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The #ActuallyAutistic Culture and Identity Project S10

Name, and/or twitter handle: Darren Scothern @Autist_Writer

Pronouns: He/Him

Parent/non-parent: Parent

Age when you selfdx/were diagnosed autistic: Officially diagnosed at age 54.

1.Did you feel you were different from others as a child?

I don’t think that I would have characterised it as feeling different from others when I was a child. Quite often through my life, I’ve wrongly assumed others experienced many of the things I now know to be autistic experiences. But I often felt separate as a child. I often felt misunderstood, excluded, and isolated. This was part of what led to me spending much of my life feeling in some way lesser, and having to fight somewhat aggressively to be on some vague notion of a “par” with others. With hindsight, of course, I know that I was very different from others as a child.

2.Are your parents supportive of you as an autistic individual?

My parents are both deceased. My father died nearly thirty years ago, my mother six years ago. As I was only diagnosed two years ago, and only first got an inkling about autism four years ago, neither of them knew. I had almost nil relationship with my father, who was mainly absent. My mother, however, was always hugely supportive of me, all through my mental health struggles. I’m sure my mother knew there was something different about me, although she was probably barely aware autism was a thing. If my mother were still alive, she would have continued to be 100% behind me. She was loving and supportive, although she had her own issues to deal with. I have become convinced both my mother and father were on the spectrum, completely undiagnosed.

3.How did you determine your ethical system?

As a child, my personal ethics were the ethics of desperation. I did what I had to do to survive, and to stay sane. In truth, that wasn’t much of an ethical system, and if I had continued in that vein into my teenage and adult years, there is no doubt I would have ended up in prison.

In my early teenage years, my mother and elder brother discovered religion, and I think they saw it as a way out of their troubles. I went along for the ride, and was drawn into a bizarre holy-roller Christian sect, filled with people expecting the world to end some time in the next couple of years. For the first time in my life, I started to think properly about right and wrong. Unfortunately, the harsh biblical morality was not a great model, being full of the intolerances that belief system is founded on. The best I can say for it is that it probably helped steer me away from what could have been a truly horrible life.

When I extricated myself from religion, gradually becoming profoundly atheist, my ethical system began to coalesce into something solid and rational. Becoming a parent helped. I’d say my current ethical system is based around tolerance and acceptance of all people, a powerful belief in human equality, and the Kantian notion that you shouldn’t behave in a way that you couldn’t accept from everyone else.

4.In which way does your private self differ from your outward facing front?

From roughly the age of fourteen until my mid-fifties, I unconsciously masked so aggressively that the persona I showed the world was literally nothing like the real me. I painted myself as dynamic, driven, and a “jack the lad”. I was slowly dying on the inside. These days, I think I pretty much show the real me to the world. It has helped coming to terms with myself as an autistic person; understanding what makes me tick. I’m generally quiet, I would say thoughtful. I enjoy my own company, and don’t like being the centre of attention (at least face-to-face). I have a pretty good, if sometimes offbeat, sense of humour. I think most people who know the current me would describe me like that, too.

5.Do you enjoy finding mistakes/errors in the production of films and television...continuity etc.?

No, I don’t enjoy it. It annoys me when I find such things. But I don’t go looking for stuff like that, either. I know autistic people are supposed to be all about the detail, but to be honest I often think in broad strokes and link up conceptual points. So watching a movie, for example, I’m trying to join together the dots of the big concept.

6.What are the top 3 traits you look for in a friend?

What is this “friend” thing you speak of?

I’ve drifted out of the few friendships I had. Actually, I deliberately terminated contact with one group of people I used to socialise with, due to their behaviour toward me. But anyway, to answer the question, I would say, honesty, a willingness to work hard at thinking, and shared interests.

7.What are the top 3 traits you perceive as negative but are willing to overlook in a friend?

I find it difficult to overlook negative traits. I have stopped associating with people in the past because of what I perceive as their negative traits. I guess I could overlook someone liking marmite, which is clearly a negative trait. I could even overlook someone supporting a rival football team. And at a push, I could overlook someone finding Superman more interesting than the 1960’s Spider-Man.

