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Article: Life as an Aspergian female (Part 2b)

John Elder Robison (author of "Look me in the Eye") has

I've already covered part one and the first half of part two of this article but my OCD dictates that I need to finish the rest.

If you haven't read it, the article is on John Elder Robison's excellent blog;

Part II of the Female’s View of Asperger’s guest post

Since this post, like the previous two, is a reaction to the article, you probably should have read the originals first.

Continuing on from Part 1 and Part 2a.

  • Expression
    I love the term "hunted animal expression". I've often had people come up to me and ask "are you alright" when I've been perfectly alright and just thinking. I guess that when I'm deep-thinking, my facial muscles relax into whatever is my normal aspie expression - it must be scary.

    Deborah, the writer, talks about a difference between the male and female expression suggesting that one is stone-faced while the other is animated. On this, I beg to differ. Sometimes I'm stone-faced and sometimes I'm very animated. There's usually no "in-between", it's one extreme or the other.

  • Trying on Personalities
    Like many aspies, I do use a lot of voices and sound effects. My kids love it when I read books to them because every character is given a different accent (though by the end of long books, I'll often get mixed up and/or merge the characters). I'll also do hydraulics noises, animal growls and various other effects while reading.

    It's not just about speech though - and it's not even about mannerisms. Sometimes I "become" different people. This was particularly obvious at school when we changed teachers between periods. For one teacher, I'd be a loud boisterious kid while for another I'd be a shy innocent. I also had clinical/statistical personalities and darker "tortured soul" type personalities.

    It all confused my teachers considerably and I'd hear stories from the staff room from other teachers who knew of my chameleon qualities.

  • Temper Tantrums
    This is one of the places where I have to be a bit pedantic. It's a particular bugbear of mine to bring out the distinction between a temper tantrum and a meltdown. To the casual onlooker, they seem the same but there's a very important distinction.

    Temper Tantrums are controlled while meltdowns are not.

    It may seem to you that a screaming, hitting, kicking and spitting five year old girl in a shopping centre is "uncontrolled" but it's not always the case. If the said girl was "pitching a fit" because her mother wouldn't buy her a lollipop, you might notice that as soon as the mother complies and provides the lolly, the fit disappears. The girl had total control over her own behaviour and she was only using it to obtain something she wanted.

    Meltdowns are different. They have a much less tangible causes and are linked not with wants but with feelings.

    Take for example, the meltdown my son had at scouts last night;

    My son had been excessively fidgety all night. Touching other cubs, talking while the leader was talking and doing his best to disrupt the proceedings. As a general rule, I try not to discipline my own children at cubs but I was required to make an exception in this case - the other leaders were busy. I had him sit against a wall for five minutes.

    When he rejoined his pack, my son was quite excited by the new activity which involved drawing (a favourite pastime of his) but was so eager to begin that he started pushing and shoving his fellow cubs. This time the sixer, his pack leader (a boy of a similar age), took charge and refused to let him draw. My son then commenced a meltdown which, had I not recognised the problem immediately, would have escalated into something major.

    The problem wasn't with his sixer's instructions. They were only the

    I'm a big enough part of my son's life to know that he's developing a bit of an issue with exclusion. Unlike a temper tantrum, the solution to calming him down did not revolve around fixing the trigger. Had I taken him back to the paper and given him a pencil, he probably would have ripped it to shreds.

    The solution in this case was to calm him down first - away from the other children. I did this by talking in a calm voice and taking his attention away from the topic. Sometimes mentioning his special interest can help snap him out of it too. Once I had his attention, I took him back to the group. I sat down with the sixer and told him to divide the portions of the paper up into bits and allocate them to indivuduals. I suggested that giving an end bit to my son would be a good idea as it would reduce the number of other children he was in direct shoulder-rubbing contact with.

    The sixer gave him the pencil and showed him where to draw and my son got the acceptance he needed to move on.

  • The Stare
    I do stare at people. It's not me being rude, it's just that it takes me a lot longer to absorb all the information. Sometimes, the clothing that someone wears triggers memories and sometimes it has a stimulating pattern. Sometimes I just like to bask in the glow of a smiling face.

    Whatever the reason, I stare - and it sometimes unnerves people.

  • Personal Disclosure
    I have pretty much no understanding of the need for privacy (other than for security reasons). Since lying doesn't come naturally to me and since I tend to tell things how they are, I don't have any secrets lying around to be discovered. I'm in total agreement with Deborah on these things.

