Seal of the EEOC

An Open Letter to A Certain EEOC Deputy District Director

This letter has 9 parts which are difficult to navigate in either my Home page or my Open Letters category archive, which lists every post I’ve written on this blog in reverse chronological order. To make it easier to navigate, I’m creating this post in order to list a link to each part in reading order. Although I’m addressing this letter to a particular individual, I’m posting it as an open letter for educational purposes. Your feedback on any part of the letter would be greatly appreciated.

An Open Letter to A Certain EEOC Deputy District Director

  • Part 1 “A Primer on Autism”
  • Part 2 “A Plea for Help”
  • Part 3 “Please, Do Not Join the Conspiracy!”
  • Part 4 “It Took Batman 7 Months to Write 1 Page of Text”
  • Part 5 “Batman And His Justice League Gang Stole My Right To Due Process”
  • Part 6 “Please, Fire Andromeda before She Can Hurt Anymore Autistic People!”
  • Part 7 “Please, Fire Wonder Woman and Batgirl Too, before They Can Hurt Anymore Autistic People!”
  • Part 8 “Please Don’t Mistake Skepticism for Knowledge”
  • Part 9 “My Allegedly “Inappropriate” Email Had Actually Been Approved By My Management”

Towards an Ethics of Autistic Meltdown, Part 1: What Is Autistic Meltdown?

Disclaimer

Because Autistic Spectrum Disorder varies so widely across the actually autistic in general, one must always be careful about overgeneralizing from one’s own experience either as such an actually autistic person, or with such a one, or even several. So, when I say something like I did in my previous post that autistic meltdown is not really where I lose control, but where I seize it, it’s imperative on the one hand that I as writer emphasize, and on the other that you as reader heed at least two points:

  1. I may be the only autistic person on Earth who can honestly say this about his own meltdowns.
  2. What I’m calling “autistic meltdown” might not actually be true autistic meltdown — I may be misapplying this term to something else entirely.

Be that as it may, I sincerely believe (for now, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might change my mind) that I am applying the term autistic meltdown correctly as a label for my own experience with the phenomenon in question; and also I sincerely hope that at least some others who struggle with the meltdown issue will identify well enough with my own struggles to be able to derive some benefit from what I think I understand about meltdown in general. In any case, agree with me or otherwise, I invite you to weigh in on my pretensions to understanding, and to freely express your own thoughts on the matter, if not as a comment below or privately from my contact page, then surely in a post on your own blog (please feel free to share the link here in a comment).

What Is Autistic Meltdown?

So, again, without trying to speak on behalf of all autistic people, I will say that for me autistic meltdown is something that mostly happens between my ears. And although what actually happens between my ears during a meltdown episode can in one very important sense be described as “out of control” (explanation to follow), for the most part this loss of control occurs almost entirely up in my head and has almost no immediate impact on my observable gross motor behavior. During such an episode I definitely do not feel any particular or irresistible urges, say, to scream, cry, flap my arms, bang my head against a wall, bite myself or in fact perform any kind of noisy, spectacular, or disruptive behaviors that may be traditionally associated with autistic meltdown, and especially which make true autistic meltdowns hard for laypersons to distinguish from infantile tantrums.

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Does this guy seem calm? Like he’s lost in thought? That’s how I can look sometimes when I’m having an episode of autistic meltdown. Image Credit: Pixabay

Again, I cannot speak for all autists in saying this, but for me at least, I could be in full-blast meltdown mode right in front of you and the only thing you might notice is that I seem a bit lost in thought. You might even see me muttering to myself. But don’t be fooled by these outward appearances, because during moments like these, churning energetically up in my skull is a neurological maelstrom.

