Sunday, December 6, 2009

Individuality and Aspergers

The main crisis of faith I had when diagnosed with aspergers related to my own sense of individuality. Sure, I was happy to be part of a group of like-minded individuals but I was concerened that many of my "unique traits" were no longer unique.

I'd accepted myself as someone who wasn't good a things like social, sports and general "blokey" things on the basis that I was unique. I was an individual who could be at times funny, weird, intellectual and astonishing but now I'd found a group of people who were bad at the same sorts of things as I but who excelled in the same quirkyness as me. It had stopped being "me" and became a question of genetics. I no longer felt special.


Differences amongst Aspies
I've taken comfort over the years since then in the fact that we are in fact, not all alike. We each have our own sets of traits and we each have our own personalities. It has taken a long time for me to re-accept myself and to see those differences but I'm a better person for it.

The Aspergers label is a great handle for describing a group of traits but it shouldn't be taken as an ultimate truth. The label is very much like the term "fruit". It's fair to say that all fruit grow on trees and I'm sure that there are a bunch of other similarities too but there are also big differences. A banana is very different to a bunch of grapes, to an apple, a kiwi fruit a melon or a passionfruit.

In the same way, while aspies have several similarities, we must never lose sight of the fact that they are all individuals. To generalise is to discriminate.


Who are Aspies?
The term aspergers is used to describe someone who meets the specifications in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Revision 4). Those specifcations don't always nail down specific traits. In fact they read like multiple choice questions with phrases like;

  • Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following...
  • Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following...

In both cases, it presents four different sets of aspie traits.

I've recently heard of some aspies who claim that other individuals don't have the condition because they "aren't the same as me". This is an incorrect assumption, and it also belittles the person with aspergers. In their own way, they have suffered just as much as you.

Not only does this assumption not take into account changes from one individual to another but it also ignores the major differences in the diagnostic criteria which presents eight possibilities but expects you to only match three.

The idea should not be that all aspies are alike. Instead, it should be that there are similarities between aspies but that these similarities are limited. I'm often surprised at how similar some aspies are because there's no reason at all for them to be the same.


Just be Yourself
I think that I over-use this phrase, particularly when talking to aspies about their romantic lives. Often aspies don't want to hear it.

The Romantic Aspect
Before I go on, I'll clarify the romantic aspect of the phrase "just be yourself". It doesn't mean that you should walk around in your underpants and it doesn't mean that you can't try to impress someone that you're going out with. It simply means that you shouldn't attempt to present a false view of yourself when seeking a long-term relationship. You want to attract someone who will love you for who you are, rather than someone who will leave as soon as you find the "false-you" too hard to maintain in their presence.

The Individual Aspect
The real importance of "just be yourself" isn't romantic at all. It's all about self-acceptance and individuality.

It's easy to maintain a "false face" for short periods and many aspies become great actors over the years because of the way their social issues force them to act when in company. I've discussed in previous posts how I used to craft different personalities for different teachers when I was at school. It was difficult to keep these from clashing particularly when teachers grouped together or visited each other's classrooms.

Trying to be someone that you're not for extended periods is different. It is very hard work. I'm of the opinion that individuality is a beautiful thing and that it shouldn't be suppressed. It's true that you need to moderate your individuality in various settings; in the workplace for example but you should not modify it to the extent that your personality becomes "lost".

Your personality will both win and lose friends for you. There's very little that you can do about this. Instead, it's best to take comfort in the fact that the friends that you do make will like you because of who you are, rather than who you're pretending to be.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, "being yourself" is about self-acceptance and self-love. Aspies have a lot of problems with depression which stem from self-loathing and a lack of self-acceptance. It's hard enough to cope with the pressures of today's society and lack of acceptance amongst members of our family and "friends" without contributing to the problem ourselves.

Individuality is something to be celebrated. We should all be examining the things that make us, "ourselves" and not simply accepting them but also being proud of them. It's the first step on the road to rebuilding our self-esteem.

6 comments:

Shanti Perez said...

Thanks! Good information!

DJ Kirkby said...

What a great and informative post for the 'nypicals, aspies and everyone in between. I agree about behaviour modification at work but my oh my it is so hard to maintain. Some days I am more sucessful than others.

Lee said...

Very good post! I must say now that I have my diagnosis, I realize why I need a good rest after work or necessary socializing (meaning unavoidable social interaction). Putting that social appearance on for a while is very exhausting, making time alone that much more refreshing.

Anonymous said...

Great!! You make the aspies' traits so normal and understandable for NT's like me. Thanks for writing these blogs.

Pepper Basham said...

Gavin,
Thanks for the blogs. They're insightful and helpful - especially for someone who works with Aspies.

Leonard Houston said...

Thank you so much for this blog. I was diagnosed over 5 years ago with Asperger's and 2 years after that I was not willing to accept it. It sent me into a great depression but recently I've learned to accept it and must admit I love the pros of being an aspie. To me, they greatly out-weigh the cons. Keep up the great work.