An Anti-Bullying Curriculum that Makes my Blood Boil

Seriously.

I never thought anti-bullying curriculum in schools did much.  But I thought they were benign, powerless, useless.  And pretty much all equal.  I didn’t think they created bullies and victims.

Boy, I was wrong.

Look at what a Nebraska School sent home with 5th graders.  Seriously, don’t “tattle” on your abuser. That’s what it said. It was part of a handout that talks about turning “bullies2buddies.”  You can learn more at the bullies2buddies website, but I warn you that the advice there is among the worst possible advice.

Here’s his “rules” to not be bullied (you can see longer descriptions in the picture in the article):

  1. Refuse to get mad
  2. Treat the person being mean as if they are trying to help you
  3. Do not be afraid
  4. Do not verbally defend yourself
  5. Do not attack
  6. If someone physically hurts you, just show you are hurt
  7. Do not tell on bullies
  8. Don’t be a sore loser
  9. Learn to laugh at yourself and not get “hooked” by put-downs

These rules are remarkably similar to Izzy Kalman’s rules. In fact, I’d say they are identical.  You can learn how these rules apply to racism from Izzy himself at his website.  For instance, Rule 7, “Do not tell on bullies,” is included in his “Chapter 8” of The Golden Rule Solution to Racism.

He starts this chapter by talking about how, if you call child protective services when neighbors are “only yelling” at their children, not real abuse, you’ll make your neighbors hate you. Of course “only yelling” is a huge part of him – in rule 6, “If someone physically hurts you, just show you are hurt” (don’t tattle unless they send you to the hospital because you don’t really hurt – seriously, that’s what this guy is advocating) you see his differentiation between physical and all other types of pain. Frankly, that’s bullshit. Pain is pain, and all pain is real.

I know why I wanted to kill myself as a kid. It wasn’t physical pain. I had kids burn me, cut me, punch me, etc, but it was the humiliation that most hurt me. Constant, unending humiliation. I felt that I was at fault. That if I could defend myself, not do stupid stuff, not laugh wrong (seriously, this was a suggestion by a shrink to a suicidal kid – learn laugh “properly” rather than how I was doing it), then I could free myself from the humiliation. When I realized that nothing I could do would stop the abuse, hopelessness and despair – and extreme depression followed. It wasn’t the physical pain. It was the attempt at destroying my soul.

The chapter then launches into an anti-government diatribe (the phrase “Evil Empire” is included, a phrase that probably doesn’t resonate with all that many teachers or parents these days, who didn’t really live through the cold war), followed by some real gems. Keep in mind, this is about ending racism.

When people are doing or saying things against Jews – as long as there is no immediate threat to our bodies or property – about the worst thing to do is rush to report them to the authorities. Instead, we should talk to them directly, not with anger, but as to friends. Ask them sincerely why they are doing or saying it. If there is something wrong about their motivation or understanding, let them know what their mistake is. If they insist on continuing to do what you believe is wrong, talk to them again, but without anger. Pain, yes; anger, no.

First, he again distinguishes “real” racism (your body or property is in danger) from the rest of racism. Note that verbal abuse or illegal acts – such as a boss refusing to promote a Jew – don’t seem to be real to this man. I don’t think that was an oversight in his writing.

When there is antisemitism, particularly in a place with rules against it (like a school or business), it is not necessary for you to be a “friend” to convince them of the error of their ways. While lots of people disagree on how to address hate, it is not appropriate to expect the targets of the hate (Jewish people in his example) to befriend the person spewing hate. And, remember, this is in context to someone calling child protective services when there is not actual abuse. Basically, if you don’t befriend, and you seek protection at work, school, or from your government, you’re crying wolf.

He has all sorts of hogwash like this – I could spend days yelling at my computer about it. One thing is for sure: I would have a hard time being a friend of this man.

Lest  you think it is just one isolated person, I believe the Lincoln (Nebraska) School District got this crap as a result of their anti-bullying program. Their program included participation of Brooks Gibbs.

