The Inverted Popularity of This Aspie’s Phobias and Philias, Part I: An Explanation

phobias and philias

The image above contains three colors: white, black, and red. The words appear in red because I see it as a color denoting positive or negative intensity, and phobias and philias are both certainly intense. To “see red,” I have learned, does not usually mean what it would mean if I said it myself. Consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome, which I have, I tend to be almost completely literal in the words I use, while the non-Aspie majority often uses words in confusing (to me) non-literal ways. Over the years, I have figured out that this phrase means, when non-Aspies say it,  that they are extremely angry. (I, however, would only say “I see red” if I was actually seeing light with the wavelength-range, ~620 to ~740 nm, which our species has labeled, in English, as “red.”) On the other hand, red roses and Valentine’s Day hearts are popularly used to symbolize romantic love, which is an intensely positive emotion, while extreme anger is extremely negative. White and black, the other colors above, in much of the world, are commonly associated with, respectively, positive and negative things. I, on the other hand, view these colors the opposite way: I have avoided sunlight for much of my life, and continue to do so (to the point where I need to take supplements of vitamin D), while also reveling in darkness, in much the same way that I revel in my “Aspieness.” Right now, it is daytime here, and I am writing this inside, in a dark room, with the only artificial light reaching me coming from computer screens.

It is a common misconception that Aspies (an informal term many people with Asperger’s use for ourselves) are non-emotional. After all, two well-known fictional characters from different incarnations of Star Trek, Spock and Data, are based, in my opinion, on Aspie stereotypes. Stereotypes, I have observed, are usually based on some real phenomenon, and in this case, that phenomenon is that many Aspies experience emotions in radically different ways from the non-Aspie majority — so differently that we are sometimes perceived by non-Aspies to be emotionless, although that is not the case. This causes a considerable amount of tension, and no small amount of outright hostility, between the community of Aspies and the non-Aspie majority. When I write on the subject of Asperger’s Syndrome, I try to do so with the goal of explaining and understanding our differences, in order to reduce Aspie/non-Aspie misunderstanding, which is both common and unhelpful — in both directions. This is the reason I use the factual, non-hostile term “non-Aspie,” in place of the unhelpful and perjorative term “neurotypical” (a word in common use within the Aspie community), one of three unfortunate words discussed in this post.

Explaining my choices of colors in the image above was a prelude to a personal, mathematical analysis of the inverted popularity of my own phobias and philias. I have long observed that I have an intense, inexplicable affinity (in many cases, reaching the level of a “philia,” an often-misunderstood word and suffix, for reasons I will discuss below) for things which the majority, in my part of the world (the American South) hates and/or fears. Examples include spiders, cats, the number thirteen (and all other prime numbers), mathematics in general, geometry in particular (strangely, even many people who like mathematics still dislike the subfield of geometry), being different from those around me, darkness, the color black, night, the physical sciences, evolution (which happens, like it or not), enclosed spaces, heights, flying on airplanes, women, and Muslims. I have also struggled with phobias, working (with professional help) on eliminating them, one by one, but they tend to be less common. Examples of targets for my current and past phobias include light, especially sunlight, to the point where I actually have to take vitamin D supplements; as well as voice calls on cell phones (human voices coming out of small boxes freak me out); death; the life sciences; insurance; sports (and related events, such as pep rallies); loud noises; efforts to control me; and, since my mother died, last November 16, the 16th day of any month, especially at, and after, six months after her death.

I’m a teacher, and it’s the 16th of July, and I simply do not have the option of falling apart on the 16th of every month when school starts again next month, at a new school, with new students, for, as the saying goes, the students will arrive — whether I’m ready or not. That’s no way to start a school year.

I have much to be optimistic about, for I will be teaching in a different building, but on a much-improved schedule, with far fewer different subjects to prepare for each day than I had last year. When I fell asleep last night, after completing four full days of training to teach Pre-AP Physical Science for the first time, starting next month, some part of me knew that mental health improvement — before the 16th hit again, today — was essential. Was that something about which I was consciously thinking? No. I apparently rewrote my mental software (again) last night, an ability I have worked on developing for over thirty-five years. When this brain-software-debugging process first became evident, a few years back, it was happening in my sleep, just as happened again last night, and it took some time for me to figure out exactly what was going on, and how my ability to rapidly adapt to change had improved. 

