My inner world

I preferred to be in my inner world, in what I later called “the real world” or “Out”. “The ordinary world” – the one you thought about if you were hungry, cold, longing, yearning – was very strange to me. Sometimes for short periods I ended up there and it was very unpleasant. It made my body feel like an unmoving piece of meat that often hurt. Then there was a lot of dangerous demons and horrible noises that scared the wits out of me. Then I would often scream, bang my head and scream until it quieted. The light was also so unpleasant in “the ordinary world”. Everything changed constantly, and my head burned and ached.

In “the real world” there was always a different kind of light, and it was very pleasant. In that world I associated with my friends. There were two of them, a light and a dark being; their names were Slire and Skydde. They were boys, but they didn’t look like people, they were beings, they were “sweeps”. You could think of them as a scrap of silk fabric that floats in the air, that sweeps through it, that sweeps through “The real world”. That’s what I was also: a sweep but I didn’t see myself as light or dark.

 

Synesthetic autism, a scolding becomes a light show

A fascinating thing about Iris’ description of her synesthesia and out-of-body like fantasy life is the hints it offers about the workings of her brain, as well as of others. The  great pattern matching machine, which researchers think the brain must be, has to spend most of its first years learning and storing patterns that it acquires through the senses. Patterns that it receives from the eyes obviously make optical sense and are perceived as such when acquired. However, in Iris’ case with her synesthesia,  audio signals from the ears, and do not make any optical sense, get into her vision system  where they are still perceived as images. But what kind of images can they be. In Iris’ case they tend to be light shows, like fireworks or shooting stars. The brain expects images from the vision system, but when they originate as sound signals, the higher layers don’t have any sensible visual patterns to recognize so it has to create some out of thin air so to speak, which are then perceived. I imagine the situation similar to a computerized pattern recognition system where the IO driver has a bug so that signals from the microphone go to the optical pattern recognizer software, which of course can’t make sense of it.  However, it is programmed to treat stuff coming in as potential patterns so it proceeds to process them as if they were optical signals. Similarly, the higher layers in Iris’ brain treats these nonsensical signals in such a way that she perceives them as light shows, as he describes in the following excerpt from her book. What a tantalizing glimpse into the deepest mystery of the brain, i.e. how it generates experiences, that this story hints at. Is it possible that this, what brain researchers call the hard problem, may yield some of its mystery from the clues here. Thinking about how it works that Iris perceives fantastical light shows in response to sounds, could that maybe lead to some ideas about what is happening in the brain to produce that sensation.

images (1) images (2)

….When I had done something that farmor thought was very sinful and wrong  she would call me up to her. Then I had to stand before her as she scolded and admonished me. This I liked. I stood totally still and stared out in space. Her words were flying around and formed shapes, it was different lights that sparkled. It was beautiful, and you could never predict how it would look. I stood there and was entranced. I flowed into the colors, shapes, patterns, let myself be carried back and forth, up and down. Everything changed shape continuously and I flowed in with it. 

 

ESP, paranormal tricks by Iris

 

There are several places in the book where Iris talks about paranormal experiences and abilities. Several of those take us back to her school days, where she describes her ability to read teachers’ minds. According to her, it comes out in the atmosphere so she can see it or some other way pick it up or sense it. This obviously gets into controversial terrain, since mind reading, or telepathy, is not commonly accepted as a real thing. In Wikipedia we read the following:

Scientific consensus does not view telepathy as a real phenomenon. Many studies seeking to detect, understand, and utilize telepathy have been done, but according to the prevailing view among scientists, telepathy lacks replicable results from well-controlled experiments.

Still Iris tells us she could pick up what the teacher was thinking. We can exclude the possibility that she is fibbing, but maybe she is misremembering. However, her memory is of extraordinary degree. In a note at the beginning of the book titled “How this book came about” her editor/friend Göran Grip, relates how Iris thought she had lost the original floppies she created when she first wrote the book. A couple of years later when she resumed work on it she rewrote the whole book from memory, which Dr. Grip was able to verify, since he in fact had a copy of the original floppy. So how can we reconcile Iris’ story with the weight of scientific consensus? I think readers will find that this is just one of many thought provoking moments that this book provides. In the excerpt below she describes how she was able to trick and confuse her teacher by literally putting words in her mouth. This goes beyond just reading her mind and into controlling it. How did this work? Read the whole book and see what YOU think?

