The History of Autism Part I – Origins of Autism

In 1911 a Swiss psychiatrist known as Dr. Eugene Bleuler made a startling discovery. While studying individuals with schizophrenia, a term he coined, he noticed that many of those same patients had related symptoms that he hadn’t diagnosed before. These patients seemed entirely withdrawn, oblivious to the people around them, and completely self-absorbed. Finding a way to describe them, he stumbled upon the term “autism” derived from the Greek word “autos” meaning self, in this case wholly self-absorbed. This is my two part blog that focuses on this journey of autism from a symptom of schizophrenia to a federally recognized  disorderin 1991. In order to be aware of the present, we should also be aware of the past.

In the many years that followed Dr. Eugene Bleuler’s discovery, autism remained categorized as a version of schizophrenia for a sub-group of patients. In 1926 it was claimed that Soviet neurologist, Grunya Sukhareva, was the first to extract autism from schizophrenia. Dr. Sukhareva even used the term “autistic psychopathy” years before Dr. Hans Asperger (whom I’ll get to later) did to describe his patients. But the man who made the theory popular was Dr. Leo Kanner, an Austrian psychiatrist who ended up in the United States, due to poor conditions in his adopted homeland of Germany. Shortly after his arrival in 1935, Dr. Kanner wrote the pioneering book “Child Psychiatry”.  It was this book that stoked the curiosity of a family from Forest, Mississippi, the Tripletts. The Triplett’s oldest son, Donald, had gone through many unusual symptoms that the family couldn’t figure out.  The father wrote a very long essay to Dr. Kanner and he agreed to meet with Donald, who became known as autism’s Case #1.

What Dr. Kanner found out from Donald was groundbreaking in the world of psychology. Up till that point he thought that autism was a part of schizophrenia but now he wasn’t sure. Donald didn’t have delusions, nor did he experience “voices” or other hallucinations that were typical symptoms of people with schizophrenia. Donald was living in his own world, but it wasn’t separate from the reality he really lived in. In fact Donald, now in his 80s, has acknowledged that he didn’t cry when his mother died in 1985, because he “just didn’t react” not because he was oblivious to her death. These new findings, along with observation of several other patients similar to Donald, had Dr. Kanner propose a new theory that autism, instead of being a relative of schizophrenia, it was of its own being.  He ended up calling it “infantile autism”, since his preoccupation was with children who shared those traits, and he published an article on his new theory called “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact”.

Around the same time, in the mid to late 1930’s, another Austrian psychiatrist laid the groundwork for deeper insight into the world of autism. Dr. Hans Asperger, whom Asperger’s Syndrome is named after, had met with patients diagnosed with “autistic behaviors” but were of a wider group and variety from the ones Dr. Kanner had seen, and had expressed greater interest in the most high functioning patients. While these patients exhibited many symptoms of autism, their symptoms were seen as benefiting them, not disabling them. Since he was not a child psychiatrist, he followed many of these patients through their successful careers, including the Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Elfriede Jelinek.  Of these patients, he was convinced that “autism psychopathy” played a part in their successes. In fact, he even started a school for those with “autism psychopathy” but the school was destroyed and the co-founder killed during World War II bombings.

While one would expect such research to be crucial to the total understanding of autism, none of his work was translated into English and it took a year after Asperger’s death when the English speaking world learned about his research through British psychiatrist Lorna Wing, who published an article about him in 1981, calling his more specialized diagnosis as “Asperger’s Syndrome”, and coining the term “the Autism Spectrum”.  But it took a decade later, for German developmental psychologist Uta Frith to put out the first translated works of Dr. Asperger, which ended up making Asperger’s Syndrome official as a universal disorder.

In the second half of this blog, I will convey the impact of the new diagnosis of a neurological disorder during a moment in time when the practice of eugenics, a political ethos built around genetic purity and the warehousing of the disabled, was popular.  This became the governing ethos of a vile nation state during the 30s and 40s. I’ll also discuss whether or not a counter-intuitive disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome was turned into a political gambit by its very own namesake. And lastly, I’ll share information on the first popular “root cause” of autism, the Refrigerator Mother Theory, which has been discredited. Hope you had a lovely Autism Awareness Month in April, and stay tuned for more history!

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Breaking the Stereotype – A review of In My Words: Stories of an Autistic Boy

I was given a well-liked book, In My Words: Stories of an Autistic Boy, to review. Following 22-year-old Robbie Clark, the book chronicles the growth of an autistic individual from birth at a Baton Rouge hospital to his current life in Huntsville, Alabama.

