?

And isn’t the idea of “purity” also linked to “innocence”, which is also linked to “children”…. as in the “innocence of a child”…….

Just think about it. We’re not magical, we’re not pure and we’re not children. We’re Women who take in and understand the world differently simply because we see it differently.

Do we really want the realities of our lives as Autistic Women being overlooked and marginalized simply because we’re being linked to the infantile ideals and imagery that being viewed as either ‘supernatural’ or ‘overtly innocent beings’, brings along with it?

 

Autism – What will I gain from being diagnosed later in life? It won’t change anything for me, so why should I bother?”

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People often ask me: “What will I gain from being diagnosed later in life? It won’t change anything for me, so why should I bother?”

Well, my answer as to whether or not anyone should “bother” to get diagnosed is this.

Firstly, on a purely personal level, it depends entirely on what your personal circumstances are and what the biggest issues are that you’re facing at any given point in time.

If you’re a person who’s main problem is that you’re always feeling misunderstood or blamed by your family member for being the way that you are, then perhaps receiving a formal diagnosis may help your family members to comprehend and accept that some of the onus for understanding both who and how you are, falls upon them to make more of an effort to accept you as you are, rather than allowing them to continue to always view you as being the one who needs to change.

Secondly, if you find that you may be in need of some form of formal support or assistance, then receiving a diagnosis may help you to better be able to access whatever support systems are in place within your area.

A diagnosis should also, at the very least, help others around you to become aware that you are genuinely more in need of care, understanding and support than they had previously thought.

Thirdly, if you want to increase your own levels self-understanding and awareness or further seek to validate your own understandings of yourself as being both true and accurate, then receiving a diagnosis may also provide these assurances for you.

But, if you are a strong-willed person who is confident enough to be able to self-identify with having Asperger’s, without feeling any twinges of doubt about it what so ever, then you’ll most likely feel that either the seeking out, or the receiving a diagnosis, is not for you as it holds little potential to offer you any great benefits.

And that’s okay.

But for me, I have found that those who benefit the most from older women such as myself coming forward and being diagnosed, are the generations of girls who are yet to come and the generation of girls and women who are still today, young enough to incorporate this deeper understanding of themselves as females who are Autistic,  into their daily lives and move on.

At my age, receiving a formal diagnosis offers me purely the ability to understand myself better and enables me to finally ask for the things I’ve known for so long that I’ve needed all of my life, things such as solitude, peace and quiet, but have never been made to feel as if it were okay for me to ask for these things, because I am a woman and women are supposed to love company and to always want to be social creatures.

I had no way of explaining to anyone, let alone myself, why I’ve always felt that I needed so much time alone.

Yet for girls of my daughter’s age, receiving a diagnosis is offering them so much more.

It is offering them the opportunity of being able to grow up with the gift of truly knowing not only who they are, but also understanding how they are, and that they’re okay.

That it’s okay to be different.

And this to me, as both a woman and a mother, is the gift of understanding that I truly believe is worth fighting for.

I am so glad that there were women in the past who had the strength, courage and forethought, to lead the way forward and to lay the foundations that so many of us today are now standing on, by arguing, on our behalf’s, that High Functioning Female Autism is a very real phenomenon.
Believe me when I tell you that I am all too aware that if no woman had ever dared challenge the male based status quo of the understandings of Asperger’s Syndrome of the past, that neither my daughter nor I, would now be diagnosed.

So how exactly does receiving a diagnosis later in life help anyone and what does it solve anyway even if you do get one?

Well, for one thing, it is likely to allow many women to make sense of their pasts.

To knit all of the previously unresolved elements of their lives, their personalities, their characteristics and their traits, into some semblance of a perspective that will finally make sense to them.

So if that one singular perspective that makes sense of your life is the one thing that you’ve been missing, then getting a diagnosis, even at a much later stage in life, can still provide you with a huge feeling of relief.

In terms of gaining greater access to benefits and assistance, if you are already financially secure or successfully working, then no, receiving a diagnosis later in life, may not help you in any way in terms of on the job support training and alike.

But what it will do, is benefit your children, and your children’s children.

And if you’re not a mother yourself, then please understand that your actions and your choices, may end up benefiting your sister’s or your brother’s children.

The knowledge and validity that we as women gain from receiving a formal diagnosis, could well prevent future generations of girls from having to put up with the kinds of constant bullying that are caused by male bias ignorance.

This will enable them to grow up holding all of the answers to all of the questions that we once, as children held locked inside of our own heads, like fragile eggs, and were too afraid to ask why it was that we were so different from everybody else.

If being diagnosed later in life can help to take away from another child, that awful sense of confusion and self-loathing that comes from knowing that they don’t belong, without ever fully knowing or understanding why, then I’m all for it.

