Part 54: Fifty-Two Card Pickup

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I’m so pleased to have you here. If you’re not autistic, please stick around, I want you to get as much as you can from this visit to the blog. If you are autistic; hey. How are you holding up? It’s been a hell of a week, hasn’t it? Spectrum 10k still looms, and we have a long road ahead of us. But I said a lot about that situation last time – this week it’s time to catch up on what I had originally planned for last week before Spectrum 10 derailed it.

When I was a small child, kids had this prank they used to play on each other. If you happened to be in possession of a deck of playing cards, and another kid saw it, they’d come over and say, “Do you want a game of cards?” If you were like me – overly trusting and not quick to learn from bad experiences as a child – you’d reply, “Yeah, okay,” expecting a cool round of Snap, or Beggar My Neighbour. The other kid would take the deck, and then throw it in the air, letting all the cards fall where they would, before laughing, “Have a game of fifty-two card pickup. Har Har,” and strolling away.

Skip forward a few decades. There I am; a fully grown man, committed to adulting. I’ve got a kid, a job, a house, a car, I’ve cleared my debts, and I have anti-depressants more or less on speed dial. This was long before I knew I was autistic, and despite my depression and anxiety traumas (which I was basically compartmentalising in order to facilitate denial) I felt like my life was in order. Everything was organised like a deck of playing cards after a successful game of solitaire; numerical and by suit. I had no idea what was coming in the next few rollercoaster years.

Finding out I was autistic, and coming to terms with it, put my whole life in a new context. Nothing meant what I thought it meant. It was like an M. Knight Shyamalan moment, or the ending to Fight Club. No, worse than that: It was like someone had taken the deck of cards that was my organised life, and chucked them up in the air, walking away laughing. Har Har.

It’s more than two years since I was diagnosed, but just over one year since I started writing this blog with the mission of informing as I learn. A year. Fifty-two weeks; fifty-two cards. Every week of writing the blog, I’ve picked up another autism card, as I’ve tried to get that little more understanding of my life in the context of being autistic. So, on this belated first anniversary of the blog, I’m going to look back over that year, and finish the game of fifty-two card pickup. What follows is a list of all the blog posts from year one, with a brief summary of the major autism-related points covered. Each sentence in bold type is a link to the relevant post, should you wish to dive deeper. Here we go…

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1: Getting diagnosed later in life (after childhood) comes as a shock, and the lack of resources for newly diagnosed adults is scandalous. Late diagnosis. When you go through life without knowing you’re autistic, and no one around you ever suspecting it, then you’re in for a shock when the revelation comes. The internal autobiographical narrative you’ve curated for yourself is shattered. The shift in context is so violent, that you feel unreal. If you’re lucky enough to get an “official” diagnosis, that’s only the beginning of things. And when I say things, I mean the absolute void where all the support resources should be. Even now in the 21st Century, there is a gulf between the provision of services for autistic children and the lack of it for newly diagnosed adults. Even basic information is lacking. Turns out, the best source of information about autism, and coming to terms with being autistic as a newly diagnosed adult is… other autistic adults. The mass of misinformation out there is appalling, and the language and symbology around autism is fraught with peril. The first lesson I learned very quickly – within moments of publishing my first blog post – was that the puzzle piece symbol would be highly inappropriate for my blog.

2: Later life diagnosis of autism often comes after a mental health crisis, perhaps after years of being misdiagnosed with other conditions. A common reason some people are identified and/or diagnosed as autistic later in life is that they were misdiagnosed previously with another condition. Or they were accurately diagnosed with other conditions, but the underlying driver behind those conditions was missed. This was the case with me, having been diagnosed over and over with bouts of depression and anxiety since childhood. I was just a little kid when my GP, after being alerted by my mother, decided I was suffering from depression. Considering my continuing struggles through my life over the years, and the types of struggles they were, it baffles me that no one ever spotted there was something else. It was just assumed depression and anxiety was the end of it all. But it was a severe mental health crisis, from which I pretty much stopped functioning, that led to the identification of autism. For autistic people, autism is the be all and end all; many of us have suffered huge trauma, leading to the depression and anxiety. Understanding that relationship between autism, trauma, depression, and anxiety, is vital to understanding autistic people.

