January 2019

Since starting an unplanned sabbatical from my nonprofit in the middle of January, I’ve not had a mental health day as low as any of the recent days beforehand.

For almost a year, I’ve been tracking my moods in an app called Daylio. It then generates charts and graphs based upon the average mood of each day. The math on that means it’s not immediately clear when any given day might have had an incident I marked as being Awful (I edited the default moods into a progression of Awful, Bad, Meh, Good, Great; I have never had a Great mood), but it does give a helpful overview.

It’s especially useful for noticing trends, or for spotting months that were overall smooth versus months containing wild swings.

Looking back at the past three months, November was generally steady in and around the middle, December fluctuated wildly into Good and Bad, with January being somewhere between the two but with some significant Bad but also some noticable Good. (Even the good days, however, can debilitate.) This is a fair representation of what relocating an entire nonprofit project involving construction and moving both material and livestock is like: November was a lot of stressful planning, December was the bulk of the actual construction and move, while January was final steps and setup.

What happened in the middle of January? That’s when I had that rager of a meltdown, was chided and disrespected for it, unceremoniously announced I was unavailable for the rest of the month, and then deleted Slack from my phone and muted certain people in Messages.

I’ve since spent my time only making sure to keep the books updated. No chores, no communications with the team, no social media updates for the nonprofit. I’ve only been doing, I guess, self-care. Although that’s had to happen without visiting the goats, because I didn’t need to end up running into anyone.

In the days since going on sabbatical, I’ve not come anywhere near to a sobbing breakdown except once, the very next day when I went on my weekly mental health trip to the zoo, dropped money on the farm tour (in order to visit someone’s goats), and then they failed to show up and tried to tell me it was at a different time. Mostly, as this was literally the day after I temporarily quit my nonprofit, it was a pretty terrible moment for the zoo to choose.

All of this was from working fewer hours than a part-time job, mostly of the labor on the weekends, on a project that I personally care about.

Social Security, however, believes that I am not disabled and am gainfully employable, a determination made solely from my original diagnosis in 2016 and an assessment in 2018 by an Oregon Department of Human Services hired gun based on their “consultive exam” that lasted maybe ninety minutes. No one talked to Vocational Rehabilitation or to my therapist from during and after my job placement about how that attempt at employment sent me spiraling headlong into an autistic burnout that continues to this day.

It’s bad enough that being a midlife-diagnosed autistic means there is no paper trail, no documented evidence of disability or impairment. There’s only the anecdotal reports from one’s self and one’s family. Are my three decades of work history replete with “Unsuccessful Work Attempts” (a Social Security term of art)? Yes. Are the few exceptions the result of happenstantial (and unreplicable) mitigation of some of my impairments? Yes. Social Security, however, could not possibly care less, because there’s no outside contemporaneous confirmation of these struggles.

Given the lack of acceptable pre-diagnosis record, how can Social Security possibly consider it valid or appropriate to make a disability determination without examining what there is of a post-diagnosis record?

This initial disability determination by Social Security is under reconsideration, and I did what I could to point out current records and resources they didn’t check the first time around. Of course, my request for reconsideration was submitted just before the federal government shut down, and it’s anyone’s guess what that does to the timetable.

Meanwhile, in just a few days, as January comes to a close, I need to make a determination of my own.

How involved can I be in The Belmont Goats going forward when the costs of involvement even in something that matters to me might be too high for my own good? How high would be the cost to my mental health of walking away?

What happens if I have nothing, and then Social Security determines again that that’s all I deserve?

In the latest newsletter by Anne Helen Petersen, she appears to draw a link between burnout and a lack of “solitude”.

But naming it remains powerful — and so do very small things, like turning my phone on airplane mode before entering the bedroom (and reading instead), and not feeling embarrassed about feeling accomplished when I actually drop off the shoes at the cobbler. I’ve also been thinking a lot about “digital minimalism,” as described by Cal Newport in his upcoming book (I loved this interview with him on Ezra Klein’s podcast).

Newport calls the thing we’re lacking “solitude” — not as in being all alone, but having no other “inputs” (from podcasts, the radio, talking with other people). You can be on the subway, in other words, and still be in mental solitude.

In striving toward what she calls “hanging out with your own mind”, she’s increasingly dropping these external inputs, up to and including deleting a bunch of apps from her phone and putting it in airplane mode before bed.

Unlike my other comments on Petersen’s writings about and around burnout, I’ve no judgment here.

Instead I want again to try to use her observations as a way for people to think about the particular and weird challenges of being autistic, because while neurotypical people (I do not know whether or not Petersen herself is neurotypical) can reduce the chatter of many external inputs pretty easily in exactly the sorts of ways Petersen relates, autistic people also often are subjected to external inputs over which they have no control.

Sensory processing issues can mean being atypically-sensitive to things like bright lights in office buildings. The hot, noonday sun. Everyday sounds and noises that an atypical brain filters out can become not just distracting but distressing.

(I list only a few things here, limited to my own set of sensory issues. The specifics can vary widely across any set of autistic people.)

Imagine, then, having the incessant chatter not just of apps pinging their notifications at you but also of the very world around you.

While most discussion of autistic burnout revolves around the psychic risks of longterm camouflaging, that’s happening within the larger context of other stresses being put upon the autistic brain at the same time. These things can be related, in that some actions an autistic person could take in order to manage or mitigate sensory processing issues might be frowned upon or outright dissuaded in some neurotypical environments, and doing without them itself becomes a kind of demand that we camouflage ourselves. It’s a vicious spiral.

For the autistic brain, then, finding ways to try “hanging out with your own mind” can in many ways become even more challenging.

We, too, could delete apps and make judicious use of airplane mode, although, depending on the sensory environment, we might not be able to go without listening to music while out for a jog. While some neurotypical people “can be on the subway … and still be in mental solitude”, for us it might be dependent upon whether or not people on the subway are comfortable with us wearing ear defenders and noticably stimming.

Solitude can be great. The version of it I managed to get when I moved to a new apartment and discovered the environs to be dramatically more quiet than that of any other places I’ve lived for the past two decades has been a godsend.

Being able to selectively turn off the external inputs that can ratchet up your levels of stress, however, is a privlege of the neurotypical. Fluorescent office lights, a bright sun, traffic noise, people making phone calls in cafes: generally speaking these things can’t be deleted or disabled. Instead, it’s incumbent upon the neurotypical at least not to discourage the atypical to do what they need to do in order to survive the onslaught of external inputs without distress.

