Interpreting the Heider-Simmel Animation

For this week’s test, it’s important that you know nothing about the test so you’ll have to take it and then read about it. First, watch this short silent animation (1:30) of some geometric shapes:

Now write a brief description of what happened in the animation. If you need to rewatch the video to refresh your memory of the details, you can. Just don’t read anything about the video before you finish writing your description.

Done? Okay, now it’s safe to read on.

The Heider-Simmel Animation

The animation you watched is from a landmark experiment conducted by psychologists Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel in the 1940s. Heider and Simmel were among the first researchers to study attribution of causality or how we use information to arrive at an explanation of what has caused events (or more simply “why did this happen?”).

Attributing cause in social situations requires what researchers in the field of autism often refer to as theory of mind, mentalizing or cognitive empathy. Before you run off screaming into the night, bear with me, because I think there are some interesting things we can learn from how we interpret the animation.

First, let’s talk about why the animation is made up of shapes and how that changes things, especially for autistic viewers. Heider and Simmel discovered that when most people watch an animation of independently moving geometric shapes, they attribute intentional movement and goal-directed interactions to the shapes. This was interesting to the two researchers because the attribution happens in the absence of common social cues like body language, facial expressions or speech. And it turns out that their findings are highly replicable. Nearly everyone who watches the animation, when asked to describe it, comes up with a fairly detailed “story” of what is happening.

In the past couple of decades, Heider-Simmel type animations have been used as part of autism research on theory of mind and social impairment. Ami Klin makes some interesting points about why. The most obvious reason is the lack of conventional person-based social signals. By stripping out body language and facial expressions–or even any human representation at all–there is a leveling of the playing field for those of us who don’t glean much information from nonverbal signals.

The animations also remove all verbal interaction, which Klin says many autistic adults learn to use as an interpretative strategy in social interaction. If we can’t intuit what is happening socially, we can still ask a lot of questions, do research, gather data, develop social scripts, etc. as a way of supporting our interpretation of a situation. He even takes this one step further to say that the real difficulty many autistic people experience is in recognizing that a social demand exists in a novel social situation.

Remember my experience from last week with The Lady Of The Five Excuses? That’s exactly what he’s talking about. In a lab setting, theory of mind experiments are presented as such. Where will Sally look for the marble? signals to the research participant that a problem needs to be solved and a lot of autistic adults are good at reasoning out the solution to defined problems. Unfortunately, there’s no one following me around in real life saying things like, “why does The Lady Of The Five Excuses not want to help you Do The Thing here?”

That’s the difference between controlled clinical theory of mind experiments and real life social interaction. Skill at one does not necessarily predict skill at the other.

Taking the Test

So that’s the underlying theory behind the test. When the animations are used in actual research, a lot of detailed data is collected and scored on various scales. Since we’re doing Crowd Sourced Science, we’ll have to interpret our own results as best we can.

I hope you watched the video and wrote down your impressions before reading the background. Although I had seen this animation mentioned a long time ago in the context of autism research, I didn’t know much about it. I did know that the figures were meant to be interpreted anthropomorphically, but I would have done that anyhow, given the strong emotions I feel when watching the video, so I don’t think I had too much of an advantage. I waited until after writing my description to do more detailed research.

Here is my description:

The big triangle (BT) is in an enclosed structure with a door. A little triangle (LT) and a circle (C) come along. They hang around in a sort of confused way until BT comes out. BT and LT argue, with LT first being the aggressor then BT getting really aggressive and bullying/chasing LT. C hides behind the door and watches. When LT runs around the corner and hides, C goes into the building and closes the door. BT runs around a little outside then follows C into the building and closes the door. C is nervous and moves around the room frantically, trying to hide or escape from BT’s anger. LT opens the door and helps C escape. They run around a little in confusion until BT comes out to chase them and they run away together. BT goes back into the building and breaks the walls in anger.

Interpreting the Results

There are a number of ways descriptions of the video can be interpreted and evaluated. The article I linked to (as well as this one by Castelli and Frith) goes into greater detail if you’re interested. I’m going to focus on one specific aspect of interpretation, which is the attribution of social meaning to the animation.

There are basically three broad levels on which people approach attribution of causality in Heider-Simmel animations:

  1. Literal interpretation. The geometric figures are described only as such and no motivation or anthropomorphic qualities are attributed to them. Example: the small triangle moved parallel to the circle, the large triangle moved out of the rectangle, the small and large triangles came into contact three times in a row.

  2. Goal-direct interpretation. The figures are described as having anthropomorphic actions like running, hiding, fighting, dancing or fleeing. In other words, they are trying to achieve certain physical goals but there is little to no description of motivations or desires. The description is written mostly from the perspective of an impartial observer who is recording the actions of an event. Example: the small triangle ran around the house twice, the large triangle chased the small triangle around the corner, the circle moved into the corner as the large triangle approached it.

  3. Social attribution interpretation. The figures are described as having anthropomorphic actions as well as feelings and motivation (affective and cognitive mental states). There is an emphasis on why the figures act or react the way they do, with detailed attribution of intent. Example: the circle is trying to persuade the large triangle, the large triangle is jealous, the small triangle is trying to coax the circle, the large triangle is manipulating the circle’s feelings, the two small shapes are celebrating their deception of the large triangle. Additionally, there is often a highly detailed narrative used to explain what has happened (a gestalt explanation). Example: the small shapes are friends and the big triangle is a bully, the circle was supposed to go on a date with the big triangle but he got angry when he saw her with the small triangle.  

When I reread my description in this context, I see that I’m on the border between #2 and #3, and the social attribution interpretations that I do make are often quite crude and fractured. I attributed human-like actions and emotions to the shapes, but don’t have a lot to say about intent and certainly didn’t think to create a narrative storyline for the shapes.

When I rewatched the video after doing the research for this post, I noticed more details. For example, the big triangle seems to shake its head ‘no’ and the circle seems to make some progress in calming the big triangle down by cowering and acting submissive when they’re inside the house. But I think I saw those things on my third viewing because I knew that I was supposed to be looking for intent. They didn’t occur to me on the first two viewings, where I had no information about how others had interpreted the animation.

There are quite a few research papers that discuss why autistic people often use fewer social attribution descriptors for Heider-Simmel animations. The two papers I linked to are a good starting place if you’re curious.

Not surprisingly, I have a few theories of my own:

  1. Dude, they’re triangles. Being more literal thinkers predisposes autistic viewers to interpret the animation more literally, focusing on the actions of the shapes rather than attributing emotional or mental states to the objects. I admit to some difficulty getting past the fact that they’re faceless shapes and clearly not people.

  2. Gestalt vs. details. Autistic people are detail-focused, often at the expense of gestalt (big picture). Just as I scored poorly on the city versus mountain picture test by focusing too much on a single detail (roads!), I found that I was more focused on describing each segment of the action rather than integrating the segments into a larger narrative.

  3. Online vs. offline processing. Castelli and Frith’s paper talks about online versus offline processing of social events and that really hits home with me. I do most of social attribution processing offline, before or after the fact. People with typical social skills do a great deal of processing on-the-fly as the interaction unfolds (which Castelli and Frith refer to as online processing). Online processing is especially challenging for me in new situations, like interpreting an animation sequence with little detail about what I’m “supposed to be” seeing.

The Bottom Line

This isn’t as well suited to “getting results” as some of the other quantitative quizzes, but I was surprised at how accurately it seemed to gauge my thinking style and approach when it comes to social interaction.


On an unrelated note: When I wrote the autistic gaze post, I said that I don’t intentionally use my peripheral vision to look at things. Well, I was wrong. This weekend I went to see Captain America in IMAX 3-D and it was super overloading. About halfway through the film, I realized that I kept turning my head to the side and trying to watch the screen out of the  corner of my eyes, which is impossible when wearing 3-D glasses.


181 thoughts on “Interpreting the Heider-Simmel Animation”

  1. Excellent post, I have seen this experiment many times over the years so knowing what they expect it looses much effect for me, so I am glad you brought this up. Hopefully many others will share how they got on with it.

    1. After I watched enough to get a sense of the story (at first I thought a triangular rock fell into a pitcher, and other rocks hovered outside), I determined they were BIRDS. The big male has finished building his nest and is proud of it when the smaller male and his female come along to look. The big male and little male get aggressive while the female goes to see how the nest feels inside. She likes the nest– but she gets scared by the big male. He is so aggressive she doesn’t want to stay with him. After a bit of darting about, she gets away and rejoins her mate. They fly away together and the big male, full of hormones and no release, attacks his own nest, tearing it up and scattering pieces.
      I am undiagnosed, but suspect I am on the autism spectrum.

      1. I saw birds too! Here is my description:

        “a triangle was in a house and another triangle and circle came to the house and the triangle came out and then the circle went in and then the triangle went in and then the circle went out and the triangles were like birds flapping around and then the triangle distroyed his own house”

        I was not able to reliably distinguish the big triangle from the small triangle. i could sometimes tell they were different sizes but then they’d start moving again and i’d lose track.

  2. At first I felt sorry for the Big Triangle because it was locked up. When it managed to open the cage and two friends arrived I was happy. But then it started being mean to the Little Triangle, pushing it around. The Little Triangle seemed to be cowering in fear, so I felt angry with Big Triangle for being so pushy. When the Dot ran away to hide in the cage, I suddenly thought that maybe the Triangles were guys and the Dot was a girl, and the Big Triangle was trying to pick a fight so he could have the Dot girl. But then maybe she wasn’t hiding, but waiting for Big Triangle to chase Little Triangle off so they could have a secret tryst. But no, when Big Triangle came back into the cage Dot was obviously afraid, trying to stay as far away from him as possible. So that made me very angry, I wanted to lock up Big Triangle. When she managed to escape I felt relieved, but then I got scared again when Big Triangle came after them. Fortunately Dot and Little Triangle managed to run away together. When Big Triangle started breaking down the walls of the cage, I did feel some worry because then there wouldn’t be anywhere they could lock him up anymore.

    So. Yeah. Lots of social attribution interpretation there. Funny that I saw it as a cage, not as a room. Maybe because I felt sorry for Big Triangle at first.

    1. Your interpretation of the big triangle being locked up is really interesting. I took the rectangle to be more of a neutral space or maybe the big triangle’s home. I like that you described how the various parts made you feel. This video included a surprising amount of anxiety and emotion in me, considering that it’s made up entirely of geometric objects. :-/

      1. Yeah, it was an emotional experience for me as well. I think it’s really interesting that I only started assigning emotions and intentions to the objects themselves when they started “interacting”. Before that, the emotions just my own, like “I would hate to be locked up like that”, not “That triangle must hate being locked up like that”.

        That being said, of course now I worry that my immediate story building and social attribution makes me not autistic enough, lol.

        1. The first spark of emotion I felt was when they started interacting too. Specifically when the big triangle started bumping into the small triangle. The fear and anxiety were irrationally intense, to the point that I almost paused the video, which probably says a lot about how I feel when confronted by a person trying to bully or intimidate me.

          I wonder how much our interpretations also say about our past experiences and how we view the world? The animation is fairly blank slate onto which to project our subconscious, I guess.

          1. I first thought that the triangle was trying to get out but the “door” wouldn’t let it, too! Fascinating!
            What I found is that I always kept writing “the circle” “the big triangle” “the little triangle” and while I did use their natural gender in my native language, I did not use any personal pronouns to assign them gender and did not think of them as gendered beings to begin with.

            Oh, and where do I put the link for my post about my diagnostic interview now? There are too many possibilities! Spoiler: I am officially autistic now =)

              1. Yes, but there are sooooo many, and my brain starts dissecting each option. I shall probably put it on the Diagnostic Interview-Page. *flies over there to post a link*

    2. I find it very interesting that you assigned gender to “Dot”. I noticed that you called her “she” right away and it made me go and watch the video again:)

    3. That’s interesting, as the door’s open at the start and the triangle’s seemingly pulling it closed to shut itself inside (I thought it had maybe finished building a box at first, but then after lots of use I settled on it being a door). I think the trapped inside thing came up in some people’s interpretation of the Horizon one (see my long comment below), but that one’s frustrating to use as a test because they barely show it running before they start having people talking over top of it, influencing your interpretation. It would be interesting to have it edited together and without sound, so one could actually react to it as a new experience.

  3. I had encountered this type of animation recently in a BBC Horizon program about autism, so I’m guessing my response to this example was colored by knowing the purpose of the test in advance. My description was quite literal, and it was only after viewing the clip a few times that I started to hypothesize interpretations. I think I only did this because I had seen that such a thing was expected, but I approached it in a scientific manner, judging how well each interpretation seemed to fit the observed “behavior”.

    I am aware that I do something like this with real life social interactions: thinking about different interpretations of a person’s behavior to try to build a mental model of them.