I often use the image of a “thought-furnace” to describe what this feels like for me. Such intracranial incandescence begins whenever I perceive myself to be trapped in some high-stakes, eye-wateringly frustrating predicament — an impossible, dilemmatic, “no-win” situation. “Damned if I do or don’t”; “between a rock and a hard place”; “screwed six ways from Sunday” are all apposite colloquialisms for describing the prickly sort of pickle that turns the key on my insight-engine and blows my mindmeat into maximum roasterdrive. To capture all of that in a single (too) simple image, I think this does the trick:

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Image Credit: Shutterstock

But that picture is actually too simple, because it really only conveys the “furnace” part of my thought-furnace. The “thought” part is also important, and here I should clarify that the turbulent blazing chaos of the above image is not at all meant to make you think of the kinds of chaotic and disorganized thought disturbances that can plague those suffering from psychosis (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar mania, etc.). Quite on the contrary, when my thought-furnace is ablaze, my actual thinking becomes highly organized, intensely focused, coherent, precise and quite fiercely analytical. Really to convey the complete idea of my thought-furnace a better image to use would be that of a shuttle launch, thus:

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This picture of a shuttle launch gives a more complete description of what I mean when I talk about my “thought furnace”. Image Credit: Pixabay

in which the space shuttle represents my “thought”, and the exhaust blaze represents my “furnace”. The idea expressed here is that during a meltdown episode my thinking (the shuttle) has a specific, clearly defined purpose, and my commitment to that purpose (the exhaust blaze) is utterly utter. When I am in meltdown mode my whole being, everything about me, commits to doing one thing and one thing only: solve the problem of the particular, high-stakes, eye-wateringly frustrating predicament that ignited my furnace to begin with.

And this is what I mean when I say that I seize control, rather than lose it during meltdown, because when I meltdown in this way almost nothing can stop me from thinking and thinking and thinking some more about how to solve the problem of that predicament. When I get in that frame of mind, that predicament becomes my whole life. Everything takes a back seat to that particular problem. If you think about a shuttle launch, once ignition starts, a critical line has been crossed — a point of no-return has been reached. Once that happens, the whole machine, everybody on board it, and anybody else with a stake in the overall project has quite thoroughly lost control over the outcome. One thing and one thing only is going to happen in the foreseeable future: that sucker is going up. And for me, autistic meltdown is a lot like that: once my thought-furnace ignites, the predicament that ignited it is going to be my whole world until either a solution has been found or the problem has somehow become irrelevant. But after blast off and before the destination has been reached, I am no more able to stop myself from searching for solutions to that predicament than I can stop my own hair from growing.

But this is all just what happens up in my head. And once again, please pretty please do not overgeneralize from my experience to any other autistic person when I tell you that I personally retain a great deal of control over my overt, observable behavior during my meltdowns. From what I’ve read about how others experience it, it really does appear that some if not most autists indeed lose control even over their own external behavior in a way that I do not. Keep in mind that autism is highly idiosyncratic in how it manifests in individuals. Hoping otherwise as I do, I may very well be the only autistic person on Earth who can honestly describe meltdown as I’m doing so here. As the saying goes, “if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.”[1]

On the other hand, however much control I do retain over my gross motor abilities during meltdown, the exact opposite is true for what’s going on up in my head. Up in my head, although as explained above my thinking is highly focused, organized and coherent, it is only so with respect to one particular topic, which is that of the predicament that ignited my thought-furnace in the first place, and in particular what to do about it. With respect to any other possible object of attention, all bets are off. I can no more easily redirect my attention to another topic than an archer can change the course of his arrow once he has released it from his bow.

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Once my thought-furnace starts cooking up solutions to a particular problem, I can no more change problems than an archer can change the direction of the arrow he just shot from his bow. Image Credit: Pixabay

Once released, that archer’s arrow is going to land where ever he actually aimed it, regardless of where he was trying to aim it. Similarly, if I am to have any reasonable hope of controlling my own meltdown events, then that control effort will have to take must place prior to the meltdown event (the arrow’s release, the shuttle’s launch, etc.).

Meltdown Ethics

Given this shuttle-launch model of autistic meltdown, a number of questions become apparent. For example, what can be done, if anything, to control the course and trajectory of a meltdown event? Also, given that something could be done, what should be done to control the course and trajectory of a meltdown event? In addition, given that my autistic neurology has been imposed on me by blind chance, just how much if any personal responsibility should I accept for my own vulnerability to autistic meltdown? And how much if any accountability should I charge back to others? Is it reasonable for me to expect others to shoulder some of the burden of my meltdowns? Is it reasonable for others to expect me to shoulder all of the burden?

That list of questions is meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive; and I will explore and attempt to answer some of these questions in Parts 2 and 3.

Continue with Part 2


[1] Attributed to Stephen Shore, but I’m still looking for the original source.

