Theory finds that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much

I haven’t been blogging lately. I have one in my Drafts folder “What is Empathy?” that fits in so well with this.

Seventh Voice

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

“A ground-breaking theory suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy – rather, they feel others’ emotions too intensely to cope.”

“People with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is a response to being overwhelmed by emotion – an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?

This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with the “intense world” theory, a new way of thinking about the nature of autism.

As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the theory suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency but, rather, a hypersensitivity to experience…

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The “Witty Little Knitter:” A Talk With Tara Carstensen

I was looking for references to a fanzine I published in the ’80s (written by Alan Hale) “The Witty Knitter” (I don’t think we included “Little” but I could be wrong) and found this.


IMG_2606 Tara Carstensen (aka Witty Little Knitter) works on one of her Fourth Doctor scarf creations at El Paso’s Sun City SciFi. Photo by Rick Tate

Since she was 15 years old, Tara Carstensen has been watching Doctor Who and knitting Fourth Doctor scarves.

Like many Whovians, she intensely studied photographs and videos to create patterns for her early attempts, although she said the results were “crude and totally incorrect.” As her work began to improve, she received her first official BBC pattern from John Nathan Turner, producer of the series from 1980 to 1989.

By 2005, she begin studying the scarves even closer. She even had a chance to examine what she calls the “Shada” scarf (the pattern used in the famous episode from Season 17 that didn’t air until 1992), as well as the Season 18 variant scarf. From there, she begin to design patterns, find colors and yarn…

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One of my favorite books: Ghost Map

643px-Snow-cholera-map-1Ghost Map :The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, read by Alan Sklar

This isn’t a book review, and I don’t plan to do book reviews in the future, but I do want to write about books, especially the ones I keep relistening to and getting more out of them each time.  Especially when I find myself appreciating them more over time because of other books.

I’m currently listening to A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger, read by Kevin Conway.  Similar books read recently are The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias by Jane Velez-Mitchell, Every Breath You Take by Ann Rule, read by Blair Brown, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, read by Scott Brick and The Disappearance by J. F. Freedman.  (although I haven’t finished the latter and probably won’t)  This is a diverse mix of fiction and non-fiction, but there’s a certain pattern they share.  Other examples are The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, The Great Fire by Jim Murphy, Columbine by Dave Cullen.

The core of what these books are about could be summed up in a few pages, but their authors have made them into entire books.  Ghost Map is especially remarkable in that its core is just one map.  The rest of the book is not only the events behind it and consequences of it, and the biographies of the people behind it, Heroes of Intellect, but also tangential bits of history and science that are part of the puzzle and each fascinating in themselves.  I admit, I may find this more exciting than most people because I just love to make charts and maps and infographics like this map that show data correlations at a glance and fantasize that one of mine with have as great an impact as The Ghost Map.  (see my other blog  But, even apart from that, the book is amazing, presenting pieces of the puzzle in a way that’s entertaining and logical.

While some of the other examples I’ve mentioned are very good books, none have the logic and coherence of Ghost MapA Death in Belmont is about a murder in a suburb of Boston at the time of the Boston Strangler and and Roy Smith, a black man from Mississippi who was convicted for it.  But it starts with how the author’s parents once employed Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, including homey little details.  It’s relevant to bring in the Boston Strangler, because the murder was at first thought to be one of his, but the autobiography is less so.

Relevant, too, is the biography of Roy Smith and his family, but the choice of details included are . . . Or is it OCD of me to look for relevance in the amusing trivial included?  For example, Roy had a brother named “Coach” which the family pronounced as two syllables “Co- Aitch” because the mother worked for a football coach who was a local celebrity, and it was not uncommon in the South at that time to give their children names like “States Rights” and “Ex-Senator Webb.”  Only the way it’s said in the book is much longer and more circuitous.  And then there’s one very odd bit about the colorful biography of a bartender who testified for the prosecution that he served the accused a drink that has no relevance that I can detect.

