Penguin swimming

Autism Is A Disability; Penguins Can Fly

First, I should explain explain what I mean by disability. The way I see it (for now, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that could change my mind), the idea of disability is best conceptualized as a comment on the context in which some particular ability is being exercised. Think “fish out of water” here, or better “penguin out of water”. Penguins are graceful and highly capable swimmers, as long as they’re actually in water; not so much while on dry land. On dry land penguins look just ridiculous — totally lost.

King penguins on dry land looking lost.

Don’t these King penguins look totally lost on dry land? Image Credit: Pixabay

We human beings are just like that, in that whatever abilities we may have as individuals, each of these is only functional under certain specifiable conditions; outside of these conditions these wonderful abilities somehow transmogrify into disabilities. For example, at the moment you can read, but without sufficient light this reading skill is utterly worthless to you. Likewise, if you have two healthy legs and can walk on a dry sidewalk, you will find that these same legs are just a burden if you’re standing in four feet of soft snow. And of course, what about your ability to fly?

Fly? Yes, fly — and I mean literally, just like a bird, a plane, and of course Superman — just not in the sky, of course. But you can fly in water. Hey, what do you think penguins do? Or we might say that eagles swim in the air.

An eagle in flight.

An eagle out for a refreshing dip in the morning sky. Image Credit: Pixabay

Note that I didn’t put the words fly and swim in scare-quotes. I left the scare-quotes off because I’m really not using these words figuratively. To my (admittedly autistic) view the verb fly is just a synonym for the verb swim. As I see it, the only real difference between flying and swimming is the density of the medium in which the given activities occur. With respect to what we normally call flying, air functions exactly like a very low-density fluid, and with respect to what we normally call swimming, water functions exactly like a very dense gas. Other than the spelling, little difference exists between the sciences of fluid- and aerodynamics. In fact, physicists consider aerodynamics to be a sub-discipline of fluid-dynamics and use exactly the same differential equations to describe swimming and flying, but with different density constants.

But these density constants are critical with respect to the organism doing the actual flymming (should be a word, if you want my opinion). And this basic principle is true for any ability.

Now, I do understand that autism is not necessarily a disability, in the same way that a penguin’s swimmability (yeah, that should also be a word) is not necessarily a disability — unless of course the penguin is trapped on land and cannot use his ability to swim! And it is in that sense that autism is really a disability, although perhaps not for all autistic people — in particular those who have managed to find niches for themselves in our world which has been designed primarily by and for neurotypical human beings.

As an example from my own life, although my 80-year-old father has yet to be formally diagnosed, I would be shocked if he didn’t easily fulfill the modern DSM V diagnostic criteria for Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To my view, he is your stereotypical aspergian, but he has also done an amazing job of making himself utterly useful to pretty much everybody that he knows, and this is as true in his personal life as it was in his professional life before he retired. My dad is a gifted problem solver — for pretty much any kind of problem involving the physical world. I have yet to see him encounter an object or a device — electronic, mechanical, or electromechanical — that was broken in a way he couldn’t fix with with some tool or gadget or bit of plastic or piece of rubber tubing or a clip of some sort that he found in his vast personal collection of what my saint of a step-mother refers to has his “junk”, and which he accumulated incrementally over the decades of his life and stored, neatly organized, in countless boxes and shelves in his garage and home office.

On the other hand, my own claim-to-fame seems to be that I still don’t have a criminal record. To be clear, I have never physically injured anybody, nor wanted to, nor have I broken any laws more serious than the occasional traffic violation. But I have also never been able to hold down a full-time job; and largely as a result of that I have accumulated a mountain of debt. Perhaps more importantly, I have been a chronic disappointment in every conceivable kind of relationship that one person can have with another. I’m sucky as a friend, son, brother, uncle, husband, father, cousin, nephew, grandson, employee and co-worker. As much the antithesis of my dad (although people are always telling us how alike we are, which is also true), I have always proven to be utterly useless to pretty much everyone.

And why am I such a chronic failure in pretty much every area of my life? Well, as I’ve written elsewhere, I’m sure a few — a minority of the people who have known me, thank goodness — might say I’m just an “asshole” — a “fucking loser” or maybe a “total jackass”, and honestly, I really couldn’t fault them for that. Every so often my encounters with other human beings can go to an ugly and uncomfortable place, and I know that my own misguided choices play a significant role in bringing about that sort of outcome.

But I honestly believe most who have met me would describe me much more kindly — and this includes my own wife, who along with my children, has to endure my autistic symptomatology more than anyone else ever has. These saintly humans would probably tell you that I’m quite friendly, honest, witty, intelligent, sympathetic, with much to offer, but that I have perhaps never quite found my niche in the world. They might go so far as to describe me as a “a bit lost” — not unlike a penguin waddling around looking for water to swim in, but finding none.