It’s a short book – 109 pages – with vignettes prefaced by emoticons, a direct summation of Robbie’s book and his life, all dressed up in light blue, with the paradox of the constant emotions that run through Robbie’s days, in a kind of clutter. Featuring a foreword by his father and perspectives from both his parents and sister, Emma, sprinkled throughout the book, it is a pretty good primer on getting into analyzing how autism affects people.

How does autism affect Robbie? He can recite any factoid about the Academy Awards, off the top of his head, and like Owen Suskind, the star of the Academy Award-nominated Life Animated, has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Disney movies. What I’ve gotten from the book, itself, is that Mr. Clark sees these things as parts of his personality, but not exact definitions of his character. Many of the stories point out that, from the beginning, he was more interested in being treated like anyone else, than just as another autistic individual. While he had moments of popularity and love, it wasn’t an easy ride to get from misunderstandings to a point of living freely in the world that he built.

Perhaps my favorite story in the book, “P.E. in School”, relates to the idea that sometimes people may have misconceptions about those with autism. It is a simple story, but one with a good build-up and even a twist to cement the importance of the event. In it, Robbie refuses to attend a gym class, because two boys constantly pick on one of his friends, and while that may be empathetic enough, the story further twists to show that those same boys liked Robbie and would usually pick him for their team.  Clearly, not everyone has a lack of empathy, and Robbie’s story is a great example of this misconception. I remember, years ago, when researching what it was like to have Asperger’s Syndrome that the symptom of “lack of empathy” was something I had seen plenty of times.

While the best option for him would’ve been to show up to class and stand up for his friend to demonstrate greater empathy. How many boys, in the same situation, would’ve demonstrated a commitment, especially given the way autism affects communication? How many would have refused because of loyalty to a friend?

I have two suggestions for the book. First, Robbie did have a few friends, the stories would benefit from having one of his friends describe what it was like to be around him. Second, although unusual for this type of book, I believe it would have been useful to add an index or table of contents, so people could find and reflect on specific vignettes more easily, especially as this is an important collection of short biographical anecdotes.

I did have a short Q&A with the author, who divulged a little about the present and the future. Currently he works with his father, Rob, at The Ledges, a golf facility in Huntsville, and he has recently gone on the road to do speaking engagements with his mother, Maggie. He has been to three speaking engagements so far: Huntsville, Baton Rouge, and Clearwater Beach, Florida, all of which really pleased him. He loved the large audience at the Baton Rouge event, 400 strong. While it was a brief segment, and his debut speech, the audience roared with approval once Robbie and Maggie finished their speech. He also told me that he loved how beautiful Clearwater Beach was.

As far as his job at The Ledges, it is very satisfactory work for Robbie, who has been employed there for almost a decade, longer than anyone else currently on staff.  He has nothing but compliments about his co-workers. He also likes how adaptable they are to his touring schedule.

For Robbie, the gist of his experience with autism is to be thankful for what you have, not for what you haven’t, and to concentrate on whatever drives you, completely to take advantage of your situation.

So there you have it, Robbie is a talented young man with autism. His book is about how he manages to overcome some myths about the disorder. For around $4 for a digital copy, and $15.30 for a hard copy, you can start your journey with Robbie and see where it takes you. It is good to be inspired.

You can purchase In My Words: Stories of an Autistic Boy by Robbie Clark on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. Best of all, Robbie has confirmed that he has a second book in the works.

Double the Insight: An Interview with Alex Plank of Wrong Planet

On April 28th of this year, Els for Autism is going to help celebrate the end of Autism Awareness Month by hosting the inaugural Autism Innovations & Global Impact Conference: The State of the Science which will see a team of leaders all devoted to explaining the current state of the union on autism. One of our presenters, who is hosting the VIP dinner, is a shining star of sorts, not just with what he can talk about regarding autism but also how he utilized his condition as a springboard for opportunities for everyone, including himself, who seeks to be heard, or understood, when it comes to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

His name is Alex Plank, founder and owner of Wrong Planet.net, a forum for those with Asperger’s Syndrome, a variant of autism, which has become the largest web forum for autism. This past Wednesday I was given the opportunity to have a 30 minute interview with him when he toured the Els campus.

Now, typically, when doing an interview I just keep to the script, even if it hurts, with very little room to improvise or to concentrate on the answers of the person being interviewed, almost like a robot. With Alex, for the very first time in my short interviewing “career”, I felt like I could finally be myself. What went from an interview turned into a conversation, as I could relate so much to a person who I could’ve been friends with years ago as we have the same condition, Asperger’s, the same birth year, 1986, and were born very close to each other – he in Charlottesville, Virginia and me in Columbia, Maryland – but we finally got to talk to each other now. While it is usually inappropriate to talk about the growth of a simple interview, for me it was a big deal as it allowed us a greater connection than if it was just some random neurotypical.