Some books pad with what I think of as “soap opera.”  This is a pet peeve of mine I expect to write about elsewhere (for example, it’s a key reason why I like “Flowers for Algernon” as a short story, but not as a novel, why I like the Dexter books but not the tv series.) Since I’ve been learning about Asperger’s, I’ve been wondering if what I derisively call “soap opera” and give as a reason I dislike things, other people would call “relationships” and give as a reason they like them.  For example, the difference between the first 3 Harry Potter books and the others.  I like the first 3 books because they’re primarily about magic.  I dislike the others because they’re about adolescents.  I read someone else saying almost the opposite, that the first 3 books were stories but the rest were novels.

Some pad with autobiography, as in A Death in Belmont.  I find it especially annoying in science books, where the author appears to think I’m interested in why he became a science writer.  But I can fast-forward through those parts without missing anything.  In the case of both true and fictional crime, I’m very interested in the biography of the criminal, even going back generations.  I’m less interested in the biography of the victims, and actively dislike touching stories about how the survivors (of crime or natural disasters) cope afterwards.

(Ironically, if I were to write a book about my own Ghost Map — — it would probably be at least 50% autobiography.  Just because I don’t like to read it doesn’t mean that I don’t like to write it.)

I find very annoying how some books of this type are hard to follow and the connections so hard to see, because of the order of presentation.  Exposed told a really fascinating story, but in an infuriatingly choppy way, going from trial, to the victim’s childhood, to the arrest to the murderer’s childhood, back to the trial, then to how the two met.  (I probably have the actual presentation order wrong, but it was something like that.)  Maybe it’s easier to follow that sort of thing in a printed book than in audio.

I need to relisten to Ghost Map to get the taste of these others out of my mouth.

It makes me want to write a filk song

To the tune of: Mickey Mouse Club

filk flame 31jul99cr
This is the only pic I could find that I took at a filk sing. They don’t usually involve so much flame.


A – Always Means Well: I don’t mean to be rude when I do thing that are considered annoying to people without AS

S – Special Interest: Game shows are my special interest – ask me anything about any of them

P – People Seem Strange to Me: I don’t completely understand how people without AS think

E – Ears Hurt When Things are Loud: That’s my sensitivity, for other with AS it could be light, smell, taste…

R – Rules are Very Important: It upsets me greatly when people don’t follow rules

G – Gets Mad When Routines Aren’t Followed: I have an internal schedule I must follow

E – Every Day Tries Very Hard: I would fall asleep after school because getting through a day was harder for me than most people

R – Remembers Things Very Well: I retain text so well that I can frequently quote passages from books I have read

S – Social Rules are Hard: I have a hard time adjusting to expectations

The Journal of Academic T-Shirts

ShirtDesignI’m agonizing over another silly decision, but it’s gotten me to some pleasant nostalgia and another reason I identify with Sheldon.

The decision is I’m going to need to buy a shower curtain.  My original plan was to furnish my new house all in 21st Century Thrift Store (except for the new bed and new recliner) but when I thought specifically about the shower curtain, the idea of getting a Periodic Table one like Sheldon and Leonard’s came to me.  Wouldn’t that be too cool!  But that’s not really me, now.  If I’m not going to go with Thrifty, I’m more inclined toward Colorful.  Or, if I really want to indulge, ooh, I just love things that match!  I’m starting with an empty house that already has everything matching, so I’m tempted to splurge and buy new things in matching sets.ontogeny_recapitulates_phylogeny_biology_tshirt-rf4f42413d17244c89a17826f8f340875_804gs_512

Oops, that’s not where I meant this blog to go.  I was planning to go to the Periodic Table t-shirt I used to have.  Although none of Sheldon’s t-shirts are the same as any used to have, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them appeared in future episodes.  Some of mine came from SF conventions, but also there was a mail-order company called the Journal of Academic T-Shirts.  I had a little weekend business, Starship Enterprises, selling at SF conventions, so I bought those t-shirts wholesale, and retailed them.

PH-2I have no pics.  That was the 80’s before digital cameras.  I don’t think I took pics at conventions.  I thought surely an image search would turn up art from those t-shirts, but while I can find some that are close, none are exactly the same.