Image Credit (lake surface): Shutterstock

Autistic Meltdown Is Not Really Where I Lose Control, But Where I Seize It

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For me, autistic meltdown feels like seizing the steering wheel from someone who is about to drive us head-on into a truck. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Despite how it might seem to others, and speaking only for myself, autistic meltdown is not really where I lose control, but where I seize it — wrest it like a steering wheel from the hands of anyone who seems to be driving us head-on into a truck.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, it’s perfectly okay if you disagree with me on this point. To be clear: I am only speaking for myself in explaining autistic meltdown in this way. Of course, if you do disagree with me, I invite you to tell me so either in the comments below or privately via my contact page. I really would like to know how my own use of this term compares to that of others. To clarify, I’m using the term autistic meltdown most generally to mean,

“…not as wilful displays of bad behaviour but as intense responses to overwhelming situations.”[1]

The steering wheel analogy illustrates the basic idea. Whenever I meltdown it basically feels like I’m a passenger trapped in a car with some fool driver who has steered us into on-coming traffic. I feel overwhelmed by this situation, especially the tractor trailer that is about to pulverize us, so I seize the wheel and turn us out of the path of sure annihilation.

See, for me, meltdown is a survival thing.

Now, if at the moment I seize the wheel you happen to be the fool driving the car, or perhaps another passenger in the car, you will surely feel like control has been lost, and strictly speaking you are correct. But in that moment it is definitely not me who has lost said control, but you.

And you did so because your driving is dangerous, in my opinion. You want to be in control when I’m a passenger? Fine, then don’t drive like a dangerous maniac.

Now, you may have noticed the “…in my opinion” qualification. That needs some explaining. It’s a bit of an understatement, really. See, the idea here is that I’m a passenger in your car, you’re the driver, and at some point you and I have a difference of opinion. On the one hand, you are of a mind that driving us head-on into a truck is a good idea, and I lean in the other direction — toward the position that driving us head-on into a truck is a bad idea.

See what I mean by “understatement”? Because for me it’s really not just a “difference of opinion” — definitely not the sort of situation where we can just “agree to disagree”, as they say. No, from where I’m sitting in this scenario the stakes are way too high. Like I said, for me, meltdown is about survival, and there is definitely a right and a wrong thing to do, and sitting quietly in my seat while you destroy us is the wrong thing — absolutely not an option. That is just not going to happen. Nope. Not on my watch.

Rest assured: you try to drive us head-on into a truck, and I’m going to seize control of the fucking car.


[1] Sara Ryan, Health Place. 2010 Sep; 16(5): 868–875. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.04.012, last accessed Jan. 28, 2018

Image Credit (blaze): Shutterstock

Context Matters: Disability As Environmental Rather Than Personal Attribute

I have recently shifted my perspective on what it means to have a disability. Whereas I used to see a disability as a personal attribute, I have begun looking at it more as an attribute of the environment or context in which some given person is wanting to achieve some outcome.

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In the same way that we can shift between seeing the jar half-full or half-empty, we can shift from seeing a disability as a personal attribute to an attribute of the environment. Image Credit: Pixabay

I’m pretty sure this is just the same sort of figure-ground perspective-shift at work in the old glass-half-empty-half-full illustration of pessimism versus optimism. And although in a strictly objective sense it really shouldn’t matter which perspective on disability one adopts, the fact is that we humans only rarely function so objectively, and I suspect each perspective will tend to impose a radically different sort of subjective framing effect on the kinds of choices one makes in order to solve the problem of a given disability.

[Note: Please forgive me if I’m reinventing the wheel here. I’m still quite new to all of this, and no doubt at risk of explaining to you something that you already understand better than I do. If that turns out to be the case, I hope you will excuse my armchair-philosopher ignoramusplaining and help me to enrich and elaborate my new perspective by sharing your own knowledge and experience with me in the comments below.]

In any case, the basic idea here is that in order to be functional, any given ability requires particular environmental configurations or situational properties — that is, a highly specific context suitable to performing the ability in question. When performed outside such a suitable context, really any ability is effectively disabled, which is to say that it becomes a disability. For example, have you ever realized that it’s virtually impossible to smell anything when you breathe out? Or consider that even a gold-medal Olympic sprinting champion trying to run chest-deep in a swimming pool would surely lose a race to a child who is running alongside on the ground. And finally, of course, nobody sings well with a mouth full of cheeseburger. In each of these examples, the given ability — smelling, sprinting, singing — is shown to be highly dependent on certain kinds of environmental attributes — inhaling, dry ground, empty mouth, respectively.