Alex Plank was first diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 9, a year after the U.S. government officially recognized the variant of the disorder, around that time young Alex was being bullied a lot and had a hard time reading social cues and making friends, since his direct approach of asking people to be his friend led him to rejection after rejection. Like Alex, I didn’t have a large group of friends, and as I grew, instead of eating lunch in the cafeteria I would eat it in my next classroom, or I would spend time in a small classroom for autistic kids, “Hannah Moore School”, studying and maybe having lunch afterschool, while Alex would be beating his guidance counselor at chess, “He wasn’t just doing it to make me feel better” adds Alex, though he also added, “I hope”. We also found it easier to bond with the teachers, and the adults, on a school’s campus than the students themselves because of our interest in things that the adults could relate to more than the kids.

When he found out about his diagnosis while going through his parent’s documents, he felt ashamed, like he was somehow defective. As the years have gone on, he has come to understand his strengths and weaknesses. While he had to self-teach himself all kinds of social cues by studying others at his alma mater, George Mason University, the innate “obsession” or hyper-focus abilities that autism gives a person facilitated his starting Wrong Planet at the age of 17. He does believe that while focusing on academics is a laudable life skill what will shape your world will be something that relates to those inner “obsessions”, in his case computer science and movies which have helped him succeed in jobs.

So, the big question you may have is: How did Alex start Wrong Planet? Throughout much of his life, Alex Plank didn’t know anyone like him, and it was especially almost impossible to connect through the magic of the internet, it was long ago enough that Wikipedia had only one server, so he and a forum mate, Dan Grover, talked about how they should create a web site meant for people with Asperger’s Syndrome to find each other, with the name coming from the both of them feeling like they are “aliens from some foreign planet”, living on the wrong planet.

What does he want to do for the future? While he wants to create better quality resources for people to use from his web site, he is especially interested in maximizing the social climate for Aspies by facilitating offline social events, and conferencing so that social functions like dating, and just hanging out, could have a purpose besides an online forum.

Besides Wrong Planet, Alex has worked with the visual medium and has used his reputation as a way to speak at different public events. In 2010, as a side-project for Wrong Planet, Alex started a web series called Autism Talk TV. The 26 episodes typically deal with educational topics for those with autism, expert and authoritative interviews, and even a few appearances by native co-hosts, Kristen Lindsmith and Jack Robison (son of John Elder Robison who wrote, “Look Me In The Eye”), who both have autism themselves. From 2013-2014, he had worked as a consultant, and briefly acted, on FX’s “The Bridge”, a TV series about a detective with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome who has to solve crimes. He has also appeared in multiple documentaries including “Shameless”, a French documentary about the misunderstanding of autism in that country, but what I really wanted to know was his perspective on the big blockbuster movie, “The Accountant”, where Ben Affleck plays an Aspie anti-hero.

While he liked the “absurd, off-the-wall movie”, his biggest disappointment was that there was nobody with autism credited for the making of the movie, but rather a bunch of doctors, even the Aspies who Ben Affleck claimed helped the film for him, were uncredited. To Alex, (and to me), doctors and specialists will never work in the same way that people with actual autism, because while they may treat those with autism, they can never know what it is truly like “to be someone with autism”. He also responded to the portrayal of Affleck’s character by saying that it is a myth that people with Asperger’s are cold, and devoid of any interest in social interaction.

As far as public appearances, many of which can be seen in videos on the web, Alex has given many keynotes at conferences for ASCEND and the Autism Society of America, and even DJ’ed at an all-autism wedding. What can he give audiences that many conference speakers cannot?

“I’m very tired and fatigued from these autism conferences where it’s dry and you hear the same stories over and over again,” he commented. Alex wants to overcome the typical doldrums of the circuit by enlivening his speeches with humor and fun, “making light of really bad situations by making fun of them.” He will also use his expertise in Hollywood to go over how autism is treated in the media, and how important it is for people to understand it. In a past year with “The Accountant” and academy award nominee, “Life Animated”, I think that his message couldn’t be more relevant.

So that was my interview with Alex Plank, if you have any personal experiences with the man, leave a comment, or any stories about Wrong Planet, and if you just wanted to read my writing, again, make sure to follow the blog.

To register to attend the conference and/or to meet Alex Plank at the VIP Dinner on April 28th, go to: elsforautismglobalconf.org

How to say goodbye, properly, to an inanimate parent.

