Today I got a message from Amazon in my e-mail, apprising me of a new book coming out in a few weeks. I get these messages all of the time, and sometimes I order one. This book is called Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's by Tim Page, and after reading John Elder Robinson's review of it (on the Amazon page linked above) I ordered it.
In part, Robinson said:
"Tim says he’s lived life as an outsider, and that’s exactly how I feel too. As a result, even though I’ve grown up to find commercial success, happiness often eludes me. Within minutes of meeting Tim, it was clear he felt the same. Neurotypical people try to welcome us into their world, but Asperger’s blinds us to the olive branches of friendship they proffer. They even shake the leaves in front of our faces, but we just gaze, impassive and oblivious. People assume we’ve rejected them, but in truth we want their friendship and acceptance with every fiber of our being. That’s the heartbreak of it." (From the review linked above).
That's the heartbreak of it.
As some of my readers know, I am raising a son with diagnosed AS.
AS is primarily genetic in origin, although there most likely are environmental triggers that influence the severity of the disorder and the particular symptoms manifested.
So the Boychick's AS had to come from somewhere, and although I believe his biological father also has AS, I have also come to understand that I manifest the characteristics also. I have taken Simon Baron-Cohen's AQ Test several times, and I have always scored above 32, and usually around 40 points. And although I have no formal diagnosis, I believe that if the diagnosis had existed when I was a child, I would have met the criteria.
Though as an adult I function reasonably well in some social situations, they take a lot of internal energy. I am well aware of my own internal awkwardness, and missed social cues. I spend many hours in bed at night reviewing the social gaffs of the day.
Last night was one of those nights. At a meeting of a 9-12 group I am part of, my intention was to ask for the group's support and involvment in the Continental Congress, because I want to go as a delegate. I have been working on this since March, but as soon as I brought it up to the group, one of the more dominant female members immediately decided that "we should send" one of the other members. She had it all planned out while I was still talking about the history of the Continental Congress of 1774 and how it relates to what we are doing.
I had not clearly communicated with the group, probably because for me, the whole history is more fascinating and I wanted to work up to what I was asking.
My immediate reaction was disappointment.
I've been working hard on this and I wanted the group's support.
I heard this more dominant woman saying "you should go, C." because C. could speak well and knew a lot.
And these things are true.
I thought of all my education, all my reading. All the ideas I would like to share. I thought of Thomas Jefferson*, who was also an awkward speaker, although he was a good writer. I, too, am a better writer than speaker.I thought of a lot of things, and my social awkwardness was that while I was trying to frame how to respond, I blurted out something just to keep myself in the conversation. Since my mind was elsewhere, I can't even remember the words I blurted out. But I did realize that it was the wrong thing to say.
*Jefferson is an example of a historical figure who demonstrated most of the symptoms of AS. Others who are thought to have had AS include Albert Einstein, Motzart, and the pianist Glenn Gould.
So, in my social blindness, I immediately started in to make it worse for myself. I said that well, maybe I was not going to be elected to go, but that I would happily go as somebody's assistant, just to be part of this great historical endevour. But I mentioned the name of a certain somebody who will most likely be elected.
This provoked two negative responses. The woman who had taken over the conversation said:
"I don't even know this __________." She seemed angry. (I thought, "Well, no. You haven't been involved in this, even though I have brought it up before.")
The other woman, the one who had been directed to go by the first, said something to the effect of:
"You mean we are just shills for the people who have already been determined to go?!" (I thought, "she didn't listen to what I said about the election.").
If only I had been allowed to tell it all my own way, without the interrogation or interruptions, she might have understood what I was trying to communicate about the upcoming election.
The group leader said nothing, though later he allowed as to how he would be happy to vote for me.
This is one illustration in the frustrations I encounter because I forget that I tend to think about communications as words that are put together in a particular order for a particular purpose; words that must be heard all the way through before one can get the sense of them. Words that have no particular meta-content. And I forget that, in the scheme of things, I have a uniquely wired mind.
I forget that neurotypicals (NTs), tend to see the same words as imminently interruptible, and full of emotional content and other (possible nefarious) implications that I am blind to, that I did not intend. They seldom listen to the whole communication before jumping in, and thus miss a great deal of my meaning. This is probably because I have the Aspie tendency to go on and on, and in every particular, in order to be most thorough about the details. I am fascinated by the parts, and in this way I get to the big picture,and it is all fleshed out. NTs skip the parts and jump right to the whole.
It is not that I cannot see the big picture, though. I can. I can see it in all of its detail, whole and complete; a picture in my mind. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. And to translate that into words requires all of my attention. NTs often claim that we who think in pictures lack attention. They say we have ADD.
IMHO, it is they who lack attention. They jump too quickly, thus missing the richness of the picture altogether. It is they that have difficulty listening, becoming impatient after a few sentences. They have already jumped to what they think is the big picture the speaker is describing, and often miss what is really being said.
The neuroscience work I did this spring bears this out. There is a great deal of evidence from imaging studies combined with neurobehavioral tests, that those of us on the Autism Spectrum naturally and easily remember all of the details as we process auditory and visual information from "the bottom up" (actually, in the brain, it is from back to front). We can also remember the big picture once it is assembled in our minds. We can do top-down processing as well, although that is not our preference. And when we do it, we can still remember all of the details. But NTs cannot remember the details, and they get cluttered up with all the emotional reading into the message that they do. Thus, at least as it appears to me, they can't think through the whole idea.
It is like we live in two different worlds.
It is true that Aspies do not see the olive branches. But it is equally true that he NTs do not see the beauty of our minds. They are too impatient to be able to see it. They cannot see that the bush burns but is not consumed.
Think about it.
A person would have to stop and observe for some time to see the detail of nonconsumption.
When we do not come across immediately with what they want, they dismiss us.
Thus, the dominant female described above dismissed me, even though she knows nothing about the Continental Congress except what I described, and she does not know what I know about the Constitution, or what I know about the enlightenment philosophy upon which it is founded.
NTs seem to narrow normal down to match that incomplete big picture they construct immediately. Lacking the memory for the detail that Aspies and others with different minds retain in our peculiar way of processing, they often miss the infinite diversity in infinite combinations that is ever before them. NTs walk "sightless among miracles."
That's the heartbreak of it. That's every bit as much of the heartbreak as is our Aspie blindness to the olive branches the NTs extend. In some ways, I think, NTs are just as blind to us as we are to them. But since our diverse minds are invisible to them, Aspies are the ones that are labeled with a disorder, with being different. We are the ones "pretending to be normal."
As Robinson, himself an Aspergian, writes about Tim Page's encounter with the heartbreak:
"Tim’s story illustrates that reality with clear and moving prose. Even when he’s been with people, much of his life has been spent alone. He was always smart, but like me, I wonder what it’s been for. His book shows that genius has its benefits but it’s not a formula for happiness or even general life success. You’ll wonder if his extraordinary abilities are a cause or a result of his isolation. Or are they just more facets of a unique mind?"
NOTE: My unique mind often causes me to see the glass as not only just half-full, but dusty and cracked as well. I must remind myself that things are likely not nearly as bad as I think they are.