Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Masks and communications

While most of my readers have been living under various forms of covid-19 restrictions for upwards of eighteen months, for us Kiwis in Aotearoa New Zealand, and especially outside of Auckland it is a novel experience. Social distancing and masks have not been everyday parts of our lives until around 2 months ago when the delta variant finally succeeded in breaching our border security measures and is proving impossible to eradicate, unlike previous variants.

Mask wearing is now mandatory for people aged 12 and over when taking public transport or visiting businesses, and recommended when away from one’s home or “social bubble”. Personally, apart from yet being unable to find a means to avoid the fogging of my glasses, I find my stress level definitely rises to the point where it can’t be ignored after about 30 minutes of continuous mask wearing, and I need to remove it, even if only for a minute, to restore myself to something resembling normalcy. I can usually achieve that by retiring to the car or finding an out of the way park seat or equivalent where the mask can be briefly removed in safety.

However, that’s not the most serious downside to mask wearing. I have always had impaired hearing. I was diagnosed as having 70%-90% hearing loss when I was around 7 or 8. Normally I can get by reasonably well, and when a word or two can’t be clearly recognised, I can usually deduce it by context. It’s only just in the past week that it has really dawned on me how reliant I am on lip reading as an essential component of my ability to understand the spoken word.

I’ve recently had several occasions where it has been necessary to converse with a shop assistant while making a purchase. In one case it was a quiet environment but I was unable to recognise even half the words spoken by the assistant. Often I was unable to understand even the gist of what he said. By the end of the transaction I suspect he was just as frustrated as I was about the slow progress of our conversation. I found the entire process embarrassing and somewhat humiliating.

Later in the week, I visited a somewhat noiser shop where I had gone to pick up some items I had bought and paid for online. Sure I could have had them delivered, but the delivery would have cost more than the products. I’m not a penny pincher, but we do have a fixed and somewhat limited budget to live on. In theory I should have been in and out of the shop inside of a minute, but it was not to be. It didn’t help that the online instructions for collecting online purchases were incorrect for the local branch. In fact it may have been less confusing if there had been no instructions at all.

After waiting at the counter under a sign reading “Collect online purchases here” and seemingly being ignored, I sought out a shop assistant and explained why I was there. To cut a long story short, it took over half an hour to collect my purchase and only then because I finally resorted to seeking yes or no replies or asking them to point or make a specific gesture order for them to communicate with me. At no time did it occur to them to initiate non-spoken communication. I found I had to give specific instructions. Even when I discovered that where I was waiting for my pickup is no longer applicable, and then asking where I should go, no one thought to point in the appropriate direction until I specifically asked them to point with their arm/hand/finger in which direction I should go.

I’m not sure what sort of privileged lives the young people working in that shop have “endured”, but it was apparent to me that they wouldn’t understand the irony of directing a wheelchair bound person to take the stairs to a different floor or instructing a blind person to read a sign painted on the wall. I would have thought that people with disabilities are encountered often enough that most non-disabled folk would have some level of understanding or empathy. Apparently not.

Come to think of it, while I don’t consider being autistic as being disabled, some of the hyposensitivities and hypersensitivities that result from being autistic can be made disabling by a lack of empathy, and sometimes by antagonism in the 99% of the population who are neurotypical. So in hindsight I really shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of understanding or empathy I have received over the past week or so due to no longer being able to augment spoken conversation by lip reading.

Perhaps I am on more common ground with neurotypicals when it come to reading facial expressions of those who are masked. I’ve heard and read many complaints about how much more likely it is to misunderstand someone or be misunderstood when masks cover so much of the face. I’ve queried a few acquaintances about this, and they tell me that it does reduce the amount of non-verbal communication they receive. The amount of perceived loss seems to vary considerably. When pressed, it’s varied from “some” to “heaps” (a lot).

Most people don’t think about how much body language and facial expressions contribute to spoken communication until it’s brought to their attention or they find it missing from others or they realise their own intentions are not always fully understood. The necessity to wear masks is bringing the significance of non-verbal forms of communication to the attention of some of the more socially aware folk.