3: The phrase, on the spectrum, is not only grossly misunderstood, but often used as an insult. After my diagnosis, I started to find out what the term spectrum actually mean in reference to autism. It wasn’t what I thought. On the day of my diagnosis, I even asked my specialist where I was on the spectrum. Her answer was that if I was talking about severity, they really don’t look at autism that way. Unfortunately, she didn’t give me much more of an explanation, and my mind was reeling at the time, so I didn’t push. I went on to research it. I was already aware that the term, on the spectrum, was being used as an insult or a form of derision in my workplace, and in the wider world. I was also aware that phrases like, we’re all on the spectrum somewhere, were nonsense. But it took me a while to understand that the spectrum was not about a linear severity, from mild-to-severe autism. I’ve often talked about autistic people having “coordinates” on the spectrum, but I’ve recently discarded that idea in favour of a pick & mix analogy. You know those pick & mix candy displays? Think of that display as all the potential aspects of autism. Each different type of candy represents a different aspect of autism. Every autistic person has picked at least one piece of candy from the display. Some autistic people might have one piece of each type of candy. Some might have picked a few pieces from one type, and then the odd one or two from a few other types, but not picked any from the rest. You see how it works. It’s possible for two autistic people to have a completely different set of pick & mix, but they are both autistic. But most autistic people will find they have some overlap in their selection with all the other autistic people.

4: Masking is not only exhausting and traumatic, but sometimes done totally unconsciously. One of the biggest revelations about my autism was learning about masking. Between realising I was possibly autistic and getting the official diagnosis, I often asked myself how I could have got through more than fifty years of life without finding out before. The key to getting my head around this was the concept of masking. I found out that, simply put, there were two types of masking autism. There’s conscious masking, in which an autistic person deliberately alters their behaviour to either cover up or mitigate autistic tendencies in order to fit in with neurotypical people or situations. Then there is unconscious masking, which in my case meant adopting other (neurotypical) people’s behaviours – not always knowing that’s what I was doing – and suppressing certain behaviours, and powering through my discomfort in order to fit in. I didn’t consciously understand everything I was doing, and the bits I was aware of, I just assumed were the same for everyone. Turns out I was pretty good at the masking. Of course, being good at it doesn’t lessen the strain of it. Masking is unbelievably hard work, and it places an incredible emotional and mental strain on you. The effects of this strain can be devastating. Especially when it comes to burnout. An important thing to remember about masking, and its resultant burnout, is that you mask only through your outward behaviour; it does not change who you really are. This as massive implications in regards to ABA, which we’ll come to.

5: The debilitating effects of autistic burnout can be permanent. It’s not about having a bad day. The subject of burnout is regularly discussed by autistic people. The word means different things to different people. Some people describe burnout as something that can happen during a stressful situation, when an autistic person is no longer able to cope. It might involve a meltdown, and will definitely need a recovery period. Symptoms vary from person to person, but involve many of the things you would normally associate with a severe stress reaction. Then there is long-term burnout, which is a little bit different. It’s often related to long-term masking, which as I described above, is stressful and debilitating. The mental health crisis that led to me being identified as autistic was initially diagnosed as yet another bout of depression and anxiety. But I knew there was more to it than that. I felt that, over time, bits were being chipped off me, never to be replaced. I was becoming lesser. I was more easily hurt, less resistant, less able to cope with anything. Emotional and physical pain were constant. My life was utterly miserable. I was becoming unable to find pleasure in anything, but very able to panic about anything. In short, I was burning out. The burnout went hand in hand with decades of masking. In my case, the burnout was so severe that I have never fully bounced back from it, and after all this time, I doubt I ever will, now. I am fundamentally changed. Autistic burnout is not like a neurotypical having a bad day and getting stressed out.

6: The brutal influence of Leo Kanner and Bruno Bettelheim on the public’s view of autism continues to do damage. In the 1940s and 50s, Leo Kanner and Bruno Bettelheim were hugely influential in autism research and in directing social attitudes to autism. Infamously, their work on the supposed coldness of parents of autistic children, introducing the refrigerator parents trope, inflicted huge and lasting damage on autistic people and their families. We know now that autism is genetic; the neurodivergence of autistic people, like any difference between living things, is a genetic difference. However, ideas propagate, sometimes in subtle and unexpected ways, and the negative attitudes to parents of autistic people loom in the background. This is, I concluded recently, one reason why some people do not want to have autistic children; they don’t want to be blamed, either by themselves or others, for what they mistakenly see as a horrible disorder. This has some pretty serious consequences, as well see later.

7: The science showing the genetic roots of autism is both obvious and compelling. After I first had a quick look into the genetic explanation of autism, I did a little further research. It makes perfect common sense that neurodivergence in general, and autism specifically is genetic – because everything about living things is genetic at some level, right? But that’s not science. Is there any science to indicate autism really is genetic? Anything we can point to as real evidence might help put off those who still want to blame the parents? It turns out yes. The latest research has indicated literally hundreds of gene differences that feed into this neurodivergence. And there’s some really obvious science. One compelling piece of evidence is that if one twin is autistic, is it highly likely the other twin will be autistic, too. The incidence is higher for identical twins than fraternal twins. You can’t argue with that.

8: Undiagnosed auditory processing disorder made my life miserable. All through my life, I’ve struggled to hear things properly. I would drift out of conversations because I couldn’t hear what was being said. I would miss huge amounts of dialogue at the cinema or on TV, to the extent that I started having subtitles on TV all the time. I hated listening to live music, because I couldn’t make out the sounds properly. I also have constant – and I mean constant – tinnitus. As a young man I would do quite a bit of socialising, which I found somewhat traumatic, but I felt I had to do it to be normal. The difficulties with hearing things, and the discomfort I felt around conflicting sounds, meant I used alcohol to be able to cope. I was a big drinker for a long time. I had hearing tests, and for the most part, I was told my hearing was fine. Eventually, one test revealed I had trouble with certain frequencies, and I was given calibrated hearing aids to help. It made things worse, and I stopped using them. It was only after getting my autism diagnosis, and reading what other autistic people had to say, that I recognised my real problem: auditory processing disorder. Over my life, I have become an expert on pretending I understand what people are saying when I can’t actually process the sound of their voices. Sometimes, I even get in right. I have generally used a combination of untrained, unreliable lip reading, extrapolation, non-committal answers, and changing the subject. These days, particularly in the workplace, I’m more likely to just tell people I have a problem with auditory processing, and while people find it frustrating when I’m constantly asking them to repeat things, they generally understand.

9: When neurotypical people tell autistic people, “we all feel like that at times”, they have no idea how wrong they are. I’ve mentioned before that it was somewhat remarkable that I went through so much of my life without being identified as autistic, despite all the signs being there, and the massive shift I felt in the context of my life so far when I realised the truth. I’ve described the personal acceptance of my autism as a Road to Damascus experience. The scales fell from my eyes when looking at the past events of my life, in the context of autism. One of the many reasons I didn’t realise earlier what that on the rare occasions I trusted someone enough to tell them something about the difficulties I was experiencing, they would say things like, “Oh, everyone feels like that at times.” And I believed them. But although we might have been using the same words to describe things like, for example, social anxiety, the actual experiences we were having were very different. It was like I have a fault in my vision, and when I pointed to the sky and people said it was blue, I assumed what I was seeing was blue, but in fact, what I was seeing was red. And because I assumed everyone was the same as me, I had no way of knowing I was different. Then, the scales fell from my eyes, and everything changed.

10: Autistic people are an oppressed minority, being subjected to constant abuse. One of the most upsetting things I learned about what it is like to be autistic was the prevalence of abuse directed at autistic people. It’s everywhere. Violent bullying of autistic kids, sexual exploitation of autistic people, mistrust from authorities, leading to completely unfair assaults from police, supposed therapy which is actually abusive, it just goes on and on. This was the point at which I began to understand that, as an autistic person, I was part of an oppressed minority.

11: An interview with a young man who suspects he is autistic, and is looking to get a diagnosis. One week, I posted an interview on my blog, with a young man who suspected he was autistic, and was pursuing an official diagnosis. He spoke candidly about his concerns, and the mental health crises that had brought him to this stage. Clearly traumatised, his answers in the interview will resonate with anyone in his position.

12: The subject of autistic people lacking empathy is a complex, harmful myth. There is a commonly repeated trope that autistic people lack empathy, and I tackled that belief in this blog post. This was my first foray into something that would become a recurring theme in my blog; mythbusting harmful, inaccurate stereotypes about autism. This was a long blog post about empathy, and I had a lot of things to say, but important things to summarise here are that empathy is not just one thing; there are different types of empathy. I certainly could be perceived as lacking a certain type of empathy, as I am capable of completely cutting people out of my life with no regret, when needed. But the simple evidence of anyone interacting with autistic people shows the lie of the myth; we are well-equipped with at least some of the types of empathy, whereas many neurotypicals are more than capable of showing a lack of types of empathy; especially towards autistic people, funnily enough. If you put the myth to one side, and actually look at what people do, and the evidence of their emotional states, you see that across all neurotypes, individuals have different levels of different types of empathy. To simply say that autistic people lack empathy is a lie.

13: The question of whether autism is a disability does not have a yes or no answer. When I was trawling through lots of social media, trying to get the best possible understanding of what other autistic people thought and felt about autism, one subject kept coming up again and again: Is autism a disability. The question itself is fraught with difficulty, and it seems the most honest answer is, it depends. The word disability means different things to different people, and when people use the word in such a varied way in different contexts, you cannot rely on a simply, narrow dictionary definition. Some autistic people identify as disabled, some do not. Some people believe autism is intrinsically a disability, some do not. Some autistic people who do not consider autism intrinsically disabling, still identify as disabled based on the social model of disability, which basically means autistic people are disabled by a society that does not accept or accommodate them. Some autistic people are disabled in areas related to, or even separate from their autism, with co-occurring conditions. Some autistic people who do not identify as disabled will nevertheless be protected by law in certain countries because legislation recognises autism as a disability. So, yes, it’s complicated. my personal view is that at core, autism does not have to be disabling. However, autistic people are disabled by general society, and for this reason I now consider myself disabled. Furthermore, some of the co-occurring conditions closely associated with autism, or common to autistic people, are disabling in themselves.

14: The use of person-first language is setting back the public understanding of autism, and is an insult to autistic people. Something I come back to again and again is the way people use language to spread ideas about autism. It’s a very tricky subject, and one that can be so subtle that many people don’t get it. When we talk about words having power, we are not necessarily talking about inspirational Churchillian fight them on the beaches speeches. The true power of words can come in a drip drip effect of little phrases that shape common prejudices and stereotypes in the same way that centuries of water flow can reshape geological features. Specifically, the use of person-first language creates greatly harmful misunderstandings. Person first language assumes autistic people (or any other disabled group) do not want to be identified with their disability. So, according to person-first language, we should be called people with autism, not autistic people. However, the vast majority of disabled people reject person-first language, and that rejection is particularly vociferous in the autistic community. We are not with autism; autism is not an accessory like a handbag that we can put down. Neither is it an illness, like a tumour that can be removed. Autism is the very core of what we are. I am autistic, not with autism.

15: ABA “therapy” is abusive, and is effectively enforced masking. Let’s get this out up front – the so-called therapy, Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is abusive. No ifs or buts. ABA is used to get autistic children to change their behaviour in order to appear indistinguishable from non-autistic kids. It uses a combination of rewards and disincentives to encourage the desired behaviours, and discourage the undesirable behaviours. Some parents of ABA are huge fans of it, because they see changes in the behaviour of their autistic children, and interpret these changes as positive. These parents often claim their autistic child seem happier after ABA. The disturbing key word here is seem. Any autistic person who has masked (pretty much all of us), knows how exhausting and debilitating masking is. Changing outward behaviour does not change the person within. ABA shares a lot in common with the horrible gay conversion therapy in this respect (the same man, Ole Ivar Lovaas is behind both). Autistic people who went through ABA as children usually end up as traumatised autistic adults. The ones who don’t take their own lives as a result of that trauma talk compellingly about the hard ABA did to them. In the early days of ABA, autistic kids were punished physically with beatings and even electric shocks. Modern ABA “therapists” say that is a thing of the past, and current methods are not traumatic. But this is nonsense; persuading someone to submerge their own natural tendencies and behaviours for a set of enforced masking methods is always going to be damaging and traumatic.

16: Pop star Sia gave the autistic community a slap across the face with her nasty movie, then followed it up with an online war. I don’t want to give this too much space. The pop star Sia decided to create a movie which she described as a love letter to the autistic community. In fact, it was pure hate. Casting a neurotypical actor in the role of the titular autistic character, who proceeded to portray the character in a way autistic people found insulting and traumatising was only the beginning. Sia took the criticism badly, and what ensued was a war of words on social media between Sia and the autistic community. Despite her proclaimed love for the autistic community, Sia managed to tweet hate-filled insults at us. Eventually, she quit Twitter, but the damage was done. Her arrogant neurotypical approach to autistic people, including the lack of involvement of autistic actors, and her flirtation with Autism Speaks was horrifying. This goes to the core of a principle that is hugely important to autistic people: Nothing about us without us.

17: That time I couldn’t write a proper blog post, because I was stuck in hospital with an agonising spinal problem. In December 2020, I almost missed posting a blog when I was admitted to hospital via Accident and Emergency, due to excruciating back pain. It turned out I had a spinal disc pressing on a nerve. I was on a ridiculously powerful cocktail of painkillers for a while, and unable to write a proper blog post, but I was eventually discharged in time for Christmas. The back problem gradually improved but has recently started to come back, and as I type this, I’m pretty worried about where this is going to end up.

18: Christmas is an important time of the year, either for good or bad reasons. For autistic people, there’s likely some trauma there. In my first Christmas blog post, I talked a bit about my changing attitudes the Christmas, through an autistic lens.

19: When a TV show insults autistic people, I stake a stand. Sky TV broadcast a TV show, Football’s Funniest Bits, in which one presenter looed as an error from a goalkeeper, and described the said keeper as on the spectrum. I was understandably annoyed, and raised a complaint with Sky. It baffles me that people think it’s okay to go on TV and use language about autism as an insult. This kind of thing sets back understanding of autism every time it happens.

20: I take a forensic look at the implications of a cookie-cutter apology from the TV company that broadcasted the show that insulted autistic people. Following on from the above, Sky TV responded to my complaint with what on the surface appeared to be a somewhat casual apology, but which, in real terms, was just a dismissal of my concerns. The first paragraph of their response made repeated references to humour, indicating they thought I just didn’t get that it was all just a harmless joke. They promised to remove the offending comment from future broadcasts of the show, but to be honest, the damage was done, and the attitude of Sky TV to autistic people was evident. They don’t give a crap.

21: People are dying because of the anti-vaxx movement, which can be traced back to Andrew Wakefield’s lies about autism. The repercussions of disgraced physician Andrew Wakefield’s lies about autism being caused by vaccines continue into the present day – hence the anti-vaxx movement, with all its bizarre ideas. The ideas led to the murder of Pierce O’Loughlin by his father in a disagreement over covid vaccinations. The father then killed himself. Wakefield’s evil has spread far beyond the autistic community, and is endangering everyone in the light of covid-19.

22: Many employers have draconian ways of managing health-related absence, which can have unpleasant implications for autistic people. In this blog post, I had a long, detailed look at how employers treat employee absence. As someone who has struggled with mental and physical health problems over a number of years, I’ve had quite a lot of absence from work. I also had a near thirty-year career in management, and had to manage a lot of employee absence. I’ve seen the situation from both sides, working for various organisations. There is too much on this particular blog post to summarise easily here, but I will say that most employers have absence protocols that are downright draconian at times, and managers often fail to adhere to the spirit of prioritising the wellbeing of employees. This can have a particularly nasty effect on people who are prone to health-related absences, such as many autistic people.

23: Executive dysfunction is common in autistic people, and it can be tricky. This was a subject I knew absolutely zero about before finding out I was autistic. In this post, I shared a little bit about how I was starting to understand my own executive dysfunction. My brain can do odd things, especially if I’m under pressure. I don’t fully understand it all even now, but I’m working on learning about it. Executive Dysfunction is a big deal for autistic people, although, it does appear that what many of us refer to as executive dysfunction (myself included) is actually a related issue, dysexecutive syndrome.

24: Autistic people are being traumatised, injured and killed by physical abuse deployed under the term prone restraint, when they should be helped instead.. I read something about prone restraint used on autistic people, and it triggered a traumatic flashback to an incident of physical restraint (although not prone) inflicted on me as child, when I was undergoing some difficulties. Prone restraint is a method of pinning people down, and is being regularly used on autistic people, and people undergoing mental health crises. It can cause physical damage, and can kill. Those who survive it are left with psychological trauma nevertheless. And yet prone restraint is still seen as an acceptable method in many schools. Incidentally, Sia’s aforementioned horrific movie included a graphic scene of prone restraint.

25: Memes are fun, and can be a great way of communicating about autism. In week 25, I did my first meme-based blog post, which was fun. The pictures tell the sorry better than a typed summary here, so please visit the post if you haven’t already:

26: Many autistic people reject the neurotypical claim that autism is a disorder. This was my first look at the pathologisation of autism. Answering the question is not simple, as you are immediately faced with having to decide what you mean by the term disorder. People argue passionately in favour of a yes or no answer, often without thinking through the finer details. As this is yet another quite involved discussion, having a look at the full post itself is a good idea. But for now, I will say that claiming something is a disorder because the literature calls it a disorder is not a convincing way to make your point. Furthermore, use of the term, disorder, to describe autism has implications in society for autistic people that go far beyond any dictionary definition provided by a psychology manual.

27: Sometimes people from different oppressed minorities can get into disputes. It would be better if we could all show some mutual solidarity. This was a grim and difficult blog post to write, having been promoted by someone deploying a racist slur in a Facebook conversation I came across. It degenerated, in part, into an argument about whose trauma was worst; racial minorities, or autistic people. This seemed very misguided, to me. There is a section of society that appears to live life in a perpetual hate-filled rage against anyone other than themselves. They are racist, homophobic, misogynistic, transphobic, anti-woke, ableist, “pro-life”, anti-neurodivergent, reactionaries. The influence these people wield in mainstream media, and the way they direct popular opinion, stinks. It is my feeling that oppressed minorities should not be getting into contests of who has the biggest trauma, but should be standing together in solidarity against the prevailing hate.

