Monday, January 21, 2008

Aspies and Sexuality

A word of warning: This post may cover adult topics - though really nothing "juicy" so it's probably safe. You may want to read it carefully before allowing minors to look at it.

The Myths

In the last week, prompted by some "off the wall" questions, I have been reading a lot of discussions about aspies and sexuality. I am amazed at the opinions of otherwise respectable people in the medical profession. I have found a whole bunch of statements including;

  • All autistic people are gay
  • Most autistic people are asexual (derive no pleasure from sex).
  • Aspies are sex maniacs

Preferences
Reading a lot further afield and having discussions with other aspies makes it clear to me that aspies come in all sizes shapes and forms. Their preferences vary just as much as neurotypicals.

On Page 246 of "Asperger's Syndrome: Intervening in Schools, Clinics, and Communities" By Linda J. Baker, Lawrence A., they say;

The sexual profile of individuals with Asperger's syndrome indicates that they have sexual needs and drives comparable to those of the general population. Their attitude towards sexuality is positive. They have fantasies but lack experience, generally because interpersonal difficulties prevent easy progression into sexual relationships. One study participant summarized the problem by saying, "situations with lover are very awkward. It seems as though my loneliness and lack of experience show on my face... Several people look at me and laugh. One can't help but feel inferior and unhappy.

In other words, their preferences vary as much as NTs but their difficulty with relationships complicates matters.


On the asexual side...
When I first started looking up asexuality I thought it meant having the ability to procreate with yourself (ie: snails are asexual). In humans, it doesn't mean that. It means that one derives no pleasure from sexual acts - not that they don't do it - (particularly when their partner is pressuring them) simply that they get nothing out of it.

One does not choose to be asexual, you're born that way. People who don't have sex by choice are abstaining, not asexual.

On Page 309 of "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome" By Tony Attwood, he states that;

Sexuality can become a special interest in terms of acquiring information and of interest in sexual diversity and activities. The desire for such relativities and sexual intimacy can be excessive, almost compulsive. However, the partner of a man or woman with Asperger's syndrome is more likely to be concerned about the lack of sexual desire rather than an excess. The partner with Asperger's syndrome may become asexual once the or she has had children or once a couple of formally committed themselves to the relationship.

In other words, being a sex maniac may simply be because the aspie has picked up "sex" as a special interest, albeit probably a short-term one. Once the special interest has gone, the desire for sex may disappear too. Tony makes the mistake of suggesting that someone can "become asexual" but I think it's obvious what he means.

There are lots of statistics on asexuality and these give rise to the idea that aspies are asexual. Certainly asexuality is reported in higher numbers in aspies than in the general population. These statistics can be read in two ways;

A high number of asexuals are aspies but not a high number of aspies are asexual.


The Problems of Touch
This is a late entry (I thought I'd finished this post) but figured that I'd better cover the sensory issues associated with touch. I've spoken to a number of aspies who find light touching, fingertips etc, to be irritating. I am certainly that way myself. Many aspies who have no problems with tight hugs etc, will tend to pull away if they are patted or stroked. Often itching or rubbing the place where they have been touched. This will frequently send the wrong message to their loved ones.


Conclusions
It certainly seems that the sexuality of aspies doesn't differ a great deal from the general populace with a few minor exceptions;
  1. Aspie sexual activity is, as always, hampered by their lack of social skills
  2. Aspies with sensory issues may have problems with touch
  3. Sexually active Aspies are often a little more experimental than the general public and have less understanding of boundaries.
  4. There are a higher number of asexual people in the aspie community than in the general community but they are still very much a minority.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Assuming that Other People are Mind Readers (NT Confusion in Aspie Conversation)

Assuming that Other People are Mind Readers is commonly described as an aspie trait though I don't think it's the result of aspie assumptions. Instead I think it's an NT interpretation of their behaviour.

Behaviour 1: Sudden changes of topic in mid-conversation
This stems from the aspies difficulty with small-talk. Aspies won't stand around discussing the weather but tend to discuss and resolve a single topic, then quickly move onto the next. NT conversation is quite different and they will tend to move to a neutral topic before starting on something completely different. There is nothing wrong with either approach but NTs talking to aspies often get lost at this point and think that the aspie has found something new to add to the original topic.

Behaviour 2: Expecting People to have a Shared Memory
A lot of things come back to the aspie memory. Aspies often have very clear memories of events and quotations. In conversation, they may drop a remark which links back to a particular memory but even if the NT was present at that event, it could have been years ago, or the particular part of the event to which the Aspie is referring may not form a large part of their memory.

Example: An NT spills a drink at a party. The Aspie might say, "you have a habit of spilling drinks - lucky it wasn't orange juice". This could refer to an event at a picnic more than two years ago where perhaps that NT had knocked a bottle of orange juice over. NTs do not remember events in such detail and would therefore have no idea what the Aspie is talking about.