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Because my ability to read is so heavily dependent on certain specific environmental attributes (the position of my glasses relative to my eyes, the available light, which language the book is written in, etc.) we can quite sensibly view my reading ability or disability as an attribute of the environment, rather than an attribute of me. Image Credit: Pixabay

But we can also reason like this in the other direction, beginning with the sort of conditions that have been traditionally viewed as disabilities. For example, when I take off my prescription eyeglasses, I abruptly lose my ability to read. Or when removed from her wheelchair, a woman paralyzed from the waist down loses her ability to roll. And when a toothless man removes his dentures, he can no longer chew solid food. In these kinds of examples the eyeglasses, the wheelchair and the dentures are all environmental attributes which enable the respective abilities of reading, rolling and chewing. Although we most commonly frame reading, rolling, and chewing problems in terms of poor vision, paralyzed legs, and missing teeth — all attributes of the person having the difficulty — we can equivalently frame these difficulties as being caused by a lack of eyeglasses, wheelchairs or dentures, respectively, which are all attributes of the environment.

To summarize: whether we see something as an ability or a disability heavily depends on environmental attributes. With the right environmental attributes, it becomes an ability, and with the wrong ones, it’s a disability.

And why is this important? Well, without pretending to pronounce the last word on the subject, I think one principle advantage to this shift from seeing disabilities as personal attributes to environmental ones derives directly from the fact that environments are much easier to change than are the kinds of personal attributes that are usually seen as disabilities.  People who are blind, deaf, paralyzed, autistic, etc. tend to stay that way permanently. If these people are to have any hope of participating fully and consistently in their own lives, then they simply must not take their disabilities so personally, and should rather shift their focus to the environments in which they live — toward finding and/or building environments that enhance their abilities rather than disable them.


Image Credit (amputee soccer): Pixabay

Vengeance? — An Open Letter to a Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned Friend,

When we spoke the other day you asked me a question that I would like to try to answer here on my blog because others in my life have been asking me similar questions, and I would like to document my answer out here in public where anyone who wishes to know what it is can come and read it. If memory serves, your question was this one:

“You may want to think about what you’re really hoping to accomplish with all this. Are you trying to raise awareness? Are you hoping to educate people? Do you want vengeance?”

For the sake of others who may read this letter, I will just explain that your question was regarding my current preoccupation with the events relating to the loss of my job last May 19, 2017. To summarize it all briefly and far too simply[1], I believe that the individuals who fired me did so illegally, and ever since I have been more or less obsessed with the question of what to do about that. One thing I have tried to do about it is file charges against my former employer[2] with the so-called “Equal” Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but that turned out to be a total waste of time because as it turns out, and in flagrant contradiction to their own self-congratulatory propaganda, the EEOC is perfectly useless to anyone with a psychiatric disability such as autism (FYI, I have Autistic Spectrum Disorder). For the sake of completion, however, I have decided to give the EEOC a third opportunity to help me, to begin with by writing a very long open letter (posted here on this blog) to one of the EEOC’s own Deputy District Directors; in particular, the boss of those who botched up their handling of my two charges against my former employer. In any case, back to the main topic…

I have to guess that you might have felt a little awkward about asking me that question, especially that particular part about whether I wanted “vengeance”. I couldn’t help noticing and subsequently over-thinking about the way your voice dropped toward a mumble when it got to that part, and how your rate of speech jumped up a notch as you raced to get the words out, like a driver might race to get through an amber traffic light.

I apologize if I’ve ever done anything to make you feel uncomfortable about asking me that or any other question. I was talking with you about this issue because I value your opinions on the matter, and I understand that if I’m to have any hope of being helped by those opinions, then you need to understand clearly just what this matter is all about. That means I need to welcome all of your questions about it, and to do my best to answer them.

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You can’t help me if you don’t understand me, so I welcome all of your questions. Image Credit: Pixabay

So, please, if you truly wish to understand what I hope to accomplish with all of this, either in general or in particular as to whether I’m after vengeance, I invite you to ask these kinds of questions, whatever they are, and to feel comfortable about doing so.

