Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 3: Compromises for Alone-Time and Social Time

Building on the last few posts, we have determined that aspies have a few obvious needs;
  • Alone Time
  • Restricted Touch
  • Routine
  • Gentle Encouragement
  • Love and Understanding
  • Less Empathy, more solutions (mainly an aspie male thing)

and that NT's have other needs;
  • Conversation/Listening
  • Affection
  • Spontaneity and Fun
  • Social Time
  • Empathy
  • Love
There is also a different set of needs related to meltdowns but that's a whole different story, and I'll deal with it in a later set of posts.

Many of the aspie needs have a corresponding opposite in the neurotypical world. There's no happy medium - and the compromises you make need to be dynamic with minor adjustments happing on a daily basis as your situations change.

I'll try to cover the balances between these needs individually.

Conversational Compromise
It's no big secret that the answer to the conversational divide between aspie and neurotypical partners is compromise. The real trick is determining what compromises to make. This is a very personal decision since the tolerances of people will vary considerably not only between couples but also over different periods of time.

The Alone-Time and Social Events Balance
The key to getting appropriate alone-time when in a relationship is to find appropriate balance with your partner. This is much easier if the NT partner has a group of friends that they can go out with and if the aspie side of the relationship is supportive enough to allow this to happen.

Unfortunately, particularly in family situations, this isn't always possible. To get around this, the NT should be clear about where and when they need social support. This satisfies the aspies need for structure and planning and makes them less resistant to social events. To get maximum benefit out of your aspie at a a social event, you should let them have some alone-time both before and afterward.

Planning for Conversation
In normal day-to-day conversation, particularly with aspie partners who have a lot of unavoidable social contact at work, it's important to allow for some alone-time. This conflicts with the NT's need for conversation as well as other home duties such as helping with kids, kitchen duties etc. The best way to satisfy both sets of needs is to follow a loose schedule. It doesn't have to be perfect but you really need to respect each others needs a little or it won't work at all.

A good example of such a schedule could be;
  • 6.00pm - Arrive Home - Time with Children (and dinner)
  • 7.30pm - Kids in bed, exclusive time with partner
  • 8.30pm - Alone time

Adjusting and Respecting the Schedules
The schedule should be loose enough to compensate if, for example the "partner time" is interrupted by telephone calls. Alternatively, if you have an answering machine, you could decide not to accept calls during partner time. The important thing is to respect the boundaries. Don't give your aspie 5 minutes of settling into their alone-time and then keep interrupting at regular intervals.

This is a problem I often have at home. My "alone-time" periods are always longer during weekdays than on weekends - because weekdays I have to work in social settings and I need to "recharge my batteries". My wife tends to watch cop shows on TV and I have alone-time by sitting near her and watching a DVD on my portable player. I used to take alone-time on the computer in a different room but my wife explained that this was unhealthy for our relationship. She was right - and we're much closer now because we stay together even during that "alone time".

Unfortunately, my wife tends to want to talk during the advertisements and forgets that the movie I'm watching doesn't have them. I'll put it on pause to listen to her and then start it again when the conversation is finished. Often, things that my wife will want to discuss will bob into her head in five minute intervals. After stopping my movie several times in a row, I'll have an exasperated expression on my face. This doesn't do our relationship any good.

What really should be happening in these periods is that my wife should realise that this is one of those times when she wants to talk to me. It would be better if she turned off the television and asked for my full attention. That way, we can discuss things properly without her feeling like she needs to break things into smaller conversations (to get back to watching her show) and without me getting irritated. We don't have this problem every night but on the nights that we do - it's obvious that our approach needs to be modified.

Listening Problems
Finally, there's the listening problem. As aspies with special interests, we're well aware that our niche subjects are usually uninteresting to others. In particular, our partners have heard more than a lifetime's worth of material on our special interests. The problem works both ways though but most NT's aren't as aware that their subjects are "uninteresting" to aspies because to other NT's, these subjects often are.

Aspies find it very difficult to concentrate on things outside of their immediate interests. Things that seem to be exciting and "real-life" for NTs are just as dull and lifeless to us as our special interests are to you.