28: The things that neurotypical people say to autistic people that they really shouldn’t. It’s often a source of both frustration and hilarity to autistic people. It’s quite popular among autistic people on social media to put together lists of things you shouldn’t say to autistic people. It can be both funny and informative to do so, and after the previous week’s grim blog post, I decided to have a go myself. Click on the link here to visit the post, and see the memes:

29: Autistic people are being fleeced of their money by a cynical worldwide industry. I’m a writer. In the early days of developing my craft, I found out how easily so-called aspiring writers can be financially exploited. As a recently diagnosed autistic person, I found out that there is a huge, worldwide industry bent on financially exploiting autistic people and their families. If it’s not fake cures and harmful therapies, it’s disturbing merchandise. It’s not nice, and there seems to be no stopping it. I found the parallels between the exploitation of aspiring writers and of autistic people fascinating.

30: The story of my journey from being a traumatised, undiagnosed child, to becoming a further traumatised diagnosed adult… told in memes. By the time I came to write this blog post, I had become very interested in the idea of using memes to communicate ideas online. I was probably late to the party, having spent a long time thinking memes were not very serious. I was wrong. When used well, memes are a great way of communicating important ideas in a fun way that can be absorbed quickly by people fast-scrolling through their social media. Another way to use memes is to attract the attention of the fast-scroller with something visually interesting, to pull them into a series of memes telling a story. So, with this post, I did another meme special; a kind of autobiography charting my journey from childhood to my autism diagnosis. Follow the link to see the memes:

31: When a neurotypical was supposed to help me by listening to what I had to say about my autistic experience, but just talked all over me. I’m at risk of getting into recursive fractals here. I had a meeting with someone to discuss issues related to my autism. This person, a neurotypical with little or no experience of dealing with autistic people, whose job it was to listen to me, continually talked over me, and dismissed me. He just seemed to want to say what he wanted to say, so I let him get on with it, and followed up with a blog post retrospective of some of my previous blog posts, in light of my recently-acquired understanding that I am part of an oppressed minority; the autistic people.

32: That time I received a strange online death threat. Plus, a look at the problems with the movie Rain Man. I received a bizarre threat of death and violence from some anonymous person online, along with someone I’ve never met. It was pretty disturbing, although it was clearly all rhetoric. Apart from that, in this blog post, I took the opportunity to look at the criticisms of the problematic movie Rain Man, a film which is loathed by many autistic people, with good reason.

33: Some of the common beliefs about autism are so drastically, illogically wrong. In this rather long, involved blog post, I related some of my experiences as a retail manager in the food industry, dealing with the irrationality of supposed superiors. Using a breakdown of how to manage financial targets, and the nonsensical way some senior managers approach the problem, I explained how cause-correlation confusion works, and how that has manifested in the popular, misguided, beliefs about the causes of autism.

34: In various ways, people keep trying to portray autism as an illness. It’s wrong, and really unhelpful. I had a look back a some of the health issues that have afflicted me in the past, before moving on to my latest look at the pathologisation of autism, and a discussion of how it should not be seen as an illness.

35: Discrimination against autistic people is rife. Here, I had a look at my troubled and problematic relationship with alcohol, before having a quick look at some online abusive discrimination against autistic people; something that would become an issue in coming weeks.

36: Neurotypicals with qualifications seem to think they know how autistic people should think about autism… even when those very autistic people are telling them otherwise. It gets messy. After discussing a downturn in my health, and more on my relationship with alcohol, I had a look at some disturbing tweets from an individual on Twitter. This person; a self-described psych major, was very insistent on the use of person-first language to describe autistic people, and equally insistent that there was something wrong with us; we have a disorder, according to her, because the DSM-5 calls autism a disorder. Despite actually autistic people telling her that we rejected person-first language, this person stuck to her guns. It’s was a bizarre exchange of views.

37: Some autistic people look down their noses at self-diagnosis, and it’s not fair. I’d been getting more frequently involved in online arguments dealing with abusive content directed at autistic people, and with discriminatory or just badly informed content. At times I felt as if I was going into battle against a target that would sometimes slip away like smoke, championing ideals that I sometimes felt no one else I knew really cared about or understood in the same way I did. It felt, at times, like tilting at windmills, and since I’d been looking for a chance to refer to myself as Quixotic, I went with it. An issue I tackled in this blog was that of some autistic people with official diagnoses denigrating those who self-diagnose. The issue of self-diagnosis is not simple, and many factors come into play. I feel strongly that anything that divides the autistic community is a bad thing, so this issue really needs to be put to bed.

