Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Inner Life: Adventures With Asperger's

They say if you meet one person with Asperger's, you've only met that one person with Asperger's. I know several diagnosed aspies, and it took me this long to realize I was like them.

Asperger's, like other forms of autism, is difficult to understand. On the outside, autism manifests quite differently in different people. Is it difficulty expressing empathy? Is it self-stimulating (aka "stimming") by rocking or hand-flapping? Is it avoidance of eye contact? Is it talking too loudly? Is it a lack of friends? Is it preoccupation with special interests? Is it poor motor control?

The answer is any of the above, some of the above, or all of the above. What defines autism is not the outward manifestations of our condition. It is our inner world. It is in how our minds operate. It is our unusual senses and the mixing of our senses and the oversensations and blocking of sensations and having a mind that's on a high-speed railway when we're trying to focus on just one thing, and a low-speed railway right when we need to function. Though we experience unique inner-worlds, we have far more in common with one another than we have with neurotypicals (NTs).

I want to show you what it is like to live inside in my head. It is a colorful world, a verbal world, a world of impressions and shapes and impulses and words and thoughts that can never be put into words no matter how much I struggle. It is a place where new connections are constantly being formed, where I am testing the truth of every statement, searching for contradictions, searching for commonalities, searching for patterns and puns and odd ways to fit everything together.

My mind wants to hear everything, see everything, take it all in. And sometimes it breaks down because it has taken in too much. I want to know people in impossibly deep ways, and yet want to avoid them because the disruptions they cause to my steady stream of thoughts is nearly intolerable.

I do not settle for simple. I will not abide ordinary. Welcome to my inner life.

Briefly, what is Asperger's? As I implied above, this is not a question I can answer in this one post. In short, Asperger's is a type of autism with limited outward symptoms which allows the autist to "pass", and yet, there is still just enough "off" from neurotypical behavior to cause impairment, or even great difficulty, in life.

It also manifests in exceptional talents. Many of society's greatest thinkers and creators were thought to be autistic.

I will use these words interchangeably: autist, autism, ASD (autistic spectrum disorders), Asperger's, and aspie. If I say "autism" I am referring to the broader topic, a trait that is likely in common with others under the larger umbrella of the autistic spectrum. If I say "aspie", I am referring more specifically to high-functioning autism, i.e. verbal autists similar to myself.

Scientific understanding of autism has changed a lot in the last five years. I never much related to traditional descriptions of aspie behavior. I make eye contact well enough to pass and have a vivid imagination. I can recognize faces and I have plenty of empathy. Some of the traits, like these I've listed, are being dropped from or de-emphasized in the diagnostic criteria.

With these new definitions, I match highly, especially on the intellectual and social scale. The best-regarded online quiz, aptly named the Aspie-Quiz, scores me thus:
Your Aspie score: 125 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 86 of 200
You are very likely an Aspie

I do not have a diagnosis. I am pursing one now, and at that time I hope to have a better map of myself. For now, I'm gaining understanding by comparing notes with other autists. My daughter was diagnosed last year. I have aspie friends. I read the forums. I'm reading blogs and buying books on the topic.

A new theory, called Intense World Theory proposed by Henry and Kamila Markham, offers a unified view that explains all autistic behaviors, including those that sometimes fall outside the diagnostic sphere. It is also the first view of Asperger's that I could relate to. I highly recommend reading it in full. It is a far better description of autism and Asperger's than any symptom list I could point you to.

According to the Markhams, my neurons are supercharged. The connections between them are hyper-reactive and hyper-plastic (pliable).

My world is intense. My senses are intense. My inner life is intense. Normal lights can seem too bright. Sounds can seem louder to me, or too piercing. My senses sometimes get mixed up - a barking dog causes anxiety and also a sensation very much like pain that zaps through my body like an electric shock. A crowded mall can cause me distress, as can a disapproving look on someone's face. Stimulation can build up like layers and lead to a state of overstimulation - a tense feeling, a tired feeling, like I have to strain to try to block it all out. I can feel all my skin in these times, and my muscles, and I want to crawl outside myself. I want nothing more than to curl up in bed with no sounds or lights, so I can finally relax.