The problem is simple - we have two people who have lots to say but are not interested in eachother's conversation. Conversation by definition is a two way street. There's only one fair answer - compromise;

  1. You both have to listen to each other

  2. Aspies need to maintain at least fleeting eye contact as this reassures your NT partner that you're listening to them. By the same token, the NT needs to accept that they won't get 100% eye contact but that their partner is still listening to them. (just make sure that other distractions such as TV and kids are out of sight).

  3. The Talker needs to be aware that repetition is not required.

  4. When the NT is talking, often they are seeking empathy from their partner. Aspies need to learn ways of showing empathy... but that's a different post.

  5. In general, during discussions, men like to hear answers from their partners while women tend to prefer empathy. The problem is that we each give eachother what we ourselves want, instead of what our partners need. (this is a big generalisation but it's suprisingly true - though I suspect that female aspies have more male-type wants - I'd be happy for a clarification though).

    Example: If your female partner had an incident where she spilled coffee on herself before a big meeting, she wants you to say; "Oh you poor thing, that must have been so embarrassing"... "were you ok? did you scald yourself?" and possibly also... "oh... that's happened to me too - I felt so clumsy".

    If this happened to a male partner, he'd be more keen to hear, "oh.. you can get coffee stains out by washing in lemon juice (I made that up - so don't try it)" or "did you buy a new shirt?".

Next time, I'll look at some of the other balances we need to maintain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 2: What Aspies Want from a Relationship

We've already established that aspies not only have difficulty with small talk but also greatly dislike engaging in it.

You can't change people, so there's no point in settling down with an aspie partner and expecting them to suddenly become socialites.

By the same token, there's no reason to expect your aspie partner to suddenly abandon social contact after years of reasonable participation. You're either born with aspergers or you're not and over the years you develop ways to lessen the impact of your condition. Sure, social interaction never becomes exactly comfortable but it can become bearable in small amounts. Having a formal diagnosis isn't a license to "give up".

Mutual Benefit
So where does that leave couples? Well, the whole point of being married (concepts like love aside) is to exist in a mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship. "Mutually Beneficial" can mean a lot of things; it can mean financial, family orientated, secure or any one of a dozen other meanings. The most important interpretation though, is that both parties should benefit from the relationship.

In order that both parties should benefit, we should be aware of each others wants and needs as well as things which make them feel sad, insecure or uncomfortable. These things vary considerably from one individual to another but there are some things which seem true for many aspies.

Here are some less talked about things that aspies want out of our relationships;

Hugs without Hands
Aspies are often quite sensitive to touch. A light touch on the hand or arm (or worse - for me at least, foot) can leave an itchy tingling sensation which can last for hours. On the other hand, we love tight hugs, they're a firm favourite - but play your fingers on our backs or necks while you do it and you ruin the effect. This is the reason why many people with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) ask for "hugs without hands".

Then there's kissing. There's a bit of a problem with kissing. After all, it's a type of touch. Sometimes you can handle it and sometimes it just "weirds you out". Aspies love hugs but often don't give them because often all we want is a hug but our NT partners expect a kiss as well. Sometimes when I'm greeted at the door with a kiss, it can make me feel really uncomfortable. I'll break it off abruptly with some mumbled excuse. If I was brutally honest with my wife in one of those moments, she would take it to heart. There's just no way that she could understand that it's not her, it's simply that sometimes, I'm more sensitive to touch than others.

It seems silly that a group of people who dislike small talk should crave discussion but it's true. The problem is that we're not good listeners but we expect other people to listen to us. Aspies hate small talk but can usually talk for a little while with family on specific matters of mild interest (such as how little Johnny is going at school). Of course, what we really want to talk about is our special interest.

In fact we'll talk about our special interest incessantly if we can. The trouble is, our special interests usually aren't terribly interesting to our NT partners.

Since movies are a special interest of mine, I'll want to discuss them after we've watched them. Unfortunately, since we tend to watch them late at night, all my wife wants to do is go to sleep afterwards.

Alone Time
When written down, it seems very selfish of us to want "alone time" from our partners as one of the products of our relationships but there it is - it's better that we admit it.

Whenever an aspie puts on a public persona and pretends to be social at an event, it puts them under a lot of strain. So much strain in fact, that we often need a bit of alone time immediately afterward to recharge our batteries.

