What brings understanding is love. When your heart is full, then you will listen to the teacher, to the beggar, to the laughter of children, to the rainbow, and to the sorrow of man. Under every stone and leaf, that which is eternal exists.
Understanding and Love are not two separate things, but only one. To develop understanding, you have to practice looking at all living beings with the eyes of compassion. When you understand, you cannot help but love. And when you love, you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people.
If we never suffer, there is no basis or impetus for developing understanding and compassion. Suffering is very important. We have to learn to recognise and even embrace suffering, as our awareness of it helps us grow.
Why, yes, I’m tying Godzilla and autistic behavior together, but not in the way you think.
We’re human and Godzilla is a kaiju, but the common thread we share is our behavior is often misunderstood as meaningless because people want to stop the behavior and don’t look deeper to see why the behavior is happening.
Everything in this post has a point, but I have to explain it all before I can make the point. So prepare for a long Godzilla infodump. :)
Godzilla is my oldest special interest. I’ve been a fan since I was a single digit aged kid. He is more than a giant monster to me. He is a creature of intense emotion that is more than “pissed off, kill everything.” The obviousness of those emotions can vary from movie to movie and era to era.
The Heisei era was made between 1984 and 1995. That’s right when I was growing up, so it’s my favorite Godzilla “look” and era. The Heisei era calls back to the original 1954 film, so I’ll include that in what I’m talking about.
Which means he can feel scared. What can scare Godzilla? Falling into a volcano. The lava won’t hurt him, but he didn’t know that at the time. What does scared Godzilla sound like? He screams like a little kid! It’s very sad. (Godzilla 1985, aka The Return of Godzilla)
I’m pretty sure the Heisei era gave us Godzilla laughing once. I couldn’t find a video clip, but he makes a little high pitched growling noise that isn’t his usual roar.
[Animated gif of Godzilla tilting his head side to side and wiggling his tongue around inside his mouth right after he blew up the Futurians’ ship in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. It’s almost like he’s saying “HAHA! Your ship teleported right in front of me, what did you expect to happen?!”]
And if you think a rubber monster suit can’t be emotive, think again. During the mid-Heisei era, designers built a Godzilla head with complex animatronics in the eyelids, the “eyebrows”, the cheeks and the areas around the mouth to allow facial expressions. They want you to feel for him and with him.
[Animated gif of Godzilla blinking slowly and relaxing mouth over his sharp teeth as he looks down at tiny, out-of-frame Baby. For him, this is a tender, soft expression. He recognizes Baby is a Godzillasaur like he used to be and doesn’t want to scare him. (Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II) Scene, note the communication taking place between him and Baby.]
Consider these quotes from Godzilla 1985.
“General, Godzilla’s like a hurricane or a tidal wave. We must approach him as we would a force of nature. We must understand him. Deal with him. Perhaps, even, try to communicate with him. And, just for the record, 30 years ago they never found any corpse.”
“He’s looking for something, searching. If only we can find out what it is before it’s too late.”
[Still image: Godzilla clutches a nuclear reactor to his chest to absorb its radiation in Godzilla 1985.]
Godzilla feeds off radioactive material. He has to go where the radiation is to sustain himself. If it’s a ship or a sub, he’ll sink it while breaking it open to get at his sustenance. If it’s a nuclear power plant in the middle of a city, he’ll stomp through the city to get it. Step in his way and he trounces you.
It’s not just guns that’ll do it. Flashing bright lights close to his eyes and clock tower bells (Godzilla 1954) piss him off as easily as artillery.
Not feeling well can set him off, too. Consider the first movie, where Godzilla comes out of nowhere. He was once a dinosaur, and the atomic bomb testing around Bikini Atoll awoke and mutated him. I think he was still finishing the mutation process when he first appeared, so he was in pain, confused and enraged that he couldn’t find the familiar world he remembered. He was looking for his HOME. (***flashing lights warning) Then he’s met with power lines, artillery fire and noise. Everything escalates from there.
Sometimes, Godzilla will go bash a city because he’s upset or sad.
In Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla, (***flashing lights warning) he fails to protect Little Godzilla (older Baby) from being captured, so he slams through a city because he’s pissed off.
In Godzilla vs Destroyah, he’s way more violent in his rampages than usual because he’s undergoing (***flashing lights and animal death warning) a literal nuclear meltdown and he’s in excruciating pain all the way to the bitter end. It’s the saddest thing ever. Godzilla is like a phoenix and Junior (Baby all grown up!) completes his mutation into a new Godzilla in the ashes of his adopted dad.
Now, what happens in pretty much every Godzilla movie when Godzilla shows up? The military goes after him, the weapons get decimated, buildings get flattened and Godzilla walks away more pissed off than before.
He’s like a force of nature, and you can’t nuke a tornado or an earthquake, can you? So what do you do?
Godzilla is a living being. Redirect him.
[Animated gif of Godzilla blinking and jerking his head back in surprise / shock because his out-of-frame opponent is still alive after getting thrashed. (Godzilla vs King Ghidorah) This is Godzilla’s “WTF??” face LOL.]
