The Pony Problem

The other week, this happened…

The Internet—the global system of interconnected networks that’s become an increasingly central means of commerce and communication capable of bringing far-flung civilizations together—reached its apex this week, after a man claiming to be the fiancé of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic character Twilight Sparkle contacted a user of online community DeviantArt to demand he stop drawing sexual pictures of his imaginary pony-bride. The request was made in a letter that was then published in full on the Internet, which no longer has any reason to exist, having achieved everything it has ever set out to do.

My initial reaction to this was to track down a ‘Brony’ and yell STOP IT!! JUST STOP IT!! NOW!! at them for a while, but on reflection I think I can offer some explanation on just what is going on with this person, and perhaps light the way to reintegrating them into sane, non-cartoon-pony-marrying human society.

I would guess that our pony fancying friend is autistic. Yeah, not so much of a leap given that he’s intending to share his life with the plushy version of a cartoon pony, but bear with me. What I’m intending to explain is why to the autistic brain, sharing one’s life with the plushy version of a cartoon pony might seem like a good idea.

It is my contention – based on reading lots of articles in New Scientist and on that fact that I’m an autistic person myself – that the autistic brain doesn’t draw a distinction between people and non-people. I suspect that neurotypicals have some kind of system in their brains that detects when the thing they’re looking at/dealing with is a person, and places it into a privileged mental category – a category that says ‘this is a fellow human being with whom you can have some kind of social relationship’. This system isn’t perfect of course, but generally it does a good job of dividing the world into two classes – people (eligible for social relationships) and things (not eligible for social relationships).

We autistics lack this system. For us the world is made up entirely of things – it’s just some of those things happen to walk and talk. For us a person is – on a fundamental neurological level – no different to a telephone pole, so we have to learn how to tell what things are suitable for social relationships. A useful starting point is ‘Is it animate?” Another is “Does it talk?’ Yet another is ‘Does it appear to engage in social relationships with others?’I think you can see where I’m going here…

Up until the 20th century this probably worked pretty well. The only animate, talking, social things around were human beings. But throw in film and  suddenly you’re exposed to animate, talking social things that aren’t actually people – they’re recordings of people. And then throw in animation and you can be exposed to animate, talking, social things that plain don’t exist – like magical ponies. Show this kind of thing to an autistic person whose method for identifying people isn’t robust enough, and the stage is set for all kinds of inappropriate weirdness.

Interesting, you may say, but it’s just a theory. Well I speak from more than just a theoretical perspective. Many years back I myself fell prey to this particular social-neurological trap and developed a particularly strong attachment to a fictional TV character (not, I am relieved to relate, a cartoon pony – or for that matter a cartoon anything). I never reached the levels of delusion required to refer to her as my fiance, or to write letters to random internet people defending her honour, but I did spend a substantial amount of time daydreaming about our ‘relationship’ and building up a fairly detailed mental dossier of our ‘time together’. It was all mad as a meat axe, sure, but years later I still think of her fondly.

And the truth is that an imaginary relationship has a lot of advantages – particularly for the lonely,  socially inept autistic. All aspects of the relationship are entirely under your control. Your ‘partner’ has no hard to understand emotions, they have no need for time or attention you don’t feel like providing, they’re always up to hang out, and conversely don’t get upset or offended if you’re not in the mood to see them, you don’t need to buy them gifts or take them out on expensive dates – it’s all so simple!

And while the ‘affection’ you get from them isn’t as good as the real thing (not, in fact, being anything at all) it’s better than nothing. Hell, if you’ve never had a real relationship it’s the best affection you’ve ever had! And the opportunity to express affection to someone, and have them accept it – even when they don’t technically exist – is just as intoxicating. It’s a nasty, addictive and unhealthy trap to fall into – regardless of whether you make a fool of yourself professing your love for a cartoon pony or not.

So I get where this guy is coming from. I think I understand it. But, seriously, dude, dump the pony and try to get out there and find a real person. You might fail, but at the very least you’ll no longer be the poster boy for internet mediated pony based insanity.

Schrödinger’s Rapist

Now this is a really good read….

Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

It basically sums up why I don’t approach unfamiliar women under any circumstances. My social and non-verbal communication skills are so terrible that I’ve always assumed that any woman I see (or rather, who sees me) will assume that I’m some kind of monster, and so – out of respect – I go out of my way not to inflict myself on them.