  • Overwhelm
    In this section, Deborah talks about how crowds send her into hysteria. Strangely enough, it's only recently that I can relate to this. I didn't really used to get bothered by crowds but now that I'm older, I get scared.

    I don't have too much of a problem addressing a crowd. The problem is mingling. Walking through a mass of seething, chirruping bodies. I go for walks at lunchtime, in the city. My walk is weird, very weird. Sometimes I walk, often I speed-walk and sometimes I hop, skip and run through the crowds, jumping up stairs and dancing around like a madman.

    Crowds do that to me.

    I look for gaps in the crowd but when people around me start encroaching on my personal space, I'll make a break for it and dash to the next big space. If no space can be found, I'll feel the panic rising. Yes, crowds overwhelm me these days.

  • Inability to get over it.
    I blame the long term aspie memory for this. Many of my present actions are shaped by my past experiences. I find the past very difficult to let go of and it permeates into everything I do.

    I'm terrified to let people near my stuff because of something that happened when I was in year 5 at school.

    I'm difficult and resentful in certain situations at work because of a problem that happened four years ago (that everyone else has forgotten).

    It's even becoming something of a catchphrase of my wife's; "Get over it!". Of course, that's just the point... I can't.

The Article's Conclusion
Deborah winds up her discussion with a look at how aspergers makes you feel like an alien, coupled with some weird stuff that I'm not even going to discuss.

The last part of her discussion states that she believes that Aspergers is a neurological difference, not a disorder. This is firmly in line with my own beliefs. Do I think that we're the next step in evolution?

... erm... no. Sorry.

Aspergers, in my opinion is an evolutionary difference, just like any other. It's not a new difference and it's been around (if undetected) for hundreds of years. I'm convinced that it's a difference that we'll eventually find in other members of the animal kingdom too.

Why is it on the rise? Arguably for the same reason that there are more galaxies now than there were when I was little. We're getting better at detecting it.

Of course, being evolutionary, there's also the possibility that our lifestyle is suitable for it and that as a result there's an increased chance that aspergers genes will be carried on in future generations. After all, it's probable that a great many aspies in the past were either institutionalised or were amongst the first to die on battlefields - this would certainly have reduced their chances of adding to the gene pool.

The article was certainly controversial and it has generated a lot of interest and quite a few detractors as well. My thanks go out to John and Deborah for having the guts to post an article which stimulates such debate.

I think I learned quite a bit about the female aspie from the article but mainly I learned that they're not as different from the male aspie as I thought. We have many of the same strengths and weaknesses and it's mainly our society which makes them less detectable.


Anonymous said…
Just because NT and ASD are different types of people, doesn't necessarily mean that one is move evolved than the other. Take psychopathy for example. If we assume that it's a genetic thing, then it would be easy to make the case that they are superior humans. After all, they can lie, cheat, steal and manipulate without a qualm. However, there's two reasons why it is likely that they will never be more than 1% of the population. One, if there's too many of them, their disguise of appearing human will be useless because people will take actions to counter them. Second, they need normal humans to prey upon. If everybody was a psychopath, the world would descend into anarchy because everybody would be out for themselves.

As for the disorder thing, I think you might have misunderstood what a disorder is. To quote Steven Novella "a disorder is an alteration or deficiency of a typical feature or function that results in demonstrable harm."

I think all ASD fits under that.
Gavin Bollard said…
Under that definition of disorder, you could classify many attributes of NTs as disorders of aspies.

Everything is Subjective.

In that sense, I'm leaning more towards the popular descriptions of "disorder" because despite the negative impact of certain features of aspergers, I consider that the positive features make it worthwhile (the preferred state for me).
Lindsay said…
"Do I think we're the next step in evolution?

... erm... no. Sorry."

That part of her article really annoyed me, too. First, there's the fundamental misunderstanding of how evolution works --- it's not linear or teleological, it's change over time in response to environmental pressures. Even if I believed autistics were something new --- which I don't; I think we've existed for a long time and have only now been singled out for study --- and that we might one day constitute a subspecies of humankind, that does not make us The Next Step in evolution the way Windows 7 is the next step in Microsoft's operating-systems development. Evolution is not a succession of progressively better attempts at solving the same problem, it is a succession of solutions to a succession of problems.


