My Venture Into Asperger’s
When I had an “Aha” moment that could explain why I have always been so different in some ways from others it prompted this ten-part series into Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s is now considered part of the Autism spectrum and in these posts, there is some overlap.
Autism is something that I have never studied or understood to any degree. I have always wondered why I never even heard of it until the last few decades. Did it just pop up or was it just known as something else? I was recently shocked to learn, at least from a layman’s standpoint, that I have several characteristics that are common to Asperger’s Syndrome.
For this study series, I have decided on using a consistent format for my venture into Autism. Each section will begin with a personal story about my life and then will relate it to the characteristics of Asperger’s. So, here goes…
My personal story – I was called a “shy” kid as I didn’t relate very well to other kids or even many adults. I seemed to be the most comfortable in a world of my own. Even now, some of my most pleasant memories are of sitting alone on a starry night looking at the sky and dreaming what my life would be like in the future. I was a late bloomer to the teenage years and never really had an official date until my senior prom. Even in college, I was just not comfortable around the opposite sex. I just couldn’t figure out what women were about or what they wanted. I dated some in those years but for the most part, lived in my own inner world.
I never understood why I was just not able to form any significant level of friendship even with other guys. Something just didn’t click for me. I was just missing the necessary connections. I always blamed that on not having much parental guidance growing up. My mother left dad, my brother and me, for greener pastures when I was about ten years old. Like most kids of divorce, I blamed myself for that happening. My dad was just not much of a communicator so I had very little guidance growing up.
As I have aged, particularly in the last couple of decades, I now tend to speak my mind on many issues especially those having to do with social justice. I have called myself an empath but just can’t seem to move that to a personal level to any degree.
Then came my first glances at Asperger’s:
Men with Asperger’s syndrome can also be admired for speaking their mind, having a sense of social justice and strong moral convictions. They are often described as having ‘old-world’ values, and being less motivated than other men for physically intimate activities, or for spending time with male friends.
Attwood, Tony (2006-09-28). The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The words above are just a small part of my awakening. The striking similarities between these words and my personal life hit me like a two by four so to speak. I definitely had an “aha” moment that maybe there is a physiological reason I behave how I do? Maybe I am not just totally weird after all.
Feminine vs Macho…
My Personal Story – Even as a young child macho was a very negative trait to me. Simply speaking I hated it. I’m sure the word macho means different things to different people so here is the definition that I use. In my mind macho is almost synonymous with being a bully. There is nothing manly about it. I knew being a boy I was supposed to be macho but the idea of aggressively dominating others with a self-conscious attitude was just not possible for me. It was against every fiber of my being.
Instead, I most often worried about others and their places in life. Because of the machoism and the fact that I was a frail child, most sports were something I avoided and still avoid seventy years later. Even watching it has not been on my agenda for a very long time.
In fact, because of the damage sports does to many I think it has an overall negative effect in this world. I have jokingly come to the belief that no one over the age of 15 should be allowed to play sports. There are far too many kids who spend all their energies trying to become the next Micheal Jorden when in reality doing that often means a wasted life because of the fact that they do it to the exclusion of everything else including academics.
Thinking about others instead of thumping my chest and strutting around feeling superior was what I was. I knew that was considered feminine and that probably alienated me from some possible friends but I just didn’t care. I was not a macho guy and I never would be.
Changing subjects to another area, I was almost forty years old before I married and the courtship was as fast as the marriage was late. Our first date was in December and we were married in April. My wife of thirty some years said to a friend after our first date” this is the guy I am going to marry” and indeed she did.
A man with Asperger’s syndrome appears to have a ‘feminine’, rather than ‘macho’ quality – the ideal partner for the modern woman. The man with Asperger’s syndrome is usually a late developer in terms of emotional and relationship maturity, and this could be his first serious relationship, while his same-age peers have had several long-term relationships already….
Attwood, Tony (2006-09-28). The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Being anti-macho and having feminine characteristics was a strong part of my early life and remains so today. I am proud of that fact. But now I also recognize that it may be part of the Asperger’s Syndrome…
Arrogance and Criticism
My personal story – As a young boy I had troubles fitting into the group mode. I always felt like I just didn’t belong. Because I had a low self-esteem in those years I compensated by just being by myself most of the time. I couldn’t understand the behaviors of my peers so I withdrew from them. As I grew older the “I am an Island” mode became a central part of my life. I was that kid who was off in the corner reading books and dreaming about the future instead of playing sports and such. While I didn’t voice my feeling often I sometimes thought critically of others.
