Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer.
It’s Halloween; an event that has never particularly interested or inspired me. This may seem surprising to anyone who has read the stories I’ve written in the horror genre. I do love a good horror story, and I grew up watching the movies on the Appointment With Fear series on seventies TV. Most of those films were fairly harmless Hammer horror classics. Some were probably less suitable for a child. In any case, no supernatural film or monster film has ever made me feel remotely frightened or chilled. I found horror movies and horror stories fascinating in the same way I found science fiction and superhero stories fascinating. My lack of interest in Halloween was, I think, down to the fact that in my age group trick or treating was an entirely American practice. I was thoroughly bemused when it migrated over to the UK, and couldn’t understand what dressing up as, for example, a pirate, had to do with Halloween.
However, as a child, I was very interested in the supernatural, and all forms of the paranormal. I believed that UFOs were spaceships, and that aliens had visited our planet. I thought ghosts were real. I was sure ESP was a real phenomenon. I also believed actual demons were real, and I think this belief was an obvious door-opener for the influence of religion that entered my life as a teenager. I flirted with a holy-roller, praise the Lord and cast out the demons type religion for a couple of years, and the malign influence of that religious experience haunted me for years after. This admission may shock those who only know me as a rather vocal atheist. What changed?
Life experience changed me, for sure. I looked at what some of the so-called elders of the church were saying, and compared it with what they were actually doing, and gradually saw through their lies. Education also changed me. Due to my as-then undiagnosed autism and the problems that came with it, I missed huge amounts of school as a child. I shored up some of the gaps just through being a big reader, and being naturally bright. But as an adult, I really threw myself into trying to catch up with what I’d missed in education. I read science and philosophy, went to college as a mature student, and then took my degree a few years later. Learning about evolution, and reading great minds like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens changed my outlook drastically. As a logical thinker, I saw the truth in their arguments, and at last the religious influence and fear of god fell away. For a time, it was replaced by anger against all religious practices, for the way I had been fooled. Although I am still passionate about atheism, I’m a bit less noisy about it now.
One strange knock-on effect of my liberation from religion was that I could no longer take any pleasure from supernatural horror. Let me clarify what I mean by that. If the premise of a horror film can be explained (with a bit of suspension of disbelief) by some pseudo-science (like Star Trek uses scientific gobbledygook to explain warp drives or whatever), then I can accept it. So, maybe vampires are not magical, but are simply a different offshoot of human evolution – yes, I can dig that. But tales of ghosts, demons, possession, blah, blah, I find ridiculous. This has been reflected in my more recent writing. In the early days, I did write some supernatural, ghostly horror. These days, I would say I am more in the paranormal and slipstream genre. I still have that affinity for horror, but it’s horror on my terms, as much psychological as anything else. The style of paranormal and slipstream fiction can be seen clearly in my novel Abominations, and will continue in my work-in-progress, Aberrations.
In the rest of this week’s blog, I will be talking about…
Aberrations: Progress on the current novel.
The Aut Life: My progress in managing my mental health and coming to terms with knowing that I am autistic.
The Aut Files: This week, I’m talking about some of the the vile abuses inflicted on autistic people. It’s a huge subject, and to cover it all would take several large books, so I’m focusing on just a couple of issues here.
Before we go on, I’d just like to thank those of you who are following the blog. For me, writing this blog has similarities to writing a good story: While I do it partly for myself, my main pleasure comes from knowing people like what I write, and that they want to read it. I’d be really pleased to receive any comments, no matter how critical, on my blog posts. If you don’t like commenting on the actual blog site, you can always find me on Twitter: @Autist_Writer
What a great week for progress on the novel! Working just in the evenings after my day job, in the small snatches of time I have before my eyes start to close, I have written 5,591 words. But it’s not just the word count I’m pleased with; the story itself feels good. These characters are like old friends when I sit down to write (even the horrible ones). I have completed chapter 43, with the outline currently scheduled for 60 chapters (this could change slightly – I leave myself room to adapt). The finishing line for the first draft is in sight, and I’m excited.
The Aut Life
I’ve been on my new meds for a few days now. I was told that they would take a couple of weeks to really take effect in terms of reducing my anxiety, so I wasn’t expecting anything great. But there have been side effects. My sleep has been extremely patchy, and I’m waking up several times a night. Oddly, though, I do not feel more tired. This makes me wonder if before the meds, I was using sleep as an escape from depression and anxiety, and sleeping more than I needed to. But if that’s right, and the meds have countered that, it would mean they have already started working. I’m speculating here, obviously. But the sleep disturbance is there. I’ve also felt some physical side effects regarding, ahem, bodily functions. Some of these side effects have been positive, some negative. I think I can counter the negative effects by changing the time of day I take the meds, and I’m starting that today.