38: A local autistic person is treated unfairly at work. When I champion his cause, some people completely miss the point. In this blog post, I covered my online jousting attempts to get people to see sense about a local autistic person who tried to exercise his exemption from wearing a covid mask at work. He was treated really badly as a result, and a lot of the situation felt like discrimination against an autistic person. For me, the issue I was discussing was not whether it is morally acceptable to not wear a mask during the covid pandemic, but the way the young man was treated. I firmly believe anyone who can wear a covid mask should wear a covid mask. I wear mine all day at work, on public transport, and when going into shops. Nevertheless, in striking examples of wilful stupidity, various people painted me as an anti-masker, rather than addressing the real issue I was raising; of discriminatory behaviour toward a young autistic person.

39: Autism is often badly represented in popular media. Here I looked at the infamous example of comic book Superhero Aquaman “curing” the nasty villain of his evil autism. I was shocked to discover an old representation of autism in a superhero comic. Aquaman’s “cure” of the supervillain Black Manta’s evil autism was one of the most misguided and harmful representations of autism I’ve ever seen.

40: Each of us has an internal autobiography that we curate to make sense of our lives. But we’re not always completely honest. I had a look at survivorship bias in this blog post which uses the idea of warping mirrors as a metaphor for the way memories can warp, and the way in which we shape our internal autobiographies to reshape our self-image.

Interlude: A brief message

I will never put this blog behind a paywall. I want anyone, anywhere, to be able to access this content at any time. There are costs incurred running this website, however. So if you like what I’m trying to do here, please feel free to show your support with a small contribution via Okay, back to the blog.

41: Acceptance of a later life autism diagnosis can be both shocking, and a great emotional release. And again with the biblical metaphors! After some talk about the walls of Jericho as a disturbing sexual metaphor, I also explain about my use of it as a metaphor for the emotional release that comes with being identified as autistic after a lifetime of struggling. I also talk a little about my increasing sense of belonging within the autistic community.

42: Hollywood star William Shatner is using his wealth and influence to hurt autistic people. I can’t stand by and watch that happen. I grew up a fan of the TV show Star Trek, and that meant I found Captain Kirk, as portrayed by the hilarious overacting from William Shatner something special. I had to reason at all to have any negative feelings toward Bill Shatner… until I found a reference online from an autistic person, basically claiming Shatner was a problem for the autistic community. I was baffled. What could this be about? But the can was open, and soon I saw the worms wriggling everywhere. Bill Shatner’s beliefs about autism, his affiliation with Autism Speaks, and his bullying approach to the autistic community online are appalling. He’s not the only fool online to have these views, but the problem with Bill is that he is famous, wealthy, influential, and has millions of followers hanging on his every tweet. Never one to shirk a challenge, I squared up to him online. We had a heated exchange or two. I wasn’t the first autistic person to try to get him to see sense, and I won’t be the last. True to form, Bill blocked me on Twitter. Again, I won’t be the first or last autistic person in that position! I jokingly refer to be blocked by Shatner as an autistic badge of honour, but what Bill s doing to the autistic community is no laughing matter.

43: I really wasn’t expecting Autistic Pride Day to get nasty. When Autistic Pride Day arrived, I was, perhaps naively, expect some pretty positive and uplifting interaction online. And while there was some of that, there was also a lot of – justified – cynicism, and a little infighting on the autistic community. With this blog post, I reflected back on the pride day with, yes, yet another series of specially crafted memes that summed up the, erm, action. You can find the memes here:

44: Autistic people; we’re the ones with rigid black and white thinking patterns, right? Well, not quite. Around this time, I felt I was starting to hit my stride in terms of getting a better understanding of what it is to be autistic. Not the finished article by a long stretch, but getting there. In this post, I tackled a pervasive myth about autistic people; that of black and white thinking. It has proven to be one of my more popular posts.

45: Neurotypicals say that autistic people don’t understand turn-taking in conversation. My observation of a neurotypical conversation casts doubt on that. I was really in the groove of living the autistic experience now, tackling yet another stereotyped myth about autistic people; the blatant lie that we do not understand turn-taking in conversation. This was a short blog post, as I was in the throes of an agonising problem with my shoulder, caused by a calcified tendon, making it hard to type. Still, I think I make the point well enough.