So whilst a formal diagnosis may not seem to be such an important deal individually, in the grand scheme of things, I can see how each and every woman and girl, diagnosed today, can help create a stronger, better defined and more brightly lit path, for our Autistic girls of the future to walk upon.

Unlike us, they won’t have to spend over half of their lifetimes stumbling around in the deep and uncertain dark, and that’s a good thing.

I’m not sure whether holding ideas like these makes me a dreamer, or simply yet another deluded fool.

Either way, the more women and girls who are diagnosed today, the harder it will be for the powers that be, to dismiss the needs of Autistic Women in the future.

I understand that this way of looking at things is not everybody’s cup of tea, but it certainly is mine. So comment and let me know whether or not you agree.

Autism – Is it really our duty to educate you?

Artwork by San Base

Many within the Autism community seem to feel that we have a duty to help educate ‘professionals’ by exposing our own personal experiences of Autism to them with in Autism specific forums.

Personally I’m not at all sure that I agree with this premise, as it all too often holds the potential to place  those of us with Autism,  in the unenviable  positions of feeling over exposed.

Which for many, can also amount to making us feel vulnerable.

The belief that it’s up to any one particular minority group to educate the wider community in order to create the understanding that they have the right to be treated as equals, is an issue that many other minority groups have faced.

And just like those within the Autism Community, many other minority groups have also had to cut their teeth on the harsh reality that not everyone who’s interested in you, is genuinely trying to help or understand you.

For example, back in the late 70’s, early 80’s, a male a researcher who was interested in researching gay males, pretended to be a gay man himself in order to win their trust,  and acted as “lookout” for them in bathrooms and public venues, whilst at the same time recording details of their interactions with each other.

He  then began following them back to their cars, taking down their number plates and with the help of a friend in the DMV, used that additional information to track down their real names and addresses so that he could turn up at the homes of these men, some of whom were married, and proceeded to blackmail them in order to gain more personal information about their lives, habits and preferences, all in the name of  his “groundbreaking” new research.

Since then, it has been widely recognized by governing bodies, that lying, deceiving or in any way attempting to befriend or pretend to be a member of a minority group in order to attain personal information, is not just morally and ethically wrong but also potentially emotionally, psychologically and in some instances, even physically harmful.

Yet despite this, there are still members within the Autism Community who seek to enable and even justify the actions of professionals who routinely intrude upon the privacy of those within our community, by saying that ‘we as Autist’s need to teach professionals the truth about Autism’.

Yet I believe it is wrong for everyone within the Autism Community to constantly be made to feel as if it’s up to “us”  to teach those who are often in positions of power over us, the truth of Autism via the revelations, either intentional or otherwise, of our own personal experiences.

This belief presents many within the Autism Community with a false sense of security because it implies that all ‘professionals’ are trustworthy individuals who are  not only capable of viewing and understanding individuals with Autism as they wish to be viewed and understood, but are also willing to fly in the face of past theoretical frameworks, in order to genuinely present new research.

Yet, the truth is, those of us within the Autism Community, have no way of knowing for sure, whether or not said ‘professionals’ are intending to do either of these things.

Time and time again, it has been shown that those researching Autism often can and do, come up with new twists on the same old theories that many of us have found to be repugnant, simply in order to make a name for themselves.

Whenever such instances occur, we feel betrayed, lied too and let down.

And it is only after the fact that we realize all too late, that we’ve either misinterpreted their ‘professionals’ interest in us, or understand that they’ve misrepresented their intentions towards us in the first place.

Which ever way it goes, it’s always left to those of us who are not too afraid, or who have not been made to feel too vulnerable, to speak out.

Many of us lose friends along the way in doing so, as it can be difficult for others to understand exactly why and how another person may feel betrayed by participating openly within what they had assumed to be an Autism only group.

So insidious has the automatic acceptance of the “right” of ‘well meaning professionals’ to lurk within our groups for the purposes of ‘educating themselves’ become, that many no longer question it.

Yet I don’t believe that research ‘professionals’ have anymore  “rights” to interact with ASD specific groups than a gynecologist  would automatically retain the ‘right’ to interact within feminist groups, simply because they contain women who may discuss their private anatomy.

I think it’s time we took on board the lessons that have already been learned regarding the pitfalls of allowing professionals to engage with us so easily and without restrictions of any kind at all, on the internet.

I think it’s time we stopped thinking about Autism in terms of our perceived duty to try to educate our way into acceptance and equality and instead focused on protecting the “rights” of those within our community to feel safe, to remain free from harm and to not be taken advantage of by others when participating in online ASD groups.

