Pushcorn

popping and pushing through abstraction

Category: autism

on Identity and Authenticity

Personality quizzes are fun.

I haven’t met a single person who , upon mentioning a certain quiz, were not instantly compelled to try it out for themselves ,  hurriedly sharing their results with a pride that implied ” I knew this about myself already, but I just had it reinforced by an algorithm” ,  casting upon our interaction a subtle layer of connectivity which came from that of the juxtaposition of our results . All those qualities I knew about myself actually had a single name which reunited them !  how great is that?!

My own experience with personality quizzes came in waves , matching the tides of my evolution : the biggest  had been in adolescence ,  the time where my first encounters with myself were born . The next, at the onset of motherhood as I struggled to reconcile different aspects of myself into a single package.

Why do these quizzes , with their generic grouping results ,  satisfy the curiosity generated by trying to figure out identity ? Of what use is this cataloging , this reducing of an individual with all the complexity and randomness of a human being into a list of defining categories ? Is it easier to navigate life with these clearly established boundaries of behavioral patterns?

There’s a certain satisfaction which comes with the quantitative nature of cataloging identity into tiny rubrics of ” agree , disagree ” – with the occasional “slightly” for the hesitant ones whose lack of a clearly defined model upon which to reflect self-behaviors circumscribes their decisiveness – generating the supposed shared characteristics with a particular group .

” That’s soo me!” I often said to myself as I read the implications of my results , smiling as I felt the tug of camaraderie with an imaginary group of potentials who shared my identity, with whom I could relate , validating my existence and excusing – no glorifying- my odd behaviors . A feeling of security and a sense of self acceptance were soon to follow , numbing the uncertainty which came with the revelation of my alienation and loneliness on this planet .

I’m not so alone after all , if these questions on quizzes are any indication .

The latest excursion into the world of personality quizzes came in the shape of the autism quotient quiz, naturally .  And not  surprisingly- to myself at least-  the results reinforced my previously suspected status as an individual with autistic tendencies.

What does that mean for me , exactly ?

Should I identify with autistic people now,  appropriate this newly named characteristic  to the spectrum of roles I play  ? should I assume the catalog of behaviors that the quizzes spoke of , which I had checked as ” agree” , and which up to the moment of reading the questions , I  had no awareness could be anything more than the status quo of typical being ?

If the existence of nationalism,  gender groups, age groups, race groups etc. is any indication, subgroups of identity are a staple of human existence . When asked to state who they are , a diverse group of adult college students in a class I once attended all responded with a concise list of  ‘nationality’, ‘age’, and ‘gender’, respectively . The roles they assigned themselves within that setting . The facades they chose to assume for that particular occasion . A metaphorical first layer of identity which one encounters at the introduction.

After  personally meeting a few of these students later on and forging a slightly deeper connection  than that afforded by the setting of the classroom , their roles evolved to contain “mother” , ” nurse” ,  ” gay” and “psych major”, among other things , as the initial layers were peeled away , spawning a network of sub-identities for each which  I used to maneuver interaction . It was as such that when I met someone who shared my nationality, I activated  that sub-identity within myself to enable a more fluid interaction , or when speaking with an individual of the female gender , the initial common ground before getting to know anything else about them became what I believed were the shared characteristics of that gender.   Identity became a navigation tool on the quest towards belonging , a game show in which characteristics were nominated and sub-identities dropped in an effort to find that one matching element to unite , upon which conversations could be built and initial impressions made.

Recent events found me deep in the game of interaction , switching roles as fast as you could say  ” inauthentic”  to match my many opponents in the game of socializing , where I actively sought the help of Identity to determine the smoothest course of behaviors and actions in different settings . What struck me the most regarding this particular exercise , which I assume most people engage in whether consciously or unconsciously, is the inauthencity it entails. I scoffed at myself on multiple occasions as I found the need to censor a deeply rooted characteristic of my being in the face of opponents with clearly opposing views . Somehow , the aspects deemed offensive to the progression of smooth interaction got neutered as only the shared characteristics became evident to support the exchange . Later , when I was alone, I felt an unease  stemming from my lost  true self as it got obscured by the condensation of the soup of all the different roles I had to play .

