Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: November, 2014

Peekaboo, eye see you

If someone were to write the rulebook for eye contact in humans  (Volume 1, abridged,For Dummies, etc) I have a feeling it would use enough paper to provoke a second Last March of the Ents.

Like when you’re walking along the footpath, and you see someone walking towards you. Your eyes meet, but then for some reason you have to pretend you didn’t see one another and break eye contact until you reach Acceptable Recognition Distance (A.R.D.) which seems to be approximately 6 meters. You are then allowed to briefly make eye contact again as you pass. It’s so weird!

Or how about when you’re talking to somebody? It seems logical to maintain eye contact during conversation to show you’re listening, but apparently this too is the ocular equivalent of farting in a peak hour tram. You have to sort of periodically drop eye contact every 8 seconds or so, to prevent it from becoming awkward. I have to keep reminding myself to do this, but sometimes I get so caught up in the conversation that I can end up staring like a hypnotized Bush Baby.

bush baby

Talking to a group. Should I look each person in the eye one at a time? How long should I maintain contact with each one? If I’m not the one talking, it seems sensible to look at the person who is talking, but what about when the conversation is bouncing between multiple people all over the room? My head can end up swiveling around like the periscope of a submarine after the captain’s had one too many espresso shots.

And then there’s eye-to-other-things contact. Oh boy. Now, I find it fairly easy to process “don’t stare at a female human’s mammary glands for it is most uncouth in 98% of circumstances.” That much I get. But then there’s T-shirts/pants with writing on the chest/bum. Now I’m the kind of guy who stops to read the bumper stickers on parked cars (my favourite one so far is “So many pedestrians, so little time”) or to sneak-peak the front page of the Herald Scum while it line at the supermarket. I see words, I read it, its instinctive, and I find it very hard to override this urge. But if it’s rude to look, why is it there? Is it a prank, like those signs they stuck on people’s backs in primary school that say “kick me”? Does not compute…

Compounding the problem is that for people on the spectrum, eye contact can feel rather… confronting, kind of like when you’re a kid and you’ve been sent to the principal’s office. In fact, lack of eye contact is often an early marker of autism in kids. Meeting someone’s gaze can require a conscious and sometimes considerable effort.

Luckily, the best way to get better at something is practice, and with eye contact, every interaction throughout the day is an opportunity for practice. I personally find that it’s like most acquired skills; the more you throw yourself into it, the more you learn, and the easier it gets. 🙂

Autism research: we want our say

As I write this, millions of dollars are being poured into researching autism. This is not inherently a bad thing; after all, there is still a great deal we don’t understand about it.

Where it becomes a bit sensitive is how this money is being spent. Much of it is being channeled towards a “cure” for autism, or towards prenatal testing. Now, this is by no means a black and white issue; for instance, I’m a strong believer of a woman’s right to choose, and for those who suffer from severe autism, and for their families, I can see why a cure must seem like a beacon of hope.

The problem is that this approach to autism, where it is treated as  a disease, does a disservice to many of us on the spectrum that do not see ourselves as broken, diseased, or defective, but rather just different.

While rivers of cash are being thrown at magic bullets and screening techniques, very little is being spent on supporting adults on the spectrum; on helping them to integrate into the workforce and society, on managing their challenges while retaining their autistic talents.

But perhaps the biggest problem, at least in my view, is that the autistic community is not being consulted or involved with this research, at least not anywhere near adequately. This issue directly affects us, and as such, I believe we should be given a say in how the money is spent and where the research is directed.

I and many others on the spectrum would like to see a less deficit-based and more support-based approach to autism, that enables and empowers us instead of just looking for ways to “cure” us.

Many of the great minds of our past would likely be diagnosed as autistic today, from Tesla to Mozart to Einstein. Neurodiversity should be celebrated, not eliminated.

Yes, there is a place for treatment in some cases, but approaching autism like it were smallpox or polio doesn’t just leave millions of people on the spectrum out in the cold, it would also leave our society and our species worse off.

Flirting with the Pick-Up Artist community

When I was 20 years old, I’d never kissed anyone, never had sex, never had a girlfriend, never even been on a date. I’ve since found out this kind of delay in sexual and romantic milestones is quite  normal for people on the autism spectrum, but at the time, it made me feel about as worthwhile as a fly screen door on a space shuttle.

I felt utterly worthless, like I wasn’t good enough for anybody. Like I  was so ugly, so unlikeable, so repulsive, that nobody could ever want to be with me.

Lonely, naive, and desperate, I stumbled across the PUA community.

For those of you who haven’t heard of them, PUA stands for “Pick Up Artist”. They’re essentially a group of men who share advice on how to seduce and sleep with women. Many run seminars and courses, publish books, and make quite a lot of money by selling their “secrets”.

I was an easy target; gullible, impressionable, emotionally immature, and sexually frustrated. I must stress that I never attended any seminars or bought any books; my involvement only went as far as spending about a year as a member of an online forum. They never got a cent from me, for which I am everlastingly thankful.

At first it seemed harmless enough, and indeed, contrary to what you may hear, it’s actually not all misogynistic exploitation. Some of it’s genuinely useful, focussing more on self-improvement; building confidence, staying/becoming fit, how to hold a conversation. At the time, I had the social skills of a drunk jellyfish, so the idea of being able to actually talk to the opposite sex sounded like the best thing since green tea flavoured ice cream.

