Doing the work first.

Among the many questions prompted by a midlife autism diagnosis is some variation of “how did you go forty years without anyone noticing”—sometimes framed, as it once was for me by an actual social services professional, as an incredulous and insulting “did you really not know”.

It’s a question that looms large as my therapist and I slowly edge closer to a disability filing—a process which by necessity will have to be almost entirely narrative, since I lack any medical or psychological history of autism prior to 2016.

Since very early after my diagnosis, I explained it in part by describing what I termed society’s background radiation of conformity. When other people do not seem to be bothered by the things that bother you, it’s possible to interpret this not as being different, per se, but as everyone else in fact also being bothered by those things but simply “sucking it up” and not talking about it.

(There’s always—always—that quiet but nagging feeling in the back of your mind, though, that maybe you really are different, and these things really don’t bother other people, and maybe, after all, you are just a failure and a fuck-up.)

Another way to think about it is as a kind of unconscious regression toward the mean. We don’t make waves; we mimic the outward behavior we see in others. (Not so incidentally, this is why behaviorism is garbage.)

I’ve hit upon other, additional explanations for the decades-long delay. Recently, I’ve come to view them all as existing within a single umbrella I’ve termed masking agents.

For twenty years, until my father’s death from cancer, I smoked. The thing about smoking is that it is rife with mannerisms—the tamping of a fresh pack, the tapping of a cigarette out of the pack, the flicking of the lighter, the conversational gesturing with your cigarette hand. All of these act as hidden stims that mask other more natural stimming behavior I might have exhibited in another timeline. (After quitting, I kept my lighter for months, to light other people’s cigarettes—a stim I couldn’t stop.) Even talking to people while smoking veiled some social communication issues: you often don’t look people in the eyes while smoking because you turn your head so as not to exhale smoke in their faces.

For decades, my socializing nearly always involved drinking. For years after moving to Portland, I spent almost every night out at a bar. The thing about alcohol is that is disinhibits both behavior and judgment—internally for oneself and externally among others. Social communication is both smoothed over and social foibles forgiven if even noticed.

For ten years I was deeply embedded in a particular pop culture fandom, and the thing about geeky people is that social awkwardness simply isn’t seen as anything unusual. Spending time both online and off with quote-unquote weird or quirky people functions as a kind of hidden accommodation. The reason behind any given fans quirkiness effectively is irrelevant, and differences (or similarly-presenting differences) elided if not necessarily celebrated.

For some years I had something of a photography hobby, and it functioned as a very real sort of incidental hyperfocus (pun acknowledged), allowing me to navigate the enormous crowds of a comic book convention or a political demonstration. Looking through the lens of the camera for the perfect shot becomes an attention tunnel keeping the jostle and jumble of sensory and social input at bay.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as an introvert. While there are extroverted autistics, the toolkit I used as an introvert functioned as a set of happenstantial mitigations for what otherwise might have been recognized as my particular autistic featureset. I survived the onslaught of Comic-Con by having a hotel room to myself, and by having specific and particular locations around the Gaslamp District to which I could escape, where I felt comfortable and safe, and where there were people I knew who wouldn’t find it strange that I was lurking about.

These, then, seem to be the two key elements of ignorance in my pre-diagnosis narrative: an unconscious regression toward the mean, and a repeated emergence of masking agents which kept any potential questions at bay.

Not long after my diagnosis—what I’d now argue in fact was too soon—I took a stab at a disability filing. I did it because I felt it was what was expected of me at the time, being as I’ve been, for decades, almost entirely family-dependent even if living on my own.

Diagnosed in late 2016, I almost immediately leapt to sign up with Vocational Rehabilitation, rather than attempting to do any kind of work on processing and contextualizing my diagnosis and what it meant both for the before-me and the after-me. Yes, I did a lot of writing about it, in public, but there were no outside eyes, no outside mind—meaning professional eyes and professional mind—helping me do that work.

All that speeding into a VocRehab process did (intake was in mid-2017; I’d been pushed into a job placement before I was ready by late-2017 only to have it implode by early-2018) was cause further damage and prompt an epic autistic burnout so severe it even sent me running from the nonprofit I’d helped launch and manage and which offered my life’s only real sense of joy or purpose. Even today, were I for some reason to be asked to return in some capacity, I know that I can’t.

