[This article originally appeared on my blog just under 2 years ago. Sadly, I just couldn’t keep up with the blog; it just ended up as another weight around my neck.]
So, as the title says or rather asks…What the hell is Asperger’s anyway? Well, that’s quite a question really but I will try my best…
Asperger’s? Say What Now?Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism; a developmental condition1 that effects how someone makes sense of the world. It’s a ‘hidden disability’ because there are no physical symptoms, so you can’t tell someone has it just by looking at them.
Aspies, as people with Asperger’s are known, have three main areas of difficulties:
- Social Interaction
- Social Communication
- Social Imagination
But, it’s worth pointing out that as a spectrum disorder2 no two Aspies are the same and the condition affects them in many different ways.
Social InteractionMost Aspies have a desire to be social but struggle initiating and maintaining social relationships as well as failing to understand the unwritten social rules that everyone else seems to get without trying.
Basically, to an Aspie most NTs do strange and unpredictable things, which I find both very confusing and tiring, as I have to constantly try and adapt to keep up, I always have to be switched on.
Social CommunicationAspies can have big problems expressing themselves both emotionally and socially; the subtleties of body language, facial expression and tone of voice just pass us by. Aspies also tend to be very literal in language and often have trouble effectively engaging in conversation.
For me this is compounded with my dyslexia so I can know exactly what I want to say in my head but somewhere between there and my mouth the words just… vanish3. Quite often my supportive wife ends up waiting patiently for me to try and recover what I wanted to say or rescues someone from my wafflings when I fail to pick up that I’m boring the hell out of them4.
Social ImaginationSocial Imagination, rather than the regular brand, is more to do with predicting how a social situation will turn out, emoting to how someone else is feeling or what they’re thinking. Often Aspies engage in a very limited range of interests and struggle to engage with anything beyond that.
Personally, I find I struggle to see where a situation is going and often don’t work it out till much later, sometimes even weeks afterwards. I know I can miss a lot in a conversation5, even with someone I have known for years. But, I also think this applies to myself, I can be carrying on unaware that something is gnawing at me and yet it seems to be mysteriously clear to my wife; she just waits patiently for me to spot it and eventually work it out, this can sometimes take months.
The Main Characteristics of Asperger’sAs well as the three main difficulties many Aspies display certain characteristics; personally I find controlling these can help in a big way to manage the frustrations and problems that arise with Asperger’s. But, there is no ‘cure’ and nothing is going to stop Aspies from finding social situations difficult no matter how much ‘practice’ they get.
Lovin’ the Routines
The unpredictability of life tends to throw an Aspie out, finding they don’t have long enough to work out how to respond; routine helps with this. Knowing when something will happen helps prevent confusion.
I’d definitely agree with this though for me it seems only logical to try and organize my day6, I don’t have a timetable or whatever but I do have lists. I like to try and decide what I’m going to get done each day, both as a reminder for my sieve-like memory and for the satisfaction of crossing things off. Go lists!
Many Aspies develop intense and sometimes obsessive interests, either lifelong or jumping from one to another. I suppose the energy that most people would spread across a number of hobbies and interests are instead directed at only a few, each at a greater intensity than with most NTs.
For over 25 years I’ve been into wargaming, though there have been a few breaks on low points. I also discovered Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, when I was 17 / 18 and have been training ever since. Apart from that I like my films and researching my families ancestral history7 and that’s about it, I’ve never really been into music or TV much. I do other things but they tend to be more of a means to an end; for example I have quite a few tattoos and many people assume they interest me but personally it’s about the meaning of my designs rather than the tattoos themselves.
It’s common for Aspies to have sensory issues with any combo being affected; mostly this takes the form of being over or under-sensitive.
I don’t hate coffee, its worse than that, I seem to have a physical revulsion to it. Apart from that8 I seem to have under-sensitive taste buds, I also don’t seem to feel the cold as much as most people and wear tees all year round. Actually, I think I tend to be under-sensitive in most areas or at least lacking in the ability to detect subtleties. Sound is an area where I’m over sensitive and find noisy places or situations very oppressive, almost creating a sense of drowning.
ConclusionI’ve always tried to be quite open and free with people so have no problems discussing my Asperger’s, although having only been formally diagnosed for just over a year and a half I’ve still got lots to figure out. Only through discussing things do we help spread awareness. But, having said that a lot of the issues with being an Aspie sound very much like what most NTs experience in daily life.
I suppose the main difference is that with the situations that cause problems it’s not just a case of disliking them but something more fundamental. When I’m in a busy environment with lots of people about, even though they are just chatting and being social I can feel my skin crawling. It’s an oppressive environment for me; I’m sure if I wasn’t so under-sensitive or unaware of myself then I’d be feeling anxious. As a result I tend to clam up, not through a lack of confidence but rather like a body in a state of hyperthermia, all my warmth retreats to the core to just keep things going; my energy increasingly goes into maintaining a ‘normal’ façade, a mask to hide the growing cracks. Like any cornered animal this inspires one of two reactions, fight or flight. Being socially unacceptable to flee such a situation, at least until you’ve endured an appropriate amount of time, I’m forced to expend even more energy from my dwindling reserves, forcing myself to try and relax rather than physically or verbally lash out at people.
Social situations come in many shapes and sizes and each has their cost. This blog, even though it lacks a direct contact with anyone, still causes problems for me. I have a strong desire to be accurately understood, something that is frustratingly nigh impossible, and compounded by the problems associated with my dyslexia I can get easily tangled. The desire to put part of myself ‘out there’ is draining and can quickly result in a fog descending that blocks any attempt to proceed; though I have known what I wanted to write in this blog post it has taken me 6 weeks to wade through the mist and get everything lined up in my head.
If you have any questions or experiences with Asperger’s or dyslexia feel free to pop something down in the comments below.
For much of this article I have used a very interesting article from the website of the National Autistic Society in the UK. I’ve tried to use this as a guide to help give a structure to my waffle and as a framework to try and relate my own experiences. If you want to check out their article you can find it here.
1 – This means that much like my dyslexia, I’m stuck with it baby!
2 – Imagine a rainbow (pretty isn’t it), now NTs (Neurotypicals or most people basically) occupy the left base of the rainbow (sorry no golden pots down this end) and people with classic autism occupy the right end (no gold down that end either). Aspies and people with higher-functioning autism occupy the top of the rainbows arch (no gold again but people in this area do tend to have high IQs, though not always). Anyway, on our rainbow we have these three main areas but in reality everyone is scattered on the spectrum somewhere.
3 – As an example of this I have spent the last 4-5 weeks trying to write this article but every time I’ve sat down to type anything the words just fail me. Part of this is due to what I’d describe as a translation problem; I have a very expressive and free flowing language in my head but when I try to translate this to English I always stumble. Day to day this doesn’t become an issue as for a large part most daily social interaction is repetitive so I have already formed a well-practiced script that I can refer to when someone tries communicating. But, much like a worker in a foreign call centre, as soon as you go off script they don’t know what the hell to say.
4 – I share my little findings with my wife who then seems to chuckle to herself that I finally got it, a little late but there we go.
5 – My very supportive wife helps me to fill in blanks.
6 – Yep, even planning a quiet evening chilling on the sofa with my wife.
7 – Gaelic if you’re interested.
8 – Oh yeah, I can’t stand fish either.