You can find The Autistic Writer on all your favourite social media channels

46: Depression is common in autistic people, for a whole host of reasons, most of which we have no control over. So when someone starts saying depression is easy to avoid with a few simple steps, I get involved… Another disagreement online with someone claiming that depression could be avoided with a few simple steps, led to a minor pile-on from his friends. Some of it was pretty insulting, but also unintentionally hilarious in its wilful stupidity. In this post, I drew together a few strands I’d touched on before; physical and mental health, medication, absence from work, and workplace management of absence. It was another tilt at windmills, in some respects.

47: The trauma and difficulties faced by some autistic people are not always immediately obvious. Just because we tweet and post about what we do, it doesn’t mean those problems don’t exist. I was once again faced with someone spreading really unhelpful ideas about autism online. This person was voicing his frustration at people who “claimed” to be autistic, but, in his opinion, were leading “reasonably normal” lives. His argument naturally led to the idea of severity in autism, which links to the idea of low and high functioning, as well as other problematic ideas. It was necessary to write this blog to take down the dangerous ideology being spouted by this guy.

48: Simon Baron-Cohen had damaged public understanding of autism, by his continued attempts to dehumanise autistic people. That includes the myth he perpetuates that autistic people lack a theory of mind. I tackled another myth about autism; that the absence of a theory of mind was characteristic of autism, and the implications this has for how society sees autistic people. This is a massively important subject, because the tendrils of this damaging and misguided, if not malicious, idea burrow out in all kinds of directions. This post was my first that involved dealing with the very problematic face of autism research, Simon Baron-Cohen. I had no idea at the time of writing this blog post how relevant that would become in just a few weeks.

49: I wondered what neurotypical people really needed to know about living as an autistic person. I can’t tell them about all autistic people, but I can sure tell them about me. I did something very different with this blog post, and it really was fun. I pretended I was being interviewed by someone about what it was like to be autistic Darren Scothern. It went in some strange directions, but it was very therapeutic, and would hopefully be of use to any non-autistic person who was genuinely interested in trying to find out about what autistic life is like.

50: When you’ve spent all your life aggressively, unconsciously masking, before finding out you’re autistic, it can leave you with some very uncomfortable feelings about being a faker. After the fun of the previous week’s blog, this one was more difficult. I wrote about impostor syndrome, specifically in the context of someone like myself; late-diagnosed autistic, who has been aggressively masking for a long time. It’s difficult, and there’s a lot of trauma encoded.

51: In a one-week period, I came across a number of issues affecting autistic people; some of these issues were old problems that won’t go away, but some were fresher. It was time to go with some at least a little more lighthearted with this post, and I came up with twenty memes (yes, memes again) based on autism-related issues that had caught my eye over the previous seven days. Although it’s a lighthearted post, some of the memes refer to pretty serious stuff. A lot of them are in-jokes for the autistic community, which might not make a huge amount of sense to people not familiar with the issues. You can find the memes here:

52: When someone claimed that autism doesn’t exist, I thought there might at least be a substantial argument behind it. Instead, It was an exercise in wilful stupidity. Once again, there was someone with a lot of Twitter followers spouting really nasty ideas about autism online. This one was special by any standards. The person seemed to be suggesting that autism doesn’t really exist; it’s just a name for a collection of other things. What he tried to pass off as logic in this argument was so spectacularly out of order, and so easily taken apart, it was simplicity itself taking it apart. But it had to be done, because reductionist thinking like he displayed can be really damaging if not checked.

53: The spectre of eugenics was raised in a shock announcement from a project headed up by autism research villain Simon Baron-Cohen, and it left the autistic community reeling. It feels a little sad to end this birthday party on a downer, but it’s completely out of my control. Part 53 of my blog was the one that was originally meant to be the first anniversary special of the blog, but I had to put that back a week because of this: Spectrum 10k. Out of nowhere came the announcement of the Spectrum 10k project, headed up by the increasingly ominous figure of Simon Baron-Cohen, the face of autism research who seems to have no empathy for autistic people, and apparently sees us as less than human. With a barrage of media publicity, and endorsements from celebrity “ambassadors”, the 10k project purports to be supporting the wellbeing of autistic people… but the disturbing truth is far different. Many very eloquent and knowledgeable autistic people in the community have blogged insightfully about this project. My approach was to lay out some basic facts about the project, along with some well-known and less-well-known facts and observations about the issues and people involved, and let people join the dots, or place the puzzle pieces, to make up their own minds. The Spectrum 10k project will continue to cast a bleak shadow over the autistic community for a long time to come, I fear, but I intend to continue adding my voice to all those others speaking out against it.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care, be good, stay proud.


Why Do I Write This Blog?

When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism.  I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation.  With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery.  Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers.  I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.

You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.

2 thoughts on “Part 54: Fifty-Two Card Pickup

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