It’s All About Sex, So Quit Dragging Empathy Out Back For A Beating

My response to Eustica Cutler on her Daily Beast Post Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination

Opening Statement

Before I begin, I want to make it absolutely clear that I do NOT support the use of child pornography for ANY reason. Sex crimes, especially those committed against children, are WRONG.

I have spent the better part of my life, post autism diagnosis, speaking about the strengths of autism. When talking about sensitive topics, I spend hours mulling over vocabulary to make my writing as universally friendly as possible – keeping my writing appealing to all no matter their neurological profile, race, gender, or age. On occasion, I have been bold and piercing with my opinions, but I try to reserve that for places where I felt boldness was warranted – i.e. my writing on the Autism Industry. At any rate, I carefully filter myself using techniques I learned in therapy so that common ground of acceptance and awareness is met.

Today, however, I will use no such filters. Today, I will write unfiltered and unbridled on the topic. Why? Why do I take this risk of offending others? I am not coming to you today to purposefully offend, nor am I abandoning my goal of acceptance and awareness. I simply feel that this topic is tiptoed around too much, and so taboo, that being too careful will only muddle the point. I want to be clear, and to be clear I must be uninhibited by rules of social acceptance. Thus, you have been warned.

“Whatever is good to know, is difficult to learn.” – Greek Proverb

The Background

On 5 August 2013 Eustacia Cutler, mother of Dr. Temple Grandin, published an opinion piece in The Daily Beast entitled Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination. My reaction to her conclusion was so intense, that I had to spend 5 hours, collectively, sorting my emotions, typing my reactions, and grounding my nervous system. At first, I made a list of all the terms that spiked mental activity for me, such as “skewed neurology” when referring to autism, “kids want to learn sex from kids,” and “where is the father that should be guiding him.” I could write pages on her article alone, not to mention all the reading it spawned for me to be prepared to write my response today, informed.

Not long after her post, John Elder Robison prepared his reaction in Psychology Today entitled, Autism and Porn: A Problem No One Talks About. John carefully addressed his view of the topic, laying out 5 problems why Eustica may be correct in many ways, though not in all. He made excellent points about law enforcement, but I still felt left in the cold.

If you haven’t read the articles yet, I encourage you to do so before moving onto my reaction. The links are in the footnotes.

Train Wreck

After all of the reactions were tweeted, posted on Facebook, or published in online news periodicals, the truth of the matter presented me with a train wreck of ideology, misunderstanding, fear, and ultimately judgment. Squeezed in under the headline of Child Pornography, were three very distinct topics, yet everyone was speaking in generalities and a homogeneous tone.

It is unfair, not just to autistics, but to humanity to use the conviction of a pedophile as a springboard for a public flogging of the sexuality of autistic people. Not to mention, the complete ignorance of the details of the case of the Pedophile who happened to be autistic, which Ms. Cutler failed to provide. People of all different neurological profiles commit crimes, so lets not jump on the assumption bandwagon about the particulars of a case not published.

Out of deep respect for my own right to feel empathy, and engage in meaningful sexual relationships, and to even the playing field, I must address all three of the topics that lurk in the backdrop of Ms Cutler’s article – sex in society, sex in autism, and their ugly stepchild – the use of neurology to subjugate autistics.

The article in question, in my opinion, really had very little to do with child porn. Most of the argument she held had much more to do with sexuality, not pedophilia. There is a very distinct difference between the two.

Sex in Society, We Fear Sex Because We Fear Death

No one wants to talk about sex. We attempt to regulate sex, we throw our morality and our religious beliefs at sex, we even punish those who are open about sex. Sex in our society is unspeakable to so many. In my observation, we live in a society that is more comfortable with violence than with sex, something that continues to baffle me.

Why are we afraid of sex? Austrian Psychoanalyst Otto Rank suggests it is because it reminds us of our mortality. He points out that sex is a physical act used to procreate, mostly, and that is in direct violation of our societal belief that we are spiritual beings. In fact, much research has been done on the tie between fear of death and fear of sex. A very interesting write up on the topic was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1999.