We, as a community, need to keep in mind, that not everyone with Autism is either fully informed of the participation of ‘professionals’ within ASD groups, nor aware of the potential consequences of sharing highly personal information within such groups, should anyone within them hold any alterior motives for doing so.

Wouldn’t it be far easier for those who wish to engage with ‘professionals’ on the internet in order to ‘teach them the truth about Autism’,  to actually do so in groups that are openly and specifically  designed for that purpose?

Rather than allowing ‘professionals’ access to any and all ASD groups without question?

Wouldn’t it be easier, if we as a community, made a stand and decided that ASD specific groups should remain exactly that, ASD specific.

Just a thought.

 

Artwork by San Base

Autism Is Not Gender Specific – Our Society Is….

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The labeling of  Women who do not fit neatly within the confines of society, as being ‘nutty’, ‘weird’, ‘batty’, ‘anti-social’, ‘loners’, ‘reclusive introverts’ or ‘eccentric’, when they may indeed be experiencing undiagnosed Female Autism, creates the kind of life long harm that ensnares Undiagnosed Autistic Women forever, within the confines of an artificially imposed, yet personally experienced prison, of societies making.

It’s high time that  the name calling, isolation and double standards that lead to the abandonment and  misdiagnosis of Women with undiagnosed Autism stopped.

It should no longer be considered acceptable for our society to be encouraged to acknowledge only those presentations of  Autism that fit within the confines of Male Autism.

Autism is not a Male only condition.

Yet still today, if a male exhibits peculiar behaviors, or behaviors that are viewed as being out of the norm for males, they are automatically considered for an assessment of Autism. 

Their behaviors are both attributed too, and understood as being part and parcel of  the presentation of Male Autism, even before that assessment takes place.

As such, Autistic behaviors in males are considered excusable, simply because it’s perceived that they may be on the Autism spectrum.

Yet, when a Female exhibits similar sets of peculiar behaviors, or behaviors that are viewed as being out of the norm for females,  she’s considered by others to be ‘weird’,’ unruly’, ‘unfeminine’,”highly strung’,’ intentionally disruptive’, ‘rude’, ‘bossy’ or ‘deliberately seeking attention’.

The one thing  Women’s behaviors  never seem to be automatically considered for, is an Assessment for Autism.

As a result, most Females on the Spectrum (either diagnosed or undiagnosed)  are often punished socially, emotionally, economically and psychologically,  for behaviors that they themselves may have no idea are unwelcome or are breaching social expectations.

Many girls and women are not even aware that they are on the Autism Spectrum until much later in life.

Nor unfortunately, are the people who often surround them in their daily lives.

Even their families, friends and peers often fall into the trap of  re-attributing or reconstructing,  the traits of Autism in  Women, as personal behaviors that arise due to a perceived lack of self-discipline, ambition, sociability, maturity and in many cases, even sanity.

In short, when it comes to Women and Autism, it still seems that the overwhelming propensity amongst many in society is to perceive Female Autistic traits as evidence, not of Autism as they do in Males, but as evidence of some kind of personal female weakness, fault or issue.

This results in the re-labeling of Female Autistic behavior as being anything but…Autistic.

It seems that it is still far easier for those within our society to re-label Autistic Women with any number of demeaning personal faults, than it is to open their eyes to the possibility that the rates of Autism amongst Women, particularly older women, are much higher than anyone dared previously imagine.

Autism is not Gender Specific and therefore, nor should our understandings of it be.

Asperger’s Syndrome in Females – A biased perception.

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Tony Attwood (2006) observed that parents and teachers often send boys for evaluation at the point when their aggressive behaviour becomes a significant problem at home or school. The practice of making referrals based on acting out behaviour, means that overall, more boys will be evaluated, and the perception that aggressive behaviour is significant in AS may mean that parents and teachers overlook children who do not display disruptive behaviour (Attwood, 2006; Wagner, 2006). Girls, for example, may not have tantrums or meltdowns at school, but may instead, refuse to respond to requests or participate in activities (Wilkinson, 2008).

An often present feature in Asperger syndrome is an intense interest in one or more areas (Beteta, 2009), and long, encyclopaedic monologues, often on obscure subjects, are usually recognized as indicating a possible AS diagnosis in boys (Attwood, 2006). Findings suggest, though, that girls tend to have more age-appropriate interests, that generally reflect those of their peers, e.g., horses, or creative pursuits (Attwood, 2006; Beteta, 2009).

Attwood (2006) emphasizes, however, that the dominant role these interests play in the life of a girl with AS is qualitatively different from the role that the same interests play in the lives of her female peers. Attwood (2006) stresses further that a girl’s intense interests can extend well beyond an appropriate age,  and that this can help to determine abnormal intensity and focus.