    1. Forgot to add that my first interpretation that seemed to fit was that LT and C were committing a distraction burglary of BT’s home where LT kept BT occupied while C got inside unnoticed. LT helped C escape after C was discovered by BT and they were chased off, leaving BT in a rage.

      1. That’s really creative! 🙂 There was a comment on Youtube saying that it looked like a drug deal gone wrong. My first “story” interpretation (after I knew that I “should” have one) was of the small shapes being friends and the larger triangle being a bully who was harassing them.

      2. Glad it wasn’t just me who thought this. The circle going into the place where the bigger triangle lived was bothering me as illogical, as was the running in circles together as if celebrating rather than just leaving, and the smashing up seemed really over reacting. However this was all after I watched it several times to try to reconcile the illogical parts.

        1. I’ve gone back and looked at the video several times, and it still looks like LT and C are the troublemakers. I get this impression from the moment LT and BT make contact. It appears to me that LT is pestering BT, before BT looses its patience or retaliates. I hadn’t originally thought of a robbery gone wrong, but on reflection that seems to fit, especially C’s actions inside the rectangle. Except for the very end when BT starts knocking down the rectangle. I just don’t know what to make of that.

    2. I do that too – hypothesizing many different possibilities and then settling on the one that seems most likely, often after getting input from other people about how likely or unlikely my theories are.

      Do you remember much about what was said on the program about this animation? I’m curious about how it was presented in the context of autism.

      1. There were a couple of different animations shown, both shorter than your example, and the description of the test was consistent with what you wrote here although rather less detailed (limitations of the TV format I guess). What I found most interesting was that all the NT subjects shown described what they were seeing in the same way, while the autistic people all described different scenarios that could fit what they saw. To me it appeared that the autistic people were imaginative, while the NT people seemed limited in their thinking. (This wasn’t the conclusion the program presented.)

        The program was presented by Professor Uta Frith, a developmental psychologist who has been studying autism for nearly 50 years, and whose 1985 research paper was “Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind’?”. Simon Baron-Cohen, who appeared briefly, was mentored by her as a student and his research clearly shows her influence. The main impression I got from the program was a sense of incredulity that somebody could spend so much of her life studying autism and still hold opinions that are at odds with the experiences of autistic people such as myself.

        1. (This wasn’t the conclusion the program presented.)

          I can’t imagine why . . . 🙂

          Perhaps the NT interpretations are driven by a sort of collective social consciousness which creates similar stories? I can see to some degree there being an intended interpretation, created by NT researchers, and a big chunk of NT viewers somehow picking up on that.

          Uta Frith is the senior author on one of the paper’s I linked to and something of a legend in autism research. I like some of what she’s written and have a lot of difficulty with other parts of it. It’s interesting to me that her paper uses the Sally-Anne experiment as a preliminary test of ToM while Klin’s paper is so dismissive of it for anyone past the 4-6 age group. Reading the two side by side, it’s obvious that there are factions within autism research and SBC is very much a divisive figure along which some of those factions split.

          The main impression I got from the program was a sense of incredulity that somebody could spend so much of her life studying autism and still hold opinions that are at odds with the experiences of autistic people such as myself.

          The Yale series of videos had me yelling variations of this at my computer screen on a regular basis. :-/ In fact, I feel this way pretty much every time I read anything written by “experts” about autism.

          1. Alex, BBC programmes through I-Player are available only in the UK. I regret that very much.
            Putting ‘Uta Frith autism’ into Youtube’s search engine, I found a lecture she has given recently at Harvard (about an hour of listening required, or if you’re into looking at people speaking, an hour’s worth of looking with Powerpoint writings and animations in between).
            Cynthia, you say you frequently get into shouting matches watching the Yale conferences. Hearing Uta Frith, I’d say I am not exactly happy but she certainly acknowledges that her view is limited, she says that there is no definite way to describe autism, she says that she is curious about future research. That is what I expect from scientists: curiosity, the desire to find out more. But I might be biased by a desire for harmony, trying to evade controversy.
            By the way, the destruction of the rectangle seemed to me something like Big Triangle has understood that his/her attempts at ruling over Small Triangle and Circle were vain and smashing the rectangle was liberating for him.

            1. And I also think it must be quite dull to live in an NT world where everybody sees the same story in something like the video in your post. As much as it might be tiring sometimes to agree on something amongst my aspie family, it certainly never is dull and quite often leads to bouts of relaxing laughter.

            2. I got that same message. :-/

              I think Uta Frith’s work is better than someone like Simon Baron-Cohen. She does often make a point of acknowledging that her view is limited, etc. The Yale series . . . I like Ami Klin’s lectures. The other main lecturer, whose name I’ve apparently blocked out of my brain in self-defense, drove me bonkers. There wasn’t a single lecture that he gave in which he didn’t do his “impression” of a person with Asperger’s. It’s hard to get much more offensive than that, especially when you’re one of the “top autism researchers in the US”. I’m gonna stop now before I start typing in all caps . . .

            3. Yup, it’s frustrating that BBC iPlayer shows are only available in the UK.:/

              It just struck me that I have not heard of any autism researcher who is autistic. I’m sure this is a lack of knowledge on my part, but given how difficult is seems to be for NT people to imagine what it is like to have an autistic mind, I would have thought autistic participation would be invaluable to research beyond being just test subjects.

              1. I don’t know of any autistic autism researchers either, but there must be at least a few, perhaps among graduate students or newer PhDs who haven’t yet “made a name for themselves” in the field. Have you been following the #AcademicAbleism conversation on Twitter? It think it says a lot about why there aren’t a bunch of highly visible autistic autism researchers.

                1. I am quite sure there are autistic autism researchers, like Cynthia Kim for example. Thing is that they might not know about being autistic for reasons you (very large and extended you, no irony or sarcasm) you and I know about having been diagnosed officially only late in life (in our thirties, fourties, fifties, sixties, seventies …) after having a career, a family, a life without depending on whatever kind of help might be available at present.
                  Other autistic autism researchers in academia might chose not to come out because academia provides the (nearly) perfect setting for doing the research without outing themselves and thus be able to continue to conduct their research as the proverbial distracted, or if you want paperaccumulating ‘mad’ researcher that isn’t any different from his colleague doing the same in physical astronomy or ancient aramaic. The Einstein type, if you get the gist.

                1. Thank you for the excellent links! Disability Studies Quarterly also has some writing by autistic academics. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of “big name” researchers doing the sort of work that Frith or Klin or Baron-Cohen are doing (or even the biomedical and genetic studies). Autism studies of that sort seem to be dominated by non-autistic academics and researchers.

                2. When prominent researchers are defining autism with incompetence and failure as prerequisites, it’s not surprising that autistic researchers are being given the opportunity to succeed.

                  Larry Arnold and others writing for Autonomy actually critique the theories of Frith and Baron-Cohen at length. I know that Larry and Uta have met at conferences before. I can’t imagine Larry taking Uta’s patronising tone very well 🙂

      2. The horizon animation was far more benign. This one worried me write a bit, esp. the circle being trapped by the large triangle

        1. I found the horizon animations a lot more limited in possible interpretation too. I didn’t have any difficulty getting the “correct” interpretation on the first viewing.

    3. Yes, having seen that Horizon episode (long critique of how bad it was in my comment below), I was expecting a clear narrative, but found this one much more challenging, ambiguous and open to interpretation. Like I would tentatively interpret it in one direction and then something inexplicable and surprising would happen. I only really got a workable explanation after some re-watches. My end reaction was complete surprise at the smashing stuff up, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

    1. Oh, that’s interesting! So like the box was a coveted area that the shapes were trying to get into but were locked or kept out of? I definitely interpreted the big triangle as a bully from the start, even though it seemed like the small triangle “started it”.

  4. You may not have spun a narrative, but was that even the direction? “Write a brief description of what happened in the animation.” It seems as though you hewed exactly to the directions. I think words like “confusion,” “nervous,” and “frantically” contributed to an apt anthropomorphic rendering without exceeding the parameters of the assignment, as it were.

    1. I think the directions are meant to be as non-leading as possible to allow each person’s description to reflect their natural reaction to the video. There isn’t really a right answer, so much as a glimpse at how much social attribution we read into situations unprompted.

      1. I guess my thinking is that any greater narrative would involve leaving the actual events witnessed and moving back in time to reference a presumed relationship. That’s an incredibly convoluted statement – sorry! I guess my idea is that attributing emotions alone stays within the framework of the events taking place, while attributing relationships assumes a past and references that past. Anyway, I think it’s interesting (and kind of wonderful) that so much emotion and sympathy can be evoked by simple shapes, whereas for me, things that have the “uncanny effect” – like 3D animation meant to be as lifelike as possible – leave me totally cold or, worse, in discomfort.

        1. I think that presupposing of a prior relationship is a big part of social attribution (if I’m understanding it correctly) as opposed to the more obvious in-the-moment goal oriented attribution.

  5. I was very uncreative – mainly because I was worried I’d forget what happened. I was more ‘big triangle hit little triangle, circle went in box’ etc. My most creative bit was being reminded of hens’ beaks by the triangles. And I was a bit concerned by the smashing up of the ‘room’ at the end – too much aggression for me.

      1. Based on my experience with the video, I’m sure the room smashing really was necessary. It was only at this point that I really began to see the shapes as being emotionally involved. Up to then I saw not much more than ‘Big triangle’ chasing down’ little triangle’ and ‘circle’. But when BT broke down the walls of the room, I instictively knew that he did to vent his frustration about the escape of little triangle and circle.

        I feel like the developpers build up the video veru carefully. In the beginning of the video there is not much to trigger our imagination to form stories or emotional involvement. The first step up on that is when the shapes start to interact with eachother. And I think the room smashing is just the last step trying to trigger our emotions.

        I’m not sure this makes much sense to you, as I can’t really explain it very clearly, but I think part of what this test is about, is finding out how much context someone needs before he or she starts the see it as a story and not as moving shapes.

        1. Now that you mention it, it does feel like there is a deliberate narrative arc to the storyline, designed to evoke emotion in much the same way a movie or book builds to a climax.

        2. The room smashing was the point that made me most unsettled about which character to ‘side’ with, and also about their motives. I think this is also the factor that made them seem more “human,” because up until that point they could have been animals interacting (which is sort of how I viewed them… sentient, but not “human”). But the room smashing was unsettling and confusing to me, and distinctly “human” behavior from my perspective. Also it would be difficult to explain the smashing without some kind of back story like some people have described here, maybe this is why it was confusing to me.

  6. The more I do tests, the more I think I am right at the borderline. I definitely attributed the shapes roles very quickly–I felt like the big triangle was an abusive father, the little triangle the mother, and the circle the child (thought both shapes seem ‘surprised’ by running into the big triangle, so the roles don’t quite work. It might be clearer if the big triangle is simply an abusive man and the triangle and circle a woman and child used to abuse). The little triangle passively tried to deflect and defuse the big triangle’s anger by submitting, but couldn’t force ‘her’self to stand up for her child beyond peeking into the room and than running away with the child. The big triangle broke up its room because it didn’t get the chance to use up its angry energy on the victims.

    Which is all a very emotion-and-role-sensitive way of describing some shapes bopping around. Watching the video made me actively very anxious and tense, too, which surprised me. They’re just shapes, but the dynamics I assigned them immediately triggered emotional memories of frightening, unpredictable men.

    And yet, in real life social situations, especially with people I care deeply about, I sometimes behave with little emotional sensitivity at all, until after the fact. I suppose I’m right on the line between NT and AS. The other tests I’ve taken would suggest that, too.

    1. I had a similar reaction to yours, in terms of anxiety and tension. It was nearly unbearable at one point. And like you, I’m often inappropriately under-emotional in real life situations. It seems like both responses are part of my general emotional dysfunction, because both are “inappropriate” to the stimulus, just in different ways.

      I suspect that there is very much a continuum along which autistic people interpret this animation and it isn’t nearly as cut and dried (autistics respond this way, allistics another way) as researchers would like to make it.

      1. From reading comments on this blog and elsewhere, I agree, about the continuum. It makes sense, since ‘autism’ seems like it’s not so much one specific medical disorder, as it is a way of talking about a range of ways of being, some of which tilt over into disorder/disability territory given certain conditions.

        It’s frustrating to get weepy over, say, Stitch being lonely in Lilo & Stitch, but just stare at an SO when she weeps. I remember a roleplaying scenario where I was playing half of a couple who walked in on his SO crying, and his reaction was to put a blanket over her to hide her because he had no idea what to do with a crying SO. At the time, my partner thought it was funny and appropriate to the character (who was horrible at relationships), but it made me thoughtful. I would never put a blanket over someone in distress to hide them from me, but, boy, did the idea of it as a knee-jerk solution come easily to mind.