I have had a few episodes of troubling anxiety this week, but I’m feeling fairly positive about the future. I’ve managed to be fairly physically active, although one lunchtime walk in the park was cancelled due to lashing rain. Regular readers will know I always go on about how therapeutic reading is for me. I haven’t read quite as much this week, but I’ve still enjoyed myself:
I finished the audiobook of Stephen King’s old Bachman book, The Regulators. I must reiterate here that I am a bit of a Stephen King fan, and he has written some of my favourite novels, but The Regulators is not one of them. For me, the story is just silly, and funny in places for all the wrong reasons. It is almost not worth talking about, except for two things: The narrator, Frank Muller, turns in a fantastic performance in this book. Listening to him, particularly in the opening chapter, was a real pleasure. I was actually smiling as I listened to the first chapter, it was that good; full of life and personality. The second thing of note in this book is way more important, and was a completely unexpected coincidence: One of the characters is autistic. And suffice it to say that I was less than impressed with the portrayal, for some fairly complex reasons. I’m not going to go into much detail this week, because in next week’s blog, I’m going to be using The Regulators as a springboard into talking about the portrayal of autistic people in popular media. For now, I’ll tell you that I gave the book two stars for being such an awful story, and it would have been one star but for Muller’s wonderful narration.
I’ve started my next audiobook, Andrew Sacks’s Anthropologist on Mars, which is a collection of case studies of people with various neurological challenges. Ill talk about it more next time.
I’m still working through my current Kindle reads, A E Van Vogt’s Slann, which I am finding dull, and David Robert Grimes’s The Irrational Ape, which is fascinating. Hopefully, I’ll find more time to read in the upcoming week.
The Aut Files: Abuse
It seems hardly a week goes by without a report in the media of horrific abuse or murder inflicted on an autistic person. If it’s not police shooting an autistic child having a meltdown, or bullies feeding an autistic boy a drink laced with bleach, it’s this: Thomas Valva, an eight-year-old autistic boy allegedly tortured and murdered by his father and stepmother. It has been reported by various news outlets that this beautiful child was beaten, starved, then forced to sleep in an outdoor garage with no covers in freezing weather, in which he died of hypothermia. There had been reports to local authorities of abuse and neglect in the family, which consisted of New York police officer Michael Valva, his three sons, his partner Angel Pollina, and her three daughters. It’s unclear exactly what other types of abuses had been reported, and all abuse of children is evil and repellant, but this is an autism blog, and I can’t help wondering why is was just Thomas, the autistic child, who was left to die in this horrific fashion. Did his father and stepmother just not want to deal with the autistic child? It beggars belief.
Disability as Vulnerability
I was browsing some posts by autistic people on social media recently, and there was a discussion between two of them about whether autism is a disability. One person claimed yes. The other angrily made his point that the term disability has been applied to autistic people by a world that just wants to see them a problem category. As far as he is concerned, it is the world that is wrong, not the autistic person that is disabled (I have paraphrased, but the gist is accurate). I understand this guy’s anger. Autistic people have been marginalised and abused throughout history, sometimes in officially sanctioned programs (I would direct readers unfamiliar with this to Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently).
However, there’s more to this definition of autism as a disability than an alleged attempt to disenfranchise autistic people. We, the autistic community, are in a minority. We live in a world which is by and large a neurotypical world. The interactions of most of the people we will ever meet or know are neurotypical interactions. The places, communities, and institutions of this world are neurotypical by design. Our ways of working, learning, playing, eating, and living are neurotypical by design. Autistic people are born differently, with different neurological equipment, who respond differently to the environment and culture they find themselves in. This leads to all kinds of problems; some physical, some mental, such as depression and anxiety. If a neurotypical person suffers from depression and anxiety, these conditions are now widely recognised as disabilities. Should it be any different for autistic people?
There are many different definitions of the word disability. Here is one from the UK’s government website, explaining what counts as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act:
It’s difficult to imagine a more accurate description of autism, isn’t it? If you’re a person whose tolerance for the neurotypical, or normal, world is so low that you have frequent meltdowns, or if you cannot maintain relationships, cannot function in a job, cannot tolerate clothing against your skin, suffer lifelong depression an anxiety attacks, cannot make eye contact with others, feel compelled by obsessions and repetitive behaviours, these things are going to have a dramatically negative, long-term effect on your experience of life. They also mean you are a vulnerable person.
Many autistic people find it difficult to understand the interactions of neurotypicals. They struggle to interpret emotions from behaviours, and are mystified by the complexities of social interaction. Did Ronnie Phillips, the twelve-year-old autistic boy given a drink laced with bleach, think his bullies were being nice to him by giving him a drink?
Autistic people, especially children, are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse because they live in a world they struggle to comprehend. Understanding that world can be achieved to an extent by some, but it takes time and painful experience. The vulnerability never completely goes away. Make no mistake: autism, in a neurotypical world, is a very real disability (The subject of whether autism should be treated as a disability, and the misguided attempts to change that, is something I will return to in a future blog), and a key feature of that disability is vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.
I suffered abuse as a child. Some of it would have occurred even if I had not been autistic. Some of it definitely occurred because my gullible nature was exploited cruelly by my abusers. The effects stay with me today, and will forever.
Various studies have been carried out to determine the increased risk of abuse against autistic children, and usually report that an increased risk exists. A report by Science Daily revealed this:
The abuse of autistic people, and the higher incidence of abuse of autistic people compared to neurotypicals, is a real thing. We should all be on guard against the signs of abuse in vulnerable people, and if we are willing to be brave and report suspicions to the relevant authorities, we might be able to reduce the incidence of vile criminal acts like that inflicted upon Thomas Valva.
That’s all for this week. Thank you again for stopping by. Have a great week, and stay safe.