The disability filing during this period of course failed. I didn’t understand enough about my life myself to be able to offer it up to judgment by the guardians of public benefits.

Nearly everything about the things I did after diagnosis only added fresh trauma to the trauma already visited upon my autistic brain through more than four decades of trying to navigate the world while not knowing I was autistic.

This fall it will be five years since my diagnosis. The realizations about what I call masking agents really only came together as that cohesive, singular idea in the past month. In no small way this is due to last year (in the midst of the pandemic no less) having finally found a therapist I could work with who was covered by my insurance.

(I’d spent in 2018 the last three months of the abortive job placement, and then also three months afterward, back in session with my diagnosing psychologist, because that cost was covered by VocRehab. I’d then proceeded to having no luck finding a therapist who had any conception that their normal checklists of psychotherapy might not necessarily be usable as-is with an autistic.)

The reality is that the therapist I have now tells me that it’s not unusual for people to go much longer than five years before being able to tackle a disability filing.

I’m not there yet.

There’s still work to do, and I know that if I’d tried to file again without the work I’ve now been able to do over the past year, it would have been just another denied claim. There’s no guarantee that it won’t be denied again anyway, when the time comes. The thing is, if it does, it won’t be because I wasn’t ready for it. The thing is, I’m not going to do it until I am.

There’s a financial imperative here, to be sure. What’s also sure is that I now know what I didn’t know before, because I simply could not find a compatible, insurance-covered therapist for years: I was never going to be able to do this myself, because I was never going to be able to do the necessary and prerequisite work by myself.

Even absent any eventual disability filing, the work needed to happen, and that work only just started, finally, just last year.

I spent forty-six years feeling like a failure and a fuck-up—made all the worse by friends and family who (out of love and affection, not malice) kept trying to tell me I was capable of so much, despite all the evidence to the contrary that showed how clearly I just…wasn’t.

Now, though. Now I would be very much both the failure and the fuck-up if I didn’t take the time to do the work, and to do it right, before doing the thing that comes next. That’s the point: the thing that comes next comes next.

There’s work to do first.

Labor rights are human(e) rights.

I’m struck by the parallels between the French Open failing Naomi Osaka and Billie Eilish’s family failing her. Each is expected to subject themselves to any kind of presumptive, even if transient, ownership over body and soul, regardless of the human psychological impact. I don’t know much about Osaka, and what little I know about Eilish essentially comes from the documentary from which that agonizing scene is excerpted, but it simply should not be considered just “part of the job” to set aside one’s mental health in order to satisfy either the sports press, or “people connected to people”, or whomever the fuck. The upside of the Eilish incident is that, as the film later shows, her family members do eventually cop to having failed her—has anyone yet copped to failing Osaka? This is both purely a human issue and also specifically a labor issue. Tennis officials, sports journalists, and record label bigwigs (and hangers-on) might always want the narrative to be that so-and-so wouldn’t have a career without them, but the fact that an athlete or an artist is considered commercially replaceable by their respective powers-that-be doesn’t mean that athlete or artist can be denied agency over their own well-being.

Your autistic year.

Over the course of our pandemic year, neurotypicals kept running into things—such as zoom fatigue and a need for cognitive transitions—they’d do well to remember the next time they encounter an autistic person just trying to get through their day-to-day lives. I’m not sure what you’d call it, but recently I ran into some more.

“For the last year,” a friend recently wrote to me, “a lot of us have been enjoying unaccustomed courtesy and understanding from the world.” When people asked how you were doing, no one expected you to say “Fine.” Instead, they asked, “How are you holding up?” and you’d answer, “Well, you know.” […] You could admit that you’d accomplished nothing today, this week, all year. Having gotten through another day was a perfectly respectable achievement. I considered it a pass-fail year, and anything you had to do to get through it […] was an acceptable cost of psychological survival. Being “unable to deal” was a legitimate excuse for failing to answer emails, missing deadlines, or declining invitations. Everyone recognized that the situation was simply too much to be borne without occasionally going to pieces. This has, in fact, always been the case; we were just finally allowed to admit it.

