People Pleasing and Self-Respect

I like people around me to be happy.  And I’m in the middle of a bunch of conflict right now.  And I don’t like it.  As part of trying to explain why I’m reacting certain ways and doing certain things, I’m writing this post.  But I’m writing in a general sense, because I think it might affect others and it consolidates a whole swirl in my head.

Sometimes however, it’s easy to do what people want rather than what I want.  Now, sometimes I do what others want and push aside my wants, and that’s good because I consciously make the choice, “This person is more important to me than my own desire in this area.”  For instance, I might not want to help a friend move, but the friend’s happiness and ability to manage life is more important to me than this particular want.

But it’s not always like that.  Sometimes the want is more important.  In some cases, the want is for time and space to think through things.  In other cases, the want is to not see people hurt by others and, if I have the power to stop it, I should, even if it doesn’t please people.  Of course that’s hard to do and it’s why so many of us (including myself too often) fail at it.  But that doesn’t change that it’s the right thing to do.

There are two reasons I try to please people rather than listening to my inner voice.  First, in my past, there are times when I was unable to defend myself against bullies and abusers.  When the bullies and abusers were unhappy, so was I.  That’s probably a pretty common reaction to abuse – to sort of internalize it and think, “Well, I could have prevented it if I only made sure my abuser was happy.”  Of course that doesn’t work, but it’s a maladaptive pattern that is pretty ingrained in me.  It was an attempt to survive, which is exceptionally rational.  So partially, it’s an survival mechanism that can be triggered.

Second, I may try to please people instead of listening to myself because I am sensitive to other people’s emotions, although not in the same way as a non-autistic might be.  They affect me very deeply and very strongly.  I don’t like being around unhappy people.  It can easily pull me into a spiral, something I’ve learned I need to avoid.  I can’t deal with these emotions when they enter my mind, overwhelming me.  I’ll get swept away.  So to avoid getting to that state, sometimes I’ll just go along with what people want.  I’m okay being happy.  I don’t want anger or sadness or whatever else in my head though.  This isn’t a good way of dealing with things, and I’m learning and growing in other ways.

Now, I debated writing this – someone reading this will know how to manipulate or abuse me right now.  But I’m, despite being wronged in the past by some in my community, still of the opinion that most people are decent people who don’t want to do me wrong (and even that some of the people who wronged me didn’t intend to wrong me, and are good people overall).  Not everyone shares my optimism, but my optimism has kept me alive. So, I’m going to hang onto it. I’m writing this to explain what affects me, knowing it probably affects others.

It’s hard to learn to listen to your voice.  It’s hard to step back and say, “I want person X to like me.  But I need to do what is right.”  It’s so much easier to give in to the coping mechanisms and just do what person X wants me to do. My abusers taught me well. And it’s not like most autistic people have tons of spare friends. I still live with lots of fear, whether that’s going into strange buildings, approaching people, or this. And unlike what may be said by outsiders, this fear has nothing to do with autism. It was taught.  And I learned that lesson well.  As do, I fear, lots of autistic people. Someone who hasn’t felt this fear has no idea.

So, not only do I respond to pressure to act certain ways, but I actively look for, “What can I do to make this person happy?” What I’m not doing is what is good for me.  I’m trying to do what is good for them.

Now, this isn’t the fault of the person who is unhappy or that wants my help.  They don’t know they are doing this most likely.  I’ve got to eventually stop things and say, “Hey, I need a bit to process this, get words around it, and maybe even figure out what my brain is trying to tell me.”  But of course that’s part of the abuse training too – I don’t do that often.  But I’m really proud of myself when I do.

How can people help? I don’t really know. I don’t have good strategies for this. I guess, people who know me and know this about me could realize I have a tendency to do this and give me time to process and think, and not take it as a personal insult if I don’t immediately do what they would like to see me do. What they want may also be what I want. But it might not be, too. And I would ask that you listen to me when I hint that I’m at the end of my rope.  If I even hint at it, it probably means the end of the rope is now five feet above my head and I’m dropping down a 500 foot drop. I don’t ask for help much. But I might occasionally hint at it.  That hint is real, it’s not like someone who might yell and scream over something not quite going their way – and, yes, people do that. But my hinting at a problem gets mistaken for not being a serious need while someone else’s yelling gets taken seriously. That sucks. Loudness or forcefulness is not the same as seriousness.

This is why we aren’t believed in the hospital. We go in and say, “Somethings hurting, but not bad enough for me to want to die.” That gets translated to, “It doesn’t hurt bad.”  Meanwhile someone two doors down is yelling and screaming about a minor injury – so they at least get some treatment. If we were worse off then them, we’d yell louder, too, right? Not quite. (ironically, if I say it does make me want to die, then I’m probably “suicidal” and a threat to myself, and, thus, not actually “really” sick and in need of having a physical problem treated)

It’s also a problem with the way a lot of us grew up, both from informal teaching (like my bullies) and formal teaching (where we’re taught don’t question people, quiet is better than loud, keep your voice level down, don’t make other people’s lives hard).  Autistic people get this type of teaching. A lot. Combine that with the typical responses that autistic people have to problems (tell the autistic how they could make people like them, rather than addressing the bully, for instance) and no wonder we often have problems with this. That’s why I don’t think it’s unique to Joel.

But now, regardless, you know something about me. I’m trying to stand up for myself too, to not be carried around with every wind of desire. My friends will accept that. Even when I disagree over things. They want me to have self-respect.

(and, for reference, no, I’m not directing this at one party or another in the Autreat thing, just in general to how demands for “do something now!” can be very triggering, so please don’t read this that way)

A Little Knowledge is a Good Thing?

We’ve heard it a lot.  We need more awareness.  Whether it’s racism, ablism, homophobia, or something else, it’s about awareness.  Once people understand, they’ll become decent humans.

That’s somewhat true – ignorance does cause a lot of problems.  But there’s a problem with just thinking awareness will solve it.  People who aren’t good at something often think they are – see Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Of course what Dunning and Kruger studied was areas where people already thought they had some understanding – things like humor.  Very few people are completely incompetent at humor (that’s no joke).

Ask an 12 year old who is reasonably good at math if they are good at math, although maybe not quite a genius at it.  Now ask a math professor with years of post-graduate research.  I’ll be the math professor rates himself lower.  He knows a lot better how much math he doesn’t know.  He also probably knows some really, really, really great experts in math.  The 12 year old probably doesn’t.  He probably wouldn’t even define math the same way.

But what if you ask someone about astrophysics?  Or auto mechanics?  I’m not sure, but I know in other commonly-perceived to be difficult tasks – such as chess or computer programming, people generally underestimate their skills compared to their peers – they think others are better than they are, even when they aren’t.  The key is that people focus on their own skills – if they feel reasonably competent at something, they are of course above average, while if they don’t feel competent, then they are below average.  And of course you don’t feel average about things you know nothing about – even if most people also know nothing about them.

How does this apply to disability or other minorities?  I think it explains a ton of mistreatment.  Someone who knows nothing about a minority or disability, and knows it, will probably be decent.  Why?  They’ll listen.  And since everyone with a disability or who is a member of a minority (or both) is unique, that’s important.  Lack of knowledge in this case is actually a good thing.

What happens when someone has had an hour or two of disability awareness, LGBT sensitivity training, or racial relations education?  They now know a lot more than they used to – not enough to actually be useful, but more than they did.  They know more than a lot of people do, and almost certainly more than they think most people know.  They’re feeling pretty good about themselves.

That’s dangerous.

That’s dangerous because it’s exactly then that people make assumptions.  “Oh, I know about blind people.  They want me to tell them where their food is on their plate” (they may, but they also might already know – before you spend 5 minutes explaining, you might ask!).  Meanwhile they will not think of telling the blind person, “Your bathroom curtains are open, so you’ll probably want to close them before you shower.” That wasn’t covered (again, you should ask and not assume!).  But if they asked the blind person, “Do you want any help, and if so, what can I do?” the blind person would probably let them know what they should (or shouldn’t do).

I’ve seen this with LGBT issues – if someone knows the words (What’s a demisexual?  What’s a cismale?  What does “curious” mean when someone talks about their orientation?), then they see themselves as fairly knowledgable.  But of course there’s a lot more to understanding the LGBT community than knowing definitions – people literally spend their lives trying to understand the LGBT community from both the inside and the outside of that community.  Even more significantly, if I know a man is gay, what do I know about his attractions?  It turns out, not much.  Sure, I can probably guess he’s likely more attracted to men than women in an abstract sense, but I have no way of knowing from just knowing he’s gay if he’s attracted to any specific man.  Or if he says he’s straight, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had consensual homosexual sex.  But too often the thrill of being educated about LGBT issues hides the complexity of real lives.  Someone that knows nothing will probably be more receptive to some of the complexity.

With autistic people, what I fear most are people who have been exposed in very limited situations to autistic people (for instance, worked part time for a short time in a group home or institution).  They don’t know what they don’t know – they’ve seen only a few autistic people in only a few environments.  They’ve heard about them from others that share their primary experience of being in those environments with autistic people.  So it starts a bit skewed.  Add to that, the person now knows a lot more than they did before, assuming they knew almost nothing about autism.  They now have awareness.

Awareness isn’t the same as competence or understanding, however.  They know only a little bit.  Unfortunately, people often think they know more than that.  This goes both ways in the autism community – people generalize about adults on the basis of a child they know.  Or adults with autism, who haven’t had children, generalize about parenting when they have little experience other than having been raised by parents.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing indeed.

If I want to tell someone about my autism, for any reason, I hope and pray that they don’t know anything about autism.  If they do, I have to figure out what they know and somehow unteach that part of it from them, or at least provide evidence it doesn’t apply to me.  That’s difficult (how can I know what they’ve been taught?).  It can be downright deadly in a medical environment – if the doctor associates autism with crazy, you may receive treatment for “crazy” while your primary complaint is ignored.  A little knowledge is dangerous indeed.

Yet, if I’m in a medical situation and the person has never heard of autism, then I’m in the position to teach them what matters for me.  That’s actually a better place to be in.  I can explain that it makes it hard for me to express that I’m in pain or localize a symptom or make appointments.  Rather than having to teach that it doesn’t mean I’m violent, don’t want to socialize, can’t participate in my own treatment, or whatever else.  It’s a lot more efficient to be the first person to tell someone.  It’s nice when I don’t have to break through the wall of “I already know about this.”

Maybe awareness is good.  But not in small doses.


Emotional Age and Maturity

This week’s horrible article by Temple Grandin’s mother contained a lot of unfounded and unsupported assumptions.  I’ve written about the assumptions around connecting late sexual experience with child porn, but there’s another damaging assumption in the article that is worth talking about on it’s own – the concept of emotional age or emotional delay.

People who haven’t studied autistic emotions (either formally or informally) often come to the conclusion, “Autistic people’s emotional development is years behind the development of peers.”  Actually, they usually phrase it as “Children with autism develop emotionally at a slower rate than their peers,” but I’m not going to get into the autistic vs person with autism debate now (others have already explained it).

Essentially, the idea is that a 20 year old autistic might have the emotional development of a 10 year old (or a different age – most advocates of this theory are quick to point out there are differences among autistics) and mature much later than their peers emotionally.

There’s a problem, though: autism is not “persistent childhood syndrome.”  Autism isn’t about developing slower.  It’s about developing differently.  Not different in speed, but at a more base level – different in order of development, different in outcome of development, and different in distribution of strengths and weaknesses.

Before we can talk about those things, we need to talk about other parts of autism.  Autism also involves how we communicate with the world.  An autistic person might, for instance, have significant trouble explaining what they are feeling or what an emotion is like.  That doesn’t mean they have underdeveloped emotions, but simply that they can’t express it.  Emotional language is difficult for a lot of autistic people (myself included), although usually not in the ways people think.  That said, differences in nature, strengths, and weaknesses of communication make people think we have emotional differences that we don’t have.  For instance, how do you show love?  There’s a ton of ways to show someone you love them – anything from saying, “I love you,” to action, whether it’s a hug or whether it’s doing something inconvenient for yourself that you know the other person will enjoy.  It’s not all the same!  But if someone tends to use a form of love expression that differs from what another person might expect, it gets interpreted as “this person doesn’t love me.”  This is true for NTs (neurotypicals) as well as autistics (a lot of relationship counseling of NTs seems to revolve around how to show love for each other), so it only makes sense that autistics might express in ways that baffle or confuse a lot of NTs.  But there’s a difference between baffling expression and lack of the emotion.

