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  • Category Archives Lessons
  • Lesson: At the Store

    Sometimes people on the spectrum’s mannerisms mimic shoplifters.  Follow these tips to be safer.  These tips apply for anyone, especially anyone who is not clean cut, neurotypical and white.

    • If possible don’t bring a backpack into a store.  It raises suspicion.
    • Never put merchandise you are going to purchase in your cloths or jacket pockets.  You may forget it on the way out of the store.
    • Always have a question ready in case an employee asks you if you need help.  A lot of times they are watching for shoplifting.
    • The answer to, “do you want a bag for this”, is always yes.  Sometimes you will be able to purchase things in a different area of a store (for example the electronics section at Meijer).  You always need to have a bag with a receipt in it because this shows onlookers you made the purchase.  You could get stopped without a bag and if you lost your receipt you could be in big trouble.

    The store (particularly big box stores) are not a kind place for those on the spectrum with the crowds, fluorescent lights, and store equipment beeping their trouble tones everywhere.



  • Creativity Comment

    Great comment by Josh on a NYTimes creativity article:

    Unless he’s one of a very lucky few, the creative person will be punished for his creativity at every stage of his life. School rewards students only for completing simple exercises according to schedule. At work, gifts are taken from the creator while most of the profit and credit accrue to others. If the creator is too good, he will be misunderstood. If he is not, he will fail.

    Creativity and talent do have their own rewards, but creativity is a cruel task master, since the creative person must create, and modern society offers relatively few opportunities and rewards for doing so.



  • Lesson: Bluntness Threshold

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    You can’t ascertain the exact meaning of any statement without taking the person into account.  Some people will be blunt in most situations while others won’t until facing some grave situation.  So one person’s bluntness verses another’s is not an apples to apples comparison.  For example the president of a company might tell his employees that the business was financially sound despite its problems.  He didn’t necessarily lie about the problems, just played them down because that was what his shareholders and customers expected him to do.  One day he calls all his employees into a meeting and tells them how bad things really are.  And you know him well enough to know that him being blunt about this means that the company is on the verge of bankruptcy.

    This gets even messier when we add that everybody will interpret your bluntness in a different way depending on what level of it is tolerated in the subculture they belong to.  Being on the spectrum often makes us more blunt and less able to feel out others’ tolerance for it.  For example you’re in a room and you notice a woman with burns on her neck and you point that out.  She gets offended and hurt and others echo the sentiment that she was in the right.

    Many of us (or at least me) like it when people are blunt to us so we don’t understand “social grace”.  For example for most of my life I have had really thick glasses.  When I was a kid other kids would ask about it, I’d explain my eye problem, and they would be fine with it.  As an adult almost nobody asks but most people treat me differently.  I know this because for eight years of my life I wore contacts that made me look pretty normal and the treatment difference was very noticeable.



  • Lesson: Metadata

    Often in social interactions the metadata is the most important and poignant part of the interaction (metadata is the data that precedes and describes the main data).  In the case of social interactions the metadata are things like your age, your gender, your looks, and your social status.  Depending on what metadata you possess you will be treated very differently.  This will happen before you have a chance to open your mouth.  What comes out of your mouth is often the least important thing because you have already been judged.  People don’t like to admit this because we are taught that one is judged by the content of their character (which includes what comes out of one’s mouth) not what they have to offer.

    The metadata goes into serious overdrive when attempting any type of mating interaction.  In these cases whether or not someone communicates is communication in and of itself.  The content of said communication is less important.



  • Lesson: Getting at the Truth

    Words and generalizations are a match made in heaven.  You ask people a question like “does status really matter” and you will get the standard therapeutic B.S.  The point is, almost like the doctor knee toy hammering test, people have an autonomous dissembling reflex.  You need to beat this.  The important point to learn is the truth bubbles up extemporaneously, almost like a Freudian slip, you generally can’t get an honest answer by trying to get at it directly.

    When I went to a psychiatrist in Wisconsin they gave me a bipolar worksheet (because I was a bipolar).  One of the worksheets was a checklist for looking for signs of mania.  A lot of them were the typical fare, like were you happy for no reason, or did you think people could read your mind.  There was one that I was particularly drawn to.  It said, “I thought I could change the world”.  Implying that, of course you can’t.

    If the general is a person, the specific is an alien that bursts out of her chest (I didn’t see the Alien movies but that’s about all I know about them).  I wanted to live on my own and asking wasn’t getting me anywhere so I found a specific place that was for rent.  That forced my parents’ hand and they said I could not live on my own.  I wasn’t satisfied with the answers I was getting from people with regards to status really mattering.  So I spent $8 to reserve a place at a Wheaton alumni gathering (I went to that school and it’s pretty selective so alumni are generally very vocationally successful).  My parents wouldn’t give me a ride there because they knew how bad I would be treated (an ignored email from a former close friend from college who dropped out of my life because of low status portended to this).

    The point is, the therapeutic-industrial complex has made finding the truth more difficult but you can beat it if you find creative ways to tease it out.

    Also the therapeutic-industrial complex would tell me to give people the benefit of the doubt and not accuse them of ignoring me for being low status.  This is on purpose.  They are all about shielding people of power and privilege.  The good old Calvinist depravity of man idea just doesn’t serve those in power well anymore.



