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16th-Dec-2009 10:51 pm
I am an Aspie.

I've drafted umpteen lead-ins for that, introductions, abstracts. But the best thing, I think, is to just say it, like ripping off a band aid.

It's a bit like Coming Out, I suspect. It is the public utterance of a phrase which at the same time changes nothing, and changes everything. I am the same person I was yesterday, but I have just redefined who and what I am.

I know many of my friends have heard me say it before, but they may have thought it merely a joke, so let me just make it clear and unequivocal: it is not a joke, it is a simple statement: I am an Aspie.

No, I have not seen a doctor about this. But for every list of symptoms I see, it is my biography. When there is a list with ‘if you say yes to two or more of these statements’, and I can honestly say ‘yes’ to all of them. When i have done online tests for Asperger's, I score well into the ‘practically crippled’ range, well outside any hint of gray area or doubt.

Some of you may not know what that means. You may have seen the Aspie on Boston Legal, almost a caricature of a very severe case. You may have seen Temperance Brennan on Bones, whose character veers between medium-severe Aspie and joke, depending on the writer. But that doesn't tell you what Asperger's Syndrome is.

The wiki article looks relatively authoritative... as you would expect if lots of Aspies were going over it with the habitual fine-tooth comb. If that is TL/DR, then the Victorian Dept of Health has a cheat sheet for Aspergers in children and Aspergers as relates to adult diagnosis.

In all of these, I am reading more-or-less a description of my self, and a potted biography. As it turns out, I was an Aspie as a child, but Asperger's wasn't recognised until 1994, by which time I was no longer a child.

But what is it?

Asperger's is an Autism Spectrum disorder, with its own distinct set of symptoms. Notable among these are a deficit in social awareness, combined with the ability to hyperfocus, and almost always combined with an abnormally good linguistic ability.

The social awareness exhibits in various ways: there is anxiety in social situations, which arises quite naturally from an inability to read other people's internal states, and an incomprehension of social rules, explicit or implicit. There is also the tendency to be less attentive to others when they speak, and less able to remember orally delivered instructions. Which infuriates teachers, and is not mitigated when the Aspie tends to be streets ahead of their peers, because they have already read the textbook, and understand it far better than they do the teacher's lecture in any case. Due to the Aspie's typical linguistic skill, hyper focus, and tendency to home in on subjects will absorb our world of interest, not to mention generally higher intelligence, we will have, from childhood, vast amounts of detail on hand on our favourite subjects. And because we don't understand that our interests are not universal, we tend to assume that if you don't know about something, that you will find it as fascinating as we do when you know enough about it. And because we don't recognise the signs that you would rather run away and poke out your eyes with blunt sticks, we will talk about that subject until you begin to share our fascination with it, or until we are physically restrained. This explains our tendency to default to the ‘lecture’ mode of communication.

It also means, due to the social unawareness, that Aspies don't tend to make friends. Children are cruel monsters to those who are different, and after an Aspie has overtures of friendship misunderstood or flat-out rejected after the mumbleth time, they — we — tend to go numb, and convince ourselves that we don't need friends anyway. It doesn't help that Aspies don't get how to keep a friend, either, and can easily alienate the most understanding people. Remember that this was so much harder when I was a child, because there was no explanation for why I didn't along with people: the only common characteristic was me, so it must have been my fault, my failure as a human being. When you have this picture of yourself running in your head for a few years, and are physically unable to see contrary evidence, you can see why most Aspies simply give up trying.

The Aspie bewilderment at others' emotions extends to our own. It's not that we're robots, we still feel all those things, but we have no way of understanding most of it. Aspies typically aren't able to accurately describe their emotions... not even to themselves. Basic emotions, we know what to do with. Anger, lust, anxiety, fear, those aren't subtle emotions, and we haven't learned, or aren't capable of, the techniques for restraining them. So when an Aspie loses is temper, it will be quick and fierce and powerful. Anxiety gnaws like a rat at the guts, over things which might not worry others. And while lust is lust, there has to be someone to exercise that lust with... and the social deficits inherent to Aspergers make that a difficult proposition, even if the Aspie hasn't simply given up trying.

Because we don't — can't — understand other people, then being around other people is a trial, at the best of times. When we have been able to learn the rules, when we know the people involved, when we are alert and comfortable, in the absolute best circumstances, it is still a continual mental effort to interact with people. It is exhausting. It is playing a huge game of speed chess in multiple dimensions, where we know that we don't know the rules, we can't even see most of the other players' pieces, and we don't understand the stakes. And that's at the best of times. When we're tired, when we're nervous, or distracted, or overwhelmed, then we can just stop being able to play that game. I don't know about others, but in my case, I tend to start to shut down: I retreat. In a turbulent crowd, the need to retreat can become violent and overwhelming). In a party, or even at lunch, I can be seen to phase out, to hang my head, and shut everything out until I can get it together enough to stick my head out again.

None of which means that all Aspies are as bad as each other. It's a spectrum disorder. Which means that it is possible to mitigate its effects, some people can learn tricks to hide the condition. Just as a deaf person can learn to lipread, and you mighten't notice until you say something when they're not looking. In the same way, Aspies can consciously learn rules of social interaction, and tricks to make you think they understand you like you understand everyone else. But those tricks are tricks, like lip-reading, and they have to be practiced, when the very act of exposing yourself to the situations where you can practice is stressful at best, terrifying at worst. So the aforementioned chess game is one done while walking a highwire over a calamitous drop. Many may simply never get enough nerve to practice enough. Others are simply unable to comprehend other's behaviour enough to even begin to make the generalisations needed to form those rules. And remember also that Aspies aren't generally good at generalisations, but get lost easily, happily, in detail and specifics.

Because we don't understand emotions, because we can't comprehend the signals you give off, we can quite easily say or do astoundingly rude or hurtful things. And when we are told, or we realise later, what we have done, we are crushed. We don't want to hurt your feelings or insult you, we simply didn't realise the implications of our actions. And even if we learn from it, are able to make the link and avoid doing that ever again, that doesn't mean we don't agonise over it later. I am still tortured by the memory of things I have said, years, decades later. I regret every word. I was playing the game of blindfold mystery chess over a tightrope, and lost. And the memory of those failures is in the back of my mind whenever I try it again. And by ‘it’, I mean: ‘any human interaction’. Catastrophic failure is a big disinhibitor to repeated attempts. “If at first you don't succeed, you probably shouldn't be a fighter pilot.”

It's not just immediate situations, either. I had a girlfriend drop me, after a long relationship, where her complaint was that I ‘wouldn't react’. I didn't know how to react. Not to that, not to anything. This was long before I realised that I might actually have a condition... it was a failure, my failure. I wasn't able to react properly to, well, anything, really. And she had noticed this, without really realising it, and it disturbed her in ways she probably couldn't describe, except that it wasn't her, it was me: I didn't ‘feel’. I did, of course. Her rejection of me still hurts, a marriage (to someone else) and two children later. But in a way, it was also the clearest anyone had seen me to that point. She didn't know what exactly was wrong with me, but she was the first to point out that there was something wrong with me.

My childhood was practically described by the symptoms of childhood Asperger's, except that no-one knew what it was at the time.

You know that irritating kid who never understood he was being brushed off? Who always said the wrong thing, but still managed to be smarter than the rest of the class? Who was reading high-school level books in primary school, but couldn't keep up a conversation? That was me. I was at the bottom of the heap in primary school. I had precisely two friends, through all of primary school. One who moved away, and I haven't heard from since... (I think he was actually very ill, given the times I met him in hospital, and I fear that he has long since died. But I would dearly love to meet him again), and another in later years, whom I haven't seen since my 21st birthday party. That's it. They were the only two patient enough to put up with me. High school was torment for a couple of years. Even in the lunchtime D&D group, I was the one sent out for snacks. It wasn't until I got the hell out of that school, and into a selective entry school that I got out from beneath the bottom rung, and it wasn't until I met a similar bunch of misfits that I developed actual friends. Where I met usuakari. Melbourne High may have saved my life.

But on top of all that, being filled with emotions we can't adequately describe, let alone comprehend or deal with, ostracised, isolated, scared, stressed, is it any wonder that most Aspies are also Depressives? And to rub it in, we are simultaneously gifted with this almost secondary illness, and robbed of the ability to adequately deal with it. Which goes a long way to explaining why my coping methods are all intellectual, whether they are reasoning through it, or meditation, or setting up a bunker and warning signs, and waiting it out.

So. With hopefully a minimum of ‘woe is me!’ whingeing, that is my coming out. I am an Aspie. Not ‘I have Asperger's’: that is too much like this is something which can be cured. No. I am an Aspie: it is a large part of who I am. It has its benefits. I can put focus on details which puts many to shame. I have an almost abnormally good linguistic skill, even if I can't process auditory information properly. (If you want me to remember something, show it to me in writing or on paper. If you tell me, I simply won't remember.) But still, I am trapped in a world of aliens. If I look blankly at you, it's because I have no idea what you are thinking, and are trying desperately to figure out how I should respond. I will fuck it up. I will get eye contact wrong, too much or too little. I will say inappropriate things. I will lose my temper at the drop of a hat. I will remain a minefield of information (take one wrong step, and I'll take your leg off with facts).