Because of this fear of sex, we in turn fear talking about sex. I was reminded of this concept when Ms. Cutler was addressing sex education. She had gone on for a few paragraphs about how ASD boys were looking to the internet to learn about sex. Ms. Cutler then said, “He may know the physical steps of the act, he may even have learned them by heart, but that won’t help him get to the heart of the matter. In other words, where is the father who should be guiding him?” She added later, “Absentee dads are not likely to be around at the critical moment.” A shocking conclusion from a woman who was once told that refrigerator mothers were to blame for autism.

Since when did we learn about sex from our parents? I think my male friends learned more from the Sears Catalogue, National Geographic, and eventually their father’s Playboys than they did from talking with their parents. According to a poll given to parents by Planned Parenthood, 43% of parents are uncomfortable talking about serious sex topics with their children. Given our nations high teen pregnancy rate, the talks that are going on seldom include details on birth control. And, when sex is addressed, how many parents talk about pleasure in sex? Style? Position? Though I agree there is an absent father problem in autism, this is not what leads autistic kids to porn.

Humans in today’s society as a whole learn about sex through trial and error. When we aren’t feeling satisfied, or we just want more pleasure, we look to porn. Why? It’s everywhere and very easy to access, and for the most part, we just like it. Yes, even the most conservative of humans like porn, even if they do not admit it. How do I draw this conclusion? Well, during this session the more conservative states, and even conservative senators, are pushing legislation to regulate abortion, birth control, and close Planned Parenthood clinics. How many pieces of legislations have conservatives pushed this session to close down all pornography? In fact, when porn is attacked, we as a society see it as an attack on freedom!

Therefore, our fear of sex keeps us from addressing a very important aspect of fulfilling human interaction.

Sex in Autism, We Fear Sex in Autism Because We Fear Autism

If our society struggles to talk about sex under normal circumstances, we will not be any better when it comes to sex in autism. What frustrates me most about discussing this topic here is that I must do so in opposition to those who continually reduce the sexuality of an autistic person to animality. I feel as if the Neurotypical world fears that autistic people will succumb to dry humping someone’s leg, like my neighbors Chihuahua, simply because we are too “skewed neurologically” to control ourselves.

When it comes to sex in autism, we are still overburdened by the daily misunderstandings of autism itself, making the application of what society believes they understand about autism act more like a spotlight than a vision of clarity. In other words, the flaws in our conclusions on autism are made obvious when applied to the traits and behaviors that are shared by Autistics and NTs.

For example, let us momentarily adhere to the conclusion that Autistics do not desire human contact and that we lack empathy, as many believe. The act of sex is believed by society as a whole to be an act of love, filled with empathy and the longing for human contact. If someone with autism falls in love and, furthermore, desires a sexual relationship with someone, this act is in direct violation of societal conclusions on both sex and autism. Searching for answers, the sexuality of autistics are analyzed like an episode of wild kingdom.

To take this example further, if a person with autism is caught viewing inappropriate material, such as child pornography, this must be a direct result of the autism’s lack of empathy, and lack of theory of mind forcing the person with autism to not know right from wrong. Even Mr. Robison made this conclusion about Theory of Mind in his article.

But what if we are wrong about autism? Perhaps the man is a Pedophile, who happens to have autism, with one not directly effecting the other. Perhaps the man views the material, not because he is attracted to children, but because he views himself as a child who is attracted to older sexual partners. Both scenarios can exist outside the autistic world.

Society tends to look at autism in adults through two lenses; they either see us as too innocent to know any better, or criminalize our acts. When we learn to pry personality from autism, seeing Autistics as people first, and autistic second, only then will our lenses be changed. However, there is a fear of autism. A fear of autism that stems from the emotional desire of immortality through our children.

Therefore, our fear of autism keeps us from addressing a very important aspect of fulfilling human interaction for those of us with autism.

