Yesterday, John Elder Robison gave a talk at William & Mary College.
I brought Captain Comic. We were early. We were very early, and it was beautiful day out, but there were bugs – two bees and a hornet to be exact – that buzzed by us on their way elsewhere, so he wanted to go inside. Of course, I wanted to stay outside. He suffered nobly and drew for as long as he could stand. Then we went inside. There is always a give and take, a finding the balance between the extremes.
Admittedly, I hesitated about bringing him, figuring that during the lecture, the Captain would have a tough time with the crowd full of shifters and breathers, coughers and sneezers for the scheduled hour and a half sit. But by a stroke of luck and a Facebook post in which I tagged JER, we were given seats down front. JER was very friendly to the young aspies in the crowd waiting to get in, and brought them and their people in ahead of the main audience.
Captain Comic did have a time of it before, and after in the book signing line, but he held it together a lot better than I expected or feared. He surprised me during the talk, by being completely riveted by JER. Though Capt and JER have differences in their areas of interest, they have very similar ways about them that buck the usual assumptions about autism – they are both very funny and speak in a booming way, and are very apt to keep right on speaking when they are talking about what interests them. And explosions, Captain Comic’s eyes widened and he laughed a lot when JER talked about explosions, especially the magnesium fire incident when he was teen.
I just hope he didn’t give the Captain any instructionally related ideas.
What I took away from the talk was that Aspergerians are necessary and have always been a part of the general society. The very thing that sets them apart is what can bring them success later in life, even when the social part of it is so hard when they are young. The social isolation and hyperfocus in areas of interest allows for them to spend hours a day learning and doing what others would not. For instance, think of Stonehenge or the pyramids: before there was written language and math, someone had to visualize and execute the exact engineering behind those structures that line up to the stars to determine certain seasons of planting and harvesting. Who do you think had the time and visual thinking to come up with that? That’s right, people on the Autism Spectrum.
Things that stood out for me:
As socially isolated as he was when he was young, JER found an accepting community who appreciated what he could do for them, and accept him the way he was: the “mad dogs and freaks” of the music world. This means, Captain Comic will find his niche, too. I have thought about this before, and talked with him about finding his way among people who will accept him as an illustrator or such in the digital animation studios or Google, etc.
Even after his commercial successes, JER still had an inverted sense of confidence. He knew he was successful, but still felt like he he was screwing up or faking it because he didn’t do things the socially prescribed way. Enough people had responded to him in that regard over the course of lifetime. I see this with the Captain, too. I hope I can be more aware of helping others understand that how he learns and walks through the world is just as acceptable as the way anyone else does. I think there is a growing movement of us more neurotypicals working toward that, including the new program being built at W&M to accommodate students with differences – what brought JER to speak here.
When he figured out how logical good manners were, and made a concerted effort to learn them and use them, that’s when people started choosing to hang out with him. Also when he learned that you almost never get into trouble if you learn to keep your mouth shut. I think these are particularly good for Captain Comic to hear from someone like himself.
JER realized after his brother’s memoir, Running with Scissors came out, the way people responded to it was the exact opposite of what he feared. He knew his family was crazy and weird, but now people approached him and told him their families’ weirdness. Then he realized that that the feelings he had of being a fake or not fitting in were shared by EVERYONE. Everyone feels alone, and reaching out and connecting is what is important to relieve that loneliness.
One of the common misperceptions about autism is that people with it lack emotion or empathy. Honestly, if you meet Captain Comic even once, you would know that is not true in the slightest. Break past those social expectations that he doesn’t meet, and inside is a very loving guy. So everyone, including people with autism, have the same feelings.
JER learned how to not make enemies. This is separate from learning how to make friends, and an important survival skill. It largely entails keeping your mouth shut. Don’t make yourself a target. Bullies will leave you alone. “This one is not good to eat” is the message you will give to bullies if you just keep quiet. So act like a possum and do not draw attention to yourself.
Geeks are valuable.
After the lecture, we stood in line to get my copy of Look Me in the Eye signed, and I picked up his new book, Be Different, which is more of a practical guide to autism and Asperger’s. I have read many practical guides in this area, and if I will enjoy one, it will be his. JER’s books are very anecdotal, which is exactly how I think and talk.
I squeezed the two aspies together for a picture – lo and behold, betwixt their expressions is the cover of Look Me in the Eye! Of course, this is mostly because of the flash and the fact that Captain Comic was well ready to leave.
In the end, I was very glad that I did decide to bring Captain Comic. He surpassed the response I feared, I was able to enjoy the lecture even more by watching his reactions to a lot of what John Elder Robison said. He was very attentive, absolutely riveted, until the very end in the Q&A portion, when one aspie asked about engineering stuff, and that was about when Captain Comic started asking if it was time to leave yet. He had lasted the whole talk, an hour and a half, without a peep. Miraculous, trust me, especially since we had arrived so early and had to wait.
I highly recommend that if John Elder Robison comes to talk in your vicinity, you should make the effort, even if it seems tough, to go see and hear him. He was funny, insightful, passionate and informative, a fantastic speaker on a very timely topic.
And pick up his books. They are well worth the read. He is a great story teller with tales of being on the road with bands like KISS in the 70s. His stories bridge that gap between people of any stripe to say, hey, I can recognize myself in you.