There's not much I can do about it.

But for all I joke about it, it is also a plain fact. I am an Aspie, and that has consequences. For good or ill, I'm owning them. So, this coming out essay is as much an apologia as exegesis. I have other observations and theories about Aspergers, but this is already unwieldy, and I shall give those lectures another day.

But for now, tomorrow I turn 36 years old, and I am an Aspie.

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16th-Dec-2009 12:27 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, that actually pretty accurately describes me too. But I think I'll put it down to my antisocial personality and leave it at that.
16th-Dec-2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
If I understand the hints and clues correctly, you are a laywer, n'est ce pas?

There are ancilliary traits to Asperger's which I imagine would make Lawyering quite difficult, not least being the social anxiety. But another common associated problem, as I alluded to above, is auditory processing deficits, which means that many Aspies have difficulty processing aural information, including complex instructions or comprehending speech in noisy environments. I have had exactly this problem for as long as I can remember, and always attributed it to a combination of inattentiveness and what I call ‘cocktail party deafness’... but this is actually better explained as this ancilliary phenomenon, a deficit in the brain. (‘Cocktail party deafness’ proper involves damage to the upper ranges of hearing in the cochlea itself, I understand, as from exposure to loud noise.)

I imagine that would make participating in hearings and such like quite difficult.

Remember also that one can be introverted, and be more comfortable apart from people, without necessarily suffering the processing deficits of Asperger's. Indeed, the possibility that I was ‘ merely’ introverted (and shy, and inattentive, and casually rude, and without self control, and deaf in certain circumstances, and generally not much of a person) led me to reject Asperger's as a meaningful explanation for years. (It made do as a metaphor, and as a joke, but I wasn't certain.)

And also, Asperger's in males outnumbers in females by a factor of ten... but that still leaves a chance. Try this test for a start, and if you score highly, do some reading, consider asking a professional.
16th-Dec-2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
There are ancilliary traits to Asperger's which I imagine would make Lawyering quite difficult, not least being the social anxiety.
Just because something makes me anxious, doesn't mean I don't do it (in fact sometimes I do things precisely because they would make me anxious as a way of getting over it). I have few problems dealing with people in the professional sphere (especially if those people are opponents trying to intimidate me - watch out there!). I know I am competent in what I do and can hold my own. It's the actual social sphere that causes problems (ie social functions, small talk etc). That's part of being a lawyer too, to an extent, but I don't do it all that well.

difficulty processing aural information, including complex instructions or comprehending speech in noisy environments. I have had exactly this problem for as long as I can remember, and always attributed it to a combination of inattentiveness and what I call ‘cocktail party deafness’...

I imagine that would make participating in hearings and such like quite difficult.

Nope, hearings are easy - they are (usually) structured, disciplined with only one person speaking at a time and no background noise. Party atmosphere or similar is not so easy because I do zone out if lots of noise is happening at the same time. It is not a hearing problem, because I did have my hearing tested precisely for that reason and it's fine. My explanation is that I just don't care enough to pay attention :-)
16th-Dec-2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
It is not a hearing problem, because I did have my hearing tested precisely for that reason and it's fine.

Same here: that's how I knew it was a processing problem from the get go; as soon as I had an opportunity, I got my hearing tested, and it tested fine... better than fine in some cases. Thanks to my father's being a teacher of Audio Engineering for mumble years, I have had dire warnings of the dangers of exposure to loud noise for as long as I can remember, so my high frequency hearing is better than would be expected for my age. The problem is not in my ears.

My explanation is that I just don't care enough to pay attention :-)

Yeah. That was my excuse, too.
16th-Dec-2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
Catsidhe, I've seen it posited that female aspies experience more pressure and encouragement to acquire social skills, and the more intelligent they are, the more capable they are of observing and mimicking the required behaviours.

The 1:10 ratio of females to males with Aspergers may be due to problems with diagnosis rather than a reflection of reality. The signs are still being identified, and I have to wonder whether the 1:10 gender ratio is being perpetuated because it is a "well known fact" that there is a 1:10 gender ratio. It may be 1:1, but that (whether due to nature or nurture) females cope better, are treated differently and so forth.

Oh; my hearing is perfect under ideal test conditions. Give me background noise and I struggle. If I'm trying to understand human speech where there is background noise, I hear the sound of the voice, but cannot pick out enough words.