 

….I was also wont to provoke ma’am like when she had just thought of something she was going to sausage-stuff the students with. When I saw what she was about to say, before she formulated it in words, I could pick any word at all, that had nothing to do with her thoughts, and then this word came out of her mouth, “dress”, or “blue paint”, which made her really confused. If I was really mean I could get her to say a cuss word, and then she was crushed for the rest of the day. But it was risky to try to stick in a word that was too much in conflict with her own morals and values, because then she might come to a dead stop, and say nothing at all. Then she would start over, frustrated and irritated, and eventually some unfortunate child who wasn’t paying attention received the brunt of her irritation. She never connected any of this to me.

Autistic Iris learning to become normal

In general life consisted of Iris trying to be social, trying to go out with the girls she had grown up with, meeting boys, going to the movies and dances. She handled it very well, but she was so insensitive to all the unspoken assumptions that she often put her foot in her mouth. Jokes and irony were totally lost on her. She never even noticed it but her friends were sometimes ashamed of her and scolded her. Physical touching was also a problem. She had learned that she was not supposed to run away, but to stay and talk, which she did. As soon as somebody got too forward she would start to discuss all kinds of issues, and often the boys tired of it so she escaped.

 

Iris also struggled a lot with what you should like. She had learned that you should like different things. You should like being cute, and you should be delighted and smile when people said you were cute. You just had to do that. On that subject there was no choice. You should not like when young girls used make-up or wore long pants and one should not like parties and pleasures. But Iris had no opinion on any of this. The difficulty for her was that you had to express your feelings with your face and whole body. But Iris always looked unchangeably contented. So when she in order to be ordinary said she disliked something at random nobody believed her. She wasn’t received as skeptically when she asserted that she liked something. The big problem was to like and dislike the correct things. There she missed constantly.

Screaming

From the book: …”My daily screaming had started when I was about three, when Father had succeeded in holding my gaze and kept me in the ordinary world.  For years I screamed every day for anything and for nothing, and became an even greater pain for my surroundings. But when I was a little over six, one day a peddler came into the kitchen and addressed me, perhaps only said “hi”. My pain started as usual and I started howling. But this time, something different happened. The peddler roared at me: “God-dam it kid, nobody is trying to kill you”. This took. I shut suddenly up, the fog cleared and I stood completely still and saw a whole new world. It was like my eyes had changed in some way. That peddler had the same presence as Emma and later Fil.”

My stimming behavior

From the book: …”I was grumpy, hard to restrain, loud, and aggressive. I wasn’t interested in things, but sometimes something caught my attention, and then I could often destroy it. I often bit people and animals so hard that they screamed bloody murder, and then laughed. I laughed even more when the people around me became enraged and the air became full of crackling light tongues in different colors. I scratched myself, bit myself, licked the wounds to make them sting, tore the skin inside my lips, chewed my nails until they bled, refused to move, or just kept walking in some fixed direction, and screamed, screamed, grabbed things, dropped fragile things, bit small children to make them cry, walked in front of cars and other machines, pulled animals by the tail or ears. When I wasn’t making trouble I used to flap my hands around my face, bang my head, and hum monotonously or walked round and round and talked to myself.

I retained many of these behaviors all the way into my teens, but no new ones emerged, and one by one they disappeared as I made more and more contact with regular life.”

 

Autistic person’s difficulty in communicating

From chapter 9, Frequently asked questions about autism

The reason is that the child doesn’t know there is any other way to be than the way she is. The child finds herself in a foreign country where she doesn’t understand the language that everybody else speaks. She views the world solely as things which surround her but which do not have anything to do with her.

