My Adult Autistic Super Powers? Vanish like Schrödinger’s Weird Cat

"Portrait of the Autist as Schrodinger's Cat." Fantasy photo of a cat in a fedora hat & black sunglasses. Paws crossed, sitting inside an imaginary, transparent box. Looks strangely like Johnny Profane Au as the cat inside Schrödinger's box.
“Portrait of the Autist as Schrodinger’s Cat”

What’s autistic variable ability feel like? My skills, energy, focus, interest…? They materialize & vanish at whim… like ghosts.

Yanking my autistic life up, down & sideways. A crazed puppetmaster jerking my strings. How’s THAT feel? Read on, my friend…

🚨Content note: strong emotion, profanity, opinionated, disturbing images, mental illness, death…

I call this one, “My Adult Autistic Super Powers Vanish like Schrödinger’s Weird Cat.”

Cuz they do. And then they don’t. And then they do. And then…

You get the idea.

Phone’s ringing.

I roll over. Crack one eye. Peek out a window into glaring sun.

Video (10:13, captioned for easier audio processing)


Phone’s still ringing.

Woke me up, but I can’t face it. One of those days.

Autistic burnout… been in bed 18 hours. So far….

It’s 1988. I wait for the answering machine to do its thing…

Sigh. Push the button. Then…

“What’s the fucking deal…?”

Screaming on the other end.

I’m  writing copy for a catalog. Dave? The guy leaving the message? Trying  to sell New Age crystal jewelry. To folks who already have too much money…. on their hands.

And… at the moment… he’s not feeling that “universal harmony” vibe.

“What’s the holdup? We gotta go to press. No more excuses, Knapp. We gotta go to press.”

Quick breath. Then motors on, “You came highly recommended. Prize-winning copy, my ass. You on a bender? Drugs?”

One final hiss, “Call me. NOW.” Then bangs the phone down in my ear.

My Solution

I’m 2 weeks late delivering copy. Got a hefty advance. So I got NO excuse.

My solution? I yank the plug out of the machine.

Roll back over. Never call him back…

Not booze. Not drugs. Just a little ole autistic “variable ability”…

See, I got this problem with commitment…

I can NEVER predict when… or if… I’ll get any project, any PROMISE… done.

Cuz I’ve NEVER gotta clue… what I can do… when.

Schrodinger’s Weird Cat

Ever hear of Schrödinger’s Cat? That physics thought experiment?

There’s this cat in a box. And you can’t tell if it’s alive. Not without  peeking. Something about quantum particles popping in and out of  existence…?

I hard relate with that cat.

Portrait of the Autist as Some Other Schrodinger’s Cat

This character you know, “Johnny Profane Âû”… What I like to call my “functional” better half…

Phases in and out of existence. Ya know, like quantum shit.

So call me Schrödinger’s Autist…? That’s a mouthful.

Is the cat alive in that box?

Am I…?? Never know for sure… at any particular moment.

Pros call it autistic “variable ability.” So bland. So clinical. So professionally obtuse…

What’s “variable ability” feel like?

“Mind Ghosts”

My skills, energy, focus, interest…? They materialize & vanish at whim… like ghosts.

Yanking my autistic life up, down, sideways. A crazed puppetmaster jerking my strings.

How’s that feel? From this side of the box? Inside?

Frightening. Crazymaking. Maddening. Unfair…

Like a brown… specifically-not-too-good… acid trip. That just won’t end. No matter how many shots they give ya.

Portrait of the Autist as a Young Executive

Over and over. Year after year. Career after career.

Portrait of the Autist as Old Fast-Food Cashier

👉Not every adult autistic person has this problem. Not even all 70% of us who are also ADHD. Links in transcript. [here ( and this (…

But for some of us? It wrecks careers. Withers relationships. Ends lives…

Getting things done… on a schedule?

Total pipe dream for me.
Papers for school.
Business plans for vulture capitalists.
Applications for Foodstamps.
Favors for friends.
Honey-do lists for… well, honeys…

Even among the weird… I imagine I’m legendary.

Now… “Burnouts,” “shutdowns,” “variable abilities”?

So common, they’re like autistic folklore {a poem}. Lotta chatter about ’em. But it’s not clear whether we should lump ’em all together.

An autistic shutdown? For a few minutes, hours… mebbe days… I need to seek out quiet, darkness, and rest. No work. No contact.

Sometimes  it’s an immediate response to one overwhelming event. Sometimes it builds over time. My mind, body & heart… exhausted.

