Friday, November 27, 2009

The Difference

I often describe Asperger's to people in the following way: Imagine that you are dropped into an alien society in which the language is completely different than what you're used to and the mores and world views are radically different too. Not only do you feel bewildered by your surroundings, but you soon come to realize that the people of this foreign land expect you immediately to understand the language and culture. When you don't understand their ways, they do their best to communicate with you in some manner that you must either be stupid, lazy or completely arrogant.

That's what people with Asperger's face daily.

Many believe that the aspie merely is trying to draw attention to her or himself and that nothing is different about the way they view and interact with the world...well nothing that a little effort couldn't cure. Some people acknowledge that there might be something to this diagnosis, but this agreement is only on a theoretical level. It doesn't seem to affect the manner in which they relate to the aspie.

Look, those of us who have been identified as being aspies can't tell you definitively what it is about us that is so strikingly dissimilar to the vast majority. We can certainly describe things, but we don't know precisely what causes it any more than you do.

One current theory is that it's neurological. It is theorized that the person with Asperger's has a brain that is wired differently than most people. Another theory is that the range of characteristics are due to developmental issues. Some people think the root may be environmental and others simply view it as a mental health issue.

While the neurological explanation makes the most sense to me, I don't doubt that the other explanations may play a role as well. It may well be that it's some strange combination of all such explanations!

All I do know is that, throughout my life, almost every single person who has met me in person will tell you that there is something decidedly different about me. A significant number of those people won't be able to tell you precisely what this difference entails; they just know that I'm exceedingly odd.

Not only have other people noticed this underlying difference, but I've been aware of it (sometimes painfully so) since I was a wee lad.

I have never had good relationships with my same-age peers. When I was a youth, I seemed to get along much better with adults or other kids far younger than I. As a young adult, I got along better with middle-age and older adults or teenagers and younger. And now that I'm at the back end of middle age, I seem to get along better with senior citizens or young adults.

Since as early as I can remember, I have loathed crowds (almost anything above 5 or 6 people). I've never been told a story from my childhood about being left someplace or getting lost in a crowd, so it doesn't seem to be a characteristic borne of a bad childhood experience.

It doesn't even matter the identities of the individuals who make up the "crowd". I get just as discombobulated in large family gatherings (ones in which I know every single person) as I do in crowds in which I know no other person.

I have never been able accurately to read body language. Most of the time, I'm not even aware that it exists. What may be blatantly obvious to every other single person in the room simply doesn't register in my brain at all. There are times, however, when I am aware of it, but time and time again I completely misread it or, even worse, I seem to focus on something that might not be present at all.

More than anything else, my life is ruled by patterns and routines. I do things in very odd (and often, illogical) ways and I do them the same way each time. If circumstances don't allow me to follow my routines, I get really freaked out -- panic attacks, depression and even odder behavior than usual!

As a sentient being, I've sometimes tried to take the advice of well-meaning friends and loved ones by trying to break away from my established routines. More often than not, unfortunately, the new routine feels all wrong and I get mad at myself for heeding the well-intentioned advice. At the next opportunity, I revert back to what feels more comfortable.

As I've shared with you before, this whole scenario is that much more difficult to deal with because I'm a highly rational and intelligent person. (When I was very young, I tested out as a near genius, for what it's worth.) I have the capability to analyze my weird behaviors and to understand how illogical many of them are. Yet, despite my intellectual prowess, I seem completely powerless to alter who and what I am!

I am a highly intelligent gentleman who is congenitally bereft of the necessary social skills to navigate effectively in the world of human society. That is my internal nature and that is what I am now learning to live with.


  1. Do you watch "The Big Bang Theory?" Jim Parsons who plays Sheldon on the show has the aspie character down perfectly. And is adorable to watch as well, since all the other characters understand and appreciate him. I sometimes think of you when I watch that show, with your wonderful writing I can always see your intellgience shine.

    We all need to be appreciated as individuals, and not just for meeting society's expectations. YOu never know who is really brilliant and in what ways unless you simply let them be themselves instead of assuming they will somehow meet your expectation of how they "should" be.

  2. I've seen promos for that show, but I've never watched it. Unless it conflicts with one of my wife's shows (she control's the remote 4 nights per week), I'll need to check it out.

  3. I do not think I have the syndrome, but I'm decidedly odd and different. Which leads me to believe that it is about wiring. You guys and me are wired differently from most people.

    I, too, feel like an alien most of the time. What bothers others doesn't bother me and vice-versa.

    That you like routines and you're attached to them I find very interesting. My husband (surprise!) is like that. I can beg, cry, kick, and scream to no avail.

    If fact, I am often afraid to suggest certain things, because if he likes it, it will become a tradition and we will have to do it for the rest of our lives.

    For instance, apparently, we have the tradition of going for sushi, at a particular restaurant, on Memorial day every year. Who knew? (sigh).

    If they were to close our neighbourhood grocery store. He is capable of crying. He is. No doubt in my mind.

    BTW, I am not criticizing him. I'm just describing him and discovering him. I like him just as he is. I just wish I could move a wire or two in that brilliant head. :)

  4. dude, i love the big bang theory. it's hilarious! :) i know so many geeks.


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