Many of the citizens of the Autistic Empire receive requests for their time with people who want to speak to an autistic adult. They may be a parent, professional, or newly identified autistic person who just want to consult an autistic person to gain their perspective.
In recent years, these requests have increased significantly in number. While this is a very positive thing as awareness of autistic lives and advocacy increases, this is putting a heavy demand on our citizens to give their time and labour for free.
We are therefore offering a paid peer clinic for anyone who would like to speak to an autistic adult on any topic. You can read the biographies, availability and fees of our current peers below. We come from a range of backgrounds, experiences and professions. You may request a specific peer you would like to speak to, or email us with what you want to talk about and we will match you with someone appropriate.
Learn more about our clinic and our peers here.
You can download the content of this factsheet as a PDF here.
‘’Aphantasia is the inability to visualize mental imagery. Otherwise known as blind imagination.’’
‘’If you are like the estimated 1—3% of the population with Aphantasia, you may be unable to visualize any type of image in your head.’’
What Is Aphantasia?
Aphantasia is the inability to visualize mental images, that is, not being able to picture something in one’s mind. Many people with Aphantasia are also unable to recall sounds, smells, or sensations of touch. Some also report prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. (Wiki)
Aphantasia was first named in 2015 by Prof Adam Zeman, a cognitive and behavioural neurologist at the University of Exeter. Zeman first became aware of the phenomenon when he was referred to a patient who had ‘lost’ his visual imagery after a heart operation.
Aphantasia was first described by Sir Francis Galton in 1880 but remained largely neglected until, Dr. Adam Zeman began his work in the early 2000s and coined the name from the Greek word “phantasia,” which means “imagination.
There is further research into this contention as it is largely unstudied at this time and is poorly understood. There have been long debates by researchers into the mind’s ability to visualize and how it relates to the brain’s memory functionality. Currently researchers have no indications that the impact of Aphantasia is negatively affecting memory. As many people are born with Aphantasia they do not realise that their experience of thinking about an item or person is different to how others experience. This means that there are people around the world that are living with Aphantasia without knowing.
“When asked to visualise a sunset, for example, people with aphantasia are unable to conjure any kind of image to mind and will often have assumed that terms like the ‘mind’s eye’ are purely metaphorical. At the other end of the spectrum, people with hyperphantasia describe imagery so vivid that they can find it difficult to be sure whether an image was perceived or imagined
Some people are born with Aphantasia, whereas others can acquire it through traumatic incidents such as brain injury or periods of psychosis
Spatial imagery (e.g., the ability to recognise the distance between two places or mentally rotate and object) are unaffected by Aphantasia
There is some evidence to suggest autistic people are far more likely to have Aphantasia
Many Aphants also report having Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM), and most Aphants report reduced ability to remember the past or project into the future
Aphants appear more likely to have prosopagnosia (face blindness), a condition characterised by a reduced ability to recognise faces
Some people with Aphantasia dream visually, whereas some others report more having a sense of what is happening in the dream
Many do not discover that their experience is any different from that of others until their late teens or early 20s. It might be while reminiscing about the past and realizing they are having a different experience with memory than their friends or family. It is not that they do not notice that they do not visualize. They just do not know that other people do.
- Unable to conjure a clear image of a family member,
- Difficulty pictures their characteristic movements and gestures?
- Unable to remember or visualize
- No image at all, only “know” they are thinking of the object
If you feel like you might have aphantasia there is a VVIQ test you can do here on the Aphantasia website.
Scientific Research and Papers
After several months of testing, we have now moved all of our online platforms to our Discord server.
Discord is a VoIP, instant messaging and digital distribution platform (basically every chatroom you’ve ever used but better). You can download it as an app on your phone or software for your computer. This is where we will be hosting our online community for the foreseeable future.
You can join the public channels without needing to be a Citizen of the Autistic Empire, but there are channels which are Citizen-only.
Public link: https://discord.gg/QtzKGbd
In the preface of William R. Miller’s Listening Well: The Art of Empathic Understanding, Dr Miller writes that empathy is more than “just feeling with or for someone. It is the ability to perceive and communicate, accurately and sensitively.” This statement inform the tone of the book, detailing the specifics of active empathy and techniques for how to achieve and maintain reciprocal relationships through effective communication. Listening Well is about “instead of assuming that you know the meaning of what you think you heard, [developing] a more accurate understanding [to] prevent miscommunication. Empathic understanding can help to deepen personal relationships, alleviate conflict, communicate across differences, and promote positive change.”
The significance of this book for autistic people is in the very acknowledgement that empathic listening skills do not come naturally to anyone. Neurotypical or neurodiverse, we are all in the same position. Dr Miller really tries to demystify the subject in a slim and easily written 103 pages, packing in all the latest findings from his long clinical career as a psychologist with exercises, diagrams and bullet points that keep the text from growing stale. Each chapter is anchored by a particular aspect of having a meaningful conversation – from asking questions, to reflecting, to closing a conversation with affirming the speaker.
Dr Miller also tackles “roadblocks” to empathic listening, and other potential barriers to making the other person feel heard. Throughout the book, it is emphasised that it’s not that any of these barriers are necessarily “wrong”, but that in the majority of cases, they will be inappropriate to the context. The cases in which it might be appropriate to, say, interrupt someone to tell them what to do, is not a subject for this primer. Dr Miller also helpfully (certainly for us autistics) takes the time to explain the likely consequences of taking these techniques too literally: ask questions to establish the facts, but ask too many questions and the person you are listening to will feel like they are being interrogated.
The language is simple and direct: there is little technical jargon and Dr Miller distills complicated concepts in an accessible way. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that all of the examples given assume a 1-2-1 setting and do not consider how these strategies might be applied in a small group. Although the empathy and compassion of the author shines through the text, it might have been worth exploring how these techniques would work in a non-controlled environment such as a party. However, the utility of this book in understanding the basics of meeting someone and having them walk away feeling like they were truly heard cannot be underestimated, and this is a solid contribution to Dr Miller’s legacy to his field.
Dr. William R. Miller is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, with over forty years of experience in teaching empathic understanding. His many books include Lovingkindness, Quantum Change, Motivational Interviewing, and Portals: Two Lives Intertwined by Adoption.
You can buy Listening Well: The Art of Empathic Understanding on Amazon UK here.
Our director Sarah McCulloch spoke at Autistic Pride Online on the 24th June, 2021. Watch her talk here:
The Autistic Empire Annual Report is now available for 2020.
Please note the report generally covers the calendar year of 2020 but the financial accounts run from July 2019 to July 2020 (this is when Companies House requires our accounts).
Autistic Empire founder and director Sarah McCulloch appeared on the Two Sides of the Spectrum, a podcast hosted by occupational therapist Meg Proctor to “explore research, amplify autistic voices, and change the way we think about autism in life and in occupational therapy practice”. #
Sarah talked about what she learned as an autistic OT and in particular her work in a special school for autistic children. She also got the opportunity to discuss the vision for the Autistic Empire, what we have learned so far, and some of the projects we are currently working on.
From Sarah: “Thanks very much to Meg for the opportunity to speak about our work to her audience, it was a great experience and I hope it benefits the professionals listening.”
Visit Meg’s website to show notes and more information here: https://www.learnplaythrive.com/podcast/episode/2496a7d9/cultural-bilingualism-and-the-autistic-empire-with-sarah-mcculloch
Play the episode embedded below (a full transcript is also available):
If you want more podcasts about autistic life experience, shout-out to Audible Autism, the Autistic Empire’s own autonomous podcast!
Autistic Pride Day is a global event celebrated widely online and offline on or around June 18th every year. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, nearly all offline Autistic Pride events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.
To look forward to the day we will be able to freely celebrate Autistic Pride without restrictions once more, the Autistic Empire has released a high-resolution, professionally designed, autistic pride flag under the Creative Commons licence permitting any use of this flag, including commercial use, as long as attribution is made to the Autistic Empire.
The infinity symbol represents neurodiversity, the rainbow represents the pride movement. Gold is used by autistic advocates as the chemical symbol for gold is Au (from the Latin aurum). Gold is promoted as an alternative to non-autistic-led groups designating colours such as blue as a symbol for autism.
Feel free to use the autistic pride flag to make flags, banners, badges, print it, redesign it, sell it – it’s yours, forever.
For more information about licencing and the history of autistic pride, please see our Autistic Pride page.