        1. It’s frustrating to get weepy over, say, Stitch being lonely in Lilo & Stitch, but just stare at an SO when she weeps

          You’re not alone in experiencing this and it’s actually been a big relief to me to hear others say that they do it. Also, blanket fort! 🙂

          1. I think part of it is that I know what I’m feeling for the characters is projection, so it’s very safe. I’m just feeling for myself! But feeling for another person, who may not actually be experiencing anything like I think she is, and who my attending to may result in more being expected of me than I feel I can give–that feels dangerous. Or at least immense.

            Honestly, if someone covered me with a blanket when I was crying, as long as they then sat down next to me and let me touch them, I would go, well. That was different, but now I have a blanket and a person near me that I don’t have to look at but who’s still being comforting–and they don’t have to look at me nor me at them. I can come out when I’m done being emotionally uncontrolled and scary. Win/win.

  7. I was very uncreative but felt compelled to draw a diagram of the triangle inside the rectangle. Comments of going in and out of rectangle. Only towards the end did I describe chasing the other shapes and smashing up the rectangle.

    1. I wonder if your urge to diagram the relationship between the shapes (and your less descriptive . . . description 🙂 ) suggests that’s you’re more of a visual than a verbal thinker. Also, I felt like my description and my perception of the interactions became more actively imaginative toward the end of the animation where at first I just felt a more passive sense of wondering what was happening.

  8. I saw the triangles as males and the circle as a female. However I thought these “characters” were emotionally immature and unsophisticated and likely young children. BT saw LT with C from his house and was not happy. BT beat on LT (because he can) while C ran into the house. That C ran into the house implies that C had a relationship of some nature with BT, possibly his sister. C and LT got away and BT had a tanturm.
    The behavior of these shapes, particularly BT was not sophisticated enough to be adult. BT was either a young child or extremely emotionally impaired. Adult abuse situations are much more sublime and manipulatory which is why I don’t associate these shapes with being adults.

    1. The triangles as male and circle as female seems to be a very common interpretation based on the descriptions included in the research papers I read. It’s interesting that you see them as children. I don’t think I ascribed an age to them specifically.

      1. I assumed the big triangle was an older home owner and the smaller shapes to be children or youths. I did this too watching the Horizon videos (before they started explaining them, but with the caveat that I thought they were also mice).

  9. My narrative, from as much as I can remember:

    BT was in the house and for some reason came out and picked a fight with LT. C starts sneaking into the house, which I guess is supposed to be some sort of goal (but then why did BT leave it?). Then BT comes inside the house and gets mad at C and C manages to move faster than BT and flees. LT and C move around the house together until they run away for good. BT gets pissed for some reason (maybe because LT and C got away with whatever it is that they did, like maybe the offense of being on BT’s territory?) and starts busting the house.

  10. Here’s what I saw: A BT in a Rectangle and a door that can be opened. A LT tried to get in, Little Circle did get in. BT poked LT. After that, not sure if Little Circle is playing in the Rectangle, or scared of BT. Little Circle went out and BT broke the Rectangle.

  11. My description (which was kind of long :P) probably fell into category 2. It was mainly positionally descriptive, however I did use the word “chased” so it’s probably not category one. However, despite the impartial sounding description, I did feel upset and uncomfortable watching and I saw them as characters, but I felt it would be inaccurate to describe them that way I guess since they were actually just shapes. I tend to associate a lot of emotion in real life with inanimate objects as well though, but I know that other people often feel this is inappropriate, so maybe this impacted my description (for example, I can be a lot more upset emotionally over an object being broken than somebody getting hurt in a minor way). I found that while I was watching, although I didn’t come up with any back story or assign gender, I was preoccupied with who was in the “right,” the big triangle, or the little triangle and circle. At first I sympathized with the big triangle because it was already in the box, and the others seemed to “trick” it to come out while the circle sneaked in. But then, I didn’t know why the circle went in because when the big one went back in, the circle tried to escape and the big one seemed threatening. And then the smashing at the end. So I was left uncomfortable not only because of the discord between all the shapes but because I couldn’t tell who was right and who was wrong in the situation, and who I should be more sympathetic to. I actually watched it again to try to figure this out even though it made me uncomfortable, but I still couldn’t figure out who was right. Upon reflection, I realize that this is one of the things I also start trying to figure out right away when I either hear about or am part of a conflict in real life 😛 (especially if it’s me… did I do something wrong to cause the conflict? Should I have handled it differently? Should I be apologizing? etc).

    1. Oh, cool parallels that you found between your real life reaction to conflict and how the conflict between the shapes made you feel. Also, I wonder how many people on the spectrum have the reaction that you did of “these feel like characters but it also feels inappropriate to give them human-like characteristics” and so develop descriptions that omit feelings, etc. IOW, what if for some of us it isn’t a lack of seeing the shapes as human-like but a reluctance to describe them as such in case that’s “wrong”?

  12. I still feel anxious after watching that movie. I was really upset when the circle was trapped in the house with the big triangle. My initial description was very literal. I wasn’t sure what was wanted so I kept it to what I saw, it’s only at the end when I started to feel anxious that I disliked the big triangle and was worried for circle. I thought circle was scared of BT and went to hide in the house and got discovered by BT.

  13. I looked at what I wrote and saw it was three pages. A lot of precise detail of the movement of the shapes with some motivation talk thrown in. On my first three viewings I kept seeing the big triangle being locked inside the box but on the fourth it looked like the big triangle pulled the door closed when he saw the smaller shapes approaching. So on the first few watches, I saw the Big Triangle as frustrated (like a young boy who was pushed around by an abusive father and wanting to take that frustration out on the smaller shapes).

    As a side note, the reason I jumped to an abusive father was the date of the film. I saw that it was from 1944 and automatically began to interpret a bully situation with an abusive father in the back history. I couldn’t think of any other reason that would create a bully like that (although I’m sure there are many).

    At the end of your post you talked about using your periphery vision to watch stressful moments. I end up watching the background of a film and watch to see if the camera is zooming in. I also start to pay attention to the music and begin to analyze it for climatic elements. I become so analytical of the film I am able to detatch myself emotionally from “suspended disbelief”.

    1. Wow! That’s a ton of detail.

      The peripheral vision was a surprise to me because I didn’t realize that I do it. It was only because I kept losing the “3D” effect by looking out of the side of the glasses that it became obvious what was happening. And I sometimes notice the music in films analytically too! That gets annoying because I know that it’s supposed to be contributing to the emotional moments in the film or show, which is impossible when I’m treating it as something to be dissected.

  14. “what if for some of us it isn’t a lack of seeing the shapes as human-like but a reluctance to describe them as such in case that’s “wrong”?”
    After I watched earlier I was thinking about this aspect of the experiment and I have always, right back to my earliest memories in childhood, never liked anthropomorphising things. I was bought a beatrix Potter book as a child but I did not like it for that reason. I feel the same way about the shapes in the test. I know what peolple expect but I just do not see the things which are not human as human or even peuedo human. It has just never seemed right to me.

  15. Arg! I wish I hadn’t read about this study last week!

    So, I tried to just clear my mind and just watch the video. My reactions were, “Ooh! they’re space ships.” followed by, “Shoot. Do people really anthropomorphize the triangles?” Then about half way through I thought, “The little triangle is moving up the side of the building like an elevator.” then finally at the end I went, “Oh! I get it the big triangle is a bully with anger management problems.”

    It bothered me when the big triangle broke the building at the end and when the dot was blocking the entrance. I also, as someone above mentioned, likened the triangles to pecking beaks. On second watching I definitely had more emotional responses but I don’t know what I would have made of this video if I hadn’t read about it recently. It was very interesting to see it though.

  16. When the Big Triangle first left the room and went after the smaller shapes I thought of a bird defending its nest. I thought the smaller shapes were harassing it, and didn’t like that the circle snuck in. But then when the Big Triangle went back in the box, I started feeling really anxious for the Circle. When the Big Triangle broke the box I was really taken aback at the sudden destructive behavior.

    I wonder what it says about me that I thought of the triangle as an animal instead of a person. . . maybe it was just the beak-like pointy shape or the fact that there’s a triangle Angry Bird (my client is a big fan). 😉

  17. Hi all! After being a reader for quite a while, I’m finally delurking to join the convo here. *waves hello to the room*
    I thought this interesting. The first video didn’t play for me — it was just green glitchy video — so I read a bit of the page, just to the history paragraph, and then watched a different upload of the video instead.

    Just a quick about-me: Hi, I’m 35f and was diagnosed w/ Aspergers in Nov. 2013. (Cynthia, your e-book was exceptionally helpful to me! I’ve recommended it to multiple people so far.) I’m not currently working (had a breakdown/burnout thing in 2013), but when I was working, I was employed as a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Analyst. So, that is likely coloring my interpretation of the “game” being watched. I’m also very literal, so…there ya go.

    I guessed that the creators were wanting the viewer to storify the animation, but I decided to just watch it and observe the movements. Since it involved the interplay of geometrical shapes, I thought that we could perhaps analyze the moments of the shapes for clues as to the purpose of the animation. It reminded me an animated version of plotted sampling data from wildlife observation, or something like that. I also thought that it might be a strategy game of some sort.

    I was immediately inclined to watch it again, with a series of tasks: catalog each of the shape’s movements; do some basic data-gathering to assess the total number of movements per shape; determine which shape repeated which movements, and how many times; which shape influenced the others the most, etc. (I wanted to understand why this random thing was happening and figure out how it works!) That’s how I watched the first half of the video. For the second half, I distanced myself from analyzing the video and sort of soft-focused my eyes and observed the grouped movements of all three shapes plus the “door” to the box. I came away with the impression that the dot was the most important figure (eh? not sure why?), the BT was a bit of a red herring, the ST seemed ineffective, and some of the movements towards the end were aggravating and made me feel tense and anxious, kind of similar to when I feel mildly claustrophobic.

    1. Welcome! Thank you for the kind words about the book. Glad it’s been helpful to you and congratulations on your diagnosis. I hope things start to improve for you soon and you’re able to recover from your burnout/breakdown. I think we’ve all been there to varying degrees and it’s so hard to “come back” from.

      GIS! I got to play with that tiny bit as part of my undergrad work in economics and I loved it. Of course I also had no idea what I was doing. Your approach to the animation seems to really speak to your background as an analyst and I assume a strong statistics background. I really enjoyed reading it. 🙂

  18. Hmm…

    BT is by the opening of the rectangle and closes the rectangle when LT and C approach. Is BT afraid or trying to hide? Seems the actions of LT are a bit intimidatory. BT opens the door and moves just outside the entrance, where LT seems to confront BT. BT retaliates and drives LT away from the entrance. While BT is distracted, C takes over the rectangle and appears to be standing guard at the partially open door. Possibly waiting for LT to have an opportunity to join C?. Eventually BT drives LT out of sight of C, so C closes the door and moves to the corner opposite the door. BT re-enters the rectangle and closes the door before discovering C is also inside. LT sneaks up and opens the door while C makes threatening (or distracting?) moves at BT. When BT realises that LT is at the door, BT moves as far away as possible, before driving both LT and C out. BT and C jam or lock the door shut, and BT appears to have to use force to open it. BT then pursues LT and C until the pair depart. BT then either starts to dismantle or remodel the rectangle. Not sure which or why, as the video stops part way through the process.

    I didn’t start to think of them as sentinel beings until C stood guard at the doorway. It was that action that made me think of them a being alive instead of moving objects. Once I did that, all the movement before hand started to make sense instead of being unfathomable.

  19. The triangle is int he room, then it escapes and fights the other one. The circle hides in the room. Then a triangle goes in and chases it around and they leave. Then the other triangle bashes up the house.

    They seemed like they were very angry triangles.

  20. Hi, need to vent about a NHK(a Japanese channel) program and came here. It talked about another damn cell, and explained how injecting it on a laboratory rat’s brain(which looked painful) would make a couple of rats interact with each other, where previously they didn’t show interest to. The cell supposedly makes the brain produce hormones that creates a emotional bond between mother and new-born baby, and blah blah blah. What caught my attention was that the same cell is being “tried” on an autistic adult to cure his autism. The way the narration goes make you think autism is a sickness and should be eradicated. Not something understood. The said adult could be showed how to live with it, but no, it glorified the cell as a potential cure for his autism. I don’t know how others may see it, probably in another way, but since it was broadcasted soon after a public apology of a female scientist, I found it really demeaning and misogynistic. There are mostly male scientists related to these experiments, and it showed women as reproductive organs. I mean, they literally showed how the female body changes through puberty, and gets ready to generate children. Almost as if they don’t have a choice here. One of the guests invited to the program were a women who, surprise, also had children…in my opinion the program was sexist, ableist and overall disgusting. Nothing new for a patriarchal society that the modern Japan still is but since autism is a well known syndrome I thought NHK would focus on it though a different light. Or focus on how the hormones affect people and show the queer population.