Note: The government officials of Maryland and Florida do not endorse this article. Reader discretion is advised

As readers of this blog may know, I didn’t hatch out of an egg in the state of Florida. Instead I spent my formative years, with a healthy collection of angst, in Maryland, the seafood state of crabs and rich local history. Living in Maryland, to me, has always been like that of being a natural growth in a laboratory far, far away, and Florida is like the city that the growth either spreads mischief (in a family film) or destruction (in a oh no! monster film), though the hardest part of logic is the meaning that such an analogy overrides any prior contemplation of nostalgia for the “Free State”, after all laboratories are safe, secure, experimental, and interesting.

As the years have gone by, though, I’ve regarded Maryland as more of a curiosity, a kind of Southern state (though I think that its designation as a border state during the American Civil War is more apropos to its regionalism) with northeastern politics, a state which, if you’ve lived in it, was the perfect setting for something like “The Blair Witch Project”, due to its haunting nature and its rows and rows of forests. Almost creepy, Maryland can be. It does have greater character than I saw at the time, though it hasn’t changed my mind about the move I made after graduating from High School. Maryland was the past; Florida is my future.

And as the past can turn magnificent entities and buildings into ruins of memories and other eras, so has the same turned the old house that I used to live in from a large red storage unit to an empty museum. While these memories of mine are preserved well enough that I don’t need to see the full closing of the gallery of Merrick lore, I decided to take one final look at the house and the state in which I had spent so many years, during a short visit a few days ago. Short visits may always be the best way to approach my childhood memories..

Once I flew into Maryland, I felt the cold, harsh grab of its hand. There was chaos all around at BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport), bundled up in four layers of clothing to take on the constant gray skies that, along with the fog, were accurate representations of how I view Maryland, my Maryland. Now, it was the wintertime when I was there, but at least I could’ve seen remnants of snow, even abandoned orphans of the cold. Maryland has always had its dynamic highs and lows when it comes to snowfall though.

When I got to the house, it was mostly empty except for a few rooms. Strangely enough, even with all of the cautionary invisible tape around the structure, that was one of my most enjoyable times in that weird contraption in a while. I enjoyed watching fantastic movies, including “Fistful of Dollars,” one of the great westerns, reading an interesting book, “Land of Lincoln” by Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, and playing an excellent video game, “Drawn To Life” for the Nintendo DS, while sleeping on the couch, and having little to no disruptive allergies, Plus, the fantastic food, cozy theaters, and playing “house archaeologist” (even finding a very important part of my family’s history) all made my last visit, perfectly done.

But, that may be the most surprising thing for readers here, the food. Unlike Florida, Maryland has a lot of fantastic local places, especially for Mexican food. But the no.1 thing   Maryland is known for is its crab cakes; in fact the last place I ate at before leaving the state (maybe for good) was a fantastic restaurant in Baltimore called G & Ms. It’s a real old-timey place with what you would expect from a continental steakhouse, of sorts, except their highlight is the crab cake sandwich, the biggest, and maybe priciest crab cake sandwich you can have. For 17 dollars, you can get a crab cake that completely falls off of the roll, or crackers, as you bite into it, with a side of nicely prepared steak fries to complement the fantastic meal.

Second place of honors goes to Romilo’s in Severna Park, my Maryland hometown. One of those unique Greek-Italian hybrids, the unfortunate case of Romilo’s is that it is the place that made me fear pizza for years, although their pasta and other Italian meals were pretty good, but not to an exceptional standard, and I hardly ever had their Greek food but, besides the Greek salad, one of the best versions ever produced, none of them are extremely memorable. Interestingly enough, their best meal is neither Greek nor Italian, but the Greek flair enhances it, and those are their Philly Cheese Steak Subs, some of the best that I’ve ever had, and north Palm Beach County residents should know that I’ve been to Baldino’s. At Romilo’s, they give you the lettuce and tomatoes from their Greek salad, add some Greek seasonings, along with the steak and the cheese that the sub is known for. Not only that but none of the ingredients are over-emphasized at the cost of the sandwich, and they don’t spoil you too much, keeping the sub restrained, fresh and compact with a twist that makes it go from “alright” to “great”.

But the hall of famer was a place that has been a family tradition for decades, Ledo’s Pizza. You can find these restaurants all over Maryland, and on other parts of the Southern east coast. There is even one in Tampa. How glad I was to have this pizzeria so close to the house I used to live in, during a time when my faith in pizza, itself, was low. It’s often hard to explain the miracle of Ledo’s, the best pizza pie I’ve ever had, although Grimaldi’s and CPK come very, very close. At the start of your meal come sides dishes like their salads, especially with their house dressing, and spicy toasted ravioli – thinking about it makes me drool buckets – and then comes the pizza.