In looking for these, I found other people blogging the same nostalgia.

The iPad Compatible Bed Dilemma

I keep having flashbacks to the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon goes to Penny’s apartment, she invites him to sit down and he says, sadly, “If only it were that simple.”  I’m hoping blogging this will help somehow.bed whereI’ve been a full-time RVer for about 10 years and will soon be moving into a small manufactured home.  In RV’s the beds are built-in, so I got rid of the bed I had before that.  Now I need a bed.  With my disabilities and the likelihood that they’ll get worse as I get older, I decided to splurge on an adjustable bed.  I’ve been researching them off and on for almost a year, and finally decided that the option of getting a bed that was iPad compatible was just too cool to resist, even though I don’t have an iPad yet.  Although since I made that decision, I’ve discovered other options with Bluetooth.  (I think there was a joke about that on BBT, but can’t remember it.)

This blog is probably going to get long, but I’ll try to keep it from getting too long, and won’t go into all the research and decisions that have been going on, and I’ll get straight to the Dilemma that’s (ironically) keeping me awake lately: where to put my new bed.

I can’t remember ever facing a decision like this before.  In RV’s I have no choice, and everywhere else, there was just one obvious “right” place.  Not only isn’t it obvious in my new bedroom, there’s no place that feels right.  I’ve been lying in my current bed, imagining each of the options, and all of them feel wrong.  Have I screwed up really badly?

Again, trying not to go into boring detail, I tried to plan carefully in ordering a custom-made manufactured home, and it’s gone through many revisions, but never did I sit down with a floorplan to scale and figure out where my bed would go.  In hindsight I can look back and realize that each revision made my bedroom less and less suitable to having a bed in it.

But really, I’m not as bad as Sheldon.  Every time he explains why he has to sit in His Spot and he gets to the part about “and in the summer” I want someone to stop him and say, “Sheldon, it’s not summer now.  What difference does it make today what it’s like in summer?”

Well, actually, I know the answer.  It’s the same reason I buy Angel Soft Double Roll 9-pack toilet paper.  Because I don’t want to have to make a decision every time “TP” is on my grocery list.  I want, no matter what store I go to, no matter what’s on sale, no matter what’s “new and improved” and be able to get something acceptable without having to go through all those calculations about price per square inch.  Come to think of it, I have no idea how other people buy toilet paper, but I doubt they do it my way.  Sheldon probably does.

But with this bed, because it’s an adjustable, it makes a difference which is end is the head and which the foot.  And because my new bedroom is so small and the bed so big, I don’t think I’ll be able to rotate it by myself if I change my mind after the delivery people leave.

It’s too late to change my mind about the house floorplan, but I don’t think it’s too late to change my mind about the bed.

I went through agonies over deciding between full size and Queen, but when I got to Mattress Mania and they had just one floor model in stock, and it was on sale and it was Queen, that settled me.  Only today I’m looking at the actual numbers and realizing that my current Queen bed is really a little smaller than standard, and my new bedroom, while much bigger than my current bedroom, is, in fact, by any other standard, small.

Here’s my floorplan with Queen bed, more or less to scale.  This is the placement I’m currently leaning towards, the head of the bed being towards the top.  But that would require me to sleep on the wrong side of the bed!  Or at least get up on wrong side when I go to the bathroom during the night.  (There’s a long whining story about that, but I’ll spare you.)

I had asked if I could get that bathroom door as a pocket door, and they said no, but I could still either remove the door or get it replaced with some kind of sliding, closet door, so it wouldn’t need so much clearance.  Here’s now it looks:


Here’s the original floorplan.  It had a lot more blank wall space to put a bed headboard against.  And was 3 inches bigger.