Even good stimulation can lead to this state. I love loud music, like rock and dubstep, but I can only listen to it for so long. I know the feeling well, when it's time to tune to something mellow. If I'm at a party, that feeling means I need to hide in the bathroom for a few minutes to get steady again. If it's too much, I know I am completely done and it's time to go home.

I don't just get stimulated by outer sensations. My emotions are also intense. I can feel emotional pain in my hands and feet. I can also feel limerence in the same places. All my life I thought this was normal. Now I'm learning it's not.

On the upside, I'm a deep-thinker. I get addicted to making connections, and that leads to ideas, and I get addicted to that feeling as well. A stimulating conversation can generate a dozen ideas in me, ideas I know I will never have a chance to implement, let alone express. Yet I feel compelled to express them as often as possible, as if they are alive and don't want to die. Twitter is perfect for giving me a constant sense of expression, even for the little ideas.

So it is my intense inner life that makes me autistic, not how I make eye contact or express empathy.

The Markhams explain very well why autists are so varied in behavior:
The diversity comes from the fact that we [humans] are normally diverse and if you add hyperfunctional circuits to that then naturally each autistic child will be even more different from each other. It is like taking all our normal differences to an extreme. This challenges society to accommodate autists, but diversity is the key to social evolution and so it is a good challenge. 
To compound matters, Asperger's manifests differently in women.

Perhaps the best way to describe autism is that an autistic mind gets very, very good at some things. Because of that, resources are diverted away from other things. Hence the autistic-savant. All autists are autistic-savant to one degree or another. Think of Rainman on a milder scale.

Autism impacts my social life. All of my thirty-eight years, I have felt misunderstood, like interactions with others is a mystery code I can never fully understand. I don't experience social encounters the same way NTs do. It does not flow naturally or instinctively for me.

I don't know how to leave conversations I don't like, or change the subject. I do know how to sit for long periods of time, listening, whether I am interested or not. I do not know how to initiate conversations, even with people I know well. Small talk is feels meaningless to me, even though I understand, consciously, why it is useful. Being in group settings is stressful and draining - even when I'm having fun. I assume that by default, people don't like me until I manage to make them like me, so I don't feel I should push myself on them until they've granted me undeniable permission to enter their world. I have a hard time reaching out to friends and loved ones to maintain connections.

If you know me, you may see me manifest autistic traits. Or maybe not. I have hidden many of them well, since I am driven to be liked.

In some ways, my traits are difficult to define. Most of things that I am very good at, I am also very bad at, depending on the situation. The inverse is also true. It's hard to say, "I have a very good memory", because it depends on the type of thing you want me to remember, how stressed I was when I learned it, whether you're reminding me in a way that will recall it. Sometimes I have a very bad memory.

Likewise, it's hard to say, "I'm always on time". I'm usually on time, but it requires alot of effort. If I'm distracted or feeling lazy, I will be very late.

Here are more ways my autism manifests:

  • Synesthesia. Synesthesia has been linked to autism. I have grapheme-color synesthesia. I posted a description of this previously.

  • Hyperlexia. I am fascinated with words. Not only are they colorful (see Synesthesia), but I love examining their meanings, their links to other words, their origins, and how they can be strung together with other words to create meaning. I also love puns.

  • Anxiety. I struggle with this comorbidity regularly. I once thought my level of anxiety was typical - it is not. I once thought I'd developed a certain low-level of anxiety as a coping mechanism for ADHD, to help motivate myself and that sometimes circumstances push that into overdrive. That may still be true. It is also true that overstimulation, social situations, instability, unpredictability, and conflict lead me quickly into anxiety.

  • Meltdowns. Anxiety, overstimluation, sudden unpredictability, and conflicts can lead to meltdowns. Feeling trapped in a bad situation, either literally or figuratively, will melt me down every time. For me, this experience is almost identical to a panic attack. I cry, I have trouble breathing, I get weak in the knees, I want to run away, I feel like the world is ending or that I want to die, all my nerves are on fire and I feel an ache in every bone. Sometimes I bite myself, which seems to help dampen the emotional pain. Sometimes I want to hurt myself more, but I usually have enough control that doesn't happen.

