Apr 30, 2022Liked by Steve Skojec

Steve, this is one of your best essays ever! I have had OCD and ADD my entire life and at various points thought I would loose my mind or descend into chaos. Thank God, nether has happened. Indeed, at 66 I can look back on an exterior life that has had a good impact on many, and an inner life that, while often frightening, has been the source of much creativity, empathy and intuition. I've heard it said that had SSRIs and SSNRIs been developed in the 14th century (when artists and writers began to break out of narrowly defined parameters) we would have had little great art or literature in the modern age. To be honest, I've used Effexor (an SSNRI) for years and have no plans to stop. However, I fear that I might well have been more creative, empathetic and intuitive had I "bit the bullet" and navigated my condition without medication. Thanks again for bringing this subject into the light.

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I actually have a lot to say about this very subject but I will be hampered in expressing it by my own autism spectrum issues. This will be tldr. It runs in my family such that we cannot tell whether my biological children exhibit spectrum issues because they are autistic or because they were raised by an autistic mother. My eldest son is definitely a full blown Aspie, the others exhibit social anxiety and miss social cues but are less “neuro-divergent”. All of us, including my husband, have the ability to make syntheses across disciplines, to memorize and correlate information unusually quickly. We think and talk faster than other people. We are not dramatically accomplished geniuses but we are all smarter than average and that has helped smooth out some of the issues being so different has caused.

Social situations have been nightmarish for all of my 60 years. I gave up completely quite a while ago, but not before experiencing a crushing load of disappointment and hurt from nearly every interaction, everyone that I ever considered a close friend, acquaintances, and my own mother and sisters. The power to wound me which I ceded to others was enormous. I have an excellent marriage of 40 years, close relationships with all my children and grandchildren, and that is it. I do miss friends that I managed to make for brief periods of time, but I was never as important to them as they were to me and I always came to see that I was the one on the giving side all the time, still the little girl offering a quarter to the neighborhood bully to leave me alone. I think this is true of many autistic people, they have adult brains as children and they don’t change much as they grow older.

I remember being bored out of my mind as a child in a house with few children’s books, a grocery store encyclopedia, and bizarre medical handbooks describing foul tropical diseases complete with grainy photos. I taught myself to read all these fluently by the time I was three. I was the cuckoo in the nest always. The forum for Asperger’s syndrome, wrongplanet.net, is so perfectly named. I always felt like everyone else was speaking a foreign language, designed to keep me out.

I have made a life for myself and my husband by raising a large family in a very home centered way, home as a therapeutic refuge from the world. Creating obligations to children and now grandchildren to keep me from running away from the pain in a permanent way. It is a haven that I am afraid we are denying future generations of Aspie women. The modern idea that girls with high functioning autism are really boys is the most insane and misogynistic thing I can imagine. I am afraid that the culture will take the very women who are wonderfully suited as companions, wives and mothers and convince them that this is not for them. Just because Asperger’s has been described as the “extreme male brain” doesn’t turn girls into boys! Nerdy boys are attracted to Aspie girls, they share interests in common and my sons have commented on how quickly girls like me got snatched up when they were in college. Traditional courtship patterns where boys make the advances clarify things for girls who aren’t sure how social cues work. I never had the problems getting along with boys in college that I have always had with girls and women.

The primary premise of the articles which started your essay seems to lump autism in with actual mental illness diagnoses. This is one of the biggest fallacies of modern times, that claiming neurodivergence gives you a pass as far as mental illness is concerned. A person can be severely bipolar, schizophrenic, etc., but if it is framed as gender Dysphoria or other trendy labels you get a sticker and fifteen minutes of fame instead of treatment. People with severe issues of self destruction are given the tools to permanently disfigure themselves instead of getting the therapy they need. These trends have completely destroyed what little credibility psychology had as a science.

I do not think neurodivergence needs to be celebrated. Society cannot continue to celebrate every fractal. Who has the energy to care about this? The emphasis on high functioning people as having “so much to offer” loses sight of the far larger group of severely disabled autistic children and adults who are hidden from society at large. While attention whores plead their special cases what happens to the ones who graduate from special ed at 18 or 21 to a lifetime isolated in their childhood homes, dependent on aging parents who worry about what happens when they die. The increasingly emphasis on productivity squeezes out the sheltered workshop programs which provided a sense of worth and something to look forward to for many. These programs cost a pittance compared to the money generated and wasted by the causes of the moment.

We have lost our minds in this country. It will, as always, be interesting to read the comments.

