Comic Book Hero: How This #AutisticSurvivor Escaped Bullying, Abuse, Molestation

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.


Beat: Eurotrance (say about 138 bpm)


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.


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!


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…


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!


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…


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…


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 Responses

  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.

    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. 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.

  4. 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. 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.

  5. 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).

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