It’s nice to read some confirmation that I’m not completely mad after all 🙂

Single by No Choice

Forever alone!

So, the other day I was talking to a friend (you know who you are 😉 ) and the subject of valentines day came up. They mentioned they were having a rough time with it because they were single, then backtracked and acknowledged that I was single too, but that I’m “single by choice” and so it’s not quite the same thing…

Well. The thing is I’m not single by choice, I’m single by no choice.

I’m austistic. Now, being autistic has about as many different effects on people’s lives as there are autistic people, but the major debilitary effect it has on my life is a near complete lack of social instincts and a general inability to pick up on those mysterious channels of non-verbal communication that all you neurotypicals take for granted.

This is not terribly unusual for us autistics, and there are ways around it. Intensive study, social counseling and general life experience can help. Hell, the last one is the sole reason I can fit into society at all. But I wasn’t diagnosed with aspergers syndrome (my particular flavour of autism) until my late 20’s, by which point it’s hard – not to mention expensive – to try and undo years of damage from living in a society that’s essentially completely alien to you (and not realising why everything is so damn hard).

So, as a result of both my neurological state and years of unintentional abuse from a world that makes no sense I just don’t know how to do the whole relationship thing (and please note: in the term ‘relationship’ I include everything from living happily ever after with one’s soul mate to a quickie in a nightclub toilet stall). I don’t know how to approach someone, I don’t know how to talk to them, I don’t know how to indicate interest, I don’t know how to recognise any interest that may be being directed at me and, if I did somehow manage to recognise it, I have no idea how to reciprocate it. That kind of thing is just not in my skillset – and it would have to be in my skillset, because it’s not in my instinct-set either.

Now at this point some may scoff and make noises about how I’m overthinking things and I should just relax and let things happen naturally. Well, I’ve been doing that for over twenty years and no dice. The thing one has to realise is that the autistic brain just doesn’t work the way a neurotypical one does. The automatic systems that do all the heavy-social lifting stuff, quietly and in the background, are either unreliable or missing entirely. So social stuff is work. Hard work. And work that you need to be shown how to do, because you’ve got absolutely no idea where to start. The vast savannah of all possible behaviours is laid out before you, and you don’t have even the most rudimentary map to show you what path leads to the tourist lodge and how to avoid the lions.

There’s also the fact that not only am I congenitally socially incompetent, I’m also massively underexperienced. By your mid-thirties you should have basic social interaction – let alone social interaction of a more intimate nature – pretty much sorted out. You can make judgements on what to do and what not to do based both on your inbuilt social instincts and your years of experience. Well I don’t have those years of experience. Social interaction is hard enough without the added pressure of making some kind of rookie mistake that everyone else has been avoiding since their teens.

Add it all up and the stress and difficulty is just overwhelming. As a result I’ve more or less resigned myself to not experiencing the relationship component of life, and given up trying.

So, I’m single by no choice. Does this mean I sit around at home in the dark wailing in loneliness? No (mostly). I may not have a choice about being single, but I do have a choice about how I can deal with being single. I can wallow in self-pity and complain about how unfair it all is, or I can pull myself together and focus on the good stuff in my life. Good friends, good food, good music, a stable society, a safe place to sleep at night, socialised health care, access to funny cat videos on the internet, etcetera. It’s not always easy, when work or life or the state of the world are stressing me out it can be soul-wrenchingly hard to come home to an dark apartment and an empty bed, but on the whole it ain’t so bad. I can at least laugh about it and spend my valentines day’s considering how much money I’m saving not having to spend $20 per stem on hothouse roses and overpriced chocolates 🙂

Forever alone!

A Dark Place

So, am I sailing the ocean blue, heading for adventures in New Zealand?

No, I am not. I am sitting in my apartment in Perth wallowing in a nasty combination of embarrassment, humiliation, disappointment, anger and worry about how much money I’ve wasted.

Turns out I hate cruising. After two days on board the boat I felt so wretched that my only option was to jump ship at Melbourne and fly home. So I’m not going to New Zealand, I’m not seeing all the cool stuff I was looking forwards too, and I’m pretty pissed off at the world and myself for not realising that life on a cruise ship would be hellish for an Aspie like myself.

So, I need to cancel all my reservations in New Zealand, alert my bank that I’m back in Perth so they won’t block my card and get in touch with my travel insurance to see if there’s any way I can get any of my money back. I’m not hopeful on that last one, but I’ll try.

