I tried doing a post about nudism and autism. I was going to go through all the literature and come up with some great opus summarizing it. It didn’t work.
For all you folks out there who are unfamiliar, autism is a condition where it is difficult to interact with the world. Most people immediately imagine Rain Man or Sheldon Cooper or maybe the kid in the special ed class who keeps beating his head on the wall.
These could be examples of autism but they do not define the condition. If you have met one person with autism you have met ONE person with autism. All are different. I have high functioning autism and neither am a savant nor do I beat my head on the wall.
I have my own eccentricities but I can wear the mask of a “normal” person. I am very good at masking until I go into sensory overload and then I make an excuse to leave. At this age it isn’t really even masking, it is performance art. Performance art is a lot less stressful.
One of the beautiful things about blogging is that you get to drop the mask. I have found an audience who is very accepting of my eccentric interests. Blogging also helps me organize and form thoughts far better than I could ever do in a conversation.
People with autism are often referred to as neurodiverse while most people would be called neurotypical. There are other conditions that would qualify as neurodiverse that are not autism. Australian sociologist Judy Singer created the term to challenge the current view that some neurological conditions are pathological in and of themselves, particularly with Asperger’s (ASD-1). Rather, sometimes a person just seems different or eccentric and others “disable” the person with their reactions.
Autism exists on a spectrum with however many dimensions you want to have. There is no single trait that defines autism, it is a syndrome. There are several traits and when they cluster, the syndrome is called autism spectrum disorder. If you want to really be honest about it, the autism spectrum is just a small part of the overall spectrum of human behavior. It is one tail of several related curves.
Don’t go chasing after thimerisol or some other popular bogeyman. Autism is at least 80% genetic. Mom and or Dad had the genes in them already. Silicone Valley has lots of autistic kids because that’s the kind of place successful Aspies flock to. An Aspie couple is many times more likely to have an affected child than a mixed marriage – which in turn is much more likely than a neurotypical couple.
About one in 40 people will have strong enough traits to get a diagnosis. As I said before, it is a spectrum that blends imperceptibly into the general population. No clear line of differentiation.
The DSM-V has rolled the Asperger’s diagnosis into autism and divides autism into 3 levels, ASD-1, ASD-2, and ASD-3. ASD-1 is also known as high functioning autism and more informally as Asperger’s syndrome. ASD-1 can generally take care of themselves although they can experience serious problems that may prevent them from being fully productive individuals. (Or if they are a genius, they may rewrite our understanding of the universe.) ASD-2 can live on their own with special support and assistance. ASD-3 needs full-time help to live.
I am on the more functional side of ASD-1. Asperger’s syndrome. An “Aspie.” If my IQ were a few points higher, I might be a Leonard Hofstadter. (I wish I were!) Wife says I’m too well socialized to be a Sheldon.
All the main characters of The Big Bang Theory demonstrate many characteristics of high functioning autism, including Penny and the other women. Sheldon would immediately be diagnosed as such. (Jim Parsons is convinced his character is written straight out of the textbook.) Women have a somewhat different set of traits than men.
Understanding the Spectrum is a good comic strip explanation of the condition. Should you not hit any other link in this blog, please hit that one. If I may borrow one of the illustrations to make a point…
Autistic people are not all savants with adorable “autie” traits. That’s the Sheldon Cooper model on “The Big Bang Theory.” Nor are they all savants who are incapable of taking care of themselves. That’s Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.” Most are not savants at all and most are quite capable of surviving on their own despite the difficulties.
And not every autie is a clumsy stumblebum. A few are extremely athletic but lack of proprioception, balance, and eye-hand coordination are far more common. Every individual is unique.
Let me put that in personal terms. I walk into a bar. It is crowded and noisy. There are multiple loud conversations going on plus background music. Within seconds my body is screaming at me to leave at once. I am going into sensory overload. I go to a concert and earplugs are in order. Don’t even think about getting me near the slots in a casino.
OTOH I like to take long lonely freehikes into the most desolate wilderness I can reach. I am never more at peace than then. (For a quick summary of why one might want to be a nudist, go here.)
There are other dimensions that are important. Social skill is a huge issue. That’s another issue in that bar. I typically cannot do small talk. And half the time people are saying things but the meaning of what they say is a mystery to me. There’s some kind of extended social code that I miss. It sure as hell isn’t the literal meaning of the words they say and that is lost on me.
