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Don Burke, Asperger’s and He Who Soweth The Thunder …

By Damian Smith

Sigh.

So here we are again.

Yet another celebrity accused of rampant sexual predation and the excuse of “the Asperger’s made me do it”.

Don Burke’s claim of recently self-diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome is dubious at best. Not that I doubt his claim – the man has made a career out of talking passionately and exhaustively about plants and soil compositions, he’s certainly ticking a couple of boxes. It isn’t for me to cast Asperger’s as it were.

No, it’s the timing of this revelation that evinces suspicion. “Recently diagnosed Asperger’s Sydnrome”, as though he had seen the impending storm clouds of controversy and tried to head them off with a trip to Dr Nick Riviera’s Hollywood Upstate Clinic of Excuses.

As if the first step on the mitigating sexual harassment fallout flow-chart is “claim to have high functioning autism and that you don’t know any better”.

But that’s the thing isn’t it? As someone on the spectrum, speaking on behalf of those on the spectrum, we do know better. It seems to be the rest of society that doesn’t.

There’s a constant societal misconception that people with Asperger’s are social buffoons, misreading the cues of interaction and not knowing when they’ve offended someone. Don Burke has seen the hideous caricatures of The Big Bang Theory and The Good Doctor and thought that he had found the perfect excuse for being overly hands on with women.

“Oh I just like touching people’s naughty bits, I didn’t know it was wrong”. Sure, Don.

Whilst for most the experience of autism is a subjective one, there are some commonalities where I feel I can express a consensus. Such as touch.

Being touched. Touching others. Feeling skin-to-skin contact with another human being can be difficult. The social obligation of handshakes and hugs are tiring, visits to the hairdresser and the dentist can be nothing short of an agonising hell akin to something by Hieronymus Bosch.

No one, and I mean no one – not even my mother – can touch my neck. Doing so will send me into a meltdown that could take days to recover from. That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about here. Does it make sense? No. Is it completely arbitrary? Absolutely. Does it sound like something that would specifically predicate you towards inappropriate sexual behaviour? I don’t think so.

In fact rather than giving me sexual superpowers my autism has made sex and sexuality quite difficult. I am 33 years old, I work in show business and even had a brief stint as a model, and although I can recite Pi to a hundred places, I can count the number of sexual partners I’ve had on one hand.

I’ve not once initiated a relationship. I’ve never even asked anyone out. Having Asperger’s means that you’re never quite sure of the rules of social interaction. You never know if you’re crossing a line or accidentally offending someone. So you tend to withdraw. You don’t dance across that line with abandon, you’re exceptionally careful. Rather than blithely barrel through life offending people without fear of consequence, you instead exercise great care and play it safe. You try and be polite, non-confrontational and boring.

Like how an alcoholic won’t have a single drink, I won’t make a flirtatious comment. Because I’m not sure where the line is.

I’m good with numbers, but I can’t count the times I’ve missed out on a chance with an exceptional woman because I was too frightened to make a move. Because I didn’t read the signals she was sending me, or wasn’t certain enough to risk acting on them.

I’m not complaining. The women I have been with have been amazing people. They are the ones who have noted the issues I have due to Asperger’s and realised that they would need to be extra overt in their courtship. That they would need to make the first move, that they couldn’t be subtle about it. I will be eternally grateful to them for that.

Even the act of sex itself, when it does happen, is a trial. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it immensely. But for the entire time you can’t immerse yourself fully into the experience. There’s a constant nagging voice in the back of your head critiquing your performance. Is she enjoying it? Is she comfortable? Are you doing it right? You’re not doing it right. Maybe you should be more vocal. No, be less vocal. Maybe you should make more noise? No that’s weird, don’t do that. Should I have my eyes open? No that’s creepy. Closed then? No, she’ll think I don’t find her attractive. I’ll just look at the wall. She just closed her eyes – that’s bad right? It’s bad. You’re bad. You’re doing it wrong. She’s not enjoying herself. Maybe you should just stop. Wait she said don’t stop. Does that mean keep going? Or is she just saying that to make you feel better?

If we have a reputation for lasting longer in bed, there’s your reason.

That’s a brief insight into what it’s like living with Asperger’s. Into how we view relationships, sex and personal space. I ask you, does this sound like Don Burke?

Are we the kind of people that would, to quote a world leader, “grab ‘em by the pussy”?

Is Don Burke autistic? That’s not for me to say. Is he a sex offender? That’s also not for me to judge, though the outlook isn’t great.

Is autism an excuse for sexual harassment? Absolutely not. Don Burke can no more claim that as a reason for his actions any more than the Beatles can be blamed for the actions of Charles Manson.

His comments were ignorant and grossly offensive. They reveal a man perpetuating a negative stereotype in a desperate attempt to salvage his dignity.

In my 33 years I have never, not once, sexually harassed a woman. Or a man. Or anyone of any gender they choose to identify with. Since the Don Burke story broke I’ve been inundated with Aspies sharing similar stories and the same outrage. Perhaps that is the true superpower of Asperger’s Syndrome – being immune to the compulsion towards sexual predation that seems to be have reached epidemic proportions.

Or maybe after having worked with manure for so many years, Don Burke is full of it.


27 comments

  1. Kaye Lee

    Damian,

    In my experience, bullying is not a symptom of Asperger’s and I think Burke is grasping for excuses for his poor behaviour. Let’s forget him for the moment.

    Aspie’s are quite often very intelligent people with a somewhat obsessive focus on their areas of interest. The doubts you so nakedly share about your sexual experiences are not confined to people with Asperger’s – they describe what many people feel. I am blessed to have found, at a young age, a partner who forgives my faults and appreciates my qualities. Forgive yourself for not being perfect – none of us are. We are all on a learning journey of self-improvement.

  2. wam

    Your words, Damian, have set my mind racing.

    A couple who are friends of my son have two autistic children. Perhaps there is a sadness watching the children of siblings and school friends.
    The big plus is their love and patience with the children, their involvement with autism committee and the sharing and understanding that the other children display towards their ASD friends.

    The same family has a second cousin in his seventies who is you to a tee. I am a hit in the family because he sits with me.I think the connection is that he couldn’t find anyone who knew Ose Koichi, luckily the actor was a favourite of mine, so we hit it off.

    From such a limited knowledge, burke’s self diagnosis is disgusting.

    Men and women in positions of power may lose respect for those they consider beneath them.
    So I see burke as searching to show he is amoral rather than immoral.

    But I think he just went unchallenged and, like hughes and harris, became corrupted losing all sense of propriety.

  3. LOVO

    Smithy, I’m crying right now, not just for you, but for me too. 😯
    You just told me the story of my life. 😢
    ………mayhap Kaye Lee and you have a point in regards to Don… I have met the man and have listened to his idea’s that he has ‘incorporated ‘ into his property and I thought, at the time, … he’s barking mad and oh so arrogant …….but that’s not to say that he has anything for which to answer…BUT..he came across as an extrovert …not an introvert….my personal interpretation of his ‘type’ would be that of a “me, me..” …just sayin’ 😑

  4. Lilly

    Wow Damien, I love what you wrote. Thank you for being so open and explanatory, Yes! I wonder if I might lean towards undiagnosed Aspergers along with some of my kin so I can relate to the aversion to human contact. And I hate that Don Burke is trying to blame Aspergers 🙁

  5. paul walter

    The posting has a synergy to this strange culture that pervades commercial media that is so well represented by the Nine network. It was the biggest and most successful of our TV networks, although it is but a pale shadow of the awesome phenomena that assumed the rugged persona of a modern Henry V111, Kerry Packer, son of the brutal Sir Frank Packer.

    The culture expresses itself through a usually conservative entitlement mode best represented in its current affairs shows and Burke is a representation of the arrogance and ignorance epitomised throughout. The likes of Eddie Maguire, Sonia Kruger, Sam Newman and the Nine News/ Sixty Minutes/ ACA rightist reactionary current affairs culture represented by Tara Brown and the Beirut scandal, come to mind immediately. But the list is best likely long and others with fair memories can add their own now half forgotten incidents to anything this writer includes above without any objections from him.

  6. etnorb

    Sorry Don but claiming Aspergers did it for me is so wrong! My only other comment about all these complaints from all these women is, why does it take some 30 or so years or so to lay complaints? I am not for one moment suggesting that these “things” did not take place, but why does it (almost always) seem to take decades for sexual harassment etc complaints to surface? If he is in fact proven guilty then all will have been seen to have been done, but it seems to me that any “complaints” such as those against him–& against all those other men, mostly in the American entertainment & political sphere–must have been known many years ago by the complainants, so why does it take many years for them to surface? Were the persons so sinned against too afraid to speak up, or what?

  7. diannaart

    Damien

    Thank you for your heart felt contribution to AIMN. Kaye Lee is right we are far from perfect. Your description of sex was very familiar … we all worry if we are getting “it” right.

    Burke’s spurious claim sits beside Kevin Spacey’s, “I was gay” and just as insulting to homosexual men.

    There exist sexual predators and the nature of human society has fostered rather than ostracised such people – for millennia!

    Bullies get to be CEO’s or presidents. Sexual predation is lauded. Until enough people complain. Then any excuse will do from the very lame to the ludicrous, “she wanted it”, “I am entitled”, “this is just how men are” – no, not all men are bullies. But too many men and women are complicit in failing to calling out the bullies. Until now, until we have enough female and male journalists of integrity able to research and get published.

