Allistic parents will tend to have trouble fully understanding what is happening to an autistic child during a meltdown, especially since it is an emotionally fraught event for all concerned.

Since I have been experiencing meltdowns for over seventy years now, I thought it might be useful to offer some personal perspective. Autistics tend to be profoundly different from one another, and my experiences may differ in some respects from your child’s (or yours, if you are autistic — I’d be interested in hearing your experience).

To begin, as is often pointed out, a meltdown is not a tantrum. A tantrum is a behavioral device intended to influence others, to gain some objective. A tantrum is something you do to achieve an effect. When you get what you want, you stop acting out. Despite being distinct, a tantrum and a meltdown may occur more or less together, with one feeding the other.

A meltdown is not something you do, it is something that happens to you. For me there may be a brief moment of fun during the screaming and physical destruction, but overall it’s “Not THIS again! Somebody make it stop!” I am also a migrainer, and seeing the onset of a meltdown is similar in some ways to detecting the pre-migraine aura.

A meltdown is a process, part of the way a complex control system behaves when it bumps into conditions that can cause runaway feedback that can be highly destructive. For a physical example of such a system, do an engine search for “Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster“. Many is the time when I have felt like the bridge itself, not those who got dumped into Puget Sound.

Meltdowns can be triggered by a wide variety of stimuli. My childhood friend Donnie was unable to handle the sensory onslaught of a visit to the barber shop. His reaction to attempts to enroll him in elementary school eventually led to his disappearance into the Colorado State Home For Feeble-Minded And Spastic Children. What usually gets me is frustration, especially if I am already stressed. In rare circumstances I can become dangerously violent, although so far it’s been a few cases of property damage, with assault on another person not having happened, mercifully. EDIT: Except for that bully I accidentally beat up in the ninth grade, after he triggered a meltdown. That did sort of put a halt to the bullying for some time.

Meltdowns are different for me now that I’m in my seventies, compared to what they were like when I was six. The primary difference, in my current estimation, is that I now know that I am autistic, and what a meltdown is, and ways to be aware that one is on the way, and ways to stop it from passing the no-return threshold, if at all possible.

The inception of a meltdown reminds me of one of those playground slides that starts off with a gentle slope, then suddenly bends downward steeply — if you got this far, you have no choice about going farther.

The aftermath of a meltdown, depending upon its origin and severity, resembles a hangover, the unpleasant trailing experience of a migraine or some other post-cataclysmic period of recovery. Remorse and/or a depressive episode may follow.

To those inclined to look at meltdowns as episodes of deplorable self-indulgence, I recommend paying closer attention to the ordeal from the standpoint of the human going through the wringer.

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A Comment on Autistic “Passing”

In autistic circles the process of “passing” — appearing as best one can to be a “normal” human being, thus reducing the stress that neurotypical reactions to autistic traits can induce in all parties involved — gets a lot of discussion.  An interesting disquisition on this, recently encountered, is, “The Passing Of A Generation”.

I’m 69 now, have finally discovered and embraced my autistic nature in the past 18 months, and am still learning.  In my childhood, of course, autism was an extremely rare and horribly catastrophic illness that you DEFINITELY didn’t want to be identified with, as you might find yourself a resident in the Home for Feebs and Spazzes.  No stims, please, we’re entirely normal here.  Pay no attention to that six-year-old with a 25,000-word vocabulary who hasn’t mastered tying his shoes.  But make sure he doesn’t rock in his seat or flap his hands.  (Leg bouncing is OK.  Lots of people seem to do that.)

Sometimes passing has unexpected positive results.  I’ve had a lifelong passion for radio and electronics and, like the narrative in Neurotribes, got a ham license in 1964 and found myself at last in a prototypical online community of other nerds I didn’t have to encounter socially.  When I was drafted in 1968, I enlisted for an extra year of service so that I could opt for a specialty in electronics.  The Army can be autism hell, but if you have to be in hell you might as well try to steer to the less unpleasant parts.  (Nowadays a formal diagnosis is a barrier to enlistment, which is another topic entirely.)

For good reasons I barely made it through Basic Combat Training.  I was second from the bottom of my cycle, but passed because the cadre were compassionate.  After that, however, everything changed:  I have honor graduate certificates for every training course thereafter, especially including NCO training, where they turned me into a leader.  I was promoted to the grade of Specialist E5 eleven months after enlisting.

Besides teaching me many valuable things about how successful human organizations work, they taught me how to assume a command persona — to be someone that others will perceive to be a leader and will follow.

I now had a powerful tool for passing.  I used it in many ways in the years succeeding, including one way I completely failed to expect.

I’ve had a lifelong passion for live theatre, but it was always for a techie role backstage, fiddling with lights, sound or rigging.  In my late thirties, however, I was roped into attempting acting.  As I got more roles in professional theatre productions, I found I liked that at least as much as sound and lights.  Eventually, I got most of my roles not from auditions but from directors calling to see if I was available for a part in an upcoming show.