  • Lesson: Friendship Window of Opportunity

    People give you a (often vanishingly small) window of opportunity to prove you are worth their acceptance/friendship. Once this window of opportunity closes it’s pretty useless to even engage them. The window’s size varies from person to person. Some people will notice your awkwardness or uncool cloths and immediately disengage communication. Others will probe you a little to see if you share some of their interests and back away if you don’t. Therapists will tell you that in social situations you shouldn’t be so self-conscious because people aren’t thinking about you. In a way this is true—they aren’t having any novel thoughts about you. However, every interaction with you they have are informed by the split second they made up their mind about you in the moment where that window of opportunity closed and they decided to reject you.

    An example: you are a junior in high school and it’s your first day of Spanish class. The person behind you is being friendly to you because you both beaten Skyrim and unlocked most of the Steam achievements. These conversations go on a couple of days. However, a few days in you are having a stomach ache and ask the teacher if you can use the restroom. She says no and then you have somewhat of an outburst because it should make sense to her that crapping in the toilet rather than on the floor is the better of the two options. After this outburst your potential friend only gives you one or two word answers to your attempts at socializing. Your window of opportunity has closed.

    It goes without saying that in the window of opportunity a lot of people are just looking for a reason to reject you. This is because while some people value common interest and virtue, most value adherence to social norms and social status above all else.

    Those in power strongly disapprove of the reality that people give you a window of opportunity to get to know them (and any efforts to do so after this window has closed are futile). This is because a lot of what keeps a person in line in social situations is the hope that, by behaving, he can earn the respect and friendship of one or more of his peers. When this hope is taken out of the equation, there is no real incentive to conform.

    I can remember the end of high school at a school picnic, I knew I had no chance at being accepted by any of the guys. So I actually chased butterflies.

    Also, after giving up on caring (after eclipsing people’s window of opportunity), these people will jerk the hope chain.  They will claim that they would have accepted you if you would have just acted according to their wishes just a little bit longer.  This is to try to get you to feel remorseful because that there was some hope of them engaging you positively left (when there really wasn’t).



  • Lesson: You are not on the Star Trek Enterprise

    I love Star Trek.  It seems like every episode there is some kind of crisis and the captain and crew have to use logic and ingenuity to solve it.  There are even Vulcans on the original and Voyager who are super logical and whose logic is valued and often acted upon by the captain and crew.  Of course there is a chain of command but it is generally a meritocracy where the people with the best ideas get their ideas acted upon.

    Real life is not like the Star Trek Enterprise at all.  The biggest thing you have to take into account are people’s often fragile egos.  When given a task they may say their goal is to get it done in the most logical and efficient manner but generally the route to this getting done cannot damage their ego in the process.  If the best route involves the ego being damaged, the second-best route will be taken.  This is a hard concept to explain, even neurotypicals are left in the dark on what will trigger a threat to someone’s ego because the factors vary from person to person.  I will try to give a couple of examples.

    You are doing a group project for a college class where you have to present a poster collage on geological processes.  You were the one responsible for creating the diagrams and—thanks to your talent in Illustrator—whipped up some great content.  You emailed high resolution versions of the diagrams to the group leader who was going to put together the presentation.  On the last night of the project after seeing the final put-together draft you notice that the printed out diagrams are blurry and have JPEG artifacts on them.  Apparently the leader must have scaled them down prematurely.  Now you are left in a quandary.  Do you confront the group leader about it and tell him to redo the diagrams or do you stay quiet.  The former will inconvenience him and (more importantly) hurt his ego.  When you confront him about this his mind doesn’t say, “boy I’m glad you caught the error, I want the best possible finished product”, it more likely says, “This nerd is judging my poor performance with computer graphics programs.  If I redo the project it will not only take a couple hours of my time but it will show that he is smarter than me and that makes me uncomfortable”.

    Another example: you are working at a hospital doing Information Technology, integrating the new digital medical records into the hospital’s workflow.  One of the doctors is having trouble with the system.  He frequents the floor you do most of your work on and you often see him trying to do things that you could easily help him with.  You have offered him help multiple times but every time he has declined.  What’s going on here?  What you have to understand here society is very stratified—there is definitely a chain of command though it’s not explicitly denoted like in Star Trek.  The doctor is on a completely different (and much higher) social plane than you.  Accepting your help might be the most logical thing he could do to better himself but in his mind it would be deferring to someone on a much lower plane than him.  In Star Trek the most logical solution would bubble up the chain of command anyway but in real life it usually doesn’t work that way.



  • Lesson: People Will Not Give You Error Messages

    If you do any kind of programming or even surf the web enough, you will run into error messages.  Usually these error messages will give you an indication of what is going wrong.  For example, when Dropbox failed the other night and I clicked on a video of mine that was hosted there it gave me a message about the server having trouble.  Because of the message’s specificity I knew that that file probably was still on the server, it was just that Dropbox was having problems.

    Now imagine if I clicked on that Dropbox link and it just gave me a white screen.  Imagine if it gave me a white screen even when Dropbox was working but the file requested was not found.  This is what people are like, especially people you don’t know well.  They will not give you an error message—tell you what you did wrong.  They will simply ignore you (and maybe cut you off) when you do something that merits their disapproval   They do this for a couple reasons.  First of all, there is a principle rooted in animal training that all kinds of attention (both positive and negative) is interpreted as positive by animals (and by extension humans).  So any contact a person gives you, even if it’s negative, is an invitation to engage them further.  Secondly, neurotypicals are afraid they will offend you if they are too direct because if someone were to be so direct to them they would take offense.