Just over a year ago (November 2016) I sought medical attention for my chronic, life-long misfitery, and as it turns out, I’m actually autistic — I have Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  For me, learning this about myself has been a huge relief. Now I finally know why I’ve fucked up my life. I must admit that for as long as I can remember I have struggled not to accept the harsher judgments that people have made of me. Far too often have I seriously suspected that these critics may have been right after all — that I really am just an “asshole”, “fucking loser”, or maybe a “total jackass”.

But no — as it turns out, none of that is true. I’m not an asshole; I’m just autistic. And like a penguin forced to waddle around on dry land, yes, I guess I do look quite lost and a bit ridiculous. But I’m quite sure this is only how I look when I’m on dry land. I’m quite sure that once I do find my way to the water, I will show the world what I’m really good at.

Until then, and for me at least, autism really is a disability.

And penguins really can fly.


Hey, check out this cool YouTube featurette of Brandon Routh‘s preparation for his role in the 2006 film Superman Returns. Starting at about minute 2:12 you can watch him prepare for his flying scenes in a swimming pool! And don’t worry if you’re male and homophobic — there’s absolutely nothing at all homoerotically provocative about Routh’s lithe, muscularity.


Help, They’re Out to Get Me! — An Open Letter to the FBI

FBI Office

Image Credit: iStock by Getty

Dear FBI,

First, a little about me: I have a gift, sort of. I’m pretty sure I can take any given group of human beings and rapidly turn them against me. I don’t need them to all have anything particular or remarkable in common. They don’t even have to know each other. Whoever they are, and however many of them there are, I believe that I can more or less instantly bond them together — transform them, really, into a cohesive group, organized entirely around a shared belief that I am batshit crazy, in the first place, and in the second place, around a shared goal of rejecting me because I am batshit crazy.  In short, given some otherwise arbitrary ensemble of human beings, I can unite these folks into a conspiracy against me.

Now, does that sound paranoid? Maybe a little delusional? Do you think I’m crazy? Might you say that I am batshit crazy? And if so, does this new opinion you have of me — that I’m batshit crazy — make you want to reject me?

Well, if it does, let me assure you, you’re not alone. In fact, out there in the world right now are a great many of your brothers and sisters. I believe they meet every third Wednesday of the month to commiserate, roll their eyes, chant things like “That guy!” and “That fuckin’ guy!” and “wow, what a nut job!” Of course, I’m not allowed to go to any of these meetings, so if you do go to one, please give them all my regards, will you?

Pretty funny, right? Ha ha. But I’m really not joking — well, except for the monthly meeting; I don’t think there’s a monthly meeting. But causing conspiracies against me is an actual thing that I can do, and I’ve been doing it my whole life since childhood. Some might call it an ability, but I definitely don’t feel like it’s the sort of ability that I can control in any useful sense. It’s really more like an attribute — like a smell, perhaps; or a way of appearing; or sounding to others; or a weird taste that I leave in their mouths; or maybe a way of making them feel when I’m in their presence — a way that I give them the “creeps”.

You should also know that I’m autistic, and if you know anything useful at all about autism, you know that we autists find it very difficult to navigate the subtleties of interpersonal relationships. As a group, we are not known for our people skills. And really nobody need raise an eyebrow, or squint, or be even a little surprised when an autistic person, such as myself, inadvertently transforms some otherwise unrelated group of human beings into an actual conspiracy. This sort of scenario is practically a diagnostic criterion of autism. And if the FBI is not equipped to cope with this basic fact about autism, if it doesn’t understand it, or is not equipped to handle it in some way, then there is no meaningful sense in which the FBI can help protect autistic people from the very real conspiracies that spontaneously and far too often arise and turn against them.

Now, maybe you’re thinking something like, “Protect? Why protect? Why on Earth should the FBI protect someone from a conspiracy that he or she caused to arise in the first place? If such a person wants protection from their own self-created conspiracies, let them stop creating the damned conspiracies to begin with!”

