He Came From Planet Claire

As I continue to study Asperger’s Syndrome and the history of the autism spectrum, I am struck by how often those on the spectrum are described as having a special interest in, or knack for understanding, various machines, devices, electronics, computers, and the like. Asperger’s is sometimes referred to as “the Engineer’s Disease,” and “the link between engineering and autism is absolutely obvious”, according to Temple Grandin.

While I did put together a Heathkit or three in my youth, did well in electronics class, did a special project in holograms in High School, and am generally pretty good with computers, I’ve never considered myself to have any particular magical “knack” when it came to understanding our machine overlords. I don’t work on cars. I don’t repair lawn mowers. I don’t understand audio gear. And I am completely lost when it comes to performing a major update on WooCommerce. This particular characteristic of Aspergers doesn’t seem to fit me.

Or does it?

What feels true, in my case, is that I do, in fact, have a lifelong interest in, understanding of, and knack for dealing with perhaps the most complex and error-prone machine on Earth: the human being.

I remember watching you as a child. I remember watching you men converse together at family gatherings, and how different that was from you women’s conversation going on in the kitchen. I remember wondering what was going on inside your quiet, muttering skulls as I watched you work or play or just hang out. I remember being confused by your behavior. And I think I was aware, though these words were not available to me then, that the way you do things on Earth is not how we did things back on my home planet. And I think I knew, though again the words were not there, I knew that things didn’t have to be the way they were.

And that points, perhaps, to the reason why the human animal became my machine of interest. You made little sense to me, and you felt dangerous and irrational and unpredictable. I needed to understand you. I needed to put all of my brain power into observing you, so that I could predict your movements, and stay a step ahead of you, and keep out of your reach. And because I was wearing a human body myself, I had a ready source of data.

And that’s what I’ve done with my life, studying family systems and cultures and taboos and belief systems and scientific and metaphysical paradigms. Studying Sally, who breaks so many of your molds. Watching you. Watching out for you. Making notes and tallying instances and integrating over time.

Some say I’m from Mars.
Or one of the seven stars
That shine after 3:30 in the morning.
Well I am.

photo credit: Close Planet via photopin (license)

2 Comments for “He Came From Planet Claire”

Sally Erickson


I can’t remember ever having the perspective or insight as a child that you report. This may be another of the double-edged swords of autism-spectrum: you had the deficit of not knowing what was going on in those different men/women cultures of your extended family but you also had the emotional distance to be able to notice that there WAS something different going on. As I read this I had this feeling come over me of just being batted about in my childhood environment by too much emotional information that I had no way of managing.

I’ve been think about the word “disability” since reading something yesterday that referred to autism as a disability. It struck me because I’ve never thought of you as “disabled.” You are so capable at so many things. But it would seem your emotional radar has been disabled. That being so your observational radar is in overdrive. As are your abilities to learn and to articulate. I wonder how true that is for others on the spectrum, that there are deficits in some areas but huge gifts in others.

Timothy Scott Bennett


It’s easier for me to remember watching and observing than it is to know for sure what I was thinking at the time. I’ve known for some time that the behaviors of the adults around me when I was a kid, of which there were many, had a big impact on me. I remember bits of moments and fragments of images and whispers of thoughts. But that all gets filtered through my adult perspective, and though I think I’m making correct and logical conclusions about what might have been in my head then, all I can know for sure is that it’s in my head now. I do remember feeling different. Not fitting in. Not understanding what was going on. Moments of confusion stand out. And moments that felt right. I do my best.

I’ve never felt disabled either, just different. It was the differences that created my challenges, but the differences didn’t feel like lacking. These days, I spend more time pondering the places in which I do “lack.” On the one hand, I push away from the word “disabled.” On the other hand, there are things I don’t seem to have, that others report having. If I’m going to take on that word, then I’m going to need a special parking sticker. 🙂

Mostly I’m glad to have the gifts I have, and if there’s a trade-off, then I’m happy I made that choice when I pulled this body off the rack.

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