First, what is unusual is that they give you two medium pizzas on two pans instead of one huge pizza on one huge pan. Second, the concept is of a large rectangular pizza cut into squares, almost bite-sized pizzas. Third, nothing is wasted, you can have stewed garbage on the pizza and it will still taste great, the sauce is restrained but works very well with the cheese, the crust, if you can get those slices, is some of the best crust I’ve ever had, thin and crispy enough that it goes down with the same grace as the slices themselves, add on either the best pepperoni you’ll ever have (greasy, solid and flavorful), or a round of excellent vegetables and you’ve got yourself a great pizza. If only I can get a sponsor for a franchise out here on the east coast.

So that is a summation of my trip to Maryland, especially of the fantastical food highlights offered by its hometown kings. While, I may have discarded the state nowadays, the one thing that I may always miss is the good homegrown cooking, thankfully it’s only a two hour and 30 minute plane ride to get there!

You Don’t Need to Open Your Wallet to Give

Christmas and Hanukkah are around the corner. Two major religious holidays that celebrate miracles and the ideas of gift-giving and charity, besides having a religious identity. As an organization devoted to charity, we at the Els Foundation stress exactly the importance of material giving but, even more than a simple cash donation, improving the lives of those with autism, holding up pillars in our community, and listening to those with the condition are also very important to us.

The donations that we receive also allow the Foundation to employ someone like me, an actual ASD personality, to write these blog posts, edit various important company manuals, and to serve as a role model to the community-at-large. It’s not just advocating from abroad, but advocating from home. Plus, the donations go to a state-of-the-art professional school, the Center of Excellence, whose purpose is to give autistic kids a sensory-friendly environment in which to improve on their skills and to get an education.

As many readers would know, autism was officially diagnosed by the U.S. Government in 1990, and Asperger’s, my condition, in 1994. Thus, because of the relatively recent nature of the condition, our mission is more experimental and cutting-edge than many organizations devoted to pursuing answers to different disabilities. It is up to potential donors to go to the oasis brands in the desert, especially in a county as large as Palm Beach, and to make history!

But, beyond autism, part of our mission is to create a more inclusive environment through the game of golf with #GameON Autism™ Golf. Golf is a huge industry, with lucrative careers and a thriving culture on the greens. Beyond that, the Els’ mission is to also pinpoint the strengths of golf as a source to challenge, and improve on disability. You don’t need to be an atlas to succeed in golf, which requires patience, practice, determination, perseverance and a connection to the soul of the sport. It could introduce an autistic individual to a new favorite sport, and, perhaps, could also give that same person a great and highly fulfilling livelihood.

Nonetheless, cash donations are not the only way to celebrate the spirit of this Foundation.

There have been many stories this past year that illustrate my point.-  A football player sitting with an autistic kid at lunch and a cheerleader asking an autistic kid to prom are two that come to mind.- These are individuals that use their prominence and positions within the greater community to help out those who may feel lonely or set apart from their peers. In the spirit of the holiday, perhaps consider helping someone who may be quieter or feel isolation and reach out to them. Who is outside of your typical friendship unit? Do you know someone who needs help? Just because someone doesn’t say a word, doesn’t mean that they are always comfortable or satisfied with the way everything is around them. Everyone appreciates a little kindness so pass it on!

If you have a friend with autism, take them out to enjoy and share an experience with them. Or, if you know someone who has a crush, offer to take them both out to the movies or a holiday parade, or perhaps take them to a dance, if the crush is with you. Tell the person on the spectrum how much you appreciate them, and for those of us with autism, I recommend trying something new.

Do something new. Be something new. Whether on the spectrum or not, we all can benefit from extra compassion and opening our hearts to others who need it most. Happy holidays to all. Thank you for joining me on the journey through this blog.

 

#GivingTuesday

 

Last year, more than 45,000 organizations in 71 countries came together to celebrate #GivingTuesday. Since its founding in 2012, #GivingTuesday has inspired giving around the world, resulting in greater donations, volunteer hours, and activities that bring about real change in communities. Today, we invite you to join the movement!

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1. Make a Donation
http://www.e4aannualgiving.org

2. Shop AmazonSmile
http://bit.ly/SmileAmazonEls

3. Gift a Customized Brick
https://www.brickorder.com/els/

 

There’s another FUN way to get involved this #GivingTuesday. Follow instructions, below, and print off your sign here: http://bit.ly/UNSELFIESteps.

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Here are some examples from the Els for Autism Foundation staff!