And if that’s what you are thinking, then rest assured I agree with you, wholeheartedly. I could not be more in agreement with that advice. Really, I think that’s excellent advice. Good job, sir! You clearly have a superior sort of mind. I mean you obviously don’t have any formal training in Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), probably never read more than a magazine article about autism. I’m guessing that pretty much everything you know about autism you learned from watching Rainman, am I right? And yet…your mind….wow, your amazing mind….your laser beam perspicacity…your ability to see the one tree in a very complicated forest that even the real autism experts have been seeking for so long, and yet have not found. I mean, your ability to see the simple in the complex, to detect the subtlest of signals in the overwhelming noise, bring fresh eyes to a problem about which you really know absolutely nothing…NOTHING! I MEAN, OBVIOUSLY YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT AUTISM! CLEARLY, YOU DON’T HAVE THE FIRST FREAKIN’ CLUE ABOUT AUTISM, and yet, despite centuries of dismally failed efforts to cure autism with good advice….man…until you showed up! Golly, did you ever knock that one out of the park — cut through the layers of bullshit, and technical jargon, and Science — oh, gosh, those arrogant scientists. They always think they know what’s “probably” true within some “margin” of error based on the “best available evidence”, preferably obtained by conducting “carefully controlled” experiments published in “reputable, peer-reviewed journals”! But you….you….un-be-leevable…Really, I think your really on to something there. Yeah, you should write that up and submit it to the American Journal of Armchair Psychiatry. I think I see a Nobel Prize in your future.

OK, sorry about the rant. I know it’s a common stereotype that autistic people can’t understand sarcasm, and clearly I’m some sort of sarcasm genius….a real professional level sarcasticker. I’m like a super hero — Sarcasm Man from the Planet Sarcasticon! Saving the world from pompous fools by making them feel ashamed of themselves!

No, seriously, listen, you shouldn’t feel totally ashamed of yourself  for thinking that autism is somehow caused by a lack of good advice. Really, I think everybody wants to think that. Heck, I would like to think that. The problem is that autism just doesn’t work that way. If it did, it wouldn’t be in the DSM V. In fact, pretty much nothing in the DSM V can be cured with good advice. Imagine if you tried to advise a blind man into seeing: “You just have to really open your eyes. Come on, wider…wider!” Or to advise a man with no legs to “just grow another one. Hey, you grew the first one, didn’t you? Don’t be so negative!”

The point here is that if an autistic person were able to stop creating these kinds of conspiracies, he or she would have done so a long time ago. Nobody wants to get rejected by a group of people. I know in my own case, that has never been my goal. In fact, I’m pretty sure that whenever this happens, it does so because I’m actually trying to participate in the group, to be a constructive member, to contribute, to make myself useful to the others, to connect with them, to fit in, but then I somehow totally botch it up, and by the time I realize that it’s happened, it’s too late to fix.

And for reasons that I really do not understand, it appears to be true that the only thing I’m actually choosing to do and which appears to be causing the conspiracy is to try to participate in the group. And the only reliable way I’ve found for not causing such a conspiracy, is just to avoid people as much as possible. This was much harder for me to do as a child. As a child I spent most of my time feeling lonely. But eventually I came to embrace the solitude, even to enjoy it. Now I actually prefer it. It’s safer. People are just too complicated.

But they are also inevitable. Sooner or later, I have to cope with other people. I have to live with them, work with them, interact with them, and because they are inevitable, sooner or later I am going to botch things up and create yet another conspiracy of people who all think I’m batshit crazy and who feel compelled to reject me for it. Now, really, most of the time this collective rejection is just frustrating and depressing, and occurs for the most part without too much visible drama. But every so often, one of these conspiracies will appear to lose its hive mind and take things up a notch, going beyond mere rejection to reach down deep into to a much darker place in the human psyche. Every so often, one of these conspiracies gets it in its head to preemptively “defend” itself against me, which from my perspective feels like an arbitrary attack. And when that happens, I start to defend myself in return.

That’s when things can get really hairy — when they can really start to spin out of control. Last year, one of these conspiracies arose among a number of colleagues at work, and these people decided that they wanted to get me fired. And they eventually did. And because they didn’t have anything on me other than their mutual dislike of me, they had to poke and prod me until I overreacted enough times so that they could spin my overreactions into evidence of misconduct. They had several ways of provoking me, but one of these was to take an unbelievably long time to grant me the reasonable accommodations that I was trying to set up, so that I could do good work for the company. To give you an idea of how long: in the end the people involved in preparing the reasonable accommodations document wound up having to write/revise about 4 pages of text. To clarify, the document was just one page long, but it was went through 4 versions — 1 original, and 3 revisions. It took them 7 months to write/revise those 4 pages.

In doing this I believe they broke the law — in particular, I believe they violated the so-called Conspiracy against Rights Statute (Title 18 U.S. Code § 241). (For background see An Open Letter to the Inappropriate-Behavior Police). And even though I can see that my autism played an important causal role in creating the initial conspiracy — in making them dislike me, in turning them against me in the first place — as I understand it, our Constitutional rights to not require us to win any popularity contests. Even the worst of criminals are granted their Constitutional rights. As such, these individuals collective dislike of me did not somehow entitle them to block my exercise of the ADA and to set me up to get fired. This is just vigilantism, pure and simple. It is one thing merely to dislike someone, even collectively; quite another indeed to gang up on him in order to block him from exercising his legal rights. The first is perfectly legal; the second is a violation of Title 18 U.S. Code § 241.