In Part II of this post, I will analyze, mathematically, the inverted popularity of my phobias, compared to the most common phobias, ranked by incidence among the population. First, however, it is necessary for me to explain what I mean — and do not mean — by the word “philia.” There is a serious problem with this word, in English, when it appears as a suffix, and that is due to an unfortunate linguistic error: the incorrect application of a Greek idea, and word, to the horrific, disgusting, and criminal behavior of child molesters, as well as those who have sex with corpses. The ancient Greeks, as is well-known, used four different words for different kinds of love, and “philia” (φιλία) referred specifically to fraternal, or “brotherly,” love. This was not a word the ancient Greeks used for any type of sexual act. The words “pedophilia” and “necrophilia” are, for this reason, historical anomalies. Both terms are misnomers, meaning, simply, that they are messed-up words, and their existence creates the potential for misunderstanding. A philia, properly understood, is simply the opposite of a phobia. Phobias are better-understood, of course, and require no detailed explanation. 

One example of what I mean by my own philias should suffice. I have, for many years, had an abnormally strong fascination with spiders. I like them — a lot — so much so, in fact, that I actually have a tattoo of a spider, and often wear a spider necklace, to express how much I like this one biological order, the largest within the class of arachnids. Despite my strong affinity for spiders, however, I have zero sexual interest in them. It is accurate to call me an arachnophiliac, which is the opposite of an arachnophobe.

It is now near 9 pm on Saturday, November 16, and Friday night’s sleep therapy gave me the energy to work on the needed improvements to my mental health during the day today, by using reflective writing as a therapeutic technique. I also have a new appreciation for sleep, which will come soon. Part II will be posted soon, but it will not be written until after I have enjoyed a full night of sleep — starting, hopefully, in a few minutes. Goodnight, and thank you for reading Part I.

[Update, July 17: Part II is now posted here.]

Asperger’s Syndrome and “Emotional Vision”

ties-articleLarge

The source of the term “emotional vision” is the same as the source of the image above: this New York Times article. This blog-post is my response, so I recommend reading the NYT article before you continue.

The story was written by, and about, a man on the autistic spectrum, and, if you’re on the autistic spectrum and get published in that newspaper, you’re high-functioning. High-fuctioning autism (HFA) and Asperger’s syndrome were “merged” in the United States in 2013, shortly before I started figuring out that I am, myself, an Aspie. By the time I discussed the idea with my doctor, it was too late to get an “official” diagnosis. (Yes, that does mean no diagnosis for me, but that’s simply the way things happened, and I’m fine with that.)

Many in the Asperger’s community have a form of emotional blindness — an inability to “read” the emotions of others — and that described me accurately until, well, this week, when I awakened my own emotions, and also gained the ability to understand emotions of some other people. Which people? Only the ones I know well, generally by having contact with them for at least a year. Shortening this time is high on my mental “to-do” list.

In the article linked above, the author voluntarily had his emotional light-switch “turned on” in an experimental treatment designed by other people. That, I believe, is the key difference between his case and mine, for I made the decision to turn mine on myself, wrote the “mental software” behind it myself, and am testing it at every opportunity, in accordance with the way I think. This ability to reprogram my own brain’s software isn’t magic, nor a super-human ability power, but simply a project I have been working on, for, well, over thirty years.

The author of the article above has many regrets about accepting the experimental medical treatment he had to turn his emotions “on.” This treatment involved letting doctors mess around with his brain. My own doctor knows me well, and therefore does not try to force any sort of treatment on me, for he knows that my biggest compulsion involves an intense need to be free from control by other people. Not all Aspies have compulsions, but some of us do, and I am one of them.

