My earliest memory is when I learned to read. I was three. I sat in a tiny rocking chair in my grandma’s house with Dick and Jane. And it just clicked. I didn’t know how I read the words, but I did.

In kindergarten a teacher asked, “Who knows what elamenopee means?” I could already read long books but I didn’t know what I was singing with L-M-N-O-P.

In first grade, I told the teacher I can already read. She gave me the dictionary and told me to read it. I read it. She asked me what it meant. I said I didn’t know. To me it was not obvious that reading and understanding went together. Now I know autistic girls have poor reading comprehension.

The only time I felt like it mattered was fifth grade when I got put in the gifted program. We read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I spent three weeks trying to understand the first two pages and was relieved to be removed from the program.

My first semester in college my professor announced I got the highest grade in a class of 200 kids where I was the only freshman. I didn’t do any of the reading. At some point I realized there is no correlation between reading the material and understanding the material.

Those famously long books like Anna Karenina and One Hundred Years of Solitude? I threw them away.

I like a book I can read in one day. When I walk into a book store, I shop the spines. I know the authors who write short — because I feel like they write for me. Jamaica Kincaid. Sandra Cisneros. Susan Minot. Susana Kaysen. Who cares that teachers sprinkle these books across eighth-grade reading lists?

I love telling you about books because I love telling you about words. But the price of that is autism — reading words early cost me reading faces later.

Autistic brains are full of imbalances. For example, our brains are extraordinary at retrieving past events that happened to us. But just like our lack of executive function means we have a flat hierarchy for our to do lists, we also have a flat hierarchy for our memories — we have categories rather than chronology.

Now I see why nitpickers say I’m not a reliable narrator. It’s not about reliability it’s about relatability — their memories don’t match my patterns.

Neurotypical people have the type of autobiographical memory that creates a chronological unfolding of events. Autistic people have episodic memory which is nonlinear.

In literature, autobiographical memory is canonized in the narrative arc. We describe that like epic (Odyssey), philosophical discussion (War and Peace), or the Great American Novel (Moby Dick).

Nonlinear writing by men commands serious words like stream-of-consciousness (As I Lay Dying) or just The Longest (Proust). Nonlinear writing by women receives diminutive labels like flash fiction (Lydia Davis) and slice-of-life (Annie Ernaux).

This is why, when Annie Ernaux won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I cried. The spines of her books are thin. Her chapters are short and the sentences slide across the white of the page.

The Nobel committee commended Annie Ernaux’s courageous approach to personal memory. I hear this as a call to arms for autistic women to write our stories.

Because there is no body of work from women describing the autistic experience. We have not known about autism long enough. Annie Ernaux reflects our sensibilities but not our context. She provides a blueprint and the literary legitimacy, but it’s up to us to create a canon of consciously autistic literature for the next generation to look to as they grow from autistic girls into autistic women.

The more memories we have the more compelled we should feel to write them down. And we up to the task. Because just like autistic men dominate math, autistic women dominate memoir.

Autism workshop/seminar/discussion magnum opus coursus.

Designed by Lisa Be for Project Vortex

As you may know, I’m doing research at a lab at Harvard where I focus on autistic women. One thing I’ve learned is there are lots of easy, objective tests we can give ourselves to determine if we have biological markers for autism. I’m excited to share those with you so we don’t have to have any more discussions about everyone asking themselves do I have or don’t I?

I also notice the news that will help women the most is very slow to get to the public. So I’m offering a workshop to give autistic women groundbreaking research into their lives right now. The workshop will meet once a week for ten weeks, starting this week. Here are some topics we’ll cover:

  1. Use the same techniques that labs do to quickly diagnose female subjects for autism. It’s easy and fun. You can try it out on everyone.
  2. Question people who say they improve executive function. Science says only two things work, and they’re really weird things.
  3. What to do about a speech delay when research shows it’s more important to decrease the mother’s stress levels than get a kid into speech therapy.
  4. Don’t look for friends, look for special interests, the friends will follow. Neurotypical girls make friends their special interest; no wonder we were lost in junior high.
  5. Find out the one thing autistic women do that makes all camouflaging fail. But also, does this mean we can all stop trying to mask?
  6. The biggest problem autistic women have is emotional isolation. If an autistic woman isn’t feeling that then her kids are; understanding why helps you understand what drives you.

