Thoughts from a tree

Archive for the ‘Asperger’s’ Category

A Matter Of Perspective

Once upon a time, back when “car phones” were the size of dictionaries and Apple was a struggling company, I was in a car with a friend, waiting at a red light.

She glanced in her rear-view mirror at the driver behind us, said, “look, she’s talking to herself,” and laughed.

“She could be singing to the radio,” I said.

“No way. That’s not what it would look like.” She then proceeded to mimic singing, moving her body in time to the imaginary music and tossing her head.

This memory stuck with me for two reasons. The first was the added fear that, oh great, now I have to worry about people judging me from their rear-view mirrors, and for something as simple as singing. The second, of course, was that she was wrong. Not everyone sings like that. I don’t, for one. She assumed that everyone else must sing that way because she did. The only perspective she would consider was her own.

Some people might wonder why I’ve been writing these posts. And I’ve gotten some reactions I didn’t intend. Nothing bad… but I wonder whether I’m succeeding with my objective. I’m not out for sympathy, pity, or condolences. I don’t need to hear that people still like me, or whatever (and I’m not very good at handling compliments anyways). I’m happy with myself. I’m happy with my life. My friendships may be few, but they’re strong.

My goal, is to offer a different perspective. I want people to think about their assumptions about other people. I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt. When they do something that bothers me, I try to think of a reason why they might have done that. I’ve gotten into arguments trying to defend someone’s actions with possible justifications. Granted, this optimistic viewpoint has burned me on occasion. And some people will cross a line after which I will assume the opposite. I still think that trying to imagine the perspective of others is a good idea. Maybe it’s natural for me to reach this conclusion, since I’m so bad at reading body language. I Might as well err on the positive side. Or maybe it’s because I know that I am so often misread.

I have unintentionally offended people many times. My default expression when I’m deep in thought apparently appears to be a glare.Some people who I eventually became friends with told me that they thought I hated them at first, because of this. Sometimes, I was just trying to remember who they were (I have horrible facial recognition skills). A teacher once said I gave her “the evil eye” – boy was that a fun parent-teacher discussion.

I give honest answers when the standard social convention would be to lie (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve lied since childhood, and each one still bothers me – please don’t ask me if I think your baby is cute). I’m rarely intentionally rude, but I often come across that way. Managers have yelled at me to be more tactful, as if it’s something I can just *choose* to do. It isn’t that simple. The social niceties aren’t instinctual. Lies, even “white” ones, are abhorrent.

I am not the only one with these problems.

Other people have different problems.

Just because something isn’t what you would do, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because some action from you would be an attack, doesn’t mean it is from someone else. And even if that girl *was* talking to herself, she didn’t deserve to be laughed at.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Imagine someone else’s.

How I Learned To Be Human

A lot of the time, I feel like a fake. Someone just pretending to be “normal.” Not that I will ever really pass for normal, but there are varying degrees. By this I mean someone who isn’t about to get locked up, ridiculed, or ostracized. Social interactions are the worst of course, but it goes beyond that. Faking my job. Faking relationships. Faking that I care. How much of that doubt is just low self-esteem is hard to judge, because in some ways, I *am* faking it.

Asperger’s is often referred to as “High-Functioning Autism” (whether or not those should be two distinct labels I’ll let someone else argue about). The definition of “high-functioning” appears to equate to someone who can function in society. You tend to hear about Asperger’s in regards to children. Parents freaking out, mostly. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that by the time we’re adults we’ve learned enough to fake it. I feel like parents should calm down a bit. In the end, their kids will be fine, more or less. They’ll figure it out. Maybe they’ll never win a popularity contest, but so what?

I think it’s the worst for girls. What we suck at is social skills, yet girls are the ones who are expected to be good at being social. Boys are more likely to be forgiven for “anti-social” behaviors and more likely to be encouraged if they express desire in odd intellectual pursuits. We’ve got all those absent-minded professor and Bobby Fischer archetypes to point to and say “well, maybe he’s like that.” Not a lot of examples for girls. A woman who doesn’t have people skills is a lot more likely to be persecuted than celebrated, regardless of what else she does. Hopefully less so today than in the past. At least there are fewer being burned at the stake.

My upbringing was probably easier than most girls like me. If my parents ever freaked out about my behavior, I didn’t know it (admittedly, part of that may be related to how many other Aspy family members I have). The private elementary school I attended had very small classes and an inclusive attitude. It wasn’t until I went to a public middle school that it was clear to me how horrible I was at making or keeping friends. It wasn’t until high school that I cared enough to try to change.

