Six Good Reasons to Blame Autism for All Your Problems

1. You are actually autistic.

This is pretty much the foundation for what follows. If you aren’t actually autistic, then please find some other excuse for all your problems. Tip: a lot of neurotypical folks seem to enjoy blaming shit on an autistic person. I’m not sure how they rationalize this, because many can see and will even admit that autism causes problems for an autistic person, but somehow they seem to think that it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the particular problem they’re trying to blame on the autistic person they’ve chosen to scapegoat at that moment.

2. You need a polite way to tell someone to fuck off.

People hate it when you blame all your problems on autism and if you do it consistently in their presence they will eventually go away and leave you alone. I’m not sure what the real reason for this is, but if you ask they’ll say something like, “But what if you murder someone?” Now, if ever you find yourself trapped in this kind of conversational cul-de-sac, do NOT say anything snarky like “there’s only one person I’ve ever wanted to murder, but then I realized that I prefer to just watch you suffer.” Rather, calmly explain that you have never murdered anyone before, indeed have no wish to harm anyone at all, and are in fact philosophically opposed to violence. That probably won’t cure them of their irrational fears, but it will at least give your interlocutor the impression that you’ve taken the question seriously.

3. You botch things up royally in some way and have no idea what to do about it.

This one is tricky. In a situation like this, and if you’re anything like I am, your natural inclination may be to apologize profusely and to feel like a total loser. DON’T DO IT!!! Or at least, do not admit to doing this. Hide those guilty thoughts and feelings deep, deep down somewhere in the impenetrable fortress of your most private self. Look, if you pay close attention to neurotypicals (not too close or you’ll spook them and they’ll slap a restraining order on you), what you will see is that very, very few of them know how to take responsibility for themselves. Oh, yeah, sure, they talk a good talk, and will often appear to take responsibility for a mistake, provided it’s one of those small-potato mistakes that anybody might make. But as soon as they screw up big time — commit some really bizarre super-gaffe (a daily occurrence for some of us) — then suddenly they turn into scapegoat shepherds, and if you’re anywhere in the vicinity, you’ll be branded into their personal herd. This is why it is imperative in such situations that you fully avail yourself of that cornerstone of the U.S. Legal System: INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY!!!! And the simplest and most effective way to accomplish this (again, provided that you’re actually autistic) is just to blurt out “AUTISM MADE ME DO IT!!!” or something like that. By doing this you will shove the full burden of proof onto the shoulders of any witnesses.

4. You want to promote thought and discussion about autism.

When you start to blame all of your problems on autism, people are going to feel uncomfortable about it and want to talk about it. They probably won’t want to talk to you about it, but at least they will talk to each other. No doubt this talk will lead to additional conversation about autism in general, and perhaps other good stuff too like responsibility, ethics, equality, justice, and so forth. By the way, this is not why I’ve decided to blame all of my problems on autism, but it’s still a pretty good reason so I figured I’d list it. For my part, I’m just doing it because I’m sick and tired of being held accountable for shit I can’t control. I do realize that people will continue to blame me for whatever they want no matter what I do, but at least I won’t be helping them.

5. You’re sick and tired of being held accountable for shit you can’t control.

Yup.

6. You have problems.

Look, regardless of your particular problems, the fact is that if you are autistic, then at the very least autism exerts some sort of influence on all of those problems. Anybody who thinks that you somehow have two distinct types of problems — autism problems, say, and then “normal” problems — is just talking nonsense. Of course the actual effect of autism on any given problem will be more or less with respect to any other, but one way or another, you cannot escape autism’s influence on any of your problems, whatever it may be.

Now, one way in which autism can influence a given problem is through your own subjective judgments regarding just how much autism actually influences that problem. More specifically, any time you think something like “autism is 40% responsible for causing problem X”, you are most likely wrong about the 40%. Maybe you’re close — maybe the real number is 38% or 44%, but you’re almost certainly off one way or another. But really it’s quite likely you are way off the mark in these kinds of assessments. One’s feelings of confidence and especially certitude are notoriously unreliable in these kinds of judgments. Unless you have access to some objective way to measure the influence, you’re really just guessing, so why not guess that autism is 100% responsible for all of it? To the extent that a problem is trivial, the consequences of blaming it all on autism will also be trivial. And to the extent that a problem is serious — i.e., “not normal” or not the sort of problem that a normal person would have — then it’s quite likely autism truly is the root cause of the problem.

 

So, what do you think? Can you think of other good reasons to blame autism for all of your problems? Or maybe you can think of reasons not to do this. Either way, please share your thoughts in a comment below, unless of course you are seriously worried that I might one day use autism as an excuse to murder someone. If that’s the case, please know that I have never murdered anyone before, indeed have no wish to harm anyone at all, and am in fact philosophically opposed to violence.

