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Saturday, February 18, 2012

What it's like to have Aspergers

Imagine that whenever you speak to others, you can only do so from the other side of a sheet of opaque glass, so that you can't really interpret their facial expressions.

In addition, whoever you're speaking to is using one of those voice changers that make his voice sound like a robot's, so you can't glean any emotions from his intonations.

Then imagine that you had to conduct your every conversation in a foreign language which you'd studied for only two years, so that you have no feel for idiom, and take everything literally.

But at the same time, you are constitutionally incapable of admitting you're wrong, so whenever people correct you, you must insist you're right.

Then imagine that you have a set of very rigidly held beliefs, and every time someone disagreed with you, you become furious, like a devout Muslim shown a disparaging cartoon of Muhammad.

It would be a tough way to have to go through life.

Of course, spending time around someone like that must not be any picnic either.


Brian Fradet said...

Hi John,

Very good description of a person with Aspergers. However, why, if I may ask, did you think to write about this? Strangely, Bill Gates is reputed to have Aspergers. Thanks, Brian

John Craig said...

Brian --
Thank you, and yes, Bill Gates is widely thought to have Aspergers.

I just wrote about this for the same reason i write about anything, because it just occurred to me. I have a very undisciplined mind, as this ADD-like blog demonstrates.

Anonymous said...

So politicians are narcissists with Asperger's? G

John Craig said...

G --
Politicians are frequently narcissists and occasionally sociopaths from what I can see. It'd be hard to gt ahead in politics as an Aspie; Al Gore is the only one I'm aware of who seems to have Asperges. You generally have to have a taste for and be good at glad-handing, and you also have to be able to read people to get head in politics.

Anonymous said...

Haha! "get head in politics". G

John Craig said...

G --
Oops. That was a typo.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Bill Gates is autistic. I've seen many videos of him speaking and he seems perfectly normal to me.

Does he really have any of the following symptoms:
- Marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction?
- A failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level?
- A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest or achievements with other people?
- A lack of social or emotional reciprocity?
- Clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning?

He may be a bit geeky, but that is nowhere near enough grounds to diagnose a psychiatric condition.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I haven't seen enough of him to have a strong opinion about that. But he does seem to appear on a lot of those lists.

Not every Aspie has to show every single characteristic of Aspergers to qualify. And another thing to keep in mind about Gates is that his situation for the past 25 years or so has been unique. Being constantly lauded as the richest man in the world would help you overcome a lot of quirks, I would think (even as it would add others).

But again, I just don't know.

Steven said...

The first half of this was a great exercise in empathy or imagining the point fo view of another. That was a great way to convey what it must be like. Must be tough.

Are they all difficult to be around or are some of them mostly nice people?

John Craig said...

Steven --
Even if they're nice, and most of them are decent people, in the long run it's very hard to be around someone who will never admit they're wrong, even when egregiously so, and are generally very rigid in their thinking.

Steven said...

How do they get along with each other?

John Craig said...

Steven --
I honestly don't know. i've heard stories about how Aspies will "find" each other and develop relationships, and in a way it makes sense because one would think they'd be more sympathetic to each other's foibles than most people would be. But on the other hand, it's hard to imagine two people each of whom feels free to criticize all the time yet melts down in the face of any criticism they receive being able to get along. So I just don't know. I do know there are Aspie support groups, and Aspie communities online, though, so I imagine there are a lot of personal relationships that develop from those.

Anonymous said...

I have a brother-in-law who I believe has Aspergers Syndrome. Being around him can cause me to feel uncomfortable, awkward. This man teaches at the college level. He's addicted to Facebook, writing on his Facebook page EVERY SINGLE DAY (doing this even when he's on vacation). I always felt that there was something different about him. Your posts describing this disorder let me know exactly what is different about him - he's an aspie.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
Once I started reading about Aspergers and thinking about people I'd known, it was a revelation. I was able to think of about about eight or ten people I'd known who must have had it.

Anonymous said...

I have aspergers, although quite mild. I read your other posts and they described me quite well and helped me reflect. For the past year I've been working on getting myself together.
I subscribe to the intense world theory of aspergers which explains the behavior where the inability to properly filter information has a domino effect on other functions.

Social intuition is passive, since the aspergian cannot filter things right they are never on the natural auto-pilot that helps the regular man function. I've read third hand accounts that drugs like xanax or using a small amount of marijuana suddenly increases their social skills because these substances help filter a persons thoughts and functions.
I've used it and I feel a bit more natural ability to read others for a temporary time.

Clumsiness too: tests show that they may not have "poor motor function" in the traditional sense but issues with propioception. Certain drugs like xanax seem to temporarily help as well.

Their obsessions and special interests stem from not being able to hold multiple hobbies like a regular person, they hyper focus on one thing for a time until they lose inertia. Again due to bad filtering.

Empathy is hindered by being unable to distinguish their own thoughts from another person.
The above certainly seems more plausible than the "ultra male brain theory" by Simon Baron Cohen. Other stupid annoyance is feeling like a 7 year old kid in terms of attention span, I have to force myself to chew food slowly and read an entire paragraph without skimming. Xanax helps but it is incredibly addictive and destructive to one's health so I am only given a small amount to ration for emergencies!