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“I give to Els for Autism so we can continue building on this beautiful campus!” -Nicole Poundstone, Els for Autism Events Manager

 

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“I’m supporting Els for Autism because the foundation helps families locally and worldwide!” – Jackie Gilliland, Els for Autism Marketing Associate

Tag us in you posts and use the hashtags, below!

Facebook & Twitter Handle: @elsforautism

Instagram: els_for_autism

Hashtags: #GivingTuesday, #UNSELFIE, #ElsforAutism

 

 

 

Cinematic Autism

Movies are an essential part of my life as a human being today. Almost everyone, of any age, has an interest in a certain era or certain genre, and film has been long established as an art form that any type of person, from the hipster to the layman, can appreciate. Movies create larger-than-life personalities, introduce people to stories beyond their own, and can create stars through soundtracks and merchandise, too.

Because of its cultural appeal, I am not distant from a love of cinema, but what is even more interesting is that a current film riding high on the box office, The Accountant, deals with an autistic main character and a possible Oscar entry for best documentary. “Life Animated”, is about a boy who finds his and his family’s life changed when he gets regressive autism, which is when a neurotypical kid exhibits autistic symptoms all of a sudden. What better time, than now, to talk about the moving pictures?

My childhood, like many others, was influenced by the Disney movies I saw. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast… those were the movies I got into and one of my favorites was The Lion King. I also absolutely loved Jim Carrey – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective– was my first live-action film, and Carrey was my favorite actor in the 90s. Graduating to more mature films was also quite easy, and eventually I got an appreciation of the film medium as much as any other, the artistry, and the unique genius in the world. Because I’ve always been interested in people, it is a way to understand people’s lives without becoming a voyeur, especially including documentaries.

Through seeing, probably, hundreds and hundreds of films of all kinds, I have movies I would call my favorites. My favorite genre of film has usually been the comedy, with the western almost being tied. In comedies, just being able to laugh in such a stressful situation during life is of high importance. The idea of recreating the freedom, liberation and beauty of a western landscape filled with little communities, and a timeless tale of good vs. evil is what I like about westerns. My favorite film, though, belongs to neither genre, and that is Psycho. Typically, a good horror movie isn’t always about scares, but about creating great characters through the twisting of humanity’s psychosis like Norman Bates or Freddy Krueger, in a way it may be the genre where the villain could matter more than the hero/heroine, almost creating an underdog mythos through a character with very few redeemable qualities. Psycho does all of that, especially with Anthony Perkins giving one of the best performances that I’ve seen in a film through the character of Norman Bates. Plus, Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors.

So what does this have to do with autism? Autistic individuals are generally into repetition which many films provide in a sometimes clichéd manner. This form of repetition makes it easier for us to understand. If the films aren’t completely adaptable to understanding every social situation, it doesn’t matter due to the visual importance of cinema, but they may still be able to learn important social skills, good and bad unwritten rules and proper behavior due to seeing good and bad examples onscreen. It also doesn’t require a lot of work to utilize, therein poor motor control has nothing to do with being able to enjoy a film.

But what may be the most important thing when it comes to autism and film is that it can allow neurotypicals the ability to understand autism in a way that they couldn’t otherwise, and for those with autism to look at role models, to even see their condition brought to a place from which very few social pillars can reach. Besides the confirmations that Daryl Hannah (Bladerunner) and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers) are both autistic, there are many, many movies, of many different stripes, that all try to tell their version of the autistic story. Besides Rain Man (which is, probably, where many people first heard about autism), there is a Temple Grandin movie, The Story of Luke. Additional movies include Adam, The Big Short, The Imitation Game, The Social Network, A Beautiful Mind, and the list goes on and on. Particularly notable is the film “Change of Habit”, which was one of the earliest film treatments on the condition, and which stars Elvis Presley in a rare dramatic, and final, role. Due to  the era in which it was issued, its mentality on autism can be seen as very insensitive in light of more contemporary practices and views.

For years, I’ve loved cinema, and it is one of the best ways to bond with other people. You go to a theater, get some popcorn, sit in a nearby seat, watch a movie and you don’t have to worry about any social or communication faux pas as you, and another person, suck in the quality of whatever it is that you watch. Because these films move beyond whatever limitations you think you have, you can then socialize about something related to the subject, almost like you can love the film as if you weren’t autistic at all.