Is my unease justified, or is it the outcome of useless speculation? The term “Identity” comes from the latin  word “ident” , meaning sameness . Identity is the common ground, the sameness shared with others , the tool by which we belong and by which an illusion of not being alone is created ,   yet it does so at the expense of the authentic self , reigning in the characteristics deemed detrimental to inter-social well-being . If the U.N. is at the macro scale of social interaction , then identity is its equivalent on the micro level .

This process of identifying reminded me of the behavioral exercises that I do with my son with regards to social scenarios , where social stories are constructed and told to the autistic person to teach them how to react to different settings , how to act in different scenarios, which roles to play. Example, after playing with a dog, my son took himself to be one and started licking people . The social story involved my son and a dog and delineating the differences between humans and canines to alter my son’s behavior to be more similar to that of humans .

I had to teach my son on multiple occasions, just like every child is taught in his youth , to quell certain behaviors which perhaps come naturally  and which manifest his authentic being in favor of the socially acceptable roles assigned- and assume other behaviors , no matter how unnatural they might feel . With time and repetition, he will learn to assume them automatically as the action becomes learnt.

But is this something that only autistic people do? Don’t neurotypicals use the same technique of social navigation , albeit in a more implicit/unconscious way ? Perhaps the models of identity they use is generated by the literature, movies , and television series they are exposed to ,  which they emulate and use as filters to guide their understanding .

My unease with this process probably arises from my previously held and applied belief that identifying with one group stops personal growth and evolution as it limits exploration and understanding of other sub-groups of identity, reinforcing illusions and simulacrums as reality gets filtered by artificial constructs .  Identifying as a woman will stop me from exploring and appreciating things which I believe to be targeted towards men . Identifying as being a certain nationality  will stop me from claiming humanity in all its shapes and cultures as being completely part of myself .  Identifying as anything in particular stops me from being whole and places me a step further from experiencing true authentic purely objective reality .

But is this possible? is it truly possible for someone to be completely authentic at every moment of their waking life , and assume every single sub-identity which exists so as to be truly complete ?  Someone once told me that there’s a correlation between happiness and the feeling of belonging . Is the question of authenticity an adolescent dream which I have clung to erroneously ,preventing me from connecting through identity and possibly limiting my happiness?

Maybe my beliefs are dated.

Maybe therein lies the reason for this post . Trying to reconcile myself anew to the opposing beliefs and actions as I try to justify to myself that identity is perhaps necessary , that what i’m doing with my son in the early intervention program and in altering his behavior and forcing identities on him isn’t so bad , in fact , its  quite necessary .

That my previous beliefs need updating in order to bypass a cognitive dissonance .

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The mechanisms of empathy

Following my most recent venture into the world of blogging , I have spent countless hours pouring over the plethora of autism related blogs available , some by parents sharing their stories , some by activists striving to give a voice to all those considered different , but the most interesting and insightful had been the discovery of the blogs belonging to individuals who are themselves autistic, in which they wonderfully articulate their own experiences , from sensory regulation to perceptual processing , illuminating and rendering concrete the underlying configuration differences between the neurotypical and autistic brains.

Given the propensity for filtering another’s experience through one’s own model of understanding , it is easy for some to erroneously project  their own conclusions as to the mental state at the root of certain behaviors they encounter in others.

When my son starts yelling and running in circles as he hears the generator in the underground parking , I am compelled to filter his experience through the information I have acquired from the lists of autism symptoms I have come across which state that autism occasions some sensory regulation issues , often manifesting as over sensitive hearing . Consequently , the scope of his experience is lost on me beyond these few tidbits of objective information accumulated by non autistic people categorizing phenomena . I assume , based on my own logic,  that as soon as the sound is gone, he will recover from the momentary anxiety and hurry him into the car to get him away.