That’s not the only difference – another difference is in how we perceive the environment and our base stress levels.  Being in some environments, or being in a situation where you’re under tremendous stress, changes how you interact with people.  For instance, see this presumably non-autistic politician calmly discussing pension reform:

Now maybe the politician in the video is emotionally immature.  But maybe he’s not.  Maybe he’s just stressed and frustrated and lost control of the moment.  This happens to us all (I’m not going to comment on the maturity of the woman behind him responding by laughing – she also is presumably non-autistic) in situations where we are sufficiently provoked or stressed.   Now, imagine that you’re in a lot of pain, under a lot of stress, maybe bullied at school constantly.  Might you not lose your temper and display emotional “immaturity” more often?  Is it really emotional immaturity?  Are you handling your emotions well (considering other things you might do, maybe you are – maybe this is what gave you an outlet for your emotions other than suicide).

But, if an autistic has a meltdown, or can’t handle the current situation, rarely is the focus on her situation.  No, she needs to “learn how to handle her emotions.”  She needs to mature.  Never mind that she might be in pain because of the light and sound around her, that she can’t explain something that’s bothering her due to communication differences, and that others are treating her poorly.  No, she’s at fault to many people.  She’s supposedly immature.

So, now that we know some things that don’t point to lack of emotional maturity, what do we know about autistic emotions?

First, we know that autistic people have trouble expressing emotions – as hinted to above – in ways that NTs find acceptable.  Certainly many people, NT and autistic, can improve how they express emotions.  But it’s not typically seen as lack of emotional development (except by armchair psychologists) in NTs when an NT has trouble with this.  It’s seen as someone who has trouble controlling their emotions, not as someone who is a decade younger inside.  There are studies on this (too often, when talking about something like this, you’ll hear “we need to study autistic people’s emotions.”  I hate to tell this to some people, but we do!).

One of our most common reactions to intense emotion is to basically “hold it in” or suppress our emotions to deal with stress, fear, or uncertainty.  I know people who have seen autistics seemingly “fly off the handle” with no real provocation (that they recognized – in other words, that they had empathy for) will disagree with me, but research says otherwise.  It says that we actually do this a lot, more than neurotypicals.  And that we use less of the neurotypical reappraisal, which can be seen as reanalyzing a situation – did the person try to hurt us, or is there another explanation?  Obviously both strategies have their place (and autistics do both), but autistic people tend to do the suppression more than neurotypicals do.  This isn’t something that leads people towards child porn or causes them to be like children when they are adults (these are both aspects of the horrible Daily Beast article).  Instead, this deals with how we respond to emotions, not what emotions and desires we have.

That gets to the second point – we have the same emotions, but may feel them more intensely.  That makes sense, since it’s well known that we feel other things (like sound or light, for instance) often in more intense ways.  This research has shown that autistic people do have empathy.  Not only do we have it, but we feel it deeper and stronger than neurotypicals in many cases.  Maybe that’s why so many autistic adults are involved in social causes that are largely ignored by the general population (I can name 10 autistic adults I know that are involved in immigration social causes, but I can’t even name one non-autistic adult I know that is – and I know more non-autistic adults than autistic adults).

High empathy doesn’t lead someone towards sex crimes or child porn, nor is high empathy associated with stunted or delayed development.  In fact, high empathy would give someone even more reason – assuming that they didn’t have enough in them already – to avoid child porn and other sex crime.  Couple that with the staggering statistics on sexual abuse of autistic children (in my experience, most of us have been abused as children, and research seems to back me up), and it’s easy to see that, combined with empathy, the vast majority of us would not be drawn to child porn.  We know what it’s like to be the abused child (I’ll also add, to bolster things I’ve already said, that we’ve already learned about children and sex through our abuse, and have no need to learn about sex that way as adults – we were the victims of that already – even if Temple’s mom disagrees).

