I Might Be a Misfit, but I Swear I’m Not a Nitwit…

Of course, it’s a totally appropriate time for that blog title right? As much as the holidays can suck for me, one cannot endure this season without at least a little bit of levity, and the tale of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer as told by Burl Ives is a perennial favorite of mine, even well into adulthood because I guess I relate to it so much.

Sure, I’m that guy sitting in the lounge puffing my cigar and drinking my beverage of choice in t-shirt and short shorts/”Davy” Dukes in the spring/summer/fall or in a sweatshirt and patterned/printed leggings in the winter as opposed to all dressed up business-like. I’m also that guy that goes to the office dressed as such when on days when I’m just in the office and I don’t have to be out meeting clients on jobsites. I’m tattooed and pierced both. Instead of making small talk, I’m usually on my phone or laptop doing my own thing when out and about, unless I’m with one of my really few close friends. I might have some mannerisms you find odd, some involuntary motor tics (“stimming” as we autists call it) or some other weird interests.

If you can get past my exterior, though, you might just appreciate what I have to offer. Case in point all the other reindeer who used to laugh and call and Rudolph names. It took them awhile to wise up but eventually they did and realized that hey, maybe we aren’t so bad after all. I’m a pretty open book. I’m also damn good at what I do for a living. Though I might not necessarily look the part, I dare you to argue with the results I put out and isn’t that what matters above all? Function over form after all.

I will say it does appear as though social moors are changing, albeit slowly. Back in the day Windows PCs could only network with and share files with each other. Now you can network Windows PCs together with Macs and Linux machines and they all share many of the same file types, while at the same time each platform retains what makes it unique. In that light, I think it’s safe to create an analogy with Windows PCs being the neurotypical people of the computer world, while Macs and Linux boxes are the autists and neurodivergents. We can all get along and in general more accepting of what makes us unique, though there are still some holdouts. Though I’m too old to pursue a flying career, it makes me glad to hear that there are stories now of the FAA and other major aviation governing bodies worldwide who are accepting applicants who can show proficiency and ability to handle the stresses of the task. That’s not something I thought I’d ever see in my lifetime.

Looking back on where I am now vs. where I am when I first started this blog, I have to say starting this blog has been very good for me. Those of you who have been with me since the beginning will know I didn’t always view things this way. Many of you know how I struggled for years with self-acceptance and goodness knows I still do to this day to a certain degree. However, the friends I’ve met here who actually see past my misfit side and realize that I’m not a nitwit have helped me work to overcome that. Same is true of the few friends I have in real life now – though most still not appreciate me, I have those few who do, granted most of whom are fellow misfits, but that’s OK.

After all, what’s the matter with misfits? That’s where we fit in!!!

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I WILL Light It Up Blue

As has always been the case concerning April 2nd and the entire month of April in general, I am breaking rank with my fellow autism spectrum people and am lighting it up blue. Please note that this does not mean I think any less of those who disagree with me and choose to boycott this campaign. Believe me, I don’t. I know it sometimes seems I’m being dismissive of you all but trust me that it isn’t the case.

Unlike virtually every other autism spectrum person I’ve ever met, I for one wish it would have been different for me. It seems most people on the autism spectrum are OK with it (I even recently asked the question on Quora, “Why don’t autistic people want to be cured?”). I got a range of responses but not one of them challenged the premise of my question, leading me to believe that (from my very small sample size anyway), none of them really care about a cure and some are even frightened by the thought.

I will say that some of these concerns are not at all unfounded, but rather overplayed and overstated. It seems to me the biggest concern with the autism spectrum community is the topic of eugenics. Fine, I’ll buy that concern, but I think it’s taken to too much of an extreme. Is a pre-natal test for autism spectrum disorder (similar to pre-natal tests for Down Syndrome) really a bad thing? As someone who is staunchly and unapologetically pro-choice (for whatever reason) I don’t think so. Let’s face it: what’s worse? A fetus that’s aborted early term before it can even feel pain or a special needs baby born to parents who either do not want to deal with that kind of thing or who are ill-equipped to deal with it? There will still be plenty who would decide to go through with the pregnancy and have the child, something we see all the time with Down Syndrome. Less than half of fetuses that test positive for Down Syndrome will be aborted on those grounds, so the argument that the powers that be are hellbent on culling autistic people as a whole is absolute bullshit at best.

So we’ve addressed that, let’s switch back to born people. Many born people fear that should a cure be discovered it will be forced upon them. Again, I hear you. I realize this might seem scary, but instead of having a fear-based, knee-jerk emotional response, consider this: in pretty much every country on this earth we have the right to refuse medical treatment for any reason, even if such a refusal would result in our death. Do you really think this would be any different from any other medical treatment? I don’t see why it would. The right to refuse medical treatment has been consistently upheld and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

So I think I’ve addressed the two big concerns that many people have. I’ll now move into my pro-cure argument. You are welcome to stop reading now if I’ve pissed you off, but if not and you’re actually willing to learn this perspective, continue reading.

I have a dear friend (and please, please don’t take this as me attacking you, I promise I’m not!) who describes neurotypical vs. autistic in the similar light as the whole Windows vs. MacOS debate. Whereas I think it is a reasonable attempt to bridge the gap and there is some merit to the argument, to me there seems to be a glaring flaw in the analogy and I’ll address that here.