One of the major things that has challenged me throughout my life is that I just don’t take criticism well! To avoid it I often studied things so that I was the semi-expert who spoke with the knowledge that couldn’t be questioned. I now look back on my life and see where my sensitivity to criticism caused difficulties with interaction with others. As an example, I was pretty much on my own for the first forty years of my life so I was just not used to being criticized. That is until I got married and then I was exposed to criticism in spades. My wife, like many others as I understand, was determined to fix me and I just didn’t think I needed fixing. Her attempts, which I most often take as criticism has been the central kernel of conflict in our marriage. I often have the feeling that “my wife doesn’t think I can even flush a toilet without screwing it up!” Since recognizing my sensitivity to criticism I have worked hard to handle it but with not much actual success.
When I found that my IQ was 134 it didn’t mean anything to me but looking back I guess it caused me to appear arrogant in some of my actions and words. I just thought things through more deeply than others and when I voiced my opinions they evidently came across as I didn’t intend them.
How does this story relate to Asperger’s?
We know that the child with Asperger’s syndrome has difficulty with social integration with his or her peers. If that child also has superior intellectual ability, difficulties in social integration may be compounded. Those children who have exceptionally high IQs may compensate by becoming arrogant and egocentric, and have considerable difficulty acknowledging that they have made a mistake. Such children can be hypersensitive to any suggestion of criticism, yet overly critical of others, including teachers, parents or authority figures. The school or parents may turn to professional help with regard to the attitude and conduct of such children, leading to a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Referral to a behavior management specialist may be the starting point of the pathway to a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.
Attwood, Tony (2006-09-28). The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (pp. 20-21). Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Recognizing my Asperger’s traits is helping me to understand how I may unintentionally hurt others with my words.
This is Part 5 of 10 of My Venture Into Asperger’s and it is a biggie for me. As usual I will start out with a personal story and then show how that links into Asperger’s. This post is primarily about my struggles with eye contact.
My personal story – To most people eye contact, that is looking into the eyes of the person you are talking to, is a normal process. To me it is quite painful and it always has been. It is as though I am looking into that person’s soul and that is just someplace I don’t want to go. Whenever I do it it is almost as if I freeze up and stop thinking. I have never understood why I feel this way when so many others don’t.
Even in my early childhood, I imagined that something was seriously wrong with me. Why was eye contact so painful? As I got older I managed to have “roving eye contact”. That is I would occasionally glance into someone’s eyes while mostly looking elsewhere. That worked pretty well for many but then there were those who almost glared at me when I did that.
As I was graduating college and ready for the job interviews I knew I had to do something as people would find out I was defective during an interview if I didn’t look them in the eye. Fortunately, it didn’t take too many interviews before I landed a job. I almost took the first offer officially given in order to not have to do any more interviews. Looking back I think the lack of eye contact was also probably one of the reasons I had few second dates.
When I became deaf at the age of forty in some ways it was almost a God’s send. I could now just watch a person’s lips and therefore didn’t have to look into their eyes. People would understand that was what I had to do and therefore not expect eye contact. It actually made my life a little easier, at least in that issue…
Now let’s see how this relates to Asperger’s:
An Aspie Point of View — Eye contact hurts.. no, not in the painful sense but it’s quite uncomfortable. I always feel that I’m revealing more than I want to with eye contact and that I’m receiving more information than I want to know.
This was my primary “aha” moment in my discovery of Asperger’s. I found out that my pain in making eye contact was not just me but others felt it too. It was soothing in a way to understand it might be a neurological problem shared by others. I wasn’t totally weird after all. This revelation started my journey where I discovered many other personal aspie characteristics.
I like being a unique person and in a way, Aspergers helps me be just that. Wouldn’t it be boring if all of us were the same? I am now halfway through this planned ten-part journey into Aspergers but maybe it will go beyond that point and into a regular weekly post. It is that important to me and I hope you will get some additional insight into this syndrome.
My personal Story – I have never thought too much about body language. I know I am told that it is a very significant part of communications but I just don’t see how that is? Since I am now deaf and the auditory world no longer exists I no longer can read the tone of a conversation and I know that is a problem. It is like many conversations here in the comments section of RJsCorner; things are misunderstood because of the lack of non-verbal clues. Since I have been deaf for about 30 years now I do seem to be getting better at reading body language but still struggle with it on a daily basis.
Now on to how this relates to autism and particularly Asperger’s:
Understanding nonverbal communication, which includes body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, is essential for navigating social interactions successfully. So much of what is communicated, especially the emotional content, is conveyed through our bodies and voices, rather than the spoken word. While most of us receive no instruction on how to read nonverbal clues, we recognize the clues that tell us the true meaning of what is being communicated.
However, individuals on the Autism Spectrum may struggle to understand this mysterious language, which leaves them misinterpreting what is actually being communicated. It’s the nonverbal clues that allow a listener to judge whether the speaker is being sincere, is joking or being sarcastic. Without recognizing the true message, the response is often inappropriate.The ability to understand nonverbal communication can be improved through instruction, though when you try to break down what you need to teach, the complexity of the task becomes apparent.
