Sunday, 9 November 2014

This Whole Spectrum Thing

This is pretty:


It is often alleged that I am on here somewhere.  If that were so, left to itself I wouldn't necessarily consider that to be a problem.  It's not a failing to be on it and various things do suggest themselves.  When I look at how people said to be on it approach their experience, much of that approach just seems natural and straightforward to me, perhaps ironically suggesting that I empathise with people who are on it.  However, for me it brings up a whole load of issues which I've tried to address before but haven't so far got to expressing clearly.

I can't pretend to be an expert on this by any means, particularly not as much as someone who either has family contact with people on there or works regularly with them in some way.  However, part of my understanding of what is commonly seen as being on this spectrum is a low degree of empathy and difficulty in filtering sensory and possibly other stimuli, and perhaps getting bogged down in details and systematising as a form of comfort.

I now want to present you with a few scenarios regarding other people who are seen as being on it:

  • Person A enjoys winding people up  by doing various things which try to ensure that he gets a reaction and is the centre of attention in a group.
  • Person B picks on adopted siblings when about to visit her birth father because it's supposed to be a treat but in fact his apathy causes distress.  This seems to be motivated by jealousy.
  • Person C presents his friends with shocking scenarios involving distressed people to get a reaction.
All of these people are said to be on the autistic spectrum.  I unfortunately seem to have chosen several negative examples, which is probably because they are more memorable than positive ones, but there are bound to be lots of positive ones too.  However, they serve to illustrate a point.  All of these are fairly marked forms of behaviour and all of them, to me, seem to involve empathy.  The first is arguable.  It may be that person A enjoys the sensory stimulation of the noise and skirmish and that it isn't about empathy at all.  That one has an alternative explanation which does not involve empathy, although the most straightforward explanation does involve it to my mind.  Person B definitely seems to be seeing the situation from the viewpoints of other people, several of them in fact.  I can't think of a way of accounting for this which doesn't involve that feature.  Person C could be like Person A were it not for the focus on distress in third parties, which brings it closer to the neurotypical.

As I've said before, it can sometimes be very hard to anticipate what is going on, or not going on, in someone else's mind when you try to put yourself in their position, and not just for me.  The linked example is about how unlikely it is for someone else to anticipate what my experience is like because it seems to be very counterintuitive.  I may therefore be failing to empathise with persons A and C here, and their world may be unimaginable to me, or maybe just somewhere I wouldn't want to live.  Person B is more straightforward, but persons A and C to me seem to be more easily and simply understood by evoking the idea of empathy.  This leaves me with two thoughts:  that these are false positives of "diagnoses" of autistic spectrum "disorders" (I must get round to why I want to throw the Ds away some day) and that the autistic spectrum is not what it appears to be.

Suppose a child is born unable to filter sensory stimuli easily.  That child may then find it difficult to distinguish what it perceives someone as doing from the noise in their experience, leading to that child possibly learning a whole load of interesting or impressive stuff but not the bits which involve things like eye contact, tone of voice, body language and the rest.  Not the stuff, and here comes a word, salient to interpersonal interaction.  This means that the alleged failure to empathise, and in fact I don't see that as very plausibly present in the examples I just mentioned, would be secondary to that failure to filter.  Therefore, the inability to empathise is not an in-built lack, if lack it indeed be, but the result of not having had the opportunity to learn it in the first place.  This is reflected in the parallels often drawn between feral children and those seen as markedly autistic.  Feral children seem to have lacked exposure to the richness of interpersonal interaction available to most human children, so they are in a similar situation.

I don't want to describe this as a predicament.  That would make it look like the issue was with a deficiency inside the people themselves, and I am very loth to describe anyone as defective, particularly where that "defect" just seems to me like the normal way to behave.  I am also very likely to take it personally because people often believe I am on the spectrum, and it seems very likely that since I just put a covering letter in the questionnaire I sent to the gender clinic explaining that I rated my clitoris because it was a homologous structure to the penis, it will probably end up with them doing so as well.

This is where things get insanely complicated, and I'm partly writing this to disentangle it a bit.

Simon Baron-Cohen, and probably a lot of other people, see autism as the result of testosterone poisoning.  An autistic brain to Baron-Cohen is one heavily influenced in its development by androgens, in other words an "extreme male brain".  There are of course many women on the autistic spectrum and there is said to be sexism in the diagnosis of being on the spectrum which leads to under-diagnosis for females and over-diagnosis for males.  When I look at a list of female Asperger's features I can in fact feel their truth for me, although they operate in a different way because I can feel the weight of male socialisation very acutely, and my attempt to resist that too.  Therefore, maybe that isn't how it is.

I am aware that it's said that M2F gender dysphoria and being on the autistic spectrum is said to be highly correlated, in that people on the spectrum are much more likely to be gender dysphoric than the rest of the population and vice versa.  Nonetheless this both puzzles and distresses me.  If being on the autistic spectrum means having an extremely male brain and being M2F gender dysphoric means having a female brain in a body which seems to be male to others, how can the two be reconciled?  Is it that the features of the brain which are particularly testosterony are in one bit and those which are less so are in another?  If not, what exactly is going on?  These claims seem very hard to reconcile with each other.

How do I see what's going on in my head with regard to being on the autistic spectrum?  I suppose I see it like this.  Aspie ways of behaving do seem quite easy to understand and empathise with compared with neurotypicality, but I also feel I have become de-skilled in that area, because it didn't feel like there was any social reward available to me for behaving in a neurotypical manner.  This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because I don't get to practice it.  I find empathising to be a challenge to which I feel the urge to rise rather than avoid, and my work generally attracts people with a high degree of empathy.  I am also, however, conscious of the fact that gender dysphoric M2F people are frequently seen as being on the autistic spectrum, which might explain why I use my knife and fork the opposite way round to the usual manner, tend to clout people by mistake when I do Tai Chi, why I can't learn to knit and why I find communicating in sign language almost impossible.  Everything is mirrored rather than paralleled.  That "everything" may even include gender.

I don't know.  What do you all think?  Remember I'm avoiding Facebook for now and I probably won't read what you've got to say if you post it on there.