To get right to that particular point:

If you are seriously worried about whether I might want vengeance, then I hope it will reassure you that my answer is “absolutely not”.  Vengeance is definitely not what I want. I think vengeance in general is a bad idea for all kinds of reasons, but in this particular case committing some trivial, self-indulgent act of vengeance would only make it much more difficult for me to accomplish my true overall objective, which is this:

Ultimately, what I really hope to accomplish with all of this — what I really want is just what I have always wanted, always sought, and never found: to belong somewhere. I want to find my niche in this world.

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Wow, that’s a lot of human beings! Where do I fit in with all of those people? Image Credit: Pixabay

I have spent my entire waking life feeling more or less lost and inconveniently out-of-place, like a walrus lurching and lumbering down the middle of a highway during rush-hour; trying in myriad ways to answer the question “where do I fit in?” — and although I seem to have no problem finding good candidate answers to this question, so far every single one of them has turned out in one form or another to be “not for me”, after all. So, if you are puzzled by my behavior with respect to the events in question, I believe that if you try to see it all as an eager and hopeful attempt by me to figure out just where I fit into the human picture at large — a vigorous and enthusiastic attempt to solve my niche-problem — I expect my otherwise puzzling decisions and actions will make a lot more sense to you.

I hope you found that answer satisfying. If not, please let me know and I will try again. I want to be understood, my friend. I need to be understood. So, if you don’t understand, then please let me know, and I will try to find better ways to explain it.

In any event, thank you for asking.


[1] For the full account, I haven’t yet, but will create a special page with a list of links to the many blog posts I’ve written on the subject. For now, you may wish to begin with my recently completed 9 part open letter to one of the “E”EOC’s Deputy District Directors. Here is a link to part 1 of that series: An Open Letter to A Certain EEOC Deputy District Director, Part 1.

[2] My former employer is a billion-dollar, global, multinational insurance company. For the time being I think it best not to reveal its identity, so I’ve been referring to it on this blog as the XYZ Insurance Company or “XYZ” for short.

Seal of the EEOC

An Open Letter to A Certain EEOC Deputy District Director, Part 9

My Allegedly “Inappropriate” Email Had Actually Been Approved By My Management

Dear EEOC Deputy District Director,

[Continued from Part 8] …Now, in order to demonstrate the difference between mere skepticism and genuine refutation — where the former is a legitimate and necessary first step toward knowledge, but by no means a sufficient one; and the latter is essentially the

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Please don’t mistake skepticism for knowledge. Skepticism is just the first step toward knowledge, but the journey toward genuine knowledge requires many more steps after that. Image Credit: Pixabay

full remainder of the journey (not to mention the real work of knowledge acquisition) — as an example I will choose a proposition from Batman’s[24] bogus “position statement“, and I will refute it with solid evidence that implies that the proposition is false.

The proposition I will so refute is the following:

“On May 17, 2017, Mr. Autistickish sent an e-mail to an unknown number of recipients which he titled, ‘Humiliation is Not A Performance Enhancer (ASD Lesson #1).’”

— from pg. 4 of Batman’s bogus “position statement“.

Although it is true that on May 17 I sent the email in question, the proposition considered as a whole  and especially within its context in Batman’s bogus “position statement”, is nevertheless false in at least three ways. First, the proposition misleadingly suggests that May 17 was the first time I sent the email in question, but the May 17 dispatch was actually the second time I had sent it. Batman’s position statement makes no mention of the first time I sent the email, which actually occurred five days prior, on Friday, May 12. Also, I sent it that day to three people: my manager (Robin the Boy Wonder), my previous manager (the Huntress), and the HR manager (Hawkwoman) who had prepared the most recent (May 10) revision of my reasonable accommodations. I sent it to these three because Robin had recommended that I do so. The following is a redacted version of the email chain I have in which Hawkwoman acknowledges having received my ASD Lesson #1 on May 12, again, five days prior to my May 17 dispatch:Hawkwoman acknowledges ASD Lesson 1 redacted

Second, the proposition also states that the number of recipients was “unknown”, but the number actually was known because I had told Hawkwoman, Robin and the Huntress in that same email chain that I was planning to send it to 62 recipients. Here is the proof:

I tell Kristie Falcone about the 62 person DL redacted

Third, the proposition along with its context in Batman’s bogus “position statement” make it sound like I had sent my ASD Lesson #1 email to 62 recipients without permission from management. But this is false. I absolutely did have management permission to send that email. Here’s how:

  1. First, the May 10th reasonable accommodation document given to me by Hawkwoman explicitly encourages me “…to put written communications in succinct and draft form, review and reread for appropriateness prior to sending.” This encouragement to rely on my own judgment – i.e., the faculties of my own autistic neurology – to determine the appropriateness of my emails is explicitly listed as an expectation I was required to meet as a condition of continued employment with XYZ. This is essentially written permission from an HR manager to send any emails I wish to send to anybody in the company, as long as I personally judge them to be appropriate. By way of contrast, Hawkwoman could have encouraged me to get my boss’s approval before sending every email. She could have done that, but instead she encouraged me to rely on my own autistic faculties of judgment. But there’s more…
  2. Next, recognize that Robin, the Huntress and Hawkwoman had all received a copy of my ASD Lesson #1 email, were all told that I planned to send it to 62 colleagues, and were all given 5 days to discourage me from sending it, but none of them expressed any such discouragement prior to my sending it the second time on May 17.
  3. In fact, on the contrary, after four days had passed and I had still heard nothing back from Robin, Huntress, nor Hawkwoman about my email, I approached Robin on the morning of Tuesday, May 16 and asked him directly what he thought of my ASD Lesson #1 email. He told me that he thought it was “very well written.” He told me that it reminded him of someone he knows in his personal life, that this person has a blog, and he recommended that I too try some blogging. And when I asked him about sending these to the 62 colleagues, Robin told me that it was my “right to send it to whoever I wanted.” Let me say that again:

My manager told me that my ASD Lesson #1 email was “very well written” and that it was my “right to send it to whoever I wanted”.

So the next day, on May 17, and believing that I had my management’s approval to do so, I sent the email to all 62 colleagues, a list that included Robin, Huntress, Hawkwoman and 59 others.

So, Batman’s explicit claim that I sent the email to an “unknown” number of recipients is false. Furthermore, his implied claims that I sent it for the first time on May 17 and that I did so without management approval are also both false. Overall, the proposition is demonstrably false.

And that concludes my demonstration of the sort of effort required to actually refute a proposition, rather than to merely scowl at it. And yes, that refutation effort does begin with a skeptical scowl – I know I definitely did some serious scowling when I read that part of Batman’s bogus “position statement” – but simply scowling proves nothing.

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This young woman looks pretty skeptical, but her skeptical looks accomplish little more than ask a reasonable question. If she sincerely wants a reasonable answer to that question, she will have to do the real work of refutation. Image Credit: Shutterstock

So, if you really are skeptical of the disabling nature of my autism, I say, that’s fine. Wonderful! But please don’t stop at the scowl. Please don’t mistake your otherwise legitimate doubts for genuine knowledge – for some sort of refutation or proof that I’m not actually disabled. Skeptical doubt is just the beginning. The next step is to allow your skepticism to lead you to genuine curiosity. Once you feel curious, the next step is to indulge that curiosity by asking questions, by talking to witnesses, and experts, by examining evidence, etc. And after you have made that sort of sincere, refutational effort – the kind of effort that I myself have made, and that has been made by the autism experts who are helping me to learn how to survive with my autistic abilities in a world that has been inadvertently designed to disable those abilities by the non-autistic, neurologically normal majority of human beings – I am quite confident that you will ultimately fail to refute my claim that my autism is a true disability.

And when that happens — when you see that you have failed to refute this claim after having made a truly sincere effort to do so — you will find that your otherwise legitimate skeptical doubts will weaken, and that you will eventually become as reasonably convinced as I am that such refutation is actually rather unlikely; that I am, in fact, autistic, and that having to live autistically in a world that was designed by and built for people who aren’t autistic is a true disability.

And once that has been accomplished, Mr. EEOC Deputy District Director, it is my hope that your next step will be to answer my plea for help, by conducting an honest investigation into the allegations I have made in this letter against Batman and his Justice League Gang.