 

Responsibility vs. Accountability

Although the words responsibility and accountability are usually treated as synonyms of some sort, I like to view them as representing distinct concepts. On the one hand, I see responsibility as something one accepts; and on the other hand, accountability is something one enforces against another. Although this might seem like an unconventional distinction to make, I like to use it as the basis of a simple 2-dimensional model that helps me think about those kinds of interpersonal conflict in which responsibility is a core issue.

For example, here we will consider the particular case of an us-versus-them scenario. In order to make it concrete, we will suppose that we have been invited to a dinner party at which chocolate cake will be offered for dessert. In this scenario we will analyze the cases where “we” may accept (or not) responsibility for bringing the cake, and “they” may enforce (or not) accountability against us for doing so. The following diagram illustrates all four of the possible combinations of responsibility and accountability: Responsibility versus Accountability

Starting in the upper left (green) corner of this diagram, we have the case where we accept responsibility for bringing the cake, and they enforce accountability against us for doing so. Then in the upper right (red) corner is the case where we do not accept responsibility for bringing the cake, while they still enforce against us accountability for doing so. In the lower left (green) corner is the the case where we accept responsibility, but they don’t enforce accountability; and then in the lower right (green) corner, is the case where neither we accept responsibility, nor do they enforce accountability for bringing the cake.

Now, a lot more could be said about this diagram, but for now I’ll just point out that the case in the upper right corner that is highlighted in red is really quite unique in that it is the case that will most likely cause interpersonal conflict. A situation in which our hosts will hold us accountable for bringing a cake that we ourselves have not actually accepted responsibility for bringing is, well, doomed to be difficult, to say the least.

 


Image Credit (Icelandic gorge): Pixabay.

But You Don’t Seem Autistic

Ostrich

Image found here.

It’s going to take some time for popular culture to digest and assimilate all of the progress that’s been made recently in the scientific and medical understanding of autism. In the meantime, those of us with so-called “mild autism”¹ will have to figure out good ways to cope with the well-meaning, but frustrating and inadvertently invalidating responses of all of the otherwise good people we know and encounter who have not yet had the opportunity to update their understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

And these people are not all neurotypical either. A few months ago I met a fellow aspie who quite sincerely thinks his autism was caused by a vaccine; and I know at least two individuals showing strong autistic traits who both think I’m being ridiculous even for suggesting they may actually be autistic. And I have to include myself in that group as well. Eleven months ago, just prior to my own ASD diagnosis, I had self-diagnosed and sought psychiatric help for what I was sure was some sort of Bipolar Disorder (BD). But following a full day of psychometric testing and clinical interviews, and after my diagnostician told me that that she didn’t really see BD, but what she did see was some version of autism — “what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome”, she said — I was quite skeptical. “But I feel empathy!” I objected; and “I have a great sense of humor!”

“Those are just stereotypes, ” she explained. “What they’ve found is that there is a lot of variation in the way autistic traits manifest in people.” Since then I’ve come to a much richer understanding of what that actually means. Having autism is something like being a bird, and when most people talk about birds, they probably have in mind one or two particular kinds of birds, like maybe sparrows and robins; and they really need to be reminded that ostriches and penguins are also birds, as are flamingos and vultures, even though they all seem strikingly different from each other, and especially so from sparrows and robins. Something similar is true of autistic people. If all someone knows about autism is what he or she learned by watching Rainman or Big Bang Theory, then his or her understanding is analogous to that of someone who learned about birds by studying just sparrows and robins. The first time such a person encounters a hummingbird or an ostrich, a response of “but you don’t seem like a bird” is nothing to scowl at.

Since being diagnosed with ASD, I have been confronted with this issue in various ways. I actually got fired following an attempt to obtain reasonable accommodation on my job; I have been accused of trying to shirk responsibility for my unruly behavior — of “blaming my diagnosis”; I’ve been accused of malingering; and I have been told that I don’t “seem” autistic.

I won’t pretend to have the last word on the topic or to have figured out anything like the “best way” to handle these kinds of frustrations, but I do feel confident that anything angry is a waste of time that will likely backfire in some way, making everything a lot worse. As I explained in a separate post yesterday, I believe rage has failed us in general, and I have utterly given up on any rage-based problem solving strategies. Needless to say, the next time someone tells me “but you don’t seem autistic”, I will not say anything like this:

Gosh, I'm so sorry I didn't fit your stereotype

Image found here. Meme generated here.

 


Notes

¹I put quotes around the phrase mild autism to signal that my own “mild autism” has had quite a non-mild effect on my life and relationships; a fact I believe would be readily confirmed by the many people I have shocked, worried, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, confused, infuriated and otherwise alienated over the course of my life.