Something most Aspies do have are “special interests,” as they are called, but they vary widely. My special interest is mathematics. I learned to speak, read, and write so that I could express my own mathematical ideas. My parents provided me with books about mathematics, one they realized the intensity of my need, driven by curiosity, to absorb mathematical ideas which were new, at the time, to me. I have never stopped wanting more.

My interest in science came later, but not much later, due to that same curiosity. Once I learned how linked the physical sciences and mathematics are, this was inevitable. The more mathematical a given subject was, the faster I could learn it. Without mathematics involved, however, learning was a chore, and deciphering the mysteries of human behavior has been, for this reason, very difficult. Why did people do such bizarre and confusing things? For a long time, I had no idea, and wasn’t willing to do the hard work of figuring it out, either. I puzzled other people, and they puzzled me right back. I made little progress, on this front, for many years.

Why did understanding anything about emotions come so much later in life, for me? That’s an easy question to answer: emotions are more complicated than anything else I have learned, in the sense that emotions are extremely difficult to understand, or express, mathematically. To do this in a way that would work well, I had to rewrite my “software” myself, and that took a lot of hard work, time, and thought. This is entirely unlike the case of the man who told his story in the New York Times, who was thrown into an emotional nightmare by an experimental treatment he willingly received, but did not design. He has my sympathy, and I hope his life gets better in the future. 

On “Thinking Outside the Box” (Thanks, Mom)

outside the box

The secret to “thinking outside the box” is to never have your thinking put in a box in the first place. Thanks, Mom. This would not have happened to me without you making it happen, and I only just now figured this out.

Please do not play pranks on the Aspies

Please do not play pranks on the Aspies

This is not a joke. I don’t know any way to make it plainer than this.

“Aspie,” in case you do not know, is a word commonly used within the community of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, as an informal term for ourselves. I don’t claim to speak for all Aspies, of course, but this is certainly true for me, as well as many others I know. Some Aspies have figured out how to recognize and understand pranks, but I am not one of them. I don’t understand why people play pranks . . . at all.

What do you mean, you “can’t wait?” Obviously, you can!

 

you can wait

Why do people so often, and completely incorrectly, say they “can’t wait” for things? No one ever says this, it seems, unless they already are waiting for whatever they are talking about.

A seasonal example: “I can’t wait for Christmas!”

When I hear this, I generally point out to people that they are already waiting, and therefore, obviously, they can do so.

What is it with this? Why do so many people say this thing that clearly makes no sense at all?

On Teaching Students with Asperger’s Syndrome

teaching Aspies

Teaching students with Asperger’s Syndrome is a challenge. As a teacher who also has Asperger’s, I have some suggestions for how to do this, and wish to share them.

  1. Keep the administrators at your school informed about what you are doing.
  2. Know the laws regarding these matters, and follow them carefully. Laws regarding confidentiality are particularly important.
  3. Identify the special interest(s) of the student (these special interests are universally present with Asperger’s; they also appear, sometimes, with students on other parts of the autism spectrum). Do not expect this/these special interest(s) to match that of anyone else, however — people with Asperger’s are extremely different from each other, just as all human beings are. As is the case with my own special interests in mathematics and the “mathy” sciences, it’s pretty much impossible to get students with Asperger’s to abandon their special interest — and I know this because I, quite literally, cannot do much of anything without first translating it, internally, into mathematical terms — due to my own case of Asperger’s. Identifying the special interest of a student with Asperger’s requires exactly one thing: paying attention. The students themselves will make it easy to identify their special interest; it’s the activity that they want to do . . . pretty much all the time.
  4. Find out, by carefully reading it, if the student’s official Section 504 document, or Special Education IEP, permits item #5 on this list to be used. If it doesn’t, you may need to suggest a revision to the appropriate document. (Note: these are the terms used in the USA; they will be different in other countries.)
  5. Of things done in class which will be graded, if the relevant document permits it, alter them in such a way as to allow the student to use his or her special interest to express understanding of the concepts and ideas, in your class, which need to be taught and learned. This is, of course, the most difficult step, but I cannot overemphasize its importance.
  6. Use parental contact to make certain the parent(s) know about, and agree with, the proposed accommodations/modifications. (504 students get accommodations, while special education students receive modifications. Following both 504 plans, and Special Education IEPs, is not optional for teachers — it is an absolute legal requirement, by federal law, and the penalties for failure to do so are severe. It is also, of course, the ethical thing to do.)
  7. Do not make the mistake of punishing any student for behavior related to a documented condition of any kind, including Asperger’s Syndrome.

