The recent opening of Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s new Autism and Empathy website has started me thinking about the whole empathy question in regards to autistic people again. In my first post about autistics and empathy, I mentioned Theory of Mind issues as one of the possible reasons why there is a perception that autistic people lack empathy. With what I had read about Theory of Mind at the time, I’m now reexamining the concept and wondering if I had gotten it slightly wrong, especially in light of the recent challenges that other autistic writers have made to the prevailing ideas about autistics and Theory of Mind.
The Sally-Anne Test
The prevailing idea about autistics and Theory of Mind goes something like this: having good Theory of Mind means that a person is able to determine the contents of both one’s own mind and the minds of others; conversely, autistic people are unable to determine or reflect on the contents of other people’s minds. In short, the idea is that autistic people are unable to understand other people’s minds and know that others think differently than they do. This idea was put forth in Simon Baron-Cohen’s 2001 paper on the subject, and I’m sorry that I didn’t unpack it a little further before writing my first post about empathy and autistics. Now that I have, I again have to say: what a load of bullshit.
As you probably know, Autistics Speaking Day is tomorrow, November 1. Many of us on the spectrum have chosen this day to speak out instead of shut down, and The Coffee Klatch will be hosting a 24-Hour Chat on TweetChat tomorrow for Autistics Speaking Day. Also, other events and stuff may be happening too: feel free to check out the Autistics Speaking Day event page on Facebook for more info.
And I will be doing what I do best — poetry. I will be sharing some new poems I have written just for Autistics Speaking Day on here and Raven’s Wing Poetry, as well as sharing some other poems I’ve written in the past. I will post a list tomorrow of all of the poems here as well (so you don’t have to go a’diggin’) as well as Tweeting and posting on FB as much as possible. I look forward to joining everyone speaking out tomorrow in the Interwebs and Blogosphere and am honored to be part of such an event. Be LOUD and be PROUD on November 1!
You’ve been around my entire life, but I’ve never seen you
until now. Everybody else saw you and christened you
crazy, nerdy, or retarded through their own lenses… But I christen you
different, with a middle name of
(from my poem, “An Open Letter to Asperger Syndrome”)
Most of you who have been following me for the last few months probably know that I was a self-diagnosed, self-identified Aspie. Earlier this year, my counselor and I had discussed the very real possibility that I had an autism spectrum disorder. I proposed Asperger Syndrome for several reasons: 1) because I was verbal before age 3 and never lost verbal ability (most with classic autism either lose verbal ability or don’t have it before age 3 or so), and 2) other symptoms, such as obsessive and narrow interests and difficulty with social cues and interaction, also fit me. My counselor agreed, and thus began my journey to an official diagnosis.
Last I checked,
I wasn’t born with apologies – though some would demand
that I wear them for the apocalypses in my DNA.
(From my poem, “Dear Earthling”)
After a bit of a hiatus, I am coming back to you with a post about something that has profoundly affected me for a long time, although I didn’t realize it until earlier this year. To put it another way, I live at the intersection of AS and PTSD.
Now, what do I mean when I say this? For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I’ve spoken of my childhood and teenage years, which included physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect – most of which happened between ages twelve and eighteen.
Autism Women’s Network is in the running in the Pepsi Refresh Project for a $5,000 grant! If they receive the grant, they plan to host Project FAIM (Female Autistic Insight Mentoring) workshops “which will focus on qualities specific to females on the autism spectrum. Topics will include: peer supports, adolescence, adult life, relationships, vulnerabilities and successful communications.”
Consider that we are underserved, underdiagnosed, and underrecognized. This is a step in the right direction. Please stop by and vote daily for them! http://pep.si/a8PpwM And please tweet this/share this/etc around the interwebs…deadline is August 31!
I know how you
move into me. You come
in tides, squeezing through every pore
like nightfall that doesn’t know how to stay put. You don’t know
how you rip apart my senses, bleeding glorias as you
pass though me in double osmosis.
(From my poem, “Touch”)
If you’re reading this post and are on the autism spectrum, you’re already aware (in some cases painfully) of how sensitive our nervous systems are. This sensitivity affects many aspects of our lives, from difficulty tolerating sensory stimuli to impaired ability in handling stress, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I’m going to deal with the sensitive (no pun intended) subject of using medication (such as SSRIs, other classes of antidepressants, and other kinds of medication that affect mood and brain chemicals) in this post.
From what I’ve observed thus far, this topic has been debated from multiple viewpoints, even outside the autism community. Just Google the subject of antidepressants and autism and I’m sure you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of results. Certainly many of us have heard about overuse of these medications and horror stories about side effects, ineffectiveness of medications, or symptoms worsening – or we may have gone through these experiences ourselves. And of course, there is always the question of who benefits by the medication: there are stories of medical professionals pushing such medications to the parents of children on the autism spectrum in order to make their behavior more “tolerable”. And of course for us adults, there’s also the question of something being for our “own good”.