“Can we skip this song, please?”

It is widely known among ASD experts (or just people who know anything about autism beyond outdated stereotypes) that many individuals who have autism are notably sensitive to most forms of sensory input, particularly sound. In other words, people with an ASD (including Asperger Syndrome) tend to strongly dislike having to listen to a lot of noise at once, especially if it’s loud or sudden. For them it can lead to what I like to call “sensory overload”, which is when someone experiences intense anxiety and distress from the amount of noise and other sensory input they are forced to endure. This is a common source for a many tantrums and outbursts among younger individuals with autism, particularly when they’re out in public where sound volume can be high.

I have already discussed this topic and how it relates to me in my blog post, LOOOOUUUUUUUD NOISES!!! , so please go read that if you haven’t already.

There is, however, another aspect to my auditory sensitivity that I didn’t bring up in that article. It’s a little weird, hard to explain, and may only be relevant to me, as I can’t find any evidence that this issue exists in other people with autism or Asperger’s. The best way I can describe this phenomenon I can sometimes be emotionally sensitive to certain kinds of sounds, especially music. This was specifically prominent when I was a child and it’s not as much of a problem today, though it does persist to some extent.

What do I mean by emotionally sensitive to certain noises and music? Well firstly, we all react unhappily to some music, particularly when it’s intentionally meant to sound sad or depressing. Many of us can’t help but cry or get teary-eyed when listening to songs like “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Mad World” by Gary Jules, or “Hurt” by Johnny Cash (“Hurt” is definitely a tear-jerker for me). Secondly, all of us naturally feel somewhat anxious when having to listen to unpleasant noises such as jack hammers, kids screaming, people chewing with their mouths open (talk to my sister about that one), chairs being dragged on the floor, and buzzing flies.

Of course, just like countless other things I’ve discussed on this blog, this issue works a little bit different for me. What I mean by that is that, for one reason or another, I can’t help but be more susceptible to negative emotions when listening to certain music or hearing specific sounds. There are quite a few songs and noises that normally wouldn’t upset people at all, but for some reason can make me feel rather uncomfortable.

As a kid, it wasn’t very hard for me to cry or feel really sad when listening to a particular song or instrumental score that somehow rubbed me the wrong way. I think you can imagine how annoying this could be: getting all gloomy and teary-eyed out of nowhere because of some music that had no such effect on anyone else. The worst part about this is that the tears and gloominess would often persist long after I had listened to the song, making it even more difficult than it already was to socialize and have fun with others.

I can name a fair amount of songs and music scores that wouldn’t upset or even annoy most people but would usually get me to cry or just demand that it stop. In fact, right now I’d rather not name any specific songs or music that often caused me such unhappiness, because I’m worried that I’ll start thinking about it and maybe start crying again.

Well ok I guess I should give at least one example: I remember when I used to go on car trips with my family and listen to soundtracks from movies and Broadway musicals with them on the way. One soundtrack that we had must have listened to at least 50 times was that from the Beauty & the Beast Broadway musical. There a few songs from the soundtrack to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack that were technically sad, but not exactly the kind of music that would cause people to break out in tears. Whenever we played the soundtrack while traveling, I would insist that these songs be skipped otherwise I would start to cry or get all sad (either then or later in the day). I could tell that my parents didn’t like this and wanted to listen to the whole soundtrack, but they did it for me because they understood that I simply couldn’t handle the music. So, thanks for doing that for me guys! I greatly appreciate it! 😊

Another example I’ll post here so that you can get a good picture is a short hymn that my church would often play during Sunday sermons when I was a child. Well, at first it was in a key that I didn’t really mind at all, and I believe it better suited the message of the song (which was, I think, to simply say “praise the Lord” and all that jazz). Later on, for some reason, they changed the key of the hymn to something that sounded a lot more somber and depressing, at least to me. Keep in mind that the music was played on a church organ, which is already well-equipped to play somber music (because, you know, funerals). Thus, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and sometimes even teary-eyed whenever hearing it. Luckily, my parents stopped dragging me to Sunday sermons when I was like 13. Thanks a lot for that too, mom & dad!

The same general principle can be applied to various non-musical noises. There are more than a few kinds of sounds that have had the effect of making me feel somewhat anxious or miserable, especially as a kid. An example of a sound that has always gotten under my skin is an infant crying. The thing is that every time I hear it I try SO HARD to not let it bother me, to not get upset or stressed, and to remind myself that it’s a natural part of life and that we all have to put up with it. “You cried when you were a baby, weren’t you Tim?” I tell myself. “You shouldn’t let it bother you so much when it’s so natural and common.” Unfortunately, that only works for a short while until I’m just mentally screaming “Oh god, PLEASE, make it stop!” and I sort of feel like crying as well. It takes quite a bit of restraint and effort to not walk away, cover my ears, or ask whoever is supervising the child to try harder to make them stop. (Note: I do not wish to offend parents of infants in any way by saying this. I’m just saying that the sound really gets to me, that’s all)

Now don’t get me started on buzzing bees or flies, particularly in movies and television shows. The sounds of real buzzing bees and flies are bad enough, but somehow when its used in fictional media, they manage to make it even more grating and awful to hear. Seriously, whenever a bee or fly or similar insect appears on-screen as I’m watching something, I have to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the incoming “auditory onslaught”. If you want to understand what I mean, just watch this.

Luckily, as I’ve mentioned several times before, this issue has GREATLY improved for me and I’m nowhere near as bothered as much by certain music or sounds as I used to be. I still tend to avoid various kinds of music and sounds on occasion (it’s partially why I avoid church services aside from weddings and funerals), but overall I’m far better at tolerating audio that doesn’t exactly put a smile on my face. I’m mainly just glad that I could get this topic off my chest and that I’ve managed to clarify it to my friends and family who’ve probably been curious about it since I was little.

Here’s one last thing I’d like to share: if you ever play Little Black Raincloud from Winnie the Pooh near me, I reserve every right to physically destroy whatever it is that’s playing the song. I’m not kidding. Your computer, Android, iPod, or whatever will be DEAD in seconds if you try to play that song within my presence.

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Autism as an insult… oh boy

Warning: this blog post contains some strong adult language and may not be suitable for all readers. If you are under 16 years of age or are sensitive to certain terms, then I advise you not to read this article. In other words: reader discretion is advised!

In the past several years, I have noticed two major trends among younger generations throughout the U.S. and other western countries, particularly on the web:

On the one hand, we have the ongoing rise of what I, along with many others, like to call the “regressive left”. For those who aren’t sure of what I’m referring to, I’m basically talking about the growing number of young “liberals” (I use the term very loosely) who spend much of their time contending what they consider to be “prejudice,” “bigotry,” or “threats social justice” – frequently taking radical, morally questionable measures to do so. You will most often see these kinds of people in two kinds of settings: on college campuses refusing people who have even the slightest degree of right-wing beliefs to speak within 10 miles of them; or on websites such as Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. accusing nearly everyone who isn’t liberal or a minority of being a bigot, racist, sexist, fascist, etc. In other words, they are people who believe that political correctness must be maintained at all costs, and anyone who does anything that could possibly offend someone is a horrible monster that should be shamed and treated like a criminal. Yeah, if you can’t already tell, I’m not a fan of those types of people, and neither should you be if you value free speech and reason over emotion.

On the other hand, we also have increasing rates of young individuals who are going in the complete opposite direction. They are not necessarily becoming racist, sexist, fascist, or anything like that; in fact, many of them wouldn’t really call themselves conservatives (although the group I mentioned earlier often stops them from calling themselves liberals either). Rather, they simply political incorrectness with a passion and frequently like to be as offensive and provocative as possible on the web, usually on sites like 4Chan, Reddit, or YouTube. Some of them will do this merely to spite regressive leftists, whom are, naturally, very easily provoked (and sometimes deserve to be offended, in my opinion). However, many of these people like to upset not just hardcore SJWs, but practically everyone, leaving comments and posting things that any reasonable person would consider unintelligent, annoying, and all-around distasteful. So, the most appropriate term for those individuals would be “trolls”: they say and do things online that don’t contain any true value or importance, but are only meant to get your attention and get you all riled up, simply to entertaining them. This is not to say that everyone who likes to be “offensive” online is a troll, simply those who attempt to shock and upset everyone for no good reason and come across as an utter jackass while doing so.

What makes these two crowds of people similar is that they like to leave comments online that contain a lot of provocative buzzwords to insult each other. Several common buzzword insults I’ve seen over the years include (commie, fascist, Moslem, racist, SJW, the f-word (the one directed at homosexuals), the n-word, bigot, white supremacist, the c-word, cuck, libtard, Trumpster, cuckservative, and autistic.

Yeah, let’s talk about that last word. Firstly, in case you are not aware, Asperger Syndrome is an Autism Spectrum Disorder; a “milder, more functional” form of autism, as many people would put it. Consequently, using the word “autistic” in such a manner does sort of impact me, and, as I will explain why, does bother me a little.

Now, there is one very important thing I’d like to clarify before I continue: I am not entirely opposed to poking fun at individuals with autism, provided that its done tastefully and does not unavoidably insult autistic people. I’m someone who believes that just about any topic, no matter how controversial, sensitive, or taboo, can be made into a funny joke that most people should be able to enjoy. Critically-acclaimed comedians like Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Dave Chapelle, and Bill Burr all use jokes that are meant to be offensive to some individuals. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset in the slightest if they occasionally used a joke about autism, provided it that was tasteful and wasn’t intended to directly insult people with the disorder. So, there is nothing automatically wrong about poking fun at a subject like autism, as long as you’re doing it right.

With that said, I nonetheless find it very morally suspect when someone uses the term “autistic” or “autism” in a derogatory manner. My reason for this is quite simple: whenever you use a certain term or label to insult someone, it essentially implies that there is something negative about the word that you are using. After all, the purpose of an insult is to say something bad or offensive about that other person. For instance, if I were to call someone something like lazy or a jerk (and mean it), that would imply that I am accusing them of something negative – of not working hard enough or of being unkind to other people. I mean, we can all agree that laziness and being an unkind individual are not things to be proud of. The same goes for things like calling someone a “libtard” or a “fascist” or even an offensive slur – in each case, you are saying something bad about the other person because you’re accusing them of something that you frown upon: such as being a “America-hating, communist” liberal, a “misogynist, racist” conservative, or a minority that you have negative feelings toward for some (unfounded) reason.

As a result, we are compelled to presume that when you use the term “autistic” in a mean, critical manner, you are saying something adverse not only about another individual, but also about autism in general. You are, advertently or inadvertently, making a statement about autism or autistic people that isn’t very nice or pleasant.

I think that what most people (unintentionally) infer when they use autistic as an insult are the common stereotypes attributed to people with autism: below-average intelligence, social awkwardness, having singular obsessions, needing “special help” for everything, being “really annoying”, and “doing cringe-worthy things”. Y’know, the image that comes into a lot of people’s minds when they think of autistic children.

Naturally, as with most negative generalizations of any group, I many of us can agree that such a view of autistic people is overly-simplified and very inaccurate. I seriously hate to sound like a SJW or a “pretentious, annoying liberal, but there is WAY more to autism than having “low intelligence” or being “irritating”. In fact, there are vast amounts of autistic individuals with above-average intelligence and who are no more “awkward” or “annoying” than most non-autistic individuals.

Of course, it would be naïve and simply incorrect say that the stereotypes I mentioned have no grain of truth whatsoever to them. Autism is, by definition, a mental disorder because it typically places a sort of limitation on one’s mental processes, cognitive abilities, and/or social abilities. Even many people with “higher-functioning” forms of autism such as Aspergers (like me, for instance) often have a tough time fitting in with others and will sometimes engage in activities that some might perceive as “weird”.

Nevertheless, there are five things to remember: 1) every person with autism is different and not all of them act in a similar way; 2) most people with autism have little to no control over how their minds work or how they act; 3) autistic individuals usually suffer a great deal more than the people who “have to deal with them”; 4) so many autistic individuals manage to overcome their limitations to become wonderful, extremely productive members of our society; and 5) poking fun at people with autism for the reasons stated above is like teasing someone with blindness for not being able to walk down the street independently or a veteran with PTSD for “acting so weird and oversensitive.”

If you’re someone who still legitimately believes that autistic people are somewhat problematic to our society and that being autistic is a bad thing to some degree, then… well… I’m not going to try to change your mind. You are fully entitled to your opinion and I wouldn’t be any better if I tried to force you to think differently. I’m not sure if we would get along well in person, but I’m not going to judge you any further; instead, I’m going to be the better person and just say, “whatever.”

Unfortunately, what bothers me the most about the whole issue is that most of the people who use “autistic” as an insult usually insist they aren’t trying to insinuate anything negative about autism. If I were to earnestly ask these people if they have a problem with autistic people, I imagine their response would probably something like, “Oh no, I’m not saying people with autism are bad or stupid or anything. I’m simply calling this person autistic because I think this person they’re being dumb and annoying, and because I really like being politically incorrect,” (they might also add something like “lol, get triggered, snowflake” for good measure).

Ok, here is why that kind of argument doesn’t work: you wouldn’t be using the word “autistic” in a derogatory if you weren’t trying to imply that there is something negative or undesirable about autism. I mean, why would you call someone or something autistic in a disrespectful or insulting manner if you were implying something positive or neutral about autism? As Spock would put it, that is “most illogical,” at least from the perspective of someone who wants to offend or insult someone. That would be like angrily calling a hardcore liberal a “commie” and then saying, “Oh no, I’m not saying that communism is bad or anything, I’m just calling you a commie because I think your views are stupid and anti-capitalist.” You may disagree with me on this, but it makes about as much sense as that does.

Consequently, unless you wish to say that you think that people with autism are problematic to our society, you should perhaps not use the word “autistic” in a derogatory manner, that is if you want to be taken seriously or receive any respect from me. Oh yes, I can hear so many people calling me “triggered SJW” or “easily-offended snowflake” for daring to suggest that (unintentionally) smearing autistic people might not be a kind, respectable thing to do. Well, guess what? Simply throwing anti-liberal buzzwords like that at me is not going to make me change my mind or make my whole article invalid. Oh, and calling my blog post a “bunch of Marxist, pro-censorship propaganda” won’t work in disproving my argument either. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I have zero problem with dark, offensive humor if it’s done correctly, even when it involves autism. Simply calling someone or something that you disagree with autistic does NOT count as funny dark humor; to me, it simply counts as trolling. There is a stark difference between an intelligent, light-hearted comedy routine or sketch involving autism and throwing the word “autistic” at someone or something you find stupid or annoying. I’m certain that just about any successful comedian (except for maybe someone like Andrew Dice Clay or Seth McFarlane) would agree with me on this.

So, to make this incredibly long blog post short: if you’re going to use the word autistic as an insult, please at least admit to having a prejudice against people with autism. Otherwise, please just stop using it altogether. Then again, you don’t have to follow my suggestion; as I’ve already emphasized several times, I’m not one of those people who constantly demand that everyone else be as non-offensive and politically correct as humanly possible. Honestly, I really don’t care what you do or how much of a jerk you like to be on the internet; its none of my business. All I’m saying is that if you want me, along with many other people, to respect you or to treat you like a sensible, mature adult, then you should act like one and not use words like “autistic” in a derogatory manner. Once again, if that doesn’t sound fair to you, then… whatever! I can’t control you; just know that I don’t have to take you seriously.

“Ass-Burgers”? What’s that?

I believe that the first order of business on this blog should be to clarify what is meant by “Aspergers.” What exactly do I mean when I say Aspergers Syndrome?