My own (admittedly very anecdotal) investigation suggests that people rely on the eyes as much, if not more, than other facial expressions. So while a mask can reduce the amount of non-verbal information received, it doesn’t eliminate it. If anyone has tried the Mind in the eye test, they will realise how much most people can read from looking at the eyes alone. So spare a moment to consider the situation I now find myself in.

I do very poorly when reading facial expressions. I can recognise a few basic facial expressions, but if I rely solely on the eyes I’m lost. The average for adults taking the Mind in the eye test is 26 out of a possible score of 36, but varies from 17 to 35. Women average slightly higher than men. For autistics, the average is 22. I’ve tried the test many times, and the best I have ever done is 17 out of the possible score of 36. Typically I hover around the score that might result from random selection – a one in four chance of getting the correct answer for any given question – 9 out of 36. In other words, I haven’t a clue how to read eyes.

It is becoming clear to me that what emotions I can read from the face depend almost entirely on the mouth and now that they are effectively hidden behind masks, I am blind to emotions being expressed unless someone describes their emotion(s) in words. I’m really not sure how I can effectively remedy the the losses I now realise I am faced with, as I don’t see the likelihood of masks being done away with for some considerable time, if at all.

I’ve spent seventy years learning how to limit social faux pas, and more importantly, how to recognise them when they occur so that I can take remedial action. I can foresee that mask wearing will set me back decades. Perhaps it’s time I seriously thought about becoming a hermit as a full time occupation.


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We All Need to Work More Autistically — Autism and Expectations

I, and I suspect many others on the autism spectrum, have found alternative forms of communications forced on society by the current pandemic less threatening, more comfortable and less open to miscommunication (from my perspective) than the usual face-to-face forms of communication that most neurotypical people engage in. As the post I’ve linked to below discusses, the way autistic people typically communicate can be advantageous even to those not on the spectrum, especially in the “new normal” that’s likely to be around for some considerable time.

The other day I was at work and was hit by a revelation. It had been nagging at me for a while – I could feel that something had shifted. But I never would have predicted that I would be facing the world of work with a social advantage due to my autism. I’ve had […]

We All Need to Work More Autistically — Autism and Expectations


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Not knowing what you don’t know.

Lyric Holmans has released a Youtube clip explaining why she finds people overwhelming. You can view the clip and read a transcription on her blog. Like her, I find people can be overwhelming, and the reasons are similar – non-vocal communications.

While humans may be the only species to have developed a language, all vertebrates and many invertebrates communicate in various ways with their own species, and to a lesser extent other species. And while non-vocal communication may take second place to spoken (or written) communication in humans, it remains an important factor in our everyday communications.

For the first 60 years of my life, I was totally unaware that language (spoken or written) was complemented by other forms of communication, namely body language and facial expressions. I’m not alone. Many people don’t realise that body language exists, but nevertheless, they use it and read it every day. It’s instinctive to them. For many autistics, including myself, its not. Hence the title of this article.

During those first 60 years, I was able to read body language in domestic pets – better than most people in fact – in babies and to a lesser extent, toddlers. But apart from the way lips form with a smile or laughter I was unaware that the face, especially the eyes, can convey a whole raft of emotions and ideas. Even so, I was unable to distinguish between a grin and a grimace. I was completely unaware that humans also used posture, movement of body and hands, even vocal pitch and volume to supplement the words they use.

Now that I do know that a significant part of human communication is non-vocal, I’m able to look for it, and that in itself can be overwhelming. In the first place, making a conscious effort to look for non-vocal communication requires effort, so much so, that sometimes I forget to listen to the actual words being spoken. And then I’m always asking myself whether or not a particular facial or body movement is indeed intended (intentionally or not) to communicate something. And if it is intended to communicate something, what exactly?