OTOH, I fall flat on my face if I try to participate in the conversation.
There is also “stimming.” Thrumming my fingers, tapping my feet, pacing restlessly for no apparent reason. Drives my wife nuts and I have to keep a lid on it when she’s around. Eye contact. I have lost jobs because I didn’t make enough eye contact in the interview. So I focus on eye contact and I’m told my look is too challenging.
When I am “confronted” by somebody my brain (and face) go blank and I literally cannot speak. (I call it deer in the headlights syndrome.) I tend to get way more excited about something than would seem appropriate to neurotypicals. Or laugh too loudly. I don’t “get” when it is ok to break rules. By not breaking rules I fall behind those who understand the secret code – but I also cannot be punished for it. (Of course, the “rules” vary by one’s social status more than anything else.)
To this day I am a stickler for accuracy and precision. Irritates the hell out of my wife. I wish I could have been a scientist.
I do the basic search of “+autism +nudism.” Along comes a list of articles:
- Hypersexual and paraphilic behavior and autism.
- Autism and sex crimes
- Increased gender variance in autism spectrum disorders
- Autism and porn
- Intimacy and Romance in Autistic relationships.
None of these are useful. Nudism and naturism are not even mentioned. More than a little paranoia in the titles of some of those articles. Beware those hypersexual, paraphilic, sex criminal, porn devouring autists! The reality is that it is most common for an autistic person to have no sex life at all. But, alas! This is how stereotypes are perpetuated.
The “Autism and Nudism” group became history when Google+ belly-flopped. There is a Facebook group but it is almost all one guy posting nudist memes and autism memes.
So I dig a bit deeper. I try “+asperger +naturist.” Lo and behold, my own blog is in the results! And this is why:
This is obviously not a commonly written about topic. I might be the only person in the entire blog-o-sphere talking about it right now. Getting desperate, I start looking at forums and the like. I find a few threads on the subject.
There are other threads on sites that require membership to participate. Which I understand completely and I respect their privacy. People who are autistic are usually fragile. They’ve been beaten down in the world. They are vulnerable. They don’t want a bunch of “neurotypicals” to show up on the site to try to “help.” Or bullies – who are always on the lookout for their next victim to troll or abuse. Or to be lumped in with pedophiles, rapists, and misc. “perverts.”
Or an employer to see it and refuse to hire or look for a reason to dismiss. Or other entities who might want to restrict your civil liberties because you are obviously mentally unstable. Acquaintances who might change their attitudes. Between media representations and negative stereotypes, it is often best for high functioning autistic folks to stay in the closet about both autism and nudity.
They also don’t want a bunch of non-autistic, rich, neurotypical folks to make up a ribbon and “speak” for them. Oops! Too late for that.
I found another blog entitled “Naked Aspie.” The author has some thoughts about nudity and Asperger’s
“Clothing can be such a pain in the ass for Asperger People. It can be too tight, not tight enough, or feels scratchy. Material and fabrics can rub their sensory sensitivities the wrong way. Aspies are not influenced by peer pressure or social “norms”. Their independent thinking resists and challenges, conformity, and convention.“
“Because of these reasons, some Aspies prefer to just be plain naked. It provides a freedom of expression and a liberating feeling of empowerment. It gives relief from physical and emotional restrictions.“
That’s a rather rosy and somewhat political way of putting it. It is a truth that many people on the autism spectrum do not like clothing. It is a truth that we do not absorb social norms as the neurotypicals do. The wiring just isn’t there to absorb it and we need to be instructed in things everyone else picks up at a very early age through osmosis.
One of the traits people on the spectrum display is sensory problems. We go into overload very easily. Bright lights, dense crowds, noise, multiple conversations, etc., cause sensory confusion. While most people find comfort in clothing, the Aspies among us often find uncomfortable restrictions and irritating textures contributing to the overload.
Because people “on the spectrum” experience difficulties with social communication and interaction a lot of things don’t get absorbed. There’s a whole bunch of social context and codes and taboos and fashion and nonverbal communication that we never “get” (because we are nerds and geeks and dorks and creeps, et al.) And stupid rules one doesn’t see the point of.