My Mental Jukebox

NOTES

My mental jukebox’s default setting is “on,” which is nice. Usually, I can even consciously choose what to listen to, and it doesn’t cost me a cent.

A Lesson Involving the Social Use of Color

colors

RobertLovesPi’s social-interaction lesson of the day: different colors of fabric can actually mean something else, besides simply reflecting different wavelengths of light, and these meanings can shift quickly. (I already knew this could happen once per day, but was only just taught that this is also possible for n = 2, allowing me to extrapolate that, for the general case, n > -1, presumably with an upper limit set by the individual’s speed at changing clothes.)

As far as I can tell, n = 0 on weekends and legal holidays, in most cases, and n = 1 on most workdays (but not today, when the needed reflection-wavelength shifts from ~475 nm to ~550 nm after I leave the city of Sherwood, Arkansas, bound for a spot approximately 20 km South of there, in Little Rock, which is still in the same county).

Apparently my key to understanding this stuff is finding a way to analyze it mathematically. Also, posting such “new” discoveries to my blog increases the odds of me remembering them. However, unlike my last such finding (it involved chocolate chips not being a sandwich topping at Subway), I did NOT figure these things out “all by myself.” In fact, without help from two very important people, I doubt I ever would have figured them out at all!

On Deciphering Informal Medical Language, from an “Aspie” Point of View

Confusion

Confusion

A major challenge for many Aspies (an informal name many of those with Asperger’s use for ourselves) is communication with the larger, non-Aspie population. Frustration and anger are common reactions to this challenge — sometimes from both sides. The reasons for this are known: these two parts of the population use language quite differently. Aspies tend to use and interpret language in absolute, literal terms, to a point that seems odd to most. Non-Aspies, by contrast, are often more flexible with use of language, and are (somehow) able to convey ideas between themselves using words which mean the exact opposite of their literal meaning. (Several examples will follow.) This difference is all that is required to explain why Aspies and non-Aspies often have trouble communicating with each other.

Just as with most people, Aspies are quite different from each other, but we also have some traits in common. For example, an intense urge to study and analyze some esoteric subject, which few others care about, is common — but the identity of that subject, or subjects, varies widely from one Aspie to another. My special interests all involve puzzles; I enjoy trying to figure out mathematical, scientific, and linguistic problems, in particular. Another Aspie might share none of those interests, but might be able to rattle off, say, hundreds of sports statistics, as easily as I can list the names of dozens of polyhedra. The existence of these “special interests,” as they are known, is (nearly?) universal among Aspies, but the topic of these special interests is not. For example, fewer than 1% of the Aspie population shares my obsession with polyhedra — a fact I know because the world’s most-focused “polyhedra people” are so uncommon that we have established many lines of communication between each other, enabling the formation of a rough estimate of this population. My estimate is ~300 people, worldwide. Even if I am off by a factor of ten, that simply isn’t nearly as many people as 1/10th of 1% of the world’s rapidly-growing Aspie population.

In my experience, medical terminology, in particular, has provided large numbers of baffling puzzles over the years. When talking to medically-trained professionals, I always let them know I am a teacher of science and mathematics. This lets them know that they need not hold back with medical jargon, which has a large overlap with scientific and mathematical jargon. I can understand it fairly well, and, when an unfamiliar term is used, I simply ask for a definition. When I need to, I take notes. If medical instructions are not clear, precise, literal, and detailed, people can die as a result. For this reason, such instructions generally are written in a precise, literal form of English which is a beter match for “Aspiespeak” than what we typically hear from non-Aspies.

On the other hand, when I speak to non-Aspies about medical subjects, I often get quite confused, and I suspect this happens with many other Aspies, as well. Examples follow.