This misguided view of evolution feeds into the other thing I don't like about this next-step rhetoric, which is the Aspie-supremacy. If you believe evolution is linear and progressive, you believe newer categories are "above" older ones. Humans above apes, apes above rodents, rodents above amphibians, etc. There's also a long, ugly history of using half-baked ideas about human types to construct a hierarchical ordering of people, usually along racial lines.

I have no desire to see that pattern replicated with neurotype as the specious criterion for membership in the "evolutionary" elect.
Lindsay said…
I did like the "hunted animal expression," though. A friend once told me I reacted to sudden, unanticipated physical contact "like a feral dog." :)
e said…
Excellent writing, Gavin. Yours, not hers.
Anonymous said…
Ok, can you provide examples gavin? Just because it has positive symptoms doesn't make it any less of a disorder. The fact is, your brain is not typical, and thus causes problems. Regardless of whether it also has benefits, whether you like it that way, it is still a disorder.
Gavin Bollard said…

This is purely wordplay and pedantry so don't take it the wrong way but...

If "a disorder is an alteration or deficiency of a typical feature or function that results in demonstrable harm."

then any alteration of a typical feature in a "harmful" way is a disorder.

Many of the aspergers alterations are only harmful because of the way our society operates.

In that sense, someone with a different skin colour in predominantly one-colour society could be said to have a disorder.

This is plainly silly as skin colour generally has little bearing on non-social aspects (though many would argue that certain skin colourations seem to produce better runners and better singers).

In a similar sense, many of the perceived major problems with aspergers are social. For example; in a different type of society, with different customs, it may be that eye contact is less critical.

Then there's the benefits of aspergers. I can do some pretty amazing things with memory and focus. My NT counterparts can't do these things. Right now, this lack of ability in NTs isn't a problem but in a predominantly aspie society... who knows.

I do understand that Aspergers negatively affects its subjects in various ways depending upon their environment and their individual spectrum attributes.

I find the definition of disorder to be extremely subjective and since one of the main aims of this blog is to present a positive view of aspergers, I tend to treat it as a difference rather than a disorder.
Anonymous said…
Social pain is still pain. Opposition Defiant Disorder, typically where a child is accidentally conditioned to defy one or both of the parents or even all authorities, is, as it's name suggests, a disorder. The child suffers, the parents suffer. But the child does not feel any physical pain due to this, as it is purely psychological.

Your colour example is a good counterargument, if you accept that a disorder is just things that cause pain. But by that example, giving birth is a disorder. Remember, my definition was "a disorder is an alteration or deficiency of a typical feature or function that results in demonstrable harm." To argue that having black skin colour is a disorder, you would not only have to argue that it causes pain, but that being black is a abnormality, which I can't see anybody arguing without being racist. There is no normal ethnicity, thus no normal skin colour. While the pain can be socially constructed, typical features/functions are derived from the whole of humanity.
eaucoin said…
My Aspie daughter once confessed to me that she takes a particular relish in being underestimated in her workplace (she enjoys being misunderstood when she can see a way to use it to her advantage--and she often does). She wanted to know if I felt that this was sneaky and dishonest. I told her that I see it more as an adaptation of sorts. Since in those circumstances, she no longer feels the social pain of being misunderstood, her "disorder" becomes what--a social advantage? The disordered aspect belongs to not being able to cope with one's differences rather than merely having them. At one time, children were discouraged and "corrected" for being left-handed, which for many was traumatic. Does that mean that being left-handed is or ever was a disorder? Subjective.
Fanny said…
Two weekends ago my father said that when he was a kid/teenager he thought that he was from another planet and everyone else was normal. He asked me if it ever happened to me. Normally, I said yes, but that it could be the other way around too; I am the normal one and everyone else is from another planet. My sister agreed and added she felt that way too. Just out of place.
I have my suspicions that my father might be an Aspie.
Anonymous said…
eaucoin, the actual definition uses the word harm, not pain, for a reason. Harm can equal some pain, and even social pain. Thus to establish that it isn't a disorder within her workplace, not only would she have to demonstrate no social pain, but her asperger's not causing harm to her performance and so on. And even then, that's just within the workplace.
e said…
I believe a condition is considered a disorder if it causes distress, OR it causes dysfunction in work, relationships and self-sufficiency. So, political correctness aside, if one is distressed or unable to fully function, there is disorder.
Anonymous said…
In that case, your boss or significant other could be a disorder.
Hag Gasgun said…
I also don't buy in the disorder rethoric, the others are extremely conformist and they dislike differences. And the civilisation as system hate differences and work hard to erase any differences and uniformise the world. Many problems we face are the direct result of living in a society of conformism desing and build for NT.

