Asperger’s Syndrome

It was in 2008 that I made what for me, was an exciting discovery – that I have always lived with Aspergers Syndrome (or High Functioning Autism).

I just have a different perspective on life – a life that is perhaps rather more dispassionate and less emotional.  It’s very difficult to explain why I found the discovery of AS quite so exciting.  “Earner” in a series of articles on “Hub Pages” has tried to explain how daily living is affected for adults with AS.
I can relate to much of what he has written but I would have to say that the effects for me have not been quite so extreme – but that may be due in part to having had unusual opportunities when I was younger – including the chance to become a trainee computer programmer in 1967 when I was already over 30.
In what follows I have tried to describe something of what life has been like for me using (in italics) some of the typical characteristics of AS that appear to apply to me.

I have always had difficulty demonstrating empathy – an inability to develop real friendships – a lack of shared enjoyments or achievements with others – unable to make eye contact. Adults with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) commonly experience difficulty starting social interactions, they have longings for greater intimacy, and a profound sense of isolation (only a small proportion marry).  The failure to react appropriately to social interaction may be seen as disregard for other people’s feelings, and come across as insensitive.   I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve realised immediately that what I had just said would be misunderstood!

I seem to have had a theoretical understanding of other people’s emotions, without being able to act on this knowledge in fluid, real-life situations.  Some years ago I had been told about my lack of eye contact and tried to do something about it.  Some may even force themselves to use eye contact – resulting in a demeanour that appears rigid or socially naïve.  As a kid I used to look for companionship but eventually almost gave up.

There may be an unusual sensitivity (or insensitivity) to sound, light, touch, texture, taste, smell, pain, temperature and other stimuli.
Language can be another problem area and speech may convey a sense of incoherence – a failure to provide context for comments – a failure to suppress internal thoughts – the conclusion or point may never be made.  Maybe this explains why I have made extensive use of “mind maps” to picture some of my understanding of many of the influences on “The Journey of Life

There may be a delay in acquiring motor skills such as riding a bicycle – poor co-ordination – poor handwriting – a difficulty in identifying and describing one’s emotions.  There may be hyperactivity, aggressive or oppositional behaviour and chronic frustration.
I have always been a workaholic, and I do tend to express my thoughts rather aggressively.

There may not necessarily be disablement in an environment in which an exact mind, attracted to detecting small details, is an advantage.  Self-promotion is difficult.
There was one occasion when I didn’t speak to my manager for six weeks (he said afterwards that he knew he had given me a job that he expected would take about three months and that I would speak to him if I had a problem).

Most children with AS want to be social, but fail to socialise successfully, which can lead to later withdrawal and asocial behaviour, especially in adolescence.  Difficulties with social interaction may also be manifest in a lack of play with other children.  People with AS often interact better with those considerably older or younger than themselves.
In my 20’s most of my social contact was with people in their 60’s and 70’s.

Children often display advanced abilities for their age in some areas – but are sometimes seen as problem children or poor performers.  There can be an extremely low tolerance for what they perceive to be ordinary and mediocre tasks.  Lack of support can lead to withdrawal.  Nothing was ever good enough for my father – and even at the age of 90 he once went for me with a bread knife.

There may be a feeling of being unwillingly detached from the world around them.  The intense focus and tendency to work things out logically often grants people with AS a high level of ability in their field of interest. 
I have always had a blinkered approach.  It must have been very disconcerting for a preacher to be questioned afterwards by someone who never looked them in the eye, and who may have had his eyes closed for a lot of the time.

An autistic savant is an autistic person with extreme talent in one or more areas of study.  Savantism is not unique to autistic people.  There is a theory that everyone has savant-like skills, but these may be lost in non-autistic people because of a shift in the way they process information – a shift that is slowed or incomplete in autistic children so that their savant-like processing style may be preserved.
Is this the reason why I still have this knack of asking the awkward questions about things that other people take for granted, to which there are no easy answers?

Over the years I have spent a lot of time considering the significance of the differing ways in which introverts and extroverts THINK.  I’d be happy to share thoughts with anyone who might be interested.

2 Responses to Asperger’s Syndrome

  1. susieq777 says:

    I’m so glad that finding the AS discovery in 2008 was exciting and answered lots of questions. I hope it has given you a greater sense of self-acceptance.

    I’m interested when you say Aspies have a difficulty demonstrating empathy. Now, I know that whole “Aspies don’t have empathy” thing which gets around is just profound misunderstanding on the part of neurotypicals. In fact, I know that Aspies often struggle with feeling over-empathy for people. My partner and I both had tears in our eyes the other night watching the coach of a football team who had just won his first game after 10 torrid weeks, and how excited he was. My partner is an Aspie and I’m a neurotypical (with some real Aspie traits though, may I say).

    So I’m interested when you say about having difficulty demonstrating empathy how it feels. Do you have any words to be able to describe what it is that feels difficult about doing that?

  2. Peter says:

    You are SO right – Aspies do have empathy! When I look back at the thousands of hours of voluntary work I have done in the community, the emphasis has been on helping people to enjoy life more and taking away some of the problems. The difficulty for me has been in expressing that empathy in a way that gets across. As secretary of a Community Association I was always busy but I never had any close friends. I was always interested in getting things done and ‘idle chit chat’ always seemed a waste of time – something I learned from my father who with hindsight was also an Aspie. What I never realised was that it’s the ‘idle chit chat’ that is the basis on which most friendships are developed.

    But then there are in my experience two other problems. Aspies always say what they think – tact and diplomacy are in very short supply. I remember meeting a neighbour in the street a couple of weeks after he had had a serious operation. I said the first thing that came into my head, “I hope you are feeling better than you look”. I realised immediately what I had said and I felt terrible!

    But for me the biggest problem as I now know was a lack of eye contact. I was quite unable to look anyone in the eye. Even now if the picture of an eye appears on the TV (especially in adverts when you are not expecting it), I have to turn away. From an early age I always looked at the chest of the person I was talking to – completely unaware of the impact that might have had on women!

    After finding out about AS I was talking to my son who obviously has AS as well. He made the comment, “Dad, don’t you realise that I always look on the ground when I’m talking to someone?” I learned about the importance of eye contact several years ago and started making a deliberate attempt to look people in the face. I soon realised it wasn’t difficult if others were wearing glasses. I’ve now reached a point where if I’m talking to someone who knows about AS they are liable to doubt that I have it because of my apparent eye contact. But my guess that’s because of my enthusiasm for what I’m talking about.

    Does that make much sense?

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