I lipread, smile and nod a lot, or if I'm keenly interested and the person is someone I think will cope with the constant interruption, say "pardon?" a lot. I've also taken to saying "Sorry, my hearing is not so good."

Despite it being nearly a default for female IT graduates to work help desk in the absence of more exciting jobs, I cannot apply for jobs which require a lot of phone work because of my human-speech-deafness.
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16th-Dec-2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Ah, but that is fighting against a lifetime of being the freak, trapped, as the saying goes, alone with my species, incomprehending of everyone else, isolated and different.

And remember that for my entire childhood, there was no concept that I might have a medical condition: it was simply that I was different and wrong.

It's all very well to think about that sort of inclusiveness as a platonic ideal, but the simple fact is that I am qualitatively different ini specific ways from the general population, and they do not understand me to almost equal degree to my incomprehension of them: but worse, because I know why I don't understand them, but they are just as likely to think I'm faking, or it's something I can ‘snap out of’, or get better from, or I'm just not trying hard enough.

Think of the popular image of Depression, just ten years ago. Asperger's is like that, but practically by definition devoid of good PR.

So the only place where I can feel more-or-less at home is the only place where Aspies congregate and communicate: the geek community online. Even if other BOFHs aren't Aspies themselves, they usually have similar traits, and will more likely know others who are. And the section in the Monastery FAQ about Asperger's is there for a reason.
16th-Dec-2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
Ditto the first two lines of this. Me too. AOL etc.

Having this difference is not nearly as disadvantageous as having to deal with the trauma caused by being punished, whether in an aggressive attempt at 'correction' or through the taunts and ostracism of one's elders and peers.

Until I did a WAIS III a couple of years ago, and got disparate results across the different test categories, I was just, as you say, different and wrong. I was treated with contempt for 'deliberately acting weird', 'being deliberately obtuse' and embarrassing my family.

I was told (repeatedly and in the most scathing terms) that I could be normal if only I tried hard enough. And you know what? It's true. I just had to find a group of people in which I *was* normal. Now that I've found that, I've been able to relax enough to observe and recreate acceptable behaviours to "pass" in many different circumstances.

But I am still working from a slightly unusual perspective, and I'm still suffering the lingering psychological effects of being punished, ostracised, regarded poorly by people whose opinion I valued and so forth. I am afraid of being isolated again, as I am fairly extroverted therefore I suffer and become depressed without social interaction.

I think that what I am saying is that I hear you. And I recognise similarities between our experiences of life with this difference.

I have two daughters who I see as having a toe in the shallow end of the Aspie spectrum, and a third who lives in a house with three of us, which may give her some unusual life experiences compared to non-aspie-aware households. I am fiercely protective of the rights of my children not to be castigated by teachers (formal or otherwise) or socially isolated. I don't want them to suffer the secondary effects of being different in this harmless and often rather useful way.
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16th-Dec-2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
So you have given yourself a label! It doesn't change the fact that you are also a son, a brother, a husband and a father, etc. You are loved and are a good person. Don't let this label affect the way you are with those of us who love you. Life throws difficulties to us all, some more than others, it's what makes us stronger. You are extremely intellegent, even if you are too pedantic most of the time, but we know who you inherited that from! Remember you are loved for the person you are, I love you.
16th-Dec-2009 11:05 pm (UTC)
That's kind of what I was saying at the start.

In one sense, you're absolutely right: nothing has changed. I am exactly the person I was yesterday.

In another sense, though, that ‘label’ is also an explanation. It redefines some of my behaviours away from being deliberately obtuse, or thoughtless, or whatever, and they become, retrospectively, symptoms.

It's just that no-one knew that they even could be symptoms until it was far too late for anyone to help me with them, I had already had to find solutions for myself.

Not all of those solutions were constructive, but they were the best I could do with the information I could access at the time.

The intelligence, I don't know if that's a symptom or not, I don't know if Asperger's alone is enough to explain getting into Mensa (although I now know why I dropped out of it: Mensa is a social club, and it was simply too much work for me to be able to maintain that). The pedantism, though, almost certainly is a symptom. And when I look at dad with the knowledge I have now, I would diagnose him as an Aspie in an instant. And a much worse case than mine. So maybe I did inherit it, in an actual biological sense.

What worries me more is looking at Abbi's report card. Her reading and comprehension skills are a full year ahead of expected levels, but the repeated comment is: “needs to pay attention, needs to listen to spoken instruction”... sound familiar?