We’ll also have a discussion board to talk about any topic that interests you as it relates to women and autism. I’ll drop in each day to shed some light — or some tears — because it’s always in the free-for-all where I learn the most.

Closeup you see that we’ve all had to navigate the world in similar ways as autistic girls and women — knowing there was something wrong but we didn’t know what. Some researchers call us the lost generation of autism but talking with you all makes me feel like the found generation.

People are joining from all over the world, so the meeting times accommodate a range of time zones:

Tuesday 9pm Eastern
Wednesday 8am Eastern
Thursday 5pm Eastern

The deadline to sign up is this weekend. The cost is $150.

Sign up here.

And one more thing. I’m going to send videos of me and my friends talking about autism. This video is me with Caitlin. You get it without even signing up; in the middle she talks about a group of autistic women we created a few years ago that was so transformative to her. How could you listen to that and not sign up now? Really?


No one has devised a perfect questionnaire for determining a narcissist, which is why the New York Times makes the argument for cutting narcissism from the DSM.

We know what narcissism looks like: pompous clowns who are sad on the inside, treat people like shit wherever they go, and perhaps most importantly, have no idea that they look this way to other people.

That sounds like autism to me. Not all autism, but the version of autism where there is the most focus on knowing information and least focus on understanding people.

The narcissist wants people to see when they are right and the narcissist wants people to listen to them, but the narcissist does not want to listen to other people. The narcissist does not notice other peoples’ feelings, but if the narcissist’s feelings are hurt and they get angry.

That sounds like autism as well. Not all autism. But people with autism who I don’t like.

When the narcissist is having a terrible time in life, they might seem to change, but the narcissist does not have enough personal insight to change. They might seem to understand that they are all about themselves, but they don’t really understand.

This is everyone with autism: We think we see ourselves and we think we are managing the parts of our personality that are anti-social. But if we could do that, autism would be curable.

We go to therapy to complain about a parent or partner or terrible dates. And therapists need a word to describe people who are transgressive. Narcissism is a word that enables people to empathize with how hard it is to live with the person.

Except that every time I coach someone with autism, they bring up the word narcissist to describe someone in their life. But autism is genetic, and it can’t be that everyone in the family has autism except the narcissist parent. Really. Autism is genetic. The parent has autism too.

Sculptures by Laurent Craste remind me of autistic men with high IQs who can’t understand themselves, or other people, and let their rage and anger destroy the people they love. I grew up with a father like this and attracted men like this. I know what it’s like to live in fear. They have periodic urges to change but it’s clearly impossible for them.

People with narcissism have the same type of brain as people with autism: very high IQ with unpredictable dips in certain areas. People more numerically gifted are more stubborn and rigid. People less numerically gifted are better at camouflaging those autistic traits. Narcissism, then, is the numerically gifted version of autism.

Why is this important? Because people with autism marry other people with autism. We are drawn to each other because it’s genetic so autism feels familiar to us. Also, we don’t play normal dating games so neurotypical people screen us out of their dating pool; we’re too weird.

So you and your partner have autism. You are not diagnosed because the mental health profession has no idea what they’re doing with autism. They are not trained well in diagnostics and they miss it all the time. So you really need to recognize autism yourself. Luckily it runs in families so if you have one person you can catch everyone. There is never one person with autism. Really. I swear.

You will both always have autism, but if you understand your autism you can use it more effectively. For example autistic people are competitive because we don’t understand how to be valuable to people outside of logical ranking systems. You and your partner both have this trait. But your partner is more competitive than you and less good at masking it.