Aspies who work in jobs which include a lot of social activities such as meetings, are often particularly keen on a bit of solitude when they get home. The more meetings (or the longer a meeting goes), the greater the need for alone-time.

Alone-time can vary greatly depending on the individual and circumstances. Sometimes, complete social isolation is required and we need to go to a room to be by ourselves. At other times, simply listening to music via earphones or watching television without discussion will suffice.

It can be a problem when an aspie is taking a break and the phone rings but at least that can be ignored. A much bigger problem is the fact that our partners, particularly stay-at-home moms, are often starved for adult conversation and their needs are not being met.

As children, aspies are often put into special classes, treated differently and assumed to be generally quite incompetent. This has enormous and long lasting social ramifications which can only worsen the symptoms of aspergers itself.

Aspies quite often have low self confidence and low self esteem. It's not generally admitted but one of the key things that aspies need from their partners is a low stress confidence boost. It is doubtful whether I would have had the confidence to leave my first job were it not for my wife's encouragement. Her words have been inspirational and supportive and they've always encouraged me to stretch my boundaries.

At the same time, I need that "push" to recognise my limits. I've risen quite high in technical circles and I've had a taste of management but found that, similarly to many aspies, the social demands of management cause me too much stress and I'm happiest with a firm technical grounding.

It's widely acknowledged that aspies don't like change - and to an extent, that's true. We certainly resist change more than many of our NT counterparts. It would be more accurate to say that we don't like surprises - unplanned events.

I often walk around with an unspoken agenda in my head of things I'd like to do on a given day. I'll often ask my wife what she wants to do and the be a little miffed that whatever she says isn't quite what I had in mind.

Similarly, I'll sometimes come home to a suggestion that we go out for dinner or that we have a specific type of food. I'll often not be too keen on the idea because it's "not what I had in mind". Of course if my wife rings or emails around lunchtime with a suggestion, I handle it much better. I'm mentally prepared and have the rest of my time planned out accordingly.

Although sometimes I miss the structure of my mother's dinners (we always had the same thing on the same nights), I don't expect this from my wife - and she'd be horrified by such an idea anyway. No, it doesn't have to be a rigid timetable but a little routine and a lot of forewarning can go a long way.

In this post, I've looked at some of the things that aspies want from their relationships - though I've deliberately left out the obvious things in order to concentrate on the more aspie-specific things.

NT's obviously have needs too, which I'm not really qualified to discuss - so I'd welcome any feedback on these.

Next time, we'll try to see how some compromises can be made to meet both groups of needs without negatively impacting our relationships. I know I've strayed somewhat from simple conversation but for some reason, these other topics seemed to go well together.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 1: Changes

In my last post, I talked about how much aspies hate being asked "how was your day". It was entirely from an aspie point of view and I made no apologies for our behaviour but simply told things as they are.

I got a lot of feedback about that post including a few messages from NTs about how much strain this puts on the relationship. I started to think about how this affects my relationship and discussed it with my wife.

She replied that "it's downright rude" and she has a point though I'd probably use the word "direct" rather than "rude".

Who should change?
You may have gotten the idea from my last post that I think the NT should change to accommodate the aspie and if I was speaking only as an aspie, I'd probably agree. From a relationship point of view however, it's obvious that this isn't the answer.

My intention with this series of posts is to try to see both sides of the story.

But first... a bit of a meander...

Changing People
It's my firm belief that you can't change people. In my life, I've seen this demonstrated time and time again and I've come to accept it as a universal truth. Admittedly, there are some heroes out there who can turn their life around by successful avoidance of addictive substances, crash dieting or a change of religion. These people are few and far between.

I first started to think about changing people when I was going out with my wife and she'd say "oh... you won't be doing that after we're married" (usually about spending inordinate amounts of time on the computer). After a few rocky early years though, we both came to accept that we'd married each other because of who we were - not who we could mould each other into.

I still spend inordinate amounts of time on the computer but I accept that it is my wife's role to remind me that there is life outside of it. I find that I compensate by swinging pendulum-like between too much time and too little time. I strive for balance but rarely find it. Computers are in my "blood", they're a special interest and I can't avoid them. The best I can do is fight back against their call.