If we’re concerned about the stresses that a life full of controllable external inputs can put upon the neurotypical brain, we doubly need to be concerned about the distress that a life full of uncontrollable external inputs can cause the atypical one.

It’s tough for me not to read every new piece about millennial burnout through the lens of the original one that referred to being bored with every day mundane tasks as “burnout”, which I know is terrible because not every other article is being that fatuous about the matter.

Although sometimes these other pieces are being fatuous in a completely different manner.

Before I get to the latest I came across, I briefly want to double back to what I said about the first one, to build upon or clarify some of my anger, and to proffer one way in which maybe all of this millennial burnout stuff can yield some good.

I mocked “errand paralysis” because it seems part and parcel of the boredom argument and burnout is not merely some sort of ennui in need of cute branding but a kind of existential exhaustion. “Decision fatigue”, however, is a real term to describe the effects of an enduring cognitive load upon executive function.

(I note with passing fascination Wikipedia’s reference to a potential relationship “between decision fatigue and ego depletion, whereby a person’s ability for self-control against impulses decreases”, because I’d think that might have some bearing on certain forms of autistic meltdown.)

What actually would be useful is if that original article prompted wider public and professional acceptance that these are real conditions and dynamics within the brain, which might help validate among the psychological and social service communities that autistic burnout, specifically, also is a real thing. Not only that, but then perhaps yield a recognition that on top of the sorts of cognitive loads neurotypical people face either in small-scale decision fatigue or larger-scale occupational burnout, autistic people are dealing with the daily (weekly, monthly, yearly…) loads of needing to camouflage themselves for the benefit and comfort of the neurotypical society around them.

So, a partial mea culpa.

In my zeal to dismiss “errand paralysis” as a branding move, I roped in “decision fatigue” in the process. To be clear, I’m also not saying that the author of the original piece isn’t experiencing some form of burnout, just that I don’t think their discussion of it was All That.

In the latest piece I’ve seen, the author (not the same one) posits that “decision fatigue” in fact is a result of exerting control over one’s increasingly-uncontrolled environment.

Perhaps it is the feeling of control itself (or the lack thereof) contributing to this constant procrastination. Perhaps me, subconsciously refusing to mail a package or take out some recycling, is actually me attempting to regain back some small feeling of control in my life.

As someone for whom the states of cognitive or emotional overload and the condition of decision fatigue are brutal, deadening, sometimes terrifying affairs, I’m going to have to go with, “No.”

My grocery shopping doesn’t get done because I am exerting control over my life and my right to do or not do the grocery shopping. I don’t fail to get out of my pajamas and bathrobe on some days because my brain is asserting control over a chaotic environment. I don’t check the mail for days at a time not because it makes me feel like I’m in charge of something about the world, but because that’s one less task my brain has to deal with.

In these moments (days, weeks, months, years…), I’m not choosing control, I’m cognitively incapable of doing all the things.

The author makes a bizarre turn along the way, suggesting that “in uncertain times, people prefer more authoritarian regimes regardless of their innate political preferences” for similar reasons. This makes little sense to me, as it seems the opposite of asserting control. It’s demanding that someone else take the control away from you.

Through the lens of my autistic experience, I have to say that ceding control to someone else actually be an absolutely agonizing process, as it actually increases the risk of having to confront surprise and uncertainty. It’s difficult for me, then, to see a link here.

When my executive function fails, it’s not because I want a big, strong leader to make my decisions and do my chores. It’s because I don’t have the capacity.

I am no more an expert on any of this than most of the other people writing about it lately. Like most of them, all I can do is relate things through the lens of my own experience, which in my case tends to be an autistic one.

What gets me, though, are people working through this current conversation about burnout seemingly trying to find ways to pathologize for themselves something they don’t have (“boredom” as burnout) or rationalize something they in fact might have but I guess don’t want to admit.

Maybe that’s why I can’t accomplish even the most simple of tasks. Maybe it’s my subconsciousness engaging in a small act of rebellion. Maybe it’s a way to say the tiniest “fuck you” to the machine that I live in. Maybe it’s one final, desperate grasp for the feeling of control, even if I know it doesn’t exist.

This is ridiculous.

Decision fatigue isn’t an act of rebellion. It’s a brain without the resources to take on even just one more thing, or at least without the capacity to do well or do correctly anything else being demanded of it.

If you’re bored with mundane, every day tasks, that’s not burnout. It’s just, well, boredom.

If you’re truly struggling to do things, that’s not rebellion. It’s potentially a real issue with how your brain functions, and it shouldn’t be mythologized.

After reading a Seattle Times report on Clark County declaring an emergency over measles cases appearing in the Portland area, I dug into my Kaiser Permanente records because I had a recollection of getting tested in the recent past for immunity to measles, mumps, and rubella, probably during the last measles scare.

The high rate of nonmedical exemption for vaccines is what makes the Portland area, which sits across the Columbia River from Clark County, a “hot spot” for outbreaks, according to Peter J. Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“This is something I’ve predicted for a while now,” he said of the public health emergency in Clark County. “It’s really awful and really tragic and totally preventable.”

In the wake of the emergency declaration in Clark County, a confirmed case popped up in King County, prompting concerns that cases are spreading to the Seattle area, too.

It’s not clear where the man became infected with the disease, although he reported recent travel to Vancouver, where a measles outbreak is occurring, during part of the time he could have been exposed. Some 23 cases of measles have been confirmed in the Vancouver area in recent days, and at least two more are suspected.

The results of my tests for immunity to measles and rubella back in 2015 apparently came back as “equivocal” and whoever my doctor was at the time never raised this with me. I remember seeing results that mentioned measles and rubella but not the mumps and thinking they’d somehow only tested for immunity to the former, but at no point at the time did I see results that said I might not be immune.

(I was born in 1969 and, for whatever reason, I endured the mumps as a child. I’ve no idea why I wasn’t vaccinated for them. I do remember all the oven-heated towels being placed around my swollen neck, and the toy Volkswagon Thing some family friends gave me at the time. My family swears I was vaccinated against measles and rubella, however.)

According to the CDC, persons whose test results for any or mumps, measles, or rubella come back the way mine did “should be considered susceptible”, something you’d think my doctor at the time would have mentioned to me but did not. In the second piece above, Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, specifically urged anyone without an immunity to get vaccinated.