I respectfully beseech your assistance in bringing these individuals to Justice.



An Open Letter to the Inappropriate-Behavior Police

The U.S. Constitution is displayed with a brown gavel on it

Image Credit: iStock by Getty Images

vigilante: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly: a self-appointed doer of justice.

vigilance committee: a committee of vigilantes.

From the entries for “vigilante”  and “vigilance committee” in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.

Dear Inappropriate-Behavior Police (IBP),

I urge you to read this letter carefully. In doing so, you may wish to know that it’s actually an “open letter”, by which I mean that I am going to post it on my blog for the whole world to read. Yup — the whole fucking world.

Whoops! Was my use of the F-word there “inappropriate” or “unprofessional”? I really don’t think so, but perhaps you disagree. If so, I invite you to just add this allegedly “inappropriate” or “unprofessional” use of the F-word “to my tab”, so to speak – by which I mean your little top-secret list of all my alleged “inappropriate behavior” offenses. You know, the list you all fabricated during that secret sham investigation you did on me last year? I’m referring to the list that eventually deluded you all into thinking that you could actually get away with stealing my Constitutional rights to due process and to the protections offered me as an autistic person by the American’s with Disabilities Act. Yes, yes, that list – the one that led you to believe falsely that you could just fire me with impunity from my job at the XYZ Insurance Company, and this for the pseudo-crime of being autistic.

On the afternoon of May 19, 2017, as two of your own deputies were committing this crime on behalf of the rest of you – recall they actually called me at home after work and told me that I was being fired for an alleged “…violation of [XYZ]’s Code of Conduct and [XYZ]’s Email and Other Electronic Communication policy]…” – I made a promise to these two individuals, and very soon I intend to keep it. I promised these two extra-judicial IB fake-police officers that I would eventually prove to them that in firing me they were in fact breaking the law; and though it has taken me several months to figure out just how to do that, I believe I now have nearly everything I need.

I have caught you, you fools. I have caught you all. And now I’m going to help the authorities – the real policepersons, a.k.a. the FBI – to bring you all to Justice.

It turns out the law you broke is known as the Conspiracy against Rights Statute, or Title 18 U.S. Code § 241, and it empowers a sentencing authority to impose a maximum fine of $10,000.00, or a maximum prison term of 10 years, or both; and this for fulfilling any of several violation criteria, most of which don’t apply to you, but in particular one of which that does. This is in fact the Statute’s first violation criterion, which states,

“If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same;…”

From Title 18 U.S. Code § 241 (Conspiracy against Rights)

To clarify, I believe that my family and I are the victims of your unlawful vigilance committee, or gang of self-deputized vigilantes; whose lofty, self-appointed, and profoundly misguided purpose is to enforce a highly discriminatory and fundamentally incoherent corporate “Code of Conduct” for a certain billion dollar, global, multinational insurance company, which I referred to a moment ago as the XYZ Insurance Company (XYZ), my former employer.

In particular, I believe that roughly a dozen of you, give or take, have conspired with each other to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” me in my State of residence “in the free exercise or enjoyment” of my right to protection as an autistic person under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and of my Constitutional right to due process.

Now, I strongly suspect you must have done this primarily as a consequence of your own ignorance and confusion regarding Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD, or autism), and no doubt the rest of the DSM V, as well. I strongly suspect that this collective ignorance and confusion effectively blinded you all to the important distinction that exists between the symptomatology of a psychiatric disability such as autism, and genuine misconduct. But however much this ignorance and confusion may explain why you broke the law, to my view it absolutely cannot excuse it. You people have way too much power, and if you are not held accountable for your actions, you will only go on to hurt others with ASD and other psychiatric disabilities — as I’m quite sure you have already done in the past, long before you did it to my family and me, and without ever getting caught.

But now I have caught you, you fools! And I’m going to help the the FBI to bring you all to Justice.

As a direct result of your unlawful actions, my family and I have had to endure intense and protracted levels of emotional distress, which continue to this day, in fact. Among the consequences of this relentless flood of cortisol through our veins and arteries, a variety of damages and injuries have ensued, including, but not limited to the relapse of a chronic health condition that my wife must manage, and which had been in remission for two years. In the end my wife had to undergo a two-month course of steroids in order to quell the flare up. We have also sustained a heavy financial loss, amounting to roughly $40,000 in lost salary and benefits, because it took 5 months for me to find another job.