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Being aspie myself this part stuck out to me: "GN: Just, no, neither. Just kind of, let's say dysmorphias. Dysmorphias. Just kind of, like, changes and you know, in one sense if it's any of these things and I don't know that all of them or any of them are, or which of them are, if it's genetically determined it's evolution trying out something new. Because if it were a successful mutation that helped both that individual and their…let's say genetically related group succeed or compete better than others, it will be over the course of time selected for. And in a positive sense." I actually think that ASDs are going to decrease in the gene pool, for this reason: in prior generations, marriage, sex, and procreation were all givens, but that hasn't been the case for just about the entire time I've been breathing. If there's one thing I've noticed wandering around the "autistic internet," so to speak, it's that, given the chance, if most autists have the choice, they don't marry, they don't have sex, (for social and/or sensory reasons,) and therefore they don't procreate. I question if any of my immediate aspie ancestors would have procreated had they lived in a society that didn't expect it out of them. Sure, *I* want to get married and have kids, but that's in a society that's dead-set against anyone doing either. Anywhere I go on the autistic internet, I'm an outlier in desiring marriage and children. (And, given my age and hormonal health, the odds of me having children are bupkis anyway, neither of my sisters or my cousins want to procreate, so, again, the gene's going to die with me as pertains to our bloodline.)

I'm more like the "Autism Gadfly," in that, if there was an ethical "cure" for autism, I'd take it, and that is a HUGE no-no in the "autism community," such as it is. I'd be happy just to have a pill that does for my autism what Adderall and Ritalin do for my ADD. (The ADD meds DO take the edge off of some of the autism sensory issues, so there's that, I guess.) I'd give up the extra IQ points the ASD supposedly gives me. I know life would still have its suffering--God doesn't allow anyone to escape that--but maybe I wouldn't be stuck suffering it alone, you know? Maybe I could've buried myself in marriage and children after all instead of being another wage slave struggling that much harder to keep her place above the bottom line and knowing that she's just one wrong comment or social faux pas away from being Fired Again. I've been fired from every job I've ever had that wasn't a temporary contract, and, likely thanks to the Asperger's, I go YEARS between jobs; I'm almost 40 and barely have enough saved to live a year when I retire, so I'm honestly just hoping and praying to drop dead before then.

The whole "neurodiversity" bullcrud cheeses me off because it *cheapens* that suffering, especially when they blame my frustration on "internalized ableism" and that sort of nonsense. Yes, it's "internalized ableism" when I'm in a panic because I've had an autistic shutdown at a COMPANY CHRISTMAS PARTY! Or when a shutdown during a family evening in the city set off my bi-polar II mother... Yeah, internalized ableism my foot. I liked how you, Steve, put it in the end: I'd give up the "specialness" or whatever just for a normal hecking life. It'd still have its crosses, but still.

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This is an interesting article, and much of what you say has a point. I agree that it is important to find silver linings to mental distress, and it is true that in a paradoxical way many illnesses (and perhaps in particular mental illnesses), can bring with them a potential for unique goods. That said, there is a danger in seeing mental illness merely through the lens of "neurodivergent" as if serious diseases were simply "different" than the rest of the population, and along with them carrying some good and some bad. As you allude to, mental illness can be incredibly distressing even if it is "mild" or doesn't rise to the level of a full-syndromal condition. Fortunately, we have effective treatments. Because of this, we should not see mental illness simply as a difference as if it had pros and cons. These diseases can wreck lives, the appropriate response to them is to encourage appropriate treatment

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It’s funny you should write about neurodivergence. I had just been pondering it.

More than once I’ve thought that I too must be neurodivergent somehow. But then when I’ve looked any closer into the diagnostic criteria that define the likely candidates, either high-functioning autism or ADHD, I’ve come away with the sense that I didn’t actually have whatever it was severely enough to warrant the term’s being applied to me.

Perhaps that’s for the best. Although I’m a little too adult now to be readily drawn into deriving a positive identity from being mentally interesting, it would have been a danger for me earlier in my life. I know that to be so, because I flirted with the romance of brokenness through much of my twenties, until I was graced with the recognition that I need not live that way.

(But why shouldn’t I have done so? If ontogeny recapitulates the fall of man, I had just been booted from the Garden. Should I pretend this was any profane heartache that I felt, and lightly to be soothed?)

But that was then. If I were to own a neurodivergent label today, as I approach forty, it would not be as a source of identity, but more like its opposite. If I could know that my neurology were a little off-kilter, I could then the more freely distinguish what I might think of as my essential personality from the quirks due to said neurology.

The quirks would still be there, and at my best I wouldn’t use them as a way to let myself off the hook for anything for which I was truly responsible, but I’d have more distance from them, and I could regard them more objectively. I could regard my idiosyncrasies more or less as I would a mild physical incapacitation, and not unconsciously identify with them.

As I’ve grown, I’ve learned that I’m actually more “normal” and akin to other people than I believed I was for many years. This is good, and healing. And I come to know that this realization is itself typical, for in the Sturm und Drang of youth, one believes one is discovering everything for the first time, and one identifies with the sorrow and the yearning and the profundity. But as I've grown up, I've realized that life can be profound, and myself ordinary within it. It seems a kind of ontological humility.

But that still doesn’t explain everything. Ask anyone I went to school with, and I believe they’d admit I always stood out as the quiet one, and rather too strange to be friendship material. My parents and my brother would have some things to say about it too.

