Comic Book Hero: How This #AutisticSurvivor Escaped Bullying, Abuse, Molestation4 min read

Editor’s note: men­tions of child phys­ical and sexual abuse and sui­cide. Reader dis­cre­tion advised.

This is a song for kids, and maybe a few #AutisticSurvivor adults…

How did autistic & other neu­ro­di­verse kids sur­vive the Dark Ages before IEPs, 504 plans, tar­geted therapy, noise-canceling head­phones?

Here’s some brutal autistic truth-telling for you:

Many, many of us didn’t.

One recent, large Swedish study found autistic sui­cide rates are 10 times higher than the neu­rotyp­ical pop­u­la­tion (those blessed with “normal” neu­rology).

My own first attempt came in 1970, age 17… when, in a dis­so­cia­tive state, I drove a classic, white Ford Mustang head-on into oncoming, night­time highway traffic.

I sur­vived. The car didn’t.

Completed autistic sui­cides must have been astro­nom­ical before our dis­abil­i­ties became common knowl­edge in the 80s or 90s. Murders against autis­tics, too, were prob­ably higher.

And those of us born before the 1970s, who sur­vived… alone, bewil­dered, rejected, defense­less, unpro­tected by par­ents, teachers, therapy, med­ica­tion– we used our inherent cre­ativity to come up with some pretty weird defense strate­gies. No two alike, I imagine.…

I wrote the song/poem below about my only true child­hood friends… Delusion, Denial, Distance, Dissociation:

As I wrote, I escape into my magic cape.…

My par­ents loved movies, but were broke when I was kid. My dad, who later molested me, was then a stu­dent on the GI Bill at Harpur College (now SUNY Binghamton). They couldn’t afford movie tickets, let alone babysit­ters.

So one evening in 1957, they packed me, my infant brother, some Jiffy Treat pop­corn, and a few beers into the family Nash and drove us to Starlite Drive-In to see, of all things, the sci-fi/horror classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers… 

Of course, it hit my 4‑year-old autistic brain like an atom bomb of sen­sory over­load.

I had suf­fered hor­ri­fying night ter­rors since age two or three, dreams of vio­lent attacks by hor­ri­fying mon­sters night after night. Those film images of Pod People, espe­cially doc­tors & par­ents, trau­ma­tized me in the same way The Exorcist would 40 years later.

My par­ents, far from com­forting me, soon tired of get­ting up in the middle of the night, and simply told me I’d grow out of it.

Desperate to end the night ter­rors, somehow I taught myself to lucid dream. I could “wake up” inside my night­mares and turn into Superman. I got addicted to the George Reeves TV show, as any Trekkie might.

After beating the night­mare mon­sters up, I could slip into deep sleep. At some point, I began to think I was Superboy in real life. With real par­ents on an alien planet, and real super­powers I held in check to spare mere mor­tals.

My secret con­vic­tion was strong. A con­stant sub­text to my everyday world. An obses­sion I rumi­nated on for years during class, riding my bike, when­ever I was alone. At the least, until 3rd or 4th grade.

I bought every comic book I could afford. Knew all the dif­ferent colors of Kryptonite. I might be the only human to ever think Bizarro World was actu­ally funny. After all, this was the his­tory of my people…

As an adult, trained as a mental health coun­selor, I’d say my fan­tasy had the power of a schiz­o­phrenic delu­sion, even tho schiz­o­phrenia in chil­dren isn’t con­sid­ered pos­sible by most.

Later, my delu­sion mor­phed into my unspoken belief that I was a reli­gious figure, even an incar­na­tion of Vishnu. To this day I hold the fan­tasy of my immi­nent “enlight­en­ment” at bay– obvious com­pen­sa­tion for a far drea­rier reality.

Some say there is a cross­roads where autism, schiz­o­phrenia, atten­tion deficit, bor­der­line, and others hang out as cousins, genet­i­cally related. I may have vis­ited that cross­roads, and sold my soul to Someone to learn to write.

With this song, per­formed only once or twice, I try to bring you into that world.

By the way, the kids we’ve played Comic Book Hero for love it.


COMIC BOOK HERO

Beat: Eurotrance (say about 138 bpm)

Verse

Saw “Body Snatchers,” I was four.

Haunted my dreams, waking to screams,

Back to the wall, hiding from it all,

Creatures in the closet coming thru the door.

Chorus

But I’m Superboy when I close my eyes

Defeating supervil­lains in my dis­guise

No matter how they howl, no matter how they lie

Comic Book Hero when I close my eyes!

Verse

Flying past that bully on the way to school

Mocks how I dress, can’t make me feel less.

I escape into my magic cape,

My secret powers defeat the cruel…

Chorus

But I’m Superboy when I close my eyes

Defeating supervil­lains in my dis­guise

No matter how they howl, no matter how they lie

Comic Book Hero when I close my eyes!

Bridge

Treated like dirt, bul­lies live to hurt,

And mon­sters sleep just fine at night.

