Audience questions, and the Treatment Online Interview

I did an interview with the folks at the Treatment Online website.

And in other news . . . .

Last night I spoke at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. We had a good crowd, 75 people or so, and two questions from the audience stood out. I'd like to repeat them here:

A fellow in the front asked, "Are there places in the world where Aspergians are treated better?"

As it happens, there is such a place: Australia. For some reason, the Australians have a very high level of awareness when it comes to Asperger's and autism issues. It's probably no coincidence that Tony Attwood, one of the leading "Asperger doctors" is from down there.

What can we learn from the Australians? Can their teachers and mental health people show us something?

And the second question was, "My Aspergian grandson comes to our farm and he seems a lot better when he's outdoors as opposed to being in the city. What do you think about that?"

I think the same thing is true for me. I find the constant background noise, the lights, the people, the smells of a city distracting and stressful. I do find it relaxing to be in nature where it's simple . . . just trees and grass, simple sounds (water, wind, rain), old familiar smells (dirt, plants) . . . I love being outside and I think it is very theraputic for folks like me.

So I have a question for my Aspergian and autistic readers . . . do you find it peaceful to be in nature? and the reverse . . . do you find cities stressful?

The more people I meet on my book tour, the more I see that things I thought were peculiar to me are actually typical of Aspergians as a group. Neat.

I really want to thank all of you who come to see me at these readings. As much as you come to see me, I go to see you, to hear your stories and listen to your insights. Thank you all for coming.


Sandra Cormier said…
Perhaps the distractions of city life affect Aspergians more than others, but I think we are all affected by that environment to some extent. Maybe that's why the crime rate is higher within city limits, not only because of poverty, but because of the stress of being packed together so tightly.

I'm much happier and at peace when surrounded by the sounds of nature.

Maybe my autistic nephew Travis is blooming in his little house in the north woods for that exact reason.
Polly Kahl said…
The three adult Aspergians that come to mind right now all find solace in nature. In all cases, the love of nature started when they were children. Nature provided entertainment and comfort during their developmental years, when they had difficulty socializing with other people.
Jimmyzmom said…
My son does better, is able to focus better in nature or anywhere with fewer distractions. He has always had a fear of insects and many animals so nature doesn't always relax him. He really craves people/friends. He seems to feed on the possibilities inherent in a room full of potential friends. Unfortunately, that typically results in over-excitement and the resultant behaviors unexpected by the potential friend.
He is slowly learning from his mistakes, but it's painful to watch.
Anonymous said…
In the past, while living in Athens, OH, I have found nature to be the only place where I could think clearly. But if I spend too much time there I become lonely.

I just realized recently that I feel more at home in urban/suburban places. I grew up around Cleveland/Akron, and I find that certain cities feel much more like home than anywhere else.

Cities like Cleveland, especially, whose soul is as informed by its architecture and history as by its geography. And oh yeah, the people ain't that bad either. ;)

In short, I definitely understand the urge to be surrounded by nature, but that's just not who I am.
Anonymous said…
..Or, at least, that doesn't tell the whole story.
Anonymous said…
we moved here to be in natural beauty, near cultural activities and among a broader mindset of people with more progressive educational opportunities for fluffy.

yet helping fluffy get outside has always been a bit of a challenge--he's more of an inside kid, neither country nor city. once we entice him outside, he seems to really enjoy it.
Tena Russ said…
John, don't you love the Australians? They're the nicest people. Last year we were in Sydney, the Blue Mountains (gorgeous) and Hunter Valley. The photos from that trip are my screen saver.

The Muse said…
I remember reading something about "Wilderness Therapy" for autistic children. I think that the beauty of nature and the serenity of the outdoors have a real healing quality on the nervous system. Whereas being in the city can be rather confining and feel very "boxed in". The city bombards our senses with man-made discordant stimuli. It is a cacophony of random sights, harsh sounds, and pungent smells. It is interesting that crime rates are higher in direct proportion to the number of people per dwelling, not simply by population. So Chumplet you are correct that crime is "because of the stress of being packed together so tightly".

So the need for wide-open spaces and seclusion is a trait that all people share. Mother Nature is calming and centering because it exists in harmony. The need for balance is a basic biological necessity that is hard wired into our brains. Moreover I think that this need for logic and order is perhaps a more distressing requirement for an Aspergian. Neurologically typical people can withstand more chaos and confusion. (We have a higher threshold.) The mind universally has a need to organize all stimuli into patterns of meaningful order. This is difficult to do in the city. The brain is always seeking in all of its thought processes a state of weightless, fixed, motionless balance… absolute balance. That is why being in nature is so important; it allows our mind to rest. That is also why we love beauty and art. Our minds are constantly striving for equilibrium and to project meaning onto the external world to obtain closure, to create order out of chaos…
Bonnie said…
I'm happiest when I'm in the woods or a field with my camera. I feel like I *have* to talk when I'm around other people, and it bothers me (the noise, and the compulsion). However, in large cities (like NYC and London), I'm okay, even with the huge mass of people - all of the noise and all of the people become background, and blend together into the back of my mind. I feel like I'm in the woods trying to take photos of squirrels while in the city.
Sandra Cormier said…
Did you ever notice that crickets chirp in perfect harmony? I think they try to imitate that with the ding-ding of bells in casinos, to calm the nerves of all those people trying to win a million bucks.
Aprilynne Pike said…
A friend of mine who I am quite certain is Asperger's loves to be out of the country. He went to the Orient for his first time about three years ago, and has returned four times since and an English teacher. He's never voiced his preference, but I think it's telling that he does not like to spend more than about six months at a time int he States, but is perfectly comfortable spending even a year abroad. I wonder if it is because when he is there he doesn't have to follow social customs he doesn't understand. That he can just be himself.
I recommended your book to an Aspergian woman in her late 20's whom I know in town. She left her job because the company she was with couldn't wrap their heads around her Aspergers. I do hope she reads LMITE. She's a doll. Affectionate. Kind to my kids. Smiles at us a lot. And it pains me to see her suffer, as it would to see any friend suffer.
I think the love of nature is definitely an Aspergian trait. After reading your book I was able to confirm my suspicions that my husband has mild Asperger's. He shares many of your traits---rigid logical thinking, likes sleeping with pillows piled on top of him, not very sociable, more interested in immersing himself in complex tasks than interacting with people, etc. He also dislikes cities, crowds, and noise, and prefers quiet and nature. This notwithstanding the fact he grew up in Hong Kong---the most densely populated place on earth.

I also think that Aspergians are better-treated in Asian countries. Many Aspergian traits are highly respected in Asian cultures. My husband is Chinese and is considered "normal" by Chinese standards, but "odd" by Western standards. And Asian cultures have little to no concept of Western-conceived "mental illness" or psychology in general.
John, after reading your posts here I'm even more excited to get your book! I'll be back in the states in a couple weeks and it's first on my list.

Thanks for checking out my blog. :)
Kanani said…
Australia has a much smaller population over a greater area. They also have nationalized health care, free university, and a generally more relaxed culture than ours. They also have the ten deadliest everything, which includes dry wit, sarcasm and dashing men.

I think yes, that nature has a calming effect on most beings (not all). There is something comforting about trees, rocks, sand and hills that cities cannot provide. Trees, rocks and sand don't stand to judge nor stand for anything but what they are. But on the other hand, I think they do crave social interaction, so if they can get it with someone who shares this interest, and maybe later find their niche by working around it, all the better.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you 2 things:
1. The Writerly Pause wants to book you in for January for a conference call. Are you available?

2. Former baseball pitcher Jim Gott has two sons with autism. He could've spent the rest of his life as a talk radio show host, but spends his retirement teaching social skills courses at a school just for autistic children. Read the article --it's a good one.

Hope you are well.
Sorry I haven't been around, but I've been super busy.
John Robison said…
Kanani, I'd be thrilled to do a conference call, as long as it's not the last week of the month, when I have to get ready for my British release.

I agree about Australia about the ten deadliest everything but I don't know if I'd put "men" in that category, though you are a girls and I am not, so perhaps that explains it.

Jill, that's interesting what you say about Asperger's in Asia. I had not heard that before, but it was a surprise about Australia too.
My daughter and I (both Aspergian) and my son (ADHD) all find it therapeutic to be in nature. I think we've all become so used to the background noise (and other sensory stimulation) in daily life in the city, we don't even realize how much stress it causes us (especially those of us who are "differently wired.")
HankPym said…
...I've always tended to sleep " mummy " style , much or all of me covered up by the sheet/whatever .
Brooks said…
First off John, thanks for the book. There is a difference in clinically knowing that other people have Asperger's and actually reading the account of someone that does. I was struck by the similarities between how you describe yourself and how I am.