I’ve also got to try and reconcile myself to another magnificent failure at living. If American sit-coms are anything to judge by, this is the kind of thing best treated by consuming vast amounts of alcohol and going to a strip club, but that’s not going to happen, so I’ll need to figure something else out. Give me a week or so and I should be coming out of this horrible funk. I hope.

Man I suck.

The Slap

I’ll give *you* a slap!

The ABC is going on and on and on about it’s ‘brilliant’ new drama The Slap.

The media are going on and on and on about the ABC’s ‘brilliant’ new drama The Slap.

As far as I can tell the ABC’s ‘brilliant’ new drama (The Slap) consists of…

1) Person slaps child….
2) Everyone gets angsty about it.

Call me autistic but that sounds like the most batshit boring eight hours of television ever envisaged by man.

And what’s all this about La Paglia the Younger being an unknown? He was the star of 7 Days you ignorant savages! Just because you have no interest in giant blue time-travel spheres and oddly cold-war influenced pro-American storylines doesn’t make the guy an unknown!

Sheeze!

Tunnel Dreams

Idiot dreaming of future rail lines.

If tomorrow the people of Perth arrived en-mass at my front door to appoint me absolute Monarch of the State, there would be a number of programs I would immediately initialise. For instance, the coversion of East Perth Power Station into a royal palace, the banning all imports from Texas (with the exception of Ms Kelly Clarkson) and the distribution of knighthoods and government allowances to people who don’t generally hack me off (a small and exclusive group).

But my major legacy to the state (apart from the continuation of the royal line – ideally with the assistance of Ms Kelly Clarkson) would be the expansion of the city’s public transport system via the construction of a number of underground rail lines. And they would go like this…

(Asterisks indicate interchanges with other lines)

The Northern Suburbs Line – Sorrento, Greenwood*, Ellersdale Avenue, Balcatta Road, Mirrabooka, Norranda, Morley, Broun Avenue, Bayswater*, King William Street, Ascot*, Blackrock Road, Belmont.

The City/Ariport Line – International Terminal, Domestic Terminal, Ascot*, Tranby, Burswood Island, WACA, Victoria Square, Perth Underground*, Cloisters*, Mill Point, Perth Zoo, Douglas Avenue, Ellam Street, Burswood Island (again).

The University Line – Glendalough*, Dog Swamp, Edith Cowan, Hyde Park, Russel Square, Cloisters*, Observatory, Nicolson Road, QE II, UWA North, UWA South, Applecross, Canning Bridge*, Goss Avenue, Curtin, Boundary Road, Hill View Terrace, Oats Street*.

There’s a fair potential for expansion there – for instance the University Line could be linked with the Northern Suburbs line with an expansion between Oats Street and Belmont. The other end of the University Line could be run out to Scarborough Beach, and a further expansion up to Sorrento could complete the loop. Norranda station is well placed for a branch line up to Whiteman Park and Ellenbrook. There’s also plenty of potential to expand into the southern suburbs – or at least there would be if they were anything more than a barren wasteland haunted by wind and ghosts 😉

I’ve obviously got it all figured out. On with the coronation! 😀

Damned Impertinence!

Hrumph!

This morning at work I got a call from a client wanting an update on his project. As might be expected on a Monday morning he asked if I’d had a good weekend. I answered in the non-committal affirmative. He then asked “Do anything interesting?”

Well. Call me a socially inept Aspie but to me that’s stepping over the line. We’re not friends, we’re business associates. As I see it, he has no right (social or otherwise) to request information about my personal life, and to do so was frankly impertinent.

What was I going to do? Fill him in on all the details of my weekend? Tell him how I went to an old friend’s wedding lunch at the Rose in Crown at Guildford? And how it wasn’t the actual wedding because the actual wedding was in Japan and Switzerland, and explain how that was actually possible? And say that I had the barramundi but wished I’d had the steak because although the barramundi was fantastic the steak the other people were having looked even better and came with chips? And that a good time was had by all and then on the way home I saw a house flying the state flag of Wyoming for some reason? That information is mine, not to be handed out over the phone to someone I barely know.

I mean I didn’t want to know what he’d done over the weekend. Why would I? He’s a client – one among many. As far as I’m concerned he could have spent his weekend morris dancing, pin collecting or hunting the most dangerous prey of all. It makes no difference. He could be the goddamn Batman as long as he gets information to me in a timely manner so I can get his work done.