    Now and then I have a minor "meltdown" that manifests in anger. I'm not sure I would call it a meltdown, because I seem to have more control and awareness of my surroundings.

  • Stability. I need certain things in my life to be predictable. I need to know where my next meal is coming from - even if I'm avoiding eating due to anxiety or distraction, I need to know that when I do decide to eat, I'm going to have something available.

    I need to know my schedule is somewhat predictable. I need to know I have a place to live and a way to pay my bills.

    I also need to certain things to be where I left them. I try to keep things in the same place (if I don't, I can't find anything). If that object is gone when I need it, I quickly get frustrated, sometimes unreasonably so. I want to blame others for the misplacing, because it seems illogical I would ever do something like that to myself, though sometimes it is my fault and my accusations are inappropriate.

  • Constants. When creating or thinking about problems, I need some things to be "locked in". If none of the parts want to "hold still", I get frustrated and anxious and the problem seems unsolvable. I will go around in circles looking for something I can anchor, and if I can't, I will keep going in that circle.

    For instance, if I'm writing a new plot, I feel a sense of relief when I can decide on enough plot points that they can create a firm frame. Maybe that frame isn't filled in, but now that I have a space to fill, I'm good. If I have several ideas, but unsure what order to put them in, I feel unsteady.

  • Special Interests and Hyperfocus. I hyperfocus. I can move from topic to topic, but once I'm in the midst of a topic or activity, I feel compelled to keep thinking and acting on that task. These days, I can't stop thinking and writing about autism, even though I have other things to do. I have had so many hobbies and topics of interest that I have a hard time remembering them all.

    In this same area, I have a hard time switching from one type of task to another. When I was remodeling my house, that was all I did in my spare time. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of writing. Now that I write, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around little fix-it tasks around the house. Even if that task might only take five minutes, the internal energy required to shift gears is tremendous and may take hours. I can be good at anything I set my mind to -- the trouble is setting my mind.

    Being interrupted during certain types of tasks is stressful or even upsetting to me. When I am focused on a task, I often lose sight of others and I have to struggle to not ignore them completely. This can go on for days at a time.

    My motivator to shift gears, of course, is to maintain stability and lack of conflict. So maybe I don't want to stop writing to pay the bills, but if I don't, I may have a conflict or lose my place to live. It's a viscous cycle which contributes of a sense of constant anxiety.

  • Stimming. I have always stimmed, but I did not realize it. At some point, I found ways to stim that no one would notice. I chew on the inside of my mouth. I've done that since I could remember, and until now, have always wondered why I couldn't stop. I tap my toes inside my shoes where no one can see. I tap my foot or move my leg. I rub my arms and move my tongue and hug myself or curl in on myself. I fidget with objects. I chew gum.

    Now that I understand stimming, I find myself rocking when I'm alone or with close family. I think I've always had the urge to do it. It is calming and helps me think, though it always leaves me a little tired.

    When I'm highly stressed, like in an argument, I have always found a piece of skin I can rub, sometimes so hard it hurts. And I wring my hands. And I rock. It distracts me from the overwhelming fear.

  • Routines are very important to me. I hesitate to say that, because I also don't like being hemmed in by schedules. So I should say there is a minimum level of routine I need. It is required. If I do not get it, I become unsettled or anxious or even angry. Too much routine keeps me from my hyperfocus, distracting me with mundane and pointless activities. That will also agitate me.

  • Clothing & Hygiene. Along those lines, I have little interest in popular fashions and keep a minimum level of daily hygiene. Yes, I shower daily and brush my teeth and coordinate my colors. But I prefer haircuts that require little maintenance. I never understood how to apply makeup and never had the desire. I will go to extra effort if I'm going on a date -- I may put on lipstick and wear something fancy and accessorize. But not every day.

    I like comfortable clothes. Clothing can cause irritation and distraction pretty quickly. So I wear soft materials. Keeping warm is very important. Typically I wear only slight variations on the same clothing day in and day out. These days, that means my black kilt, a long-sleeved shirt with an ironic t-shirt over it, and thigh-high socks. It may look like I put a lot of thought into it, but my secret is I'm aiming to put as little thought into it as possible.

