In April 2020, when the Netherlands just entered into a “smart” lockdown, I wrote the following blog for the Art of Autism website. It offers an autistic perspective on staying at home, and now that we seem to be opening up again, it also serves as a reminder to myself, to create a “new normal” with all I enjoyed during the lockdown.
For “UP”, the publication of the Dutch organization Lister, I wrote this piece on autism and identity, in which I discuss forming an identity and expectations, prejudices about autism, and having an “autistic identity”. The Dutch (slightly shorter) version can be read here. All comments are very welcome.
A ‘90’s schoolyard, somewhere in Suburbia. The children are happily playing soccer, with their teachers as referees. But one chubby girl sits aside. She is not joining at all, not even looking. She is playing with a stick, quite monotonously and repetitively trying to draw perfect straight lines in the air. “You see, we just cannot have her join…” – the teacher explained to the girl’s father. “She doesn’t understand the rules and will just try to get the ball in order to bounce it and roll around with it, refusing to let go. Then of course, the other children will get annoyed and start kicking her. So that is why we as teachers decided that she should be on the side, so that the other kids can enjoy their game.” The father shrugged. “Well, if she likes to play with that stick, let her do so.” The chubby girl pretended not to have overheard this conversation and continued her stick play, striking and cutting through the air, imagining herself to be fighting alongside Xena Warrior Princess, or as the fourth Samurai Pizza Cat or the fifth Ninja Turtle.
I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it.
(Chapter 12, paragraph 9)
According to Dr. Frankenstein’s “monster” (Mary Shelley). Communication is complex and does not come naturally for everyone. Personally, I often feel as though I am a misfit, someone described by Temple Grandin & Oliver Sacks as “an anthropologist from Mars”, and by me as a misplaced alien. That feeling comes mostly during communication.
Deciding on topics for the assignments of my studies in neuropsychology are an easy task for me. I took up this learning because I wanted to understand the autistic brain. Now that we are in the modules regarding aural processing, it feels only natural that I – as an autistic musicologist and musician – write about the autistic brain on music. Hashtag “cognitive music science” or “psychology of music” or “neuromusicology”. But what exactly do those terms mean?
One of my best friends is a true activist. He stands on the barricades for equality, for better wages for workers, for a basic income, to solve the climate crisis and more. I admire that enormously. Because of my autism, I am scared to death of large crowds of people. The only moments that I dare to face them is when I can perform—be it for hundreds or even thousands of people in a church, concert hall or stadium—because then they are there and I am here, on stage: sheltered, secluded, and safe. Sometimes I blame myself for being too cowardly to stick my neck out. But then I realize that I have a softer, quieter form of resistance: my writing.