At some point in the dating process you liked that you’re both winners. And everyone was on good behavior so no one noticed that you are low-conflict and your partner is high-conflict. But the truth is you’ll do anything to avoid conflict. So you give in. And the high-conflict person sees that and assumes they’ll get what they want.

Your partner doesn’t have to change for your relationship to change. You can decide to face conflict and establish boundaries. For example, someone can blame you for whatever goes wrong, but you don’t have to accept that as truth. The person can pick fights with you but you don’t have to take the bait. You could leave, but that won’t change the fact that you don’t deal well with boundaries or conflict. And it won’t change that people with autism marry people with autism.

So consider that narcissist is really the word for “autistic person I hate.” And you can make things better by managing your own autism more effectively. Give it a try. If nothing else, the number-one complaint about people with narcissism is they blame everyone else for their problems.

I spend half my life trying to not offend people. My safe space is the comments section here on my blog where the only social rule is: be interesting. I’m especially grateful to people who disagree with me; it’s out of control for me to chase someone around arguing with them in person, but in the comments people think: She’s so responsive! Read more

I call Melissa to tell her my newest discovery. I gear up to lecture her about Tango and the Jews. “Do you know about them?” I ask. “I won’t be fun if you already know.”

She says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Read more

Everyone in my family holds a different view about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I used to track my site traffic like Google was my fortune teller. The top three countries for my audience were always US, UK, and Australia. The next few countries changed a lot, but often Israel was number four. My family is so used to fighting about the Israelis that we even fought about the reason for my large Israeli readership. Read more

Gender fluidity and Autism open gates of power for women

James Maher Photography


US scientists are scared to talk about differences between male and female brains, probably because it will get them fired. The loudest voices say there cannot be male and female brains because there are women and men who think in similar ways. Read more

Let’s time travel back to the pre-Internet days of 1975. Long-distance phone calls were $1 per minute, so people received most of their communications via US mail, and Christmas cards were so important that the average number of families on a list was 300. That year, two sociology professors from Brigham Young University sent 600 Christmas cards to random families and then monitored how many cards were sent back in return.

Approximately 20% of the recipients took the time to find a card, write a message and send it back to the experimenters. That is an astounding number of people who felt obliged to reply. To give you context, today’s digital marketers are thrilled with a 1% response rate.

The experiment studied the rule of reciprocity – the strong social pressure to return favors. In the context of women, of course, because women send the Christmas cards. The rule of reciprocity has persisted throughout human history because it has survival value for the human species. Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey said the essence of what makes us human is this system of reciprocity.

At the core of Aspergers is a lack of social reciprocity. Aspergers babies don’t reciprocate a parent’s smile. Aspergers adults don’t reciprocate a friend’s Christmas card. Of course there are exceptions. Jewish people don’t send Christmas cards. People who don’t have enough money for food don’t send Christmas cards. But even those people reciprocate intuitively. Psychologist Amy Pearsons’s research shows that women with Aspergers work hard to look normal, and they mimic the acts of reciprocity they see neurotypical women doing. Women with Aspergers can pass for normal, but it exhausts them because passing involves constantly monitoring what is expected.

Read more

Addendum: After reading 250 of your comments in response to this post (below), I have had a change of heart. I still hate Biden. But I think I also hate this post. So I’ve written a new post, over here.

The Democratic Party’s strategy is Trump is so bad that the DNC can win with anyone. That’s why the DNC didn’t care when Hilary didn’t bother campaigning in Michigan or Wisconsin. That’s why the DNC doesn’t care that younger democrats hate Biden. The DNC is a club that meets to protect their own power. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes reminds us of that all the time.

The DNC wants you to believe you are a virtuous person for voting for Biden because even if he’s not perfect you have to get Trump out of office. I think Biden is not nearly enough of an improvement to vote for him. And I think you throw away your vote if you let someone tell you the anyone-but-Trump rule means you vote for whatever is in front of you. That’s not choice.