    Nylons and high heels cause me no end of discomfort. So if I'm wearing those, it's a pretty special occasion.
  • Concrete Thinking. In many ways, I am a concrete thinker. I want to build to larger concepts using specific examples and information. I can learn in random ways, by picking up things out of order and from different sources, but I prefer to relay those to others in sequential order. Of course, all of this depends on the subject and on whether I am writing/reading, or listening/speaking.

    I create and solve problems by collecting as much information as possible before acting. I feel "incomplete" if I have not learned as much as possible.

    I can become obsessed with the details. When I am writing, I sometimes cannot continue until I have found exactly the right word or name. I cannot continue if I don't have a good understanding of the setting. If it is set in a real location, I must visit the location and record all the details to ensure I get it exact. Letting go of this when I'm stuck is very difficult.

  • Honesty. I have a keen sense of honesty. To a fault, sometimes. If I'm making a statement, I feel the need to qualify it to ensure I am telling the complete truth. I cannot simply say, "The sky is blue", because if there is a cloud in it, it's technically a bit white, and I feel I am lying if I don't qualify.

    This gets me into trouble in a number of ways. In social situations, I can come off as pedantic, long-winded, or hung up on details. In conflicts, I sound like I'm defensive. In my writing, it means I have trouble generalizing. While I can omit information for the sake of tact, I find it impossible to lie or misconstrue truth, even in situations where most people find it acceptable. If someone misunderstands me, it feels like I am being dishonest.

  • Social Overwhelm. In many social settings, especially group settings like parties, I feel like I'm watching a DVD on fast-forward. Everything seems to be happening at once, and I don't have time to take it all in and react properly and in a timely fashion. Sometimes there is a 1-2 second delay between me hearing words and understanding them, which in most conversations is far too long for appropriate reaction times. My coping mechanism is to nod and say, "Yeah", which gives me time to process. But sometimes that backfires, for instance if the mood suddenly shifts. My reaction to the mood shift will seem out of place. This makes it very hard to flirt, show empathy, make friends, and express my thoughts. I often find myself thinking of what to say two seconds too late. I will hold onto the thought hoping I will get another chance, but often the conversation has moved on without me.

    Sometimes it means I talk too fast. Time is marching on and I need to get it all out. Sometimes I'm afraid someone will interrupt me, but often it's because my thoughts are larger than the time allotted. Especially when everything is sped up.

    If I can sit back and observe, if I can become invisible, time will slow down. I also prefer one-on-one interactions. It is comforting to be with one person I trust. I can relax my insides and converse and be myself.

  • Expressions. Sometimes my face doesn't make the right expressions. I don't think it's because I'm feeling the wrong thing in the wrong moment -- usually I'm feeling the right thing, but who knows what my face is doing. I often hear, "What's that look for?"

    Because of that, I'm self-conscious of my expressions. I have force myself to maintain the expected face. That has led to a few other problems. For instance, when I'm uncomfortable or nervous, I get this plastered-on smile. To anyone who knows me extremely well, they know what that look means. But to someone new, they think I'm having the best time ever. Sometimes I am, and I'm just nervous because I'm afraid they won't like me. Other times, I am very uncomfortable and end up sending exactly the opposite signals I should. When my cheek-muscles start to hurt, I have to ask myself, "Am I smiling alot because of genuine enjoyment? Or am I faking enjoyment in a bad situation?"

  • Eye Contact. As I mentioned, I have no problems maintaining eye contact in conversation. However I have trouble understanding the rules of eye contact outside of conversations. I try not to look at people at all, and if someone looks at me, I feel nervous and look away instantly. It never occurs to me that their eyes are trying to communicate without words, and that I should look and try to understand. Even if I did understand, I wouldn't know how to "reply". I'm learning now that this is how people show one another they're interested, and I'm having to consciously train myself how to do it.