Vaccination recommendations for MMR changed in 1989, expanding from one shot early in life to a second one later on. This was two years after I graduated high school, while I was in college. It’s a near-guarantee that I never received that second shot.

My doctor should have recommended in 2015 that I get that second shot, or at least bothered to ask if I’d ever had it. They didn’t.

I’ve already contacted my doctor’s office to ask about all of this, and they suggested either getting tested again or simply getting an MMR shot. Since I never got my second shot to begin with, getting re-tested doesn’t seem necessary. I’ll be going soon to make sure I’m immunized.

Unless you’re part of a population which cannot be vaccinated–populations the rest of us are supposed to help protect via herd immunity–contact your doctor today, especially if you’re here in the Pacific Northwest where we have more than our fair share of anti-vaxxer parents.

I swore that I would not subject myself to the new Rolling Stone interview with Jack Dorsey (the writer of the piece took my tweet as an insult to him, told me to “fuck off”, and then blocked me), but I did anyway.

Now you don’t have to, because I’m going to give you the lowlights in a helpful bulleted list.

  • Jack says, exposing the limited way in which he thinks of the issue, that “there are [no] self-professed Nazis” on Twitter. He also says that “people don’t report” the nazis, preferring to just tweet at him to get rid of them.
  • Jack says that they shouldn’t try to “determine true or false” but instead “determine is it misleading”, as if “misleading” isn’t a kind of falsehood.
  • Jack says, “We never really designed the product to be, like, ‘How do we make this more addictive?’” Any service for which the user is what’s being sold inherently is designed to be at least addictive enough to deliver sufficient eyeballs to advertisers, and Jack, of course, knows this.
  • Jack says, “We do have a curation team that looks to find balance.” Balance being the same unreal pablum we’re constantly having to fight in journalism. Balance is not a virtue unto itself when it comes to information. This is why his initiatives to inject opposing viewpoints into people’s feeds is nonsense.
  • Jack says that Square “has to” run more smoothly than Twitter because “you’re dealing with people’s money” and that’s “extremely emotional”. (Having to deal with nazis, though, apparently is not.)
  • Jack, net worth $4.9B, says he’s “a punk”.
  • Jack, asked about not giving enough credit to other early Twitter inventors, says, “Two years into it I thought stuff like that mattered. I don’t feel it matters as much anymore. I think the real interestingness of Twitter is not us.” Now that he’s the center of attention, this is a convenient way to continue not giving credit.
  • Jack says, “The character I loved most in The Wizard of Oz was the wizard. ’Cause he was behind the curtain.” The wizard was behind the curtain because he was a confidence man and a fraud.

I agree, we have been bad at communication, we haven’t been as forthright as we need to, we certainly haven’t been as transparent. We do care deeply. But we need to do it in scalable ways. This work doesn’t happen overnight.

This admission comes early on in the interview, and it’s ironic in and of itself for what effectively is a communications company. His answers throughout the conversation, however, repeatedly are tremendously communicative in ways he seems to be completely oblivious of—and in ways I hope other reporters pick up on since this one did not.

(I also have no idea what Jack means that their ability to communicate well needs to be “scalable”. You either communicate well or you don’t; scale is irrelevant?)

Were I to pick the moments in the interview which I think most reveal Jack’s inner workings, there would be three.

  • Does he really believe no one is reporting nazis and that the issue before him only is nazis who admit being nazis and not, you know, the plague of people being unprofessed nazis?
  • Does he realize what’s communicated when he calls money “emotional” but never applies that kind of terminology to Twitter’s impact on people’s daily, lived-in lives?
  • Does he really only comprehend the Wizard as the man “behind the curtain” and not, in the words of Wikipedia, “an ordinary conman … who has been using a lot of elaborate magic tricks and props to make himself seem ‘great and powerful’”?

A major thread of autism advocacy is the social model of disability. There do seem to be many aspects of being autistic that are limiting not because of any inherent flaw, per se, but because of a mismatch between the wiring of an autistic brain and the social and cultural structures of the society in which that brain operates.

Trust me, however, when I say that neither the absolute rager of a meltdown I had this past week nor any I’ve had in the past were the result of an autism “best understood as a difference, disabled by society’s expectations and norms rather than any medical deficit”, as Bitesize Autism Research termed the conclusions of a recent paper.

(I can only see the abstract, but I note in passing that in it the author concludes only “that we have no decisive reason to think that being autistic, in and of itself, is at odds with either thriving or personhood” and then simply says that this conclusion “chimes with” the social model of disability.)

My meltdowns, I think, come in two varieties: ones caused by sheer cognitive and/or emotional load, and ones caused by what we could term “undifferentiated emotional time”.

The former is what happened this past week when I had to get sixteen bales of hay into a ten-by-eight shed already full of disorganized supplies before the rain came. The latter is what happened several months ago when I found myself screaming at a high school student who was feeding the goats through the fence.

When I verbally tore into that high school student, I was not responding to that individual person and that discrete instance of this happening.

Instead, I was responding to the entire four years of having to deal with people feeding the goats through the fence when they weren’t supposed to. The sheer force, the violence really, of my voice perhaps was proportional to the entire history of the potential threat to my animals, but it was not at all proportional to the specific instance before me. I called this “undifferentiated emotional time” because that’s what it feels like in retrospect: like four years of past incidents were happening again, all at once, along with the present moment.

(I’m reluctant to call this a tiny kind of PTSD, but it’s a small version of what I imagine PTSD sometimes must be like for people with real trauma.)

What happened this past week was different. I had to manage the delivery of sixteen bales of hay, including letting the truck in through the drive gate while also making sure none of the animals were approaching and getting themselves underwheel (or escaping through the gate), and then determine how to get it all into the storage shed alongside the disorganized mess of supplies already in there.

Without any help, all while facing the forecast of imminent rain.

You’ll find in writings by actually autistic people some discussion of how difficult just normal, every day chores can be, mostly due to executive function issues. In some sense, you can see this as that, plus an external deadline (the rain), plus it being not just a personal responsibility but something other people needed done as well, plus the usual weight of knowing that no one had been helping me try to organize what was already in the shed.

This all resulted in anger at the weather, anger at the goats starting to get underfoot, anger at unhelpful colleagues, and anger at the supplies in the shed that were in my way. All of which meant loud and frustrated chasing goats away from where I was working, and eventually me throwing items out of the shed one after another accompanied by large amounts of cursing.

In the middle of all this, I kept updating other members of our organization via Slack messages, partly because narrating a problem sometimes can help me navigate it and partly because maybe someone had a bright idea about how to solve it.