      1. Hope I am not going to far from topic, but I prefer syndrome to disorder. According to it history root.
        “a number of symptoms occurring together,” 1540s, from Mod.L., from Gk. syndrome “concurrence of symptoms, concourse,” from syndromos, lit. “running together,” from syn- “with” + dromos “running, course.” Psychological sense is from 1955. Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper.

        Disorder: in my mind is negative, although the World Health Org. use it in terms of disorganization in the brain development.
        But this still implys something that is not normal. As Tony Attwood said, Psychiatry and Pyschology is developed by NT for NT people. So much negativity towards Autism seems to be in general terms the typical response by people to anything they do not understand or have to make an effort to interact with.

        Just my thoughts…..

    1. Probably about oxytocin? I’ve seen those studies and they’re infuriating because they approach autism as a “failure to bond” problem instead of a neurological wiring difference. Gah.

    2. So, if they’re saying this “cures” autism, why aren’t autistic women cured by having babies? 😛 (that bonding stuff is powerful, but it didn’t change my wiring when I had a kid…)

  21. I also saw this test on the Horizon programme featuring Uta Frith. I’m a bit confused though, because the message I got from the programme was that people on the spectrum will apply a narrative to the triangles, and personalise them, they will just “get it wrong” (meaning they don’t interpret it using the exact narrative the testers conceived for it, but some other narrative of their own devising). I didn’t think the idea was that people on the spectrum personalise it less – or have I misunderstood this post a bit? 😦 Anyway, because I knew what the test was about I only followed the triangles in a general way, but my thought was that the room was a loo and that the circle was a dog! At one point I thought, “Oh now the dog wants to use the loo, look, it’s shut the door.” Make of that what you will. 🙂 Just as an aside, the Horizon programme made me feel a little excluded – as though I was “not quite autistic enough” to pass, or something. Can’t quite remember the details of why I felt that as I watched it about a week ago. I didn’t really like her comment that “if you think you’re a little bit autistic, you’re probably not”. I get what she’s getting at but there are a lot of women out there who haven’t twigged that they’re on the spectrum because the definitions have traditionally revolved around the male manifestations of it and if they heard her statement, and had been wondering about themselves in connection with the spectrum, they will probably have taken her at face value and thought “oh well, that counts me out, so what on earth is wrong with me???”. Which would be deeply unhelpful.

    1. I haven’t seen the program so I can’t say how my post is different from what they presented. I summarized the background information in the two autism-specific papers that I linked to plus some general background on the original research. Perhaps in the program they were using “get it wrong” as shorthand for what I wrote about in more detail here (and that the researchers write about in tons more detail in their papers). The Klin paper has something like seven different scales on which they rated the differences in interpretation and I only chose one of them to look at here because it seemed the easiest to self-interpret.

      I’m so not a fan of that statement about “a little bit autistic” for the reasons you point out and because it gives the impression that someone can be a little bit autistic, rather than autism being a neurological condition that you either do or don’t have. I get that researchers are trying to produce attractive soundbites for TV, but statements like that do more harm than good for autistic people, especially those who are still somewhere in the discovery process.

      1. Popping in to say that I think people who mouth shutdown statements like “If you think you have x than you can’t be x” are also discouraging people from learning about x, whatever it might be. That kind of statement instantly says well, x has nothing to do with your life, move along, if you choose to learn more about it, you must be a neurotic Muenchausen or on the road to being a professional who treats or studies x. That seems like a very unuseful attitude to take to any problem that can affect thousands of people and which people better understand through education.

        It also leaves in the lurch people who are in the discovery process, like you said. Discovery may lead to ASD or to something else, but the searcher won’t know until they try the road. (From my own experience of the past few months, I think people with family members with ASD also have to sort out whether they have ASD or have learned behavior from growing up with someone(s) with ASD–or both–and the only way to sort that out is to learn about ASD!) Maybe one day simple physical testing will be available so the discovery process is shortened. (I’d love it if I could just sign up for some sort of painless brain scan and get a good look at how my nervous system’s structured and how it compares to other people’s. That would be fascinating.)

        Though I get people’s protectiveness of the term and fear that it will become diffuse and meaningless. Important language like that becoming so widely applied as to become useless is a real danger. It means that people will start saying “Oh, I have x, too, x is no big deal” to dismiss someone, when they meet someone with x, instead of listening to the other person.

        1. Otterknot, I agree, though I think she was actually trying to discourage the “X is no big deal” sort of people, the ones who, if you say you think your dad/partner/sister has Asperger’s or that you think you might be on the autistic spectrum because of [insert reasons/description of symptoms here], they say “oh all dads are like that though” or “maybe she’s just rather fussy” or “but I can be a bit like that too sometimes”. The sort of person who responds to news that someone is suffering from depression by saying “I feel down sometimes too”. It’s well meaning and probably intended to make you feel a bit better but it’s just wrong because it glosses over the scale of the real problem. So she was probably saying “just because you think you have a few signs of autism doesn’t put you on the spectrum, which is a whole other thing and presents really serious difficulties”. But I think you’re right, Otterknot, the problem with the way she phrased it is that it discourages people from looking further into what might be a genuine problem, as though they should stop fussing and just “move on”, as you say.

          1. Oh, yes, I see what you mean! Thank you for clarifying. I’ve had a few people recently tell me ‘stop reading about ASD, you’re normal, you’re just depressed’ comments at me. That probably made me comment without thinking too hard about the possible interpretations first. (Who knows, I may be depressed and not ASD, but I have to learn about both first to know!)

        2. Definitely and for a long time those were the people I listened to. Whenever I tentatively brought up autism or aspergers people would imply that I was simply exaggerating traits that everyone has and that gave me a strong sense of it being “all in my head” literally until the day that I got that paper diagnosis saying otherwise.

          Also, SBC’s statements that everyone has autistic traits weren’t very helpful because he made it seem like “we’re all on the spectrum” which is a fallacy. Autistic people are on the spectrum and it’s a spectrum of autistic traits. Other people aren’t on the spectrum, though they may experience a small set of autistic-like traits. It’s not like autistic people are at “one end” of the spectrum and nonautistic people are sprinkled along the middle and down toward “the other end”. I think that’s a hard concept for a lot of people to grasp.

          I get that she meant that if you think you’re “a little bit autistic” you may not qualify as being on the spectrum–like she listed her own spectrum-y traits as examples and then dismissed the possibility that she’s autistic because she lacks other key traits. But her statement has the potential to create doubt in people who may be undiagnosed and have a very well developed web of coping skills that masks some of their traits.

          And of course that quote about “everyone is a little bit autistic” was one of the tag lines used on the BBC website to promote the documentary, which in itself is a great reason for researchers to be avoiding those kinds of soundbites to begin with.

      2. Yes, in the programme they were definitely suggesting the people on the spectrum had “got it wrong”. I think I have indeed got a bit confused about all the different possible interpretations – with the timing, only shortly after the programme, I assumed there must be a link, my bad 🙂

    2. The Horizon programme (which is terrible, see my long comment below) had a different intention for their test. Theirs is trying to use geometric shapes to put across a simple story as clearly as they can. I think by comparison this test is intentionally complex and more open to interpretation, and doesn’t use the kind of common childrens animation cues used in the Horizon version (like theirs are clearly directional and have fronts and backs, while these can start moving backwards, and Horizon’s interactions were usually slower, smoother and more exaggerated than these).

      I think I would have correctly interpreted all the Horizon animations, eventually, what surprised me was how quickly the non-autistic people were depicted as taking it were knowing what all the relationships and story were. I think when there’s ambiguity, I tend to think of all the possible interpretations and wouldn’t be seeing it one way to the exclusion of others until it seemed entirely unambiguous.

      1. Having seen the Horizon animations now, I agree with all of your comments here. The curious thing is that I think these are the same animations that are used in the Frith paper. If so, they’ve seriously simplified the explanation for the TV audience.

        1. Perhaps they found that all the autistic adults had just as ‘social’ readings of the animations as the non-autistic participants so they instead focused on how diverse and creative those were, presenting it as them getting mentalising wrong?

      2. I’m glad you thought it was terrible. I felt very alienated by it – didn’t like what Frith said at all. 😦 But was inclined to see her as someone who really should know what she’s talking about? Glad others here have said otherwise.

  22. Another interesting test, great job tracking this down and writing such insightful analysis 🙂

    Here’s what I wrote from the video, without reading anything else:

    There is a triangle in a box, closing itself inside (maybe just finished building it?). A smaller triangle and circle arrive. The triangle leaves the box when the other shapes get near to it and the smaller triangle pecks at it. Then the big one pushes it around. The circle goes towards the triangles but then goes into the box when the big triangle comes towards it (hiding because it doesn’t want to get pushed too?). The big triangle goes into the box and shuts itself in with the circle. The little triangle tries to let the circle out (distracting the big triangle?), then the circle escapes with the little triangle and they run in a circle outside (to celebrate? playing?), but then there’s a chase around the box as the big triangle goes after them and then they leave altogether, the big triangle left behind. Then the big triangle unexpectedly smashes up the box (or maybe just its door) – this ending surprised me a lot.

    After a lot of thought and several re-watches, I think maybe the box is a house, the big triangle is at home and wants quiet and the smaller shapes are bothering it (smaller implies noisy children maybe?), and then it gets angry because they invade its home, but actually it’s because they’re scared of it and not thinking rationally (or else it wouldn’t hide inside the place where the triangle will go back)? When they get out again they start doing the same thing outside (going in circles), and the big triangle tries to stop them once again, but they leave after a chase. It’s very angry and frustrated at the end so smashes things up.

    Alternatively the circle went into the box on purpose while the small triangle was intentionally providing a diversion, and stole something from inside (but there’s no evidence of this – perhaps it was going in there on a dare?) – it was all a big trick, they rotate together after they leave to celebrate getting away with it? And that’s also why the big triangle gets angry at the end?

    (On early watches I was distracted by the triangles not having a defined ‘front’ and seemingly changing direction like the way a brittlestar moves).

    From having read the rest of your post, I seem to have initially responded with a #2 reaction then come up with something that’s on the border between #2 and #3 after several re-watches and lots of thinking.

    Incidentally, this is extremely similar to a test shown in this BBC Horizon autism episode from 1st of April:

    There the movements were much more consistent with them being animals or analogous to people (there was a consistent front end to the triangles) and the actions more easy to interpret as a narrative (more of a clear cause and effect) but the distinction shown between the autistic and non-autistic group was that the non-autistic population all give the same story (the one the researchers were intentionally depicting) where the autistic group were a lot more creative in their interpretations – which, I think, were equally valid readings of what was shown.

    When watching it on the TV programme, I immediately paused it and said that it was like a particular old children’s TV programme – I later remembered that those are something my assessment report says that I’m preoccupied with in general 🙂

    Oh and by the way, I don’t endorse that documentary, it has a terrible negative and pathologising tone and it stuffed full of misinformation like saying that people with Asperger’s have no language difficulties (because receptive language and difficulties under stress apparently don’t count?!) or that being able to explain your traits and cope socially by mimicry is ‘incredible’ and ‘rare’. It also makes way too much of mentalising / theory of mind and puts tragic music over an autistic person who’s happily tending a garden. Argh. Oh and it makes a massive deal out of savant abilities (ignoring the autistic person they’re showing saying it’s just memory and practice in his case) and at the end it completely misrepresents the autistic spectrum and says that anyone watching who thinks they might be autistic almost certainly isn’t!

    So yes, a really dreadful documentary. But there is a neat historical bit, a few autistic people explaining their experiences and quite a few interesting psychology experiments demonstrated within it, including some informal ones like getting people to do Where’s Wally puzzles (something that I’m unusually good at unless Wally’s stripy jumper is obscured, then I find it frustratingly unfair), and really significant seeming ones like getting kids to get an object out of a box after it’s been demonstrated with a superfluous step. All the non-autistic kids copied the superfluous step while the autistic kids just did the necessary parts – they’re more efficient at doing the tasks, but not ‘social learning’.

    If I had time and wasn’t worried about the BBC’s copyright, I’d chop all the psychology experiments out of the programme and put them online separately, free from the rest of the misinformation and stigma in the documentary. (I’m especially annoyed with this because my mother watched it in the hopes of understanding me better and I had to do a lot of ‘damage control’ afterwards).