People who have autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with reading even the most overt social cues in context. They have extraordinary difficulty with reading more subtle body language, including messages often conveyed via the eyes. In addition to difficulties with attending to and interpreting information that is embedded in social context, some have great difficulty with attending to and coordinating two sources of sensory input at once. ….
The Aspie Quiz.
After studying this condition for a good while I took the Aspie Quiz. The Quiz is intended as a pre-diognostic tool to help determine if you might be autistic. The quiz is a group of 50 questions that are rated on a scale of 1 to 6. The answers to the questions are grouped in various categories including Talent, Perceptions, Communications, Relationships, and Social skills.
After completing the quiz I was given the results as shown below. It took some time to really determine what this graph says but I have come to the conclusion that I am significantly skewed toward the Neurodiverse/Aspergers side of the spectrum. Particularly in the talent area and to a lesser degree to the other categories. As I was looking over the results it struck me that I have never thought to group these situations together but when I do that trends definitely appear.
The basic results of the quiz are that I have both neurodiverse and neurotypical traits. That is, like my deafness, I am in between two worlds. I am probably described at a highly functioning Aspie. That is, the neurodiverse side of me has not greatly impeded my ability to function in the neurotypical world.
My strongest Aspie category is in the Talent area. Part of those characteristics are:
- I get extremely focused on special interests almost to the exclusion of everything else. When I get involved in some things the world completely disappears. My total focus is on the topic at hand. That proved to be somewhat beneficial in my last career stage in the business world. I was a software tools developer and was able to create apps that would normally have taken 2 to 3 people to accomplish.
- I have an extreme need to catalog information. During my thirty year career I religiously kept a weekly index card of all the things I did. This card stack grew to over 6 inches high before it was moved to a computer when PCs were available.
Perceptions is my second highest neurodiverse category:
- It upset me greatly when someone says they will be there at a particular time and then don’t show up or are even late.
- I dislike it when people walk behind me but I literally hate it when people are tailgating me.
- My eyes have always been sensitive to glare and I am hypersensitive to many smells, particularly the smell of mint; it overwhelms me. My brain doesn’t see anything but the smell.
- I can’t seem to do anything unless I have it down in list form and thoroughly follow it.
- During conversations, I guess I often miss when it is my turn to talk. There just doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it. If I don’t barge in when I want, I have to wait until there is a very noticeable pause to know it is my turn. I often just barge in.
There are numerous other areas in day-to-day traits that I don’t seem typical but I will leave those things to another post. Stated simply I often have always had trouble getting my feelings across and communicating with others.
So here I am between two worlds. That seems to be where I have been my entire life. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it has presented many challenges in my life.
Myth:Asperger’s Syndrome only affects children: Therefore adults can and should grow out of it with time.Many people have a tendency to think that Asperger’s Syndrome only affects children and that adults can and should be capable of growing out of it.
Such thinking has evolved in parallel with the idea that all children with ADHD can be medicated and will eventually grow out of the condition.Similarly, people also presume that adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, should somehow have been cured of it via early intervention therapies and other treatments by the time they reach adulthood.
Such ideas are both erroneous and extremely harmful to adults with Asperger’s Syndrome who struggle daily to attain some small degree of acceptance and understanding for their symptoms.
As it stands, there is no cure for Asperger’s Syndrome because it is neither a disease nor a disorder that people can turn on or off at will or that can be treated and made disappear by the use of medication.
Myth:Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome are attention seeking, cold, aloof, loners, who don’t care about the needs of others.
This is perhaps the most harmful myth of all. It has been said (and sometimes by fairly prominent people within the media) that Asperger’s Syndrome is just an excuse for some people to behave like sociopathic jerks.
This is not true. As with the formerly more well-known form of classic Autism, those with Asperger’s Syndrome do not choose to have this challenging condition.
They are not trying to be deliberately rude by avoiding eye contact, social interactions or loud, unfamiliar environments such as parties or large family gatherings simply as a way of gaining attention.
Part of the problem for those with Asperger syndrome is that personal relationships, including familial relationships, often require them to try and take part in hyper social activities that contain all of the many unwritten rules and social cues, those with Asperger’s Syndrome find so confusing.As a result they will often avoid taking part in such activities.
Yet get a person with Asperger’s Syndrome in a one on one situation, without all of the distractions of a loud or unfamiliar environment, and you will often find that they are very warm, witty and generally caring people. It really is as simple as that….
Another very simple truth is that the vast majority of those with Asperger’s Syndrome desperately want to be liked and accepted by others. They just don’t know how to achieve this because unlike neruo-typicals, those with Asperger’s Syndrome were not born with the same intrinsic toolbox of social understandings and awareness’, that those born without Asperger’s Syndrome take for granted.