    The good thing is, even though sexual bullies have had their behaviour confirmed by a patriarchal system, we do know sexual bullying is not acceptable; from the furtive grope in a crowd, to standing over a person to intimidate, to outright use of force – we do know better.

  8. roma guerin

    ednorb’s comment leaves me speechless. Where have you been all year? Have you not heard the personal stories told to the Royal Commission on Sexual Abuse? The women who are speaking out now were not children but they were young, and their stories are remarkably similar. The predator invariably has Power! Jimmy Saville got away with it for 40 years. Rolf Harris too, and many others. Generations of women have been well aware that they either will not be believed or be brushed off. I was 15 in the 1950s, and worked in a large office where there was “a man”. No female employee would get in the lift with him. We were afraid. I was even afraid to tell my mother.

  9. Zathras

    Jimmy Saville’s predilections were known to BBC management and other celebrities at the time and Harvey Weinstein’s exploits were an open secret in Hollywood circles (just to name two).

    However nothing happened and it was tolerated because it was the culture at that time so I’m not at all surprised by the Don Burke revelations.
    At least Rex Hunt, who did not take advantage of his position but admitted his personal flaw, quietly departed the public arena and I’m aware of one well-known celebrity pedophile who died before the police could catch him, despite years of effort.

    If the most powerful female actresses in Hollywood felt helpless in taking action against Weinstein (and others), then what chance do average women have of being heard?

    Probably as much as those men and women who were institutionally abused as children decades ago.

    The difference is that they now have a window of opportunity and many are taking it and I hope there are many more predatory people yet to be “outed”.

    Society will be the better for it once everyone knows that there will likely be consequences for inappropriate behaviour.

    However, using Asperger’s as a excuse is probably an even more heinous act that the other accusations themselves.
    It’s a cowardly remark and an attempt to throw others in the path of the social locomotive bearing down on him.

  10. diannaart

    Well said, Zathras.

    Part of the ongoing problem (and it is still ongoing) is even now, young girls are being taught to be “nice”, whereas boys as still encouraged to be aggressive (both sexes need to be taught assertiveness).

    Being taught to be “nice” means being caught in situations where the only option is to be silent – we all know the adage of “silence means consent”. Also complete shock – that a male has decided to act on his desires, irrespective of any thought for what a young woman, girl or boy may be thinking, often creates a “deer caught in the headlights” response. We freeze. This problem of communication is perpetuated for the reason that when/if we do speak out we are not believed or even abused by those we have placed enough trust in which to call out bad behaviour.

    Many men see ANY form of disagreement as a challenge or even an insult to their own autonomy. Often we can’t speak freely, without risk of backlash.

    However, I suspect we are experiencing a watershed moment – we have enough women and men in positions where the high-flying abusers are easy targets. There will be more Don Burkes or Weinstens.

    But a word of warning, to the little bullies in the office, the factories, the call-centres, the schools, the hospitals, the boardroom, the car-yard, where ever little bullies think they can continue to get away with treating anyone they deem vulnerable…. your days are numbered.

  11. Jack

    Damian, great post. I am a father with 3 kids on the spectrum. My youngest is 5 and he actually looks for the touch of other kids while in school. It’s not inappropriate sort of touching, just more so than normal. Kind of opposite behaviour to most other ASD kids.
    I don’t believe the Burke BS either, but am wondering if that behaviour could exist in an ASD adult

  12. jimhaz

    [There’s a constant societal misconception that people with Asperger’s are social buffoons, misreading the cues of interaction and not knowing when they’ve offended someone.]

    Yep. But it does not AT ALL seem to be a misconception, but just an over generalisation.

    Difficulties reading the messages in someone’s eyes.
    A tendency to make a literal interpretation of what someone says.
    A tendency to be considered disrespectful and rude.
    Remarkable honesty.
    Delay in the development of the art of persuasion, compromise and conflict resolution.
    A different form of introspection and self-consciousness.
    Problems knowing when something may cause embarrassment.
    A longer time to process social information, due to using intelligence rather than intuition.
    Physical and emotional exhaustion from socializing.

    I’m actually somewhat irritated by the scorn he is getting in regards his possible Asperger’s comment – the problem being the bell curve of symptoms in relation to autism.What is said to me is that he has been affected by his bad behaviour and has pondered “What is wrong with me” prior to these seemingly legit complaints about him.

  13. jimhaz

    [Smithy, I’m crying right now, not just for you, but for me too. 😯
    You just told me the story of my life.]

    Maybe or maybe not. Like a horoscope he might be talking about a subset of issues that apply to many people, but they do not have a broad enough set of symptons.

  14. diannaart

    I made a similar comment to the following on another website:

    Bart: “Principal Skinner, I have done nothing wrong”

    PS: “Hmmmpphh.”