Instead what I got was someone irritatedly proclaiming that they were not going to deal with anything I left unfinished because by the time they’d get there it would be dark, and then the same person snapping, “Go vent somewhere else.”

Let me explain something here. It’s important.

Autistic meltdowns are not “venting”. An autistic meltdown is a brain in crisis and distress.

What someone should have said to me in that moment is, “I know you’re worried about the rain coming, but: stop, put everything down, and walk away. See if that helps you come back in awhile to finish.”

These are thoughts it’s literally impossible for me to have myself in the midst of a meltdown. They need to come from outside my head.

What you don’t do is snap at me that if I don’t get it done it’s not going to get done, or call what’s happening “venting”.

Without someone trying to crowbar into my brain the idea that it would be okay to walk away, even if it was with the hope that I later could return to finish, there were only two options before me, neither of which was I especially conscious of at the time). Either the work was going to get finished but wrapped in an epic meltdown which was only getting worse because I was not walking away, or the work was going to remain unfinished but I might be able to avoid spiraling any further downward in the meltdown.

(I finished the work, continued to meltdown, and then unceremoniously announced that I was walking away from the entire nonprofit for the rest of the month.)

Meltdowns are not tantrums thrown for attention or manipulation. They aren’t “venting”. They aren’t, I’m sorry-not-sorry, simply the result of society’s expectations and norms.

They are nearly-uncontrollable storms in my brain.

When it’s an “undifferentiated emotional time” storm, I often can tell myself to walk away. Sometimes, rarely, I can even tell myself to do that before the storm actually hits. When it’s a cognitive and/or emotional load storm, I need someone outside of myself to tell me not just to walk away but that’s it’s okay to do so.

Meltdowns are one the clearest indications to me that we cannot describe autism simply and purely using the social model.

Meltdowns are not external. They are internal. They come from within my own brain. They might be prompted by external stimuli but they are not prompted by social convention.

Meltdowns are a sign of disability. My meltdowns are part of my being autistic. My autism is a medical disability, not a social one.

It doesn’t matter whether you subscribe to a medical model of disability or a social one when it comes to autism. Either way, I am disabled. The easiest way to understand why, and how, is to talk about talking on the telephone.

Telephone conversations always have petrified me. To my knowledge, I never thought about or discussed it much prior to my autism diagnosis. It was just yet another part of the way neurotypical society functions that I suffered in silence. Phone conversations were just part of the world. Why would I see my difficulties with them as anything other than just one more way in which I was a fuck-up?

Of course, I’ve talked about communications difficulties before, and much of the problem comes from the processing required for real-time interaction and the fact that monotropism restricts multitasking.

Some of this is the fact that I am effectively incapable of multi-tasking. It dawned on me only recently that the reason I sometimes will interrupt someone I am talking with is because when a thought strikes me I am mentally incapable of simultaneously holding onto that thought for later and continuing to pay attention to what the other person is saying to me. So the thought leaps out of me while they are in mid-sentence, and I need to apologize, urge them to continue, and hope that the mere fact of me having said something out loud will be enough to bring my thought back into the conversation at a more suitable moment, like when it’s actually my turn to speak.

Telephone conversations in some ways make this worse, because at least face-to-face the other person likely has some conception of the fact that a thought has just struck you and you are waiting to be able to get to it. They also have some sense of when you are quiet because you thinking about things rather than from some sort of disinterest.

There’s an old piece about this elsewhere that nicely details many of the important parts of what makes telephone conversations so vexing for many autistic people (and has a photo illustration that’s on-point as to the sheer terror having to talk on the phone can bring), chief among them for me: being the focus of attention, the unpredictability, and its verbal nature.

These problems are especially sharp when it’s not just a routine matter. Comparatively predictable conversations such as calling to see if a store is open (although even that’s not easy for me, and I’ll mostly just hope this sort of thing is listed online somewhere) are one thing. Answering questions from the Oregon Department of Human Services about my SNAP benefits eligibility or needing to understand the options for temporary electrical service from Portland General Electric at my nonprofit project are something else entirely.

It’s even been a struggle to convince my doctors at Kaiser Permanente to use their website’s secure messaging system not just to send me information but to enable replies so that I can correspond that way. The tool is designed for communication but so far I’ve only found one doctor willing to use it that way. Despite, you know, being doctors, most of them have refused to accommodate my disability.

Were I deaf, nearly every large organization or company or agency would have a TTY line or similar accommodating method available. For some reason, despite even small organizations, companies, or agencies having access to email, text messaging, or chat programs, I can’t seem to get people to use them to accommodate my impairments.

So, this is for you, agents and representatives of private companies, government agencies, and nonprofit medical providers (as well as, you know, therapists): when I ask that we communicate via some method other than the telephone or face-to-face, it’s not because I am being difficult. It’s because the cognitive and emotional loads of those forms of communication cause me distress, and, ultimately, are unproductive.

Having a record of a conversation, both as it’s happening and when looking back on it later, actually helps both of us. The form of communication is handling much of the load for me, lessening the stress being placed upon my atypically-wired brain, and helping ensure both that I understand what you’ve said and that I got to say everything I needed to.

So hang up the phone, and send me an email.

“I’m assuming,” wrote a family member, “that you have the desire to change your life.” This in the wake of me pointing out that by the necessary rules of surviving in society, I appear to be worthless.

Change what, exactly?

My life changed in October 2016 when I received my diagnosis. My present changed, my future changed, and my past retroactively changed. No longer a failure and a fuck-up, instead I was an autistic adult who never received any support or accommodation for being autistic. Except that because I was diagnosed late, my life now is a near-constant fight to be recognized as needing support and accommodation. There’s no record of me having received support and accommodation for the previous four decades of my life, so no proof I need it now.

Why do people keep looking at me to change?

That’s what I was doing for forty years: changing, day in and day out, to suit society’s background radiation of conformity, while doing so unknowingly grew a kind of psychic plaque in my brain, which when pushed post-diagnosis by an attempted Vocational Rehabilitation job placement triggered the stroke of an autistic burnout in which I still remain trapped a year later.

I am not what needs to change. Diagnosis revealed who I was supposed to have been all along. Accepting that revelation was the change I needed to make.

What needs changing are the obstacles set up in my forward path as a late-diagnosed autistic adult who needed support and accommodation all along but didn’t get it and now needs the potential sources of support and accommodation at the very least to recognize me.