Sincerely,

Autistickish Walrus

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I am the walrus — coo coo gajoob! Image Credit: Pixabay


[24] As explained in Part 2, in order to do what I can to help ensure that the guilty will be able to find impartial jury members for their trials, I have chosen to mask their identities behind the names of characters from the fictional superhero world of DC Comics.

Seal of the EEOC

An Open Letter to A Certain EEOC Deputy District Director, Part 8

Please Don’t Mistake Skepticism for Knowledge

Dear EEOC Deputy District Director,

[Continued from Part 7] …

If one knows anything useful about autism, one knows that as many ways exist to be autistic, as autistic people have, do now and will exist. Although I personally avoid endorsing the idea that autism is a “spectrum” thing – because it saliently and quite uselessly suggests that we autists can be ordered like a rainbow lineup of colored pencils

Row of colored pencils

However useful it might be, I don’t love the “spectrum” model of autism because it suggests that autistic people can be lined up from least to most autistic like colored pencils in rainbow order. That seems implausible to me. Image Credit: Pixabay

from least to most autistic – it appears that for better or worse we are stuck with this notion, for now, and in any case it does at least somewhat redeem itself by making the critical point that being autistic can mean something quite different for any two given human beings “on the spectrum”. ” One commonly used maxim that conveys this idea states, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”[19].

My own preferred analogy compares being autistic to being a bird. If one had no knowledge of birds, one might be astonished to learn that despite their radically different appearances and behaviors, a penguin and a cardinal, say, actually have so very much in common that they can be rationally viewed as the same general sort of thing – they’re both birds. This surely once surprising conclusion no doubt followed from the same sort of autistically painstaking scientific scrutiny that especially in the last three hundred years has overturned so many superficially obvious but profoundly false ideas regarding the way the world actually is and works. Countless examples could be listed such as that the Sun revolves around the Earth, or that heat is a substance, or that learned behaviors are transmitted to offspring, or that heavier bodies fall more quickly than lighter ones, or that disease is caused by witchcraft, etc. All of these and many more[20] otherwise intuitively plausible ideas have been debunked by scientists and replaced by the sort of verifiably true ideas that form the modern scientific world-view.

With respect to autism, I’m guessing that before reading Part 1 of this letter, you likely believed erroneously that autism is some sort of intellectual disability. To the extent that anyone believes that particular autism stereotype[21], he or she would be at risk of erroneously concluding that an autist like me – which is to say one who clearly has no intellectual disability – must therefore have no disability at all.

But nothing could be further than the truth. I am definitely disabled. I am disabled in the same way that your own ability to see is disabled when you open your eyes under water;

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Dolphins have special ocular adaptations that allow them to see clearly underwater. We humans lack these adaptations, so we are quite blind underwater, unless we wear goggles. Image Credit: Pixabay

in the same way that your own ability to write with a pencil is disabled when your hands are stiff from being out in the cold too long; in the same way that your own ability to walk is disabled when you wear ice skates. I am disabled in ways like these, not because of abilities that I lack, but because I am continuously forced to exercise the abilities I have in disabling, one-size-fits-most environments – environments that were designed by and built for neurologically normal people, which I am not.

The upshot here is that everywhere I go, whatever I happen to be doing, and whomever I happen to encounter, I always feel like I don’t belong there – like I’m at a crowded party where everyone has known everyone else since the first grade, but nobody knows me; like a fish flopping around in the bottom of a boat; like a lost walrus, lurching and heaving down the middle of a city street, questing after enough water to swim in. Wherever I happen to find myself is where I am also lost. In this way I am disabled.

But perhaps you are skeptical, and that would be fine, of course. You certainly wouldn’t be alone in your skepticism. Since receiving my ASD diagnosis in November 2016 I have met more than a few skeptical non-experts – ranging from a forgivably naïve 23-year-old family member, fresh out of college; to a professional forensic psychiatrist on staff as Senior Psychiatric Director at the XYZ Insurance Company; a man who really ought to know better, but who probably gets paid too well to pretend that he doesn’t. The latter is an impressively educated individual indeed, and has not just an MD but also a JD credential – meaning that he’s not just a “Jack” of both the psychiatric and the legal trades; he is also a master of both, or at least makes a tidy living posing as such. I’m also pretty sure he’s a member of Batman’s Justice League Gang, so I will refer to him going forward as Dr. Fate. But whatever Dr. Fate’s expertise truly is, it has nothing to do with autism. With respect to Autism Spectrum Disorder, the man is as ignorant and confused as my 23-year-old family member, fresh out of college.

