FAQ: Ask An Aspie Reality Policy

T.Rob profile photo

Someday someone will take another
decent photo of me. Until then, this is it.

Other web sites have a Privacy Policy.  I have a Reality Policy.  Welcome to my world.

Hi, I’m T.Rob.  Yes, that’s my real name.  The short story is the name was thrust upon me by a manager at a store where I was working a part-time second job and they already had a Rob there.  I resisted but after a year even my family were calling me T.Rob so I finally gave up and embraced the name.  I had no idea at the time it would eventually become a “cool” name after the Internet arrived and added a dot-something to all the other names on the planet.

The etymology of the name provides a hint as to my personal history and perspective.  I have had five different identities in my lifetime.  Four were given to me by other people, three of those against my will and under protest.  The one identity of my own choosing was displaced by the T.Rob identity after only a few years.  I have come to accept reality as being a bit more fluid perhaps than the concept of reality that most people enjoy.  I’ll write about that in detail later.  For now though, I have buried the Reality Policy in a story about why one is needed in the first place.  I hope you find it interesting.

As noted in the intro, I feel the need to record here on the blog my position concerning truth and what we call “objective” reality.  This blog is, after all, essentially a serialized memoir in essay format.  What I’m writing about is presented as a true accounting of my experience.  Furthermore, although I’m posting publicly, the motivation for the writing is to help me sort out the events of my life that I might gain a better understanding of what happened and why.  This purpose is only served if I record the events faithfully as I remember them.

If it weren’t for blogs, I’d be doing this in a paper journal or word processor.  So, why bother to blog then?  The possibility of readers and instantaneous feedback requires a higher standard than I’d set for myself writing in a private journal.  Also, the interactive discussions lead me down paths I might not explore on my own.  Quite simply, you make me write gooder.  Thanks! 😉  Mostly though, blogging is a medium well suited for my communication style and has introduced me to many new friends.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of
Highly Effective People

Over the years I’ve learned that two people can witness the same event, come away with two very different impressions, and yet both still be right.  Steven Covey has a great example of this in the 7 Habits book where he presents an ambiguous line drawing.  Fill in a few lines and the drawing is of an ancient, haggard woman with a hooded shawl.  Fill the missing lines in differently and the drawing is of a vivacious young woman with a fashionable feathered hat.  After priming an audience with different versions of the detailed drawings and then showing them the ambiguous drawing, the participants found it very difficult to see the image they were not primed with.  Half saw an old woman while the other half saw a young woman.  Both insisted the others were wrong when, in fact, both were right.

Another aspect of my experience that needs some explanation is that at one point I suffered from paranoid delusions and hallucinations.  If we had shared a meal back then, I might have seen someone who, from your perspective, wasn’t there.  But the person I saw was as real to me as the table, the chairs, the food, you sitting across from me,  or anything else in our mutually shared reality.  We witnessed the same event (lunch), recalled significantly different versions of it, and yet both of us would have been truthful in our recollection.  You might object that my hallucination wasn’t real.  I counter with the argument that reality is a collage the brain assembles after filtering out what it perceives as noise from our sensory inputs and combining what’s left.  Our individual realities never precisely match, but they do overlap and have enough common points of reference that we can usually treat them as equivalent.

However, this is one way in which autists and neurotypicals misunderstand each other.  Our sensory input stream, the items from that stream that are prioritized by brain’s filter, and our subsequent processing of that input, are all so different from each other that our individual realities can be significantly mismatched.  The intersection that forms our mutually shared reality is relatively smaller than that between two neurotypical persons.  You and I have portions of our individual reality that do not intersect and which lie entirely outside of the other person’s perceived reality. In my experience, the underlying assumption that we all share the same mutual reality is one of the primary causes of friction between neurotypicals and autists.

If our realities differ so greatly as to become obvious, and if it occurs in a reliable and consistent pattern, we give the condition a name.  Synesthesia would be one example of this, however it is merely a specialized subset of autism when considered from this perspective.  In fact, the concept forms a useful definition of the term “autism spectrum.”  The difference between a high-functioning Aspie on one end of the spectrum and the non-communicative autistic person at the other can be expressed as the degree to which their realities are out of register with those of a neurotypical person.  Similarly, one of the defining criteria of the neurotypical population is the strong correlation and large area of intersection across their mutually shared realities.

Reality... What a concept

Reality… What a concept

In my case, I had undiagnosed Asperger’s and epilepsy as a child, and then undiagnosed Asperger’s and delusional paranoia as a teen.  My reality was definitely out of register with those around me.  Since I was completely unaware of this and still assumed we all shared the same reality, I did not understand the basis for the misunderstandings between me and all my family and friends.  My version of events was so often out of sync with theirs, and theirs usually in sync with one another, that the pattern contributed to my paranoia.  We both saw the same event so when the other person reported it differently, when in fact everyone consistently reported it differently, I was certain they were all colluding against me.

In addition to all this, I do not recall time in a linear fashion, but rather as disconnected episodes.  I have tracked down many source documents to build a timeline of major events for my own reference, but undoubtedly will still recall many details out of order.  However, it is the order in which I recall the events that determines how they impact me, so I again propose that recording what I perceive provides more useful insight than unraveling the threads to provide a strict reconciliation to someone else’s “objective” reality.

I expect that it will be impossible to avoid identification of family members in my writing.  However, everyone else will be referred to using pronouns or pseudonyms to preserve their privacy.  Most characters from my childhood who show up in my writing don’t deserve the consideration (unless they have been ethically cleansed in the intervening years).  I would be surprised if any of them actually found their way here, but if they did they would surely recognize themselves in the writing.  They would just as surely not perceive themselves to have been as casually sadistic as I describe.  After her son put me in the hospital, my attacker’s mother explained the incident as “oh well, boys will be boys.”  My decision to protect identities was not made to facilitate embellishment.  By profession I am a computer security and privacy specialist and am simply honoring the same principles to which I’d hold any publisher or vendor accountable.

So, here is my promise to my readers and myself.  What I write here is true to the best of my recollection.  I expect many elements would not reconcile precisely to recollections of others but I do not believe that our accounts must necessarily be mutually exclusive.  As individuals we experience reality differently.  That is not a character flaw.  It is simply a fundamental part of the autistic experience.


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