8.What are the top traits you look for in a partner/traits your partner possesses?

I find people who think clearly and have a lot of knowledge very attractive. As I’ve matured, I’ve really come to appreciate traits such as honesty, patience, and humour; these are must-haves for me, now.

9.What would you do with your life if you had unlimited funds?

Unlimited is a very big number. If I’m being honest, I would firstly use some funds to find a way of making my life comfortable and bearable. Buying a secluded house near the sea, and never having to do a day job again would do it for me. But then I’d want to put those unlimited funds to good use. If we are talking genuinely unlimited vast funds, I guess I’d look to employ someone to teach me how to turn those funds into power. Unlimited funds would mean unlimited power. Plato envisaged a society run by philosophers. Shelley said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I’m a philosopher and a poet. I think an autistic philosopher-poet would make a great ruler of the world, and if it were possible to make the world a much better place in such a way, how could you shirk the responsibility?

10.What does freedom mean to you. What does it entail?

Spending a lifetime as autistic but not knowing I was autistic, in a world in which I have never comfortably fit, has left me exhausted. I want a rest. Freedom, for me, would be the financial freedom to be able to give up my job, move to that aforementioned house by the sea, and just read, and write, and think my thoughts.

Freedom also means to me: freedom from oppression, from unfair judgement, freedom from fear, from threat. A fair world is a free world.

11.What does success mean to you?

Honestly, I don’t know. I think you have to break the question down into different contexts. Financial success? See above. Artistic success… I think that would be to know that I am continually improving and discovering; this requires the time and spoons to fuel progression. Romantic success? Finding the partner that will accept the whole me. Culinary success? Being able to prepare a meal without having an anxiety attack.

12.Are you more stable/happier/productive within the structure of a relationship...partner/good friend/long-term roommate?

So far, no.

13.Do you find it stressful to be around other parents at school functions? It’s been a lot of years since I’ve had to do that, but yes, very stressful. I find it stressful being around people generally, and this has become more intense with age.

14.How often do you pretend to not see people you know if you don’t want to talk?

Oh dear. Daily. Are people going to read this?

15.In which areas do you identify the most with other autistic people?

I think my difficulties in understanding the vague nuances, and shifting agendas, and casual misdirections of neurotypical people, leading to what some will characterise as social anxiety, is something I have in common with many. My strong sense of right and wrong is right up there, too. A lot of autistic people I communicate with online talk about their intense special interests, and that is something I identify with strongly.

16.What are the most stressful aspects of parenting an autistic child as an autistic caregiver?

My son is grown up. He is on a waiting list for an autism assessment, but this is something that has only occurred to him since my own diagnosis. I’m 100% certain he is on the spectrum. Raising him, I found any difficulty or problem he encountered felt like a wound in my heart. We have a very strong bond.

17.What are the top 5 things you want your children to know about the world and why?

1. Money is important. If you want to be comfortable in life, learn about money. Financially educate yourself. People who see money as immoral are making a mistake.

2. You must cut off people who think it is okay to hurt you, because if you don’t they will take it as an invitation to hurt you more.

3. Almost anything can be addictive, and almost any addiction can be harmful. This is important, because if you find something enjoyable / exciting, and upsetting at the same time, continuing to do it will lead to trouble.

4. Other people’s opinions of you belong to them, not you. You can’t worry about someone having an unfairly poor opinion of you; that’s their problem, not yours. This can save you a lot of unhappiness.

5. The world is full of randomness, luck, and pure chance. You can never fully insulate yourself from it. But you can try and tilt things slightly your way. Remember this metaphor for life: If you butter your toast from the edges, the middle will take care of itself.

18.Does living off the grid appeal to you and why/why not?

Not fully off the grid, but the idea of living in a fairly isolated place, but with access to more when I need it, is very appealing.

19.What is your favorite style of architecture and why?

I dislike bland, square, concrete-and-steel structures, and pretty much anything post-modern. But I love old, stone-built stuff, whether that is an old cottage, or a grand church or castle, just because of the character of it, and the emotions it evokes. I really love old-fashioned red brick buildings. Red brick buildings in the rain make me happy.

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