High Functioning Autism (Including “Asperger’s Syndrome”), Memory, and Time

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Time

Time (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Do you have some memories that are so vivid that they are like three-dimensional realities re-playing in your mind? I think most people have some memories like that–a death in the family, a romantic breakup, one’s wedding day–but what if your collection of such memories was larger than just a few? What if, even if you lacked a photograpic memories of everything, had entire groups of memories dating back twenty or more years that could re-play so intensely that it feels as if they fill your heart to bursting? For many people with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (including what in DSM-IV was called “Asperger’s Syndrome), time flows differently from most people who do not have autism. More memories are preserved intact than are found in so-called “neurotypical” people, and when they are remembered they are so real that one feels as if he were participating in reality once more.

I noticed this at my thirtieth high school reunion in 2010. Although people generally remembered one another (and they remembered me and I them), they lacked vivid memories of high school. But for me, although I had forgotten most days, I remembered much more concrete detail and many more events that most of my fellow class members. Most were not memories of earthshaking events that number in the hundreds. Some examples: Walking down the hall looking at the class photos from the 1950s and early 1960s, thinking myself part of a larger tradition at my high school and wondering about the days my aunt and mother went there. Playing chess in the cafeteria at lunch and some of the conversations and insults players hurled at each other. Feeling overwhelmed at the end of a semester and talking to a fellow student about it–he signed my annual that day and wrote, “Keep studying and you’ll make it.” I’ll not bore you with more examples–the point is that no one else had that many vivid memories of high school. One student remembered arguing with me in history class but did not remember another student who argued with her constantly. To me, that was amazing, and it was other people who were different, not I who was.

Does time and memory function differently for the (high functioning) autistic person? Why are my memories (and the memories of other students I know who had Asperger’s traits) so vivid that one re-lives them as if they were the present moment? A student from another local school from chess tournaments with Asperger’s traits talked to me about twenty-five years after a tournament and remembered the specific game we played including the opening and the moves! Such vivid memories are a gift–and a curse. Memories of times I was bad come back to the point that I feel guilty as h..l over things I did when I was a small child. Memories of swinging on a tree swing at Granddaddy and Granny’s are so powerful that I feel like I am there and am heartbroken when I realize that I am not. I have heard other HF autistic people say similar things. Time, to us, seems compressed, with thirty years in the past at times seeming like the present. We certainly do not experience time as God does, an eternal present, but it may the closest someone gets to that on earth. Sometimes memories, even the good ones, hurt so much that I shut them out. Each good event that is in the past seems like a little death that I want resurrected–I wonder if others with HF autism have had the same experience–reply to this post if you have and/or if you think this is an autistic trait. It seems like autism itself–wonderful and terrible, a blessing and a curse, God’s gift and God’s scourge–and something I would not want to live without.

Goth Culture

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Fille-goth

Fille-goth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Black garb. Victorian dresses. Hanging out at graveyards. A love of the macabre. Enjoyment of music in minor key. All these characteristics are, at least on the surface level, signs that someone is a “Goth.” Goth culture represents one of the fascinating aspects of the contemporary world0–the number of subcultures distinguished by dress, lifestyles, and special interests. This is in part a search for identity, but it also reflects the natural human desire to have friends with common interests (as Aristotle recognized over two thousand years ago).

Goth culture dates back at least thirty years. Musical groups such as Bauhaus performed songs that had to do with the gothic tradition in literature–they focused, for example, on Edgar Allen Poe‘s work or on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel.  Young people interested in gothic horror and fascinated by graveyards and death flocked together. They began to wear black and many Goths wore makeup to exaggerate a pale appearance.

Goths do not share any particular world view–some are anti-Christian, some are Buddhists, some are traditional Christian or Jewish. I once chatted with a Muslim Goth. Gothic culture is a way for people who are “different” in their particular interests to find a sense of belonging. Being “different” myself, I can understand that desire. Some of my students think I am a Goth who does not dress like one–I love horror stories, horror music, horror movies, hanging out at graveyards, and being out in the dark “hunting” for ghosts. My office at school is filled with animal skulls–goats (one painted red), a cat, and a monkey. I have a “Grim Reaper” clock and several small manufactured human skulls. The picture of the Mona Lisa hanging on my bulletin board shifts into a skeleton as someone passes by it. I also have a framed copy of a Victorian death photo in which a dead boy, propped up, has his arm around his sister. Now all of this may be a sure sign of my immaturity (I wholeheartedly agree). Most local Goths, though, are very anti-Christian so joining their group is not really an option for me, an orthodox Anglican Catholic.

Emo is said to have replaced Goth, but I do not believe that is the case. There are fewer Goth clubs, but the breadth of Gothic culture as compared to Emo should keep Goth alive for many years. Goth culture, ironically, is often more life-affirming than the angst (usually the teen angst) of Emo. For that reason, Goth culture is not dead or dying–it is alive and well and needs no funeral. Plus, women with jet black hair and wearing black are….aesthetically pleasing.

There is a great deal of ignorance about Goth culture. Some Fundamentalist Christians identify it with Satanism. That is sheer ignorance and does not reflect the past–it is the kind of stupidity that led the West Memphis Three to spend years of their lives in prison despite their innocence of the murder of three cub scouts. Some people fear difference and find it to be evil. That is sad, but it is human nature. Hopefully the Fundamentalists will grow out of their ignorance and realize that Goths are people like them who enjoy each other’s company and are trying to get by in life the best they can. Hopefully this short essay provides a more balanced position on gothic culture.