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.


Anonymous said...

lol, even though I'm undiagnosed, I can so much relate to this problem. I always remember things in detail and when I make such a remark, all the others wouldn't even remotely understand what I was talking about. Then I have to tell the whole story and this often seems boring. Also due to my lack of story telling skills.

And I always get accused for being responsible for something bad just because I am the only one who remembers it in full detail.
It's kinda stressful to always conciously remove details from your memory to scale it down to NT level when telling a story.

Oh, and I'd love to one day get one of those really silly propeller hats for those special moments in life :)

Catana said...

I can't even imagine going through all that crap. I would have skipped the luncheon and the funny hat. But I guess that would have been more proof of social inadequacy. Sorry you had to deal with it.

Em said...

I'm reading and nodding; you've summarised many of my social experiences in a few paragraphs. It used to confuse and humiliate me, then sometime in my 20s I accepted those moments would come, but after my son was diagnosed as a gifted Aspie and I searched for information... well, now I know why. It's a good example of how Aspies run into brick walls every day, when they have good intentions and just want to get along with others. When I think of my child having to travel this path I feel very sad, but as a friend commented, I'm in a good position to help him learn coping skills.

Mostly I just smile, nod, encourage other people to talk about themselves, and often just shut my mouth... and pick my social occasions. Bit hard to avoid the melb cup thing when you work with other ppl tho.

Thanks for blogging about this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blog, I read it every week. It's like looking in a mirror...

I have "learned" to enjoy being social at work, against a backdrop of structure, but when I join co-workers outside of work for a get-together, my house of cards crumbles. My stories go nowhere.

Inside my mind, I'm cheering myself on, and I 'm the only person who seems interesting to me!

It's funny here, it's not funny there.

LizzieK8 said...

Solution? Not to be in social situations.... It's not like it's something we can practice and figure out how to do...

It always made me wonder if I was crazy...that people could be at the same place I'd been, witnessed the same event and have no knowledge of what I was talking about.

Anonymous said...

That has happened to me so many times!!!! I am always left wondering why other people dont know what I'm talking about.

pink said...

I feel like this happens to me ALL THE TIME. I have a strange sense of humor, and it's frustrating when other people don't get my jokes. I also have the same heightened memory that you do, so I remember everything like it happened yesterday, even what people are wearing.

I like what you said about having other people talk about themselves, though. It makes you seem more eager to get to know them, and most people love talking about themselves. I've learned to do this the hard way, and it works so much better - the only thing I need to think of creatively are questions to ask the other person!

Gotta love our awkwardness :P

Angela said...

This is an interesting story. And this is a bit off topic, but I couldn't find an email address to contact you and I have some questions I thought you might know something about concerning Aspergers.

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?

My email is -- if you could give me any insight into this. Thanks.

Moonbrain Mare said...

You know, I have the exact same kind of thing happen to me, and I'm completely neurotypical. Heh.

Anonymous said...

You poor sod, this sounds utterly DIRE. Having to spend valuable time with idiots and also to compound it all the silly hats - this all makes me cringe. A nightmare scenario I would avoid like the plague, fifty years of life experience has at least some benefits. aspergerkid.blogspot

Anonymous said...

Something similar happened to me when I was in college, especially at the beginning of a semester. Someone would talk to me in one class and they would tell me things about themselves. Then I would see that person in another class and sit by them. We would again talk and I would mention something they had said on the previous occasion. They would then get freaked out and avoid me. Could they really not remember that we had spoken earlier and they had told me those things?
I quickly learned to shut up.Of course then people thought I was unfriendly because I didn't talk to them even though we had talked before.

Anonymous said...

I cringed through reading this whole post, as if it were happening to me -- because it HAS, so many times. What drives me crazy is how the NTs cannot then let it go: they have to keep harping on it until you've retold the story, on and on.

I somehow cannot break the habit of making the little quips anyway...possibly due to the fact that my whole family makes jokes that are similar to those. But theirs are funny and mine, by and large, aren't. So it's like random reinforcement -- I get just enough positive feedback to make me think it's OK to try again. After all, it works *sometimes*. :(

Anonymous said...

With this in connection to a previous post about the difference between AS and HFA, with the main difference being in the desire to have friends, what about someone who would like friends and attempted friendship when younger, but failed repeatedly to the point that they just give up and lose all desire for friendship?

Anonymous said...

From what I read, you are simply gifted. I never accepted Asperger's as an explanation, what I have learnt through practice is to never comment on details that others may not recall without preceding it with a "do you remember when.." or similar phrases depending on the situation. Of course they would get upset, no one likes to be treated as not as smart.

I also always avoided eye contact based on principle. I found it to be too odd to stare into another's eyes, too physical and emotional, simply a distraction from what they actually stand for. I can get the social hints form watching the order of the their eyebrow and eye lashes and how the eye moves and recognize the patterns. I actually think I do better than the intuitive standard human way (which I mastered soon as I discovered they actually do look into each other's eyes). But all in all, my actions and reaction are all based on one principle!

Never dig myself into a hole by speaking too much.