The Autstronaut






I watched the movie, The Martian, last weekend. I found it challenging to sit through initially. I felt the astronaut’s isolation from people so deeply. People may watch this movie for its adventure and ultimate triumph over adversity. This is true. The hero doggedly persevered, problem solving and focusing on challenges rather than on his feelings. It is pretty much the only way to overcome insurmountable obstacles.

For those who haven’t seen the film, it tells the tale of an astronaut left behind by his crew, alone on Mars. Due to a sudden storm they had to preempt their expedition and they erroneously believed he had died. His job was to survive until he could be rescued, which meant getting enough food and water to live, and staying sane.

My perception of his experience is skewed because of my own isolation due to autism. With autism I may as well be on Mars sometimes because the inability to talk is isolating. It creates a barrier from other people because I may think ideas but I can’t speak them. Yes, I type, but it’s slow compared to speech or I may not have access to typing the instant I want. So, I feel like I’m on Mars–not the way Temple Grandin described in Oliver Sacks’ book, An Anthropologist on Mars, in which she said she couldn’t understand human behavior. That is her point of view from her Asperger’s brain.

My Mars is like the astronaut’s. I understand people, but I’m going to have to get nearer to them. In his case he had to make water, grow food and find equipment to travel, all while combating loneliness and discouragement. He had hope and he had trust in himself. This is essential. My Mars is similar in that I must battle against giving up or even feeling sorry for myself because these are the emotions that hurt progress most. In so many ways autism is like being stranded on another planet alone, but it is possible to problem solve to get closer to “earth.” The problem with autism is the initiation deficit. Unlike the astronaut in the film, we cannot move on our own ideas consistently or independently. But, like him we can set many small goals and doggedly work on overcoming our obstacles.

It is obvious to me that being able to control our response to feelings is enormously important. It is necessary to not rage against or fight the forces that are beyond our control. The astronaut probably would not have survived if he had raged against his crewmates or despaired his unique isolation, but he instead focused on doing and solving. Doing and solving in autism involves gaining control over motor movements and impulses as well as control over intense emotion. Each problem can be worked incrementally. It may be slow going but in time the “aut-stronaut” may be able to come home.




14 responses to “The Autstronaut

  1. Thanks very much for sharing that very insightful response to The Martian! I hope you know that your writing (wonderful) is a powerful way to bond with others, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. All the best, Raye R.

  2. Dear Aut-stronaut,
    When my late husband was growing up, he was truly inspired by the book “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe. Crusoe got washed up on an island after a shipwreck and had to live completely alone (well, without humans) for over 20 years. Like you he had to persevere with every task. It’s always fun to hear what you are thinking, Ido.
    Temple Grandin will be 70 next year. She, too, worked things out alone even tho, as you say, her view from Mars differs from yours. You’re both great.

  3. Thanks so much for the great post. Can you say more about the “initiation deficit”? I don’t understand what you mean by that.

    • Hi Richard,
      It refers to the difficulty people with autism have initiating actions and specific movements at times.

      • Oh! This is what some of us call “autistic inertia”

      • Does that mean you can’t decide what you want to do, or upon deciding what you want to do you have difficulty initiating action? If it is the latter, is the difficulty in initiation caused by competing demands from your mind (like you want to type but your mind commands you to do something else instead, like watch a favorite video or listen to a song), or does it involve forgetting, or getting distracted by other stimuli?

        • Lots of reasons. I think it may answer your questions if you look at my recent essay, “Motor Difficulties in Severe Autism.” Initiating action involves lots of correct mind/body linkages.

  4. I really like this, Ido. From one autstronaut to another, yes, progress may be slow going, but it’s progress nonetheless. Not only is it personal progress, but it is hopefully educating others as well as bringing hope to others. You always nail it!

  5. Ido, you have nailed it again. I’m going to show your blog to my verbally-challenged grandson in hopes that he may gain some insight from your wisdom.

  6. Hello Ido- my non verbal autistc grandson , Ora, is starting to express this isolation problem you highlight in your blog. with the help of his speech therapist assisting with typing on his ipad he is starting to express these feelings on a blog. you can read at
    any encouragement is welcome
    kind regards

  7. Your comments and feelings are very insightful to me as a Therapist. Your writing has given me the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of how children and young adults feel and understand the world. I love your view of the world. I work with many nonverbal students and you are an inspiration to them

  8. God bless you for the efforts and the will to persevere.
    You are such an inspiration. I have the passion to work with kids with special needs, your blog definitely is insightful on trying to understand what is going on in their head.
    Thank you.

  9. Ido, there is no way I could thank you enough. My son is 6 and non-verbal. I had to fight to get people to believe me that he could read. I want so badly for him to be able to communicate in a conversational way. You have given me so so much hope for the future. Thank you!!!

  10. You are such an amazing person and wonderful writer/speaker. I teach art for students with autism mild-severe. I am an artist and animator working on my own book based on a non-verbal boy. I am inspired by you.

    Thank you for letting us into your world. I hope this will help other autstronauts and everyone we can reach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *