Ever active and @DraconiX_CB “I Am Not Spock” #ThisIsAutism

By | April 14, 2014

We are halfway through the Easter holidays and one of T’s tasks from school was some SATS revision, he’d been given a couple of test papers to work through.

One of the qualities I admire in T (our autistic high functioning, 11.5 year old) is his drive and determination to do the best he can in everything. Whether it be playing football, his PS3 FIFA game, reading, writing or (literally) devouring his weekly magazines for football stats and facts, he will not be satisfied until he’s done his best. This can be slightly exasperating from a parental point of view, seeing him getting frustrated and annoyed (with himself) in his quest, but it’s how he is.

He did some SATs test papers today and simply whizzed through them, declaring them easy. He is, according to his teacher, working two years above his peer level so there potentially shouldn’t be many challenges.

As we are currently going through the appeals process to try and get him into our first choice of secondary school, his SATs results will (I guess) be taken into consideration and I’ve been gently trying to reinforce the idea that he check the time allocated for each proper test, divide that at the start by the number of questions and take it at a slower pace so that he’s not finished too early. I feel it will be difficult for him to pace himself like this though. Whatever happens, he’ll do his absolute best.

Today was also a day for getting the pool out, by popular request. It still felt slightly brrrr! to me but T and D enjoyed it, splashing and throwing balls to each other. Last summer it didn’t take long before T’s fiercely competitive streak came out as well as his determined streak and every (what should have been) relaxed paddle for poor D was turned into a competition, with her not responding well to continually being beaten by her brother.

This Is Autism

Tonight’s guest post comes from Charlie at @DraconiX_CB, I found his post extremely insightful and I’m sure others will too.

Over to Charlie:

My name is Charlie Baker. I am 16 and currently studying for my GCSE exams which I am taking for this summer. During my free time, I enjoy playing video games and learning as much as I can about anything I can, although I tend to gravitate towards knowledge based upon computers and psychology. The former, because I love computers and everything about them, and the latter… well… Take a look at this list: Asperger’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Sensory Defensiveness, Alexithymia and Spheksophobia. Quite an imposing list of terms, isn’t it? The reason that each of these is mentioned is that they all affect my life in their own dramatic way.

I Am Not Spock:

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with @Suanta1 and @AutisticBird. If you have a Twitter account and don’t follow them already, please do. They are fantastic people and deserve any attention they get.

Alexithymia: A personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. (From the Wikipedia article about this topic:

For the first non-introductory post for my blog, I decided to talk about one of the more unknown and difficult to understand topics that I may decide to talk about on this blog, which manifests itself in the form of Alexithymia. A foolish decision, maybe, but if I start with the most difficult topic, it should only get easier. At least, that’s my reasoning.

Before I actually start talking about the topic at hand, I’d like to bring to your attention the title of this post. For those of you who recognise it as a reference to the first biography of Leonard Nimoy, Live Long and Prosper! For those of you who didn’t, or don’t know who Nimoy is, do not worry. Although I would recommend that you read it, having read either of his biographies is by no means a pre-requisite to being able to understand this post. However, it may be useful knowledge to know that Nimoy was the actor who portrayed Spock in the sci-fi series, Star Trek.

Even though I need little reason to talk about my favourite character in sci-fi, I reference Spock for a very specific reason, and those of you familiar with both the topic and character may have already guessed what said reason is. Spock is a half-breed, a mix between a Vulcan and a human, which gives him very specific and identifiable traits. The Vulcans are a humanoid race that is noted for their tendency to live life following reason and logic, as opposed to emotion. They are not in fact incapable of feeling emotion, but live their lives suppressing it to the point of appearing as truly stoic. However, because of his human blood, the character of Spock is not as capable as other full-blood Vulcans at presenting himself in such a way, and occasionally reveals the fact he does feel emotion.

So, why exactly have I talked about Spock, a fictional character in a sci-fi series? The reason is simple; I am Spock, except I am not. For the fellow literal minded people out there, that may seem a particularly odd thing to say. I am quite obviously not Spock, as I introduced myself as Charlie and do in fact, actually exist. I am, however, very similar. A lot can be said about both me and about Alexithymia by the simple act of comparison between the character of Spock and my life.