Overall, these observations suggest that increased insight into how these interests function differently for girls with AS, may help to clarify diagnosis.

The use of social echolalia, i.e., mimicking others through imitation and modelling, exists almost exclusively in girls with Asperger syndrome  (Beteta, 2009; Wilkinson, 2008). In an effort to reduce their social and communication impairments, girls may copy the mannerisms, voice, persona, and behaviour of others, often quite successfully (Attwood, 2006).

However, Beteta (2009) points out that although girls may seem to benefit from the use of social echolalia, often they do not truly understand the contextual meanings of what they are mimicking.

Ryden and Bejolet (2008) found that adult females also seemed more successful at mimicking social behaviour than adult males, and for this reason, they rarely fit the original description of Asperger syndrome.

This suggests that the use of social echolalia may hinder the recognition and diagnosis of AS, and consequently, access to relevant support (Attwood, 2006), and that girls and women may experience increased stress in dealing with the consequences of mimicking behaviours that they may not quite understand.

Overall, a greater awareness of gender differences in phenotypic expression is vital so that girls will receive an accurate diagnosis, and access to services that could lessen the impact of AS, particularly beyond childhood.

Furthermore, as researchers discover the extent to which statistical gender differences translate into clinical significance, it is likely that support services will need modification to accommodate this new knowledge (Giarelli et al., 2010).

Differences in attitudes and behaviour towards females with Asperger Syndrome may also contribute to a delayed or missed diagnosis (Giarelli et al., 2010; Hartley & Sikora, 2009).

Attwood (2006) noticed that parents were more hesitant to seek a formal diagnosis if their daughters appeared to be functioning adequately, and that clinicians tended to hesitate in making a diagnosis unless the signs were quite conspicuous. This reinforces the observation made by Hully and Lamar (2006) that AS traits need to be exaggerated in females for a formal diagnosis.

In contrast to boys with AS, who are more often teased, ignored, or bullied by their male peers, girls more often experience support and even protection from some of their female peers, which could result in failure to recognize significant social impairments (Attwood, 2006). Beteta (2009) stresses that these friendships rely on the willingness of a girl’s peers, and accordingly, Rastam (2008) found that many girls with AS tended to have only one friendship that was usually tenuous in nature, and few peer relations overall.

In addition, the perception that many girls with Asperger syndrome seem to manage in social situations, can cause others to question the accuracy of diagnosis.

One result may be that when a girl exhibits behaviour common to AS, it is misunderstood as deliberate or wilful (Beteta, 2009), and she may not receive the necessary supports. Cooper and Hanstock (2009) found, for instance, that school staff continued to feel that Jane’s behaviour was “put on”, even after she received a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.

Moreover, parents and teachers often connect social and functioning difficulties with intrinsic personality traits rather than to a developmental disorder like AS (Cooper & Hanstock, 2009). Specifically, they may misinterpret deficits in social skills, such as poor eye contact, as signs of shyness, embarrassment, or naivety (Wagner, 2006).

Girl’s social impairments, for example, are often misconstrued as stemming from their reserved natures, hence girls initially received an incorrect diagnosis of early onset anxiety disorder (Wilkinson, 2008).

In conclusion, there are a number of possible explanations for the 10:1 gender ratio in Asperger syndrome. Some think that the large number of diagnosed males accurately reflects natural sex differences in brain specialization, or points to sex-specific genetic susceptibility to AS (e.g., Baron-Cohen &Wheelwright, 2004; Jones et al., 2008).

Others believe that the current gender ratio misrepresents the incidence of AS in females (Thompson et al., 2003).

A biased perception of how AS presents may contribute to underdiagnosis (Attwood, 2006; Beteta, 2009), as many emphasize the overuse of a male prototype (e.g., Hully & Lamar, 2006; Thompson et al., 2003). Clinicians may attribute symptoms to psychiatric disorders more commonly seen in the general female population (Cooper & Hanstock, 2009; Rastam, 2008; Ryden & Bejolet, 2008), gender differences in phenotypic expression could mean that core impairments go unnoticed or are misinterpreted (Attwood, 2006; Beteta, 2009; Wilkinson, 2008), and the attitudes and behaviour of others towards females with AS may also contribute to underdiagnosis (Cooper & Hanstock, 2009; Wagner, 2006).

It is clear that one explanation for the uneven gender ratio is not sufficient on its own. The reasons are multifaceted and complex, and it is likely that other possibilities will emerge with additional research.

However, a greater understanding of gender differences in Asperger syndrome will likely play a large role in balancing the 10:1 ratio, as more females will receive an accurate diagnosis.

Written by A. MacMillan