June PSA

Kage Baker was a shy person, intensely private. She didn’t like to share personal information with strangers – or, for that matter, to hear strangers’ revelations either. If she knew you, it was different, but she was definitely not Facebook material.

“Even I don’t care about the minutia of my morning routine,” she observed irritably once, observing random posts from friends over my shoulder. “I really don’t care about anyone else’s. Who cares what toothpaste someone uses, or what their breakfast looked like?”

“Oh, chill out,” I responded. “It’s just a way of connecting with people.’

“Don’t want to connect with anyone,” she grumbled.

Which was not really true. She loved her friends. But she had no gradations in her affection. If she liked you, she trusted you utterly and you were an intimate; if not, you were a stranger. There were no casual acquaintances for Kage. She learned to smile broadly and say “Good to see you!” when people came up to greet her at Conventions or at Fair, but as they walked away she would ask me, “Who the hell was that?”

“No idea,” I usually had to admit. But, courtesy being satisfied, Kage never gave it much thought.

She was sensitive about her eyes , and never looked people in the face until she knew them well. (Her left eye wandered, due to primitive eye surgery when she was two.) She wouldn’t let me tell anyone about her cancer until just the month  before her surgery. But there was one subject on which she spoke freely and openly – to my astonishment. The first time she did it at a Convention, I dropped my knitting. I had to crawl around on the floor finding stitch markers while Kage glared at me from the podium …

Kage had Asperger’s Syndrome. And she talked about it. She started around her own birthday several years ago, because June happens to be Autism Awareness Month – and while not everyone feels Asperberger’s is a form of autism, it’s included on the autism spectrum in the DSM. Kage used to tell people she had an “autiform disorder”, which was accurate enough and also a nice piece of technical persiflage she invented herself.

Asperger’s is not autism in my opinion, either. I am entitled to an opinion; half the family has been diagnosed with it over the last 15 years, including Kage, Kimberly, and me; also, both Kimberly’s husband and son. As far as we are concerned, this is not a disease; it’s just a different way of being wired. Kage’s personal opinion is that it comes via our Neanderthal relatives. Of course, when she came up with that idea, no one admitted Homo sapiens had Neanderthal genes – but now it’s been discovered that, surprise! We do! And a lot of them are specifically about brain function … Kage was right about at least some of it.

If you asked her how she did that, she would answer solemnly, “I got the Sight. I’m psychotic.”

No, but she was an Asperger person. She had some problems with face recognition, though that was probably exacerbated by being unwilling to look into people’s faces in the first place. I can’t recall what so-and-so looks like, she might fret. Tell me when we see her.

If you’d look at her, you’d know!

I don’t care what she looks like, so why should I look at her? I just want someone to tell me when we see her.

Oh, screw you …

Kage had an uncanny focus on what interested her, and total disregard for what did not. She was linguistically gifted – while kids with autism are most clearly characterized by losing their speech, Asperger’s kids talk early, and well, and non-stop … they may make you nuts by their intense concentration on only what interests them, but by God! They can communicate!

I repeat: Asperger’s is not a disease and does not need a cure. That was Kage’s conviction as well. But it’s a difficult thing to come to terms with (mostly for your relatives, if they don’t have it) and the standard educational system doesn’t do well by kids with Asperger’s. A lot of the nightmare of Kage’s grade school years was caused by  her teachers shouting angrily across an abyss they could not even see. So Kage talked about it, to bring it to people’s attention, to ask for help for the youngsters coming to terms with it, to encourage parents and children both to be tolerant of one another.

“After all,” she said one afternoon, holding up her own left hand, “it’s just another way of being wired, like handedness. Do we punish kids for being left-handed?” She mimed slapping her own knuckles, as Sister Edmond and Mrs. Goldberg used to do to her. “Oh, wait. We do.”

Kage looked out over the audience then and asked, “Don’t you think we should stop?”

Yep. It’s June, Dear Readers. Be aware of autiform disorders, and lend a hand to someone dealing with one. You’re all related to us, after all.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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6 Responses to June PSA

  1. Valerie says:

    Huh! Well, that explains a lot. But I never thought of the word, even after reading your lovingly detailed descriptions of Kage. Perhaps because personality traits that contribute to brilliance and success don’t seem to merit a diagnosis. ..