Walking dead want to eat my head,

My alter-ego hides me from sight…

Verse

Fifty-five, still walk among the living,

Work in a fac­tory, feels like a prison.

Bullied by zom­bies in clip­boards & khaki

Demons in dis­guise in a world gone whacky…

Chorus

But I’m Superboy when I close my eyes

Defeating supervil­lains in my dis­guise

No matter how they howl, no matter how they lie

Comic Book Hero when I close my eyes!

But I’m Supergirl when I close my eyes

Defeating supervil­lains in my dis­guise

No matter how they howl, no matter how they lie

Comic Book Hero when I close my eyes!

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13 Comments

  1. Thanks for again opening your heart & mind to us Johnny.
    I was born in 1970 & watched the 1956 Invasion… in 1978. It was shown on TV to coin­cide with the release of the remake. I was only 7 or 8 at the time & it really unset­tled me to think that my everyday expe­ri­ence of the world was some­thing everyone else thought was ter­ri­fying. I didn’t see the remake until the late 80s and it’s one of my favourite movies but it didn’t have the same impact as the orig­inal did on my young mind.
    Although I have known I was autistic since the mid 80s, it wasn’t until the turn of the cen­tury that it became widely known. The WWW is largely respon­sible for the wide­spread com­pre­hen­sion of the word, even if under­standing of autistic people & lives is still way behind. Consequently I find I share many sim­ilar expe­ri­ences to older autis­tics who were/are being Dx’d much later in life. Nobody knew it really existed until about 20 years ago, and even then I felt forced to hide in the shadows, even from my 1st wife. The life of an adult autistic has been little dif­ferent in prac­tical terms with or without Dx. Yes I had the cer­tainty of a Dx but still suf­fered from the lack of infor­ma­tion (espe­cially pre-internet) and gen­eral public igno­rance & prej­u­dice. Even though I knew myself what made me dif­ferent from the crowd, I couldn’t tell anyone for fear the mis­treat­ment I already received would be mag­ni­fied.
    We’ve come a long way in our life­times Johnny, but BOY have we a long road still to travel!

    1. What an amazing response! And from a gifted writer!

      Thank you so much.

      This is how I learn… from you…

      Tbh, I trust per­sonal expe­ri­ence so much more than research. Despite my grad­uate edu­ca­tion in soci­ology and therapy, and my love of rig­orous sci­ence…

      Which is becoming van­ish­ingly rare in our cor­po­rate funded world.

      I want to drop a per­sonal fear here….

      I fear that because I focus on my per­sonal expe­ri­ence in my writing I give the wrong impres­sion.

      I don’t intend to bring a spot­light on poor me. I don’t mean to create an inherent com­par­ison… Some kind of rating scale of misery that I secretly gloat about win­ning.

      I imagine the hor­rors of growing up today in the full-blown world of IEPs, after both you and me were born…

      In a world where edu­ca­tors & helping pro­fes­sionals BELIEVE they under­stand from reading at best pre­lim­i­nary research and force their off-the-mark answers upon us…

      And some per­sist in CONSCIOUS abuse & cru­elty…

      And then there are the lives of YOUR gen­er­a­tion, on the cusp…

      A whole OTHER horror movie. Which I’d kill to learn more about.

      I learn most from hearing the dif­fer­ences others expe­ri­enced in life. Reflecting on those very dif­fer­ences teaches me… about me.

      You know Leonard Cohen…?

      “There’s a crack, a crack in every­thing… That’s how the light gets in.”

      So, expe­ri­en­tial writing on Neurodiversity makes a con­nec­tion with me like no research article.

      It’s my hope that neu­ro­di­verse folks gain some val­i­da­tion, folks off the spec­trum get a peek into living in our world…

      Besides I’m a drama queen forced to chase but­ter­flies…

      Who wor­ries too much. And expresses him­self awk­wardly.

      I really don’t have much else to offer. Glad I con­nected with YOU.

      1. You have every­thing

        to offer to us Sir.

    2. I really enjoy hearing from folks on the spec­trum who are older and have been nav­i­gating life with or without a diagnosis-discovering cre­ative ways to deal with dif­ferent pro­files (so many com­pli­cated dif­fer­ences among us) & coping with some­times tragic cir­cum­stances with courage. I was born in 1951 & have been dancing around self-diagnosis for a few years-not because of avoid­ance of the truth but LIFE kept get­ting in the way of my research & inves­ti­ga­tion with the help of 2 con­sec­u­tive ther­a­pists. I am 100% con­vinced now and hungry to learn more & more, laying the tem­plate of what I’ve dis­cov­ered so far on top of the map of my unusual life & com­paring the resulting image-fascinating!!!!

  2. Yup, since “Hyper-sensory disorder,“is by def­i­n­i­tion young Kal-El/Clark Kent before he focused his senses, while the rest of the class saw him as loser to bully.