To see me.

My life already changed. It was rewritten. Retconned. Its hidden truth revealed at a moment that increasingly feels like it came too late.

Here I am. I changed for the world for forty years. Diagnosis started to change me back into who I was supposed to be. I think it’s well past time for things to change for me instead of me having to change for them.

The thing about how even one of the good days can almost break you is that when you have a good day like that, the next day is basically shot to hell, too.

I spent yesterday in something of a stupor, after getting myself our to do morning chores at the nonprofit, after which I tried also to get a couple of other things done there, but realized I had nothing left in the tank. I tried to buoy myself at least a bit by going out to breakfast in the neighborhood but of course one spot mysteriously and unhelpfully has been “cash only” for days now, and all the others are closed on Mondays.

So instead I went home and fell asleep on the living room couch for three hours in the middle of the afternoon.

By that night, I wouldn’t say I was despairing but I did have some pretty clear ideas on what all of this says about my future.

I wish I had anything to contribute to the world that would make people want to give me their money. I’m pretty sure I can’t even offer consistent labor to an employer. I’ve got nothing to give, but somehow still need to afford the world. It’s pretty great that the only way to figure one’s worth in a world that requires money to live is by whether or not you have a way to make it and I don’t think I do. So we know what that makes me.

Then I went to bed.

What prompted all of this is that I’d spent Monday having to recover from an only low-grade work day at the nonprofit on Sunday, which combined with how my last paying job went makes me pretty sure I have no way of ever generating income.

So, worthless.

That last employment attempt (a job placement through Vocational Rehabilitation after my diagnosis), only four hours a day, sent me into a distress spiral. And low-grade, lightweight days at the nonprofit require at least a day of recovery? That doesn’t translate into future employment very well.

I don’t have a single thing to offer that produces money. Whatever else I do have to offer is effectively useless without also being able to produce money.

My disability determination being that I’m not, Social Security expects me to produce my own income. When even good, low-grade, lightweight days at the nonprofit prompt the need for at least a day of recovery, any thoughts about working send me into flashbacks to that job placement. The idea of having to walk into another new workplace and try again makes me feel like I have, to re-use a term, some sort of low-grade PTSD.

I’m tired of looking around and everything feeling like it has to be a fight, and fights that I’m mostly being set up to lose.

.   .   .

*Disclaimer: This is not a “cry for help” or meant to provoke concerns about “suicidal ideation”. I am not worthless as a human being and have no interest in not being here, but being here requires money, and apparently I have nothing to provide or offer to make any, and I am at some point going to run out of it, and I am at my wit’s end.*

Sobbing breakdowns, or the narrow averting of them, aren’t just something that happens on a bad day. This is one of the things I’m not sure people understand about the autistic brain.

Today at my nonprofit project, since the weather was nice and we had enough people on hand, we had our first visiting hours since relocating in late December. The first public visitors, in fact, that the goats have had for two months or so, since we’d closed up shop before the move in order to focus our weekends on doing the necessary work.

We spent the morning filling in what we think are old, sunken-in gopher holes to rid the field of trip hazards, and afterward, while some volunteers worked on finishing the smaller of the two shelters, I spent most of the day staffing the gate, greeting people, letting them know they could come in, and doing some version of my rules patter.

Over the course of four hours or so, we had a steady stream of visitors, but not too many at any one time, and there were no hassles to deal with or warnings to give out. Everyone behaved themselves, enjoyed themselves, and everything about the day went smoothly.

Nonetheless, on the way back home, just a few minutes into having stopped to run a grocery errand, I had something of an executive functioning crash and found myself toward the back of the store, unable to make a decision about which way to move, or what I needed to do next. It didn’t last long, but it happened, and when that happens in public it’s at least a tiny bit terrifying.

By the time I actually made it home, while the sobbing breakdown didn’t come, I could feel it, hovering around the edges. I guess considering its options?

An outside observer would look at the day, look at how it went, see the crisp, sunny winter day, the work getting done without struggle or strife, the people enjoying getting to visit inside with the goats, and probably not understand getting to the end and having one’s brain seize up, and one’s emotional state threaten to crumble.

But that’s what the autistic brain is like. Not all the time. Not every day. But, yes, even on some of the good days. Even with a routine script of sorts that you use when having to be socially performative with people, even if you’re talking to them about something that means something to you personally, all those moments, together with the finishing up the backfill around the yard hydrant and carting buckets of dirt around, they can be too much.

Even when no single part of it all, nor even the entire thing taken as a whole, is, per se, “bad”.

You can maybe start to see why I’m still in a year-long autistic burnout that flared up when I tried to go back to steady, daily paid employment last year. Why I’ve not yet tried again. Why I’m flailing impotently at Social Security to give me something to hold onto while I try to find out if I even can.

Yes, today was a good day. But the way my brain is wired doesn’t always care about good or bad. Sometimes it just cares about impact.

But imagine what the bad days are like.

Out this week is a new study published in Autism: The International Journal of Research & Practice, which, according to the press release, “demonstrates that there is an urgent need for tailored treatment pathways in mental health services for autistic people”. The group’s research, conducted in the United Kingdom, was “designed in partnership with autistic people, has strong implications for services, and [the] need for an autism specific mental health pathway”.

Reasons for this lack of treatment and support are complex. Mental health professionals and psychiatrists are generally not trained in recognising and understanding autism, meaning services are unprepared to adapt support and treatment to this group. There are also a lack of appropriate assessments to effectively identify mental health problems such as depression and suicidal feelings in autistic adults and a lack of appropriate adapted psychological therapies for autistic people.

Emphasis added because, well, I literally was talking about this just the other day after I dropped my new therapist.

There’s a difference, however, between, “Therapy can be hard.” and “The socially performative nature of therapy can be especially stressful for people whose condition can be in large degree about social communication and performance distress.” If a therapist doesn’t see this, I don’t know what they are doing.

While I’m not a fan of the use of “low” and “high” functioning labels (since these can change over the course of any given autistic person’s life, and can be different for any given person depending on the situation or task, and one can be “low” in some areas and “high” in others), among the things participants highlighted are that if you’re viewed as “high functioning”, or if you don’t have an intellectual disability in the mix, you’re less likely to be seen as needing any real kind of support.