GS 481MNow that I think about it, the reason I thought those corner windows would be so cool was because I had them in my Coquille house, where the master bedroom was bigger than my whole RV.

rink bedroom

My current floorplan is:

Northwood arctic-30U

My previous RV was:


You can see why I feel the bathroom should be to the left of the bed, or at its foot, right?  But with the closet and door clearance, I can’t do that.  Unless I get a double bed instead of a Queen.  (Looks like, in the UK, a standard King is smaller than an American standard Queen.  I’m sure there’s a good joke in there, but haven’t thought of it yet.  It’s still politically correct to make fun of Americans and Brits, isn’t it?  Although I think most other nationalities are out.)

It’s not just that I regret my decisions about buying this house.  I feel like an idiot for selling the house in Coquille eleven years ago.

It’s amazing how lumpy my current bed has gotten since I tried out new beds.

Literal Mindedness

iu“Children with AS may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called ‘little professors’, but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally.” —

This is frequently the basis of Sheldon jokes on The Big Bang Theory.  Recently I responded to a friend’s comment on FB and he informed me that he was being sarcastic.  I should have asked him to hold up a sign next time.

But I don’t think I have much trouble anymore with interpreting figurative language or sarcasm.  I’m more aware of the times I’m being sarcastic and other people take me literally.  That happens especially when I say something I think is obviously sarcasm because no one could be that dumb.  They sometimes think I really am that dumb and explain it to me. I’ve given up correcting them.

But this brings up something that keeps getting to me when I’m researching Asperger’s online.  Most of what I find is aimed at parents of kids with AS, things written by AS or non-AS, explaining AS for an audience of non-AS.  I can’t find much of anything to help me understand the way non-AS folks think.

It’s little things that get to me.  I recently tried to find out from my therapist how people can use the word “tomorrow” in an email when they don’t know when that email will be read.  What are they thinking?  Of talking to the person in real-time, and then just writing what they would say in that situation?  Are they unaware that they’re writing an email?  Or of thinking when it will be read?  I would have said that I never use that word in emails, but a search of my Sent file found exceptions.  Looking at the context, however, I notice there’s always some reason I wanted to use a relative term, such as using “I’ll do it tomorrow” as short-hand for “I wasn’t able to get to it today, but I will tomorrow.”  But I would not be capable of writing an email, especially in the evening, saying “I’ll see you tomorrow” which I noticed her doing twice.

I guess I’ve always assumed that everyone wants to speak clearly and could speak clearly if they tried.  Maybe they’re dumb or lazy and unable to speak clearly themselves, but if I’m careful to be clear, surely they’ll understand me.  I’ve tried to figure out the exceptions, the special codes.  For example, if I ask a question like “Where did you put . . . ?” they don’t think it’s a question, but a criticism.  So I guess I need to find some other way to ask it.  Or maybe preface it with an explanation of some kind.  Mostly when I ask a question and the other person is obviously interpreting it to mean something else, all I can think to do is just keep asking the same question in different words until I can figure out the answer from their response.

And in emails, the rule seems to be the only response I can expect is to the last sentence.  Any questions before that are invisible.

But do you see my point?  Even if I figure out what they mean, I still can’t figure out how to get them to understand what I’m trying to say.  I know what I’m trying to say literally, but when I say it that way, they think it means something else.  How can I put it into their non-literal code?  With experience, I’ve learned some of the code, although it’s difficult for me to speak in it, but for so many things, I have no idea how to make people understand me when being literal doesn’t work.

Let me brag about a recent accomplishment, silly as it probably seems to anyone else.  I recently said $1400 as “Fourteen hundred dollars.”  To me, that feels all wrong.  When someone says that to me, it’s like hearing something in the metric system and having to translate it in my head to understand it.  It should be “One thousand, four hundred dollars” and I always used to have to say it that way.  But I managed to say “Fourteen hundred dollars” the other day, because I know that’s how everyone else says it. That’s the right translation into their code.

Even when I was working on the theory that there was something different in my brain wiring, something I thought of as my having a defective “herd instinct” gene, I still couldn’t do things like that.  Somehow, now that I’m thinking of it as part of Asperger’s — part of something that makes sense and fits into a pattern — it’s easier to accept and, ironically, to compensate for.  It doesn’t make me say “I have a medical excuse so you have to accommodate me.”  I don’t have to avoid thinking about it because it’s too crazy.  I can just deal with it.