    1. Oh, you found a version of it that those of us outside the UK can watch! Thank you! I’m going to take a look tomorrow as long as work isn’t too hectic. Alex said the same thing you did about the differences between the autistic and nonautistic individual’s interpretations. I suspect to some degree this has to do with animation created by a neurotypical researcher being more easily interpreted “correctly” by neurotypical viewers who have a shared social language with the creator, which the autistic viewers are less likely to be fully fluent in. In much the same way we (autistics) read the autistic kid’s body language in that kennedy kreiger video similarly while the “professionals” who interpreted it for the narration completely missed a lot of the meaning behind the autistic kid’s body language.

      After I’ve watched the documentary, I’ll be back to agree with you on horrible it is. Probably in detail. 🙂

    2. Oh man, 25 minutes into this documentary and . . . argh. I need a bingo card. Was Uta Frith who started the whole “autistic people don’t know that other people have minds” nonsense based on the Sally-Anne test? And why is this the only possible explanation considered for why kids choose the box instead of the basket? Watching the kids take the S-A test, I’m wondering if it’s a combination of literalness and impaired pragmatics. Or maybe just poor short term memory or verbal reasoning, IOW, an executive function issue. Because I’m absolutely positive that it’s not “autistic people don’t know that other people have their own thoughts and feelings”. Okay, back to silently cursing out Youtube.

      1. with the Sally/Anne test, I wondered if it could be a case of the child being truthful or wanting to be right and valuing that over wondering what the other person might think

        1. Oh, yes, this too. In fact, this seems even more likely to be the case. Also, perhaps a bit of echolalia at work? The last thing the researcher has talked about was the box, not the basket and the child could simply be calling up the most recent bit of “data” that they have and repeating it back.

      2. Uta Firth originally pioneered the idea that autism was about lack of ‘mentalising’ ability which became the popular ‘unified theory’ of autism for a time, now almost entirely discredited. And yes, Sally-Anne was originally developed by her research group in 1985, yes, in a paper with Simon Baron-Cohen in fact

        The original mid-80s version they showed asking “Where will Uta look for the marble?” was especially flawed because the test subject could realise that the researchers have performed this test several times before and know where the marble ends up.

        As you say, it could also be confused by misinterpreting the question as asking where the marble is – this seems even more likely when you consider that the autistic kids ignored all the superfluous ‘theatre’ around the ‘get the boat out of the box’ task. The Sally-Anne dolls were meant to reduce some of these flaws.

        The staff of my local Asperger Team will genuinely rant about how flawed the Theory Of Mind idea is, how it can be a useful idea for some individuals but isn’t even slightly universal. I don’t think that this documentary really reflected the current state of research about autism, only the parts that supported Uta’s outdated theories and attitudes.

        1. What can be done? I’m getting more indignant about the researchers. But what can a lay person not a researcher do especially when faced with professionals?

          1. The majority of researchers and professionals I’ve come across aren’t like this (but maybe I’m just lucky), not even the majority of documentaries are.

            I think the problem is that Simon Baron-Cohen and his Cambridge research group are very good at promotion and attracting media coverage – SBC’s been promoting his popular science books and the like at various times in the past. By comparison most researchers are only presenting at conferences, so the other theories of autism don’t get anywhere near as much media attention, despite having stronger evidence backing them up.

            1. SBC is really good at promotion of his ideas in the popular literature. And he and Frith seem adept at boiling down complex issues into attractive soundbite style concepts. Sadly, they’ve had a huge impact on how people think about autism and how it’s viewed by laypersons and parents.

    3. Also, if Uta Frith truly thinks that autistic people who can describe why socializing is difficult are rare, she really needs to meet more autistic people. I’m so disgusted with the breathless tone and sideshow mentality of this documentary it’s not even funny. Also, am I the only who found the attitudes of some of the researchers exploitative and patronizing and condescending when they were interacting with many of the autistic people.

      1. In many of these documentaries there is a difference in the style of interactions when they are dealing with autistic people. It seems to be an unconscious prejudice on the part of the researchers; a presumption of reduced competence. At least I’m assuming it’s unconscious because they don’t appear to be aware of it…

        1. Yes! I finished watching it and now I’m absolutely seething. But yes, it’s clear that they change their mannerisms, approach, tone of voice, etc when interacting with the autistic individuals. Do they realize that “difficulty with social interaction” doesn’t mean “completely oblivious to social cues”?

          I was kind of amused by how the guy who was planing stuff in his garden at the end of the doc just walked away from the researchers like “so done with this” and went off to do something else. Also, was I the only one who found the autistic couple completely charming? I liked them a lot.

          1. I got the impression that the autistic couple communicated with each other very openly and directly which is not something that most non-autistic people do in my experience. This seems to be a factor in building strong relationships where both partners can feel secure. There was a clear connexion between the two; they obviously understand each other very well. I would have liked to have seen some focus on this demonstration of mutual empathy, but I guess that would have cast doubt on somebody’s pet theory!

            And I loved the way the guy in the garden went off to do something interesting rather than waste time on an uncomfortable, artificial situation.

            But overall I have to agree with Nat’s (Quarries and Corridors) assessment that too much of the documentary was repeating old stereotypes and almost completely focused on the Theory of Mind hypothesis.

            1. I liked their honesty and how they seemed to be very much on the same page, which can be such a hard place to get to in a relationship.

              And yes, the mix of perpetuating old stereotypes and “LOOK AT THE AMAZING AUTISTIC PERSON” type segments was disappointing.

              1. (I should not comment more until I’ve finished work but…)

                The main thing I thought was so incredibly damaging (out of a programme full of damaging things) was the misinformation about what the autistic *spectrum* specifically was at the end, and their idea that anyone who had the 32 or more autistic traits but was succeeding in life couldn’t be autistic – because autism is apparently defined in terms of failure for them.

                I don’t know why I expected anything better from the researcher who pioneered the metalising/theory of mind model and taught Simon Baron-Cohen ‘everything he knows’, but I guess I hoped that a BBC documentary would attempt to be balanced and ensure that opposing views were represented – especially when ToM has been repeatedly debunked as something universal to autistic people!

                I’ve also seen really good autism documentaries from BBC channels, like the BBC Four Growing Children series, sadly now taken down from YouTube, the wonderful My Autism And Me made for kids TV and the excellent My Family And Autism which first made me realise I had a lot of autistic traits and a similar outlook on life back in 2003. That made it all the more frustrating.

                1. Yes! I was flummoxed by the “can’t get a diagnosis unless you’re a failure” comment too. Also the fact that SBC was presenting his AQ test as the end-all and be-all of assessing who has austistic traits and to what degree.

                  I didn’t so much as a documentary on autism as a documentary on Uta Frith. The only other researchers she seemed to include were people who currently work under her or who she’d trained. A bit like making a documentary on a country’s government then only including people from one wing of one party.

                2. Yes it was absolutely a documentary about Uta’s theories, regardless of what other researchers and autistic people themselves say.

                  I’d like to see a documentary featuring people like Wing and Gould, the original pioneers of the idea of autism being a spectrum condition, the triad of impairments, the wide variety of different types of autistic behaviour and who popularised Asperger’s to the English speaking world. They could do it as a narrative of how our understanding of autism has grown, lots of competing and contradictory theories and end by looking at gender bias and how under-diagnosed girls have been and why.

                  I’d also like to see more autism documentaries presented by autistic people in their own words, like the BBC’s great ‘My Autism And Me’ and ‘My Family And Autism’ documentaries.

                  As for the ‘you have to be failing in life’ comments, yes the diagnostic criteria end with “Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning”, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have coping strategies or have found people, accommodation and employment that currently play to your strengths. There’s also more than one type of ‘success’.

                  When I was ranting about this on Twitter, one of my followers pointed me at this from thAutcast:

          2. Re the autistic couple, do you mean Sarah Hendrickx and Keith Newton? They wrote a book called Aspergers: A Love Story, plus she has written several other books on Aspergers. I was absolutely fascinated to see that she has been diagnosed as being on the spectrum because she wrote most of her books about it before realising that she was on it. I really, really, really want to hear more detail about how she came to the realisation, and how it had escaped her before, when she was giving talks as an expert on the subject. Meanwhile, here is a possibly useful link:, calling for women to contribute to a book about women on the spectrum, written by her. Don’t know if it has been posted here before? The responses are all done online, doesn’t have to be a UK thing – people here might wish to contribute? … Should add, I think as a couple they seem very easy to warm to, at least from what I have seen of them.

            1. Oh, I wasn’t aware that she’s so well known. Also, that wasn’t at all obvious from the program. 😦 Thank you for the link to the book information. I need to do a wrap up post because there are at least three good projects looking for input from autistic adults that I’d like to call attention to.

              1. You may be interested to know that Sarah Hendrickx’s entire NAS Professional Conference talk (as featured a couple of times in the Horizon episode) is up on the National Autistic Society’s YouTube channel here:

            2. I’ve actually read one of Sarah Hendrickx’s books in the past, ‘The Adolescent and Adult Neuro-diversity Handbook’, which has chapters on things like ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia etc. I found that the chapter on Autistic Spectrum Conditions and Asperger’s was very dry and ‘factual’ and uncritically reported various theories and an extremely stereotypical view that was rooted in the DSM-IV criteria with no acknowledgment of how autism can be affected by gender or age, or coped with in different ways. It was a frustrating and ‘othering’ read that wasn’t much better than reading the DSM or Wikipedia.

              By comparison I found the other chapters more useful and representative of their conditions.

              At the time of writing that book, Sarah Hendrickx had diagnoses of dyslexia, ADHD, agoraphobia, panic disorder and OCD – it’s not an uncommon situation for a woman with undiagnosed autism to have a collection of other labels covering some traits and behaviour but not explaining them all.

              When I realised during watching the Horizon that she’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s since writing the book, the highly stereotypical and limited description of Asperger’s made far more sense to me. I certainly know that I had a very skewed idea of what Asperger’s was when I was diagnosed with only dyspraxia and so understood Asperger’s as relative to the idea of normality that was defined by my own experience – everything I read about had to be a lot more extreme than me.

              I’m kind of morbidly curious to read the “Asperger Syndrome – A Love Story” book given it describes being in a hetrosexual relationship where the male partner has Asperger’s without awareness that the female partner does too. Although that said didn’t Rudy Simone also write the book “22 Things a Woman Must Know If She Loves a Man with Asperger’s Syndrome” before she knew she had Asperger’s herself?

              I guess that pattern makes sense, I know that I ended up having close friendships and relationships with lots of people who were (or likely were) on the spectrum and I could’ve easily ended up partnered with someone who was diagnosed, and that I was fascinated with Asperger’s for years before I established that I did actually ‘fully qualify’ myself, including attending mixed ‘neurodiversity’ groups as a dyspraxic person.

              I was one of many British autistic people diagnosed with dyspraxia spreading misinformation about how that came with virtually all of the traits of Asperger’s. In fact I’m not exactly sure what I thought the difference even was between Asperger’s and dyspraxia, other than that the causes of the similar traits were different (executive function and non-verbal learning differences only) and that the impact on ones ability to function socially was less with dyspraxia.

              Really I think the main thing I’d internalised were all the messages from the Uta Friths and Simon Baron-Cohens of the world, that the fact that I could succeed in some areas of my life (to a point and with workplace accommodations) and could understand where a doll would look for a marble meant that I wasn’t ‘disordered’ enough.

              This is a big reason why I’m so very bothered by the terrible documentary, that seemed to go out of its way to be a setback to people in denial about needing help for their undiagnosed autistic spectrum condition, looking for something that reflects their experience (while also anything they can still cling to in denial). And I know that from personal experience of going on research drives until hitting something that didn’t fit or account for me, over and over again periodically for years :/

              1. The plot thickens, Quarries and Corridors! Sarah Hendricks’ book was also another I looked at pre dyspraxia diagnosis! It seems like as with Victoria Biggs, Caged in Chaos, the dyspraxia people I related to were later diagnosed with Asperger. This dyspraxia misdiagnosis is hurting people.
                And I too have been worried about all different diagnoses I’ve received. Have avoided bipolar and BPD so far.

                1. It’s not necessarily even a misdiagnosis, knowing about SpLD traits can be extremely helpful if you have them, as is having your WAIS cognitive profile.

                  The real problem is that there isn’t automatic assessment for an autistic spectrum condition as soon as you’ve been given a dyspraxia, ADHD or other SpLD diagnosis. These should put a massive ‘High likelihood of autism!’ flag on GP’s computers when they add dyspraxia etc to someone’s records. It’s kind of ridiculous that I could show up with major social problems and a dyspraxia diagnosis and not be sent on for more assessment.

                  Getting d/xed with dyspraxia should be the first step towards fully understanding yourself, not a ‘roadblock’ that delays your path to an accurate label and adequate help for years.