My clients are not my friends. And’s that the way it should be.

Hrumph!

(Yes, I understand the irony of saying I don’t want a client knowing details about my weekend and then posting all about it on a publicly accessible blog, but if you’re reading this then you’re either a personal friend of mine, or a complete stranger I’ll probably never meet, so it’s not the same thing :P)

That’s better…

OK, my blog is now starting to look more like I want it to. Need to get that header sorted out, and rearrange the sidebar a bit, then I might finally be satisfied.

In my perambulations around the net the other day I stumbled over this quite remarkable page –The Neanderthal Theory of Autism. It’s a page outlining a theory that Autistic spectrum disorders are actually the legacy of breeding between modern humans and Neandertals in prehistoric Europe, and that the symptoms of autism are actually Neandertal traits.

It’s an interesting idea and there’s some interesting evidence in there (the much higher rate of autism in European as opposed to African populations for instance) but there’s also a lot of absolute fruit-loopery of the highest order dressed up in the garb of science.

The basic methodology seems to work like this…

1) Neandertals may have done things this way
2) Some Autistics do things this other way
3) The first way and the second way are kind of similar
4) Therefore Autistics must be Neandertals! It all fits!

For instance, this piece of crystal clear logic…

Most of the finds of Neanderthals are from caves. It’s possible that Neanderthals spent a lot of time in caves, or maybe they hibernated there during winter. Autistics have a fascination for caves. Many autistics are afraid of the sound of a motor-bike. A motor-bike sounds similar to a bear. It is possible that the instintive (sic) reaction of autistics when they hear the sound of a motor-bike triggers an ancient fear for cave-bears.

Uhhhh…. OK, let’s look at this bit by bit. Yes, most Neandertal finds do come from caves, but this has less to do with the habits of Neandertals and more to do with the fact that caves are very good at preserving old bones, so that’s where we tend to look for them. I mean sure, Neandertals may have been hanging out in caves all the time, but you can’t build a hypothesis around the fact that we’ve gotten very good at narrowing down our search for archaeology over the last 200 years.

Autistics have a fascination for caves“. We do?! No one told me this!? I shall have to start looking for a cave to be fascinated by right away!!! Honestly…

Motor-bikes, well, yes, the sound of a motor cycle does freak me out a bit, particularly if it comes tearing around a corner at full roar without any warning. But that’s not because it sounds like a bear, it’s because it’s a loud, sudden noise. Autistics don’t like loud sudden noises of any kind, be they engines, thunder, gunshots or – yes I suppose – cave bears. You might as well argue that Autistics are scared of the sound of motor cycles because the people who ride them tend to be large and hairy, and hence resemble cave bears.

The entire work is full of this kind of stuff. Particularly annoying (or laughable, depending on how you look at it) is the chain of supposition which will state tentatively that Neandertals might have behaved in a certain way, or might have had a certain trait, and then roll on into the next sentence on the confident assumption that they definitely did. That’s not science, that’s wish fulfilment.

So yes, an interesting theory, but let’s try and find some real evidence to back it up before we go riding off into the sunset clinging to the fur of a mammoth (which is apparently why Autistics like climbing over things…)

Sheeze!

You might have Aspergers Syndrome if…

Your sexual preference is ‘get the hell away from me!’

