I’m starting a series about immaturity. I’m seen and identify as in various ways immature for my age. I feel this usually derives from my Autism. This gets messy in the politics of Autism, because we really do not want to be seen as children in the sense of not knowing what’s good for us. But while I don’t think that I’m a child in that sense, I think I’m a like a child or teenager in other senses. I suspect this is common and at the root of some of our problems in getting legitimacy. People assume that if you’re a child one way you’re a child in other ways. People like to assume neat categories like that. But there are ways I’m old for my age too and there are ways that I’m a normal adult. There are also ways that I’m not like an adult but only because I haven’t been treated as one.
The Immaturity Series
The immaturity series will be devoted to examples of why I (as well as some examples from friends) am seen as childlike and what is the root causes behind it. I will compare and contrast to why actual children or teenagers have the trait in question. I will discuss either why I can’t stop doing the childish behavior or why I don’t want to stop and shouldn’t have to. I will contrast it and show it’s interactions with ways that I’m grown up. Over the course of the series I will argue that some rules about what is childish are counterproductive and recommend the childish behaviors even to normal people. Others I will argue are arbitrary and should be ignored. Others are a sign of disabilities that children have relative to adults but as not as afraid to display as disabled adults are because its expected; I argue that they should be expected in appropriately disabled adults as well because they are essentially disability accommodations even when kids do them. Finally, some are simply entertaining; I will defend the idea of adults creating entertaining personae to gain acceptance and distinguish it from more objectifying self portrayals.
So without further ado:
I CAN BE REALLY FLAMBOYANT SOMETIMES!!!
I speak with exaggerated intonation and add lots of emotion to my words. I like to sing along to really emotionally intense music and make dramatic gestures and extreme facial expressions in the mirror. Other autistic people flap their hands expressively; I flap my whole arms, sometimes my whole body. I like to make sudden sharp movements, even and especially when doing mundane tasks like getting dressed or closing doors. When the gods of elaborate hyperbole convened in their unspeakable council before time properly began they voted almost unanimously—there was one vote against, the accursed traitor was instantly fallen upon and cast wailing into the outer darkness where he still remains to this day—to make me their eternal champion and avatar, and after that one and only vote, they voted no more, but merely consulted me whenever they disagreed, such was the depth of their faith in me, the faith from which the very universe itself was made as well and the loyalty that will one day destroy it upon my single spoken word, “enough!”
I also like long sentences.
Vivisecting a Phenomenon
Some of this is basically neurological and not really about emotions or maturity at all. It’s very easy for me to lose track of how to control my body. I have frequently lost hours just lying there forgetting how to move. It’s more like being paralyzed than being depressed. I could be thinking or feeling anything when it happens really. Sometimes I have a really positive attitude and can just motivate myself to try to figure out my way out of it. A positive attitude helps me get out of it, but does not constitute a way out of it. I need more than motivation; I need motivation and a plan. I need to actually figure out how to move and it’s often a geeky exercise in self-manipulation. My body is still doing automatic actions and responding to discomfort or habit or external stimuli. And sometimes I can move some part of my body and try to cause the movements of other parts by chain reactions. After enough stimulation I’m free.
But fundamentally it’s not itself an attitude problem. The inability to move is not causes by feelings; it is the cause of feelings. The loss of motion comes first and the emotions come later (e.g. fear “help I can’t move!” and frustration “Why is my body no longer responding to commands?”). It’s a problem of sensory-motor integration. It’s solved my reminding my brain which buttons to push to make me move. Strong decisive vigorous motions help remind my brain that I control my limbs and how it feels to move them. I move this way as part of preventing getting frozen in various body parts and to help myself get out of it.
But Wait! This is Still a Kid Thing!
Babies have to do this in the course of figuring out how to move their bodies for the first time. I totally read about it in a book by a smart person who would know. And Occupational Therapists have told me I still have vestiges of some infant reflexes, so parts of my brian might be reaaaallly undeveloped. Anyway, older kids do this too, because while it’s not direly necessary, it’s still fun. Feeling your body intensely is physically pleasurable. Kid’s only stop once they develop a fair amount of self control. The reasons they stop are to demonstrate that self control in order to look grown up, because people pressure them to in order to create a quieter environment and because this kind of moving is hard on older bodies and they want to save energy and wear on their joints.
I still move like a kid. Partly this is because I have to. Partly this is because I don’t have the physical self-control to stop very easily. I can only stop by deliberately letting parts of my body switch off; I cannot switch to moving gently and gracefully like an adult at least not consistently. During that period in the early teens where it is a social necessity to show how grown up you are, I mostly just turned off large parts of my body. It was miserable and stressful and probably not really worth it. Now I’m 30 and moving like a kid really hurts, but I still do it and I’ll probably keep doing it well after a doctor orders me to stop. So far I’ve never had a very serious injury just from moving jerkily, but I’m sure I will when I’m older. The alternative is worse. Maybe I’ll have normal self control by then though. I can hope.
But Sometimes It’s About Feelings After All
Sometimes I can close gaps in my ability to make myself move and get myself more stimulation for less joint violence by making my movement expressive. Emotive gestures focus attention on the part doing the expressing; it’s basically a trick to force attention. It’s often easier to stand up, even when alone, by indignantly rising to my feet in protest, then shifting out of character to walk away. I get undressed much faster and easier by performing a strip tease for myself in the mirror.