It's true that people change as they get older. I eat rice now (I hated it when I first got married) and I actually love chilli and curry, which were big no-no's then. Of course, I still won't go near sultanas, grapes, dates or prunes - so I'm not completely changed.

Limiting Change
What really concerned me about the responses to my last post was the suggestion that people "changed" after marriage or changed after their diagnosis. Don't get me wrong... it's impossible to not be changed after big events, such as marriage, children and a diagnosis of a condition but there are limits to be imposed on these changes.

I'm sensing that the catalyst for change isn't so much marriage as diagnosis - or perhaps the acceptance of the diagnosis. It's good to relax into your condition (aspergers) and be yourself for once. It's something that I'm often encouraging aspies to do.

It's good to acknowledge that you don't enjoy a lot of conversations or social gatherings but at the same time, you can't forget family. You should take care not to change so much that you stop being the person your partner married.

Having obtained an aspergers diagnosis at last cannot be an excuse to abandon society.

Now, before you get up in arms about this.. let me explain;

Scenario 1: Aspie Bob.
Aspie Bob has always had a lot of social issues. He never was a particularly well adjusted aspie and he always felt uncomfortable. Luckily for him, he still managed to get married to a girl who loved him for who he was. Of course, he didn't know that he was aspie - he only found that out after he was married.

The diagnosis changed aspie Bob a little. He realised that it was ok to hate social gatherings and he didn't feel so bad about avoiding them. He still spent time with family and friends but now, at least, they understood why he felt so uncomfortable. His diagnosis brought more understanding to his family and ultimately more happiness.

Scenario 2: Aspie Dave.
Aspie Dave was a well-adjusted person. He disliked social gatherings but still attended and would often be the centre of attention when he got there. He was always telling jokes - actually, he was always talking non-stop. Sure, often he'd say the wrong thing and this would cause some friction but most people just said... "oh, that's Dave, he doesn't mean it".

Aspie Dave was married with a family too - and he received a late diagnosis. As he read more and more about his condition, aspie Dave began to act more and more aspie. It was mostly subconscious (hypochondria) (Correction: psychosomatic) but aspie Dave started to attend social gatherings less frequently. He accepted that, as an aspie, he wasn't great at this social thing, and more or less withdrew inwardly. He stopped talking to his family.

In the second case, the diagnosis itself is a catalyst for change - and not a change for the better. In fact, Aspie Dave's acceptance of the condition caused him to throw away the adjustments he'd made over the years to compensate for the condition.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that aspies shouldn't be themselves. They certainly should. There's no reason to "pretend" to be anything other than what you are around your family. The problem is that it's part of human nature to be a hypochondriac (Correction: psychosomatic). Whenever we watch a documentary about a rash, we find ourselves sub-consciously itching. The same is true for mental conditions - but worse, since the immediate effects aren't always so visible.

In my next post, I'll try to look more on the conversational side of things without getting side-tracked (I hope).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Article: How was your day?

I'd like to draw your attention to yet another aspergers article;

How was your day?
on Asperger Square 8

I can really relate to this one. It's the bane of my existence.

My wife and I have discussed this question over and over. It's the subject of a lot of pain for us - and silent resistance.

Problems with the Question
There are a lot of problems with this question. For a start, how do you describe a day. It wasn't my day... it was everyone's day. We all shared it. Then of course, there's the problem of "what answer could actually fit the question?". The best one word answer I can find is; "Good."

The problem with this answer is that it often provokes further open-ended questions; "oh..., what was good about it" or even worse, it encourages the initial "how was your day?" question to be asked several more times during the course of the afternoon, or dinner.

Problems with my Day
Most days, are unremarkable for me. I go to work, do mostly dull work and come home. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my job. It's just that the things I find interesting or funny (an unexpected pattern in computer code, a silly comment by a Microsoft reviewer or a passer by whose umbrella blows inside out) aren't funny or interesting to most other people.

Sometimes I'll say something about my day, expecting it to be dull and lifeless and my wife will give this little excited response. I'll look at her quizzically (not so that she'd notice) and then expand on what I've said, realising that she actually found something interesting. The problem is, that I really don't know which parts of my day are interesting to people and which aren't. All I can say for certain is that most of what I find interesting - isn't and some of what I find uninteresting - is.