Myth: Asperger’s is a dangerous mental illness that makes People more prone to Violence
Asperger’s syndrome is not a mental illness. It is a neurological/developmental disorder. Unlike classic or severe Autism, those with Asperger’s syndrome are often not diagnosed until school age when they’re lack of interaction with peers and the inability to automatically understand social cues begins to mark them out as being in some way different from their peers….
Those with Asperger’s Syndrome are no more prone to violence than the general population. The only crime it appears those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are guilty of is that of being somewhat eccentric by exhibiting behaviours that do not fall within the realms of what society considers ‘normal’. Once again these are issues of socialization, not violence.
In conclusion, Asperger’s Syndrome, is considered a “developmental disorder” that a person is born with.
While no one knows exactly what causes Asperger’s Syndrome, what is becoming clear is the fact that the levels of misconception and suspicion that often surrounds adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, make it a tough and lonely disorder to live and deal with on a daily basis for many.
One key way in which we can begin to redress many of the myths and misconceptions that surround the experiences of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome would be to encourage those with the condition to discuss their struggles openly and honestly without all of the leering suspicions that have become so much a part of their daily lives.
For whatever reason, I tend to wash my dirty laundry in public here at RJsCorner. That is certainly what I am doing here. But one reason I am doing this is to try to personally understand and get you to understand this condition. I will likely continue to do that even after the 10 posts I have originally dedicated to this topic.
What To Do?
After about two months of studies, I am convinced that I exhibit in some degree Asperger’s Syndrome characteristics. That conclusion brings up the question “Now What??” What do I do with this new found information? I am seventy plus years old, do I really need any professional pronouncement?
There is no cure for Aspergers as it is not a disease but instead neurological condition. One of the books I read during this study was from a noted doctor in the field. Of course, he said if you think you have Aspergers then you must get a professional diagnosis. Since I question everything I think that opinion might be a little biased. If I were a teenager I might see some wisdom in this recommendation as it would have probably helped me with some coping mechanisms and would have made my life a little easier. But now that I am winding down my time on this earth what would be the benefit? I have come to the conclusion that a professional diagnosis would do me no good except to put a final seal on it and I personally don’t really need that validation.
Early on I talked about the Aspie Quiz I took that pointed me toward a self-diagnosis. As shown on the right the professionals say this is simply a screening tool and should not be used as a diagnosis and that is probably true in some, maybe most, cases. I know I have unnecessarily faced some hardships in my life because of some Asperger’s traits Some of my social interactions could probably been improved if I had discovered that most other didn’t think the same thing as I did.
Aspergers, at least to me in this stage of my life, is not something I need fixed. It has become part and parcel of my basic personality and true self. So, in some maybe many ways, I tend to celebrate these characteristics rather than think they need fixing.
When I discovered that I might be an Aspie I searched the web for info about this condition and found that I share many characteristics with the neurodiverse population. Before I get into personal details about this topic lets look at the idea of neurodiversity from Wikipedia:
Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome. This portmanteau of neurological and diversity originated in the late 1990s as a challenge to prevailing views of neurological diversity as inherently pathological, instead asserting that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category
I take the phrase to mean that neurological conditions are for the most part just the normal spread of what makes us human. Of course, I realize that the severe cases are anything but normal. In past ages, those with Aspergers were often called being eccentric or maybe “marching to the beat of a different drummer”. Yes, I had difficulties in my early years that I could not understand but for the most part, I developed ways to compensate for many of my shortcomings and just avoided others whenever possible. Don’t we all actually do that to one extent or another?
Do my Asperger’s characteristics need fixing? That is the basic question here and my answer is NO. My unique characteristics which might be related to Aspergers are what makes me who I am. It makes me different from others. Except maybe for my early years I have never felt the desire to be “normal” even if there is such a thing..
In my studies, I came across lists of people who are likely Aspies. Since this syndrome was not even defined until the late 1990s most adults today have never have been diagnosed as Aspies. Even since then the thrust of the work in Aspergers has been in the field of childhood amelioration, adults are for the most part outside the current study of this condition. But given the characteristics that are contained in the study it can be deduced who might be cataloged with Asperger:
- Bill Gates
- Abraham Lincoln
- Al Gore
- Bob Dylan
- Mark Twain
- Charles Schulz
- ….. the list goes on and on
I am proud to maybe be included in this list even if it is of my own account. I just don’t think that characteristics that fall outside of what might currently be considered normal is something that needs fixing. Instead it, like racial diversity, is what makes us a valuable mix of people and views of the world. It is what makes each of us unique.
So I will keep in mind my apparent neurodiversity and continue talking about it here at a background level on RJsCorner but I won’t fixate on it as somehow being a central part of my life. It, like my deafness, is simply part of who I am. I do this because I don’t particularly like labels, they are more restraining than facilitating to me.