When I was ten and saw that one person could say something that another person could understand, and the other person could reply with something that the first one understood, then I discovered a different reality that I hadn’t known about before.  I saw that it existed but I had no idea how to have that kind of interaction with another person. What I did then was to practice by looking at myself in the mirror until I saw myself, until the state I was in changed to an interaction with myself; my appearance vanished, what I looked at vanished, and it was like something completely different was between me and the mirror image. And then my whole self-image was transformed. To start with this lasted only for a short while and then I returned to my normal way of seeing. But I had seen that the other reality existed, and I could see that the grownups were in it almost continuously. Also, I realized that I had always been separated from it. But when I was in the other state, in the real world, I was no longer separated from myself and from others.

Ever wonder why you are so different

This is the title of a post by Kate Goldfield on her aspiefrommaine blog http://www.freewebs.com/aspiefrommaine/mybaltimoresunarticle.htm

In it she talks about how AS people have trouble knowing what to say in conversations, when to start speaking and when to stop speaking.

In her book A different childhood Iris Johansson describes how she handled this problem by memorizing conversation starters and conversation enders as well as the structure of social conversations:

…She also practiced conversation starters. A good starter is: “Where are you off to?” or “Do you want come along …?” or “What do we do now?” or “How do you like …?”

…The problem was what if she got a return question. She learned to duck such questions by starting to tell about something, anything whatever. She had also figured out exactly how long she could talk before it started to bore the other one. She used to ask if the person was in a hurry because then she had to shorten her story. 

When the other person in turn began to tell her about something Iris didn’t understand a thing. Everything in her thoughtless talk was without substance to Iris with no fixed points to focus on. Then she would wait until she heard a word that meant something to her. Then, when the other stopped talking Iris posed a question about that word: “You said something about…

…People loved to flaunt their knowledge and a good starter was to say: “Do you know anything about …” In this manner she could milk the other person for talk. Some people didn’t fall for it but on some others it worked very well. She started to seek out people she could talk with this way. She gathered up everything she learned and combined it with the old stuff she knew and created images and films in her head that she could call up when needed.

If the other kept talking too long, it got awkward and then Iris used one of her pre-learned enders: “It was nice to see you” or “Apropos of nothing …” or “By the way I have to …”. That way she could put an end to it. 

It helped Iris that she has a practically a photographic memory, so she was always able to retrieve the information needed for the particular situation at hand.

 

In my inner world

From the book: …I preferred to be in my inner world, in what I later called “the real world” or “Out”. “The ordinary world” – the one you thought about if you were hungry, cold, longing, yearning – was very strange to me. Sometimes for short periods I ended up there and it was very unpleasant. It made my body feel like an unmoving piece of meat that often hurt. Then there were a lot of dangerous demons and horrible noises that scared the wits out of me. Then I would often scream, bang my head and scream until it quieted. The light was also so unpleasant in “the ordinary world”. Everything changed constantly, and my head burned and ached.

In “the real world” there was always a different kind of light, and it was very pleasant. In that world I associated with my friends. There were two of them, a light and a dark being; their names were Slite and Skydde. They were boys, but they didn’t look like people, they were beings, they were “sweeps”. You could think of them as a scrap of silk fabric that floats in the air, that sweeps through it, that sweeps through “The real world”. That’s what I was also: a sweepbut I didn’t see myself as light or dark.

 

An excerpt from Iris’ book

… I preferred to be in my inner world, in what I later called “the real world” or “Out”. “The ordinary world” – the one you thought about if you were hungry, cold, longing, yearning – was very strange to me. Sometimes for short periods I ended up there and it was very unpleasant. It made my body feel like an immobile piece of meat that often hurt. Then there was a lot of dangerous demons and horrible noises that scared the wits out of me. Then I would often scream, bang my head and scream until it quieted. The light was also so unpleasant in “the ordinary world”. Everything changed constantly, and my head burned and ached.

In “the real world” there was always a different kind of light, and it was very pleasant. In that world I associated with my friends. There were two of them, a light and a dark being; their names were Slite and Skydde. They were boys, but they didn’t look like people, they were beings, they were “sweeps”. You could think of them as a scrap of silk fabric that floats in the air, that sweeps through it, that sweeps through “The real world”. That’s what I was also: a sweep but I didn’t see myself as light or dark.