Important Message:

As an organization centered in the U.S., we are taking our time to celebrate one of the most important holidays that our fellow countrymen cherish, Thanksgiving. While being uncommonly filmed, those celebrating the holiday can still watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, an excellent Thanksgiving-based comedy that is one of the few films that I’ve watched more than once. Have any other movies you’d recommend?  Share them in the comments below and follow us to stay in conversation. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Autistic Athleticism

Usually, theatergoers are attracted to those movies: films portraying underdogs competing in a professional sport, wherein the thrill of the sporting event has added dramatic elements that engage, and inspire, the audience watching the movie. There are movies about African-American athletes competing in the Jim Crow-era South, about mentally challenged athletes rising to their best through the sport, and there are even a few movies about autistic individuals, “A Mile in His Shoes” being one of them. But movies are all about the past, they are all about telling a story, fiction or non-fiction, about an individual who transpires to become the focal point of whatever movie they’re in due to their inspirational tendencies, usually filtered through a Hollywood filter, where everything becomes needlessly glamorized. Why not shine a light on the athletes, specifically athletes with autism, who are competing in the present?

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My history in the realm of sports is very brief. I’ve always been a very slow runner with very low stamina, enough to where walking a mile would take an hour for me to complete, and I only got involved with the practice of sporting due to the requirements to do so until the end of the ninth grade. I did amass a short list of accomplishments throughout my trials in the world of sports, from becoming the “MVP” of a soccer league to taking out the champion wrestler at my High School, and I found some pride in succeeding in highly kinetic sports like Soccer and Hockey, but it never was a field that I was going to enter in. I do admire, though, those who make a field like that as their career, becoming more than just athletes, but historical icons.

And, yes, being a successful autistic athlete may be a little bit of a gift. While the diagnosis focuses, distinctly, on communication skills, delayed gross motor skills are also considered a common symptom of having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). What are gross motor skills? According to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health “Gross motor skills are the abilities required in order to control the large muscles of the body for walking, running, sitting, crawling, and other activities.” If you have Asperger’s Syndrome, for example, then the neurologists will say that one of the symptoms is in being clumsy, it is also thought of that early diagnoses of those with autism will find kids that cannot walk in a straight line towards the tester during some diagnosis tests. Thus, it is a lot harder to imagine anyone athletically active, and successful, who happens to also be autistic.

Well, while doing my research I actually did come across one such gentleman. The man’s name is John “Doomsday” Howard and he is a professional MMA fighter, specializing in kickboxing, who got the clinical diagnosis of autism. There are other MMA fighters with autism, like Serena “The Southpaw Outlaw” DeJesus and Connor “Captain Redbeard” Gross, but Mr. Howard actually has a record of participating in a few of the major league events held by the UFC organization.

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In an interview conducted with him in July, John Howard admits that he was very interested in learning about his diagnosis, even if in his case it is “mild and low”, due to the “many variants” of the disorder, and that it cleared up any mysteries about his life, stating that it was “good to know”. To him, autism isn’t really a setback as much as it is a fact of life. He responds to a question I ask him referring to an article from 2013 written by Coach Doug DuPont who analyzes MMA as a good field for those who are autistic, and whether or not there is any truth to it of which he confirms for me that he is very good at repetition, not uncommon for those on the spectrum and that repetition is very important to the sport of MMA. He ended our conversation by noting his social media presence on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, just type in John “Doomsday” Howard on any of these platforms to find him.

In conclusion, you can be a successful athlete and still have autism. There is even a runner by the name of Michael “Mikey” Brannigan who has competed in the Paralympics and is so fast that he sees himself as competing in the actual Olympics in the future, and he is autistic. Just like any inspirational sports movie, it is not about genetic determinism or fate as much as the will of the player in competition or outside to change the course of history, and to declare victory in the arena of the sport.

For The Love of Autism: A Realistic Story on “Love”

Generally, in the past, the common elements of inspiration from parent to child have been the eventual life of a home, a job, and a spouse. Now, as I mentioned in my first post, just telling someone on the spectrum to “get a job” isn’t as easy as it seems. A home could be possible with two incomes, , but having two incomes would require both participants to have jobs first. A later blog post may also offer other potential challenges about the “home” situation, like a transitional period where you may have to have roommates. And that brings us to the wife situation.

I remember reading somewhere that 10% of all autistic adults are married, which shocked me, somewhat. First reading about the employment statistics, and now this!? Hell, if you were an autistic adult, having a full-time job, which is a lot less common than those employed with autism who work part-time, and being a husband, or wife, would already make you sort of an outlier according to all of these statistics. Even the Natural Variation – Autism Blog, which champions neurodiversity, has put out statistics that show that 33% of autistic individuals, in general, are married, while 7% are divorced/separated/widowed, which means that 40% of all autistic adults have been married in their lives. While, according to the comparable statistics, the divorce rate is higher for neurotypicals,, it still counts that 76% of neurotypicals HAVE been married at some point in their lives, so what gives?