You think Godzilla’s attention can’t be redirected? (***flashing lights and potato quality warning) Oh, yes it can (Godzilla vs Mothra: Battle for Earth), you just have to make sure the thing that grabs his attention has a better payoff than what he’s already paying attention to, and how well it works will depend on his mood. If the payoff sucks, he’ll turn right around and resume what he was already about to do anyway.
Don’t want Godzilla fighting another monster in your city? Get that monster out of the city and Godzilla will follow because all he cares about is the fight. If the other monster won’t budge, YOU move. Evacuate, GTFO, let them fight and focus your efforts on saving human lives.
There isn’t much you can do if he’s stomping through because he’s mad about something, but evacuating and minimizing the noises and lights that make him angrier will reduce the damage. Cut the power if he comes through at night and he won’t be stepping on things to look at the lights.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an endless supply of psychics like Miki Saegusa who can mentally redirect Godzilla or shut off his anger. Even then, that’s dangerous because his mind is so strong it knocks her unconscious after she settles him down.
[Still image: Miki Saegusa is on a helipad out at sea. She stands with her back to the viewer and looks out at Godzilla, who is waist-deep in the ocean and looming scarily close. She is trying to deescalate his anger and send him back out to sea.]
What about Godzilla’s foraging?
There’s all kinds of radioactive waste sitting buried in various places around the world. It’s sitting there because it’s too dangerous to dump it. Take it to a far off island and leave it there for Godzilla. He’ll render it inert and safer to dispose. Keep all air / watercraft traffic away from the island and let him have at it.
Godzilla will figure out that he doesn’t get shot at or have to deal with flashy annoying lights and noise if he goes to the island, so he likely won’t feel a need to go after boats, submarines or cities as much unless they’re closer to him than the island when he’s hungry. He’s smart enough to figure out free food is better than city food. Before long he’ll connect the island with food and go there when he’s hungry probably 90% of the time. Just try not to be late with a delivery, because he might sink your drop off vessel out of hangry spite. ;)
Now apply similar concepts to autistic people. Think about it. Difficult behaviors are an expression of emotions or discomfort, even if the emotion is a simple “I don’t want to go there!” or “My stomach hurts!” or “I got interrupted so much today that I am done cooperating with interruptions!” and as complex as “My parents are always fighting and it scares me!”
Physical discomforts that seem tiny to a neurotypical can be intolerable to an autistic person. Stuff like a blister on a toe, a cold sore, a stuffy nose, rattling keys or the electronic whine from a TV cable box’s hard drive. Check everything.
Have they eaten, drank, gone to the bathroom and slept? Is it too hot or too cold? Are they dressed properly for the temperature? Do any parts of their clothes, underwear (or diaper), socks, shoes or anything they wear feel rough in places that touch skin? Is their hair in need of a trim and falling in their eyes? Has their day been a string of broken routines or interruptions? Do their eyes roll or dilate (possible seizure) when their behavior takes a turn? Do they go on a rampage after eating (acid reflux / intestinal problems / gallstones) or when they go to the bathroom (constipation / diarrhea / hemorrhoids / urinary tract infection)? Did someone in their home die or move away? Is there a new baby or new pet? Has something in their new environment changed drastically, such as a different table or strong paint fumes? Is somebody wearing perfume? Was a smoker in the area recently? Is the cat’s litterbox being cleaned out regularly? Check those things. Check anything and everything.
Make the environment feel better for the person if a stim they’re doing is interfering with learning, and they won’t need to do the stim as much or at all to tolerate the room they’re in. Lower the lights, take down that bright colored poster, move their desk away from a window or let them sit away from other people if that feels better. Let them wear ear defenders or wrap up in a weighted blanket. Let them take a short break to stand up and step outside the room if they can’t sit still despite trying to.
Focus on redirecting harmful / self-injurious stims to safer ones that meet the same sensory needs. Do they bang on things a lot? Give them an exercise mat or a punching bag to hit. Give them a beanbag chair to use as a crash mat if they like to throw themselves on the floor. Give them something safe to chew, like a chew necklace from stimtastic.co if they tear up their knuckles or fingernails from chewing on them or are prone to biting other people. Give them a pool noodle to whack things with or throw. Give them handheld beanbags to throw. Give them piles of pillows to kick and throw. If their screaming only bothers you because of proximity, plug your ears or protect them with earplugs and let person scream it out. Trying to contain aggression without giving it another outlet makes it worse. (Personal experience as someone constantly stifled…it’s like containing an explosion, painful!)
Don’t drag them out of a space unless there’s no way to keep them safe there. Instead, focus on getting dangerous things out of their sight or reach, bring in the safer stuff I mentioned above and let the meltdown blow itself out. Minimize noise and light. They may be an emotional sponge and pick up your tension, which adds to theirs, so try to fake calmness as much as you can. Only intervene if they’re seriously injuring themselves to the point of dribbling blood or you know they’ll break a bone if you don’t step in to help them not hurt themselves. Take care of minor injuries after they’re calm.