Participants described how their need for support was dismissed due to non-autistic people’s (mis)perceptions of ‘high-functioning’ ASC (26 participants). Specifically, autistic people were viewed as ‘coping’ (474F), ‘functioning’ (56F) or ‘managing’ (28F) even when they were not because they were too ‘high-functioning’, independent, in employment or at University, which resulted in them being excluded from relevant treatment and support.

But back to the bit I emphasized because I’d just been talking about it here: “a lack of appropriate adapted psychological therapies for autistic people”.

Many participants felt a need for professionals to be better trained in autism to ‘realise it may not always be possible to accurately read a person with autism’ (120F). Participants felt that this up-skilling of autism knowledge was not their responsibility: ‘some of them have asked to borrow books from me about autism or asked me to teach them about it and I feel that shouldn’t be down to me’ (181F). These experiences suggest that professionals were often ‘well-meaning’ (176M) but lacked knowledge of the different way in which autistic people communicate and socially interact, and the implications for their treatment and support.

Emphasis added because this is what I was getting at. If the therapeutic process is structured from the same building blocks that create distress for my autistic brain in the outside non-autistic world in general, isn’t that a flaw in the therapeutic process? Can anyone truly argue that the best way to support autistic people is through engagement methods that cause them the selfsame distress they encounter everywhere else? There must be models of therapy built for autistic brains.

(A recent report out of Scotland found similar concerns, and specifically recommended developing treatments with autistic people in mind: “The majority of approaches to mental health care and treatment are developed through testing on non-autistic patients.”)

The gaslighting represented by telling me that “therapy can be hard” (which is what my now-former therapist said to me) is little more than thinking that therapeutic methods designed for neurotypicals are the only route for the atypical. It’s just more insistence that we bend in order to participate in the world around us.

In yesterday’s post, I took a brief tangent to criticize Dialectical Behavior Therapy and how its emphasis on “mindfulness” and “distress tolerance” seemed not to understand the autistic experience (or, at least, my autistic experience). DBT is an offshoot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and in this study a full 22 participants took issue with using it for autism.

I had communication issues with each therapist because they expected me to be neurotypical, so I would take things too literally and they thought it was a defense mechanism, or I’d try to explain meltdowns and they focused on my thoughts rather than how to deal with over-reactive sensory perception. (4F)

When reading about DBT, its emphasis upon “reframing your thoughts”, part of its “mindfulness” methods, was one of the things that was rankling me, and the above study participant nicely sums up the problem: “I’d try to explain meltdowns and they focused on my thoughts rather than how to deal with over-reactive sensory perception”.

My concerns when it comes to finding a therapist ultimately come down to the fact that I can’t work with someone who whether by intent or “just” by the nature of the psychotherapeutic method, is telling me that things somehow are my fault. That all I have to do, e.g., is to learn the coping skill of “reframing my thoughts”.

No, what I need to do is escape the environment causing me distress, and perhaps never return to it. Therapy should not be one of the environments that I need to flee in order to protect my own brain from distress.

The study might be about mental health services in the U.K. but I do believe that many of the same dynamics are at play when it comes to provision of government benefits in the U.S. such as those administered by Social Security. I don’t have an intellectual disability, so my autism can’t be all that debilitating. I’ve worked in the past, and so (despite that work history being full of what, had I had a diagnosis when I was 16 or 26 instead of not until 46, easily would have been deemed at the time to be Unsuccessful Work Attempts by Social Security standards) that must mean I can work now.

For most of my life the issue appeared to be that I was a failure and fuck-up who just didn’t know how to apply myself. My diagnosis proved instead that I was an autistic person without any support.

If only psychotherapeutic methods and government benefits agencies would come to accept the latter instead of still seeing me as the former.

When I wrote about trying to standardize some terminology when discussing my autism with my therapist (or, now, ex-therapist), I left out one experience because I couldn’t remember the word, and if I’d sat around wracking my brain for it I never would have written anything at all.

Before, I discussed overwhelm, shutdown, breakdown, meltdown, and burnout. What I’d forgotten was the word “overload”.

Overload, for me, is a unique state in which I am conscious of the growing cognitive and/or emotional load bearing down on my brain. It’s a circumstance in which there is plenty of room for the potential “beat” between innate reaction to stimuli and my outward response to that reaction. The most common version of this occurs during visiting hours at my nonprofit project should there be too much going on, too many tasks that need doing, and too many people onsite.

In such a circumstance, the answer frequently is just to walk away. This of course is easier during visiting hour shifts where I am not the only volunteer present (somehow we always end up with half a dozen people working Sundays while oftentimes it’s just me on Saturdays), but even on solo shifts there’s usually an opportune moment to be found in which I can distance myself from everyone and everything, at least briefly.

(I was doing some reading about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and was a bit baffled by the “mindfulness” aspect. There are many situations in my experience of autism where there isn’t any time to be mindful. If I’m running out of spoons, for example, mindfulness won’t help. In those limited circumstances where “mindfulness” can help, e.g. during overload, I’m already aware of the opportunity to mitigate, and it certainly isn’t about “distress tolerance”, another aspect of DBT, but about getting away from the source of distress. This notion that it’s a person’s job to “tolerate pain” instead of getting away from the pain is bizarre, and isn’t limited to therapeutic approaches. It seems ingrained in society as a whole.)

Overload in some sense is the smaller, day-to-day, or week-to-week, version of burnout. While burnout, to me, is the build up over time of a kind of psychic plaque due to the (di)stresses of camouflaging, overload mostly happens during short bursts of socially performative activity that pushes both the masking button and the spoons button. It’s both energy- and environment-based.

It’s not entirely clear to me what determines going into overload (where I can “walk away”) versus falling into overwhelm (where I’m simply going to “shutdown”). I suspect in part it’s the degree of distress as well as its velocity. In some sense, my use of stimming to keep my body present when an overwhelm descends upon me could be considered an attempt to suspend me in more of an overload state until I can get home, or somewhere similarly safe enough in which to shutdown.

I’m not entirely sure this glossary reflects the ways in which other actually autistic people experience these states. As I’ve said before, these framings accurately reflect the way my experiences feel from the inside of them, which is all I can really do to try to make sense of what happens to me.

I once wrote, “I don’t seem to have the same degree of sensory issues as do other people writing about their autism.” I wrote this early on in my writing about being autistic and while I understand why I said it, and believed it, at the time, and while it’s true that I think I have fewer sensory issues than do many other autistics, it’s also true that I’ve since learned that it understates things a bit.