The Use of Neurology to Subjugate Autistics

Bigotry exists in society in many ways, but very few talk about the micro-inequities that lead to the subjugation of people with autism. The term micro-inequities, coined by Dr. Mary Rowe of MIT, are the tiny pieces of bigotry in the actions and words of society that go by unnoticed, but still obscure the view of the target group. She explained micro-inequities by comparing them to Saturn’s rings. Saturn’s rings are made only of little pieces of ice and sand, but partially obscure the planet. One example of a micro-inequity would be using the word “she” when referring to a bad driver, but you cannot verify seeing the gender of the driver who was driving poorly.

One area where micro-inequities towards autism are visible, is in the discussion of autistic sexual behavior. While people with autism remain mostly excluded from the conversation, society is bombarded by videos, books, and lectures itemizing aspects of our lives for public dissection. Much like what traveling shows did to African Americans, caging them naked to be gawked at by onlookers, I feel autistics are caged by arbitrary definitions and gawked at by an all too eager public looking to free themselves of blame.

In the case of Ms. Cutler’s article, the public perpetuated what should have remained an obscure opinion piece, but because they look to professionals to lead them to answers that agree with their personal outlook, the article was popularized. Just because Ms. Cutler has a successful autistic daughter, and just because she has spoken many truths, does not make her infallible. In fact, I feel her article drove her point by using the micro-inequities against autism that are rampant in society.

We with autism have opinions. We have personalities, desires, needs, wants, and crave love from other humans. To talk about our sexuality, to talk about our desires, while excluding us reinforces the concept that we are less. Reducing us to animals, however, comforts the NT world to some extent, because only then is there justification for continuing to ignore taboo topics that interfere with the social training of autistic people. We with autism must continue to redefine autism, and make it our own.


Social Problems: Understanding Emotions and Developing Talents
Temple Grandin, Ph.D. –

Microinequity –

7 Types of Racism –

Why people use porn –

Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination –

Autism and Porn: A Problem No One Talks About –

Pedophilia –

Death, Sex, Love, and Neuroticism: Why is Sex Such a Problem –

Enough, Enough, Enough!!!! A Social Skills Lesson for the Neuro-typical World.

My morning routine is the most important routine of my day.  Every morning I eat a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, drink an 8 ounce glass of Hot Tea, and check my computer for weather and news updates.  After reading the news, I scan through Facebook and Twitter for updates from my friends.  If I am lucky, I will run across a post or two that really lift my spirits, helping me gain energy for the day.


As a person with autism, I often hear that people with autism lack empathy.  It is a hot button issue of debate between most Autistics and the medical and mental heath professionals.  As autism continues to receive negative press, following the Sandy Hook tragedy and the alleged tie to Asperger’s, the empathy debate has been rekindled, but this time it is cutting deeper into the wounds of Autistics.  This particular social tsunami is reshaping our societal shores, which is traumatic for those of us who are forced to live at the edge.


What Is Empathy?


Today, empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously esperiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.  The word empathy has only been in the English Language since 1909.  The English word was coined by a British Psychologist named Edward Titchener in his studies on the structure of the mind, better known today as Structuralism.  Dr. Titchener wanted to classify structures in the mind like chemists classified elements into the periodic table.  Without getting too technical, Titchner believed that the goal of psychology was to study mind and consciousness.  He defined consciousness as the total of mental experience at any given moment and the mind as the accumulated experience of a lifetime.  He felt these experiences were the basis of reasoning.  Since today we focus more on behavioral and cognitive psychology, the theory of structuralism is mostly ignored.


When using the word empathy, Titchener was attempting to translate the German word, Einfühlungsvermögen” meaning “feeling into.”  If we follow the etymology through the Greek, the word can be tied to meanings such as physical affection, passion, partiality, and suffering.  What is most interesting is that empathy is often related to Alexithymia, from the Ancient Greek modified words lexis and thumos meaning “without words for emotions.”  


Why the painful and dry etymology lesson?  It should be understood how words begin and evolve into their current meanings.  According to my research, the origin of the word empathy focused more on the feelings of self rather than the ability to recognize and relate to the emotions in others.  In addition to that, the word Alexithymia, which is often used in tandem with empathy, seems to more accurately descried what we autistics experience – a loss of words to describe emotions.  The idea of Einfuhlung (the German word that gave birth to empathy) wasn’t really explored until the publication of a philosophy paper by Robert Vischer in 1873.  In other words, empathy derived from philosophy and is a relatively new idea in the grand scheme of time.