We also have the other emotions and attractions.  Including sexual attraction.  One thing that is more common among autistic people is homosexuality and other non-heterosexual sexualities.  Research supports this.  However, what research doesn’t support is a link to child pornography.  There are anecdotes and some academic writings similar to the Daily Beast article, but they are generally case studies and hypothesis, and thus not able to be used to draw broad conclusions.  Nobody debates the existence of sexual predators and child porn viewers among autistic people – the question is whether or not there is a link to autism (just because an autistic person does something doesn’t mean autism was a contributing factor).  In the accounts I’ve read of autistic child porn viewers, all of them had one other element: either the person was in an adult relationship (in many cases, married) where presumably adult, age-appropriate sexual activity occurred, or the person had otherwise expressed a sexual interest in adults.  In addition, in most, the person also assaulted or harassed adults.  I say this to confront Temple’s mom’s unsupported hypothesis that autistics, being emotionally undeveloped and thus like children emotionally, seek out images of children.  Clearly even in the academic case studies of autistic adults who view child porn, there’s not a lack of interest in adults – those emotions and attractions are definitely there.  We’re not talking emotional development delay – we’re talking someone who places their self-gratification and unusual desires above society’s rules and other people’s welfare.  That’s not “being childlike.”  It’s being criminal, something autistics and non-autistics both manage to do (ironically we don’t blame a desire to be part of a group facilitating some criminal activity, like some gang activity, on the neurology of the person doing it unless they are non-neurotypical – even though the desire to fit in is important and common for people who have neurotypicality).

Another factor involved with autistic emotion is the social acceptability of expressing our emotions.  Here, I’ll stray a little from research recognizing that personal experience is not something we can draw firm conclusions from (so if you want to criticize something here, THIS is the personal experience part!).  One of the tactics of bullies in my childhood was to provoke me to “tattle” or have an “outburst.”  The bullies were skillful – they knew how to manipulate the situation so that the teacher or authority would see Joel seemingly overreacting, without seeing all the background for why Joel reacted the way he did.  So, for instance, they might tease me all day when the teacher isn’t looking or watching, but when I’ve finally had enough and blow up, the teacher just sees me yelling and screaming at the bullies.  When asked, “Why?” I likely can’t respond coherently or calmly, or I say, “He’s teasing me” to which the teacher thinks, “That reaction is WAY beyond how he should have reacted to being called a name once” (and it would be, if it was once).  So, now, I’m emotionally immature (ironically, the bullies who exploit this are not).

We do experience emotions differently and deeply.  Adults aren’t children, even if the adults have emotional differences.  It might sound good to think of an adult as a child as why the person would be sexually attracted to kids, but that’s not supported by studies of pedophiles (a group that has been extensively studied).  Yes, there are autistic criminals, pedophiles, and child porn viewers.  We’re not all saints, and there are some pretty horrible people among us – just as there is with the rest of the population.  We’re not unique and free from the sins of humanity.  But we’re also not more likely to sin, nor more likely to “act like children emotionally.”  We will act differently than neurotypical adults, that’s for sure.  And there’s a wide variety of difference, but none of that is like a neurotypical child.

Part of fixing the problem of poor sexual education among autistic people involves us treating people as they are, not as we think they are or want to see them.  That’s where this scares me the most – if you think a 20 year old is emotionally a 10 year old, what did you think of them as at 10 years old?  Certainly not a 10 year old.  So, if they were like a 5 year old then, you probably don’t need to think of them as soon-to-begin puberty.  So you get to put off that sex talk that you might give a neurotypical (although, unlike what Temple’s mom says, most people put off that talk for neurotypicals too – they just don’t have the justification; dads are not generally teaching kids about sex, nor are moms – so don’t blame the absent dad for this, as the present dad and the present mom don’t do it either).  But the reason for this talk isn’t to keep your child from becoming a predator as much as to keep him from becoming a victim and to help him as he grows develop the type of relationships that are positive and affirming of everyone involved.  That’s something everyone needs.

Inexperience and Irony

I commented on an online discussion today about autistic people.  The conversation basically went like:

  • (person A) [states a premise that isn’t supported by research, but is their belief]
  • (person B) [states a different premise that also isn’t supported by research, but is their belief and uses personal experience to demonstrate it is true]
  • Joel: Actually, I disagree with person A on this, for [this reason] and with person B because it’s also unsupported by research on this.
  • (person C) Joel, that’s just your experience.  Other autistics are different than you.  We also need research on this.

That’s pretty common as a response to comments from an autistic person.  When we say, “Uh, no,” and describe our disagreement, two things are immediately assumed by some people (too often, these people are parents, so that’s the example I’ll use, but of course not all parents do this, nor is everyone that does this a parent):

  1. Joel, you don’t know much about autistic people other than yourself.
  2. Joel, you are nothing like my kid, so what you say doesn’t apply.

Now, I never argue that I am like someone’s kid (for one, I’m an adult, and most kids are well kids; for another, yes, I do know that there are lots of different autistic people).