              2. I wasn’t diagnosed officially with dyspraxia but self-diagnosed at one point. Later I was officially diagnosed with ADHD. 🙂

                1. Sorry, should have added here, before coming to the realisation that all the indicators suggested that I was in fact on the autism spectrum.

              3. I’ve just read the Amazon ‘Look Inside!’ preview of ‘Asperger Syndrome – A Love Story’.

                The tone generally seems good, trying to make having an autistic partner seem positive and manageable but it’s giving an extremely skewed and gender biased view of autism, including attributing it to Extreme Male Brain and Theory of Mind (page 15 distinguishes the differences between their abilities to contribute to the book as Sarah having ‘the ability to see another perspective’).

                Worse still Sarah lends some credence to the problematic idea of ‘Cassandra Affective Disorder’ saying that she recognises the symptoms in herself – CAD, now known as CADD (with ‘Deprivation’ as the extra D) is a dubiously justified medical condition that attributes things like sleep difficulties, depression, anxiety, self-esteem and social problems to the ‘deprivation’ of having an autistic partner.

                As with Caged In Chaos, I’m really uncomfortable with how JKP are continuing to publish this without any kind of update or acknowledgment of how skewed and flawed it is. Especially when the and reviews are heaping so much praise onto it still. I’d really hope that they’d at least add a new foreword and preferably put out a revised edition (like they’re doing with Caged In Chaos, which I seriously hope mentions Victoria Bigg’s Asperger’s diagnosis).

                1. Well that’s disappointing. The book is quite old (2007) considering how fast how knowledge of autism is changing. I looked at a “surprise me!” section on Amazon and I’m not really a fan of the alternating voices style, primarily because a lot of it (in the section I read) seemed to be Sarah talking about Keith’s experiences and Keith sort of, not defending, but maybe explaining his “side” of it. Which wasn’t what I was expecting from the title of the book. But what I was able to see in the preview was limited so maybe the whole book isn’t like that.

                  CADD . . . I’m shocked and dismayed that someone on the spectrum would validate it’s existence, especially in a relationship where both partners are autistic and presumably understanding of each other’s differences. I think if my partner felt they had CADD I would tell them to walk away from the relationship, not because I felt I was harming them but because I would feel that they didn’t value me as a person. Not quite sure if I’m expressing that the way I want to but hopefully it’s in the right ballpark.

                2. They explain earlier on in the book that they intended to make an equal contribution and each write entire chapters, but Keith wasn’t able to deal without structure or guidance (Sarah explains this as a theory of mind thing rather than executive function, even though it sounds EF to me). So Sarah ended up writing the majority of the book with Keith giving reactions.

                  I got what you meant about CADD and would certainly feel similar! I assume that she researched CADD and found that it said that it makes you act a bit like you have Asperger’s yourself, and then looked for confirmation of that and unsurprisingly was able to identify AS traits in herself(!). But yes it very much shows how she tends to entirely uncritically report the theories and diagnostic criteria for various disorders and conditions without questioning whether they’re real or correct, which Keith seems happy to go along with. The introduction also says that Sarah had to work on Keith for 2 years to get him to stop being in ‘complete denial’ and accept that he had the AS she’d recognised in him.

                3. Okay, yes, I’m watching her talk on Youtube and seeing a lot of gender essentialism (boys have no imagination and girls have lots of imagination, dressing up for plays is female) in her perception of autism.

                  Also, I’m curious how she arrived at the idea that people with autism have no tools for coping or only have a “hammer” in their toolbox. I think actually the opposite is true – we have highly developed tools for coping, often far more intricate and varied than the average person does. I do get what she means about typical people having more subtle or “delicate” coping strategies but I think she’s overgeneralized the abilities (and lack thereof) that autistic people have.

                4. Yes, I didn’t think it was that great myself. Very focused on portraying all autistic people as at extremes of anxiety (which is I suppose forgivable given the topic of the talk, but she doesn’t make it clear that people can be very different).

                  The ’emotional toolbox’ idea is straight out of Tony Atwood’s work. There’s several pages on how to develop a more nuanced and varied emotional toolbox in The Complete Guide.

                  I think as an analogy only having meltdown / panic / a hammer as your emotional toolbox contents makes sense for someone with extremely severe general or social anxiety (I recall that her 2010 book says she has diagnosed ‘agoraphobia with panic disorder’). I really don’t think that generalises to most people on the spectrum though, maybe more so in childhood.

                  If I was giving that analogy I’d say that my toolbox is full of complex and intricate tools, that I use in what seem like unnecessarily elaborate and often confusing ways. But if they don’t work and things go wrong then I get too overwhelmed and clumsy and can’t work any of the tools. I shutdown or breakdown and can’t do anything but sob if people try to interact with me. No hammer; I almost never react with panic (although certain sensory situations and outright hostility from others can sometimes do it).

                5. Today the Look Inside preview is giving me slightly different pages, including ones where Sarah explains at length how many stereotypical autistic spectrum traits her mother had, then ascribes lots of her own traits to having been raised by a probably autistic person.

                  Here’s her explanation of why she isn’t autistic:

                  “Sometimes I feel like I speak Asperger as a second language. My upbringing from my mother was one of having my practical care needs being met but not so my emotional needs. I certainly have not inherited AS from her; I have a good imagination, and a high degree of intuition and perception with regard to other people. I am adaptable and flexible and can deal with uncertain situations and love the notion of change and new experiences. I can easily read body language and facial expressions. I believe that I learned a lot of my no-nonsense approach to life from my mother, who had no patience for time wasting or dawdling. I am sometimes said to be intolerant and have little time for those who say they will do something and then don’t. I seem to lack the necessity to adhere to some social boundaries and ma bewildered by the reactions of others who find this outrageous or unusual. I do tend to make inappropriate jokes or comments and am said to be blunt. Where Keith will say ‘Why?’ I will say ‘Why not?’ and challenge this notion of inaction, as I see it. Despite this I am very sensitive to the feelings of others and I do worry about having said or done the wrong thing. Many aspects of life make me feel quite anxious but I generally hide it well. Despite delivering training to groups of strangers and being able to respond to unknown questions very quickly and well, I can struggle badly socially and am sometimes unable to cover this up; I will sit in a corner or just sneak away quietly. Keith and I are not as different as people often imagine.”

                  It seems partly denial (there are a lot of autistic traits in that paragraph), partly believing stereotypes like autistic people have no imagination, and partly not being aware of how one common coping strategy (especially for girls) is to put a huge amount of effort into understanding and mimicking ‘correct’ social rules, but having a high degree of anxiety as a result. I’m not surprised though, I didn’t really become aware of that perspective until 2010, and it was very helpful for me when I did.

                6. I guess I approach any book that’s more a couple of years old as a sort of historical artifact. Not only is the collective understanding of autism changing so rapidly but I think each of us is constantly evolving in how we see our own experience of being autistic, especially in that initial post-diagnosis period. Some of what Sarah describes as her experience in the video is different from what she describes in the book, so maybe the book has become outdated. And yeah, your assessment of what’s going is similar to my own take on it.

                  I think it’s a bit dangerous that she’s basically attributing her own AS to what sounds like a classic “refrigerator mother” theory. I have an allistic daughter who has some autistic traits but is clearly not on the spectrum. She’s quite fluent in autistic communication thanks to being raised by an autistic mother, but I absolutely believe there is a genetic component and no matter how many autism-like traits she picked up, without that genetic component, “speaking Asperger as a second language” is simply a cultural oddity that I’ve gifted her with. So those few sentences really bugged me.

                  I feel a bit bad judging her based on such old writing. I wouldn’t want to be judged on stuff I posted on this blog a year ago, let alone some I’d written 7 years ago (if such a thing existed) but I do think it’s important to shed light on misconceptions and potentially damaging information.

                7. I absolutely treat it as a historical document, and one that’s especially of interest to me because it’s so much like how I understood the spectrum and why I thought I wasn’t on it, and for such similar reasons to mine.

                  I’m sure she’s greatly expanded her understanding of autism now, at least enough that it now includes her own experience 🙂

                  Yes, it’s unfortunate that she attributes her difficulties to her mother. I doubt she’d do that today except in terms of genetics, if anything having a parent with strong spectrum traits is likely to be helpful when you’re growing up undiagnosed autistic. Really she speaks neurotypical as a second language, just had it the wrong way round about which one ‘came first’.

                  Going from my experience again, having someone in your family or close to you in adult life who’s more stereotypically or evidently on the spectrum than you are can skew your own understanding of autism. You will tend to define yourself as how you’re not like them (you’re the socially able, intuitive and flexible one, by comparison) and autism by whatever you perceive to be the difference between you and them (or at least I did).

                  If it helps as an updated view of her mother, this is from her current website:

                  “Sarah was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 43 – after she had written several books on the subject. Asperger syndrome in women is so invisible that Sarah did not recognise it in herself! […] Several members of her immediate family have Asperger Syndrome which is why she felt that it made perfect sense to her prior to her own diagnosis.”

                  I’m not judging Sarah, or at least I find it all extremely understandable and really relate. I know I learned a huge amount since 2007 and I’m sure she’s learned even more working professionally in the area. However I am genuinely uncomfortable with how this book’s still being published and promoted without any update or even a note on the JKP product page and paper catalogue. Much like how Caged In Chaos kept being the flagship book about dyspraxia with no update for years after Victoria Biggs got her Asperger’s diagnosis – the new edition of that has just come out, not yet on Amazon I’m really hoping it’s acknowledged properly.

                  I suppose this is the commercial interests of publishing, and with paper books making changes requires an entirely new edition and all sorts of legal procedures. Even so, it makes me uncomfortable, not least because outdated books like this genuinely held me back and skewed my self understanding, and I’m sure they’re still having that affect on some people.

                  Maybe I should start leaving reviews and comments on all the book sites giving people updated information so they can read informed that they might be reading unintentional misinformation and gaining a skewed perspective as a result.

                8. Anyone, at any point, who knows books or journal articles that do a *good* job of addressing autism / Asperger’s in women and girls, I’d be glad to have authors and titles. In my work with kids (which, granted, I’ve only been engaged in for two and half years), I’ve only ever seen spectrum behaviors in boys, and that leaves me wondering if I’m missing things. I’m also interested in good sources on relationships. (Of course, probably everyone here counts as a source on this!)

                9. Aspergirls is pretty good. It takes kind of a gloomy view of being autistic and in some ways is very narrow in scope, but it does touch on some of the typical things that are often different in girls in an accessible way. Also, Lorna Wing and Judith Gould have done some interesting scientific work in this area. I’m not sure what’s available for papers but you can likely find their presentations on either Youtube or as powerpoints floating around on the interwebz.

                  Relationships . . . if you mean romantic relationships, it’s really tough to find positive information. The book “Sex, Sexuality, and the Autism Spectrum” is quite good and in spite of it’s title, there is a heavy emphasis on relationships. Also, Lindsey Nebeker’s blog ( has some relationship info with an autistic slant.

                10. The Autism Women’s Network might be a good place to start (although I seem to be missing an easy way to get at the blog archives since the redesign…)

                  Also Rudy Simone’s Aspergirls (2009) tends to be the most commonly recommended book:

                  Her site also has this list of female traits:

                  Although really that’s become its own stereotype 5 years on. I think we’re realising that lots of people who weren’t diagnosed when younger were using similar mimicry coping strategies regardless of gender, also that gender dysphoria or some history of gender nonconformity is unusually common in autistic populations so applying gender stereotypes in any kind of rigid way is going to be flawed.

                  Still, it is useful to know the general trends that appear in girls and those socialised as female, as long as they’re recognised as trends rather than rules, that anyone can follow any coping strategy or not, and that it’s a spectrum of coping strategies just as much as of traits.

                11. I think the awn redesign is still in progress. They had a major update today but are not done yet. Also, how embarrassing that I didn’t think to rec the site I write for . . .

                  Have you read aspergirls? I’m curious what you think about it. In some ways it terrified me and parts were very triggering.

                12. I worked out that clicking ‘Uncategorised’ at the bottom of posts would give me a full archive of articles for now (or at least I assume so).

                  Aspergirls is buried in one of my piles of books to read. I read slowly and my burning obsession with autistic spectrum books waned as I got interested in something else before reaching that point. I’m back on that obsession at ‘full power’ at the moment though, so maybe I’ll pick it up again. (Although I’m currently finishing a fictional book with an autistic main character ‘Rubbernecker’ and also starting ‘The Power of Neurodiversity’).

                13. I think “judge” was a stronger or less precise word than I was looking for because I didn’t mean to imply we were being judgmental. *sigh* I’m not braining especially well today. 🙂

                  I thought it was interesting that Sarah seemed to take hers and Keith’s very different set of traits and assign them roughly to male and female traits. A lot what she describes as male traits (strong resistance to change, no friends, no interest in socializing) that Keith has are also things that I identify with very strongly. Perhaps having seen both Keith’s and her mother’s version of being autistic and not really relating to either, she took that as evidence that she simply couldn’t be on the spectrum.