So Are You Telling Me There Is No Empathy?


No.  I am simply recounting the history to show that the concept of empathy is a philosophical and theoretical construct that we have redefined over time to label and understand the basic human idea that we feel emotions for others even when the other persons feelings are different from our own.  (check my sources at the end of this article for further reading)


I will propose, however, that we cannot measure the lack of empathy in another human.  Why?  Well, we can’t measure empathy so how can we measure a lack of empathy?  In my opinion and personal experience with autism, the supposed “lack of empathy” associated with autism is actually an illusion caused by Alexithymia, compounded with sensory system overloads, and a thinned membrane in the brain that inhibits the ease of bilateral communication – all which are manifested in autism.  In other words, since there are so many communication and expressive deficits in autism, along with the inability to sync thoughts in real time (or when immersed in the moment), we autistics can appear unfeeling when we are actually quite moved.


Ummm, What?


You’re right, I promised not to get too technical.  Let me try an analogy.  

I used to own a 1967 Malibu.  Being a junk yard find, the car had many issues, including electrical issues.  I bought a new wiring harness and went to work.  The new harness was a re-production part and included wiring for air conditioning, which my particular model did not originally have.  However, since other Malibu’s had a A/C option, I knew I could get it to work.  I spent hours running wires, splicing, connecting and testing.  This job even required the removal of the dash, which in 1967 was solid metal and very heavy.  After several days and countless hours, every wire was finally connected.  I hooked up the battery for a test. 


I never could have predicted what happened next; when I attempted to use the turn signal, the windshield wipers moved, when I depressed the brake pedal, the brake lights blinked, and when I turned on the heat, the radio came on too.  I was floored.  The first thought that ran through my mind was that I had incorrectly hooked up some wires.  For the next several days, I re-read the wiring diagrams and re-checked every single connection in the car.  Everything was in its proper place.  Defeated, and confused, I took the car to an automotive electrical specialist.  He smiled and told me to check the grounds.


Car electricity requires a ground.  A ground is a place where excess or “leaking current”, called fault current, is carried away harmlessly.  Since I did not properly ground the electrical system of this car, the fault current had no where to go.  Since the current doesn’t just disappear, it ran back through the system to other points, causing the strange behavior in the car.  Since the car was old with no on board computer system, the car could not communicate with me. 


In autism, we have a fault current and no ground.  Overstimulated by our heightened sensory system and trapped in thought by our communication system, we display an array of behaviors that are not related to the cause.  Flapping, humming and rocking are just a few examples of this, as is what looks like a lack of empathy.


Tying It All Together


I become very agitated when I perceive hypocrisy in another. During my morning news reads and social media scans, I keep seeing hateful messages in everything from headlines to user comments.  Obama shows support for gay-marriage, and then the internet is barraged by hate talk.  People begin to post pictures online of them eating at Chic-fil-A, an openly anti-gay institution, while using a technology built on the achievements of Alan Turing, a gay/cultural icon.  When news outlets ran with rumors that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook gunman, had Asperger’s Syndrome, again the hate talk flooded the internet stating that the lack of empathy in autism causes autistics to be a violent threat to society.  Posting hate rhetoric and reporting harmless autistics to the police are behaviors that are the furthest from empathetic.


Yet, how did the autistic community respond?  Did we post hate rhetoric about NT’s?  Did we boycott all NT owned businesses?  Did we rant or rave using hypocritical actions?  No.  We mourned.  The autistic community was sad, scared, and expressed a deep compassion for the victims and their families through a host of generous and symbolic gestures.  When we were attacked for being autistic, we posted photos of ourselves, listed out accomplishments and led the world to a more compassionate view of autism.  Through compassion and empathy, we separated the autism debate from the Sandy Hook tragedy, giving the focus, honor, and respect the victims really deserved.  Why should their tragic deaths be obscured by an irrelevant debate over autism?