Let me first state what I do find accurate and attractive about the argument. Does the fact that MacOS has a much smaller market share automatically mean it is an inferior product? Absolutely not. There are some very strong points about operating system, not the least of which include how everything just flows together and integrates seamlessly and the much lower risk of malware. However, let’s not ignore the downsides: there is only a fraction of the software available for MacOS as there is for Windows. When it comes to availability of software, Windows wins hands down – there is no contest. I would absolutely agree that neither platform is necessarily superior or inferior to the other, only that they have their relative strengths and weaknesses. I would agree with this as it extends to neurotypical vs. autistic debate – each type does have its relative strengths and weaknesses.

That said, here is where I think the argument fails. Depending upon my needs as an end-user, I have the ability to freely choose which operating system best fulfills my needs. As an engineer who uses products such as Autodesk AutoCAD and Inventor, Windows is by far the superior choice for me for a work computer, and this is what I use at work. Whereas AutoCAD does have a Mac version it is several iterations behind the Windows version and Inventor does not run on a Mac at all. For personal use, Mac is the best choice for me as I do a lot of creative stuff. So there, I use both. Windows and Mac apologists, no need to attack me – I use both platforms.

Alas, that’s where the analogy fails in the NT vs. ND debate. I can’t freely choose which internal wiring I’m born with. That is pre-set and as of right now I am unable to change to a different platform that would best suit my needs. There is no question that in my specific case a neurotypical “operating system” would suit me far better than my pre-installed autistic wiring. Though I probably would have only lasted maybe 10 to 15 years in my childhood dream job, my life would no doubt have been easier doing that than what I’m doing now. I would like to have had the choice to switch to a platform more suited to my ambitions and desires, and there’s no question which platform would have been the superior choice for that.

As such, pro-cure argument as it stands today is not about forcing a cure on anyone. It’s about choice and nothing else. I 100% do not appreciate being called a traitor, a faker or a whole host of other things I’ve been accused of since I started expressing this viewpoint, nor is my viewpoint in any way fueled by self-hate. We are shaped by our experiences, and I am no exception. My own personal life experience combined with the input from others has led me to this viewpoint. Note that my language is different today than it was when I began this blog – I was adamantly pro-cure/anti-neurodiversity. I believed that should a cure become available that it should absolutely be administered as soon as a diagnosis is made and that it was negligent not to. However, I listened to you. I learned that not everyone has had the same experience as I have, and in doing so I have modified my argument. I only ask for the same courtesy in return.

And that is why, despite the admittedly bothersome ideology of groups like Autism Speaks and the like, I continue to support these groups who push for cure research in hopes that one will become available that those on the autism spectrum could then choose. I imagine would choose not to accept it, and that’s fine, but there is a small percentage of us who would.

THIS is why I break rank and will light it up blue tomorrow. Thank you for reading and hopefully understanding my experience.

Why Am I Such a Misfit?

…I am not just a nitwit! Just because I’m autistic; why don’t I fit in?

OK, in all seriousness I have a huge soft spot for the old Christmas classics. I don’t have a religious bone in my body but the old classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (as told by Burl Ives) have a special place in my heart, and Rudolph especially so because I can so relate to the poor red-nosed reindeer. As I sit here watching it on TV tonight, it again serves as an empathetic response of sorts but I so feel for him and for dentist-wannabe Hermie the Elf because I don’t really fit in.

OK; so yes, I’m autistic. I have my oddities. I sometimes flap my hands involuntarily. I have strange obsessions. I have 5 tattoos and want more and want piercings now. I wear shorts that would make Daisy Duke blush but I’m a dude (I discussed this particular affinity in a previous blog entry).  I’m totally a misfit in every sense of the word.

Sure, I don’t fit in. Alas, the song continues “who decides the test of what is really best?” I have my shortcomings. No question about that. Alas, it does beg the question, “what’s the matter with misfits?” As the tale suggests, poor Rudolph with his blinkin’ beacon of a nose was the last hope of Santa powering through the storm and re-homing the misfit toys and Hermie wound up the only dentist in the North Pole. Though not fitting the mold as it were, they all found a place and were able to eventually be who/what they wanted.

Sure, this is a fictional story, but I think it has real-life implications. Who really needs to change? Is it those who don’t fit the mold who must try to artificially make themselves fit the mold or is it on everyone else to change to become more accepting?

Well, the moral of the story is that it’s up to society to change, not us. Those of us on the autism spectrum (or a number of other “neurodivergent” individuals – thanks to Neurodivergent Rebel for introducing me to the term) can’t change who we are, just as Rudolph couldn’t change his nose despite trying to hide it or Hermie trying to hide his distaste for his role. We are who we are, and if society can’t accept us as such, that’s on them.

Yes, it’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way over the years (despite trying to change myself). The years of self-hate, resentment, etc. from societal conditioning almost tore me apart. I’m glad I’m older and wiser now because I remember what a dark place that is and quite frankly I never want to return.

Now, to convince those around me there’s nothing really wrong with me. It’s an uphill battle but a worthwhile battle indeed. Maybe, just maybe, someday we will see that societal shift. If the citizens of Christmas Town could eventually learn to accept Rudolph, Hermie and even the Abominable Snow Monster, surely real world society can learn to accept us neurodivergent individuals.