It’s difficult for me to understand people. I’ve often wanted the ability to read people’s minds. Why did they do that? Why did they say that? What do they mean? One of the things I like best about books is how they get inside the heads of other people. They help me to understand. I prefer books with multiple points of view. Seeing how different characters react to the same events is fascinating. I’m not a fan of first person though; it feels too much like having someone chatter *at* me, instead of seeing inside them. I want to see how the gears turn, not hear what the clock sounds like.

It’s not just books though. Movies, TV shows, video games, music – anything with a good story can teach something about the human experience. About what it’s like to be normal. Or not normal. I’ve read several stories about Autistic kids who first learned to express themselves because of Disney movies. And I love Disney movies. How much of my own adaptations are thanks to them? As Elsa clothes herself in ice, I clothe myself in stories. Each one a thread in my garment of pretend normality.

Even some of my eccentricities are another shield, in a way. If they remember my tie-dye, maybe they won’t remember something else. Like how I’m not good at meeting their eyes or smiling. And if I do manage to stay focused and smile? If I succeed in carrying on a normal conversation, about nothing important? Then I feel like a fake. Someone who learned how to pretend to be human. And I always was a fast learner…

I have a confession to make

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but kept procrastinating writing it. Partly due to fear, I’m sure, of what the reaction of others might be. Will they treat me differently? Think of me as somehow “less”? Argue with me about the validity of my statement, as has already happened once? Then, this weekend, without really meaning to, I told a room full of mostly strangers. It was in the middle of something else, just a line that’s in my query letter, which I was reading out loud. The reaction was thankfully minimal, at least to that, but my *secret* was still out there.

Meanwhile, I have several other posts that I want to write, that require this post to come before them.

So the confession is this: I have Asperger’s.

This won’t be a surprise to those who both know me very well, and understand what Asperger’s is/means. I don’t want to call it a disease, or a syndrome, because I don’t think that’s accurate. It’s just a “difference.” A different way of seeing and processing the world, with both pros and cons.

I had pondered the possibility for a while, first given to me in 2010 at an ex-AOLers party. When discussing my lack of tact in certain matters, someone said to me “We probably all have a little Aspy in us.”

I researched it, of course, and took some online tests (all of which were positive), but was still reluctant to admit it definitively. We all know how unreliable self-diagnosing over the Internet is, after all. But I kept thinking about it, and considering…

A bit later, I was working on a book (the one I’m currently querying), and some of the main character’s personality traits are modeled after my own. One thing I really wanted was a main character who wasn’t witty in conversation, who didn’t immediately make friends with everyone, and who had problems understanding things like body language. They say you should write the books you want to read, and I wanted a character I could relate to.

Then I saw the episode in Glee with the girl who uses Asperger’s as an excuse for everything and it made me really angry. When I think of character’s on TV who portray Asperger’s, I think of Bones, and Sheldon. But not that girl. She’s just a caricature (as everyone on Glee is, I’ll admit). But because of her, I decided that I wanted to put it out in the open why the character in my book is different. I wanted people who read it to know that that girl on Glee isn’t a good representation. I wanted children who have been diagnosed with it to *know* that my character was like them (not counting her magic powers and personal baggage). I wanted parents to see more in their kids than the problems. And I didn’t want to deal with people telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, though I’m sure some still will.

So, I got tested. It was a somewhat lengthy and expensive process, more so than I expected. I could only find one place in the Orlando area that would see me as an adult. I’m not sure what they think happens to kids when they grow up, since this isn’t something you grow out of. You just learn to cope, with varying degrees of success. Asperger’s basically means people with a form of autism that are still able to function in normal society. So there are lots of people, particularly in the generations before it was well-known, who have it and were never diagnosed. Lots of people I know, since I work in a field where the Aspy tendencies are both accepted and beneficial, as my former coworker pointed out. Many of my friends. Many of my family.

I stumbled across this post over the weekend, and it was the final push that made me decide it was time to write about it. I think it’s important that Asperger’s in adults is discussed more. I think it’s important to recognize that women have it too.

After I got the diagnosis, the therapist asked what I wanted to do now. Did I want therapy? Did I need anything for anxiety or depression? No. I just wanted to know. I wanted a word to use to describe the differences in myself. A word that others might understand. An easier way to explain why I don’t like big parties and can’t lie when someone asks me if the picture of their baby is cute (sorry, but it never is). I don’t want to change who I am. I want to be understood and accepted.

Now you know.

“And knowing is half the battle.”