Emphasis mine, but it’s tough not to emphasize the entire paragraph. Many autistic people have trouble with the expectation that being asked how we are isn’t meant to be taken as a literal inquiry born of true interests, but merely as the opening line of an exchange of social lubrication.

In the rush to get back to “normal”, neurotypicals could do worse than to take stock of how the disruptions of the pandemic affected them, and consider the ways in which the day-to-day of what they consider normal itself can be a daily disruption to those of us burdened with very different brains.

I’m on a boat.

On my fourth day on antibiotics for my fourth urinary tract infection of the year, the world started to move even when I was standing still.

I’ve dealt with height vertigo for as long as I can remember. Growing up, even just being too close to the railing on the second floor of the local mall was too much. Once, on a theater trip to Toronto, I froze in the exit to the open air observation deck of the CN Tower; my father had to forcibly drag me out because I was blocking other people.

I’ve sporadically conquered it. Once on a camping trip when I’d no choice but to cross a swaying wooden footbridge, and once when I made myself ride Portland’s aerial tram just to get a photograph from above. I’ve failed more often; even before I moved to the St. Johns neighborhood, I’d unsuccessfully tried to walk up even a portion of its bridge.

There’s always an obvious trigger. This was new. Scooting my chair forward at Sunday brunch, I felt motion even after my body had come to a full stop, like I suddenly was on some miserable, inescapable ferry ride.

This vertigo persisted for the next three days. When I emailed a doctor to ask if I could be developing a sensitivity to the antibiotics that I’d now had four seven-to-ten day courses of in just five months, I was told it was unlikely to be unrelated—despite dizziness literally being listed as one potential side effect.

(There’s also, weirdly, the possibility of what some people call gastric vertigo—when one’s reflux is so bad that some of it reaches the eustachian tubes and interferes with one’s vestibular sense. In fact, my reflux had been especially acute, as it often is when I’m on antibiotics that are interfering with my microbiome.)

Being dismissed out of hand by a doctor (one who apparently didn’t even bother to look up the side effects of the antibiotic I was on) is an unpleasant experience, and doesn’t do much good for my now-frequent sense that the world is trying to expel me.

The vertigo ended the day after finishing up this latest course of antibiotics. There’s a followup message from my doctor (or, to be fair, from whomever is covering for my doctor, who’s been out for weeks now) responding to what I admit was something of a pissy, passive-aggressive reply; I haven’t yet found the psychological stomach to read it.

I don’t think I actually noticed just how beaten down the vertigo and its dismissal made me feel until this morning, when I’d discovered that for the second week in a row, the recycling hadn’t been picked up—which meant there’s still nowhere for my accumulating recycling to go, because it already was full last week.

Really, I don’t think I was fully aware of how beaten down I’d felt until I went to the grocery store to find that the deli was closed, which meant no access to my brand of deli meat, and that they were out of my brand of toilet paper, too.

I managed “only” to proclaim aloud, “I hate this fucking grocery store.” It was better than screaming at the top of my lungs, which was my first, only-barely-avoidable urge. The walk home was a desultory stupor.

Here’s the thing I struggle to get people to understand—what will be an epic struggle to get the people who will determine my eligibility for disability to understand: I can only manage my day-to-day foundation. I can generally take care of myself, and my home. I can live independently, and do my chores, and buy my groceries. But if you add, say, the fourth urinary tract infection of the year and the mysterious onset of vertigo, it doesn’t take much for me to break.

How can anyone expect me also to be able to work even a part-time job, even if it’s somewhere with reasonable disability accommodation? My foundation can only barely handle the weight of a pressing, intermittent medical problem.

Add just a few common annoyances, and I don’t just feel like I’m on a boat. I feel like I’m completely lost at sea.

I wish you were more predictable.

Gone from social media since last year (notwithstanding the two locked accounts to which I do not post but use to contact various companies’ support channels, or to keep up with a handful of cats, goats, and zoos), I nonetheless keep an eye out for concepts which help me explain why. Enter an Aeon dissection from Sally Davies of predictive processing.