Acting can be exhausting when done right.  One thing I noticed, though, was that I wasn’t quite as exhausted as some of the other actors, especially on those trying days when you have two or more performances.  I felt pretty much as tired out as at the end of any other day.  The reason, it finally dawned on me, is that for a passing autistic, every day is a performance, whether in a theatre or not.  Creating and portraying a character, who isn’t truly me, is something I have been doing for many years, merely to survive and perhaps prosper in daily life.  I’m not really sure now who the “real” me is.  Peter Sellers once remarked on the Muppet Show: “There isn’t any Me.  I had it surgically removed.”

The wonderful thing about acting is that it doesn’t matter whether you have problems perceiving the attitudes and intentions of others.  You know who you are, and the script and the Director tell you who the others are, and you are free to be a neurotypical human who understands all the secret social codes.  You enjoy, and get paid for, just doing what you normally do in life, without the hassle of not having the Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring.

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“How quaint the ways of Paradox…”

One of the most absorbing books my parents gave me at Christmas was a volume titled “English Through Pictures”. In it, they introduced vocabulary and grammatical concepts strictly through the use of illustrations accompanied by one or more English words.

For me the enchanting bits were the fifty pages or so of the Introduction — each page in a particular language giving instructions to whomever might be able to read it. There were the usual French, German, Spanish… but there were also Tamil, Telugu, Bahasa Indonesia, Thai, Croatian, Russian, Arabic, Amharic, Farsi, Shqip, Korean, Armenian…

I’m not sure what brought this to mind, but given the fact that I have trouble these days remembering whether I put my pants on forwards, the sudden appearance in my conscious mind of the phrase “Bahasa Inggeris dengan djalan melihat gambargambar” made me wonder whether there was a faint chance that this reflected something I had seen while studying that book.

Sure enough, Thanks Be To Online Translate, it turned out to be a faithful memory.

At the time I was struck by the use of noun doubling to designate plural, and with some searching I found that gambargambar, gambar-gambar and gambar2 all amounted to “pictures” in the various orthographies of that region.


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Help for the hapless: Windows Slowly Eating Your External Storage.

For all the fellow poor sods out there who have found recent versions of Windows slowly eating your outboard USB-connected disk volumes, some urgent caution: don’t reformat diddly until you do some additional checking.

Plugging in one of my primary backup media, a 1 TB drive connected through one of those nifty little external drive connection kits with the Hitachi chip set, I had two weeks ago backed up successfully to it. Today it registers not at all in the list of mounted drives. The Disk Management facility notes that there is a “healthy” 1 TB volume with no apparent content; perhaps I would like to format it to make it useful?

Switching to another 1 TB volume that had 3 drive partitions, I see that two of them register and the third is a healthy partition with no content.

OK, let’s fire up the faithful Seagate Free Agent disk. Hmmmm…. A lovely large disk ripe and ready for formatting and use. Which would be nice were there not 0.8 TB of useful data on it already. Some of it was only duplicated on one of the other disks that was now a blank slate.

Added to that was the alarming error code 24620 in the System log, indicating that “Encrypted volume check: Volume information on {long encoded disk name} could not be read” by the Bitlocker driver. (NB, Bitlocker is not in use, and the service is disabled.) Something was gunging vital data structures in those reserved areas on the disk.

Or perhaps not.

Fortunately, I plugged the drives into a different computer. A Surface RT. It mounted all the volumes happily. Data integrity-R-Us. Total data loss approximates zero. Happy dance.

After a great deal of search engine usage of impressive Knowledge Bases and technical help forums, I stumbled across a casual comment: “And by the way, just assigning a drive letter to the anonymous volume will make it come back to life.”

Which was in fact the case for all but one of the combinations of drives and Hitachi-based adaptors. The real cure-all, I have finally been informed, is to disconnect everything USBish except for keyboard and mouse and delete the file INFCACHE.1 in whichever directory it finds itself, then plug in anything USB other than the device you had trouble with, which will force Windows to completely rebuild the driver information cache.

People could be forgiven for equating some of these solutions to painting your face with various stripes of red and yellow, donning a ceremonial garment and executing the proper magickall dance, all the while brandishing the correct ritual objects.

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The Trombone Disquisition

During our Salad Days (or perhaps our Early Appetizer Days) as recently-weds in Frankfurt am Main, for reasons no longer in memory (perhaps related to the number of empty bottles with the blazon “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer”), the topic of discussion one evening was my short history as a Trombonist at school in grades 5 and 6, and my subsequent apostasy from Trombonism.

At some point, I mentioned the necessity of lubricating the trombone slide with trombone oil.

In a moment of indiscretion, she asked: “Where does trombone oil come from?”

