Is MetLife’s Code of Conduct Recklessly Incoherent Bullshit? — An Open Letter to MetLife CEO Steven A. Kandarian

Hello Mr. Kandarian,

Is it possible that MetLife’s so-called “Code of Conduct” is recklessly incoherent bullshit?

I ask this question because I believe my own apparent failure to understand the Code’s “guidelines for appropriate business conduct and ethical decision-making” has brought relentless woe unto me and my family, not the least of which is now the threat of a criminal conviction and all that goes along with it (fines, possible jail time, etc.).

Of course, I do realize that the Code itself might be just fine, and that my failure to understand it nothing more than a unique consequence of my own idiosyncratic manifestation of Autism Spectrum Disorder. But given that I might not be the only person to find this document dangerously confusing, and of course, on the chance that it might just be equally incomprehensible for everyone, here I wish to explain why I strongly suspect it probably is just that, or as I’m inclined to put it: recklessly incoherent bullshit.

To begin with, on page 2 of the Code you personally exhort MetLife employees to “…read, understand and abide by our Code of Conduct and raise awareness of issues that may undermine the public’s trust in our corporate integrity,” [emphasis added].

Then on page 4, all MetLife employees are charged with the “…responsibility to…Disclose or raise concerns about any potential violations of law or policy, or any other potential issues….” [emphasis added].

Now, the way I see it, for the past two years or so I have attempted in various ways to fulfill this Code-mandated “responsibility”. More specifically, I have tried to raise awareness on a variety of issues, not the least of which is a psychologically damaging procedural artifact I think of as The MetLife Meat Grinder, meat_grinder_MetLife_your_brain_750x500by which I mean MetLife’s systematic, for-profit exploitation of people with psychiatric disabilities (Autism, Bipolar Disorder, etc.). But despite my persistent efforts to raise awareness of The MetLife Meat Grinder and other “issues that may undermine the public’s trust in [MetLife’s] corporate integrity”, I must tell you that the company’s reaction toward me has been not just ungrateful, but in fact quite fiercely retaliatory, and thus precariously out of sync with the company’s glossy promise to not retaliate against attempts to fulfill this “responsibility”.

As boasted in MetLife’s Code of Conduct:

Our commitment to non-retaliation

We do not tolerate retaliation for making a report in good faith. MetLife prohibits employees from engaging in any form of retaliation against anyone for raising concerns regarding a violation of any law, rule, regulation, internal policy, this Code, or about unethical activity….

Code of Conduct, page 6

Yet despite this boast, MetLife fired me illegally last year, subsequently lied to EEOC investigators about why I was fired, tried to bribe me with $37,000.00 to keep my mouth shut about what had happened, most recently requested and was granted a No Contact Order against me, and is now pressing criminal charges against me, all in what looks to me exactly like retaliation for my numerous Code-mandated attempts to raise awareness of The MetLife Meat Grinder and other issues.

Did I get that right? Am I overlooking something?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the source of my hapless misunderstanding of the Code can be traced back to one particular sentence, found on page 6, and which I find especially baffling, thus:

“We do not tolerate retaliation for making a report in good faith“…

[emphasis added]. Now, really, what’s baffling for me about this sentence is that I have no idea what is meant by this phrase “in good faith”, although I do think it’s safe to say at this point that MetLife as a company has somehow decided that my many reports have definitely not been made “in good faith”, and also that in such a case retaliation is not only tolerated, but for me at least to be pursued with fanatical zeal.

That much seems obvious, but what isn’t obvious to me at all is who judged my numerous reports as being not “in good faith”, and by what criteria was this judgment made? Was there any sort of objectivity involved in making this judgment? Was my “faith” evaluated against some sort of checklist?

Was the Bible consulted? The Hadith? The Code of Hammurabi? The I Ching? This can’t possibly be a religious thing, can it? Did you all somehow figure out that I’m an atheist and decide to persecute me for my lack of religious belief? I don’t seriously believe that, of course, but then what?

Why have my attempts to report The MetLife Meat Grinder (and other issues) been judged by MetLife as being made in not “good faith”?

Here I wish to submit for your consideration that there is no rational answer to that question. Here I wish to propose that the aforementioned judgment of my “faith” as not “good” was made for no rational reason at all — that it was in fact made whimsically, nonsensically, wholly arbitrarily. Here I will publicly suggest that the human beings who judged my utterly sincere reports did so impulsively, thoughtlessly, and with great and continuing negative consequence to me and my family.

To be clear: I’m not claiming here that these individuals are actually as incompetent as they appear. On the contrary, I think they did what they did because the Code itself is confusing, by which I mean recklessly incoherent bullshit.

Sincerely,

Daniel L. Scholten, a.k.a. “The Walrus”

The MetLife Meat Grinder: A Significant Public Health Concern

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This is what I think of when I think of MetLife’s Short-term Disability Insurance Product. Image Credit: Shutterstock

In preparation for my upcoming defense against criminal and civil charges filed recently on behalf of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife), here I wish to document and explain the machinations of an internal, reusable process that MetLife has in its Human Resources toolkit and which not only did the company use to unlawfully terminate my own employment on May 19, 2017, but which the company is also free to use whenever it wishes to shirk its responsibilities as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Armed with this cold, algorithmic process — I have come to think of it as the MetLife Meat Grinder due to the trauma it can inflict on a person with a psychiatric disability — the company can dismiss with impunity any otherwise qualified employee with a psychiatric disability and simply for having that disability[1].