Here’s why I’d never vote for Biden:

1. Biden has always been the conservative wing of the democrats. He has always been part of the conservative guard. It’s why Obama chose him as a running mate. It’s hard for racist white people to look at a Black candidate –– Obama picked him to counterbalance Obama’s Blackness. Biden as a VP made the ticket look ok. After all, what other Democrat was still in Congress in the 90s who had a track record for opposing busing?

2. Biden is the anti-#metoo candidate. He was the centerpiece of the congressional attack on Anita Hill. And he has been unable to apologize for his universally panned behavior. More recently he is accused of rape and he has been pictured violating the personal space of many women. While the #metoo movement has forced men to stop pushing aside these accusations, Democrats tell us that it’s so important to get Trump out of office that we have to push aside the accusations against Biden. If Trump is that bad, then the DNC surely could find a candidate who wouldn’t require us to brush aside rape accusations in order to vote for the candidate.

3. Biden is the anti-Black Lives Matter candidate. He is a moderate who was lifted up from his racist past by a black man. Biden did not get more liberal. He’s the same guy. Electing him is shifting the party to the right. At a time when the party is visibly shifting to the left. Additionally, Biden picked Kamala Harris without regard to the fact that Black people don’t trust her. 

Tirkhakah writes, “The party’s leadership tells us to hold our noses and vote — a hollow, greater-good argument which is exactly why Black men don’t head to the polls.”

4. Biden wants things to stay the same. That’s why he picked Kamala Harris. She has an absolutely terrible record on criminal justice reform that in similar to Biden and Trump — those masters of refusing to apologize — she has refused to apologize for her bafflingly terrible record. So of course Biden hopes she will appeal to some Trump voters. Ironically, Obama picking Biden to appeal to racist voters is like Biden picking Harris to appeal to the Trump voters.

5. Biden and the DNC assume we’re trapped. The DNC thinks we hate Trump so much that we will support an unpopular, neo-liberal candidate with a history of very public racism and sexism. Biden hears goodwill toward Obama and he mistakes it for himself.  I hate Biden so much because he’s been taking swipes at women and Black people for as long as I’ve been following politics. And I’m completely insulted that the Democratic Party thinks I believe Biden is an improvement over Trump.

We are not trapped. But we have to act like we have power. Our vote counts when we refuse to vote for Biden. We can refuse to support neo-liberalism because it could destroy our lives, our communities, and our earth.

Addendum: After reading 250 of your comments (below), I have had a change of heart. I still hate Biden. But I think I also hate this post. So I’ve written a new post, over here.

Note from Penelope: This is a guest post of sorts. I asked Whitney to annotate one of my blog posts because I want to better understand the white privilege on my blog. I also thought this would be a way to share with you how much I learn from conversations I have had with Whitney leading up to this her commentary on this post

Note from Whitney: I am an Ivy-League educated, millennial, cis, straight Black woman. Also, I’m a teacher. That is the point-of-view from which I analyze and critique your writing, and someone with a more complex intersectional identity might have even more nuanced thoughts to offer. All the same, I’m happy to share my stream of consciousness as I read. So here I go!

I had this idea that coronavirus would be heaven for me because I’ve been working from home with my kids circling all day long for ten years. Must be nice. In my experience, the luxury of working from home with your kids is reserved primarily for White women. Because motherhood and child-rearing are generally disrespected in this country, and any sort of real honoring of that labor goes solely to White women. To live as you live, one would need enough generational and familial wealth to absorb the financial blows and instability that come with professional self-determination outside the corporate environment. Plus, one would need a work context where your employer values your contributions and seeks to protect you (even if it’s only in a benevolent sexism type of way (misogynoir means that no one is looking out for Black women in the work world (except other Black women)). You should know that systemic racism has made your lifestyle impossible for pretty much all Black Americans. You should know that the way you live is an unearned privilege, and many of your readers aren’t able to live this way. This should be my time to shine. I was looking forward to when schools closed down.HOW? How could you be thinking this when there are so many parents/guardians who won’t be able to stay home with their young kids and so many homes that are impossibly set up for home learning? The majority of families who send their kids to public schools NEED the instruction, food, child care, and mental health services they get from school. You are either out of touch and unaware of the level of need across the country, or you’re just selfish. Both are possible and characteristic of whiteness, but I’m assuming it’s the latter. Because I’ve been following you for more than a decade, and I believe you’re a good person who is just ignorant in the way that white supremacy requires white people to be. I wanted all the parents [You mean all the parents of a certain socio-economic status]to ask each other: How are you coping????