  3. Love it. Lol

  4. It was the Beatles that I attached to as a sur­vival tool at ten years old in 1964.. I always stayed close to the cul­ture. It gave me strength and power greater than that of superman. The Beatles were a thing. Not just Music, Not just The Fandom, It was That they were not like any thing ever before, yet were the most pow­erful crea­tures on earth as I saw it. So I Hopped on the train wilh my bell bottom pants to ride with other people like me. And of course I became a Left Handed Bass player. How could I not. I kept this a secret until I saw the movie “I Am Sam”. Now I know I was on the right track. Because of them I have ascended to the heights of all that is impor­tant and can still stand firmly on the ground.

  5. So, so cool.

    Currently? I’m the love child if Keith Richards &. Segovia…

    Gotta love music.

    Come visit Indiana. We’ll jam…

  6. I’m just going to leave this here…

    https://AutisticAF.me/

    On my per­sonal blog, I talk about adult expe­ri­ences not thought to be appro­priate here on The Aspergian.

    Not nec­es­sarily for chil­dren. In fact, one big trigger warning.…

    .

  7. You know, I don’t think that belief *is* true schiz­o­phrenia. I think it’s really more of a pri­vate reli­gion, sim­ilar to the beliefs held by oth­erkin that they are fan­tasy crea­tures and that they may someday be capable of trans­forming into one or are and are holding it back (as you believed) but for what­ever reason, they haven’t yet.

    And the way I see it, delu­sions are beliefs that someone has in spite of the fact that every piece of infor­ma­tion they get should tell them it’s false. That super­hero belief doesn’t fall under that umbrella, because lucid dreams of turning into Superman DO appear to cor­rob­o­rate that super­hero belief, even more than dreams typ­i­cally cor­rob­o­rate a belief in God for those who hold such beliefs.

    1. Author

      Lucy, I shall think about your insights…

      I should share, how­ever, that I include schiz­o­phrenia in my con­cept of Neurodiversity…

      Cuz I do exhibit “symp­toms”…

      Including infre­quent audi­tory & visual symp­toms.

      I do NOT under­stand my expe­ri­ence to be mental ill­ness. I follow RD Laing’s break­through thinking, it us a dif­ferent way of human neu­ro­log­ical func­tioning…

      But I do expe­ri­ence mag­ical thinking, decom­pen­sa­tions, etc.

      And much of it over­laps with estab­lished autistic symp­toms.

      Working up the courage to dis­cuss openly…

      Thanks for writing. You give me stuff to ponder.

  8. Wow. Thank you so much for this! I was born in 1971. Grew up being given the diag­nosis of ADHD though, in hind­sight, it is really obvious that I was and am Autistic. My mother and the var­ious doc­tors who treated me just had no clue. I wit­nessed so many of my peers being drugged up for exhibiting the “wrong behav­iors”, being sent down the rabbit hole of ABA therapy, being pun­ished for just being them­selves. The Gen X Autism land­scape was bleak. By the time I got a proper diag­nosis, I was in my mid-20s ~ but, y’know? The label meant nothing because the docs simply said:, “oh, you have Aspergers Syndrome” and nothing else came of it. No guid­ance, no follow-up info, no refer­rals, no ser­vices. So I tucked that label away for a while. Then, people started pub­lishing mem­oirs. I read each new book as soon as it came out and rec­og­nized my own journey. Finally! I saw so much of myself in those pages and, even better than the recog­ni­tion was the fact that these people were sharing their strate­gies, their work-arounds, their coping mech­a­nisms, and their humor about being Autistic in a neu­rotyp­ical world. Now, we have sup­port groups on social media sites, youtube chan­nels, blog­gers, and more. It is so damn good not to feel alone any­more!

    At almost 50 years of age, for the first time, I am feeling hope. I can see a path for­ward. The artist, the mystic, the dreamer, the helper, the empathic friend, and the devo­tional soul that I am is dis­cov­ering “pur­pose” and a way to be engaged in right liveli­hood. I wish I had been able to see the road 10, 20, 30 years ago… but regret is no good for any­thing. I don’t think the right con­di­tions were there for me to do much except feel a whole lot of lost as I mean­dered from job to job and from rela­tion­ship to rela­tion­ship. The journey has been rich. Very rich. But sta­bility and secu­rity haven’t been there and I think my kid (who is a teenager now and also on the Spectrum) has paid a steep price for the fact of that.

    Anyhooo… thank you. Your words and sto­ries, your lived expe­ri­ence and the life you’ve lived are valu­able to someone like me.

    I don’t mean to come across as cyn­ical about Autism or my own life… There are so many bless­ings that have come to me and con­tinue to flow through my life because I am Autistic. I wouldn’t trade my expe­ri­ence for any­thing. I cer­tainly wouldn’t choose to not be Autistic, if given the chance. But ~ I did want to share how it is that our society has slooooooowly been emerging from the dark ages in re: how any of us were rec­og­nized, treated, and/or sup­ported (or not).

    1. Author

      Thank you so much!

      I am so selfish.… I write to learn from com­ments like yours.

      Connection & accep­tance & val­i­da­tion are so pre­cious .

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