Then there's the bad days. If I have a bad day, I just want to shrink inside myself and forget about it. The last thing I want to do is talk about a bad experience. The problem is that I can't reply "terrible" if I've had a bad day. That will only invite lots more questions.

There's a myth around that says that aspies can't lie. We can. The problem is though that lying preys on our minds. We can't do it well because we're always conscious of the conflict it causes.

So... on the one hand, I've had a terrible day and I'm really depressed about it. It's the sort of problem that will take me days to analyse, rebuild and recover from. I certainly don't need any more mental stress and in fact, my mind is churning away on it but in the background. I'm trying not to think about it directly.

On the other hand, I've been asked how my day was. If I answer truthfully, then I'll be badgered to provide all the details (and it will come back to the front of my mind again). If I answer dishonestly, then I'll be adding stress to my mind because I'll be creating a "lie complex" which will torture me for days. Whichever answer I give will cause pain.

So I just grunt...

or I give a non-committal answer... "oh... same toilet different sh***" (this answer doesn't go down particularly well).

or I pretend the question wasn't asked and try to change the subject...

and hope that the question won't be asked again today.

Conversational Keywords versus the Chronological Discussion
If I've got something to talk about or something of interest, I don't need a trite phrase to convince me to say it. I just blurt it out (usually regardless of how off-topic it may be). Sometimes when my wife is talking to me about something, she'll say a key-word which trips a memory. She could be telling me about her day at the shops and mention a washing powder. This will remind me to tell her about a funny incident that happened at work with the photocopier toner spilling (and hence washing being required).

I'll hold up my hand to interrupt her for a second and tell her to ask me about toner when she's finished and then I'll apologise for interrupting and let her continue.

Ten minutes later, she'll ask me about toner and I'll tell her the story. It will be good that she'd asked specifically because I'd have forgotten that I was going to tell her by then.

If she'd asked how my day was, the incident wouldn't have been mentioned because it was an afternoon incident and my memory is strictly chronological (unless I have a keyword to jump to). She'll ask how my day was and I'll often start thinking about getting up, showering, catching the bus etc... (not saying anything because I know that stuff is all boring). I'll often get to the point of making my morning coffee at work - which is where my first social activity occurs. I'll telll her all of the conversations that occurred and then stop.

There's too much to review, and most of it's boring. So, my wife never hears about the afternoon.

Expectations of Counter-Questioning
The flip side of all of this is that I'm often told in argumentative tones... "You don't care because you never ask how my day has been". That's right. I don't.

Just as I blurt things out when I've got something to say - I don't expect to have to invite anyone else to say things. I shouldn't have to ask how her day has been. After all, if something interesting happened, then it should be a "given" that it will be "blurted out" at me.

Similarly, since being prompted to talk about my day is so uncomfortable, I don't see why I should be trying to make other people uncomfortable by asking them. It certainly doesn't come naturally to me - so there's no chance that I'll think to ask about someone's day without prompting.

These days, I have a rule that says. "when asked about your day, respond as briefly as possible then ask about their day because that's what they really want". It's kind of like when someone asks how your meal is, not because they care but because they want you to offer them some. (and that's a whole different discussion).

Article: 12 Steps to Better IEP Meetings

I just want to draw your attention to an article in AdditudeMag (an online journal for parents of children with ADHD and/or Learning Difficulties).

12 Steps to Better IEP Meetings
by Karen Sunderhaft
in AdditudeMag

I'm not 100% certain that I agree with all of the tips presented (the presentation idea sounds way over the top) but I feel that they are mostly good advice.

Just be aware that an IEP is only as good as the team behind it. If you ask for too much, they might agree without actually putting anything into place. The amount of work that a school is willing to put in will vary considerably and it doesn't always bear a resemblance to the amount of funding they receive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Article: Are Aspergians really rude and inconsiderate?

I just wanted to draw your attention to another article in Psychology Today.

It's an essay by John Elder Robison, the Author of "Look me in the Eye". A great book on aspergers which I'd strongly recommend if you haven't already read it.

Are Aspergians really rude and inconsiderate?
By John Elder Robison on November 10, 2008 in My Life With Asperger's

The essay contains a great scenario where John talks about his reaction when his wife takes a tumble. I could really relate to that problem. My wife took a tumble almost a year ago and I remember that at the time I found it very difficult. The problem was that she was quite badly hurt and she was making a lot of noise.

Since I'm very deaf in one ear and more than a little deaf in the other - and since it was quite dark at the time. I have no sound localisation and found it almost impossible to locate her. I really needed her to shut up with the screaming and tell me where she was and I said something to that effect. After about a minute, she realised what she needed to do and I was able to rescue her.

It might sound callous, and to a casual observer it probably would have seemed so. It wasn't that I was unconcerned or without empathy, it was simply that I judged that the best way to help her was to locate her.

I'd also suggest checking out John Elder's blog;

My Life With Asperger's

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Article: Joe and the Mega Sized Smoothie - Language and Aspergers

I just want to draw your attention to a fascinating article on Psychology Today.

It's called

Joe and the Mega Sized Smoothie - Language and Aspergers

The article provides a lot of insight into some differences between aspies and neurotypicals. Though the be fair, the aspie stuff was all "normal" to me. I actually found the neurotypical responses to be more fascinating and "different".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Finding the Boundaries of Borderline Aspergers

Just a quick reminder that although I'm knowledgeable about Aspergers, I'm not a medical professional. I can only apply what I know and see to my own, my childrens and my friends/acquaintances conditions.

The Question
This post is in response to an interesting question I received via comment.

I am confused by the list in the DSM - IV that describes this condition a bit. I know aspergers is on a spectrum, so it doesn't look the same in everyone. Yet in the DSM -- IV it states that the traits which people have when they have aspergers have to significantly detract from a persons ability to thrive in social situations.

So assuming a case is borderline, where would asperger's end and a neurotypical person with a lot of aspie traits begin?

The DSM and Diagnosis
The DSM by itself is very confusing and opinions vary greatly from one doctor to another. Unlike diseases or physical problems, aspergers is still undetectable by electronic means such as X-rays, CAT scans etc. (Although I believe that some amazing results are starting to come through). This makes any diagnosis extremely subjective.

Some doctors don't actually believe in the condition, while others have very fixed ideas about the condition, for example; dismissing any children who make even the most rudimentary eye contact despite the fact that the DSM quite openly states in its criteria that you need not display all symptoms.

The other thing to remember about the traits of aspergers is that they aren't necessarily impossible for NTs. There are some NT people who dislike eye contact, some who have specific social interests and many who stim in one way or another. At this point, the only guide we have is the DSM which requires that you meet certain minimum criteria - all of which can be determined subjectively.

We are all still learning about Aspergers and nobody is quite sure where the boundaries lie.

There are two major schools of thought;

  1. Those who feel that aspergers is a base-level difference. A difference in the very wiring of the brain.

  2. People who feel that aspergers is simply a difference of characteristics. (the curebie approach).
Personally, I fall into the former category. I also think this is the majority opinion. though I know some people who support the second.

The Curebie Approach
If we look at the second option for a moment, it suggests that the difference is simply in the presence and strengths of the characteristics. In this model, there would be a sliding scale where at one end, there would be low functioning autism, while at the other, neurotypicality.

The benefit (and the problem) with this approach is that it gives parents false hope. It suggests that if you can eliminate the characteristics, then the child will "become" neurotypical. This is the basis on which a lot of (in my opinon, "crackpot and unsafe") therapies, such as behaviour modification, chelation, shock treatment and confinement are tried.

In this world, there are cases of varying degrees and it is possible to "learn how to be neurotypical". A borderline case in this world would be a child who is "mostly normal".

The Evolutionary Approach
The evolutionary approach is quite different. Put simply, it suggests that the brains of aspies are "wired differently". In this world, it is quite impossible for an aspie to become neurotypical but it doesn't mean that they can't learn to "present as NTs" when called for.

There are a number of reasons for my belief in this theory including the fact that the symptoms of aspergers spread far beyond mental characteristics and into the realm of muscluature. Aspies are often described as hyptonic (having low muscle tone) and this has very little to do with their mental state. It points to a wider genetic issue.

In this world, there would be no "borderline" aspergers cases. Simply cases where some aspies have learned to hide/control their symptoms better than others. All would think differently.