    And it’s true that Asperger’s Syndrome, at least in Kage’s style, is very different from autism. The key disability in the autism spectrum is the inability to put oneself in another’s place, to understand another’s emotions. And obviously Kage understood other people very acutely, even though she was uncomfortable with many of them.

    Also, classic autism is very often coupled with severe mental impairments, often profound mental retardation. (People don’t like to think about this, but it’s true.) But still, there can be something magical in it. Not sweet magic, and not happy magic. I remember a little boy with a mad, mad face, pulling my head close to his by my hair. I could hear each strand breaking with a musical twang like a harpstring, as he closed his eyes and shuddered in ecstasy at each sound.

    And I remember his joy in sparkling bursts of splashed water, and his even greater joy in the musical splashes of broken glass. I remember pulling him to safety as one of the big guys dove through a plate glass window, sending the glittering shower everywhere…

    There are some things there that are similar – the heightened senses, differently focused; the tight concentration on what others barely see; the use of routine to control the uncontrollable. But why we should see similar traits in folks of both very low and very high intelligence…we just don’t understand what’s going on. Not at all.

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    • Kate says:

      Asperger’s – my entire family feels, with insider knowledge, lol – is not exactly a disease. There was nothing wrong with Kage, any more than her left-handedness or double jointedness were diseases. Disabilities to greater or lesser degrees, but often not even that.

      Asperger’s can interfere with daily life, but it doesn’t always – any more than bad allergies. And it doesn’t have to. It certainly doesn’t do so the way autism does. Those kids have so much sensory overload, sensitivity and interference that they shut down in sheer self-defense. Asperger’s Sydrome people often understand others perfectly normally: they just can’t express it well, or are unclear on what to do about it. But their emotional response is normal. Kage had a detailed understanding of human nature. She just needed more distance and security than most people to demonstrate it.

      If autistic people can learn to tolerate the world in general, their emotional responses are normal, too. In my experience, mental retardation is rare among autistic children. They are not deficient, they are too beseiged by the world to waste time on something trivial like reciting or reading. But you are correct, I think: we don’t understand autism at all.

      Kathleen kbco.wordpress.com

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  2. pamela duncan says:

    Kathleen, your writing moves, intrigues and inspires me with every blog. But today’s blog about aspergers was particularly good. Wow. You amaze me.
    Hugs.

    Like

    • Kate says:

      Pamela – Thank you .It was (and is) no big deal, though. Except for Kage being willing to talk about it, which was sort of my only real point. She thought it was important. And, considering it’s Autism Awareness Month, I thought it was important too.

      In our family – where Kimberly refers to us as Aspies, and Kage used to object to the too-cuteness of the name, lol – it’s not an enormous issue. It’s not a condition that necessarily shows, you know? Unless you know what to look for. The family tendency to talk too much and be history fanatics are much more evident socially!

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  3. Bob Dole says:

    The neanderthal admixture hypothesis is being discussed on the “Causes of Autism” wiki: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Talk:Causes_of_autism#Neanderthal_Admixture_Hypothesis

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  4. Walt says:

    Now, more than ever I wish I had known Kage in person or on the interwebs when I first read her in the year’s best sf and subsequently, the company novels and first short story collection. I was shocked, surprised and saddened when I first read she had cancer and then shortly after that she’d died. I selfishly tIhought then and still do now that I would never read another new Kage novel/story before remembering I hadn’t read her three fantasies, under some snobbish or other assumption that it couldn’t possibly be as good as a Mendoza company story/novel. But now I regret ever being so small-minded and eagerly await any and all Baker (Kate or Kage originated work).

    The reason this post resonates with me more than any other I’ve read since you’ve started blogging is I tell myself I’m an undiagnosed Asperger’s (I used to think victim or sufferer but now I agree with all you Baker’s it’s not really a disease; still can’t think how to end this sentence…

    Anyhoo, here in South-East Asia, Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t seem to be an officiallly recognised mental condition of any kind so I just blunder through life; luckily I have a job and family that is okay with my self and I seem high-functioning if I may so self-diagnose myself. I don’t mean to hijack these comments with self-pity as I don’t know what is socially appropriate even tho these are the interwebs, so just delete these comments, moderator if they’re over the line or delete this sentence.
    I really appreciate Kage’s and now your writings over these last however many years it’s been since I first read it and that’s what I want to convey in this comment and I’ve wanted to do so since I first discovered your blog but just didn’t know how. Thanks.

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