14 December, 2010

all it takes

Tonight in line at the dining hall I was having a conversation with someone I kind of know. He was strikingly knowledgeable about when, in the mind of the register at the dining hall, the "dinner" period becomes the "fourth meal" period. Many people aren't clear on this, and when I am cashiering people will sometimes try to swipe their card at 9:30 after eating dinner at 5:30, not understanding that it is still the dinner period and their card won't work again until 10:01 when fourth meal officially starts.

So I was like, "Wait did you cashier at some point?" and he said, "No, but when I was a freshman I lived in the dorm in this building so I was here a lot," and I was like, "Dude I know that, we lived on the same floor," and he said, "Oh sorry, I remember." But as soon as I thought about it, I felt much sorrier than he did.

This guy (whose real speech style I am not even attempting to replicate) has ASD and Tourette's. He is probably everyone's stereotype of a person with "Asperger's"--I mean, now I think the unusualness of his speech is what's most obvious, but when we were freshmen he would always monologue about engines--isn't that the most stereotypical thing you can think of? He'd draw pictures of machines and explain them to people, for heaven's sake!

The way I treated him was just...barf. I was always trying to tell him what to do and how to talk to other people. He didn't get mad at me for this, but he'd never asked me to do it. I just couldn't help thinking that I knew something he didn't. I knew the proper way to act if you had ASD. You were careful. You never talked about anything you were interested in. And look, look, some people were ignoring him when he talked! I was right. Why didn't he just pick up on what I was trying to teach him so he could make more friends?

Except, then he did make a lot of friends, and became really popular. I hardly ever see him alone. He's involved in lots of extracurricular activities. Most people don't guess that he has ASD because he doesn't fit into their idea of it; he's not ~isolated~ by his ~pathology~. He's just himself, and almost everyone likes him for it.

I haven't spent a lot of time with this guy since the first semester of our first year. But being in school with him, and seeing how things turned out, was one of the things that made my frame on social skills begin to change. He is fine. He did not need help becoming more like me as I was then, or more like anyone else.

What's so important is that all it takes is to see one or two really naturally, visibly nonstandard people in a state of really awesome social success.

You stop chewing on your tongue while the person is talking, thinking about what they should be like, what they probably just don't understand is the right way to be; you stop cringing for what's going to happen to them if they're not careful. You just see the person. You see that they're really cool. You see that you weren't treating them like an adult, before.

And then you think about all the environments where the way this person is would sentence them to isolation, bullying, unemployment, and other undesirable ends, because of their "bad social skills." And then you start to see how incredibly cruel and ridiculous those environments are, for being the way they are. And then you stop being careful. And you start being super pissed off.


  1. That's interesting.

    I can't help but wonder if he had social success with that kind of behavior because he's a guy though. People seem to be forgiving of a lot more socially non-standard behavior in guys. I couldn't see a girl getting away with acting like that, even if I think they should be able to.

  2. Yeah.

    People will forgive certain things if you're a girl, but acting like you just don't give a fuck isn't usually one of them. I mean, I think I come off in person as not paying at lot of attention to how you're supposed to act socially, but if I actually wasn't careful, things would likely be a lot harder.

    I guess I should be angry but I'm really not, which is I think the only thing I miss about being highschool-aged.

  3. I wouldn't call what the guy experiences forgiveness or getting away with something. People actually like the weird stuff he does. I'm trying to imagine a girl who acted like him and how she would come off, but it's hard to imagine. You guys may be right about that.

  4. Okay, maybe 'forgiveness' or 'getting away with something' isn't the best way to put it. But I certainly wouldn't be surprised if his behavior is read differently because he's a guy than if he were a woman.

    I think a lot might have to do with the particular environment he's in as well. The way you've described your college, it sounds like a pretty liberal, tolerant place where a lot of people identify as weird in some way. So that is probably a good environment for an ASD person to be 'out' in.

  5. Yeah, definitely about the gender thing.

    I mean it definitely is an environmental thing but I think realizing it's an environmental thing is really important because maybe it's not so much "wow my school is so liberal" but "other places are kind of fucked up."

  6. Yeah, from what it sounds like, more places should be like your school.

    I've been wondering lately what I'd be like if I wasn't having to pretend to be normal all the time when I'm out of the house. I've been thinking about all the ways in which I've molded my personality and outward expression to be more acceptable to people and the thing is, I'm not sure I'm really the person I used to be before I changed.