Such a discriminatory dismissal is supposed to be unlawful under the ADA.

Furthermore, the MetLife Meat Grinder is potentially damaging not just to thousands of the company’s own psychiatrically vulnerable employees, but is also potentially damaging to the psychiatrically disadvantaged of any company that offers MetLife’s Short-Term Disability Insurance product to its employees as an employee benefit. It’s important to recognize that this may represent not thousands but millions of potential victims of the MetLife Meat Grinder, making this process a significant public health concern.

The MetLife Meat Grinder

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If you have a psychiatric disability and believe it to be covered by MetLife’s Short-term Disability Insurance product, be very, very careful about filing any claims. Image Credit: Shutterstock

What I’m calling The MetLife Meat Grinder is a re-usable process that MetLife has developed and which can be used by the company whenever it wants to shirk its ADA-mandated responsibilities. Beginning in late October, 2016 and continuing till today, my family and I have been suffering from the inside the debilitating effects of this process, which not only traumatized us, not only jettisoned us all into an unpredictably long period of financial free-fall due to the loss of my job, not only caused me to fail at the job I finally found five months later, but is in fact now threatening to result in a criminal conviction, all because I have dared to complain and to keep complaining about the MetLife Meat Grinder.

I urge you not to underestimate the public health risks posed by The MetLife Meat Grinder. Not only does it jeopardize the health and safety of every MetLife employee with a psychiatric disability, but this inhumane device can actually be exploited by any other company that offers the MetLife Short-Term Disability product to its employees as a so-called “benefit”. This is a potentially huge number of people whose psychiatric disabilities are being exploited to protect and pad the bottom line profits of MetLife and the companies that purchase MetLife STD insurance for its employees.

Here is a summary of how it works:

  1. meat_grinder_210x314

    If you have a psychiatric disability and need to take time off work to recover from a flair up of symptoms, please use extreme caution with MetLife’s Short-term Disability Insurance Product. Image Credit: Shutterstock

    When an employee with a psychiatric disability attempts to use the MetLife Short-term Disability Insurance product while on a doctor recommended medical leave, the MetLife Claims Department takes a very long time to process the claim, during which time the employee has no income, which puts intense financial pressure on the employee to return to work before his or her symptoms are being properly managed, thus increasing the likelihood that the employee will manifest potentially disruptive psychiatric symptoms in the work place.

  2. When an employee with a psychiatric disability requests reasonable accommodation for that disability, the Human Resources Department takes a very long time to process the request, during which time the employee is required to work without the necessary accommodations while continuing to fulfill all of his or her professional expectations, putting unreasonable stress on the employee and again increasing the likelihood that the employee will manifest potentially disruptive psychiatric symptoms in the work place.
  3. When an employee with a psychiatric disability is working full-time and waiting for requested reasonable accommodations, the employee’s manager assigns tasks that are unreasonably difficult, thus increasing the employee’s stress and the likelihood that the employee will manifest potentially disruptive psychiatric symptoms in the work place.
  4. When the employee with a psychiatric disability becomes symptomatic on the job under the above described conditions, the employee’s symptoms are deliberately misconstrued as violations of company policy and the employee is fired for these alleged violations.
  5. Following termination, any formal complaints (e.g. EEOC) or lawsuits are settled in mediation for a price that is far below the true actuarial present value (APV)[2] of the employment opportunity that has been lost by the employee.

Please let me know if you have any comments, suggestions, or questions regarding the above.


[1]e.g. Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Depression, etc.

[2]An APV is a rational estimate in today-dollars of a stream of future payments (e.g. salary, bonuses, benefits, etc.), discounted according to interest, mortality and other relevant contingencies. For more information on APV, see the Wikipedia Article.

Please Stop Using the ‘Going In A Different Direction’ Pretext to Fire People: An Open Letter To Anybody’s Boss

Dear Anybody’s Boss,

Please do not ever again fire or otherwise deny someone employment under the tired old pretext of “going in a different direction with this role” (or any of its cousins, e.g. “internal restructuring”, etc.)

Of course, definitely do not use this pretext to fire someone illegally, but especially if you really do need to let someone go for a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason, then especially in that case, please do not use the exact same pretext that a criminal may use to fire someone illegally without detection.

In short: please do not let someone who would commit such a crime use you as cover for their misdeeds.

Especially because you are not a self-righteous, pathologically ignorant, insecure, and sanctimonious bigot; and especially because you revile the criminal acts of those who commit such crimes; especially because you truly are a good person, then please, please do not ever allow yourself to be mistaken for a common criminal by using the exact same pretext that they use.

Please, please let that be just their thing, so that it will eventually become just a polite way for them to confess that they are firing someone illegally, and eventually used in a court of law as such.

I thank you in advance for your consideration of the above.

Sincerely,

Daniel L. Scholten, a.k.a. “The Walrus”

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”

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

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.