Predictive processing casts the brain as a ‘prediction engine’ – something that’s constantly attempting to predict the sensory signals it encounters in the world, and to minimise the discrepancy (called the ‘prediction error’) between those predictions and the incoming signal. Over time, such systems build up a ‘generative model’, a structured understanding of the statistical regularities in our environment that’s used to generate predictions. This generative model is essentially a mental model of our world, including both immediate, task-specific information, as well as longer-term information that constitutes our narrative sense of self. […]


According to the emerging picture from predictive processing, cognition and affect are tightly interwoven aspects of the same predictive system. Prediction errors aren’t merely data points within a computational system. Rather, rising prediction errors feel bad to us, while resolving errors in line with expectation feels good. This means that, as predictive organisms, we actively seek out waves of manageable prediction error – manageable uncertainty – because resolving it results in our feeling good.

Davies goes deep into the reward system at play here, but it seems to me that predictive processing also more simply explains my troubles with what I’ve called the cognitive violence of the feed in and of itself as an organizing principle.

Whether we are talking about an algorithmic feed that makes judgments about what it thinks you will want to see the most, or simply the context collapse of a single feed into which all manner of people and subject matter are dumped willy nilly, we’re talking about a profound loss of any sort of predictability for one’s own actions or one’s own thinking.

That can be especially problematic for an autistic, for whom the need for a predictable environment can be almost a sort of prime directive. The greater the rise in prediction errors, the greater the sense of anxiety if not a general sense of overwhelm.

Predictive processing gets a bit at the idea of the distinctions between a database and a narrative.

Predictions in the offline world necessarily follow mostly a basic course of cause-and-effect—in other words, a narrative course. Algorithmic feeds and context collapse thwart any real sense of narrative; without clear cause-and-effect—without an obvious causal relationship between a first thing, a second thing, and a third thing—cognitive struggles abound.

Six more and I get one free.

It took a long-distance hail and a jogging trot across the street, but I just barely managed to catch the most convenient bus to my destination—important, because I didn’t want to waste any more time than already had been wasted that morning.

Four blocks later, making a routine left turn, the bus collided with a car in the opposite lane of the cross-street. It was now five hours since I awoke to my fourth urinary tract infection of the year, and my trip for a prescription and labwork was stymied.

My autistic brain froze.

Too many things, at this point, were happening at once. I needed to get where I was going. It had taken all morning just to get from my initial call into an advice nurse to my urologist calling in a prescription. But: shouldn’t I stay on the bus to provide a statement to…whomever? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

My bladder has a diverticulum. I’ve never seen the scans, but I’m told by my urologist that it’s shaped like a single Mickey Mouse ear, popping out of the left side. It was diagnosed in 2019, and resulted in my introduction, in somewhat rapid succession, to the in-office cystoscopy, bladder surgery, and catheterization.

There wasn’t much in the way of follow-up care, per se, because global pandemic. Then, just when the manufactured reset of the coming of a new year raised hopes for 2021, came urinary tract infections in January, February, April, and—now—May. As one physician put it, any malformation in an internal organ is a great place for infection to take hold. Don’t ask me why I didn’t have a single infection across all of 2020.

(This timeline sends my brain’s occasional autistic pattern-seeking down the garden path. To wit: this puts my UTIs a week or two after new-to-me vaccinations; shingles, then COVID. It’s not that I think the vaccines caused the infections. It just makes me wonder whether one’s immune system can become so preoccupied with learning about some major new threat that it can miss other threats it normally would deal with easily. Presumably, this is something that can happen for those who are immunocompromised, but not something that happens under more typical circumstances. The pattern-seeking kicks in again, though, and I remember that one of the medical questions we put a pin in while dealing with the bladder diverticulum were enlarged lymph nodes my doctors wanted to biopsy. All of which might or might not be wrapped up in a general surge of death anxiety of late.)

The thing is, during the previous UTI, I’d made some adjustments to lessen bladder irritation. Or, one major one, anyway: I quit coffee altogether, having earlier switched entirely to decaf. At the local bakery, I just order almond milk steamers to accompany me when sitting outside to read. At home, I toss almond milk and a single chamomile tea bag in a sauce pan to heat up. I can’t draw a direct cause-and-effect, but in the wake of that UTI, I had the most consistent run of healthy-appearing urine in memory.