What bugs me are aspergians who think "it makes them who they are" when to me it is a big inconvenience. It does not define me, I have a unique personality like anyone else and I would gladly be cured just so I can get on with life more easily. Of course there have been advances in treatment with drugs in mice and this:

I tend to be quiet now, it is a safe bet that allows me to go along with a group, I only speak when replied to and so on. I try to think about why someone would criticize me. But I've been told "lol you don't have aspergers" since I understand sarcasm better than others with aspergers, I don't have "meltdowns" from loud noises or music (the closest is getting so sad that I curl up and cry a bit if I feel terrible), and enjoy jokes from shows like Monty Python that would fly over other aspergian heads. But I laugh at lot less, it's more like I am entertained, what really makes me laugh is random humor like in YTP videos.

I did once go to a college party when I was younger, I didn't bang my head from the music, I just drank and smoke while sitting on a couch while staring at everyone else dancing and having fun while being annoyed by the bad quality of music. It seems some of my symptoms get milder as I age but the real problems that will affect my life won't go away.

I do also wonder why we suddenly seem to notice it more in our day since aspergers has existed before its discovery. What went differently for Grok the caveman?

John Craig said...

Anon --
First, thank you for the calm tone of your comment, as you may have noticed I got a lot of comments on the original Aspergers post from people with the syndrome, and the majority of them were outraged comments telling me what a horrible person I am.

Second, that's fascinating about the transcranial magnetic brain stimulation. Can the cure really be that simple? It seemed to work with that guy. And I wonder if that sort of thing can work with other syndromes, such as chronic depression.

Third, I never bought into the ultra male brain theory either. (Aspergers doesn't correlate with lots of male hormones: ultra masculine guys don't seem more likely to get it, and females get it too.)

You have a commonsensical attitude towards the syndrome which does seem to indicate that you have a mild case.

Interesting question about the cavemen. What did they make of all the syndromes that have undoubtedly been around since the dawn of time? I suspect they noticed that certain people had tendencies to behave in certain ways, but they just attributed it to that person's personality rather than attach a name to it or think of it as a syndrome. After all, even people with no syndromes all have different personalities.

Anonymous said...

Hey, same guy, I have a theory about the short term memory issue with aspergers and other functions.

I doubt aspergians have poor memory the way an alzheimers patient do, an alzheimer patients truly forgets while an aspie seems to simply forget but if you remind them, they go "oh shit" and it comes back to them.

Nt people seem to be able to pick up from context small reminders since their head isn't burdened by other sensations. Like remembering to charge a phone, the charger is by the door and when they walk through it they are reminded to do it without noticing it. An aspie is usually burdened by their one track mind occupied by annoying sounds or smells due to not being able to filter it all.

Small social reminders also exist for the NT person, mom tells you to take out the garbage, mom says hello in the morning, bam have to take garbage out all of the sudden. etc.
A trick I use is to write down what I need to do, I usually don't have to read it again, I just sometimes touch the book in my pocket and the memory hits. But my job performance is suffering since it involves interaction.

If left alone I can remember it all, but this one time a guy with a huge piece of snot in his nose came an asked when we were closing, I shut down and started staring at the time table but then a coworker came over and answered and said "how could you forget?".

Other small things like sending an email to the wrong person by clicking the wrong button when I go into autopilot also sucks, an NT person would glance at the addresses and the subconscius mental mnemonic would activate but for me I am bugged by all the sounds and buttons and I would click the wrong thing. Heck even before posting this comment I automatically clicked the link to the newer posts. I just can't take it all in as well.

And the only thing that can help are highly addictive prescription yeah.
I am thankful my condition is mild enough I never got a sensory meltdown, screamed, or I have no sense of humor. I would do well with a desk job where I am left a pile of work to get done.

I gotta ask, where the hell is the research into fixing this going? If they are finding ways to deal with cancer, why not me?

Also to elaborate on the Grok the Caveman thing, I also think earlier human history was not filled with as many situations that caused problems. Dyslexia can't exist without writing, a man made invention that did not exist 10,000 years ago. Human lived in communities of less than 200 people you would see for your entire life, there would be no strangers outside of one's clan, so fewer social issues. There would be no gigantic list of chores that changed each day, one would follow the same routine of eating, sleeping, hunting, gathering, building huts until one died so fewer memory or routine problems, fewer issues with rigidity. No loud cars or ads everywhere to overload one's senses. etc.
The real problems with autism come from modern society which is unnatural, but that's the price to pay for medicine and hygiene.

Anonymous said...

It's not like there is a wall or a big barrier. When I was younger, I was here, in my body. Now I don't feel like I am there. It's more like you are not part of the reality around you. Not severe enough to be psychosis. In Schizophrenia it's even more severe, like you feel no free will or even like you're thoughts are your own.

It's milder, a middle ground. There is just not much of you there. And You need a strong sense of feeling like you exist to be able to interact. How can you have good social interactions or insight into other people if there is NO YOU to be doing that. My mind tends to be blank, few images, hardly any commentary. Just autopilot 90% of the time.

You see a picture of yourself, hear your own voice in a recording, see a video, you don't feel that is you, that is something else.

That's closer to what it's like. You are just not there. I wish I could get that feeling back from when I was a little toddler, that I was in my body, I was my body, I was me. But it's gone. I feel like I am just a meat puppet. That's what it's really like to have autism.

Not a wall or blindness, not some opaqueness. You are just not part of the whole equation, reality, reality is not with you. You are alone yet there is little "you".