Apps 4 Autism Hackathon: Reflections

When autistics get together, something magical happens!

‘Moondance’ by Amorphisss, an amazing artist on deviant art. Go check him out!

So, a couple of years ago, I attended a Hackathon called Apps4Autism, inspirationally brought into existence by the Autism CRC, and sponsored by some lovely peeps at Salesforce and ANZ.

The Hackathon ran for 3 days with its purpose being to design user-validated apps for people on the Autistic spectrum. I had many reflections on the event at the time, and these are some I had right after.

I am re-posting this  coz I think the thoughts I made at that point in time were valuable, and maybe they can help others too.

What is the key issue all Autistics face?


(Yep, that’s correctly spelled).

The primary problem we have is the understanding of “relationship” — it is the relational space between ourselves and objects that poses confusion. Just as a quick aside, in psychology the self is perceived as the subject, and the “other” is denoted as an object. A key priniciple of psychology (whichever technique you ascribe to) states, to attain a deeper connectedness with the world, and a deeper awareness of yourself in the world, you need to first understand your relationship with your self.

First and foremost, Autistics (or, ‘aspies’) are introspective. They look within. Aspies look at their own relational space first, and then they look outside us. Now, herein lies the challenge. When Aspies look within, they see something so deep and so complex; so immense and unbounded that they can’t make sense of it. In my team on the hackathon, one of my fellow Aspies said, “The scope is too big, and that causes the overwhelm”. Nail on the head! When Aspies look within ourselves, they see a myriad of “stuff”. They cannot even begin to label what’s there, because there is so much there. Similar to my post on FOCUS, when Aspies view themselves, they get lost and frustrated.

Autistics are problem-focused. We are constantly seeking solutions.

When you are Autistic, and you are naturally drawn to creating systems and solving problems, consider how it might feel to look at yourself and be lost in there. If you have ever wondered why Autistics tend to get angry/ frustrated/ annoyed, this is good place to start your enquiry! They want to solve the problem of Self. Aspies MUST solve the problem. Then when they look outside themselves at others, they still cannot make sense of it. The problem of understanding others lies in relationship. The problem is in the relational space. And, this issue is magnified by the fact that when we look at others, we do not see a reflection of ourselves. Let me explain using an example-

Different Not Less

In the evening of the final day of the Hackathon, I was honored to join a group (Austistics) for drinks at a pub. Between much chatter and drinking, at one point someone said, “See, we don’t have a problem with socializing! We’re doing it just fine with eachother” — I think that is the key point here. Being Aspie certainly means our main issue is relationship, but moreover, the “problem” lies not in how we communicate per se, but how we are understood by everyone else (those not on the Spectrum).

When we look inside ourselves, it is confusing because the scope of Self is without boundary. But when we look at others, we (more often than not) find ourselves comparing our sense of self and understanding of the world with non-Autistics. We do not see a reflection of ourselves in the world. We see difference, and, at a very young age, that feels like rejection…. but moreover, from a deep reflective sense of how we Autistics understand our world, we see a problem to be solved. And purely using logic here-

If you are 1 and everyone else is 2… it is natural to think 1 is wrong, and 2 is right

If you are 1 and everyone else is 2, and you never meet another 1, and you can’t understand 2, but everyone else understands 2 because they are 2, then it supposes that 1 is not 2, and if 1 cannot be made into 2 by means of altering looks, behaviour, clothing, spoken word, or any other transformation, then it further reinforces that 1 is different from 2. And if 2 rejects 1 for being 1, then it is a natural reaction (and based in science) for 1 to think 1 is wrong and 2 is right.

Therefore I am wrong, and everyone else is right. I am the problem, and the external other is the solution. I need to obtain the other to solve the problem, but I am the problem. How can I be the problem and other the solution? How can I solve my internal struggle of making sense of myself if externally is where the solution lies? How can I make sense of myself if I don’t know where to start because the self is so immense? How can I connect with the other if that other is so immense? And if I am the problem, then maybe removing the problem is the solution?

Our incredible skill of analysis and systems exploration is what makes Aspies so bloody brilliant…. but it also makes most of them quite apathetic, depressed or dismissive especially of themselves and especially when it comes to rationalizing whether social interaction is worth time and effort.

Weird photo taken at Apps4Autism.

When Autistics get together, magic happens

Yes, we are different. We are 1’s!! Amongst each other, we are much more able to build quick and lasting friendships because, if I may swear here, we cut past all the meaningless bullshit. When you finally meet another Autistic person (and, I might add, you have finally got a diagnosis), you feel NORMAL. For the first time ever, when a Autistic meets another Autistic, we have a mirroring of self.

At the Hackathon, I found it so comforting to be surrounded by so many other like-minded people. In my group, we didn’t need to clarify anything (although we would perfect exact synonyms) when we spoke to each other. We didn’t need to read into what might have been said, or was not said but intended (subtle cues of non-Autistics), we didn’t need to expend all that energy on pointless things. That was nice. I also notice that Autistics tend to be the kindest, most loving people. This is not to exclude non-Autistics, because certainly you can be sweet too. I just want to explain how it felt to be ‘mirrored’. I would posit we Autistics are kind because we have felt ostracized whilst analyzing the intricacies of that rejection. We want nothing more than to understand our immense self, and understand the immense other. We want nothing more than connection (like every human does). When we see ourselves reflected back, it is beautiful.

Autistics cut past all the meaningless bullshit.

I often reflect on Fritz Perls, Gestalt clinician (b.1893–1970) who said, “A good therapist doesn’t listen to the content of the bullshit the patient … The real communication is beyond words”. Perls talks about the “spaces between” being the place where communication exists. This is not to say the primary communication is body language, but rather, in reading a ‘typical’ client, you need to ignore the bullshit to actually see the person and see what their issue is. With an Aspie, you don’t have to filter the bullshit, because we already have done than task. Incidentally I love working with other Autistics in my practice because there is less to filter off. If they feel anxious or pissed off, most often they will tell you directly. Instead of the crap, we have EMOTIONS everywhere. But hey, at least that’s authentic. What a waste of energy expending it on the bullshit. Yes, I love you Fritz.

A way forward?

So essentially in this reflection, I wanted to draw attention to a few points from the Autistic perspective — my perspective. I cannot “solve” the problems put forth in all these points, but I think that working together is the way forward. I have gained such amazing insight from working with a psychotherapist (as a client in therapy) and I have gained so much from my own analytical self. I believe quite strongly in the need for solutions- not at all to CURE us (blegh/ AutismSpeaks wankers), but to support Autistics in a greater sense of self understanding…. because understanding the self is the first step to greater awareness and being able to “be” in the world, and be happy as part of it.

It was nice to be “seen”

I did feel quite blessed to have taken part in the Hackathon…. and I want to say a few words about that now. Thank you to the Autism CRC and everyone who helped make the Hackathon possible. It was nice to be “seen”, to be recognized for my experience, for my life, for my ideas and my talent. I have too often felt excluded in those areas. I also want to say thanks for bringing other Autistics together, and giving us space to be ourselves. I have made some wonderful dear friends, and connected with authentic and caring practitioners. I think that’s really special ❤