I managed to survive the first sixty years of my life, more or less intact, not knowing that body language and facial expressions play a vital role in interpersonal communications. I’m yet to be persuaded that knowing it exits at all, let alone its importance, makes my communication with others, as individuals or groups, any less overwhelming. In my case it might actually make it more so. Group dynamics is another mystery to me (Lyric touches on it in the post linked to above), but that’s a topic for another day.


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The Case for a Non-Commercial Public Broadcaster — Peter Davis NZ

Once again Peter Davis has reflected on a topic that has been on my mind for some time – public broadcasting in the online multimedia age. It’s a topic worthy of discussion particularly in light of the trend towards the polarisation of ideas and beliefs.

The Government recently established a working group to look at the possibility of establishing a new public broadcasting entity. At present Radio New Zealand (RNZ) is almost the only agency that adheres to a public broadcasting mandate largely free of commercial imperatives. Television New Zealand (TVNZ) is in public ownership, but in all but name […]

The Case for a Non-Commercial Public Broadcaster — Peter Davis NZ


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It’s official: Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny are essential workers

While I do have some minor niggles with the management style of our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it’s quite evident that her degree in communications has put her in good stead during times of crisis – the Christchurch mosque shootings, and now COVID-19 being two examples.

Sometimes it’s the response to “less important” matters that shows true leadership and an example of this is her taking time to send a personal message to children in her post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday:

You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers, but as you can imagine at this time of course they are going to be potentially quite busy at home with their family as well and their own bunnies.

And so I say to the children of New Zealand if the Easter Bunny doesn’t make it to your household, then we have to understand that it is a bit difficult at the moment for the Bunny to perhaps get everywhere.”

But I have a bit of an idea that maybe in lieu of the Bunny being able to make it to you home, maybe you could create your own Easter hunt for all the children in your neighbourhood?

So if you are one of those homes that’s had a teddy in your front window, maybe draw an Easter egg and pop it into your front window and help children in your neighbourhood with their own Easter egg hunt – because the Easter Bunny might not get everywhere this year.

post-Cabinet media briefing 6 April 2020


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wikipedia.org Article for Naoki Higashida

This is one of a number of articles I intend to re-blog opposing Wikipedia editorial policy that promotes “the complete erasure of living, breathing, autistic human beings and their experiences from the world’s largest encyclopedia”.

The Wikipedia.org article for Naoki Higashida was removed. In protest, The Aspergian is publishing it on our site.

Source: wikipedia.org Article for Naoki Higashida (3 minute read)


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wikipedia.org Article on Amy Sequenzia

This is one of a number of articles I intend to re-blog opposing Wikipedia editorial policy that promotes “the complete erasure of living, breathing, autistic human beings and their experiences from the world’s largest encyclopedia”.

When non-speaking autistics are given tools and choices for ways to communicate, to express themselves, they are empowered to become the authors of their own narratives.  In doing so, the power to own someone else’s story and control the autonomy of non-speakers is removed from institutions, systems, and individuals.  Because of this, corporations, “charities,” and…

Source: wikipedia.org Article on Amy Sequenzia (5 minute read)


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Wikipedia.org Article on Lucy Blackman

This is one of a number of articles I intend to re-blog opposing Wikipedia editorial policy that promotes “the complete erasure of living, breathing, autistic human beings and their experiences from the world’s largest encyclopedia”.

Wikipedia editors have gotten many autistic nonspeaker’s pages removed from the site. We are republishing the pages in protest.

Source: Wikipedia.org Article on Lucy Blackman (3 minute read)


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wikipedia.org Article on Tito Mukhopadhyay

This is one of a number of articles I intend to re-blog opposing Wikipedia editorial policy that promotes “the complete erasure of living, breathing, autistic human beings and their experiences from the world’s largest encyclopedia”.

Tito Mukhopadhyay is a non-speaking autistic author and poet. His page was removed by Wikipedia vandals. In protest, The Aspergian is publishing them here.

Source: wikipedia.org Article on Tito Mukhopadhyay