Jason Dias on Autism Plus

Jason Dias is the author of the high fantasy, For Love of Their Children. His first love is science fiction.

Dias is a doctor of clinical psychology living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He teaches college and writes incessantly, mostly for aNewDomain.

Presently, he is working on a number of book chapters concerning psychotherapy and no fewer than four novels.

You can find a review of The Girlfriend Project here. And you can follow his work for aNewDomain here.

Autism plus
By Jason Dias

I’m a doctor of clinical psychology. A college instructor, university faculty, clinical supervisor.
I’m a writer: columnist, blogger, author. Fantasist, futurist. Poet.
Father, brother, son.
World traveler. Existentialist.

I’m autistic.

I wasn’t always autistic. In summer of 2013 the American Psychiatric Association did away with the short-lived Asperger category, creating autism spectrum disorder. I deny and decry the ‘disorder’ part of the category because this is just me. Neurodivergent and happy to be so.

But I’m autistic. I have limitations. I’ll never be good at chess (requires too much executive planning for me). I have to explain to my students that they’ll get a weird vibe sometimes. If we don’t have the autism chat they know something’s different but they can’t quite say what, and they try to figure it out in end-of-semester feedback. Not all who wander are lost but if you see me wandering, I’m lost. Help me.

Growing up I knew I was different but couldn’t say how. I’ve always been very intelligent and used that native intellect to think my way out of disability. Unburdened with diagnoses, I had no artificial limitations or expectations. I think I’ve grown up to be my best self, especially through a ton of self-work and engagement with ambiguity. And here I am.

Temple Grandin is a bit of a hero. Her work in animal husbandry has helped a lot of animals, and also a lot of people. Some of her ideas translate back into human care. And humane standards for livestock, humane, compassionate care for the animals we use for food and other products, really transcend the usual human paradigm of denigrating those we want to use or kill.

Temple is autistic. I see her judged constantly by that yardstick. She did really well for an autistic woman. She’s really high functioning for an autistic woman. She dresses well for an autistic woman. She’s really articulate for an autistic woman.

I worry about this.

A friend invited me to speak at a conference for law enforcement professionals about the experience of autism. I replied that there isn’t one, unified experience of autism. We’re looking at a number of phenomena and I just don’t know that I exemplify the phenomenon you mean. I can’t talk for everyone and maybe shouldn’t.

But also I was very nervous about coming out at that scale. See, I don’t want to be an autistic psychologist or an autistic writer. I just want to be me.

I don’t want you to read my stories and go, “He writes pretty well, for an autistic guy.” I don’t want to do well in light of my limitations. We all have limitations, don’t we? I don’t even want you to think, “His autism gives him special insight into the human condition.” “This is a novel coming from a particular outsider perspective.” I don’t want you to know, prior to reading, that I’m neurodivergent.

I don’t want to do well for an autistic man. I want to do well for a human. I want to be judged based on the quality of my work, for better or worse. I got a 2* rating on Goodreads on one of my novels and I treasure it. It means I don’t appeal to everyone. That I made a thing and let it be judged. Not everyone is going to like you and there’s no reason to make excuses. Would that reader have liked the work more knowing who wrote it? I don’t care. I don’t want you to read my stuff in the light of autism. Just a regular reading light is fine.

That’s our right. The dignity of risk, we call it in the trade. You have the right to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to fail, even to get hurt. To be human. To have flaws.

Recently a student said, “Autistic people are smart.”

I corrected him. “Sometimes. But autistic people can be stupid, too. Banal, hateful, ignorant, ridiculous. Because we’re human. We have all the traits.”

I’m good at writing. The objective criteria support this statement. And I should be. I first penned a novel at age 13. That’s a lot of practice. I apply myself to my craft. I’m not good or bad at it because of autism but because I’m a human, capable of failure, and capable of learning from failure.

I hope you buy my books. I hope you enjoy them but I know sometimes you won’t. And whether you do or don’t, I hope some of my essential humanity is communicated to you through this work.

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