Finally, I will get to be the parent who is on top of things. I will be the coronavirus version of the mom who packs snacks for soccer and never forgets extra water. STOP! Acknowledge your privileged perspective! And people will say: She’s incredible!!!

But my son’s SAT got canceled for this weekend. So I thought okay, fine, my son will have to take the SAT at the same time he takes AP tests which only bad-planning families do, but fine, we can handle it. I call the College Board to reschedule before the rest of the world does. So white/individualistic. Instead of worrying about and advocating for the collective (i.e. all the kids applying to college who will be disadvantaged by this situation), you’re using your power to aggressively protect just your own kid. FYI, currently in this annotation process, I’m starting to feel like a judgmental, self-righteous bitch. But I’m going to keep going because hopefully, it will be worth it. I tell them they are delusional to be offering kids the April 3 test date. I suggest at-home tests that come with a camera to catch cheating.

The College Board person is pissed and snips at me.

Fortunately, I gave a fake name, so I still have hope of being the coronavirus mom of the year.

I was excited that I already have great tutors lined up. You’re an asshole for being excited about this because you’re basically excited that you have an unfair advantage… I can’t help but apologize – you’re an asshole for this, but I still love you.  Me thinking that you’re an asshole in the context of this one sentence doesn’t mean that I think you’re a bad person. I mean, you’re human and we’re all assholes in our own way. Don’t feel bad or offended, just do better… Isn’t it so telling how I’m so apologetic in these comments?? I was excited to casually explain to other parents that good tutors are hard to find and we found self-paced online learning to be totally inefficient. But I forgot to take into account that all our tutors work in hospitals and they are about to start working 10-million-hour shifts.

The only reason I get any work done while we homeschool is that I don’t homeschool. Right. Your version of homeschooling is paying people to do it for you. So we can’t get rid of all the tutors.  The tutor for SAT writing is a consultant who can’t travel. But I have no faith that there will be another SAT before college applications are due this fall. So we do what I have found works best: stick with a tutor you love and have your kid and the tutor find a topic they want to study together. The topic doesn’t matter nearly as much as the synergy between the two people. What a beautiful luxury. Your kids get a schooling experience that is tailored to their individual growth. They get to thrive through academic learning. School in America has nothing to do with such pursuits; instead, it’s more about acculturation to white supremacy. I’m so sad that every child doesn’t have access to the type of schooling you’ve described.

My younger son practices cello all day, with scattered breaks for piano, music theory and texting to other kids who play music all day. So self-isolation should be really easy for him — musicians practically choose this as a way of life.  But my son has a concussion from a car crash that happened six weeks ago which I did not write about because the lawyer said not to. Anyway, my son’s going crazy from boredom.

He tells me he’s bored like it’s my fault.

I tell him boring people are bored, which is what I used to tell my kids when they were tiny homeschoolers learning to identify their own interests. Learning to identify their own interests?? Do you know how much of a luxury this is? Do you know how many Black people die without ever coming close to being able to experience this? I’m not even talking about older Black people. Black millennials are so busy figuring out how to make money and catch up on the 400 hundred-year head-start white folks have (which, by the way, is a fool’s errand given the way our country is set up) that they don’t have the bandwidth to learn to identify their own interests. Seriously, any Black person nurturing their own interests is a revolutionary. I was going to say that the same is true for Black people your kids’ age, but I can’t afford to be that pessimistic.