  • Inappropriate comments, timing, conversation topics, etc. I have to edit and scan everything that comes out of my mouth. Twice. Because if I don't, I will say something inappropriate, insensitive, cruel, crazy-sounding, or idiotic. Sometimes it's the content, but often it's just in my choice of phrasing. This is especially likely to happen while flirting, and I have ruined many a possible connection by letting myself go and saying something completely irretrievable. Sometimes I don't even want to bother, or the risk is too high, so I only speak when what I have to say is really important and I've had a chance to scan it twelve different ways to make sure it can't be taken wrong.

  • Introspection. I am incredibly introspective. I love self-awareness and love to learn new things about myself. I don't know if this is particularly an autistic trait, but judging by the level of introspection on the WrongPlanet forums, I'd guess it is.

  • Repetitious Activities. I need "downtime" for my brain. I need a repetitive, easy task I can run on autopilot. This is where video games come in. I do like difficult video games, but those fill a different role. I'm talking about solitaire or Bejeweled or an RTS I can set on easy and mindlessly build and build and build. Sometimes, I use this time to process emotions and situations. Sometimes, I get new ideas. The other times it's like a state of meditation. Maybe it lets my mind rest.

  • Failure. I am extremely frustrated by my own failure. I have high expectations of myself. So many successes come to me without effort, so I expect I should succeed easily at everything. I don't like to participate in activities where I might fail. I don't like making mistakes. It often comes as a shock when I do, and I go to great lengths in life to avoid it.

  • Getting in Trouble. I don't like "getting in trouble". Many describe an Asperger's sense of justice, a rigid feeling of right and wrong that should never be violated, and part of it is related to this. The rest is response to trauma I experienced in first grade from an abusive teacher. I fear being judged by authority figures. I fear hurting other people's feelings. I fear being disliked. I go to great lengths to avoid "getting in trouble", and if I do, the emotional impact is like getting hit in the stomach.

  • Scrutiny. I have a strong aversion to scrutiny. If I am creating, I want to do it in private until the final product is ready. I don't like being judged and I hate when people make assumptions. I strongly dislike being misunderstood. On the other hand, I do invite constructive criticism at the right time, when I'm expecting it.

  • Empathy is a complex subject for me. If someone is distressed, and I know it, I feel instant concern. Sometimes I feel it too deeply. Sometimes, if I try to imagine what it's like to be in a horrific situation, I get lost in that thought. It consumes me. Then I dare myself to try to understand the suffering of all people in in the world, and I get locked in that place. It is hard to escape. Conversely, it is hard for me to express empathy. I don't know what to say or do, and that causes fear. I worry overly much that I'm doing it wrong or that they will mistake my expression.

    Other times, I get defensive. I don't like being the cause of someone else's hurt and will go to great lengths to avoid it. Tiring lengths sometimes. So if someone accuses me of upsetting them or doing something wrong (see "getting into trouble"), I will react with aversion. Worse are the times when I do feel empathy, and I start by trying to "fix" the problem. I genuinely want to solve the other person's hurt, and in the attempt, it seems as though I'm denying their pain.

  • Intentions. Some have written that aspies have a non-typical relationship to the idea of "intentions". I have examined my own views on the matter and compared them to Roland's (my partner). When it comes to resolving an issue, I am very concerned with outcomes. Intentions don't matter because they are in the past. I want to focus on the behavior and on actions moving forward. But when it comes to examining the "why" of something, then motives are everything. If I have been hurt, it helps me to know the other person did not intend it. If I have hurt someone, it matters that they know I did not intend it. Apparently, not everyone thinks this way.

  • Motor Skills. I am actually well-coordinated for an autist. But again, it depends. I have created sculptures with meticulous, tiny features, that required high levels of dexterity. I'm also a pretty good dancer as long as I have a good partner. But there are days when I'm dropping everything and falling all over myself. It's like pieces of my mind just shut off sometimes.

  • Accents. I am very good with accents. I always have been. If I am around certain accents too long, I feel compelled to mimic them. I worked with a guy from South Africa, and every time I went to his office, I had to fight to not slip into his voice. I knew doing so might offend him. I can hear subtle differences in sounds. Scientists say that there are differences in vowels in Chinese that Westerners simply cannot hear because our brains didn't hear them at an early age. But I swear I can hear the difference.