But on the first point, I’m actually a bit more knowledgable than people seem to think when they dismiss my views on the basis “it is personal experience.”  No, I try to make it clear when it is personal experience and when it’s not.  (Ironically the writings that I’ve written that have the fewest criticisms are writings I wrote based on personal experience alone – probably because of the ease in dismissing any need to take into consideration a different opinion)  Yes, my experience informs me, but I – believe it or not – actually know that there is a wide variation among autistic people.  I have a bunch of autistic friends, all very different.  And I’ve met plenty of autistic children.  But beyond that personal experience, I’ve talked to researchers and experts, read their reports (and criticized some of them when warranted!).  I actually know some things through means other than personal experience.  And when dismissing personal experience, outside of baseless generalization (if someone says something applies to all autistic people, an autistic person is perfectly justified in saying, “It doesn’t apply to ME”), I try to explain why I am saying something, and often even provide citations.  Because I don’t want to be ignored.

Strangely, the people that dismiss my views as personal experience and an experience unlike that of their child generally know very little about my personal experience.  But, beyond that, often the personal experience of raising an autistic child is considered relevant.  Few people question a parent who says something about autism and cites their experience with their kid as an example – that personal experience is acceptable.  That’s valued.

I find that interesting.  And ironic.

I also find the conversation today – one like many I’ve had – interesting in that people say that we need research on this topic while being ignorant of the research that is already done.  Now ignorance of research isn’t a horrible thing – that’s normal.  I certainly don’t know all that is out there, and there is no reason someone else should either.  But most of the time when I talk about the research in such a case – because the research most likely supports what I’ve already said!  Instead, I get, “Well, autistic people are different and we need more research.”  Uh, maybe.  But maybe we should start by figuring out what research is out there, whether it is any good (that would likely involve reading it prior to criticizing it), and being willing to expand our mind a bit.  Too often, “We need to research X” really means, “We need someone to confirm what I’m saying.”  That’s not cool.  Willful ignorance isn’t as benign as simple ignorance.

Now, I’m fine with people disagreeing with me.  I’m not driven by a need to be right (really!).  But I do demand – when it affects people’s freedom and rights – that people saying or doing things to restrict that freedom or rights actually have a valid reason for what they are doing, beyond personal experience or calls for yet more research (particularly when the research actually exists!).  So, disagree with me.  But back it up.  And perhaps we might both learn something beyond who is right.

The Irresistible Autistic Draw to Child Porn and Numbers Games

Apparently, autistic men are drawn to child porn due to our emotional ages being the same as those of a child.

Uh, no.

First of all, the minute you start talking “emotional age” (or variants of mental age, intellectual age, etc), you’re going down the wrong path.  Someone who has trouble with emotions but has lived with that trouble for two decades is not like a 10 year old.  Period.  The same goes for intellect.  I’m not going to go into that argument now – other than to say these emotional age theories are bogus.  I do have reasons for saying it.

Second, the assumption is that people become pedophiles because people with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are emotionally immature:

Though now equipped with a full-grown body and full-grown sexual drive, many ASD males are stuck emotionally at a prepubescent age. They look like grown men, but inside they’re only 10 years old. They don’t want adults to show them how sex is done; they want 10-year-olds to show them.

I can assure you, as an autistic adult man, that I didn’t find 10 year olds sexually interesting.  Not at age 10 and certainly not as an adult.  I don’t think I’m in the minority, either.  Developing in a different way, such as learning about sexuality at a later age, does not imply that one is “inside” like one that learned earlier.  And, if I remember my grade school days, the boys wanted to see adult woman boobs just as much as 10 year old boobs, if not more.

In addition, if this theory is true – there is a connection between delayed sexual development and child pornography, we should see that in the demographics when people who view child porn are analyzed.  After all, autistic people aren’t the only ones who might develop differently.  One site on child pornography says this about who child porn users are:

[Child porn users] may come from all walks of life and show few warning signs. In fact, users of child pornography on the Internet are more than likely to be in a relationship, to be employed, to have an above average IQ, to be college educated, and to not have a criminal record.[25]Those arrested for online child pornography crimes have included judges, dentists, teachers, academics, rock stars, soldiers, and police officers.[26] Among the few distinguishing features of offenders are that they are likely to be white, male, and between the ages of 26 and 40, and may be heavy Internet users to the extent that it interferes with other aspects of their lives.[27]

While some of these traits are shared by some autistic men, none are exclusive to autistic men – and some are most definitely not associated with autistic men who are still trying to figure out “how sex is done.”  Note that “lack of sexual experience” isn’t listed.  In fact, presumably, most child pornography viewers aren’t trying to learn about sex since they are already in relationships.