Last night, as I read through an autistic girl’s harrowing account of her experience with fire alarms , how unhinging it had been to have her world turned upside down by a violent  monster of a noise which attacked her senses, how she could do nothing but cower in a corner with her hands over her ears, or  how in dealing with hyper sensitivity to pain she lost control over her own body as it tried to regulate itself through hand flapping so strong the wrists almost broke , my perspective on autism updated itself to include this new information , so that now when my son reacts to sounds or behaves in a certain manner, when he starts yelling , running in circles ,or flapping his hands , I have a truer approximation of understanding of his subjective state , one which allows a more authentic glimpse into his mental condition through a better informed interpretation of his behavior .

Another post I read is a beautifully crafted piece exploring synesthesia ( crossing of senses) in the author’s ability to visualize mathematical functions and music ,  giving rise to an inherently intuitive and enviable understanding of math , all the while unable to pursue an education in either because of her inability to process visual cues such as those found on sheet music or math exams at the level which most education establishments demand . She states that should there have been an alternative for her in taking exams – being dictated the problems on a bigger surface like a whiteboard, for example, to space out the stimulus, she would have been able to , but as it is, there are not enough provisions taken to support those with differing operating systems .

The voices of these individuals is a treasure to behold, a gift imparted by them which is of the utmost importance in the road towards acceptance . Those are the voices I will hear when I interact with my son , the voices that will inform my decisions with regards to his future, his education, his happiness . It is through them that I shall be able to connect with my son on a deeper level , one which transcends my own views and perspectives . The voices that will hopefully guide the changes that will make the world all the more hospitable for him.

Well, I had much more excitement to animate my first post with,

but the overwhelming process of choosing the name by which i shall be known on this blog completely sidetracked the principal motivator which propelled me into starting a blog in the first place.

I had been toying with the idea of starting my own blog for some time now, for purposes ranging from satisfying the innate homo sapiens compulsion of communicating segments of my subjective state to more noble purposes consisting of sharing more objective truths I have stumbled upon in my research on autism , but always ended up backing out out of laziness, paranoia, or a wide spectrum of other reasons I shall not list…

Until today, where my anger couldn’t be curbed by mere reflection and time passage and had to find an outlet in words . And so this is how this blog came about, a product of anger ,frustration, resentment and rancor.

Oh yes, the rancor .

The bitterness. This unyielding hate which accosted me during a short span of time earlier today, one which still echoes now as I force through neural networks towards the stored memory at its inception to ramble and complain about it.

It all started a couple of years ago when my son was diagnosed with autism …

Well, it all started a bit before that if one were to be factual, at my birth, really. Or at the very first stirrings of character and concept formation to be more precise . But for the sake of curbing boredom I shall assume , on the behalf of the reader should there be any, a pre-established knowledge of different personality characteristics , and concepts  such as hate and resentment somewhat analogous to my own.

So…Autism. My son is autistic.

Being the information junkie that I am, the first defense I had against this update to my life was researching, researching , and then more researching in a quest to alter my perspective to fit this newly acquired information as seamlessly and as painlessly as possible to the mosaic which constitutes my whole.

I learned a good deal of things about autism. From as many standpoints as there are saddle points on a hyperbolic plane. Ok , maybe not literally as many, although I suppose the figurative language employed aptly communicates the breadth of my research . And while I by no means claim to be any expert or authority on autism, I still nonetheless have a decent background in discerning the newest crack treatments and “miracle cures” which I often find myself subjected to by the mother of one of the children at my son’s school . And today in particular, her temerity knew no limits.

I have multiple issues with what this woman is constantly perpetuating , the first and foremost being that autism is some disease which needs a treatment , or as she put it, ” a cure which saved my son” .

While I understand the many difficulties, frustrations, and hardships of raising a child on the spectrum ( or any child, for that matter ), and acknowledge the human need to blame it on something or find some reason so as to justify it to ourselves , I take offense when that justification entails labeling my son as being sick, ill, diseased, abnormal, handicapped, or any other term associated with limited functionality and ability for contribution- especially when it comes from a parent of another child on the spectrum. Because my son is none of these things.

