Tried to explain Aspergers to some friends today over Indian food at Porky’s. Only in a wierd little town like this can you buy curried dishes at a German deli. Anyways, i found it really difficult to try and explain myself. It’s like i’m taking a set of personal aspie perceptions and translating them into neurotypical english. In general, i’m coming to see that i’ve been performing a form of translation my whole life. (more…)
i’ve gotten so good at this constant translation that i often fool myself into thinking that i’m making sense. Most of the time, i can pull it off, but when i’m feeling stressed, or being reacted to in an aggressive fashion, things start to short-circuit. Everything that i percieve gets filed into little blocks in my mind; each block has a myiad network of connections to all the other blocks.
i’ve said things like, “It’s hard for me to understand the one thing that you’re trying to get at because i’m seeing all the possible points that you’re trying to get at.”, or “i can’t limit myself to one idea because i’m thinking about all of them.”. To many people i know, these statements sound very arrogant. Actually, it’s pretty much true, just the way i’ve said it. However, while i sometimes “get” connections that others miss, i usually miss the obvious. It’s like a connect-the-dots picture, where my brain is trying to connect every dot to every other dot, and the picture becomes a mass of overlapping lines instead of the kitten, clown, or whatever. i’m often left feeling that some answer is “so obvious”, when it’s not even related to the question.
i’ve been labelled as “gifted”, or variously having ADHD, OCD, or Bipolar Disorder. Friends and family have often concluded that i lacked important learned socialization skills, perhaps as a result of something in my upbringing, or early childhood stress. i’ve often been called just plain wierd.
Aspergers is the one diagnosis i’ve found that makes sense. Instead of saying that my behavior is the problem, it suggests that my behavior is the symptom of a brain that functions in a fundamentaly different fashion from that of a neurotypical person. The struggle for me now, as i research this, is to come to a place where i don’t blame the condition, or let it become an excuse for the way i come across interpersonaly. i’m still responsible for my actions, but it’s becoming important for me to identify when those actions, if found unacceptable, are the result of my very different set of perceptions.
All the information is being taken in, but i often place more or less emphasis on the wrong points, or no points at all. i’m a smart guy, and can usually muddle through, but some situations are beyond me. For instance:
i once accidentally pinched Kimber’s foot in the mechanism of a reclining chair when i leant over to hug her. The folding footrest caught her foot and really hurt her. She yelped, and i backed off, exclaiming, “What happened? i didn’t do anything!” (a typical aspie response). At first, i didn’t realize what had happened. i looked at her foot, and saw no real damage. Her toes seemed to be wiggling fine, despite the pain. i sat back down on the couch neardy, and watched her masage her foot.
Now, Kimber was (at least with me) a fairly aggressive person, while i am typicaly fairly passive. She got pretty angry at my apparent lack of concern, and the angrier she got, the more i withdrew, and that just angered her more, etc. i recall sitting there with this sense of foreboding, not knowing what to do. i hadn’t apologized. What i was perceiving was a short series of unforseeable events, which brought about a brief spasm of pain, but no real damage. The danger was gone, and there seemed no real harm done.
Compulsively honest, i couldn’t bring myself to apologise, at least not in a spontaneous human fashion. Since childhood, i’ve considered an apology something to be offered when i felt actual regret. In my mind there was no action to regret; just a chain of events. Kimber got madder and madder, and out of the information available to me, there was no “logical” solution, so i just froze. Of course, a simple and timely apology, and a more sympathetic response on my part, would have forestalled the entire outburts. But at the time, that just didn’t “fit” the conditions that i perceived. Ultimately, i felt far worse about my apparent inability to “do the right thing” than the injury that i had precipitated. Kimber wasn’t wrong, per se, in her reaction; she was just being herself. Consider this comment by Michael McCroskery:
“For example, most AS difficulties center around social competencies. A salient characteristic of young children is egocentrism—the inability to recognize that other people think and feel differently than oneself. Persons with Asperger’s Syndrome remain in this egocentric state, unable to interpret the thoughts and emotions of others, or to experience empathy. Another name given to this condition is “mind blindness”—the incapacity to visualize the mind states of others.”
Now, it’s very difficult trying to get people to understand that this isn’t just some rationalization for an inappropriate behaviour. Neither is it the product of a “flawed” brain. My IQ scores into the 130’s, and i consider myself to be a moral, sensitive person. There’s just a difference in the way i perceive and process stimuli.
Whereas a neurotypical person can “judge on the fly”, quickly summing information, my brain needs to order everything into a neat grid first, and pursue each thread between each idea. Sometimes this must occur to such an extent that the threads lead off the map, away from the situation at hand. People are sometimes confounded by unusual delays in my responses, while other times i make remarkably quick connections and beat everybody to the punch. i feel compelled to follow every line of reasoning to the end, even when not suitable to the situation. Just like right now, i must make frequent use age of analogy, both to explain things to others as well as to myself, just to order my thoughts into stricter cohesion. Verbally, i often find that i cannot speak at even a fraction of the speed of my thoughts, and my words and ideas overrun one another as i struggle to express them.
Sometimes this strange analytical process is helpful. For example, when learning to use a new piece of software, i will typically set myself to a task or operation that has me clicking on every menu and option, with no particular idea of what will happen next. However, at every turn, i’m able to store each cause-and-effect relationship, until i have a complete mental projection in place that describes to me the relationship of every command or function. I’m sometimes left with a great level of understanding, but no clear way to describe any exact function to someone else.
In interpersonal relationships, the same degree of input and sorting usually fails. People find me very off-putting at first meeting, but those who get to know me tend to like me, even if they can’t always take my company for extended periods of time. I’m often described as “very intense”. i’m seeing that my good friends are all very easy-going and compassionate. i don’t intuitively set or detect personal boundaries, but in my long-time friends, i’ve learned to recognize cataloged sets of behaviours that let me know when i’ve gone too far.
Unfortunately, there are many peple i’ve met (who i really like and love) who themselves do not have the skills and/or coping strategies to manage a relationship with me. Sometimes they have their own underlying bahavioral issues, depression, or emotional baggage, but sometimes they simply lack the patience required.
Overall, i’m seeing that my thinking is more biased towards the compartmentalization of many small pieces of (sometimes insignifigant) information, and the deep internal study of the threads between them. I have always thought that everybody thought like this, and that i was just a little more introspective, or more easily confused by the series of threads. Now i’m beginning to understand that more neurotypical thought is much more fluid and adaptable, especially on a social level.
i’ve begun applying this new knowledge, and comparing this viewpoint to that of one where i’m otherwise “normal enough, just… odd”. However, as one aspie quoted, trying to stop thinking in this fashion is like deciding to stop vomiting when you have the stomach flu; it just isn’t possible. For me, it’s not so much a realization of, “Oh, so this is how my mind works!”, because my brain has always worked this way, and it’s all i’m familiar with. It’s more a realization of the difference between my brain function and that of others, and how these subtle differences impact me and those around me.