Now I realize this doesn’t prove that child pornography viewing isn’t more common among autistic men.  But I would suggest that the editor and source for the article in Daily Beast should probably confirm their theory rather than wildly speculating on it – particularly since a surface level examination of child pornography shows that it is not a problem linked directly to underdeveloped sexuality.

There are tons of other problems in the article too, such as a badly explained theory on lack of generalization in autistic people causing relationship issues.

That brings us to the second problematic article of the week – Dating on the Autistic Spectrum, on The Atlantic’s website.  This article talks about the difficulties autistic people have dating – but it perpetuates some dating myths in the process.  For instance, the article talks about flirting with random strangers as a part of the dating process.  For some people, it may be – and certainly it may be what someone interested in a partner for a night might do, but it is not what people interested in long-term relationships generally did to meet their spouse.

Most people don’t meet their spouse at bars or other casual encounters with random strangers.  The meet through friends, work, school, or church primarily (not internet sites, either, although that’s probably more effective than bars).  They see and get to know someone in an environment where dating isn’t the primary (or at least only) goal.  Autistic people are no different – it’s not about knowing how to flirt.  It’s about meeting people and finding out that there is a mutual attraction.

Yes, autistic people have trouble with this.  Most of the autistic people I know who are in relationships certainly started dating much later than non-autistic people generally do.  And I find we don’t generally do well with quick flings – most of us want a deeper relationship.  You don’t find that trying to pick up random women you know nothing about!

Part of the problem I’ve seen with autistic dating advice in general is that it’s focused on how to make the other person be attracted to you.  While initial attraction may have a role to play, successful relationships move past that stage pretty quickly.  There has to be something deeper than just “she’s pretty” to base a relationship on.  But rather than talk about this element of relationships, what gets talked about is “How can I show I’m confident to get this pretty girl?”

Certainly, I do think in both sexuality and dating, autistic people get very little useful education.  Sexual education is poor for just about everyone, but for autistic people it’s even worse – too many educators and parents don’t see us as sexual beings (or, if we are, it’s only an urge that needs to be controlled, not something beautiful and wonderful that connects us with others).  And we do need to know not only the mechanics (something that I think would help many men – they generally don’t know what makes a woman enjoy sex), as well as things like contraception, boundaries, and consequences.  Oh, it probably shouldn’t be heterosexual-only focused.

We also need to know about relationships.  But it needs to start with the premise that we’re not all that different from neurotypicals.  If neurotypicals don’t meet each other at bars, why should we?  Where there is differences (we may have fewer relationships, for instance), it’s important to maximize the good things that come along with these differences – a deeper, close relationship is a good thing compared to tons of shallow relationships (note that I’m not saying neurotypicals have shallow relationships and lack deep ones).

I think, too, a huge part of being an attractive person to someone else is to have a full life without the other person – too much relationship education is focused on the goal of partnering.  It needs to be focused on the broader goal of a full life, with romance possibly being one part of it.  While someone is waiting for the right person, they can be enjoying and exploring life – but too often the focus becomes only the relationship, and thus the person is trying to find something to complete them, rather than finding someone to share what they (and the other person) have in life.

We should be teaching people that just having a relationship won’t complete you, won’t make you feel better, and won’t improve your life.  You need to find these things yourself – sure, a partner may provide insight and light and growth in these areas, but ultimately it’s not their job to fill a gap to make you whole.  We need to be teaching what kinds of relationships are beneficial and satisfying, and what ones are not.  We need to focus on things other than “numbers games” to get a partner.  Of course people are probably going to respond to this and say, “Joel, that’s easy for you to say.  You’re married.”  I recognize that, and I recognize the pain of loneliness (which is not only due to lack of a partner).  All I can say is that it is possible to enjoy life – I enjoyed my life before I met my wife.  I know that other people may have different desires (and, again, it needs to be okay for people with no desire to be accepted fully too).  I hope people find ways to be happy and enjoy life.  But I’d start with a focus not on how to seduce women (it’s typically men that are taught seduction), but rather on what constitutes successful relationships.