It felt like, maybe, things had become somewhat stable, and that, maybe, things would be quiet until the in-office cystoscopy scheduled for the end of July—an exam that could mean decisions on (major? minor?) surgery to remove the diverticulum. I’d hoped for something of a break before having to confront that.

Instead, there I was, having waited four hours until a prescription was ordered, trying to get to the medical office, sitting on a bus that had just hit a car.

There were no other passengers. Had there been anyone else around, I could have taken cues from the inevitable discussion about whether or not to stay on site to give statements. My brain was stalled, stuck between two divergent realities that seemed just as real but couldn’t exist simultaneously: one where I’d a responsibility to myself, one where I’d a responsibility to other people. I’ve referred to this type of cognitive paralysis before as the uncollapsed autistic wave function.

It seemed forever. It was closer to five minutes. As I picked up my backpack from the side beside me and started to walk to the front of the bus, I noticed the driver talking to me. I removed my earplugs. He was, of course, asking if I’d seen anything. I told him I hadn’t seen anything useful either way, and asked if I should stick around. He said there didn’t seem to be necessary if I hadn’t seen anything useful.

I walked back up the street to the initial bus stop to wait, and had a realization: I could, in fact, merge the divergent realities, by sending a message to the transit agency to tell them what I did, and did not, see during the accident, so they could contact me if needed.

Most occurrences of the uncollapsed autistic wave function do not present solutions this…satisfying. Although in my current mental state its something of a pyrrhic victory. I’m trying to hold onto the fact that I managed to fulfill both my personal and my social obligations without my cognitive stall turning into an all-out spiral.

There’s still another UTI, though. Still another round of antibiotics (too much need for antibiotics in a short period of time). Still an invasive exam at the end of July (and a potential surgery to come afterward). Still weeks to go between now and then (when anything—who knows what—can happen).

Finding myself nostalgic for 2020 was not a space I’d expected to fill on the new year’s bingo card.

Pre-pandemic achievement unlocked.

Today at midday, failing in the energy required to do yesterday’s dishes, I set foot inside a neighborhood bar to have what in pre-pandemic days was my weekly excursion for a cheap bar breakfast, for the first time since the first week of March of last year.

Since the start of the pandemic, my only indoor activities outside the home have been grocery shopping, the rare trip on public transit, and the even rarer trip to a more-expensive neighborhood brunch place. While many people flocked in socially-distanced numbers to indoor dining as soon as such a thing resumed, everything I’d been reading and listening to since early last year pegged COVID-19 as, in James Hamblin’s words, an indoor talking disease. There was never any way I was going to spend any more time indoors than strictly necessary.

It’s understood that necessary is a freighted term. My rare transit rides, for example, were necessary in that they were my only way to go to the zoo, something that pre-pandemic had been a weekly mental health thing for me. Buses, despite being small, indoor spaces, nonetheless are extraordinarily well-ventilated; windows open, you literally can feel that ventilation happening.

Returning to the local brunch place the first several times was for outdoor dining only. More recently, although still prior to the latest round of masking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I’ve tried eating inside; it’s only been comfortable the times they’ve seated me at what had always been my usual table—near the front door, I could feel the ventilation happening.

What changed this week was two-fold: as of Monday, I’m fully vaccinated; and that evening, Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on MSNBC to explain to Chris Hayes the reasons for the latest mask guidance for those who, like me, now are fully vaccinated.

When the prior guidance came out not too long ago, I was skeptical of the reduction in masking recommendations for the vaccinated because at that point, as far as I knew, we still didn’t have much information on the capacity for vaccinated people to transmit the virus to others. According to Fauci, this now specifically is what’s changed.

If you’re fully vaccinated, Fauci says, there is an “extremely low risk” of infection and of transmission. Effectively, being fully vaccinated means you’re very unlikely to become infected; if you are, it’s both very unlikely you’ll even have symptoms and very unlikely you’ll transmit the virus to someone else.

I sort of suspect that much of the puzzlement and confusion over the new guidance stemmed in part from a disbelief that we could be receiving news about the vaccines that legitimately is this good.