He’s had enough of my homeschool pontificating. He says, “Mom, do you think it’s true that boring kids are a result of boring parents?” Ha! This is the sort of content I love to see in your blog. Your kids are very endearing. Thanks for sharing their gems with us.

We play Monopoly. I hate Monopoly because all those houses and hotels just beg the person losing to flick the board in a way that launches all those little pieces into flight. AND it’s a stupid, racist, classist game. But let me stop. I’m just being petty now. Let me chill out. I add my own rules to make the game go faster, like no pot of money in the middle. I make hazelnut high-rises worth twice as much as hotels. The kids are offended that I would use our coronavirus food supply for a game. So I drink Pinot Noir each time I pass go because the alcohol supply is my own. Love. But that’s just because in this regard, I’m as privileged as you.

Dinner is four cheeseless takeout pizzas because I can’t decide if takeout is risky and the boys can’t decide if one pizza each is enough.

One pizza each is not enough. But still, each kid gives me their best slice, which is touching. I nibble on crust wishing for teenage metabolism. Same. But we should stop feeling like this because it’s white supremacist, misogynist bullshit. Our bodies are good no matter how they look. There’s no reason for us to fear eating pizza for dinner sometimes or to envy the metabolisms and bodies of teenagers as grown-ass women. Did you know that fatphobia is just a facet of white supremacy? Look it up. Educate and free yourself, sis! The boys are quiet when they eat. And the streets of Boston are quiet now that the students have all flown home to deliver coronavirus from the petri-dish dorms to little houses full of old people all over the country. This is a moment in history where we will talk about how during their formative years, generation Z went from one crisis to the next.

The boys want to go to Barnes and Noble.

I tell them to forget it.

They growl.

“We have 400 books. Amazon has 4 million books. You don’t need to go get a virus from people waiting in line at Barnes and Noble.”

“Fine. We’re taking a walk.”

“Fine. But be careful. It’s a pandemic. Pandemic. Okay?”

“Ok boomer.”

I have come to terms with being called a boomer when I am not. But I am still getting used to searching for the generational inference the kid is making when they say ok boomer. In this case it’s because kids are downplaying coronavirus because it’s most dangerous to baby boomers. Younger kids refer to coronavirus as boomer remover and older kids call it the accelerator candidate — as in a candidate who makes things much worse much faster will finally get baby boomers out of power. Ugh from the mouths of babes! This probably makes me a bad person, but I lowkey hope the kids are right and that this virus makes way for actual equity and justice in a BlackPower-WomanPower-WorkerPower-QueerPower-AllPowerToThePeople type of way. (Before people complain, the majority of tweets on the topic of boomer remover are making fun of baby boomers being upset about being made fun of.)

I let the kids leave the apartment because I’m so excited to be alone. Are you aware that for so many Black people in urban areas, this is literally impossible? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I can’t actually tell whether you have any awareness of that fact. I think you actually never think of these things due to white supremacy… Anyway, I think you should know. And if you didn’t know, now you know. I know we are not supposed to be touching books that hundreds of other people touch. I imagine Barnes and Noble using Purell on the hardbacks to reassure us that shopping is safe.

I do not use my alone time to work. I clean up the dining room table because the research about neighborhoods with broken windows [You do know this is debunked antiquated, racist bullshit, right? Go take another look. Try searching broken+windows+racist] also applies to apartments with teenage leftovers. I read news about coronavirus. I decided to order more wine. I have underestimated how bad this is going to be.

The kids come home with The Communist Manifesto. Great. I really do hope they become communists. Have them read Cedric J. Robinson’s Black Marxism next. You should read it too. Barnes and Noble added a fancy cover to jack up the price to a point that would have made Marx cry.

My kids made a plan to listen to the audio version because the concussion means no reading. My older son falls asleep because, honestly, this book is no page-turner. My younger son says, “Mom, this book is so boring. You should drink every time they say bourgeoisie.”

I cancel the case of wine. It’s going to take everything in me to keep us sane through Pandemic 2020.