Mental wounds still screaming
Driving me insane
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
— Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train”
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about conspiracy theories. Or, more accurately, I’m fed up with conspiracy theories.
My fiancé and I have been discussing these theories against the backdrop of world events for the last several years. On our dining room table there is a stack of books a couple of feet tall that I’ve been meaning to read about conspiracy theories and related subjects such as the premillennial dispensationalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation and the fundamentalist Christian worldview. To be quite honest, I’m mildly fascinated with conspiracy theorists and I’m trying to understand how they think: if I’d had the time to read these books lately, conspiracy theories would have become another special interest by now.
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.
- Head in the Clouds by Wings of Dust
How many times have you been told that you don’t pay attention enough, aren’t aware enough of your surroundings, or even worse, that you have your “head in the clouds” all the time? I heard this quite often, especially as a teenager and coming from my absolutely favorite aunt (NOT!). If you remember my post from a while back that talked about EMSs (early maladaptive schemas) and negative core beliefs, you’ll remember that sometimes we form these beliefs based on negative feedback from significant figures in our childhood – parents, relatives (well-meaning or not) and the like. So as a result of her negative comments, I developed a sort of hypervigilance which basically required me to pay attention to everything in my environment. Literally.
You can imagine that for someone on the autism spectrum, this would be downright tiring. And it was. I was constantly scanning my environment for details, dangers, etc., especially when I would move from one environment to the next. It would take me a while to get comfortable when I arrived into a new room, got out of the car and went into the house, and so forth (you don’t want to even know how taxing it is to try to notice EVERYTHING – including passing scenery – when you’re in a moving vehicle as a passenger). When I was in my early twenties, I dispensed of this habit: unfortunately, some events in my mid-twenties reactivated a healthy (again, NOT!) dose of post-traumatic stress disorder that I had mostly gotten rid of with help from my fiancé – the same PTSD I’ve mentioned that I am battling right now. And with the PTSD came the hypervigilance and the environment scanning. The only good thing that has resulted from this is my tendency to store visual details, which I can access later for my writing.
I recognized near the end of last week that this practice was downright exhausting and no longer worth my time, so I decided to stop completely. I decided that I was only going to pay attention to what was important, or what caught my notice. And couple of days later, this new approach paid off. (more…)
My most recent post, “Of Spice, Epicureanism, and Masochism” was republished over at Shift Journal on Thursday. Woohoo!
So, go check it out. And while you’re at it, check out the rest of Shift Journal as well. You’ll find some readworthy contributions from folks on the spectrum exploring what an autistic existence means as well as it being a “legitimate way to be in the world”, according to the website.