What is Empathy?

7 ufSomeone told me that the description of people with Asperger’s Syndrome as lacking empathy is a confusion between displays of empathy and feelings of empathy. That may be true, but that’s still not addressing the point I’m trying to figure out. What is it non-AS folks mean by “empathy.”

I can’t figure out if I have too much empathy or too little. For example, one day I was having a conversation. I was sitting down. The other woman was standing and holding a heavy object. I had to break off and ask her if she didn’t want to at least put the object down. Now, she was strong and healthy and didn’t have my back or fatigue problems. She was in no distress. But I don’t just try to put myself in other people’s shoes, I can’t keep myself from doing it even when I try. I couldn’t keep my mind on what she was trying to say to me because, the longer the conversation went on, the more I thought about how my back would be hurting if I were her.

I also recently interrupted a friend in the middle of an impassioned speech to ask “Can’t I get you a glass of water?” She looked at me like I was crazy. “Your throat is dry.” I explained. She drank half a glass of water in one gulp when she got it, so I’m sure I was right, but she obviously was so intense that she hadn’t felt any discomfort, even while I was so uncomfortable noticing her dry throat that I just couldn’t pay attention to what she was saying anymore and had to interrupt.

It used to drive me crazy one place I worked how I kept getting into conversations with coworkers as we were walking down the hall, and when we got to the intersection where I was going one way and they the other, we’d stand blocking the intersection. I’d keep trying to suggest we go somewhere else to talk, or talk later, or at least get out of the intersection, and they’d keep talking, oblivious to the other people squeezing their way to get past us. While I’d be in agony.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks and it really bothers me when the reader has a cold.  I want to tell them to go home and go to bed.  Of course, that’s silly.  Those recordings were made years ago, and they’re usually over their cold before they finish reading the book. It must not bother other people so much or they wouldn’t sell audiobooks with this flaw.

In each example, my interest was in relieving the discomfort I was feeling, not what the other person was actually feeling. So, that’s selfish, right? But I was, almost literally, putting myself in the other’s place, which is, I thought, the definition of empathy. Yet, that doesn’t really seem to be what people mean when they give concrete examples of empathy.

Or am I confusing empathy with sympathy? Sympathy, I think, is being able to say things like “I feel your pain” and “I feel so sorry for your loss” which, to someone too literal-minded like myself, are, well, lies, even though I know you’re supposed to say them. (I fear I surprised someone once when they said “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” and took it literally and I asked a favor.)  And they just sound so cliche, I don’t think I could force them out of my mouth.  Maybe I should take a page from the Dexter books and practice saying “There, there.”  Great.  I’m making a serial killer my role model.

Does knowing I have Asperberger’s make a difference?

I may or may not write up a vent on my current problem.  I like to use this blog more for looking at the Big Picture.

The Big Picture is that in a situation like this, the worst part is usually that I’m so mad at myself.  I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it in words like this, but if I had it would go something like “If only I were better with people.  If only I weren’t such a wimp I would have asked the right questions, and nagged, and if people liked me, they would answer my questions and do what they say they’ll do and then this wouldn’t be happening.”

This time, I think I did everything I could reasonably do.  I tried to find out what needed to be done and who was doing it.  When the information I was getting wasn’t worth the effort it took to get, I tried to narrow my focus to just the essential questions.  Specifically, I tried “Is there anything else I need to do?”  I never got an answer to that one, either. I made a conscious decision then to avoid stress by giving up and hoping it would work out, figuring I’d find out eventually and odds were good that any problems would be minor and repairable.  I was able to do that because I’ve come to realize that this Social Stuff is more difficult for me than it is for most people, and that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a coward.  I’ve got to play the cards I’m dealt as best I can.

