So what's the story?

The photograph above is of another example of Didi's earlier artwork, executed using graphite and pastels, in around 1981 when she was about 11 years old. Didi copied the woman's face from an illustration in a magazine, but she added the aloof look herself. The drawing was too big to scan, hence the rather poor quality photograph.

Unlike the drawing on the previous page, this one is meant to mean something. It represents Didi's transition from just drawing "things", to drawing things that betray - or express - emotion or ideas. This particular drawing reveals the defensive posture that Didi was taking towards the bullying at the time when this drawing was executed: she was mostly of the belief that it was "all them" so became disdainful of those that were horrid to her.

Her belief that it was "all them" wasn't really a belief in the normal sense and needs further explanation. Didi had started out in her earlier years being very self-confident (to use most people's impression of her). However, "confident" isn't really the right word. That word seems often used to imply one's ability to interact with other people which isn't right about Didi - she was simply so internally certain of herself that it didn't occur to her to be afraid or lack confidence around other people when she was a child.

Such an attitude is very common amongst those on the autistic spectrum. Such people know who they are, what they want, and what they like and don't like from an earlier age, it seems, than most other children. It is not important to them what others think - more accurately in fact, it doesn't even occur ot them to consider what others think. Thus there is no confidence - or lack of it - involved. Indeed, it is not even really correct to call it "an attitude" (though normal people will think that such a person has an attitude, no doubt!). For, to have "an attitude" implies effort on one's part to take a particular stance - but there is no effort involved with an autistic person in this sense - they just "are". If there is any term for it, it is probably simply that the person could be said to be "certain of themself".

Being so certain of herself gave Didi almost as many issues with authority - and adults therefore - as it did with her peers. She would not conform the way other children tend to do as a result of peer and family pressure - what we call "conditioning" - and couldn't understand why people wouldn't just let her be as she believed she let others be.

Of course, an adult is going to become angry if a child says something along the lines of "no I won't do that because I never see the boys being asked to do it and it' not fair to get me to do it just because I'm a girl" (Didi rebelled a lot about gender role conditioning, even at kindergarten). The trouble is, Didi's frustration at not being able to persuade the offending adult to reason with her - and treat her with fairness and respect - would eventually lead to her having a tantrum as she'd end up feeling she had to fight for her right to be true to herself or for justice for herself.

Like conditioning by adults, bullying can be used as a mechanism by which a child is "persuaded" to conform to the tribe if milder forms of conditioning (e.g. gentle teasing) don't work. However, bullying can also be about power and control (e.g. "you're not coming to my party (...because you've done/haven't done X thing)").

Lastly, but significantly, bullying can also be used as a mechanism for what Didi refers to as "emotional vectoring". This is where the perpetrator of the bullying catalyses the victim to emote feelings that the bully can't emote themselves (often because they don't know they have the feelings in the first place) by winding the victim up to the point that the victim cries or explodes thereby giving the perpetrator some vicarious pleasure and relief from the torment of their own repressed emotions. It is kind of like emoting by proxy!

So what was Didi's bullying about? It was partly about the perpetrators trying to condition her because children that are different cause insecurity amongst "the sheep" (as Didi called them). But it was also about those particular chidren who were troubled themselves using Didi as a vector for their own repressed emotions because, despite her self-assuredness, she was extremely sensitive. To Didi, people's unspoken thoughts were almost as loud as their words - indeed, she used to refer to it as "the shouting".

Whilst autistic people are usually poor at interpreting what is called "non-verbal communication" (such as body language), many autistic people, especially those who also have synathaesia (where sounds have colours or shapes, etc and the senses are muddled up) can be highly sensitive - much more so than normal people - and so are particularly susceptible to these forms of emotional battery. It is also why such people are so commonly targets of the umbrella term used for all these types of emotional battery - "bullying" - both at school, and later in life in the form of workplace bullying or domestic violence.

Of course, because Didi didn't conform as a result of the bullying, and because she began to learn to fight her emotional response to people attempting to use her as an emotional vector, the bullying worsened. Didi did want to be accepted but it had to be on her own terms. "Why should I be a sheep?", was her response each time her troubled mother attempted to persuade Didi that she'd have to conform to some extent or other to be accepted by her peers. Didi just didn't see why she should. In her mind, she was happy for other people to be themselves, so why wouldn't they let her be? To Didi, that was just logical.