  • Pitch. My guess is I would have perfect pitch if I trained myself. When I have a song running through my mind, even if it's just a clip, I hear it in every detail, including all the backup instruments. If I then play that song, it is in the same key. So all I would need to do is memorize the note name with the note "sound" and I'm good.

  • Alternate Sexuality and Relationships. They find that autists tend to participate more in alternative lifestyles. I can't do simple when it comes to sex and relationships.

  • Monologues. I know a wealth of information and I want to convey it all. So if I get started on a topic, it's hard for me to stop, even if others are getting impatient. Sometimes I don't even notice they are impatient or uninterested because I find the topic so exciting.

  • Invisibility. Sometimes I become invisible. I am in a store, and people don't see me. Everyone will nearly run into me, and I will have to dodge to get out of their way.

  • Appropriate Emotional Response. Sometimes I feel emotions inappropriately. I will feel nothing when I should feel sad. I will feel sad when I should feel happy. This doesn't happen very often, but it happens often enough that I am in a constant state of doubt as to whether any of my emotions are appropriate. Often my emotions are delayed.

  • Strong Squicks. If someone has a real wound or there is blood coming from an injury, I get squicked, in a physical way. I feel pain where their wound is. I also feel pain in my legs and sometimes in my gut. It's a twitching kind of pain that spasms and moves around. I get the same effect when someone is describing a real wound, for instance a surgery they once had. Fictional and imaginary blood does not have this effect. I love horror films, and in fact have a fascination with vampires.

  • Out of sight, out of mind. If something is not "in my view", I tend to forget about it. It ceases to exist. It could be a book I've been meaning to read, or a movie I want to watch. It can be important tasks that need doing. It can be clothes and accessories I really enjoy wearing, or a food I love to eat. This leads to a messy desk and room, but it's a type of clutter that makes sense to me. I can even forget about people I know and like, and I fail to maintain relationships for this reason.

  • Brain Filing System. Extending this further, if I am not reminded of a thought in a certain way, I cannot remember it. For instance, if you ask me, "Where do you want to eat?" I will draw a blank. Nothing will help me think of an answer. It doesn't matter if three times that week I thought of places I liked to eat. Conversely, if you were to say, "Would you like to eat at Bleu Bistro?" I will remember that it is one of my favorite restaurants and want to go there (and simultaneously I will remember everything I know about Bleu and all the memorable times I've eaten there and what's on the menu and my favorite drink and the scene in my novel that uses it as a setting). It's almost like I have a filing system, but items aren't always filed in useful ways. This can be very frustrating.

  • Touch. Certain types of touch are extremely comforting. Other kinds of touch are irritating. I'm still trying to figure this out.

  • Oversensitivity to Fragrances. I long-thought this was an allergy, but I realize my reactions are not typical allergic symptoms. Perfumes, floral scents, and other strong fragrances cause my head to feel pinched and my nose to feel raw. I don't get a runny nose, just a pressure all over. The smell seems to invade my body until it's everywhere. If I'm forced to stay around it long, it will ruin my whole day and I won't feel right until the next day.

    Usually scents of something edible are fine. So vanilla, berry, hazelnut, etc. This rule doesn't always hold up - some products, including some candles, include a bad base-ingredient, and then it doesn't matter if it's vanilla. I burn candles constantly, and I have to give soap, lotions, deodorant, and shampoo a sniff-test before purchase. If I wash in a badly-fragranced soap, it doesn't matter that it rinses off. I can still smell it all day. When I travel, I bring my own soap.

  • Scent-Stim. Contrawise, scents can help me think when I'm writing. I keep a vanilla bee bar and lemon-cream lotion near my desk and when I need to concentrate, I put it on my hands and sniff. This is probably a form of stimming.

  • Aloof. I can seem distant and aloof. There are lots of reasons for this that are far more complex than what they seem on the surface, including most of what I've already described about my social difficulties.

  • Attraction. "Often are attracted to another purely because they are attracted to us". When I saw this on a list of traits, my jaw dropped. I've known this about myself forever. I never understood why. It is interesting to know there are others like me.This trait, combined with my aloofness and social awkwardness, makes it really hard to get a date.

