Autism

I’ve realized I don’t talk much about being autistic. When I started the blog, I’d intended to, but I haven’t. When I thought about why not, I realized it’s because no one really knows what “autism” is. People who have it know what their experience is, but as far as I can tell, “autism” itself is the new umbrella diagnosis for any kind of social ineptitude that can’t be explained otherwise.

I think this is a thing psychology does. Anyone else remember back in the 70’s through 90’s (or so) when almost every boy had ADD or HDAD (and when they combined the two)? Any child, particularly boys, who had trouble paying attention in class seemed to get labeled as ADD. If they fidgeted, they were HDAD. As time went on, medical science (both mental and physical) seemed to out there was other explanations and now there’s not so many cases. Or, at least, that’s my experience of it.

It seems to me like that’s what happened to autism. Any social ineptitude that can’t be explained some other way becomes autism. It’s not that there’s a plague of autistic children, it’s that the definition seems to be catch-all.

So it’s no surprise that no one knows what autism is because it’s pretty much everything that’s not something else as far as I can tell.

The other thing is things like the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” that gets attached to autism. Not only does those say so much nothing (functional or non-functional–is that so hard?), but it also gives people the total wrong impression about how it is to be autistic.

I can’t help but think that most people think of spectrum of autism is like this

Low-Functioning                                    AUTISTIC                                       High-Functioning

It’s not that simple. Nothing in life is really ever that simple.

It seems like it should be because most people don’t think about what it means to be successfully “social”. It’s so natural to people without a problem that it’s not thought through. Being social means being able to respond correctly to conversation; join in conversation easily; to comprehend what is being said as it is meant; to be able to start a conversation with family, friend, authority figure, or a stranger; to be place a phone call–every little action it takes to be part of human interaction is a different possibility for success, failure and anywhere in between.

For instance, because I can start a conversation with a stranger, go grocery shopping or hold down a job doesn’t mean that I don’t have problems being social. I am pretty much utterly literal. It’s literally taken me decades to learn to consider tone of voice as well as words being used. I have been known to argue dictionary definitions against colloquialisms I’ve never heard and aren’t apparent in usage. Most humor doesn’t register with me. When I think something is supposed to be funny, (even professional comedians) I look to whoever;s around to be certain. Please don’t waste your puns around me, I don’t get them. Even in writing. (Honestly, puns just register as ignorance at using the wrong word. Seriously.)
Have too many people in a conversation and I start to shut down. I can’t do large, loud parties anymore because that’s one of the few things that has caused a large emotional/mental melt-down. On top of all that, Tact and I have only been recently introduced, so I still struggle with not just blurting whatever I’m thinking, though I did learn to stay silent as a child most times.

I have a friend with an autistic son who is also considered high-functioning, however he has difficulty having a conversation with anyone he doesn’t already know. He has never held a job. Sometimes he has difficulties talking to his aide, though he’ll talk to his cats endlessly. Yet, we’re both on the same place on that scale, but we’re not in the same place in functionality.

Sometimes I think of autism as more of a graph, with an X and Y axis, but even that’s not quite right because I’m not sure there’s one universal set of X and Y’s.

Not a wonder no one knows what autism is when I think about it. I have it and, frankly, I’m not always sure what it is. I just know my brain is wired differently than pretty much everyone I know and I’m the one who’s always had to learn to cope. And I have. I’m functional in the world, to various levels of success.

There’s some of my thoughts about being an adult autistic. You can see why writing fiction can be a challenge sometimes. I have dreams of writing an autistic protagonist/narrator at some point, but I’m definitely not certain he will be sympathetic or even comprehensible to most readers. It certainly would be interesting to see if the experience is cathartic or panic-inducing. Won’t know until I try, I guess.

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More Worldbuilding Musing

The How to Train Your Dragon movies and its TV series do what I’m talking about when I say “mugging myths”. In their case, the myth they mug are what we think we know about Vikings, as well as some historically accurate things about them.

The modern view of the Vikings are hairy barbarians wearing horned helmets plundering anything that’s not nailed down. Women wore metal breastplates and joined in the fun with the guys. I’m not sure where this view came from, but it’s been perpetuated a lot in Hollywood and the opera. It’s become a myth about the Vikings.

When creating, it helps to remember what the audience thinks it knows rather than what’s real. The creators of How to Train Your Dragon does this in spades, and uses some of it to hang the world on. After all, they’re not really doing history anyway since there’s dragons in this world. Why not have fun with it?

In the first movie, we’re introduced to Berk, a Viking settlement on a remote, rocky island. It seems to be off on its own, separated from any other Viking contact and dealing with the regular dragon attacks on its livestock and all-too-flammable wooden buildings. That it’s separated from a larger Viking community is odd, historically, but is nicely explained in the second movie when Stoick (Berk’s chief) reveals that there was an incident years ago where the chiefs had gathered to discuss the dragon problem, were attacked by dragons and he was the only survivor. This is a brilliant explanation that deepens the world.

Historically, the Vikings of Iceland would gather for a Thing, which was a gathering of the king, chieftains, warriors and priests to discuss disagreements, feuds, trade negotiations and whatever things (this meeting is where the word “thing” came from, FWIW), needed to be decided. It was traditionally held away on neutral ground, so no one held the home court advantage. So when Stoick talks about this meeting being attacked and everyone killed but himself, it rings true. For those clans who lost their chiefs to hear the story that dragons attacked, but only one man survived…well, that sounds really suspicious, doesn’t it? It’s not a surprise that Berk was ostracized from the rest of Viking society.

Now, it doesn’t matter if the viewer knows about the Thing. It’s tidbit of fact that wove into the fabric of their story, bringing an authority to it.

I think I just hit on something there: The real facts, the familiar woven into our fiction is what makes it real to the reader.

Perhaps the essence of mugging myths, or history, or…anything is to figure out the facts, the familiar things in it that ring true into your story and make certain you incorporate it.

I might have to think about this.

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