Asberger's: My life as an earthbound alien

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Sheila, Mar 28, 2008.

  1. Sheila

    Sheila Moderator


    One CNN manager recently learned -- at 48 -- that she has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. Today she shares an inside view of life with the condition.

    ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Recently, at 48 years of age, I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. For most of my life, I knew that I was "other," not quite like everyone else. I searched for years for answers and found none, until an assignment at work required me to research autism. During that research, I found in the lives of other people with Asperger's threads of similarity that led to the diagnosis. Although having the diagnosis has been cathartic, it does not change the "otherness." It only confirms it.

    When I talk to people about this aspect of myself, they always want to know what it means to be an "Aspie," as opposed to a "Neurotypical" (NT). Oh, dear, where to start . ...

    The one thing people seem to know about Asperger's, if they know anything at all, is the geek factor. Bill Gates is rumored to be an Aspie. We tend to have specialized interests, and we will talk about them, ad infinitum, whether you are interested or not. Recognizing my tendency to soliloquize, I often choose silence, although perhaps not often enough. Due to our extensive vocabularies and uninflected manner of speaking, we are called "little professors," or arrogant.

    I don't quite understand small talk, and early in my adult life, solecisms were frequent. At meetings, I launch into business without the expected social acknowledgments. It's not that I don't care about people, I am just very focused on task. Do you have to rehearse greeting people to reinforce that you should do it? I do.

    I am lucky to have a very dear friend who savors my eccentricities. She laughs, lovingly, about one particular evening at a restaurant. Before she could get seated, I asked her what she knew about the golden ratio and began to spew everything I know about it. I re-emphasize how lucky I am to have her as a friend, because this incident occurred long before I was diagnosed.

    A misconception is that Aspies do not have a sense of humor. It is true that we can be very literal, so we often miss the humor in everyday banter, but we can and do enjoy even subtle humor. Our literal interpretations, however, can be problematic.

    In first grade, whenever someone made a mess in the classroom, the teacher would ask a student to get the janitor. The student would come back with Mr. Jones (not really his name), who carried a broom and large folding dustpan. When I was asked to get the janitor, I looked all over the school and reported back to the teacher that I could not find it. After all, the person was Mr. Jones, so the janitor must be the object, right?

    I lack the ability to see emotion in most facial expressions. I compensate for this deficiency by listening to the inflections in people's voices and using logic to determine emotional context. The words people choose, their movements, or even how quickly they exit a meeting can provide clues to emotion.

    I also have intensified senses -- touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound -- so I am attuned to lights, noise, textures, and smells. In a "busy" environment, I will eventually go into sensory overload and my mind will go blank. When this happens, I have to "go away" mentally for a brief period to regain focus. When I "return," I have to piece together what occurred while I was "away." The additional mental processing I must do to function every day is fatiguing, and I don't handle "ad hoc" very well. Being asked to respond quickly in the midst of all this other processing is difficult, sometimes impossible.

    I am so sensitive to touch that a tickle hurts me. This is the hardest concept for most people to understand. How can a tickle hurt? All I can tell you is that it does, so I avoid being touched except by those who have learned how to touch me.

    Hugs are dispensed infrequently, but if I do hug someone, I resemble Frankenstein's monster, arms extended to control contact. When my dad (who I suspect is an Aspie, too) and I hug, we both have "the approach." We sometimes miss and have to re-approach a couple of times until a brief, awkward hug is achieved.

    In school, other children noted my differences, and I was bullied (and tickled into fits of despair) for years. Already needing extended periods of time alone, my response was to become even more of a loner. Uh oh. When you are weird, you are a joke. When you are a loner, you frighten people. It's always the quiet ones. ...

    I am married (wow!), and my brilliant husband is an absolute sweetheart. I don't know any other man who has the self-confidence to be pushed away (sometimes sharply), both physically and mentally, as often as he has been. He has been gentle and patient (and, yes, frequently emotionally depleted) as we both worked through my need for space, tendency to go so deep into my own world that the real world and everyone in it cease to exist, and sensitivity to touch during the 26 (soon to be 27) years of our marriage.

    I live with anxiety, because the world can be overwhelming and people have expectations that I always, sooner or later, fail to meet. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been told that I am rude, inaccessible or cold, yet I have never purposely tried to harm anyone, nor do I mean to be, well, mean.

    I could tell you so much more, but instead let me share one last insight. Don't pity me or try to cure or change me. If you could live in my head for just one day, you might weep at how much beauty I perceive in the world with my exquisite senses. I would not trade one small bit of that beauty, as overwhelming and powerful as it can be, for "normalcy."
  2. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    Thank you for sharing that article. I find Aspergers very difficult to "get" and support as I have always been friendly, social, extroverted, self-confident..ALL
    the things that seem to be the opposite of difficult child who truly aches for "real friends".

    I want to "fix it". I think, however, it can't be fixed and probably has to be integrated into the life of a mature AS person.

    As a strong proponent of independence training in my children...I find myself praying that difficult child finds a
    girlfriend who can supplement him. He's a really good person and deserves happiness. DDD
  3. DDD,

    I agree wholeheartedly with you! Although our difficult child says that friends are "too much trouble", I can't help but think he secretly wants them. I know he is such a sweet guy and he deserves happiness as well.

    It always encourages me to hear an Asperger's "success story" like this. I am so sorry that the author had to wait so long to find out what might explain her perceived differences - but I am equally happy that she has done so incredibly well in the traditional measures of success in our culture.

    This gives me hope for our difficult child...
  4. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    Thanks for posting this article Sheila. It's very isightful and describes things well.

    The author of that article could be describing me, although I seem to have less difficulty interpreting facial expressions etc.

    DDD and 1 Day At a Time, one of the things that helped me tremendously in learning to get along in the world is to treat social interactions "scientifically". I would rehearse small talk phrases, and then when interacting with people I would insert them into conversations and then observe their reactions. I tracked positive reactions and noticed that socializing went much more smoothly. Over time I got better at it, until now I can have what passes for a normal conversation most of the time.

    When I'm very tired or stressed out, it's much harder and I have to work harder at it. All of the training and repetition over the years has made it almost an automatic process.

    I wonder if that sort of training might help your difficult children to socialize more easily. If you find something in it that motivates and interests them, and break it down into repeatable steps.

    I'm having a scrambled-brain day so I'm not able to be too clear. Feel free to PM me if you want specific information about this.

  5. tammyjh

    tammyjh New Member

    What a great article. Reminds me a little of the book "Pretending to be Normal"

    I can relate a bit to this as I have social anxiety and never really understood the nature of it until I was presented with the possibility that difficult child might have Asperger's. The social piece of Asperger's is similar to my social anxiety. In the book, the author said she had to "psychiatric herself up" when it was time for social gatherings...she would observe others and do what they did. For me it was more that the sound of too many voices at a social gathering is very overwhelming and I'm always afraid that I will say the wrong thing at the wrong time or that I'll have food stuck between my teeth, spill something on my clothes, trip, name it, I can worry about it. lol. Oops....babbling...sorry about that LOL!

    Anyway, thanks so much for sharing the article....I really enjoyed reading it. :)