Some applicable examples from an old list I stumbled over…

  • You have passed many a happy minute watching a fan spin.
  • On the one hand you think you are the most interesting person you know, but not too many other people are trying to get to know you.
  • People sometimes check you out to see if you really do, “know everything”.
  • You know the historical derivation of the word, “trivia”.
  • You get extremely disappointed in yourself if you don’t know something when you need to know it because you really *SHOULD* know that.
  • You choose the grocery aisle that you go down based on whether or not there are any other people in that aisle.
  • You will go many extra steps and take lots of extra time to figure out the answer to something rather than taking 30 seconds to ask someone.
  • You ever stayed with a hobby so long and with such intensity that you hurt yourself (can you say “carpal tunnel syndrome”?).
  • You talk back to the people on the TV and radio and call them idiots or say sarcastic things to commercials.
  • You think an old fashioned egg beater is a very cool toy.
  • One of your favorite hobbies is “autie spotting”.
  • You get irritated when people come up to talk to you when you are doing something important like staring at a wall.
  • You get irritated when people come by unannounced when you are totally getting into some research topic or painting or doing mosaics or whatever.
  • You feel somehow privileged to have insights into the subject of cultural anthropology because you have been studying anthropo’s your whole life trying to figure out what makes their culture tick.
  • You think “Cure Autism Now” ought to be called “Eliminate Autistics Now”.
  • You can smell the storm before it starts to rain, But you go and check the weather channel anyway just to be sure.
  • You’re friends with the church secretary, but can’t recognize her when you run into her in the store.
  • You keep bumping into people but the only time you actually remember to apologize is when you bump into a tree.
  • You forget to eat or drink for a few days because you are working on an interesting project.
  • Someone wants to get past you and says “excuse me” and you reply “sure” without moving a bit.
  • Someone asks you for directions but because you can’t remember streetnames you reply with “second chewing gum machine right, then left at the yellow fence the dogs use as marker…”
  • You constantly forget taking the trash out even if you walk past it all the time because it isn’t on your mental agenda of things to do.
  • You spend hours trying to figure out how someone could find a meaning in your words that was not there.
  • You clean up the house and later find you put the oranges in the shoeholder and the shoes in the fridge.
  • You are asked to write a short report and it gets over 10 pages long because otherwise you’d not fit all the important details in.
  • You are at a tour at a science museum and can’t help correcting your touring guide on matters of quantum mechanics.
  • You sit around trying to decide what to work on today, and by the time you are done deciding the day is over.
  • Someone tells you to “smile sometimes” and you reply “I’ll do it later.”
  • Your standard reply to any “when” questions is “In a moment” but your definition of a moment never agrees with anyone else.
  • You still remember poems you learned at school 25 years ago.
  • Someone tries to wash the dishes for you and you freak because your home is part of your personal space and you feel like they’ve touched you without asking.
  • As a child you didn’t comprehend the concept of lying or “teasing”. So if your older brother told you that clouds are floating rocks you believed him until you learnt otherwise in school.
  • You can’t stand kids but you spend inordinate amounts of time browsing through “Toys ‘R’ Us”.
  • You’ve ever re-enacted all the parts of a one-act play in the shower.
  • The words “Do you want fries with that” aggravate your PTSD.
  • You keep a couple of shoeboxes full of love letters you wrote but were scared to death of delivering.
  • Every couple of months you have a chuckle over the sword-on-the-table scene in “Get Smart” even though the last time you saw it was over 30 years ago.
  • You have to ransack your entire home a couple of times a week trying to find something you often need, and even though you usually don’t find what you’re looking for you find half a dozen useful other things you thought you’d lost.
  • You get your front door key out and ready to insert in the lock while still a minute’s walk from your house
  • You need to reinforce the foundations of your house to allow for the sheer tonnage of books you own and insist on keeping around, even though you remember everything in them.
  • You shop for new clothes once a year or less and only retire old ones when they are no longer providing enough coverage to avoid indecent exposure charges.
  • You own 7 sets of identical fleece trousers and soft cotton T-shirts.
  • You gave up on ever convincing people that you are not odd ages ago.
  • You hate having to talk on the phone and confine your conversational depth to ‘Yup’, ‘Nope’, and ‘Bye’.
  • You refer to what is supposedly your own species as “the humans”.
  • You shake your head and mutter “humans….” when you see some example of social behavior that you find unattractive.
  • The last time you moved house, you had 25 large boxes of books to every one smallish box of clothing.
  • It took you, your parents, a friend, and 4 movers 3 days to move all your stuff, and you were only moving out of a 2 bedroom apartment.
  • You don’t mind visitors signing their names in the dust on your furniture… but you’ll get pissed off if they add the date.
  • You’re the only person around who will decline an invite to a big party to stay at home to watch a TV show.
  • You wear jeans to the beach in the summer.
  • You can remember the exact date The Flintstones premiered (Oct. 1, 1960) and the name and production number of the first episode (P-1, “The Swimming Pool”) but completely forgot about the now-congealed casserole that’s been sitting in your microwave for three days.
  • You get really annoyed because you realize the first episode of “The Flintstones” to air on Oct. 1, 1960 was episode P-2, “The Flintstone Flyer” (it aired out of production order) but didn’t catch the mistake until you sent off the e-mail, and now you’re going to look like an idiot.

Countdown to arrival in the UK – 7 days…