The Deer Example
I thought I might finish up with an example from the animal kingdom. About three years ago, I heard a doctor talking about ADHD (but it could just as well have been aspergers). He cited a BBC animal documentary that he'd been watching. There were a group of deer grazing in grasslands where a lion was prowling. All of the deer were happily eating - all that is, except for one. There was one deer who couldn't hold it's focus on the grass for very long. It kept lifting it's head an looking around. The slightest sound would distract it.

The distracted "ADHD" deer was the one who first spotted the lion. Although it wasn't a fast runner compared to the other deer, it had an advantage. It started running first. This deer was also particularly important to the herd as it acted as a lookout.

The documentary crew followed that particular herd of deer for a long period. They found that the particular "ADHD" deer repeated the pattern over and over again. It wasn't a designated lookout and the task wasn't "shared" with other deer. I think, that they hinted that the behaviour continued in the deer's offspring suggesting either "training" or more likely, a genetic difference.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Simple Real-Life Example of Aspie Awkwardness in a Social Situation

We often hear about aspie awkwardness in social situations but the diagnostic criteria doesn't give parents and supporters much to go on. I've decided to give you a very simple example;

The Setup
Yesterday was Melbourne cup day. For overseas people, Melbourne cup day is the day in which the entire of Australia stops to celebrate a horse race in Melbourne. For the people of Melbourne, it is actually a holiday however the other States in Australia simply get a break around time the race is run and perhaps a few other celebrations.

At my workplace, we celebrate by wearing silly hats to a luncheon and then watching the race on TV together. This year, although I was looking very hard for a propeller hat, I ended up wearing a London bobby helmet.

Being in IT, I am always late to these functions due to last-minute helpdesk calls etc. This usually means that I end up sitting next to the CEO who is often also late.

On this occasion, the CEO wore a pointed wizards hat. A few other people around the table wore funny hats but most were too "sad"? To wear anything that wasn't strictly normal.

A Bit of Background
Last year, the CEO wore a jester's hat and it was a great hit. 1 month later, at the Kris Kringle (where we buy each other presents and secretly swap), the CEO received a clown's wig. He was not amused. At the time, I thought it was a pretty bizarre present and I could understand why he wasn't impressed. The CEO followed his musings up with a statement to the effect that the present must have been chosen because of his "comedy trendsetting" at the Melbourne cup.

Being an aspie, all of this is recorded in my memory in full detail and feels like yesterday. I might not necessarily expect everybody to remember the details but since it happened to the CEO, I would have expected him to remember it perfectly.

Forced Conversation
One of the things that I really hate about social occasions is the fact that you are expected to converse, even though there is not much to talk about. The aim of this conversation is small talk where you are supposed to talk about all manner of disconnected and non-relevant things such as the weather and you are supposed to comment on things that are unusual at the table - though not personal features.

Melbourne cup day hats fall very much into this category as great objects for discussion. I commented to the CEO that his was a cool hat but suggested that he would need to be careful as whatever he wore could conceivably influence his Christmas present in the Kris Kringle.

I figured that it was a fairly plain way to remind him, with humorous intent and without going into too much detail. As it turned out, the CEO looked at me strangely and said that he had no idea what I had just said. I had to elaborate four times and after each time he'd say, "no, I'm still not quite following you".

Eventually I had to tell the entire story which, to be honest is a fairly boring one. I couldn't just drop the matter since the CEO was now taking this as a personal comment.

After a while, the CEO and the other people at the table started to remember however it confused me that they didn't already know - they were all there after all.

They thought that I had purchased the clown hair since I was the only person who remembered it well. Although I dissuaded them, I wonder whether or not they believe that.

The result of all of this was that I ended up having to talk more than I wanted to, got blamed for something I didn't do and ended coming across as a very boring person because I had to spend a long while explaining a quip. I also felt pretty stupid because I wasn't able to get my point across without having to repeat it four times.

It just becomes yet another social discouragement for me and encourages me to keep my mouth shut in future. I'm not blaming the people involved, their own lack of memory isn't their fault. I'm simply using the incident to demonstrate how differently the aspie mind works and why it makes conversation so painful for us.

This was a very small incident but the point I'm trying to make here is that this sort of thing happens nearly every single time an aspie tries to be involved in a social event. Social events become extremely trying for us as well as significantly reducing our self-esteem.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't think that there really is one.