If a person prone to explosive meltdowns or outbursts is content to watch fish swim in a fish tank, don’t drag them off to another activity unless it’s necessary for *them* to do it, such as a doctor’s appointment, or they are in a spot where somebody else might disrupt them (such as standing by a door that will hit them if it’s opened suddenly). Don’t turn off their music without warning if they are calm or happy stimming. Don’t turn off their TV, shut off a game console or take a book out of their hands without warning. Don’t act like nothing they do is too important to interrupt with your stuff and then get mad at them when they interrupt you later.
How would you feel if you were dragged off to a noisy construction site just as you’re dropping off to sleep after being awake for 24 hours? You’re trying so hard to relax and people won’t let you. Not fun, is it?
So do the equivalent of putting nuclear waste on an island, cutting power to the city, evacuating the citizens and relocating an opponent, and you’ll reduce or even prevent many of the “problem behaviors” a lot of parents complain about. There’s always a reason for those behaviors, no matter how big or small, and treating them as meaningless because you don’t see the meaning behind them is dismissive.
I’m well aware Godzilla symbolizes the atomic bomb and all its destructive power. I’ve heard it said that he also represents an emotion, one that perhaps varies from movie to movie and era to era. My point is if one can find emotion in Godzilla, it shouldn’t be that hard to see it in another human being. Even if you can’t identify the emotion they’re feeling, it’s important to recognize that an emotion is being felt, and that emotion is driving everything else.
Godzilla is a good teacher if you know how to listen to him, and the same goes for autistic people whose communications are difficult to understand.
[Animated gif of Godzilla relaxing out of a frown after beating up Mechagodzilla. (Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II)]
Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.
Today, the city is crying. Dogwood trees
shed their pink petals into the street and I
am reminded of how much color there is
in letting go. Maybe it’s time I drift away,
call the makeshift rivers running along the
edges of the pavement a voyage I need
to take. Set sail in shallow waters but know
by the end I’ll be deep enough to one day
understand why it took so much courage
to fall away in the first place.
do not know if you have noticed that there is understanding when the
mind is very quiet, even for a second; there is the flash of
understanding when the verbalization of thought is not. Just experiment
with it and you will see for yourself that you have the flash of
understanding, that extraordinary rapidity of insight, when the mind is
very still, when thought is absent, when the mind is not burdened with
its own noise. So, the understanding of anything—of a modern picture, of
a child, of your wife, of your neighbor, or the understanding of truth
which is in all things—can only come when the mind is very still. But
such stillness can not be cultivated because if you cultivate a still
mind, it is not a still mind, it is a dead mind.
The more you are interested in something, the more your intention to
understand, the more simple, clear, free the mind is. Then verbalization
ceases. After all, thought is word, and it is the word that interferes.
It is the screen of words, which is memory, that intervenes between the
challenge and the response. It is the word that is responding to the
challenge, which we call intellection. So, the mind that is chattering,
that is verbalizing, cannot understand truth—truth in relationship, not
an abstract truth. There is no abstract truth. But truth is very subtle.
It is the subtle that is difficult to follow. It is not abstract. It
comes so swiftly, so darkly, it cannot be held by the mind. Like a thief
in the night, it comes darkly, not when you are prepared to receive it.
We were both mistaken. We were both unexperienced. We loved too much and acted too little. We let our minds and egos take place and they carried our love for which we have fought so hard somewhere far where we could never reach it again. I realize now what it takes to be patient, kind and understanding. I realize that what you have can dissapear so fast and leave you scarred for life. We hold too tight so how does it come that we let go so easily after?
I guess some things will remain unknown forever. For now I don’t have any hard feelings. I only have some regrets that I could’ve done better, that I could’ve been better. But the biggest regret is that the price I had to pay was losing you.
Counsel in a man’s heart is deep water; but a man of understanding draws it out.
Proverbs 20:5 HCSB
Living life without God guiding it is like being in deep water without seeing meaning, purpose, and providence in circumstances that fill our days. God longs to bring meaning and purpose to our lives but we need His understanding of His purpose for our lives.
God help me to live closely to you everyday. Bless my times of bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and service. Open my eyes and give me understanding to recognize my purpose and calling even in the most ordinary things that happen to me. Use my life to shine your light and bring you glory throughout my daily activities.
Do you understand or just feel like you understand?
In UX, I think “empathy” gets all the attention, but “understanding” is really the thing we should be talking about. Understanding things that are hard to understand is hard, and that’s why most people settle for the feeling of understanding instead.
Have you ever asked someone what a book was about, and they struggled to give you more than a couple sentences, or one of the anecdotes from the book? Odds are, they did probably read it, but they didn’t actually understand it.
As UX designers, we don’t have the luxury of that mistake. We need to know the difference between feeling like we understand (aka empathy) and actually understanding the user’s problems.
Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.