Well, I think it’s important to understand, first and foremost, that this disorder affects everyone in different ways. As I mentioned in my introductory post, the experiences of people with Aspergers greatly vary: not everyone with Aspergers acts in a uniform manner, and they certainly don’t all think in one way. There is a large number of ways in which it can develop inside people, and it not possible to make any judgments of someone’s Aspergers without getting to know them first.

However, much like with any disorder or common identity, there are ways in which we can summarize its effect on the human brain and on typical behavioral patterns. According to WebMD, Aspergers Syndrome can best be described as a pervasive development disorder (PDD), a “group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.” (See http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome)

In addition, it is often identified as a high functioning form of autism, although it may not share a lot of the same limitations on cognitive development or learning. In fact, it is widely shown that people with Aspergers usually function quite well in those areas as opposed to those with autism, sometimes even better than “neurotypical” people. The noted similarity between these two disorders lies, rather, in how they usually affect interpersonal behavior.

There are six main symptoms that are regularly associated with Aspergers Syndrome, each of which can be tied to me in some way.

1) Weak social skills: Among the most widespread symptoms of Aspergers involves serious limitations with social skills. To put it simply, we Aspies will often find it quite challenging to engage successfully in a social setting without seeming awkward or feeling uncomfortable. As far as I can remember, making friends and spending time with other people was hardly ever a simple, straight-forward task. A good chunk of my life has been spent alone because I felt uneasy trying to socialize with others, embracing the moments I enjoyed with friends and family.

2) Compulsive, repetitive behavior: Something else that is widely noted in people with Aspergers is habitually performing these eccentric activities, often in a similar vein to autism. In most cases, this means doing something with our bodies such as fidgeting our fingers, kicking our feet, rubbing our faces, biting our nails, pulling our hair, and making noises with our mouths. For example, I used to pull my hair so often that visible holes formed on my head, so my parents eventually had no choice but to shave it really short (I ended up keeping that haircut to this day).

3) Unusual habits: Some of the day to day activities that Aspies choose to engage themselves in can sometimes seem a little odd or bizarre in the eyes of strangers. Aside from the compulsive behaviors that I just discussed, people with Aspergers tend to have these “abnormal” routines in their schedule, or just have an unusual way of doing certain things. One instance that I can remember from my life is how I used to eat things like broccoli and left-over dinner for breakfast. To this day, I still refuse to eat most normal breakfast foods such as eggs and pancakes.

4) Focused, singular interests: While most people tend to hold several interests at once, those of us with Aspergers prefer to keep our focus narrowed on one or two things. For some reason, we can only remain interested in a certain subject at one time, while much everything else is deemed irrelevant to us. My parents would constantly tell me all throughout my childhood that I was “stuck on an idea,” talking incessantly about one particular subject. This made socialization further problematic because I would generally talk to other kids about things that they weren’t at all interested in, but I was obsessed with.

5) Communication troubles: There are a couple of ways in which Aspergers can make verbal interaction somewhat problematic. For one thing, it is often really difficult for us to make good eye-contact with the people we are speaking with. Especially as children, we will often involuntarily drift away in the middle of a conversation and focus our eyes on things around us. If there’s one thing that people would often get frustrated at me over, it’s the fact that I wouldn’t keep looking them in the eye.

6) Skills and talents: Believe it or not, there is something immensely positive that’s frequently associated with having Aspergers. It turns out that people with the disorder tend to show remarkable talent in certain fields, often possessing skills that can exceed the work of “neurotypicals.” This can include fields such as mathematics, music, computer science, writing, acting, or even economics. I am frequently told by my professors at college that I do exceptionally well at composing papers. Meanwhile, you would be pretty surprised just how many of our greatest talents in the world had some form of Aspergers or autism- Danny Beath, Susan Boyle, Vernon L. Smith, Donna Williams, Stanley Kubrick, and Albert Einstein, to mention a few.

Does anyone care to share any similar details about Aspergers?