Lindsay dixit:
First, there's the fundamental misunderstanding of how evolution works --- it's not linear or teleological, it's change over time in response to environmental pressures.

Exactly. I alway think that «evolution» is an inappropriate word. Ingression is a far more better word. I believe aspies is a different ingression path and I think if environnemental pressure is favorable somewhere we can end with a new subspecies.Call it homo sapiens aspiens and this will be a great enrichment for mankind. Since the death of Neandertal we are the last specie of the genus homo! :( If modern Cro-magnon (homo sapiens sapiens) die... No more human.

Why I have only problems with NT and not with aspies? Why as far I can see it aspies women and men are like to side of the same coin? May be because we are on a different ingressive path.

@themadandwild about psychopathy:
We can say that is a hypertrophy of the mind theory... The differences of the aspies are far more deep and fondamental. don't compare apples and oranges.
Anonymous said…
"... After all, it's probable that a great many aspies in the past were either institutionalised or were amongst the first to die on battlefields..."

OTOH some parts of history didn't have institutions and did have lots of arranged, even forced, marriages (some places do even now).

Napoleon said "I want to marry a womb," and who knows how many other men had that attitude too.

Female aspies have wombs just as much as female NTs do. No doubt a great many other Aspies in the past were married off and impregnated, just like many NTs in the past were too.

Meanwhile, don't forget when slavery was legal, including slaveowners buying and raping female slaves in order to make more slaves. No doubt some Aspies in the past were bought and impregnated just like some NTs were too.

"In a similar sense, many of the perceived major problems with aspergers are social. For example; in a different type of society, with different customs, it may be that eye contact is less critical."

Do Aspies in those societies (such as Haiti, where the mainstream considers it rude for a child to look an adult in the eye) fit in better because they rarely make eye contact? Or do they have a hard time learning the "don't make eye contact" social skill and sometimes complain about NTs in their societies not wanting to be looked in the eye?

"And the civilisation as system hate differences and work hard to erase any differences and uniformise the world."

That's not true.

*If* it was true *then* civilization as a system would work hard to erase the differences of the many trades and professions (these are some differences), pushing everyone to be subsistence farmers instead of having many different ways for people to earn a living.

Since IRL civilization *doesn't* work hard to erase the different ways to earn a living, it's obviously *not* "work[ing] hard to erase any differences".
Star said…
"This misguided view of evolution feeds into the other thing I don't like about this next-step rhetoric, which is the Aspie-supremacy."

I agree with Lindsay there, I kind of see this happening with a number of Aspies in their mindset.

We don't want to be labelled as different, and yet many say NTs and Aspies as if they are special labels.

Evolution or not, I believe it's merely a branch away in mindset, kind of like two Tea Flavours, the only difference being a preference over another. People accept others depending on those differences...I have friends who you would call NTs I get on with, and actually don't get on with some Aspies due to them not being to my preference (nothing to do with what they are, but how they act towards me).

I like your blog Gavin, I won't take anything away from that as it does show a better understanding then most places I have studied Aspergers (I have it), but Lindsay's comment was just one I saw and had to respond to as I agreed to hers the most.
Anonymous said…
Twin adult daughters both with aspergers. The right handed one has severe meltdowns and is on meds. She is forced to live in a group home because of her behaviour. The other can live on her own with no medication to date. They were diagnosed at 18 and are now 39. Thank God there is more understanding these days. Even the police are taking courses on assisting with meltdowns on the street. It can be very frightening for an onlooker. It must be terrible for the aspergers person.
Unknown said…
"My son had been excessively fidgety all night. Touching other cubs, talking while the leader was talking and doing his best to disrupt the proceedings. As a general rule, I try not to discipline my own children at cubs but I was required to make an exception in this case - the other leaders were busy. I had him sit against a wall for five minutes."

That's awesome, you should abuse your children more often, so they can become as dysfunctional as society needs them. ;)

As a rule of thumb, if it is moral to do it to an adult, you should have a higher moral standard towards your children, since they didn't choose you - involuntary relationship. It is estonishing what you can achieve if you don't tried children like slaves.

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