Heck, even I was skeptical at first, and for the same reason – because I was ignorant and confused about autism. At that time, everything I knew about Autism Spectrum Disorder I had learned from watching two popular Hollywood portrayals of autistic people, and by reading one book by an internationally known autism research pioneer. Somehow from that limited exposure to autism I had it in my head that autistic people had no sense of humor, and they didn’t feel empathy; and because I have a great sense of humor and feel a good deal of empathy – because I don’t really fit the autism stereotypes I had innocently assimilated from my own autism-ignorant and -confused culture – I found it quite unbelievable at first that I myself might actually be autistic.

But autism is not diagnosed on the basis of such rigid stereotypes. In particular, the humor and empathy aspects are definitely nothing like diagnostic deal-breakers. What is core to at least my own ASD diagnosis[22] is what’s known as the basic “triad of impairments” – “impaired communication; impaired social skills; and a restricted and repetitive way of being-in-the-world”[23]. Those criteria I meet easily. Also, as discussed in a footnote to Part 4, co-morbid with my own idiosyncratic variety of autism, I also suffer from periodic and often protracted anxiety attacks, which in the extreme I describe as “autistic melt down”, even though during such a meltdown episode I actually retain a high degree of executive control over my overt behavior, which does not appear to be the case for many autists.

During such episodes, which always begin with my realizing that I’m trapped in some impossible no-win situation, followed instantly by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and vulnerability, and while this anxiety does not lead to any sort of irresistible compulsion to perform any particular overt behavior – e.g., scream, cry, flap my hands, etc. – it absolutely does cause me to lose quite completely control over my own mind. I “lose my marbles”, is one way I describe it, by which I mean I become obsessively fixated on finding good solutions to one particular problem: the problem of how best to respond to the threat posed by the no-win, damned-if-I-do-or-don’t situation in which I realize that I’m trapped.

Smiling pitbull

This pit bull represents my brain’s autistic ability to obsessively fixate on a problem until it’s either solved or becomes obsolete. Image Credit: iStock by Getty

To convey figuratively what these anxiety attacks feel like for me I also sometimes use the term thought-furnace, or say that it’s like I have a pit-bull in my brain – once that brain-dog clamps its jaws around a problem, it will not let go until that problem has been solved or become obsolete.

In any case, it’s really okay, I think, to be skeptical, if indeed you are – completely understandable, at least. And I’d go so far to say that your skepticism is even healthy, provided it leads you to curiosity – an essential prerequisite to knowledge and understanding. But I think it’s far too common for folks to use their otherwise healthy skepticism as an excuse not to be curious – to shut down inquiry, and to close their minds around some cherished or more comfortable belief, and this regardless of how false that belief may be. In general, I think, one must never mistake skepticism for actual knowledge. It is not because we scowl at some proposition that we have somehow magically refuted it. Actual refutation requires a certain amount of effort, and the goal of that effort is to find at least one solid and otherwise inexplicable counter-example – a counter-example such that its most likely explanation is the falsehood of the proposition under scrutiny.

I will now demonstrate what such a refutation might look like…

Continue with Part 9


[19] Attributed to Stephen Shore. I am still trying to track down the source.

[20] For more examples, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superseded_scientific_theories, last accessed Jan. 25, 2018

[21] According to the CDC, nearly half (44%) of all autistic people have normal to superior intelligence. Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet “Data & Statistics”. Last accessed Jan. 24, 2018.

[22] Please remember that I am nothing like a true autism-expert and certainly not a trained diagnostician. I am describing here my own lay-person’s understanding of how I in particular fulfill the DSM V diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder – an understanding that could quite possibly be a significant mis-understanding. Also, it’s quite possible that other autistic people might fulfill the criteria in very different ways.

[23] Cashin A, Sci DA, Barker P, “The triad of impairment in autism revisited“, J Child Adolesc Psychiatr Nurs. 2009 Nov;22(4):189-93. Last accessed Jan. 24, 2018.