It turns out that bright lighting does bother me. It turns out that noise does bother me. It turns out that the hot sun does bother me. What also bothers me is that for four decades apparently I just assumed that was what living in the world was like, period. The world, apparently, simply hurt. I guess I simply assumed it hurt that way for everyone, and that it was just that no one talked about it, or was supposed to talk about it?

Today, post-diagnosis, I wear my mirrorshades pretty much everywhere I go. I wear my ear defenders on public transit, and in cafes that are crowded or playing music. I bought a cooling vest for when I have to host visiting hours at the goats during the summer heat.

I moved recently, from an apartment on a relatively well-traveled road (all my previous apartments were similarly situated) that had noisy neighbors to an apartment on a quieter residential street, set back behind the main house. I don’t think I understood it was possible to live this quietly until I realized that I had stopped taking the two ibuprofin I’d been taking every morning for years. (Yes, I know, bad idea; I’ve pretty much wrecked my stomach.) It turns out I was medicating myself every morning because the headaches that inevitably would come were the result of some very definitive sensory issues regarding sounds.

When I first went to therapy to be evaluated for potential autism, all of my answers to questions about sensory issues were that I didn’t have any. It was only the post-diagnosis freedom to self-examine (or, re-examine, I suppose) without suppositions and preconditions that led me to realize.

Which is a lot of what late diagnosis is about, I guess. Finding out that much of what hurt about your life (if you even consciously were aware of it) wasn’t just life as everyone knows it, but your brain suffering for years, or decades, and you simply not knowing it.

(How is this even possible, you, or the fine folks at Social Security, might ask? Society’s background radiation of conformity is powerful. You learn to suppress difference without it ever even entering your conscious mind. This is how people like me happen.)

Being diagnosed in midlife is a a bit like a kind of trauma, because it upends the story of how you got to be where and who you are, and the real story turns out to have a bunch of hurt in it that went unaddressed, unacknowledged, or, more likely, completely unnoticed.

But it also provides new reasons for the hurt you already knew had been there. Suddenly, it wasn’t that you’ve been a failure and a fuck-up, incapable of “applying yourself”. It’s that there no one ever told you that your brain needed a different toolkit for navigating a world that wasn’t made for it.

That’s not a magic wand. I still don’t have the toolkits I need, be they internal or external. Whether you subscribe to the medical or the social model of disability when it comes to autism, I am still disabled and without the supports I need to survive properly. I can work on the internals (although, apparently not right now), but the externals require authorities like the Social Security Administration to believe I’m disabled at all.

In fiction, “retroactive continuity” isn’t a lie. It’s a newly-revealed explanation for existing history. Being a late-diagnosed autistic means that while you still lived your life as you lived it, it wasn’t what you thought it was.

That’s tricky, and traumatic.

There’s no going back, only forward, but whether that forward leads up or down depends on a depressing number of other people making decisions about whether they believe the retcon, or are sticking with their head canon that I am not disabled.

Psychotherapy hates autism.

What I mean here is that the process of psychotherapy as generally understood and undertaken often seems itself to be a collection of stressors that only make me feel worse. Certainly, that’s been my most recent experience.

(Notwithstanding the “consultive exam” the Oregon Department of Human Services sent me to as part of Social Security’s disability determination process, I’ve never felt that any particular therapist was campaigning against my autism.)

In trying to break up with my therapist this week, she said exactly the wrong thing: “Therapy can be hard.”

Yes. I know that. Of course I fucking know that.

There’s a difference, however, between, “Therapy can be hard.” and, “The socially performative nature of therapy can be especially stressful for people whose condition can be in large degree about social communication and performance distress.” If a therapist doesn’t see this, I don’t know what they are doing.

For me, that statement—“Therapy can be hard.”—is at least a distant cousin to something else I encountered again recently.

Am I the only one who when I express to someone how this or that is difficult for me or hard on my brain, and that someone goes, “That happens to me too.”, you get kind of pissed off? Like, no, what I’m describing doesn’t happen to you.

It always reads to me like, “Oh, we all have hard days.” or, “Oh, we all get tired.” Yes, everyone does. But the way my days are hard, and why they are hard, and the way I get tired, and the why I get tired, are different. Stop negating that.

Sometimes I think, you know, you wouldn’t say to a person with emphysema, “I cough sometimes, too.”, but apparently it’s okay to assume your every day troubles, legit as they are, equate to my brain’s wiring, and, no, sorry, they don’t.

Sitting on display in an enclosed space engaged in a socially performative exchange with someone whose job is to interrogate you all while they make determined eye contact, this is not a process you’d imagine people wanting to help the Actually Autistic would devise were they trying to design a therapy process specifically for that population.

Surely psychology has room for the idea that the very form therapy takes should take into account the issues and impairments of the patient?

(I’m currently participating in a study of autistic burnout, and guess what? The researchers specifically allow for different communications methods and channels. I’m participating via email, even though the researchers are local.)

There are, of course, other approaches, including the minor explosion of “online therapy” services that range from video chat to messaging to email. Some of those are even covered by private insurance, but so far as I know none of them are covered by the Oregon Health Plan.

Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act require businesses and service providers to accommodate disabilities, impairments, and differences. It would be nice if services like psychotherapy acted as if precisely the sorts of people those services are meant to help might have vastly different needs in terms of how they can engage successfully in the processes. It would make sense to me for in-person sessions to be part of most approaches to therapy, but for it to be the regular, primary form of engagement often feels like too big a hurdle.

There’s a difference between therapy that’s difficult but in the end rewarding and therapy that just leaves itself sitting atop the pile of other existentially-exhausting baggage one already is carrying around. Or, at least, there’s got to be a difference, right?

Discomfort is one thing, distress is another. I’m simply not willing to subject myself by choice to more distress than I am already under.

Even outside the high-pressure situation that is a therapy session, face-to-face conversation in real-time frequently requires too high an expense for too little a payoff. Monotropism makes clear that the sort of multitasking required for such engagement is a virtual impossibility. Like many autistics, I simply cannot simultaneously listen to the person talking to me, have thoughts about what they are saying, remember what they are saying, and have thoughts of my own that I want to bring up at some point during the conversation.

I defy anyone to say that’s a dynamic conducive to a productive, informative therapy session, let alone an ongoing therapeutic relationship.

Guess what works better? Email, where there’s a clear record of what’s said that can be returned to and looked back at. Messaging works, too. It might still technically be “real-time”, but less so than meeting in person, with more room for the autistic patient to understand what’s being said to them, and what they themselves want to say. Like email, there’s also a record, beyond the therapist’s notes and your own attempted memory.

Asynchronous beats synchronous, almost every time.

I need a therapist whose practice permits them to meet me halfway. I need to be able to do much of my therapy online instead of in-person, with in-person check-in sessions every now and then. I need to be able to ask a therapist to replace an upcoming session with them taking the time to read what I’ve been writing online about being autistic in the time since our last session.

Alternatively, I believe that therapists need to accept the idea of having homework. It’s not enough to do a spot review of earlier notes right before a session. I need someone who is going to prepare, ahead of time. They expect me to prepare, and while the patient-therapist dynamic of necessity is a somewhat imbalanced one, I do not believe it’s somehow a one-way street. I have months of writing about being autistic. I would like to believe that part of therapy is your therapist making sure to learn what’s come before them, but the way in which that happens simply cannot be me trapped in a room methodically reading aloud.

Right now, I am probably out of luck. After three sessions with my latest therapist I still feel like there’s just a huge communications gap that I am not convinced can be closed, and I can’t spend the next run of sessions just trying to fix that problem. That seems like a waste of everyone’s time. I know it feels like a waste of mine.

Maybe I should just go back to sitting zipped up in a winter coat. At this point, I feel like that would be just as effective.

I’ve always got at least one rewatch going amongst all the current television I follow, and these days it’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine —still the best Trek series, and Benjamin Sisko is still the best commander/captain. It’s more relaxed than my typical rewatches in that I’m comfortable skipping an episode here and there (somewhere in season two there’s inexplicably two Quark episodes in a row?) something I’m usually loathe to do.

What I wasn’t prepared for this time around was discovering that Odo somehow manages to be an analogue of the #ActuallyAutistic. Tumblr agrees, of course. (There’s fanfic out there about Bashir being autistic, but, let’s face it, Julian really is just an asshole.)

Odo was a Changeling who served as chief of security aboard the space station Terok Nor, later known as Deep Space 9. He was the only known Changeling to reject the Founders’ beliefs and instead gained an appreciation for humanoid species. Despite being affiliated with several groups in that capacity, the Bajoran Militia, Cardassian Union, United Federation of Planets, and Dominion, he gained a widespread and respected reputation from all these groups for being a fair enforcer of the rule of law.

It’s established early on that Odo can’t quite manage to take fully-human form, something that’s represented by his inability to complete a human-looking face. His is stiffer, his expressions a sort of self-conscious mimickry of human. This is something some autistic people discuss a lot, and while not universal it’s sometimes referred to as having a “flat affect”.

That “widespread and respected reputation … for being a fair enforcer of the rule of law”? Autistics have a reputation (of mixed valuation) for having a fairly firm conception of right and wrong. I suppose it’s likely linked to the “rigidity” many of us experience. Odo is deeply suspicious of attempts to subvert the rules, as are many autistics, and he seems equally reluctant to accept “ambiguity [or] behavior when he does not clearly see and agree with the method and purpose of the tasks and general direction of the activities” (to quote from my own psychodiagnostic evaluation).

There’s an episode in season three in which, in order to get rid a man who had been hitting on her the night before, Kira pretends Odo is her lover, a charade that he takes more literally than her ruse intended. While again not being true for all autistic people, a tendency to take statements a bit too literally in a common observation.

The big one for me is that Odo’s true form is a shapeless and gelatinous liquid. He can’t maintain human form (or, technically, any foreign form) for more than sixteen hours at a time, at which point he must resume his true shapelessness in order to regenerate.

Odo could not hold a form permanently, and had to regenerate on a regular basis, generally every sixteen hours. During this time, he returned to his natural state for a period of several hours. Nevertheless, in 2369, while trapped in a turbolift for several hours, Odo showed signs of distress when approaching the fifteenth hour mark since the time of his last regeneration; physical changes in his appearance were already beginning to show. (DS9: “The Forsaken”) Several years later, while bunk mates with Quark during a mission on the Defiant, Odo appeared fine physically, even if highly agitated, when – interrupting multiple attempts Quark made to engage in conversation – Odo explained he had been holding his shape for a full sixteen hours. (DS9: “The Search, Part I”) In one case, Garak tortured Odo by preventing him from regenerating, using an Obsidian Order device that prevented Changelings from changing form. The inability to regenerate appeared to cause Odo great distress and pain, as well as causing his physical appearance to begin to fall apart. (DS9: “The Die is Cast”)

This is really sort of remarkable. Odo in a very real sense is spending sixteen hours of every day camouflaging his true nature and self. As he approaches the tail end of that period, he shows signs of “distress”, and if prevented from regenerating he experiences not just distress but “pain”. Ask your favorite autistic Star Trek fan is this ever struck them. I can’t imagine I’m the first ever to notice.

After his encounter with the Founders, Odo stopped using the bucket and got himself assigned to personal quarters; he would instead revert to his gelatinous state and shapeshift freely throughout the room, allowing himself to spread across the floor when he needed to become gelatinous. Odo kept the bucket with him “as a reminder of how [he] used to be.”

After discovering that not only was he not the only one like himself but that there was an entire community of beings like him, Odo decides that his regeneration time should more truly reflect his real self. In effect, even regenerating in a bucket was a denial of who he truly was, a sort of socially-acceptable version of what he truly needed to recharge himself physically and psychologically.

In the end, Odo returns to his people to join The Great Link, which really is just all the various individual shapeless, gelatinous liquid people mixed together in an ocean of each other. It’s vaguely as if an autistic person up and joined an autistic commune because the world outside wouldn’t let up on the insistence that they camouflage all the time.

The parallels fall apart, of course. Nothing is exactly like something else all the time, despite Odo trying to do exactly that for most of his day.

When he first encounters his own people, he’s left alone at one point in what his people’s leader calls an arboretum, but Odo doesn’t understand that the point of the place is to change into each of the different forms on display in order to understand them better. In this conception of his people, it’s camouflaging as exploration, as discovery, as a kind of joy, even. Being something else for awhile is considered as much a kind of freeing experience as is returning to your true form.

That’s not the autistic experience, of course, where camouflaging instead is a kind of self-inflicted, if world-mandated, violence. In the real world, we need less of it, not more.

Still, be it intent or accident, the Odo-as-autistic metaphor is there. My rewatch just hit season three and I’m curious now to discover if any other parallels exist. Rest assured, I’ll be watching from the safety of my bucket.*