Hello again, readers of Cortical Chauvinism.
It’s Tim Turner (you know, the vision therapy guy from a while back). I am a 39 year-old man with autism who lives in Texas. I have a book manuscript about my life with Asperger’s/mild autism and how vision therapy has changed (and continues to change) my life. It will now have to drastically overhauled after all I have experienced since my last guest post in 2018.
For those of you who don’t know, vision therapy is a specialty within optometry that consists of physical exercises and the use of devices such as prisms that help with vision problems that are often present in autism. As I have come to learn from experience, vision therapy is also greatly and deeply psychological in nature. I have had to go some extra miles to make vision therapy even more effective in the case of my mild autism. It continues to be an incredibly long journey, but I have never given up.
This is an update in which I will talk a little bit about how vision therapy has been going for me along with other thoughts. I know it’s been nearly three years, but I thought I would tell you how things are going. It’s overwhelmingly good news!
The reason I have been silent for all this time has been because vision therapy has been working a lot more slowly on my mild autism than I would like. Nevertheless, it is still working. More and more often, I get far beyond just a glimpse of what clear vision looks like. The floaters in my visual field are breaking up. My stereo vision is incredibly solid and the finer details are finally coming to me naturally (the last thing to come in vision therapy).
Let me repeat: Fine details are coming in and are fairly cleared up!
Every time in the recent past when I have gotten flashes of clear vision, I would get excited about it and talk about it on social media. I would then become disappointed when my vision didn’t stay clear for too long. I felt a lot like I was being fake because I hadn’t reached the end as soon as I had wanted to. I finally decided that I would stop talking about it and work until I get the results everyone wants (but ultimately what I want for myself): 100% clear, flawless and effortless vision.
Therefore, “stop talking about it and do it” has been my motto since my last post, so a lot has happened (including some developments that I can’t quite discuss yet). It has been a difficult fight since I last posted here. However, this time I’m more confident than ever that I am stepping (running, perhaps?) closer toward that final moment where my vision snaps into place. I know that that day is much closer than I have previously thought or believed.
Until that glorious day, many things sustain me.
First of all, anime, manga, video games (and now Virtual YouTubers) still keep me going. I live for the moments when I can see my favorite characters (or any character, for that matter) pop out and have volume to them. They actually stand out in space, too! I love how the subtle shadows and shading make things like parts of their hair appear closer. For those of you who know me well or have read from this site, anime and manga are huge passions of mine. I incorporate anime into my vision therapy because it makes me happy and brings a huge smile to my face.
This leads me to a second thing that keeps me going. It is a large and constantly growing hope where only despair had reigned. Until very recently, I felt constant despair about how my life has gone until recently. I wrote about this some in my free speech article here: https://corticalchauvinism.com/2018/06/05/the-importance-of-free-speech-in-autism-discourse-and-beyond-a-curious-case-for-compassion-and-a-stepping-stone-to-finding-your-place-in-the-world/
The story goes that in my early 20s, I wanted to get a Japanese degree in Austin, Texas and then go to Japan. I also had gotten the attention of an American patent translator who lived in Japan (who happened to be visiting his mother and saw a translation I did. I am still friends with him to this day). My desire to live and work in Japan grew. Unfortunately, in 2001, I began a downward spiral resulting from some terrible events. Depression kicked in and slowly took me away from what I liked. I then ran into a particularly nasty group of people who took advantage of my then unknown disability, telling me that all my life’s problems were caused by my love of anime and manga. For nearly seven years, they mentally and emotionally tortured me over my anime fandom that most likely led to the catastrophic failure of my vision in late 2006 at the age of 25. After all was said and done for that part of my life, I suffered from very deep post-traumatic stress disorder.