To this day I have the sense that I work 15% harder than is typical, to achieve a result, in my social interactions, that is 85% as natural and personable as most other people’s. I’ve gotten a lot better at this than I was (I used to hover around 55%, give or take), so that now I can work with what I’ve got, and it’s nothing I can’t eke out a life with. But it’s still a thing.

When I’ve just walked away from an especially awkward interaction, or when I’m feeling lonely, I rue my incapacity to speak glibly, to track with the expected intonation patterns without effort, and to charm and put people at ease by a deft patter woven of small talk and real talk and the right sort of humor.

Then again, this may not be as much due to a native neurodivergence as to the still lingering effects of trauma. Perhaps I miss some nuance in the moment because my mind, in a bustle of nerves, has flown elsewhere. Perhaps, against my own wishes, I turn the moment’s levity into gravity just because, unnoticed, I’ve retreated from overwhelm into a place where little makes it through my protective shell but a monotone. Perhaps I don’t express myself in the conventionally readable tone I meant to take, because just beneath the surface, not fully beknownst even to me, are secret anxious thoughts on a hair trigger. Maybe what embarrasses others and makes them turn away from me are the gaps in my own confidence, more than my peculiar use of language.

Or maybe it’s a chicken and egg situation, considering what seems to have shaken my confidence and traumatized me in the first place is having grown up as the odd one out.

(No self-pity. Just reflecting. Bit by bit, I come to a better understanding, and a better adaptation to the world.)

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Perhaps I have missed the point of the article. If so, the following opinion will be irrelevant. Here's my take. Neurodivergent characteristics are part of neurodiversity. Otherwise, the divergent become separate from the 'neurotypical' population. And what can be said of neurotypical mental processing? Look around you. Read the news. Listen to people's opinions. It will be shocking to find how 'divergent' humanity's thinking processes have become. Logic no longer seems to run from A to B to C, etc. in a general population. I've seen logic run from C to W to K. Chaotic thinking. Obsessive thinking. Conspiratorial/paranoid thinking. All of this left to mature in a general population becomes, may I say it? Neurotypical. Then where will the neurodivergent fall on that bell curve, against the neurotypical population. They will be not be on the bell curve. They are exclusionary. I would rather be considered party of diversity. And on that bell curve with the rest of humanity. Inclusive. Not exclusive. Albeit perhaps a small slice of the bell curve, maybe even at one of either extreme ends.

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I liked reading Freddie Deboer for a while, but I unsubscribed recently when he said something to the effect of life has no ultimate purpose, we briefly live and then disappear into darkness forever. Bleak dude; I have no idea why he clings to his faith-based view that, anyway, we ought to make life fair for everyone, as in, soak the rich, and spread the wealth, etc.

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I'm sitting here reading this in a Catholic school. One of our major issues is grading and evaluation. Everybody thinks they know what a normal curve is. This ideogram has a stranglehold on our social relationships. It is a probability distribution. It is an ex post facto representation of results, generalized over many, many, many plots where n=something really, really, really big in quantitative terms.

We have made it into an idol, after first calling it a distribution curve. As we gave it more pride of place we have exalted it. We now exalt it as a Platonic idea to the extent that we try to force it on people. We deform them in doing so. Most of us are not careful enough to separate one plot from others. Most of us roll them all up and put them together to exercise our mammalian, built-in dominance hierarchies, putting the "high achievers" into Harvard and letting the devil, however we choose to define it, take the hindmost. This is clearly inhuman. Plus it's bad math. And it's a snapshot capturing one instant in time.

But idols need to be dethroned. In education, all (impossible generalization) strategies in wide use embody some version of the heresy that we are shooting for the normal. The normal is nothing more than a set of data points, collected around one abstract value (the average or the norm) and perhaps stretching across a range of a standard deviation. Normal is another idol that must be dethroned. It has a stranglehold on our imagination, and is devastating in its effects on people in the highly pressurized, angst-ridden, emotional rollercoaster we call "high school." Just as our young people are ready to spread their wings and find their place in a richly provisioned, divinely created world, we literally slam them in the head with the threat that without the needed number (PSAT, SAT, ACT, GPA, AP) they are deficient. They fail to measure up. They're relegated to irrelevancy.

Normalcy is an arbitrary description, an accident in the truest sense, that we've made into a goal. And it's a leveler as powerful as anything ever cooked up by Stalin or Mao, Kojeve or Pol Pot. It masquerades as an ideal, when in reality, the truly enlightened or woke understand that it is the way to control the masses in order to keep their elitist hold on real power secure, in order to free them to plunder the masses in corrupt governance.

Even past adolescence, part of us seems to want to be normal, to fit in, to be accepted, to find a welcome spot in the dominance hierarchy. If we want freedom, if we want to have any kind of life on its own terms, if we want to defy the forces of darkness and practice loving kindness in service, we need to reject the normal. Wouldn't hurt to add it to our list of rejections in our renewal of our baptismal promises.

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