I gave her the “I will love this” look; she gave me the “Oh frack, I am not going to like this” look.

I replied: “Pressed trombone seeds.”

I further noted: “You should not visit a plantation of trombones, when they are in bloom, without ear protection.”

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A Semi-Socratic Dialogue Regarding Current Events

“…and so, as I have shown, the Kleptoligarchs divert the entire wealth of Society to themselves, sparing only that tiny mite needed to keep the wheels of production turning.”

“But surely, Master, it would be in their own best interests to forgo much of that diverted wealth, thusly enriching Society considerably, so that the overall wealth might increase manifold, and their own substantial wealth withal.”

“Alas, such is not the case: they have already thousands of times more wealth than any single person could possibly enjoy within a hundred lifetimes.

“There is no need for them to enrich Society — from their vantage, all is proceeding as it should.”
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Concerning the Governance Of Commercial Enterprises and Other Human Endeavours.

Many years ago, working for a briefly successful corporation, I noticed that persons near the top of their local Large Primate Dominance Hierarchy strongly tend to lose touch with the details they need to guide the Ship Of Commerce.

Specifically, I observed that glass-walled conference room on the 4th floor of the 8400 building, where it appeared that nearly all executive decisions were made solely on the basis of information created within that conference room.

I developed from this the notion of the Coefficient of Removal From Reality, suggesting that its local value approached 1.0 as one neared the doors of that Fateful Room.

Subsequent experience, however, demonstrated to me that this was a Newtonian construct that really needed an Einsteinian update. Thus was born the


which describes the warping of information space by a concentration of Top Minds such that, although information cannot enter in any significant quantities, Authoritative Directives will be emitted constantly from the event boundary of a sufficiently massive gathering.

I may need to consider an analogous quantum-theoretical extension.

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On The Intrinsical Loveliness of Minimum Wage Jobs.

So, I have been recently assured that working in fast food and sit-down food service is “easy”, requires no skill or thought, and persons who work in these slots, since they can’t be bothered to get a better job, REALLY shouldn’t be paid more than the slightest pittance (or whatever the current gang of Republican hoons considers to be a tolerable minimum wage (except for tipped staff, of course — they get a LOT less.))

Well, I’ve got news for you, Bunky: go to your nearest fast food joint and hang around there between 11:00 and 13:00. Bring a stop watch and a clipboard with paper and a writing instrument. (I’ve done several time and motion studies, and that’s the equipment you will need.)

Choose a particular employee, and log what she does, and how long she takes with each task. You may find it difficult to keep up, because the work focus changes every five to eleven seconds.

You can’t write that fast.

If you were just now dropped into that “easy” job with the understanding that if you screw up more than three times in a row you are terminated, you would be out the door on your ass in under six minutes.

But that’s not your worry — you got your burger.

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On The Folly Of Enforced Standardized Testing

without sanity checks.

There are lessons from fields other than public education to be considered.

Years ago, I obtained the FCC Radiotelephone Operator First Class License. In that era it, along with the Amateur Extra Class license (DE KL7F), was considered to be functionally equivalent to a BS in Electrical Engineering by some firms when making hiring decisions. In the broadcast industry, it was required in order to function as the Chief Engineer of a radio station.

When I took up my duties at the AM station in Kodiak, AK, one of the things required by regulation was to gather copies of the licenses of all the persons who would be “operating” the station (i.e. pulling a board shift) and to place them in a container where the FCC inspectors, should they ever show up, could easily find them. Doing so, I found that three other employees had First Phone tickets.

I asked the station manager: “If you already have three Firsts on staff, why did you hire me?”

“Heh,” quoth he. “Those guys have troubles with light switches. Not one of them could tell you which end of a resistor is the cathode.”

It turned out that, because of FCC regulations requiring that a First Phone operator be on duty whenever the antenna system was “directional” (i.e. after local sundown), and due to economic considerations discouraging a station from having more than one person pulling the night shifts, stations tended to hire announcers/operators who had a First Phone ticket.

But passing the First exams was A Hard Thing, and Johnny Goodpipes and Fred Tightboard weren’t at all inclined to take up electronics in any serious manner.

Whatever were they to do?

Well, they could enroll in any number of schools that, after you paid them $N,000, would cram you and drill you until you could pass Elements I, II, III and IV. No matter how many times you went to the Houston FCC office and took the tests.

The end result: rampant fully-licensed electronic illiteracy.  

Eventually the FCC dropped the regulation, ended the issuance of First Phone tickets, and declared that Station Management were now fully responsible for determining that the station was being operated in compliance with technical standards.

When last I checked, the General Radio Operator License (which replaced the First — they mailed me a new certificate) is now only required for the person who maintains the studio-to-transmitter radio link.

Be very careful what you incent.

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When we finally decode the languages of cetaceans, elephants, squids… we might find that their name for us translates to “Those mutant apes who know both too much and too little”.

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