Meet Brooks Gibbs:

That’s his marketing video.

It’s sickening.  His basic philosophy is “If you’re nice to the bullies, they’ll be nice to you.” He teaches that God wants us to passively accept abuse. He teaches a form of victim blaming. That’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

How is this connected to Izzy, who made these awful rules about how to avoid being be a victim?  Well, they believe pretty much the same awful hogwash. He teaches the Kalman – as in Izzy Kalman – bullying prevention program.

Check out his Lesson 5 – Physical bullying, from the above link.

Let me transcribe some of the horrible advice:

If someone causes you physical pain, they push you, first don’t make a big deal out of it.

Because most people don’t want to hurt you unless you are hurting them.

See, most students don’t want to actually send you to the hospital.

When someone pushes you, they are just trying to get you upset.

Very rarely does someone just come up and punch you in the face as hard as they can for no reason. That’s called a sociopath who doesn’t have a feelings and they don’t care about your pain. In fact they get pleasure from it.

Most kids aren’t sociopaths, in fact sociopaths are less than 2% of the population and most of them are in prison or in hospital. You see the students you hang out with every day who might physically bully you are just really trying to get you upset.

He goes on, and claims that the physical bullying only occurs because of an exchange of verbal insults back and forth, which escalate into a confrontation. That may be how bar fights start, but it isn’t bullying.  I’m not going to comment on the sociopath statements about them being in hospitals or prison, but I will say he should learn before he teaches.

He goes on to talk about how you need to understand why a kid wants to physically bully you (which, if it was adults, would be called battery).

Can you imagine asking an abused wife to “understand your husband, so that you can break the cycle of bullying?” No, you hopefully help her find a safe place.

It’s all like this. And, again, it’s not just Mark Gibbs, hired with our tax dollars by some random Nebraska school district (actually the second largest district in the state). First, Mr. Gibbs’ client list is scary. It truly scares me that professional educators would hire people spewing this crap. But, second, this is part of a wider movement – the idea that “kids will be kids” and it’s really the victims that need to be taught “social skills” to deal with bullying.

I went through that, probably before Mr. Gibbs was born. And what he is preaching (yes, literally, although it’s stealth in his public school stuff) is no different than my experience. It doesn’t work, it can’t work. I literally have years of experience with this crap. You don’t “bully-proof” your kid anymore than you “abuse-proof” a woman to avoid being a battered wife. You deal with the problem. The problem is not the autistic kid who is different and doesn’t know when the adult does or doesn’t want to be bothered with his problems (these programs seem to be sold on the premise that it will reduce staff workload on bullying – look at the first expected outcome for schools of Izzy’s program). It’s not that the kid tells an adult when he’s punched. It’s the behavior of the bullies.

So, now I know something I didn’t know yesterday. You have to make sure anti-bullying programs see the bully as the problem rather than the victim as the problem. I would never have thought that was a concern until today.

My advice for schools and parents? Don’t just avoid, but RUN from any program that claims to show that the majority of experts are wrong. If it is an explicit claim, you better show them the door. In the best case, you’ll look unprofessional and incompetent – like Lincoln Public Schools. In the worst case, your student who has already contemplated suicide will be taught that the problem is himself. No student should be taught that.

Why Don’t Kids Report Bullying?

HRC posted a piece on why kids don’t report bullying to school employees.  The article’s a good read, based on fact, but it brought back why didn’t report bullying.

It was simple: reporting the bullying didn’t help.

I was kicked, hit, sexually assaulted, burned, choked, manipulated, humiliated, insulted, excluded, scapegoated, and teased for 13 years of public school.  13 years.

The other kids figured out quickly two things. First, they figured out that I was different. I didn’t act like the other kids. I don’t remember all the names, but I know in my early elementary years, “retard” was a favorite. And in my high school years, “faggot” was a favorite. But it didn’t particularly remember what the name or label was, or whether they were accurate or not. An unathletic, tiny, weak, autistic kid is an easy target. I was an easy target.