Although things are messed up that wouldn’t have been if I could have gotten answers to my questions earlier, I don’t think I did anything wrong.  If I can’t make people like me, if I can’t figure out how to communicate with them, it’s not because I haven’t tried.  I’m not sure it’s because of AS, but that would explain it.  I am pretty sure it’s something different about the way my brain is wired.  And it’s not unreasonable to expect people to do what I pay them to do, even if they don’t like me.  Not even if they have really good reasons to not like me.  Although I don’t think they do.  Really, I’m much less annoying than Sheldon, even at my worst.  If anything, I’m being too polite to people I have good reason to be mad at.

I don’t think it’s going to cost any extra money to fix this, it’s just an expense I didn’t know about earlier.  It might not even be a delay, but if it is, it’s just one more, in a long series.  It actually would make it kind of neat, in a way, for it to be just about a year from when I started house hunting to when I get to move in.

Why am I surrounded by idiots?

24o61hhI know “Why am I surrounded by idiots?” is usually a line for tv villains and the answer is usually obvious: “Because you’re a villain.”  But I’m not a villain and I’m not on tv.  And just can’t believe so many people are so stupid.

There’s my credit card company.  I just spent 25 min on the phone with them.  Now they’re saying that the two or three new cards they sent to replace the one just expired have all been lost in the mail.  The person I talked to last week told me that the first two went to a PO Box in Richmond, VA.  But the person today tells me that’s where they were sent FROM.  It’s just a coincidence that two (or three) cards they sent to the correct address got lost in the mail.  But the next one will be sent FedEx, arriving tomorrow or Monday.  And because this has been such an inconvenience to me (I’ve had no working credit card for a month, just when I’m moving and trying to order stuff online), they’re not even going to charge me the $16 they usually do to send a card by FedEx. My that’s gracious, especially since I’ve never asked them to use FedEx.  I just ask them to send it to the right address.  And not expect me to believe it’s a coincidence that one after the other gets lost in the mail.

There’s the folks I’m buying a manufactured home from and all their subcontractors.  I still have no running water.  Last week one made me come out for a “walk-thru”.  He thought the water had been hooked up, but it hadn’t.  He made a phone call that I thought had addressed the problem.  He showed me where the hookup should be.  I wish I’d taken a pic.  As best I can remember there was a trench and I could see where it should be connected, but wasn’t.  Just a couple feet.  I went back this week and the trench was filled in.  I switched on the whole-house water switch, and still had no water.

I emailed them and they said they don’t do the water hook up.  Another contractor said it’s his understanding that the park does that.  I called the park and they said they do not.  They say it’s possible that it could be hooked up now, but not turned on at the meter.  They can’t do that, and should have been done by whoever hooked it up.  I have emails and phone calls in to other people who might know who’s suppose to hook up the water, and am waiting.

I have been trying to get an answer to one simple question: what are the dimensions of a Full-sized Prodigy adjustable bed.  I’ve gotten 4 different answers from 3 different sources.

The manufacturer says they make only one full-size Prodigy 54×80.  Other lengths are custom-made.  That seems very odd since my other sources say 54×75 is standard.  In an online chat with one retailer first said “Full is 54×80 full xl is 54×84” and a few lines later said “Length would be an 80 for an XL That would also take a custom mattress as it is not a normal size”  When I asked about the contradiction I got “I was thinking Californa king, is an 84”  So the second quote from them is 54×75 and 54×80.

My third source gives 3 different full sizes, and confirmed by email the same thing that’s on their website. — 53×74, 53×80 or 53×84 “Those are 3 different sizes we make. 1 inch off is nothing to worry about….some places say 74 or 75 but then when you measure it with a professional measure device its 1 inch off :)”

Uhm, why?  What is “a professional measure device”?  And does this device say it’s one inch smaller or larger?

It says right on the floorplan of my RV that my current bed is a Queen 58 x 74 1/2, so someone seems to think they can measure even to the half-inch.  (Standard Queen is 60×80)  I haven’t tried to measure it with a professional device.  I’m not sure if I have a professional device.  I have tape measures.

10/13/15 — updates: My new credit card arrived. My contractor for steps says he can connect water and sewer.