  • Insights. I often have deep insights into people, their motives and desires, and how two or three people interact and react to one another. I can assemble these insights with very few clues, and I am often right. I can see why everyone is acting like they are, and understand everyone's reasons, even when people are in conflict. I often stay neutral in other people's conflicts. I don't want to side with anyone. I also feel frustrated because these understandings come to me in non-verbal ways. So communicating what I sense is really difficult, and my attempts to do so risk making things worse. Coming up with solutions to resolve the situation is equally elusive.

  • Need to Be Heard. The content of my brain wants to be let out. It doesn't matter that no one wants to hear it. It doesn't matter that saying things might hurt, bore, offend others. It doesn't matter that I've already said it two or three times. I want to say it again. I do have some self-control on this urge, and if I imagine what I say will hurt or bore someone, I won't say it. But I still want to.

  • Puzzles. I love complex, detail-oriented problems that need untangling. I am driven to open the box and see how it works. I cannot learn unless I understand the "Why", not just the "How". This served me well in my long career in IT, troubleshooting software issues.

  • Imagination. Unlike the traditional criteria for Asperger's, I actually have a very vivid imagination. I am a writer, after all.

  • Non-Literal Meanings. I also, unlike the traditional criteria, can understand non-literal meanings. Metaphors come easily to me (especially when I practice), as do double entendres. However, I would add that my mind often simultaneously can see the literal meaning. It adds to my ever-present internal sense of humor and amusement at the world, and my fascination with words, and my unhealthy predilection for puns.

  • Naivete & Trust. I tend to take people at face-value. If someone intends to convey a meaning to me, I never doubt them. I never suspect they may have ulterior motives or internal conflicts. I assume everyone has an honest soul until they prove otherwise. This leads to a certain level of naivete. It also leads to a ton of confusion on my part, especially if my instincts and feelings about a person are in conflict with what they say. I believe them and then assume my instincts are wrong, which is often not the best course.

  • Neophilia. I crave new things, new ideas, new knowledge, new media, new situations, new music, new flavors. I hate watching movies I've already seen or reading about ideas I've already learned (even if there might be something new hidden in the content). 
It has been interesting revisiting my memories and viewing my behaviors and mental processes and coping mechanisms under this new lens. Everything fits together now now. I always knew I was different, but I never knew why. All this time, I thought everyone was like me, and any shortcomings I had were some kind of moral failing or lack of motivation. I felt guilty for things I shouldn't have, and tried to act normal in ways that have caused undo distress.

Some of these traits I should not try to hide. I am not actually neurotypical, so I will stop pretending to be. Pretending to be normal takes a lot of effort.

Others I will continue to hide, because I live in a neurotypical world and "faking it" allows me to understand others and be understood. I will continue to make mistakes, and when I do, I now have reason to not feel embarrassed or guilty. I am who I am, and acceptance of that will allow me to forgive myself.

I am proud of who I am. All the things I love about myself are that way because of all the things I hate about myself.

If my brain gave more energy to navigating social interactions, it wouldn't have so much room for storing knowledge.

The thing that makes me wince in near-pain every time Ryuk barks - which may lead to me being anxious or upset - is also the thing that lets me hear sounds from all the way across the house to figure out who's home. That's the same thing that makes it hard to follow conversations when there's background noise, because I can hear all the noise. But it's also what lets me eavesdrop in the restaurant to amuse myself or inspire ideas for characters or stories.

My strong sense of empathy can sometimes be soul-crushing and can escalate me more rapidly in a conflict. The upside is that I have a keen understanding of human motivations and the ability to imagine what it would be like to walk in someone else's shoes. That makes me an awesome writer. Why would I give up the ability to write believably from a character's perspective or create deep insights into the human condition?

Around the house, we call them "aspie-superpowers". That's how I choose to view them. I am learning to self-advocate to get my special needs met, though it is difficult after so many years of coping and being ashamed. As science learns more about autism, and as technology improves to help support our weaknesses, I can foresee a day when Asperger's is no longer, in any sense, a disability.