I never will be able to express what the humiliation felt like every day of my school career. I just wanted to disappear. I just wanted to be ignored. Anything would have been better than the humiliation.

Even in early grades, I learned I was the problem. I heard that not just from other kids, but from the school itself. I was the problem. I was the kid that didn’t know when to be quiet in class. I was the kid that would get distracted and look out the window. I was the kid that would leave class for no apparent reason (not being able to cope wasn’t a good reason, after all).

I spent two weeks in isolation in elementary school for telling the truth to a principle – that I didn’t vandalize a bathroom. The kid who “witnessed” this destruction (who later I realized probably did it) was thanked for his truthfulness. I was put in a small room with no humans for two weeks. It took me 20 years to simply be able to pee in a public bathroom after that. I wasn’t believed. That was typical.

In Junior High, a teacher watched a 9th grader who was much bigger than the 7th grader I was (well, they were all bigger than me in Junior High – I started Junior High in the .1 percentile of weight) literally lifting and throwing me to take my place in the lunch line. The response? We were both given detention. For fighting. (as an aside, I finally did grow in the 9th grade – and am average height today – something that boggled the heck out of my poor parents trying to keep clothes on me my 9th grade year!)

I remember other times where was the problem when I was bullied. I remember the PE teacher I ran to, fearing the kids chasing me would kill me. I was told to be a man. Again, I was the problem. I remember being sent to a behavior program during the sumer because I was causing too much trouble in class (yes, they sent a bunch of bullies to the same program; you can guess how that worked out for me, although the worst injury I received their was inflicted by a staff member – and, no, I didn’t bother to tell an adult). I remember day in and day out of abuse.

When I reported it? I was the problem. If only I behaved differently. At one point, I was actually told to laugh differently if I didn’t want to be bullied. Even the rare expression of joy was a problem to be corrected.

Most often, the response was to tell me how I could have kept the kids from bullying me. I could have stood up for myself. I could have walked away. I could have told an adult (uh…that’s what I did when I got told this…). I could have…well, it doesn’t really matter. Only rarely were the bullies dealt with – and when they were, they got no more than a token punishment. And who was the bully? Damn near every other kid. And some teachers. I was always in trouble. When the bully got in trouble, it was a “good kid” that did one minor mistake. I get two weeks in the hole for telling the truth about not throwing toilet paper around a bathroom. They get a detention for giving me a black eye.

You learn quickly not to report it when you live through this day after day. I’d guess I reported maybe one of a thousand incidents. Yes, thousand. There must have been tens of thousands of incidents during my school career. Sure, most were minor – minor insults, light pinches, subtle humiliations. But even minor, when you have thousands of these events happening every year to you, it wears you down pretty quickly.

I’d like to say that I was uniquely bullied in school. I do suspect the degree of bullying I received was well beyond the comprehension of most adults (including my parents). I know my parents were shocked when, as an adult, I told them I didn’t vandalize the bathroom in school. They were sure I did it. They believe me now, but it took 20 years to be believed by anyone.

I did tell adults. They just did nothing about it.

And I told in ways other than voice.

I missed over two months of school every year from about 4th grade through 11th grade (in 12th grade, I finally found an adult that would rescue me by allowing me to skip classes when I wanted – unsurprisingly that’s the only year I had a decent GPA).

I failed about half my classes in 8th grade through 11th grade (I not only passed everything in 12th grade, but got a 4.0 GPA; the difference? Being able to escape my classmates).  What kind of kid can earn a 4.0 GPA in 12th grade but fails most of his required classes in 11th grade? It’s simple: an abused kid, where there was at least a partial solution in 12th grade.

Any PE teacher could have watched how the kids picked people for their team. It would have been darn clear that something was going on there. And, no, it’s not that I wasn’t a skilled athlete.

Anyone could have been a hero. Way too few were.