“Nerve pills” — As someone who takes prescribed medication for the relief of anxiety (which is the way a doctor or pharmacist would likely phrase it), I have occasionally been asked if I might benefit from taking a “nerve pill.” Before remembering the translation of this term, I always think, and sometimes say, something along these lines: “I’m already nervous. Why would I take a pill to make me more nervous?” It’s the implied, omitted parts of the phrase, of course, that contribute to my confusion. As it is, this practice makes me wonder why we don’t call deodorant “oderant” instead, a term coined by Jerry Seinfeld, since that would make equally little sense, but would at least be consistent.

The related phrase “pain pills” elicits a similar response from me. Due to a fall over twenty years ago, I already hurt, and, sometimes, I need something that relieves pain — but I never need anything to cause more pain! Fortunately, the people I actually see for such medication, when it is needed, are physicians and pharmacists, and they use literal, precise terms for such medication. They also know the risks of such medication, and conversations with such people are important for anyone needing such medication, for obvious reasons: such medications should only be used in ways consistent with advice from doctors and pharmacists. Patients cannot obtain such advice without having honest conversations with these knowledgeable professionals.

The most confusing informal medical term like this which I hear, though, is the term “crazy pills.” I don’t hide the fact that I obtain professional help for mental health issues, and explained my reasons for this openness here. Most of those who do seek treatment for mental health problems, though, are not Aspies, and so it is quite common to hear such treatment, in the form of medication, referred to by this confusing term, which I must admit I intensely dislike. For one thing, the word “crazy” is not one to use lightly, due to the fact that it has been used, historically, to stigmatize those who need help maintaining or restoring mental health. For another, the literal meaning of “crazy pills” is the exact opposite of its in-use meaning.

The term I use to replace “crazy pills,” in my own speech, is “sanity pills.” Sanity is, after all, my preferred state, and that is the reason the psychiatry-related category on this blog is named “Mental Health,” not “Mental Illness.” Reminders that mental health is the goal are helpful; the opposite focus is not.

Puzzles like this (figuring out non-literal terms used by non-Aspies) are not my favorite kind; in fact, I don’t enjoy them at all, for little or no logic is involved, and any pattern which might help me learn these things more easily has, so far, eluded me. Non-Aspies seem to just intuitively “know” what such phrases mean, as if they got a memo which was deliberately withheld from Aspies — and that is, for me (and many of us), both baffling, and irritating. Can I understand these things? Yes, with difficulty — I have to figure them out, step by step, each time, due to the fact that they do not make logical, literal sense, and thus do not come naturally to me. In fact, studying calculus was easier than understanding these common phrases which nearly everyone else just seems to somehow “know,” as if the knowledge was sent to them telepathically, but deliberately withheld from me, for reasons unknown.

For a fictional depiction of Aspie/non-Aspie confusion, this clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation, while not medically-oriented, does illustrate this commuication-problem in a humorous fashion. When the character of Data was created, some “Aspie” characteristics were deliberately included, just as they were for Mr. Spock, his predecessor. Some Aspies have criticized the Star Trek franchise for these practices, but I, personally, think they have been helpful, in that they use humor to try to bridge the currently-existing comprehension-gap. This gap is not helpful, so anything that narrows it is something I like.

I Can’t Stop Listening to the Unsilent Quiet

An incomplete list of things I can hear right now:

1. The spinning of my laptop’s hard drive
2. The spinning of the blades of the exhaust fans that keep my laptop from overheating
3. This apartment’s air conditioning
4. The ringing in my own ears, which I blame on living in a noisy world
5. The “sixty-cycle hum” — a 60 Hz humming sound produced by pretty much anything running off alternating current (refrigerators are the worst)
6. The sound of my own fingers typing on the keyboard of my laptop
7. The whirling blades of ceiling fans in several places in this apartment, and adjacent apartments
8. Traffic on nearby roads
9. My never-ending internal monologue

Except during power failures, which shorten the list a lot, this is about as quiet as it ever gets here. Another person might call this “silence.” It isn’t.

There is no silence.

Ever.