If she isn't as Aspie, I'll be very, very happy. If she is, then hopefully I can teach her some of my coping skills before she gets too badly damaged by bad experiences. But I worry.
16th-Dec-2009 11:10 pm (UTC)
An accurate label is far more useful than the inaccurate and soul-destroying ones that aspies get all their life: Stupid, selfish, lazy, antisocial, jerk, not trying hard enough...

"Aspie" = Genuinely of good heart, happens to be a bit oblivious so needs more direct communication from people. May also have non-standard interface and quirky behaviours like requiring downtime to quell anxiety and so forth, so be aware and be considerate.

It's a good label to have where it is accurate, and where neurotypicals recognise what it really means and adjust their behaviour accordingly. It's not an insult, honestly.
16th-Dec-2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
I am glad that a reason for certain traits could be recognised. I just want D to know that no matter what, he is loved. We all carry burdens, good and bad. The important thing to remember is we should celebrate the life we are given and work with it, not against it.
16th-Dec-2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
A friend of mine got assessed not too long ago, and is an Aspie, too.

Diagnosis is a label (I'd rather have an accurate label than have people apply their own, inaccurate and insulting ones), but it is also a license (perhaps to give up or behave like a jerk, but also a license not to feel like a failure for not being "normal") and a shield (against the people who would label you as stupid, lazy etc).

I've noticed that he is going through a period of adjustment similar to the one I went through when I got assessed (well, partly assessed, not diagnosed). The knowledge, from a reliable source, that there is a legitimate reason for the difference sets off a cascade effect; stripping the labels of "stupid", "deliberately being difficult", "not trying hard enough" and "selfish" and replacing them with wonderfully simple explanatory information about the nature of being Aspie.

The flow on effects back through one's memories of life flow upward again as we draw our self-image and view of other people from our memories of our life.
17th-Dec-2009 06:00 am (UTC)
Can so relate to so much of that. It does not change who you are to me.
18th-Dec-2009 12:32 am (UTC)
For a while I only knew one guy with Asperger's, and he was really thoroughly unpleasant and aggravating to be around. It was only after much thought that I realised this wasn't the fault of the Asperger's: it was because he, personally, as a human being, was a total unmitigated arsehole. I'm hoping my memory of him won't colour my reaction to every other Aspie, most of whom (like you) are just normal folks.

I quite like your abilities and personality, regardless of their "source". Employing you as a guided cyborg rotweiller against climate change denialists is always more fun than a barrel of greased altos. I know people with no label and no diagnosis who I'd much rather nailgun to oblivion. If this be your fate, well, I'm not voting you off the island any time soon.
18th-Dec-2009 12:40 am (UTC)
Eh. Aspies don't have an instinctive sense of other people's emotions, and I theorise that this means that we never properly learn what our own emotions mean.

Some people live their lives in bewilderment, and just do their best to cope. Some try to consciously learn the rules, even if we are trying to play a game where we are incapable of understanding the underlying rules. Some just give up, and just let themselves reflect the sum of the reactions of those around them, which is more likely to be negative than not.

And some people are just dickheads, of course.
18th-Dec-2009 01:12 am (UTC)
It is such a relief when you can separate the problem from your self.

You gain clarity and you gain choices you never had before.

But yeah, it might feel hollow if you can't immediately see those choices and potential.


Some years ago, when I first realised I was suffereing from depression, getting a diagnosis and doing just what you've done was a huge relief.

But a bunch of well meaning friends responding with 'oh no, don't label yourself' really bought me down. (So to speak). As did a few arrogant fucks who felt they had a right to make me go through it with them step by step, with them arguing all the way, before they'd accept my use of the label.

By using the label, I was finally able to get an objective handle on things and I could finally see a way of stopping this from dominating my life. They seemed unwilling to grasp this.

18th-Dec-2009 03:42 am (UTC)
That's something which non-depressives don't seem to understand: there's always further down.

At least no-one told you to ‘Just cheer up’... right?
19th-Dec-2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
Just the thought of the words "just cheer up" is another brick.

Congratulations on coming out! I only hope that it creates more solutions than problems for you.
20th-Dec-2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
Also, how would you feel if I shared this link? I would not want to do this if you felt poorly about the idea, but if you do not, I have friends would want to read it.
20th-Dec-2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
Go ahead. If my introspection can help others, that can only be a good thing, right?

For the record, I haven't said everything I think needs saying yet, so there'll probably be followups in the form of an extended lecture series: “Catsidhe's thoughts on Aspergers”. Coming soonish to a F-list near you!
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