However, to an autistic person, society is nothing like logical! But they don't "get" this until they are older. So when the autistic person is younger, they will be problem-solving issues they have with their peers and society using the tool of logic - so powerful a tool in the hands of a high-functioning autistic person. Trouble is, it is not the right tool to use and the young autistic person will become increasingly frustrated - and often therefore increasingly insular - as they find they don't have the right tools to navigate in a society that appears to use a different, and unknown, tool to their own - and speak a different language. For what use is body language if you don't have the tool to decode it? And what use is verbal language if you don't know what is going on beneath the seams?

There is also a paradox about all this that autistic people should learn - and that Didi didn't realise until she was much, much older. That, the very fact of insisting that people (via logical argument and tantrums) accept the autistic person for what they are means the autistic is not, in fact, accepting other people - despite that usually being very much their intention (and what they frequently use in argument!). This is simply because normal people have to undertake conditioning - it is a natural human instinct. The autistic person insisting that they don't (or to make a special exception for the autistic person) is not accepting them for who they are at all - hence the paradox.

So as the bullying and adult hassles continued, Didi became increasingly aloof from people - what she began calling "humans" - a term Didi later realised she used as a way to distance herself from the human species that she was increasingly beginning to revile and to look down upon. So this drawing represents just that - Didi's aloofness - look at the tilt of the nose and the disdain and judgementalism in the eyes. The fact that the woman in the picture is an adult (and Didi was just about 11 when she drew this) was meant to symbolise how Didi saw herself - as an adult - she couldn't understand why people would "talk down" to her as if she were a child! She'd say in a way that used to tickle - and annoy - the adults around her, "but I'm not a "children" upon being classified in that group. In fact, Didi became so embroiled in her aloof defensive posture that she would even sometimes retort that she was more "evolved" than other people if she was questioned about why she was being bullied and why she wouldn't conform.

In fact, Didi's "aloofness" and "disdain" response is a classic text-book psychological defence - feeling increasingly superior to other people and developing what TA (Transactional Analysis) texts often refer to as the (mentally unhealthy) "I'm OK, you're not OK" life position (the healthy one obviously being "I'm OK, you're OK"). Such an attitude is dangerous - apart from it merely serving to increase the unfulfilling nature of one's interactions with one's fellow species, if it persists into adulthood it can, at worst, lead to wars. It is important to note that not all autistic people - or anyone else being bullied for that matter - will take this stance (which then did become an "attitude", unlike the initial way Didi was). More usually, children take the more common "I'm not OK, you're OK" position.

The pugnacious attitude that stemmed from Didi's "I'm OK, you're not OK" position made her increasingly difficult to interact with. It also later made her unemployable (although very successfully self-employed eventually). To this day, Didi has many problems making and keeping friends and relationships even though she has had extensive psychotherapy to attempt to undo all the bad that was done to her psyche when she was a child - and, of course, she no longer believes she is superior to others and feels very lucky to have the patient friends she does.

Such a situation can be common with children with Asperger's Syndrome - the "Little Professor" syndrome as it is sometimes called. Of course no-one knew Didi had that condition until some twenty years after this drawing was done! But if you've got a child like Didi - do both of you a favour - move her or him to a school that is better suited to gifted children: a place where they will fit in and learn what it feels like to be at the bottom of the intellectual pile sometimes, and top the next, but not get punished for either by their peers.

Combine the above with psychotherapy. Start this young and you can gradually teach the autistic child things like body language and how to successfully interact. This, combined with careful schooling, will be a winning combination that will prevent - or certainly mitigate - many of the problems that Didi suffered - and also the problems that other people (such as her parents) have suffered in dealing with her.

A psychotherapy tool such as Transactional Analysis (TA) is perfect as it breaks down interactions and emotions using logic. This makes TA ideal for a high-functioning autistic person to use to get to grips with the strange world of people around them. And, if you are a parent of such a child, it is very important that you study TA too - as TA is only as good as the people that know how to use it! In fact, Didi believes strongly that if everyone - both normal and autistic people - studied TA, that most of the problems in the world would go away...

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