Now, burnouts… An intense, long-lasting exhaustion. Weeks, months, years… Most autists report a general shutdown. Impacting work, social contact, and home life. Trust me…

But sometimes I lose just one specific skill. As if a single brain center fritzed out…

Example.  The times I can’t speak… sometimes for hours. Pros call this “selective  mutism.” Or many now say, “situational mutism.” Which seems more accurate, less judgmental to me.

But like speaking, I can lose other… vital, adult skills. For moments, weeks, months.

Like Musician Me. Days before a gig, sitting on a stool, hugging my guitar  of ten years… For the life of me, I can’t remember how to play it. Or  sit and hold it…

That time freaked me out so much, I gave up live performance for a few years.

Or back in 2005… Technogeek Me startles my second wife. She’s sitting in the recliner next to me.

I shout out, “I can’t remember how to use this damn thing!”

Frantic,  I’m waving my Palm Pilot in the air. A device I’d been getting paid to code apps for… the last two years.

Til I missed one too many deadlines and lost the contract… Lost the wife, too.

At times, I forget how to walk. Out of the blue. My posture and gait demand intense focus to maintain. {“Designing My Home around Adult Autism“}

Are these all the same thing? Even related?

There’s precious little research on “variable ability.”

Mebbe it’s a specific kind of exhaustion. Of speech, social, or other brain centers.

They Don’t Call Em Pros for Nothing…

Mebbe it’s psychological… inhibitions born of trauma. Trauma is endemic in our autistic community.

I experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. For that matter, I was in what many call a “cult.” What I call spiritual abuse.

But I can’t suss it out… from my side of the skin. Are these waves & troughs of functionality different from other trauma survivors?

Mebbe it’s what some pros call “adult autistic regression.” Which may be like childhood autistic regression. When a kid temporarily loses speech or social skills. Usually during stress or illness.

Mebbe, just mebbe this is an area researchers could really improve our lives in.

Instead of precisely measuring milliseconds of eye contact…

Heard of the “monotropic mind hypothesis”? It was developed by actually autistic scholars.

In their experience, autistic minds focus on only one or two things at a time. And have difficulty switching from one to  another. They use this insight to illuminate autism. Links in transcript. [Revisiting  monotropism,]

It  might explain my personal experience. IF… I extend it beyond thoughts, tasks & perceptions… to abilities. Mebbe entire brain centers of activity.

Not a Real Brain. Not a Real Diagram.

See, I experience my mind as a bunch of competing, quasi-independent centers…
Internal awareness, 
Sense of self, 

Each squabbling… competing for limited bandwidth… And attention.

I can only manage to be aware of one or two of these things at a time… and dimly, if at all, aware of the others.

Let’s say, I can walk… but gum-chewing at the same time? Or talking? Or knowing my emotional state?

Um… No.

Like that, I can write, compose & play music, voice act, paint… at a semi-pro level.

But in any given period of my life, I can only actually do one at a time. I mean, as  in 3-month-stint painting… But I can’t keep up my writing, playing music, or bread baking. For three months…

So I live with two problems.

Losing a skill in the moment… say, situational mutism.

But also longer cycles. Some skills come… some go. Like seasons?

Between autism, trauma, and my aging brain… I only have short bursts of creativity & clarity. A sort of involuntary Zen living-in-the-moment.

Portrait of the Autist in an Enso

But I have some g r e a t moments. More all the time…

Sometimes, it feels like I can DO almost anything… One thing at a time. I just can’t predict when.

So you shouldn’t count on me for much of anything… At least, not at any particular moment.

And, especially… if you’re that guy… Dave…

Coming soon as an podcast.

BTW, I have a new episode out to launch Season 3, “Love, Politics & Faking Normal: 3 New Autistic Myths s03e01.” Text/transcript, audio, and captioned video.

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Authentic Autistic Life: 4 Short Stories Fearless, Joyful and Chaotic, s3e2 #AutisticAF Out Loud

  1. Authentic Autistic Life: 4 Short Stories Fearless, Joyful and Chaotic, s3e2
  2. Love, Politics & Faking Normal: 3 New Autistic Myths s03e01
  3. #AutisticRave: Group Processing Disorder. It's a Thing.
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One response to “My Adult Autistic Super Powers? Vanish like Schrödinger’s Weird Cat”

  1. Found your work through LinkedIn of all places. Love your style and your content describes me so well, I feel very seen and understood. Thank you for posting and looking forward to seeing more.

    Liked by 1 person

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