On the other hand, if you dig a little deeper,  it has a seriously dark underbelly. A lot of it didn’t so much treat women as a means to an end (sex) but more as the “enemy” in a game of psychological warfare. It taught tactics like “negging”, which is basically using put-downs to lower a woman’s self-esteem (or as some in the community  call it, her “bitch shield”) in order to make her seek your approval and become more susceptible to your advances.

It also teaches men to persist when told no, and to break down resistance through emotional manipulation. Pretty icky stuff, to say the least.

Perhaps the most disturbing part was that the more I  read about these tactics, the more I noticed them being used by other guys on my female friends. Sadly, I’m sure a lot of women reading this will have  experienced the tactics I’ve described.

Extract from a seminar by a high profile PUA guru, and a prime example of their ideology


Ultimately, I decided to remain the chocolate teapot of the dating scene rather be reborn as a successful arsehole. I just wish I’d realized how vile it was sooner, as I fear that in the intervening months I did become a bit of a douchebag. (Let me be clear; I never continued after being told “no”, and I never used put downs. I was just arrogant, self-centered, and placed far too much importance on the pursuit of “getting laid” as if it were a trophy)

In retrospect, I’m glad that my brief fling with the PUA community did nothing to improve my non-existent sex life; such behaviour wasn’t worthy of reward.

Because of the challenges they can face when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships, men on the autism spectrum are particularly vulnerable to the PUA community’s promises. If you’re ever tempted, take it from someone who has “been there done that”; it’s not worth it.

It may seem like the answer to all your problems, but much of it preaches tactics that border on sexual harassment, and promotes a deeply unhealthy view of gender relations where women are either your enemy or your prey.

Combine this with the difficulty those of us on the spectrum can have with reading social cues, and you have a truly dangerous recipe.

You’ll be much better off just steering clear.

Made in Japan

When I was 17, I won a scholarship to study in Japan for three months. When I found out I was going, I’d never been so excited. The thought was exhilarating.

And terrifying. See, I had never been away from home for more than a week before. I got homesick on 5-day school camps. But I told myself that I could do this; that it would be amazing and life-changing. I wasn’t wrong, but I was completely unaware of just how much it would change me.

I wasn’t always as I am now. When I was a child, I loved playing in the dirt and the mud. I certainly didn’t worry about germs and contamination. And it hindsight that was probably very good for me; at 25 I now have the immune system of a vegetarian Xenomorph on a Vitamin C drip.

But earlier that year, I’d started picking up rubbish in the school yard after hours to earn some pocket money. I ended up paying for almost my entire collection of all 29 Godzilla movies this way. But the gloves were too small for me; they broke a lot, and I’d end up touching rubbish with my bare hands. At first I’d just wash them afterwards. Then the frequency of my hand washing began to gradually increase.

By November 2006, as I was gearing up for the Land of the Rising Sun, the seeds of my crippling OCD were already germinating.

At first, Japan was incredible. My host family were kind, enthusiastic, and understanding, and my two host brothers, aged 3 and 8, thought having a real life Caucasian in the house was the best thing since Ultraman. Being in a foreign country for the first time was fascinating. The mixture of the almost futuristically slick and orderly city and exquisite forests and temples was unforgettable. I could go on and on about all the good stuff.


A photo I took on Mt Rokko;  (which serves as this blog’s banner) just one of the many highlights of my ultimately fateful trip.


But in the background, those seeds of OCD were beginning to coil their malignant creepers around my brain. I had to take public transport to go to school, and the packed carriage full of people became more and more uncomfortable. Door handles and bird poo became steadily more frightening. Keep in mind, this was at the time when Bird Flu was being talked up as the next big pandemic.

Isolated from my family except for emails, I was without parental support for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t coping.

After Christmas 2006, I changed to another host family. A much less understanding one. They took my blossoming OCD as an insult to the cleanliness of their home. Keep in mind, this is before I knew I had autism, or OCD, so I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn’t even realize that I was, by this point, quite mentally unwell and fast approaching clinical depression.

When my original host family visited a few weeks later, my first host mother actually emailed my parents telling them how concerned she was for me. She saw what I could not; that I was unraveling. My sponsor at the school saw the same thing, and recommended that I go home early, but I tried stubbornly to soldier on.

By this point I was so out of touch with reality that when someone startled me by standing behind me at a train station, I got caught up in an absurdly paranoid delusion that maybe they’d been flicking HIV-positive blood into my hair.

The last straw  was when I read on the news that Bird Flu had reached Japan, showing up at a farm near my city. I cracked and asked to come home, but I would have to wait almost a week to do so. Those intervening days were the hardest of my life. Every moment was a waking nightmare. I actually pissed my pants in class because I was too scared to go into the toilets.

On my 18th birthday, I left Japan, and ended up having to be almost carried off the plane at Tullamarine airport in Melbourne.

When we got home that night, the simple task of walking up a street in my home town that I’d walked a million times before to pick up fish and chips left me a quivering lump. I got a nose bleed in the summer heat, and seconds after wiping my own nose, had to ask if the blood on the tissue was mine.

According to my Mum, my Dad said to her that night once I’d gone to bed. “That’s not our Max.” And he was right. The Max that went to Japan in November 2006 never really returned, and life was never the same.

In the end, I survived. I learned to manage my OCD. I was eventually able to move away from home to study at University.

I can never know how different my life might have been had I never made that trip to Japan. The OCD was already there, but it might never have gained such a death grip on me without the perfect growth conditions that my time there provided.

Up until now, I’ve only shared this story with a small number of people.

After nearly 8 years, it’s a relief to finally get it off my chest.