One example: I didn’t realize it was important to wash my hair and brush my teeth and change my clothes daily until 10th grade when a girl took pity on me and explained it. Once she’d explained it – and it helped it was a girl I secretly liked but who publicly wouldn’t give me the time of day – I accepted it as a rule. That didn’t mean I took it as a matter of moral requirement. I will quickly turn into a total slob if I’m alone. But if I was going to be around others, I followed the rule.
Aspies are very good at rules.
Wearing clothing is one of those rules I learned very early in life. I had very conservative fundamentalist parents. But it was just another stupid rule. As I got older (in my Mr. Spock phase when I was hyper-logical) I remember thinking about how irrational requiring clothing was. Then add in the aforementioned sensory issues.
So of course when I was alone, I was usually nude. I was a “free-range” child in an extremely rural area so it happened more often than one might think. Sensory overload, plus not absorbing shame over nudity, (which is one of those social constructs we are so bad at) plus opportunity, is how an Aspie becomes a nudist.
Was I obsessed with it? Many Aspies get obsessed with the strangest things and it dominates their minds. Probably yes, as a pre-teenager and a tween. (Now it is a hobby. I love Olive Dell and Bates Beach but they are 200 mile round trips. So I go out in the wild where I can be alone.) I was far more obsessed with science. Running around naked was a summer vacation thing. (Don’t get me started on how puberty affected it. 😉 )
As a teenager, I turned into a streaker in the latter part of the 70s. I don’t deny there was a touch of the exhibitionist in me. I would never have streaked or stripped for parties or done modeling or performed nude on a stage or run the Bare to Breakers or ridden the World Naked Bike Ride if I weren’t.
Another facet I share with many Aspies, a desire for public acceptance. That’s the real drive behind social nudity. Not just being “seen.” Being exactly how you want to be and being told you’re ok. Not “abnormal.” Not unfit to be seen or disgusting in your lack of physical fitness. You’re a good person and not a pervert or a criminal or ugly or unfit for polite company.
There’s a lot of other people struggling for acceptance. Sometimes it takes a very long journey to find it. I think a lot of transgender folks would find that acceptance if they were nudists. I personally know of two.
I finally got into a kind of social nudity as a figure model when I was 18 and off to college. That started with a hot mess but it worked out and felt incredibly cool. When I got a chance to perform in Hair, I jumped at it. I still do some nude theater today – if it weren’t closed for damned COVID-19.
Some of the other resources I found:
Bare Platypus has this blog post on Nudity – Therapy for Autism? They discuss (among other things) a young autistic male on his own who almost got evicted because he stepped out on his balcony at 5 am. to retrieve his cat and hadn’t bothered to dress. Of course, someone complained (rolls eyes!) and a huge case was made of it.
It links to this heartwarming post in thefunnysideofautism about a woman with a 14-year-old boy who won’t stay dressed. Not Asperger’s but maybe ASD level 2.
I stop to think about how lucky this boy is. There are parents who would be mortified. There are parents who would fly into a rage. (Mine.) But this boy’s mother takes it all in stride.
And to this post in “Oregon Live.”
Parents with a significantly autistic child stumble onto a nude beach in the Columbia River Gorge. The young boy is in heaven and so are his parents.
On balance, I’d say that a person who is on the spectrum is a better than average prospect for nudism but obviously I couldn’t guarantee it on an individual basis. Many autistic people have come to loathe their bodies or have become anhedonic. It is tough to overcome a lifetime of hard knocks over something beyond one’s control.
Controlled nudity as a kind of therapy? There is zero clinical information on it, only anecdotes, speculations, and personal opinions. It might be a good idea, particularly for parents who have children who can’t keep their clothes on. Beats the hell out of getting angry and frustrated. Give the child safe places to be naked as a jaybird. Probably not every shrink would agree with me but I’m sure many would.
I don’t see nudist resorts or crowded nude beaches as a good place for this for boys during puberty. Things will probably come up and many autistic boys probably may not have absorbed erection shame. (Personally I think lack of shame over a biological function is a good thing but polite society would differ.) Parents might get embarrassed, other patrons would object, and our autistic child could be in for a round of cruel shaming. Might have to restrict it to at-home nudity and remote locations until the hormones settle down.