                  You should definitely review the books. Your take on them is more critical and insightful than the reviews I saw on the US amazon website. It would be helpful for potential readers to know in what way the books are outdated and why that matters. I think a lot of people assume that if it’s in a book, it must be true simply by virtue of having been published.

                14. I wonder whether it’s fair to describe it as “denial” when autism is so little understood on a mainstream level, particularly when it comes to women? … There’s obviously a lot of disagreement and misinformation out there (which the Horizon documentary exemplifies – these are autism “experts”). I think that applies in my own case – I could see my dad and brother both had Asperger’s well before I twigged that I might have it too. I just didn’t know enough about it to work it out.

                  Regarding a diagnosis, or at least assessment, I’d like one, partly because I am worried about my brother’s situation – when my dad dies, he will be left very much on his own, and I don’t live in the same country and will struggle to give him any help if he needs it. But I reckon if my dad and I could both get “official” confirmation that we have Asperger’s then my brother would be a lot happier also going for assessment and that might put him in touch with autism groups or support services that could provide him with some backup, maybe some friends. However, I know from experience with the NHS that they are absolutely hopeless – there’s no point at all even trying. Maxine Aston and Sarah Hendrickx both provide assessments in the UK but from the reception for SH here it sounds as though people feel her opinions on what autism is may not be too reliable. So, I’m not really sure what to do. 😦

                15. For ‘denial’ I wasn’t talking about knowing she did have Asperger’s and denying it, I mean’t denying that she had major difficulties and instead claiming the opposite. Specifically this part:

                  “I am adaptable and flexible and can deal with uncertain situations and love the notion of change and new experiences. I can easily read body language and facial expressions.”

                  It’s not that long after this that she was writing about having agoraphobia with panic disorder.

                  Maybe it’s not ‘denial’ but alexithymia. I know that back when I was oblivious to my anxiety and autistic traits I saw myself as a highly logical, no nonsense person who could handle whatever stress life threw at me …and also sometimes I inexplicably dissociated in social situations or broke down in tears and couldn’t talk, but those didn’t fit into my self image so I discounted and ignored them.

                  I actually related really strongly to Sarah’s writing, I think we’re quite alike in our outlook on life. I definitely would describe myself as in denial, and then later when I thought it was all covered by dyspraxia I was inadvertently spreading misinformation by my skewed perspective.

                  I’m sorry to hear that the NHS in your area are hopeless. You may be able to get referred and funded to see a specialist service out of area if there isn’t adequate specialist adult assessment available in your area. I have several friends who’ve managed to get assessed by specialist Asperger’s or Autistic Spectrum teams in cities like Nottingham or Sheffield when they didn’t actually live in the correct catchment area. However if there is a specialist who diagnoses locally but they’re not very good then you might find it more difficult to get out of area referral funded by the NHS.

                  I don’t think it’s fair for us to be judging Sarah by her writing from before she realised she was autistic, it’s entirely understandable that she had a limited idea of things back then. Frankly every resource on Asperger’s I looked at around the same period as her first book was just as skewed, stereotypical and gender biased.

                  As for the anxiety talk linked above – partly I think she’s making simplifying generalisations to fit into the time slot she has and to get things across to a non-autistic audience and partly she’s talking about anxiety in autism so she’s specifically talking about what it’s like to have high anxiety and panic and maybe not representing those that don’t as a result. However if she started to include lots of caveats and subtly into her talk, it probably wouldn’t have been as easy to follow.

                  I think she’s likely to be great about women on the spectrum now days, I don’t think you should be put off by anything we’ve said. The only part of her talk that makes me uncomfortable is that she seems to be encouraging the gender stereotypes that girls can have all sorts of subtle and masking coping strategies while boys will always be extremely obvious and diagnosed earlier. But even then, I think that’s probably a reasonable way to introduce the idea of girls being underdiagnosed and I’d hope that if she was giving an hour long talk about that it would be different.

                  She’s certainly got a large degree of professional and personal experience of the autistic spectrum, and I think one of the best way to learn is to realise that you’ve been wrong and then change. I’ll be looking out for her new book with interest 🙂

                16. okay – thought you meant denial in the classic psychological sense. I get you now. 🙂 Of course, there are still psychologists who argue that autism is a psychological defence! And ADHD. I had a friend who did some kind of minor qualification in psychology who then claimed to me he was an “expert” and that these things can all be explained in psychological terms. I avoid him these days. 😦

                  I’m basing my comments on the NHS round when I tried to get an assessment for ADHD. I actually found the communication from the GP surgery to be directly incompetent – I got referred to the local mental health centre, which took months, and when I finally went in for my appointment I was told straight away they didn’t diagnose ADHD and couldn’t help – I tried to get an appointment at a major health centre in London that accepted patients across all catchment areas but then got a letter from the GP surgery saying the request was denied because it was outside their catchment area – the whole thing went round and round and round in circles until I gave up. I’m not with that particular GP surgery any more though (they were awful in other ways) so perhaps I should try again re the ASD diagnosis, but I don’t have a lot of faith in the system now.

                17. Sorry to hear that you’ve had a crappy experience trying to get assessed for a SpLD, I know just what that’s like. I found it so frustrating and demoralising.

                  I’d definitely try to get a referral through the NHS first in your situation. My experience is that things like ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia are actually *much* harder to get assessed for on the NHS. Mainly because they’re generally assessed through educational establishments or sometimes by larger employers. In my area you have to have an Asperger’s diagnosis first to get NHS help for ADHD, but they are trying to change that. It does very much vary by where you live though. I fought hard to get NHS funding for dyspraxia assessment myself and gave up, getting an Asperger’s diagnosis was much easier, the same GP surgery was able to refer me on and had no problems with funding.

                  I’d recommend knowing exactly where you need to be referred to and asking for that rather than a general referral. I’ve found that GPs will assume it’s a mental health thing even if you live in an area with a specialised adult autism team (that your GP may still have never heard of). Which area of London do you live in (or were you asking for a referral that was far far out of catchment)? It may be that you’re actually in the catchment area for a specialist service.

                18. Just a random extra thought about your friend with the minor psychology qualification – he really can’t have had autism or ADHD included in his education, those neurodevelopmental differences show up in tiny children and babies and can be measured in psychology tests up to and including brain scans. Perhaps you should point him at a different psychological phenomena – The Dunning–Kruger effect!

                19. Interesting that SH says she can read facial expressions and body language easily – I would say the same now, though I am not sure that was always the case – it is like a skill I acquired very slowly and painfully, which is what I would say about my understanding of social skills generally. Also, my facial recognition skills are very good with actors or other people I see on the screen but can be poor with people in “real life” and there seems to be a long-term memory/short-term memory discrepancy, in that I can remember a face from years ago but not necessarily one from yesterday. But I don’t have any problems looking directly at people on a screen and I don’t look directly at people I know in real life, due to the eye contact thing, so perhaps there is a connection there? Once a face has gone into my memory bank it stays there, but it perhaps takes me a while to absorb it, given that I am only looking peripherally to start with, as it were. Don’t know. 😦

                20. We actually sound very alike in this respect. I’m really good at reading actors in drama but then, let’s face it, they are professional emoters who express emotion as clearly as possible, with close ups and music cues and dramatic convention. When it comes to reading emotion in real time while I’m directly involved in the interaction, I’m really poor at it. Keeping focused on someone and following what they’re saying while keeping track of my own thoughts and what I want to say next? That’s too much work to do on top of trying to think about what their face is doing and what they might be thinking.

                  My memory for famous faces scores as really good while my ability to remember faces I’ve just seen is poor, so we’re also alike there.

                  Also I recall there was a Test Your Brain that we did one Take A Test Tuesday about reading Fear, Anger and Joy in facial expressions and my abilities were actually really uneven – I was extremely good at anger, very poor at joy and about average for fear. I’d perceived myself as being good just not able to do it during a real social interaction, but in fact I was clearly only able to spot certain strong emotions and was missing a lot more. By comparison I was good at the video and audio version, but those were full of other cues (like TV shows and radio dramas) so I was working it all out by logic:


                  It’s a shame those Test Your Brain quizzes get taken down, it was really useful to have some qualitative information about when my strengths and challenges lay with facial expressions.

                21. East London – have not myself looked into what is out here. If you did know of any centres and could let me know, I’d be really grateful. I could certainly tell my GP that other family members have been diagnosed with autism – I guess that might help? …

                22. Last time I looked into this, I found this service in Harrow that will take referrals from GPs across London:


                  When I attended AutFest, I also talked to one of the volunteers for ASSIST London, a service for helping autistic adults access diagnosis and services, flyer here:

                  Here’s their Twitter account:

                  Hope that helps you find the most appropriate diagnostic service!

                23. Having family members on the spectrum should definitely count if the GP knows anything about autism. ADHD would also make a difference, or should do based on the NICE Pathway’s screening criteria.

                24. Actually, you know, I can find out myself – no need to put you to the trouble. It’s just that I had given up after the ADHD experience. Also, I don’t technically need a diagnosis for myself – it’s more for other members of the family. I’ll look into it. 🙂

                25. Thanks, Quarries and Corridors – I’ll chase up all those links, really useful. 🙂

      2. Uta was excruciatingly patronising with Joe Alison and not much better with other people featured. What struck me was how Joe is perfectly happy and Uta is portraying him as tragic. He seems to have completely lost patience with her ridiculous questions about gardening at the end.

        With other autistic adults and teenagers featured, they all seemed to have a great sense of humour and rapport with people they were comfortable and familiar with, but Uta never comments on that. Heck the teenager she was presenting as having an unfathomable savant ability (which he explained that I learnt as a party trick by memorising simple rules and then practicing them!) is making jokes with his classmates saying it’s a black thing. Exactly the same footage of those people explaining themselves in their own words could’ve been used to reduce stigma and increase understanding of us, but that wasn’t what the programme makers were aiming for, it’s trying to be as othering as possible and present us as ‘mysterious’, ‘amazing’ and ‘rare’. ARGH!

        1. I thought the same about Joe’s reaction to her gardening questions. And I’m sure she just took it as “oh how sad, autistic person doesn’t know how to communicate with me” when he walked away. She looked so frustrated by his refusal to continue to answer her rudimentary questions. And so much of it was “why don’t these people communicate with us (me)?!” Her comments about why she started studying autism were basically I wanted to know why these kids wouldn’t engage with me, as if that was the sole measure of a person’s social skills.

          The boy with the calender savant skill came across as personable and funny to me too. He also seemed really uncomfortable with being put forth as a party trick. It was only when the researcher started asking him how he did it and he was explaining the calendar rules that he’d discovered that he looked like he was enjoying talking about his skill.

          1. Someone I met at Autscape had learnt the same thing as a party trick, explained how it really was remembering some simple rules and then doing basic mental arithmetic, but then it means you have a neat ability to show off with people you meet.

            Her questions during gardening were just beyond inane, it’s no wonder Joe didn’t have any patience with her, she’s lucky he didn’t tell her to get lost the way she was talking to him. He was clearly competent and knew what he was doing and said he enjoyed it, so why the tragic music?!

            1. I also noticed that there were some shots of that boy explaining his methods for multiplying big numbers in math class. He’s clearly gifted at math, but that wasn’t mentioned explicitly. Instead his skill was presented as a magical brain mystery. *sigh*

              1. Yep! He clearly loves maths and enjoyed explaining how he’d worked out patterns/rules, memorised and practiced it, then Uta immediately dismisses it.

                Calendar calculating really isn’t that difficult, you could rote learn it as easily as times tables or historical dates. (I say as someone who was never able to rote learn times tables or historical dates).

    4. All the non-autistic kids copied the superfluous step while the autistic kids just did the necessary parts – they’re more efficient at doing the tasks, but not ‘social learning’.

      The researcher’s interpretation of the kids who copied the unnecessary step was oddly positive. Why do I suspect that if only the autistic kids did the superfluous step, it would have been framed as “poor reasoning skills”? Because seriously, every single autistic kid realized that the tapping was useless and didn’t bother doing it while the nonautistic kids all looked a bit like dim bulbs who couldn’t recognize that they were being tricked into doing something that was not only useless but made them look silly. Should I stop now? Maybe I should.

      1. Yes, in that case it’s clearly a difference in learning style, rather than a deficit. There are clear benefits to both approaches and this could have been explained in a neurodiversity context rather than the clear message that whatever autistic kids do is ‘wrong and broken’.