Autistics are great mimics.  We learn communication and the expression of emotion through hours of hard work, and by mimicking that which we see displayed by the neurotypical world.  We autistics are struggling in the dark to show you our compassion, our intelligence, and our accomplishments amidst a social firing squad, armed by an apathetic political agenda.


If the neurotypical world wants the autistic world to better express our empathy, then perhaps the neurotypical world should be a better model of empathy.  The hate rhetoric, the hypocrisy…..enough, enough, enough. 


Some of My Sources


My Reaction to Sandy Hook, and the Asperger’s Blame Game

When I first heard of the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook, I literally didn’t believe it.  With all the bizarre apocalyptic talk in regards to the Mayan Calendar, I thought maybe someone started a horrible rumor.  But it wasn’t rumor.  It was a real, heart sinking tragedy that took the lives of children inside an institution built for growing young minds.  Not knowing how to react, or what to say, I did what most people did; I signed an online sympathy card, I read news articles, and I liked Facebook posts that showed sympathy and love for the victims and their families.  Filled with sadness, uncertainty and fear, I stood in silence wondering what I could say.  I reacted as a sympathetic American.
It didn’t take long for the media to start in on the experts as they ripped apart the shooter’s life to find a cause.  When we experience a tragedy of this magnitude, we want to ease our pain with explanations, and if possible, with justice.  We ask questions like; Why did he do this?  What can be done to bring justice to the victims families?  How can we prevent this from happening in the future?  As an American, and a parent of school aged children, I asked these questions too.
Then it happened.
Reports began to flood the internet that Adam Lanza, the 20 year old shooter, had Asperger’s Syndrome.  Story after story hit the airways as the major news conglomerates scattered to find “experts” on autism, education, mental health, and psychiatric medications.  Arguments ensued and fear crept in, like a damp, heavy fog that obscures the shore from the sailor.  Before the 72 hour mark following the massacre, Asperger’s Syndrome was being blamed for the violence.
Autism Speaks and the Autism Society of America began to report an increase in calls to hotlines over concerns of the autism link to violence.  Autistic individuals became fearful of leaving home as the hate talk flooded the comments portion of internet news publications.  I became so overwhelmed with the hatred, fear, and attacks that I began to shut down.  

In an attempt to stay connected with those who read my social media posts, I wrote, “We must be careful when we say ‘mentally ill.’  There’s a big difference between mentally ill and disabled.  Autism is not an illness, it’s a perspective on life that is neurologically influenced.  I’m not ill.  I’m me.  I hold hands with autism.
I really had no idea what to say or how to react.  The fact was there was no official report that proved Adam Lanza had Asperger’s.  I began to wonder if this was some sort of publicity stunt to validate the recent decision of the APA to remove Asperger’s from the DSM.  After all, who would want the diagnosis if it were to be associated with violent behavior?  My mind bounced from thought to thought trying to understand how I, an Autistic American, was now under attack.  I was now afraid.
The only thing worse than tragedy, is the injustice that follows.
We have been here before.  We have sat in the judgment seat and strung together loosely correlated events, only to assume causation.
Remember when it was thought AIDS was a gay disease?
Remember when it was thought that the black color of an African-American would rub off?
Remember when it was thought women were too stupid to learn to read?
Remember when it was thought that Jews were an inferior race?
Remember when it was thought that men placed a whole being in a woman, for the woman was just an incubator?
Remember when it was thought the world was flat and at the center of the universe?
Remember when it was thought the world would end on December 21, 2012 because the Mayans said so?
The human race, in order to fulfill a void in their own lives, seek reasons to the unexplained.  When we add fear to that basic human motive, we dilute our logic and begin to accept myth in its place.  Like a mental deer tick, the myth grows by rooting itself into fragments of logic and reason.  As it grows, it secretes into us an illness, better known as illusionary correlation.  This is a cognitive function where an erroneous inference is made about the relationship of two events.  Even if the two events are infrequent, the mind searches for more pairings of similar events, reenforcing the bond between them.
The stereotyping of autistic individuals as prone to violence has produced an atomic sized social blast that will live a half-life for many years to come.
It’s never too late to say you’re sorry
What can help us heal?  What can help us refocus our attention on the points of the Sandy Hook investigation that may lead to real answers?  How can we restore faith in the autism community?
Easy.  Every major news publication and television broadcast that jumped on the “Adam Lanza had Asperger’s” bandwagon, should issue a public apology to the autism community.  Knee-jerk reactions are expected when dealing with the enormous grief that follows unexplained tragedy, this we understand.  Autistics are human.  Autistics are compassionate, and we are empathetic to the families who lost a loved one.  But these grieving families do not want their loss to be dirtied by hate bantering and stereotyping of a group of citizens.  We all want answers and actions that prevents such violence from happening again, but we don’t want to grow hate.  
The grieving families and the autistic community deserve an apology from all the major news networks and publications.
Autistic communities around the world should bond with a single action
I’m autistic and proud, but I am also deeply hurt by the children who died at Sandy Hook.  Therefore, on Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 9:30 pm Eastern Time, I am going to turn off my outdoor lights and burn three candles on my front porch:
One candle for the victims of Sandy Hook.
One candle for the unity of the autistic community.
One candle for hope.  Hope that love, not fear, will burn brightly and lead our nation into tomorrow.
Autistic or not, I invite you to join me.  Burn your three candles and post the photo of it on my Facebook page.
Let’s show the world we care for this tremendous loss.  Let’s show the world that the autistic community is strong, even in silence. Let’s change the world, one porch at a time.  