Similar things happen when the Aspie drops a quotation from a particular movie or song into the conversation without warning and without acknowledging the source. The NT becomes confused.

Behaviour 3: Leaving half the words out
Aspies often get the feeling that they are not being listened to. This is probably something to do with not understanding the visual and tonal cues in conversation. What often happens as a result of this is that the aspie trails off in midsentence.

Similarly, sometimes aspies have a tendency to start a conversation in their head and only verbalise the last parts. This is particularly common when they've just had an idea and pick up where a mental conversation, rather than a real one, left off. For this reason, NT's have a great deal of difficulty following aspie conversation and assume, not wrongly in this case, that we are expecting them to be mind readers.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Defining a Spectrum - Degrees of Aspergers

The more I post blogs and receive feedback and the more I discuss and read about Aspergers online, the more convinced I become that the actual symptoms aren't widely known. Not only that but I've seen some amazing generalizations from the medical profession, including paediatricians and psychologists. The same seems to apply to the teaching profession.

Comments like; "they gave me good eye contact, therefore they can't have aspergers...", give the impression that the condition is a simple logical on/off switch where you either have it or you don't.

In reality, the condition is based on a set of characteristics, only some of which need to be present with any strength for a diagnosis to be made.

With this in mind, aspies could be as diverse as neurotypicals with no two having quite the same temperment.

The fact that so many similarities have been noted is probably only testament to the observational powers of Dr. Hans Asperger.

So, what does this mean for aspies in general? I guess it simply means that increasingly, we need to take the official criteria with a "pinch of salt". It shouldn't be the only way to make a diagnosis. You might have several characteristics all of which are mild or you might have only a small number of characteristics but they might be severe. In both cases, this would not be enough to diagnose a child with the condition.

Even more importantly, it's very probable that there are yet more characteristics out there which should be considered.

Of course, the flip side of the arguement is also important. If we aren't careful, there is a risk of over-diagnosis. I'm sure that most NTs have at least a couple of aspie traits. Its a spectrum after all.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Aspies and Clothing

Welcome to 2008! This post looks at the way in which people with Asperger's choose and wear clothing.

This is another one of those strange posts that I originally thought was only me. After a lot of online discussion, it appears that there is a common thread amongst aspies. I don't think I've seen this discussed properly in the literature anywhere.

Not following the the fashions
Okay, this bit has been mentioned in the literature as a one-liner. I guess what is being said here is simply that aspies often are dressed like dags. This fits the "aspie as a nerd" image very well. Aspies generally don't like a lot of change and as result, they will often wear similar outfits all the time. In fact, on a recent shopping trip,when I found a shirt that I liked, I bought a couple of pairs in different colours and I was quite tempted to buy a lot more copies.

What attracts aspies to clothing?
  • Colourful patterns
    In my younger days, I had a vast array of extremely colourful jumpers with patterns which I liked on them. I think the patterning part is pretty obvious but the colours are obviously intended to attract attention. I have a feeling that I was attempting to compensate for my lack of social skills by wearing colours which would make me more noticed.

  • Similarity to previously liked clothing
    I don't go looking for something new and exciting to wear but rather look for something to replace an item of clothing that either no longer fits or has worn through. My shoes have followed the same basic styles for years and I'm always buying the same colour shirts.

  • Lack of negative texture
    Some clothing textures just don't feel right on an aspie. We can almost always tell if clothing has a "bad" texture without even having to try it on.

  • lack of negative memory
    This is hard to explain, so I'll use an example instead. I once went off a particuar type of buttons for years because of their similarity to sliced bananas. I am over that phase now however there are still some buttons which make me squeamish just to look at them. I don't quite know why, but I know banana's are involved (btw: I've only started eating Banana's again in the last 6 months - after not eating them for about 10 years).

Aren't you hot in that jacket?
This is one of the most frequent things aspies are asked about their clothing. I remember walking home every day in 30°C heat wearing a jumper. I never felt the heat despite my mother's complaints when I got home. I simply thought that the texture of the jumper was nicer then the texture of my shirt. I was also afraid that if I took my jumper off, I would probably lose it.

I thought that this behaviour had disappeared once I left school. It obviously hasn't, I just don't have my mother complaining to me about it anymore.

Recently, I went to my sister's 40th birthday party. It was a coldish night, so I wore a long coat. I call it my "Matrix Coat" because it's a little like the coats they wear in the Matrix movies. I was very very comfortable with the coat on and even though it warmed up because the party was held indoors, I still did not take it off.

I must have been asked about 20 times (by nosey do-gooders) why I didn't take the coat off and "wasn't I hot in that coat...". In the end, I finally took the coat off in order to shut people up. I left the party about 10 minutes later, so I'm wondering if the coat was protecting me (making social contact easier).