What it meant for me, this morning, was that a fair amount of my anxiety over all of this just…lifted. I’m not easily excitable: my activities mostly will remain the same as they’ve been for months—certainly, I expect most businesses simply to continue to require masks for the foreseeable—but for the first time in over a year, I can actually resume one of my pre-pandemic routines.

Opening a support ticket.

I’ve long been in agreement that functioning labels need to go but I’m not sure about replacing them with internalized versus externalized presentations. Autistic presentation can be as variable as autistic functioning; this would seem to replace one inconsistent, incommunicative phrase with another.

My priority is for a framing around support needs.

This, too, can be variable but seems to me far easier to generalize across a lifespan—or, at least, across life stages—than either functioning or presentation. Noting differences in presentation certainly communicates that autism isn’t WYSIWYG but someone with an internalized autism presentation still might have significant support needs, and vice versa.

In the real world—or, at least in my real world—the crux of how my life is going to be in the coming decades is entirely about my needed levels and kinds of support, irrespective of functionality or presentation at any particular moment.

Pathologies and pendulums.

The trouble with being a mediocre autistic is that you can’t have a purely positive response to something like Spectrum‘s pair of surprisingly forward-thinking articles on autistic strengths and special interests. I’d like to think this is something of a milestone for Spectrum; much of their coverage has felt very much in favor of so-called (and misnamed) “evidence-based” treatments designed primarily to make autistic kids outwardly less autistic.

These deep-dives do a fairly decent job of discussing the current trends away from pathologizing certain aspects of autism and toward more nuanced perspectives, but even these pieces leave me feeling somewhat left out.

No, none of my life’s worth of serial special interests have led to a bountiful career; no, I don’t have autistic superpowers. The strengths piece at least, for once, gets close to what I mean by that.

What is more, the definition of ‘strength’ may be a matter of debate, as it may depend on the situation. The ability to focus intently on something, for example, can be a boon for completing a project or assignment to meet a deadline, but an obsession to finish can come at a cost to sleep, Kapp says. In the 2019 survey of 24 autistic adults, which Kapp helped conduct, one person reported that their hypersensitivity to color was an asset for enjoying nature but was overwhelming when walking down a crowded street; a gardener said her attention to detail made her a master weeder but could be problematic when faced with time pressure. Honesty and openness may help forge close friendships, but an inability to tell a white lie may hurt a friend’s feelings. “This sort of dichotomizing of strengths versus weaknesses is a bit of a fallacy,” says Ginny Russell, an investigator on the study and senior research fellow in mental health and developmental disorders at the University of Exeter in the U.K. “The context seems to be really important.”

This always has been the key point lacking in most discussions of autism: the supposed strengths—often discussed by autistic people themselves as superpowers—are more like trade-offs. Nothing about my being autistic ever has been solely a boon; there’s always, always, a downside, too.

That said, I do appreciate Spectrum giving this much space to the discussion of depathologizing certain aspects of autism—but autism still has pathologies.

When last year I first quit social media and then second quit blogging, I did migrate all of my autism blogging over to Tumblr in order to keep it online. I’m still deciding what to do with that space, but something I said there is relevant here.

“I’m not one of those autistic people who argues against pathologizing autism,” I wrote. “I think parts of being autistic are pathologies, but I think we get wrong what are those pathologies.”

Restricted interests and rigid thoughts and behavior aren’t the pathology. Instead, inhibited filters against stimulus and limited attentional resources are the pathology; the restrictedness and rigidity are the adaptations to manage that pathology.

There’s a little bit of monotropism here, in that monotropism is about attentional resources and its theorists suggest that “the restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior and activities and the restricted interests … follow from the monotropic tendency”.

I suppose I’m simply suggesting that the monotropic tendancy itself is the result of, or perhaps is defined by, having in the first instance inhibited filters against stimulus and limited attentional resources.

This would help explain why popular “treatments” such as Applied Behavior Analysis are so resoundingly rebuked by so many autistic people: when we move to (literally or figuratively) beat out of an autistic child their restrictedness and rigidness, we are waging a war against the adaptations with which the autistic brain manages autism’s true pathologies.