I think I know where this comes from. My executive functioning, my ability to make myself do things because they’re a good idea, my self control, is weak and variable. Sometimes it’s so weak it can’t force my body to move. But my ability to be socially motivated is comparatively strong. This sounds like a contradiction with my Autism, but it’s not. Autism is a weakness of social flexibility, of subtleties and synchronizing, of social perception, but not a lack of social motivation. It’s a dirty lie that Autistic people don’t want friends or family or love as much. Some people just give up on things they thing they can never have, most are motivated to avoid situations that promise to be social but in which it is bitterly obviously that no connection will be made. As for me, I think I have the misfortune of being an Autistic Extrovert. I have a little core of burning loneliness deep inside me and it is my strength.
I can make myself do practically anything if I can trick myself into believing its for attention. This is how my sense of responsibility ever gets anything done. I chose a goal for practical reasons and then find a way to frame it as attention seeking so I can actually make myself do it. More often than not the audience is imaginary, but I still want to look showy even alone. It feels good and it moves me to be dramatic. I want to be cute, adorable, funny, mysterious and many other things, even when nobody is looking. Like a little kid, I can’t do subtlety, so I get my attention by shear earnest intensity of feeling. I’ve had a lot of strong emotional experience in my life so I can method act into really meaning almost any feeling.
Strong emotions are addictive. I have quite a high tolerance and so I have the energy to cry at little things. I have the energy to be terrified where most would only be anxious. I have the energy to feel joy every time I feel wind at my back. I have the energy to be excited every time I get to eat dessert. Kids feel these things because they can as much as because they have to. The kid emotional palate is exhausting, but I can keep up. Strong emotions also have withdrawal. I can’t get anything done without listening to and occasionally singing along to and meaning really emotionally loaded songs. The exceptions are all do to some source of non-imaginary emotions nearby. Boredom is an urgent crisis, lacking stimulation, even for a few minutes can lead to shutdown and loss of hours. I think little kids really do live like this, so people should think twice before saying they have it easy. Certainly the result looks childlike.
I Swear I’m Not A Sellout
So I clearly have this manic pixie dream girl image going on. Not even really a male version of it or anything, the male version is a byronic hero and that’s all about angst. (This is one of the reasons I tell people they will be less confused if they think of me as a girl.) I don’t do angst; it’s too low energy. But I’m definitely being an image, and it is definitely the source of what social acceptance I get. I’m not to most people’s tastes and few want me around in large doses, but I really do get friends this way. I even deliberately adopt childlike mannerisms that aren’t independently motivated to complete the picture. Some of those have become pleasurable by association (e.g stickers) and some turn out to be good accommodations after all. (e.g. talking like a four-year-old isn’t just cute it also requires less focus on motor coordination that talking normally.)
Lots of people in the Autistic community don’t really approve of this sort of thing normally. It’s a survival strategy to package oneself as entertainingly silly, but it’s supposed to be artificial and objectifying and bad for being taken seriously. One sure aspired to acting naturally and the world should learn to accept that.
But this is natural for me, now. And it might just be natural for me naturally. Some people are natural performers, why can’t some autistic people be? Also neurotypical extroverts get to change themselves to market themselves and it often makes them happy. I don’t want to be any more artificial than they are.
I think it’s okay, because i’m not deceiving people that I’m really just a kid inside. I use adult vocabulary and talk about adult subjects (not just sex, but also careers and other kid-boring things). I just talk about them like a kid. I understand and admit exactly what I’m doing. I make sure people can see the artifice.
Actually I Really Do Have Perspective, Honest
And unlike a kid, I actually have perspective. This is what qualifies me to have opinions despite immature emotions. I know they are immature emotions; see I just told you. When I cry because I drop my ice cream I know how many orders of magnitude separate it from genocide. I would cry that much harder for the about genocide if I could. Nobody can. The world is huge and the stakes are ridiculous and no person could have the emotional range to even do justice to really big problems without being totally indifferent to their individual life. But I know what a little problem is. I just map that to crying and a grown up problem to totally flipping out. It’s just scaling. But I do intellectually know the difference.
Nobody has the proper emotional response to politics. Politics is far too big. Every issue affects too many people. It is not humanly possible to care enough. The superiority grown ups feel at being able to be calm is a reflection of the fact that dissociating from the stakes improves objectivity. Grown ups do this by dissociating from the reality of the stakes themselves and thus not feeling as strongly. I do this by dissociating from my emotions and thus having objectivity despite feeling strongly. I know my emotions are silly so they can’t fool me.
So I still get to have an opinion here is what I’m saying.
What Am I Asking For Here
I move and talk like this for the same reason kids do. That reason has nothing to do with whether I understand things or have a mature perspective on things. The actual content of what I’m saying should be taken seriously just as if told by somebody my age in the manner of somebody my age. My emotional expressions and body language are perhaps better thought of and responded to as if I am a child.
I’m risking misunderstanding because people don’t like to process contrasts like that. I take responsibility for reminding them, but I cannot be deterred, by the fact that some might never get it. Because I would be as seriously misunderstood if I was seen as entirely my age. So I chose truth and will live as an educational example about why the simple age category system needs to be broken down.
In Conclusion: I Have A Whale!
I was going to write a conclusion, but I got overcome by having a whale. I’m thinking about my stuffed whale again, which I got for my 30th birthday. I’m going to stop this far too long post now and go hug it because it hasn’t stopped making me excited every time I see it. It’s the best whale ever and I dare not keep it waiting.
PS: As an illustrative example, this conclusion is completely true and happened as I said it. I also planned it from the beginning. If you understand the riddle of this contradiction, you will achieve enlightenment or at least understand my relationship to feelings.