I recently posted on Facebook the feelings I am having lately.  Layers of emotions with multiple causes – such as the APA decision to eliminate Asperger’s from the DSM-V, the year of r, 2012, not ending the way I had hoped, changes in my work I cannot control and backlash from my inability to effectively  ask for what I need.

My rant began this way:

Want to know what living with autism can be like some days? Take a day in your life -remove 75% of your income, give yourself a headache, give yourself a stomach pain that gets worse when you are presented with food, surround yourself with people who speak broken English and be sure not to look at them when they speak so that body language is removed from your ability to interpret them. Now, in this setting, go to work, make a living, make friends, and if you have some extra time, remember to build your own self-confidence while having someone come in every half hour to remind you that you are a broken human being (this equals the news media bombardment).
Do this everyday until you break. How long would it take for you to give up?
Despite the gifts autism brings, don’t forget that those with autism you view as “mild” or “looking normal to you” operate under a barrage of sensory and social issues that run like a noisy machine in the background of everything we do. Before you lecture someone with autism about choices they make or how hard they appear to be working, you try and live life they way we do.
People have committed suicide from a condition called tinnitus; a condition which causes a constant ringing in the ears. If tinnitus was my only constant sensory discomfort, I would consider myself lucky.
Be careful who you lecture and who you judge. The surface is a cover, not a window.

This was followed by a day of processing as I tried to understand what is happening to me.  My days seem to shift from feelings of hope to feelings of inadequacy, with no in between.  The confusion has my stomach in knots, causing my diet to run in weird directions as I alternate from starving to hating the sight of food.  I hear vibrations, lights are bothersome, and my asthma is a mess.  Despite a lower income this year, all is going fairly well  – great friends, positive feedback from students, recorded a cd, and published a new book – so, I should be in a good mood, generally speaking.  
Then what is happening to me? 
I know these internal collisions of emotions are typical in people with autism.  Despite my experience and many hours of very helpful therapy, I still get stuck in this vortex – and still seem to never see it coming.  Since the general belief is that autistics don’t experience emotions, the training tends to focus on teaching us how to read other people’s emotions.  There is no effective therapy to date that helps autistics recognize, accept, and regulate their own emotions – or at least there is no effective one for me.
This is when a flood of questions enter my mind.  They are always the same questions:


  • Why do I feel I am pedaling hard but going no where?
  • Why do I believe that I am destine for greatness while at the same time feel too small to reach my dreams?
  • Why can’t I escape this feeling of being trapped?
  • What is wrong with me that I can’t have the job and home life I dream of?
Tomorrow I am going to ease my mind by taking a walk in a place that is familiar and full of positive memories.  I wish I had a streamlined process that would ease this dark side of autism.  There are days…..I just feel stuck.