But you didn’t come here just to get statistics, graphs and models on the subject of autistic marriage, right? You came here to see if your new friend could give some “insights” on the subject.

I’ve lived on this Earth for over 30 years. And through those 30 years, I’ve never been married, in fact I’ve never been in a relationship before. And it is not that I don’t want one, I am dying for the kind of relationship that I would like. A beautiful woman, who would make me feel young, who doesn’t have the same eccentricities that I have, except for one or two, and who can tolerate my mind. I may not feel depressed again as long as she is with me. Wouldn’t it be so easy to find one?

Well, one of my educated guesses on why the statistic is the way it is may not be completely about incompatible social communication, but it is about one word: shyness.

It has usually been that I am not completely in love to talk to people who I don’t know, sometimes, though I do have a strong desire to open up to people, perhaps stronger than many neurotypicals do. It has also not been in my favor, that the girls, and women, that I’ve wanted over the years were completely unattainable to me, since I am overweight and don’t feel attractive. It has been so difficult walking the world alone, thinking that a miracle could happen, I guess now I know how a monk feels.

For example, for my Middle School’s farewell dance, there was a girl there who I really wanted to go out with, and I had this temptation to dance with her. Unfortunately I couldn’t even ask her myself, so I sent my best friend at the time as sort of a messenger to relay our messages back to each other. Eventually after a disembodied conversation, that same girl told me that she wasn’t “ready yet”.

But, to me, the opposite gender, especially the neurotypical types, are still not completely blameless in this field. I don’t know who came up with the rules of romantic engagement and initiation, it seems like an instinctual rule that has been passed down since the beginning of time, but this one rule makes my shyness even worse. What rule am I talking about? That the man has to initiate a conversation. Many autistic individuals who have desires for romantic relationships may be very shy. They may feel a sense of nervousness and anxiety, due to any feeling of undesired social awkwardness on their parts. What that rule does is it privileges the playboy over the geek, the madman over the quiet genius, and it really should end. Now, not all women are like this, nor are all assertive guys like it either, but we live in the 21st century and all old unwritten rules should be updated for these contemporary times.

In conclusion: You can’t go wrong dating someone with autism, even if you feel worlds apart. Love isn’t based on material things, it isn’t based on job security, what it is based on, is love.

 

 

Music in Motion

So, if you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll know that I am eternally indebted to The Beatles, beyond any measure of feigned sincerity. They gave me a figurative roof over my head and room and board, beyond any artist, entertainer, or con-man out there. It was primarily The Beatles that led me to what I could do with my time, besides my original goal, designing video games

What The Beatles did for me was to imagine (no pun intended) what it would be like if I tried to form a band addressing the same principles that The Beatles had, or at least tried to uphold. It was then, in the 10th grade, when I started pursuing the idea of writing song lyrics for my presumed future band. It was a way out for me, a way to express my thoughts and feelings, when I would feel uncomfortable, or awkward, doing it any other way.

During that year, I had highly depressive behavior because of all kinds of circumstances, and I felt like everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was betraying me bit by bit until I could find no sanctuary to hide from my loneliness and anger. Through music and my lyrical muse, I spent a good amount of time working on trying to pre-suppose a new identity for myself that would try to live through the pain.

This band, BTW, would never happen. I eventually learned that I had a very limited voice, even though it is low baritone, and I wasn’t able to retain any instrumentation lessons, nor could I be able to even play a guitar, but I still kept on writing throughout. I would write about loneliness, about conflicts in my life, sometimes politics, commercial relationship kind of numbers, holiday-based ones too. While I really felt like I was going nowhere, what I was writing made me think that I could be going somewhere.

But I never wrote about my impressions of having Asperger’s.

In 2007, my father started singing with a cover band, and by the turn of the decade, they actually had a regular gig. When the owner of an Italian restaurant invited the band to play at a benefit for Autism Speaks. The hostess of the event, a news reporter, learned that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and I was invited to write and possibly recite a poem about my impressions of Asperger’s at the event. So, I wrote what would become “Misunderstood”. Unfortunately, I didn’t recite it at the event, but it became the first poem on the website of Tony Attwood, a famous Asperger’s expert, which I will always treasure. I’ve gotten a good amount of positive feedback on that poem. It is always good to have a well-liked debut, especially since I’ve written much more about my mental quirks, and more Asperger’s impressions, lately, which really do help as a way to convey what one really feels.

But I’m not the only one. Gary Numan of “Cars” fame, and Craig Nicholls of Australian Rock band “The Vines” have all been quoted as having Asperger’s Syndrome.

Will I ever join them? Who knows?