The signs were there. It should have been easy to see. Even when I didn’t speak about the abuse. Even when I had lost hope in the adults.

To the teachers and administrators, I have one simple, simple message: look out for that wierd, small, annoying kid. Nobody else is. Maybe, just maybe, his behavior problems aren’t a desire to torture you. Maybe they are a result of never-ending abuse. Help and you’ll be amazed. The few adults that did listen, that somehow spotted me, that somehow saw something beautiful in me despite the labels and behaviors, they are my heroes. They saved my life. You have no idea how important you might be to a kid. That 12th grade teacher (who didn’t actually teach me!) willing to write me passes to get out of class…she saved my life.

I probably should have told those few adults who actually helped me, who respected me. But by then I was too beat down, and too far from being able to heal. But they still provided me some respite from the abuse. And even that is a blessing.

And when an abused kid – whether abused by adults or other kids – actually tells you about abuse, act on it. You might not hear the word “abuse” used. You’ll probably hear that someone did something to the kid, and it probably sounds like the kid’s blowing it out of proportion and not dealing with things. But maybe, just maybe, you should investigate it and find out if this might just be one of thousands of incidents, and maybe, just maybe, the kid is hoping he can trust. Show your courage and your heart. Show you can be trusted. Do something. It takes a lot to build trust in someone that’s been abused. But show you can be trusted. Show you will listen. And believe. And do.

To that kid: I know it’s damn near impossible to believe me, but you can keep going. Just make it through to another day. I believe you. You don’t deserve this crap. The happiest day of my life was when I left home and traveled 300 miles to college. I had plenty of problems there too, and definitely lacked support (primarily because I had no trust in the ability of others to help me) – heck, I didn’t eat for a week simply because I had no way to ask where the cafeteria was. Not eating for a week was better than being in my hometown. And I did eventually find out where to eat. And I made friends. Yes, friends. People who actually liked me, protected me, spent time with me. What a relief it was to actually have a human to spend time with.

I do know how hard it is. Maybe I had it harder than you, maybe you have it harder than I did. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. Torture is torture, and is never okay. I’m hoping you keep going, that you somehow find strength that no human should need to find. But you’ve done it so far. Please, go on another day. There is hope. In your heart, you believe it too. You had to or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. Listen to that, and don’t let your brain tell you otherwise. Even when you can’t see a way out, things can change.

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)

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.

What Makes Life Hard?

I’ve learned something. What was hard for me at age 10 is not what was hard for me at age age 20 and was not what was hard for me at age 30.

At age 10, in the middle of the most difficult time of my life, I was bullied mercilessly. During the following decade, I was sexually abused, beaten, and humiliated. I was suicidal because of this. I don’t think it would be natural not to be.

At age 20, I was no longer bullied and I had actual, real friends! I had a place to belong. However, over the next ten years, I found three things difficult: building connections with other adults as they married and had kids; taking care of my personal needs (eating, etc); and dealing with my sensory issues. I spent much of my 20s learning, “OH! I don’t have to live with noise!”

In my 30s, I got married, but still have some disconnection with others. I’ve found the change between then and my 20s is that the sensory issues no longer are as huge in my life (thanks to understanding them and creating an environment which considers my needs) and my self-care is infinitely improved thanks to having a wonderful wife who makes sure I have food to eat (an amazing blessing). Where I find difficulty today is with work – as I’ve aged, I’ve gained more responsibility in my professional career – and that increases the social demands. There are different social expectations placed upon an entry-level programmer than are placed upon a senior-level team leader. I suspect it’s difficult for everyone, but it probably is easier if your team speaks your language (not English, but rather autistic vs. neurotypical).

What will be hard in my 40s? I have no idea. Life changes, and I’ve learned I am not great at predicting the future. I do know that since my 20s, my life has been a good one – I’ve been very fortunate to have good people surrounding me, good opportunities, and plenty of luck. That could change, or it could remain. Only time will tell.

Sometimes we need to take a step back from our worries about the future and concentrate on what we know about the now.