I find that nature can be calming, but as one other person mentioned, I find myself getting lonely for contact with others.

Personally, I have found that the place I live now with its wooded suburbs on a mountain gives me the best of both worlds. It allows me to be more out in nature, but the big city is just a few minutes away at the base of the mountain.
Kanani said…
I'll email you, or do you want me to run this through your publicist?

We're trying to line up people for '08. If you know anyone, let them know about us.
John Robison said…
Kanani, we can just set this up ourselves. Email me in a while and we'll pick a date.
Drama Mama said…
I can't take nature; I really can't. It makes me nervous and vulnerable - nothing gives me more anxiety than sleeping in a tent.

Give me a big city, an apartment, a cozy spot in a huge library or restaurant or coffee shop, surrounded by the white noise of sound - and I'm in heaven. Peaceful. Perhaps I am the anti-Aspergian.

My daughter fares well in either setting, but prefers nature and animals, especially the calm of her grandparent's home in NY.
Kanani said…
Okay. I'll email you next week.
I'll ask everyone to go buy your book!
By the way, my daughter and I saw your book in the store. I took a photo. I"ll post it in a bit.
julianop said…
I smiled at what non-Asperger folk might see as apparent conflict in the country/city discussions in these comments.
I was born and raised in west London, yet I like the space of the countryside, however I dislike the loneliness and lack of cosmopolitan trappings in the countryside.
Finding the right balance continues to be really difficult.
I'm really with you on your comments, Muse.
Ariel said…
I'm an Australian whose son was officially diagnosed with Asperger's just over a week ago, after a months-long process. We've realised in the process that my father and brother have Asperger's and I probably do, too.

I'm sorry to say that my experience so far has been horrendous - with his school and the diagnosis, but also with his kindergarten before his diagnosis. Hopefully that will change as I find out more and make connections with other Aspergians.

When the diagnosis was first suggested, my first thought was to read all I could find. It was wonderful to find your memoir, which gave an insight into how the Aspergian mind works - and was entertaining, too. My son is mad about rock, and was very impressed when I told him about you and the flaming KISS guitar - and quite comforted.

Sorry this is so long!

PS. Yes, I often crave a retreat to nature to recharge my batteries.
Lainie Petersen said…
Yes, I have found that nature (probably for the reasons you explain in your most recent post) is very soothing. I have found this even to be true at large outdoor festivals, where there may be 20,000 other people (and which would seem to be very stimulating). However, I have found that I am happier, calmer, and more relaxed at such festivals, despite the activity and noise.

Thank you for the most interesting post.
Toffee Dan said…
Gary was my brother! A kinder, more generous person you could scarcely ever meet. And yet, typically, he was not blessed with any luck.

Born 50 years ago with Aspergers Syndrome caused by an accident of birth (lack of oxygen) he was the most accommodating, considerate person. Typically he had no luck in his life. I am sure he would have made a great success in his life but for this form of Autism.

He lived in a world of his own of course - and for many people he was a real handful. I will touch on his life a lot more in future weeks but for now I will just say he passed away in Portugal last year - suddenly - when he suffered a heart attack (pulminary oedema to be exact) - he never regained consciousness. We all flew out, in the middle of the night, to Lisbon.

Somehow he knew he was going to die. He said as much to my aunt. But he was frightened of strange situations - like the doctors - so he paid for this fear with his very life. He was on a cruise holiday with my mum (who passed away over Christmas). Full of life to the end he said it was the best holiday he had ever been on and that "he didn't want it to end". Regretably, for him, it never did.

It is difficult to understand the meaning of love: Certainly in my lovely brother's world there was little time for demonstrative shows of affection, simply because he wasn't capable of showing the same sort of emotions as most other people - but I will never forget him or fail to love him all the same.

Gary Miller 19 May 1956 - 21 August 2005
Your laugh mattered
Your love mattered
But, above all, it mattered that you were loved
Tamara said…
Here's my theory on being in nature: part of the reason that many aspies, especially children, find it less stressful is that there are far fewer rules-social or otherwise, and a much greater range of acceptable behavior. People are allowed to be quiet or anti-social in nature, kids can run around or sit still as desired, and they don't have to be reigned in or told to act normal.

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