  23. I have to vent. This kind of documentary is exactly why I have until recently, entertained the notion of having almost every developmental disorder out there, but never autism. The information was presented with such a slant. It was so pessimistic. I disliked the somber tone and the implication that differences must somehow be bad, wrong, and unfortunate. When I was a little girl I was quite obviously different, to the extent that not one, not two, but four psycho-educational assessments were done. Now granted, I did grow up in a rather isolated part of Canada’s extreme north and it was the mid eighties and early nineties when these assessments were completed, but four assessments? Four whole inconclusive assessments…? Over the last few weeks I have read the assessments over and over but even though it’s pretty obvious now, that autism is the likely explanation (cognitive profile is spot on, slow deliberate style of responding is mentioned, excellent vocabulary assessed typically at ten years beyond my actual age, constant mention of maturity unusual for age and interests not likely to be shared with peers) it’s the perpetuation of the stereotypes that kept my assessors, my parents, and even myself from digging deeper and looking at autism (and my own quirks) in a different light. I read The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Atwood and felt almost the entire way through, that I was reading a book about me, but when I watched the BBC documentary I felt isolated and alone and sad. It annoyed me that such an incomplete picture was being presented. The implication that true autism equals failure hurt too. Did they not consider that autistic people might watch this? The truth is that I have failed miserably at many things in life but not at marriage and mothering. My husband of thirteen years, once told me that he likes me because I am honest and very nice but in addition to those things I do not play the mind games that most females seem to play. In that light my autistic qualities have been an advantage. My experience of special interests has even prompted my very small number of NT friends to take the things that they enjoy more seriously and make sure that they devote a little extra time and thought to something beyond the daily hustle. Yes they still see me as a little “intense and eccentric” (their words) but many of my autistic traits are the things that I’ve come to love about myself over the years despite allot of heartache and frustration in the career and social areas of life. After allot of let downs I see that it is my autistic traits that have also lead to the things that make me happy. (antique jewellery, writing fantasy and science fiction novels, listening to the same song twenty-five times in a row with my kids and my relationship with my husband)

    On a slightly unrelated note, Uta Frith was wearing what appeared to be antique Victorian Bohemian garnet jewelry in several parts of the documentary and it was very distracting. It also bugged me that she had such lovely pieces.

    I’ve also been thinking about Big Triangle for the last week and done something which is very typical of me which is to have a delayed reaction to my experiences. Maybe BT wanted to be friends with LT and LC but didn’t know how and they ran away and left him alone. I’ve been feeling guilty for judging a triangle for the last four days.

    1. At the schools where I’ve volunteered and interned, there tends to be consensus among teachers about which kids might be on the spectrum, but it’s not the practice for teachers to broach the subject with parents. Instead, there are elliptical suggestions about testing for various academic things, and after test results are assessed, there may be a suggestion to see a doctor. And while on the one hand, it makes perfect sense to me that teachers not feel safe or even ethical suggesting something that falls outside their formal expertise, I feel that another part of this hesitation to talk with parents is a consequence of stigma. When our concern should be the best interest of the child, I feel it’s adults we’re protecting. It’s excruciating for me to play these charades when I know the result may well be misdiagnosis, with ADHD topping the list. My point is that I agree with you wholeheartedly about the damaging role that a pessimistic tone in formal research (and/or informal dissemination of research) can play.

      1. Interestingly my younger brother *was* diagnosed ADHD and they tried to pin the same diagnoses on me but I didn’t quite qualify. I scored considerably higher than him on most of the tests and my coping mechanisms were, and to this day are, significantly stronger. My brother and I both feel that there is more at play than ADHD. Our social quirks, sensory issues, our impairments, and our strengths fall more squarely into the autism camp.

        1. Beth, do you have a sense for how your life might have been different if you’d had an early autism / Asperger’s diagnosis, or is that too difficult a question to answer?

          1. It’s hard to say. I’ve been lucky in a sense in that my Mum was very patient and understanding and was very much an advocate for me even though I never had a label, and if I had been diagnosed I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. My life may have played out very differently. I think that it may have made my relationship with my father easier in a sense because my scores on the assessments done in school showed me to be intellectually gifted. My scores were in the mid to high nineties with the exception of ‘freedom from distractability’ (45th percentile), and ‘processing speed’ (9th percentile) on the last assessment. My dad took this to mean that I should be able to cope just fine and he’s always seen me as a chronic under-achiever. As far as he was concerned I should have been able to go anywhere and do anything. He was also a constant source of stress to me as he was very ‘in my face’ when I was growing up, often triggering sensory issues because of it. My brother and I both have profound anxiety issues around our father and to this day I am uncomfortable if he is within two feet of me. If we had been diagnosed autistic/Asperger’s when we were children he may have been more understanding. There is also a chance that the label would have prevented some of the bullying that I experienced. Who knows.

            But if I had been diagnosed I also may not have pursued a career as a dancer, (I burned out quickly, never actually got to the point of auditioning for anything, and beat myself up over it big time) and never gotten a job as a waitress (dismal failure at that too) but that is where I met my husband. He never saw me as ‘Normal’ and liked me the way I was. We’ve been together for nearly fifteen years now and while we’ve had ups and downs we still have to curb our enthusiasm and stop talking when we go to bed at night otherwise we’ll talk till dawn. I’ve been fired from a shocking number of jobs for what usually sound like ridiculous reasons on the part of the employer but a few years ago I stopped working and my husband is fine with that. We have two kids and it allows me to be with them more and keeps life simple for all of us. I have fewer meltdowns and everyone is happier that way.

            So on the whole early diagnoses may have saved me some early trauma but by the same token it may have changed the course of my life and at this point I am quite content. I am still going to seek formal diagnoses for both myself and my younger son, who my husband and I both suspect is on the spectrum as well, and I won’t claim that I don’t harbour some (read allot) resentment when it comes to my childhood, but I suppose that if early diagnoses would have meant not meeting my husband, I would pass it up.

            For me love is when you can be *alone* together with someone, and when you feel relieved when they come home, instead of when they leave. Early diagnoses may not have changed a thing.

            I don’t know if that answers your question but I guess that it isn’t really a black and white issue.

            Sorry about the rambling.

            1. Being in my 50’s I am glad I was not diagnosed when I was a child I think it would have been worse for me. My father tried to force me to go to get assessed several times, because of the usual sorts of stuff when young. I have an Autistic nephew as well, and although my experience is limited and should be viewed as such, it seems that in cases early diagnosis it is more for the parents than the child. But then I do not like the idea of giving children anti-psychotics. I worry about the long term affects of the drugs and also because of peoples confusion, the mis-representation etc. I worry about his future prospects.

              1. I find it interesting that at the mere suggestion that I had ADHD I was put on a trial of stimulant medication. It didn’t really help. Not enough for it to be worth the nervous jitters it gave me.

            2. Beth, please excuse the belatedness of this reply. (End of semester.) I hope you’ll see it. I didn’t think your answer was rambling, and I appreciated it. The issue of whether or not one would change the past if possible raises all sorts of overwhelming questions for me related to “fate,” and I try not to linger there too much, but I know that feeling you describe, of not being able to fault one’s path too much, given where it ultimately led. I’m sorry, though, that your father has been a source of stress in your life.

      2. When our concern should be the best interest of the child, I feel it’s adults we’re protecting.

        Yes! It seems like a lot of educators and other professionals contribute to stigma by not being willing to suggest an autism evaluation outright in the first place. If a child was suspected of having dyslexia or ADHD or the mumps, a teacher or other professional who noticed the signs would likely tell the parent in a straightforward way. But so often it seems that autism has to be approached sideways, like a skittish animal.

    2. Your comment made me really happy. Not the parts about how gloomy and depressing the documentary was, but the part where you so vehemently defended your strengths as a person. It’s really not our fault that the professionals who hold the keys to diagnosis can be so biased, especially “back in the day” when autism was much more narrowly defined.

      There is so much about being autistic that contributes to my overall happiness and fulfillment too. Watching documentaries like that feels invalidating, which is why I think they make me so ragey.

      1. Yes. Invalidating is the word and I know that I value many of the traits that I now know are related to being autistic and even when I was teased for them I still valued them.

  24. I kept having trouble interpreting the emotional tone of the various movements of the shapes. Glee or violence? Argument or conversation? This is in contrast to most commenters who had a clear idea of whether and who was the aggressor. I think my summary was on a similar “level” to Cynthia’s:

    A triangle is locked (or closes itself into) a box. Then a smaller triangle and a circle comes by. The circle sits there while the smaller triangle dashes around looking for triangle 1. Once it opens the door to find it, it kisses it a fewer times on the cheek. 1 shakes its head, then they start fighting physically. Circle withdraws into the room. 1 hunts it down, ominously closing door behind it and advancing on circle while it hides in the corner. Circle goes out and starts fighting with 2. They all soar around the room for a bit, then 2 and circle leave. 1 knocks into the door and breaks it and the room down with its body, angrily.

  25. Okay… so I will just straight-up say that I have an Aspie friend, and she and I both have a theory that I have Aspie traits, but NOT Asperger’s. With that in mind, I’m interested in hearing any thoughts about what I wrote. I read a little bit of the description here and so I started off with the BT initials, but that’s (almost) the only thing that spoiled my interpretation, as I was tired and could fairly easily forget what I’d just read. (And tried very hard to remember my initial reactions to the video.)
    A big triangle in an oddly-shaped THING goes inside and closes the door. Two small shapes speed down. Big triangle gets frantic and opens the door. Little triangle pecks aggressively at BT. BT shakes its head as if saying “no”. At this point BT gets aggressive with little triangle and starts pecking it downward, indicating that this is MY TERRITORY! Circle doesn’t know what is happening and goes to doorway of THING. BT and little T start to fight. BT pecks little T very aggressively into a corner. Circle comes down, but when it sees what BT is doing to little T (actively flaring/aggressive) it starts back up again and shuts itself in square? as little triangle moves. Big T freaks out at this point (“WHO’S IN MY HOUSE? MINE! MINE!”) and opens the door, but comes in much more slowly than expected. Circle can’t hide. He tries, sticking himself in a corner, but as big T cautiously moves inside we know all is to be revealed. Wait… does big T not see him? Oh, wait, yes he does. Why is he closing the door and trapping himself in there with Circle? Little T creeps along the wall, and now it’s Circle’s turn to freak out. (“I’m sorry LET ME OUT LET ME OUT PLEASE”) Big T gets aggressive towards Circle but little T is opening the door, and Circle is small and speedy and so he goes around the edges and little T and Circle shut the door on big T. Big T flares at door and small T and Circle pull back like they somehow see (but how could they see?). LT and circle are panicked now and fluttering around and so when Big T comes back out, it’s only a matter of time until he is able to chase the two of them away from his house. He spins around and then checks the door — yes, he can open and close it himself. All seems calm until suddenly CRASH! BANG! Big T breaks the house apart. Why? Why would he break up the thing that keeps him safe?

  26. This scares me. I didn’t even get the idea that these shapes were supposed to symbolize social interaction.
    I haven’t seen this animation before nor had I heard of the test. The animation did not play for me (says it is private) so I found it elsewhere on the internet and watched – and wrote a little description – before I read on.
    Mine is a description of geometrical shapes and movements. 😦
    I’ll have to watch this again, some other time, and try to figure out about the “social interaction story” thing.
    I am not diagnosed autistic. The therapist who knows me quite a while suggested I read about Aspergers Syndrome, she thinks I have those traits because of the way I think and see and understand (or rather not-understand) a lot of things. The psychiatric doc who I asked about it said that I am not autistic because I can look at people’s eyes and talk (relatively) normal.

    (Scares me because reading how others see the “story” behind the moving shapes makes me realize how I typically seem to “miss the point” in a lot of interactions. On the rare occasions that I get to hear someone else’s view of the same situation, I am usually puzzled at how they come to think that soandso *meant* something – when the *words* they said were not conveying this something – or even interpreting their motives.)

    1. The psychiatric doc you saw is clearly no specialist on autism, I have an Asperger’s diagnosis and I’m a eloquent speaker and able to make good eye contact. Some of the autistic people I know are teachers who ‘pass’ well as neurotypical.

      It sounds like you’d benefit from seeing a genuine specialist, preferably one with experience of working with autistic adults and women.

      And yes, it’s scary to first realise quite how much you’re missing from other people. I’m glad you’ve been able to find sites like this to connect with others who have similar issues. That makes all the difference.

      1. Thank you for your reply!
        I am not sure how to find a genuine specialist. The one place I found in my area (autism centre that does diagnostics for adults) says on their website that the waiting list is overcrowded and therefore closed since early this year.
        I would like to learn how to know that a “social interaction story” is expected when the task doesn’t say so. And to learn how to know the intentions of moving geometrical shapes (even more so the intents behind the words and actions of human beings).

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