He might behave in ways which would be considered atypical , but he has so much to offer if one is only a little patient with him and willing to accept a different outlook on events . He has consistently surprised me , allowing me to see things from new never before explored perspectives, even with his limited speech .

He is the coolest little guy I know.

So when this woman tries to tell me to administer to my son some unknown substance by an unknown unlicensed individual to detox him from the vaccine in order to ” save him” and ” be a good parent” , my indignation and anger are boundless.

Even if what she claims is true ( which isn’t) , I do not wish to change my son. He is perfect the way he is. The school he attends helps him learn techniques by which he can filter the anxiety inducing mass of  incoming data so as to be able to behave in an independent and functional manner in this impatient society far too preoccupied with functionality and efficiency – and thankfully, he is surrounded by a team of great educators who accept him for who he is and create an environment in which he is stress free to progress towards fulfilling his potential ,whatever that may be, because to them , he is just a little boy, regardless of his neurological makings.

The Second issue which aggravated me is the agenda she is promoting that had her spouting all kinds of nonsensical unfounded and long ago dis-proven babble regarding the MMR vaccine as being the cause for autism , animating her conversations with pedantic technical words intended to obfuscate the averagely informed parent and to present herself as the all-knowing queen of all that is autism , even handing out cards to different  “professionals” who have “saved her son ” in dubious ways by detoxing his body from the array of chemicals added to the vaccine which according to her, is the reason he is as he is.

Now some people might question the nature of my anger and wonder at the reason I should be so rankled by her actions – after all, she is but a mother trying to find answers and provide her child with the best tools to help him in this harsh world , who am I to fault her her joy at having “discovered” the cure which has made her son that much better ? (the strict regimens he follows at a school specialized in educating autistic children is completely unaccounted for by her in the progress he has made )  I wish to clarify that the reason for my anger is that her happiness comes at the expense of autistic individuals everywhere  , as well as the parents who happen to be taken in by her erroneous if somewhat charismatic rants against vaccines.

From the few tidbits of conversation I have been exposed to while waiting for my son , I have gathered that at least 2 other parents have already taken their children to be detoxed from the evil vaccine, and have heard another speculating on the vaccine and wondering whether or not she should potentially skip administering it to future offspring.

For a brief clarification of the history of the controversy regarding the vaccine, here’s a clear article which tracks the timeline and the reason the false correlation arose , complete with links to other articles and studies done to disprove the vaccine as being the cause for autism.

http://theweek.com/article/index/242395/autism-and-vaccines-a-timeline-of-the-dubious-theory-and-the-ongoing-debate

But please, don’t take my word for it. I am after all only a person on the internet linking to other sources from the internet, so do some research for yourself and you’ll find an abundance of academic and peer reviewed papers on the issue. In any case, it is clear that the risks of skipping the vaccine are much more pernicious than administering it.

The picture of autism this woman is painting is one where autistic individuals including  her son are not “normal” , where they are ill and need saving to be able to be complete , a view which is highly detrimental to any child’s development. Her behavior and outlook towards her son as being some kind of incomplete person who needs curing in order to fit into her standards highlights the child’s differences and renders them shortcomings in his eyes, thus causing more anxiety and stress in dealing with his surroundings , possibly promoting his introspection and disconnect from a world which he has learned to perceive as un-accepting of him and aggravating the symptoms associated with autism.

Perhaps if she actually accepted his differences instead of trying to conform him to her ideals of normalcy, she might get her “miracle cure”, because when neurologically typical children are forced to conform to their parent’s ideals, they rebel . Autistic children’s rebellion though comes in the form of disconnect .

While I know I might be projecting all my frustrations and bitterness over a wide range of issues onto this woman , I do it because I believe that if parents start accepting their autistic children for who they are , the rest of society will follow , and the future for the neurologically a-typical will be that much brighter.