As you should have read at the start, Alexithymia is the inability to recognise or describe the emotions that you feel. It is not the inability to feel emotion, as I do in fact feel emotions. Rarely, I will be able to identify how I feel, an event that bring great confusion and uncertainty to my mind, as I am not used to emotions. This is particularly amplified with strong emotions, which can very easily send me into meltdown, should I feel them. The chance of me identifying strong emotions is not actually a great deal higher than that of normal emotions, since they are quite easy to identify incorrectly. However, despite all of this, if at any one time you were to ask me how I feel, it’s still entirely possible that you will get an answer from me. I may manage to analyse recent events and then workout how I think I should be feeling at the time. This will not be how I feel, but how I think I should feel based upon how I believe others would feel.

Sounds like a decent compromise, doesn’t it? Well the problem that arises here is one of empathy. If you look anywhere for information regarding Autism and the Autistic Spectrum, you are highly likely to find a reference to the idea that Autistic people are “unable to feel empathy”. This is simply untrue from my experience with the Autistic community. A lot of the people with whom I have talked over various media, such as Twitter for example, have reported that they do not in fact have no empathy, but instead find that it is increased.

Maybe now would be a good time to talk about what empathy is. There are two types of empathy: Cognitive (The ability to predict others thoughts and intentions) and Emotional/Affective (The ability to share the emotions of another). Many Autistic people find that their ability to use Cognitive Empathy is in fact reduced, and can therefore say that they have reduced empathy. However, I often find that a lot of people also find that their ability to use Emotional Empathy is incredibly heightened with some even saying that they find it difficult to be outside their house due to their ability to feel the emotions of the people around them. Does this sound like a lack of empathy to you? It most certainly does not sound that way to me.

Even though this is the case for some, I actually fit the original description. Due to my inability to even work out what I am feeling most of the time, it becomes almost impossible for me to feel the same way that others are feeling at any given time. Combined with my reduced ability to use Cognitive Empathy, I find that I am an incredibly non-empathetic person. Do not mistake that for apathy or lack of sympathy though, since I am more sympathetic than most people that I know. When I do manage to realise that something is wrong, I often devote as much time and energy as I possibly can to trying to help said person. I spend a great deal of time ensuring the happiness of others, and I would have it no other way.

But how does all of this relate to the character of Spock, who you should remember I brought up at the beginning of this post? Look again at the description that I gave of the Vulcan race. They feel emotions, yet do not show any sign of it in their lives, living by the principles of logic and reason instead. Does that not sound similar to Alexithymia? They are not the same thing, of course, but the concept of logical, reasonable and emotionless thinking is present in both.

The half-breed nature of Spock himself adds a slightly different perspective to this. Although it does make it more difficult for him to be able to suppress his emotions, which is relevant to the previous point, there is also the added element of his alien nature. Being a non-human character surrounded by humans, he is alienated. The others do not treat him the same way they would treat a fellow human, as they see him as different. This is comparable to my life, surrounded by neurotypical people. I find myself treated differently by the other students at my school. Not in a major way, as I am good at “passing” myself as neurotypical, but there are slight differences that even I am able to recognise. Even though most don’t know me as Autistic, they treat me wearily; unsure to how I will react to any given situation. They see my lack of emotional response and are baffled. They may not know why I am this way, but they do know that I am different.

Anyway, I think this post is long enough at this point. At almost 1,300 words in, this is quite a long wall of text to read, and so I feel I should stop now, before everyone leaves. So, if you managed to read through all of that, thank you. Your commitment is appreciated.

This is Charlie, signing out.

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4 Comments

Karen Sellers on 14th April 2014 at 9:27 pm.

Thank you Charlie for explaining so clearly what I knew about it the vaguest way. I have two children on the spectrum and both suffer with alexithymia (a new word for me today!) but I never even knew it had a name.
Really interesting post.

Reply

Jeannette on 17th April 2014 at 2:26 pm.

Thanks Karen, I’m sure it helped quite a few of us parents x

Reply

rebecca beesley on 26th April 2014 at 9:55 pm.

that is so fascinating – especially the bit about empathy and just how sensitive people can be to feel over-empathy. I share a lot of my son’s ASD traits and one thing I struggle a lot with is that I ‘feel’ for people in difficult or sad situations a lot to the point that I can get really tearful or sad for days on end even though the situation is nothing to do with me. And yet, I struggle to know how to respond to those situations and so I almost get paralysed into not doing anything or saying anything which then appears as lack of empathy. So I found it so interesting to read that guest post. x

Reply

Jeannette on 30th April 2014 at 9:09 pm.

It was very interesting wasn’t it, definitely helped me understand T a bit more x

Reply

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