Am I an Autistic sub? Maybe. Probably.
Yesterday, I had the initial appointment for a formal evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or what would formerly have been known as Asperger’s Syndrome. It was just a half-hour chat with a neuropsychologist for the purpose of screening. Had that gone differently, she would not have scheduled the following two appointments: a five-hours long day of testing and, three weeks after that, an appointment to review the results.
I showed up with a file folder with relevant reports from my school files and medical record, organized chronologically. I also included a 24-page Word Document I had created (complete with a table of contents), which included my family history, past diagnoses (and misdiagnoses), my interpersonal and professional relationship patterns, and my past and current behavioral and executive functioning issues. Needless to say, after answering a few questions (it seemed like she could guess exactly what I was like!), she scheduled the day of testing.
I research everything (it’s a compulsion), even Autism and submission.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who has given some thought to this topic. In the book Broken Toys: Submissives with Mental Illness and Neurological Dysfunction, edited by Del Tashlin and Raven Kaldera, the topic is explored in depth and with surprising clarity. I feel qualified to say this because not only am a. an Autistic (I know this about myself, the evaluation is just a formality), but also b. an experienced psychiatric RN who has done a LOT of reading on the topic of Autism Spectrum Disorders (for obvious reasons).
I will start out with a disclaimer: Although ‘autism’ is commonly associated with general intellectual disabilities, this is an outdated misconception because the diagnostic criteria for Autism have changed. It used to be that approximately 75% of people with autism had a non-verbal Intelligence Quotient (IQ) below 70. This is not longer accurate. Now that Autism Spectrum Disorder has been changed to include the former diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, an ‘autistic’ can just as easily refer to an individual of normal or even superior intelligence.
I was able to read only a long excerpt from this book at PaganBDSM.org, but this book seems to do a great job discussing the special considerations necessary when navigating Domination and submission relationships involving those with mental illnesses. Depression, anxiety, and even OCD and bipolar disorder are commonly co-occurring in those with ASD. The authors and editors have done their homework. They recommend Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron’s book The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism (a book I have read and loved!) to help Doms better understand the very different ways that Autistic subs may present as either “Spock-like” or highly emotionally expressive and reactive (or both, like me).
Submissive Intimacy as an Autistic
Of particular interest to me were the vignettes from the sub, Joshua, who spoke of his previous difficulty understanding how to connect. I could totally identify, and reading his story gave me even more optimism that a good Dom might help me overcome some of my difficulties in this realm.
“However, my current master was able to get into my head and pull me into those emotions. There was an early stage when I didn’t quite understand what he was subtly motoring me through, but in an egalitarian partnership I would have broken it off, where here I simply followed orders and walked right into the intimacy maze because my master told me to do so, and I was invested in being obedient. I was also very self-enclosed due to a fear of vulnerability, but in a M/s relationship I was rewarded for being vulnerable, so it opened me up in ways I didn’t know could happen.” – sub Joshus in Broken Toys
What Autistics Love About Rules and Structure
“When I’ve spoken to ASD s-types in the past, a majority of them spoke about how they loved the narrow, structured life of slavery. Rules gave them comfort, unlike ambiguous social and life situations where they are expected to guess – and guess wrong all too often. Many also lauded the state of having one’s basic decisions made for one – what to wear, how to walk, how to keep one’s hair and nails, what to say to please their partner. Figuring those things out by themselves, often on the fly, was stressful enough that they would rather give up their choices and lay the decisions on someone else.” – Master Raven in Broken Toys
I have to agree with this. One thing that appeals to me about a D/s relationship is the relief of not having to ‘figure out’ what is expected or to be the decision-maker all the time. It’s tiring! I would much rather have someone fill me in and tell me what is appropriate and what my relationship partner wants. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a boyfriend, What do you want? Are you upset? I think you’re upset but I can’t tell and I don’t know why. If you want me to do a particular thing, you need to tell me! But these ‘nice guys’ are never nice enough to actually tell me… instead, they make me play the fucking guessing game!
A Resource for BDSM and Mental Illness
Before I wrap up this post, I want to mention that if you are involved with anyone with a mental illness, you should check out PaganBDSM. I reviewed some of their other pages, including When Your Bottom has Borderline Personality Disorder (a tricky topic for sure!), and I think they have some good information. I can’t say that it’s written according to the best practice guidelines because there aren’t any!! But having worked with patients with BPD, I can say that I know that D/s relationships likely d0 appeal to many of them. And knowing that these individuals will seek out and enter these relationships, I believe that caring and responsible Doms and Masters MUST know how to avoid feeding into certain aspects of this condition and be prepared for the needs of these individuals.