    Bart: “If I have done anything wrong, I didn’t know about it”.

    PS: “Hrrrrmmmmppph”

    Bart: “I might’ve done something wrong but I have Aspergers, Tourettes, Bi-polar, diabetes, hypoglycaemia, toe-fungus…

  15. Keitha Granville

    I curse him for using such a pathetic excuse for his behaviour – in doing so he has damned to hell anyone on the spectrum, and he should be ashamed.

    Thanks Damian, I wish you great happiness.

  16. helvityni

    Beautifully written, Damian. I admire your honesty and wish you all the best in the world….

  17. chris Knight

    Thank you Damian . My blood has been boiling since I heard the louse make this pathetic and unfounded excuse.
    He has indeed disgraced himself again by trying to throw a slur at HF/ASD to cover his crimes.
    What a transparent git!
    In my experience there is no way an Asperges person would leave the suspicion unresolved for so long. It is generally intrinsic to our condition to need to fearlessly find out the facts. I call PHONY!

  18. David Fitzpatrick

    I stopped reading this after four paragraphs. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. This guy is Asperger’s without a doubt. But the point is the whole show arranged itself around him, everyone tacitly accepted his inappropriate behaviour and even encouraged it -evidently it for the sake of the success of the show -and now for extraneous political reasons he is being made to carry the can. It is shameful.

  19. David Fitzpatrick

    i dont expect this thoroughly reasonable comment to be published. In the context of the ghastly present moral panic it would be surprising.

  20. John

    David

    I wouldn’t get the women I do if it wasn’t for who I am, a rapist.

  21. Zathras

    I would have thought that if Burke genuinely had Aspergers it would be more apparent to those around him all the time and not so deliberately targetted at certain individuals.

    If he was prone to random outbursts there must be numerous television outtakes and many more witnesses and bystanders to back him up.
    Instead, there are many who claim that he kept that side well hidden from them so it must have been voluntary behaviour.

    Now as a self-professed “expert on all things” he claims to have self-diagnosed and puts it down to a genetic flaw.
    So he’s now somehow become the hapless victim in all this?
    Strange, he once claimed to have “perfect genes”.

    Maybe he’s just a nasty, sleazy individual who liked to abuse his position for self-gratification and too typically gutless to admit responsibility for his own actions.

  22. David Fitzpatrick

    The comments published here betray. total lack of understanding of Asperger’s or social deficits in general. The entire debate makes my stomach churn. I cannot think why AIMN is publishing them, I have lost faith completely in this publication and the electronic media in general. You will end up destroying this man of whom you know less than nothing, who has not been charged with a crime and in the current mood has no way of defending himself. His blood will be on your hands not that any of you superlative hypocrites cares.

  23. David Fitzpatrick

    I give up. No one was forced to put up with him. Everyone did because it suited them. Now with their careers made they want to hang him out to dry. He was extremely stupid and inept, he should have bided his time and waited for an opportunity to vent his two-year old spleen on someone like him.

  24. Frank

    Thanks Damian for your take on Aspergers but as for rest of us without ASD, well . . That Burke was out of control doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a mental health condition, in fact, it probably proves it. Diagnosing mental health is still a young science and treatments are largely chemical (mind or emotion-numbing drugs) and more recently CBT which is most most effective when applied early. A quick search turns up links between ASD and violence, but forget that fact and carry on the age old tradition of witch hunt. Why not?
    Simple question – What is the cause of ASD?
    Surprisingly the answer was too much for modern medicine to handle so they buried it back in the 1940s. It’s been downhill since then.

  25. Zathras

    Burke was the only person who even mentioned Aspergers as an excuse for his behaviour and I’ve never heard of it as an reason in any of the multitude of excuses offered by other offenders.

    Could the same excuse be applied to Bill Cosby, Bill Hannity, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein or the multitude of other repeat offenders exposed in the media? If not, why not? Perhaps errant priests have a common syndrome that compels them to abuse children?

    If those people were not in the positions of power they enjoyed it’s doubtful they would have had the chance to become repeat offenders.
    Trump-the-pussy-grabber belled that particular cat a while ago and you will never hear those people claiming they were the target of inappropriate behaviour.

    Any consequences that arise are not the fault of his critics but of his own actions and I for one am tired of offenders looking to blame someone or something else for every misdemeanour or offence they get caught committing.

    Nobody is ever responsible for anything anymore. Violent criminals blame videos or video games, sex offenders blame pornography, thieves blame poor and deprived upbringings, killers claim “the devil made me do it” or temporary insanity. “I punched him because he looked at me the wrong way on the bus so he provoked me…”

    I’ve seen a lot of people I once admired fall from their pedestals.Burke was not the first and won’t be the last.
    He’s also likely not the only person being protected from above as a money-making resource for others.

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