Spectrum‘s piece on strengths, remarkably for the site, tip-toes right up to the line on this point, using special interests to do it.

One way to improve support, McDonald says, might be to modify treatment programs to focus on strengths. Early intervention in autism is important, she says, but tends to teach a scripted set of social and life skills. An autistic child who spends 40 hours a week in such a program may have little time to pursue special interests, and may even be discouraged from pursuing them, she says. “Early intervention might see an interest in cars as something restrictive that might need to be pared down, but if a typical child showed the same interest, the reaction might be ‘Let’s get you more information on cars,’” McDonald says. Encouraging a special interest might set a child up for professional success.

(We’ll set aside here the casual, off-handed reference to the idea that any child should be spending the equivalent of a full-time job in any sort of autism intervention program rather than simply in being a child.)

By all means, let’s depathologize the aspects of autism that I suspect actually are the heroic adaptations of the autistic brain to dealing with the actual pathologies of autism. I worry, however, that in the process—despite these Spectrum pieces going out of their way to say they are not talking about autistic savants—the strengths dialogue nonetheless might effectively place more autistic people in a savant-like (or savant-adjacent) grouping in the discussions of autism, continuing to leave out people like me.

My special interests aren’t going to net me a career, and my strengths come with very clear and present costs. Some of us are neither high support needs nor savant polymaths.

“As the pendulum swings between coverage of autism as the one to coverage of autism as the other,” I’ve written, “people like me just get clobbered in the head as the bob goes by.”

Even coverage that’s good for autistic people in general gives this mediocre one a headache in specific. Where’s the academic research into the pathologies of autism coverage?

That inevitable snap.

It eventually came in over the Arabian Peninsula and crashed near the Maldives, but I failed to take Marina Koren’s advice not to “fall to pieces just because China’s rocket is”—notwithstanding Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astronomer Jonathan McDowell telling Koren that “the chance of someone being hurt is maybe a percent or so [and] the chance of you being hurt is 8 billion times smaller than that”.

Somehow lately I’ve entered another period of being unreasonably afraid of dying. Yes, another; it happens regularly, if not frequently. (The afraid, not the dying.)

It’s not clear what set off this latest bout of death anxiety (or, thanatophobia). Possibly this year already having yielded three different urinary tract infections, an unexplained recurring nosebleed, and the continuing stress of a global pandemic. In the past, it’s just sort of…happened. Kind of like death.

I don’t remember such anxiety thirteen years ago when my father died, something you’d think would be a natural trigger. The anniversary came and went unnoticed last month (why isn’t it in my calendar), but it could have been waiting to sneak up on me.

I’ve had many nights in the past where the idea of dying, or the idea of the actual process of dying, has kept me up at night. This happens, too, if I’ve been reading something astrophysical; it gets my mind racing to the incomprehensible fact that anything even exists at all in the first place. (What does Jonathan McDowell have to say about that, I wonder.)

I fear not existing, even though I won’t exist to feel anything about the fact of non-existence. It’s not about what will happen to my stuff, or what about the people I leave behind (although, while we’re here, what would happen to my cats) or there’s so much I didn’t get to do (although, there’s so much I will never get to do, because neoliberal capitalism). It’s just about the dying.

(It certainly hasn’t helped that Sunday’s episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist featured a heart attack; I’ve a mortal fear, specifically, of having a heart attack or stroke. Blame the second of those on Frank Pembleton.)

Did I mention that the fact that anything even exists at all is incomprehensible and impossible and what does “exist” even mean and nothing about the universe being here makes any sense and just where is here anyway. It’s as if I fear existing and not alike.

It didn’t last long: at the outside I spent maybe twenty minutes convinced there was a realistic chance of being killed by a Chinese rocket. They always say you won’t win the lottery but wasn’t everyone who ever won the lottery told the same thing.

I am going to die.

It might not happen because a Chinese rocket (or, to be fair, a Space X one) falls out of the sky, but it’s going to happen. It might come with some sort of foresight that it is, or it might happen as suddenly as a rocket from above.

Isn’t it always as sudden as a rocket from above?