I believe you should compare these unlawful posse-punishments that you imposed on us against the penalties you are likely to receive as first offenders for having violated the Conspiracy against Rights Statute. As first offenders I think you are unlikely to do any prison time, and the fines you will pay will be not more than $10,000, which is still far below the roughly $40,000 effective fine you ultimately coerced us into paying for my pseudo-crime of showing signs of autism in the workplace — symptoms which you ignorantly and vindictively stigmatized as “inappropriate” or “unprofessional”.

I urge you to note the glaring implication this comparison suggests, which is that you each appear to believe the absurdity that the pseudo-crime of “inappropriate” behavior is roughly five times worse than a Conspiracy against Rights violation – an actual Federal offense!

Now, in case you’re still not sure exactly which list I’ve been referring to, I mean the list that displays all of the cherry-picked pseudo-evidence you all tricked me into providing you – the one you probably all scrutinized so diligently during your secret sham in absentia trial of me so that you could comfortably and irrationally rationalize to yourselves sustaining the exact same conclusion you had long since jumped to like robotic little bunny rabbits in flight from the fox of your ignorance-and-confusion-fueled anxieties about, in general, the psychiatrically disabled, and in particular those of us with autism, and even more specifically me.

You know, I never did get to see this list myself, but two separate individuals have told me about it, including a former boss. I have only learned just recently what else is on the list, but during the conversation with my former boss – we spoke about it one morning late last April, barely a month before I got fired – I learned that it documented the following alleged “transgressions” of the company’s shiny, utopian, but discriminatory and fundamentally incoherent (not to mention haphazardly enforced) “Code of Conduct”:

  1. Mr. [Autistickish] was observed sitting for 10-minutes with his eyes closed in one of the chairs out in front of the building;
  2. He was also seen exercising in the company fitness center during working hours;
  3. He is often away from his desk for long periods of time.

Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? Is that really the all you had on me, just three weeks before you fired me?

Golly. You know, it’s really too bad that you all did not invite me to my own secret trial. Had you done so, I really think I could have saved us all a lot of grief. I really think I could have stopped you from firing me and from breaking the law. I could have pointed out, for example, with respect to item (1), that the company actually put those chairs out in front of the building for its employees to sit in them. With respect to item (2), I would have explained that the company allowed the fitness center to be open during the day in order to encourage employees to exercise during the day. And finally with respect to (3), I would have reminded them that company’s campus where I was working at that time had been expressly designed to implement modern productivity enhancement theory, which in this case involved encouraging employees to make use of “alternate work spaces” – to specifically not feel “chained” to their desks, is the way it was commonly explained in casual conversation. This is proudly advertised both in the company’s onboarding orientation classes, as well as written prominently on a wall next to an entrance to the dining commons. But regardless, I never was away from my desk without my mobile phone, and would have answered immediately, had the particular IBP spy that reported this alleged “infraction” seriously wanted to know where I was, instead of been just trying to cherry-pick the evidence required to justify my termination on May 19th.

I have caught you, you motherfucking fools! I have caught you all!

Faking It: Is This The Real Stigma of Psychiatric Disability?

Boy crossing fingers behind his back in front of dad.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

It is commonly believed that psychiatric disabilities carry a stigma. And I’m not sure about anybody else at this point, but I know that at least I have always assumed that this stigma had something to do with being weak — essentially a weakness of character, or virtue — something about being unreliable, undisciplined, infantile, etc.

But following certain uncomfortable encounters I’ve had in recent months, it has become increasingly apparent to me that this mental illness stigma may actually be a lot more specific than that. I have come to strongly suspect that this stigma may be really and really mostly about malingering — the unscrupulous practice of faking or exaggerating an impairment of some sort, in order to exploit the sympathy, compassion, guilt, etc. of others for selfish gain.

To be clear, at this point for me this is really just a strong suspicion — more opinion than fact, or maybe a conjecture, or hypothesis — that I seem to find much more plausible than its competitors. I think it’s critical we not forget that — primarily because I also believe that one of the most damaging mistakes a person can make is to confuse an hypothesis for established fact, a merely plausible idea for one that is actually true. And also because I strongly suspect that this very mistake is what’s actually causing the stigma in the first place! I think it would be tragically ironic to try to solve the problem of the stigma that burdens those with psychiatric disabilities with the very sort of foolishness that may be causing it.

So, again, I currently believe (until I encounter the sort of evidence that could change my mind about it) that this mental health stigma may be really and mostly about malingering.

What about you?