  1. An excellent post - such an honest glimpse into your life. In many of the areas you mentioned I saw myself, particularly in this paragraph about social interactions:

    "I don't know how to leave conversations I don't like, or change the subject. I do know how to sit for long periods of time, listening, whether I am interested or not. I do not know how to initiate conversations, even with people I know well. Small talk is feels meaningless to me, even though I understand, consciously, why it is useful. Being in group settings is stressful and draining - even when I'm having fun. I assume that by default, people don't like me until I manage to make them like me, so I don't feel I should push myself on them until they've granted me undeniable permission to enter their world. I have a hard time reaching out to friends and loved ones to maintain connections."

    I don't know if it is an aspie trait or some other non-socially-adapted thing, but this is exactly my situation. It is an encouragement to hear about other people's journeys in this. Feeling alone is often the hardest thing!

    Thanks for being so forthright!

    1. Feeling alone about difficulties in social situations is doubly-isolating. It's like being another species sometimes.

      By the way, lots of aspies talk about they feel a special affinity for animals. I didn't mention it here, because, while I love animals, I feel fairly average in that. I thought I'd point it out to you, since you REALLY love animals.

  2. Thank you for this post. My son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome last year and we've quickly realized that I'm an Aspie as well. All the things that I thought were just me being "socially delayed due to bullying in High School" (yet I never caught up in the nearly 2 decades since) or "just me being a geek" suddenly made sense. Many of the things you mentioned above could have been you writing about me. (Not all, but - like you said - if you've met one Aspie, you've met one Aspie.)

    I just wish the NT world, especially the educational system, knew how to deal with Aspies better. It often feels like we're trying to hike up a mountain - without any climbing equipment.

    1. So many adults only figure it out after one of the kids gets diagnosed. I just finished reading Pretending to Be Normal, and it was the same for her.

      I'm not sure the NTs (as a whole) will ever get it. It doesn't matter how many internets we invent for them. I'm hoping we'll invent augmented reality and implants that will compensate for our drawbacks. They'll use it to post pics of their dogs on Facebook-AR and we'll use it to become super-super-human, and then we'll show them.

      Or probably not.

  3. I wrote up a long reply and then Blogspot ate it. But long story short, I took the Aspie test myself, and came out 108/200 ("You seem to have both neurotypical and aspie traits"), with my highest Aspie scores in talent, compulsive, and social. I related to a lot of areas of what you wrote, notably Honesty, Invisibility, Social Overwhelm, and Aloof.... thanks for posting and sharing.

    1. Oh man I hate when comments get eaten! It's like part of the universe disappears. I would have liked to have read it.

  4. Brilliant Post! Its like looking in the mirror

  5. Thanks so much for the link. I just took the quiz and scored 178 of 200.. I am seeking a diagnosis now and treatment asap.

  6. Thank you so much for this article; you sound so much like me, and also to those who commented. I'd like to have coffee with all of you, just because it seems like it would be wonderful to be with people who "get it." I finally realized I was an aspie woman at the age of 65. There was no such thing when I was growing up,and I just lived (and felt guilty with) the idea that I was "odd" "weird" and socially awkward. Such a relief now to understand, but so sad for all the time wasted in trying to be "ok." Thanks for helping me know I'm not imagining all of it!

  7. Thank you so much for this post. Reading through your descriptions I was like "yep, yep, yep, not quite, yep . . .", thinking of myself -- particularly my younger self -- all the while. Like the previous commenter, I'm old enough that an autism or Asperger's diagnosis didn't exist yet when I was young, and is still rarely applied to females. I was so angry when I was younger. Angry at the level of energy I had to put out to meet others where they were and did not see any equal reciprocation -- because most people don't need to expend the same astronomical amounts of energy. I think of my meltdowns in adulthood, including a spectacular crying fit at a crawfish hut in Louisiana I'd never been to before, when my dad insisted I be the first to order. I had never seen the menu, didn't know how it worked, and just burst into tears. I now work as a paraprofessional (with a master's degree) with students who have varying degrees of ASD And I hope that my understanding of how to navigate the tug and flow of rich interior world alongside a larger, socially agreed-upon world (that one never had the chance to vote on) can help them build connections without resentment and with understanding of themselves.