I used to feel bad about what I couldn’t control (that is, my past). Not anymore. I don’t feel angry at my former abusers anymore. It’s even getting difficult for me to be mad at my poor vision itself. I have really come to see and appreciate even more value in what I gained during my 20s and 30s (which are some of the best friends that anyone could ask for, regaining my self-worth, etc.) It’s also surreal to observe myself remaining calm in situations that, in the past, would have had me hyperventilating in extreme anxiety. It’s like the emotion wants to start, but can’t take hold. It can’t stick to my mind like it could even a year ago (How far I’ve come since I last posted!). This is because I’ve found other ways to supplement my vision therapy in addition to adding my passions to it.
To put it shortly, emotions must change before vision changes.
In light of many dissipating negative emotions, I have a growing suspicion that many idiopathic cases of mild autism might be caused by extreme emotional problems that can impede motor function. It’s more than just primitive reflexes at this point. Because I have exposed even deeper roots of my disability, neurodiversity makes almost no sense to me now. I agree only with its surface messages at this point, which I have come to distill as “be kind to everyone because everyone is different; therefore don’t be mean to people who are different” and “help us because we’re disadvantaged.” I wager to believe that many “neurotypical” people would agree that it is compassionate to help those less advantaged than themselves. The more I shed my disability, the more I can see the reasoning of typically-developing people.
This brings me to an epiphany I had some time ago (another thing that keeps me going). I have asked myself so many times for so long: “Why have I had to suffer like I have both before I knew about my autism and while I have been undergoing treatment?” I sincerely believe that the reason that it has taken me so long to accomplish this Herculean task is so I can remember what it’s like to be autistic while not having the symptoms. I know it very well could be helpful in developing treatments and maybe improve current lines of treatment. If I can help it, I don’t want other people with autism to suffer like I did by having their dreams and ambitions denied them by an invisible disability that either flies under their radar or limits them through thinking that it’s an immutable part of their essence.
It’s incontrovertible that treatment is necessary for many – if not most – people with autism. The platitude of “we want treatment, but not erasure of autism” is the most absurd wishful thinking I have ever encountered.
People who glibly spout nonsense like this have no idea what they’re missing out on. How can I count the ways? It’s bold to finally be able to assert myself more. It’s empowering to be able to put my foot down. It’s connecting to be able to make eye contact more. It’s liberating to be more and more secure about who I am. It’s comforting to feel better regardless of what’s happening outside.
All of this while keeping my personality and Otaku (a word for anime geek, along with Weeb/Weeaboo) spirit intact. Therapy need not eliminate what makes you happy and sing.
It’s kind of irritating to see the one-sidedness of the neurodiversity view that autism is somehow an immutable part of a person. What do you think you’re doing when you get rid of poor vision? What do you think you’re doing when you’re getting rid of emotional problems? Motor problems? Primitive reflexes? What advantage is autism when your social thinking is slower than the average typically-developing person? What advantage is autism when you’re unable to observe the world and absorb its knowledge quickly? These are all part of a long list of outward symptoms of autism.
What happens when you get rid of the root of these problems? You get to a point where you could lose an autism diagnosis. That may very well happen when I am through with this journey.
The final (and most obvious) things that keep me going are the people who support me: my family and friends. Many of my best friends today are people I would have never met had I gone through with my original life plan. They helped me regain my self-worth. They comforted me and made me laugh. Old friends like my translator friend offer their support, as well My family has done the same and offered me much love and support. If it were not for the love my family and the friendships I have forged, I venture that I would not have made it to this point.
Combined, these multiple factors sustain me and I no longer feel like a failure of a human being. Make no mistake. My life had value before my autism was treated. There is value in the lives of people with untreated autism. But why limit that value and not expand it? It may take time, but it’s worth it to treat it and try to eliminate disability. (This isn’t some indicator that I somehow hate people with untreated autism. Far from it.)
With all that said, I turn 40 later this year. I’m using my newer therapeutic techniques to great effect and hitting my disability hard because I’ll be damned if autism takes any significant part of my 40s (or the rest of my life) away like it did my 20s and 30s. I will get something resembling what I have always wanted out of life. I will fully regain that language talent I lost. I will gain full stereoacuity and crystal clarity,
I will slay my disability and desecrate its grave.
Ultimately, that day to come is the biggest thing that keeps me going.