02 December, 2009

Like me

Today is the first day after the last day of classes and I know I should start studying for exams but I'm really sick and have just been eating and watching YouTube videos in my room. But it was my turn to take out the recycling, and I also ran out of contact fluid a month ago, which means--well, if you're a lazy person who has contacts, you know what it means. It's gross. So finally at six o'clock I actually went outside, put the recycling in a bin, and went to a convenience store. I wandered around spacily before accepting defeat and asking the cashier if they had contact fluid. He said yes and came out from behind the counter to show me where it was.

My first thought was that he must be incredibly tired; he moved very stiffly and had a blank look on his face. He pointed to the contact fluid and went back to his register. I picked out a container of contact fluid and a Diet Coke, and brought them to the register. He was leaning over something, but soon sat up and rang up my things. There was just something slow and distant about him. I got the impression he was from another country, and wondered if that was why he seemed strange to me. Then I thought, maybe he's "like me." When he gave me my change, I said, "Thank you so much," and smiled, and he suddenly smiled too, in a way that struck me as unusually sincere.

I could be wrong, of course. But it would explain how he said almost nothing, and his unusual physical quality and lack of facial expression. By the way, when I say "like me," I mean I read him as (possibly) an intellectually disabled guy who takes a minute to make transitions and was concentrating on doing everything right. It's interesting that I used the phrase "like me" in my head, since I don't have an intellectual disability.

I think the thing is that I don't necessarily relate well to other people who have Asperger's, and I don't identify with the stereotype of Asperger's at all. I feel too solicitous, too gentle, too spacey, and too slow to be a stereotypical person with Asperger's. I'm good at some things and internally I feel really smart, but I come off as a lot dumber than I am and no one would ever call me a genius or an expert on anything. I don't talk formally and at length; I talk in an unusually simple way. I feel like the defining qualities of my character (however poorly practiced) are exuberance and love. Whenever I read or see anything about Temple Grandin, or most other famous ASD people, my immediate reaction is that they seem like kind of a jerk and not someone I have anything in common with. I feel everything too much and the stereotypical AS person doesn't feel anything, except some very cool austere attachment to engines or something like that.

I guess I should be disclaimering all over the place and say that I know very few people who have ASDs, especially in real life. I know a lot more intellectually disabled people so maybe that's why I've gotten this impression that they're "like me" in terms of personality and relating to people--I know more ID people in general, so of course I know more ID people who I have a connection with, and maybe the thought of those particular people is dominating how I think about all the ID people I know. But I can't think of a single intellectually disabled person who I dislike as much as I dislike Temple Grandin.

I feel like I don't have stereotypical Asperger's social problems. When I need to explain my struggles to people, saying I have Asperger's is the last thing I would do; I'd say I'm spacey or young for my age. I usually say I'm young for my age. Because I get lost easily and talk in a simple way and get excited and have trouble figuring out how to do things. The Asperger's stereotype doesn't tie in all that well with what my obstacles in life actually are.

Now that I've written this, I feel like a jerk, because I know it's probably not true that most Asperger's people are these cold, superintelligent beings. In fact, when I try to be systematic about it, I have met Asperger's and HFA people who were of the sweet, excitable type. But there really are lots of people on the Internet who say they don't want friends, don't like fiction, etc. and go on the "I GOT A 5 ON THE BC CALCULUS EXAM, STOP LUMPING ME IN WITH RETARDED PEOPLE" spiel. I just feel weird because, like--I feel like I should expect people with Asperger's to get my jokes, or something. But they don't. The order in which people are most likely to get my jokes are: 1. Intellectually disabled people 2. Regular people 3. ASD people.

Doesn't that strike you as odd?


  1. I don't feel like a typical ASD person. I am spacey and say dumb things all the time. When I don't eat food that I am allergic too I am way less spacey. I bet many people think that I do drugs. The ASD people I met at my support group did not seem stereotypical at all which was really helpful in accepting my own identity. They seemed alloof, slow to develop thoughts, very cautious with their words and body movements, and very normal as far as interests and jobs go.

  2. In some ways i'm probably more like the "stereotypical AS person" than you - i'm very "academic/intellectual" (and obscure and convoluted) in my style of speaking/writing, for example, and very socially phobic/anxious (which is NOT the same thing as either "shy" or "aloof" - see what, for example, Jane Meyerding has written on that topic), and very, very uncomprehending of any sort of nonverbal communication or non-literal aspects ("subtext") of verbal communication - but, in other ways, i'm also very unlike the "stereotypical AS person" - i have an extremely, sometimes painfully, strong desire for both intense friendship and physical closeness with other people, i like certain sensory things that people with AS are "supposed" to hate, i'm very passionately emotional and not always "rational", etc.

    I actually think that the "stereotypical AS person" probably is a stereotype that very few, if any, people diagnosed with AS actually "live up to" (and that's not even going into the IMO total meaninglessness of the distinction between "Asperger" and "non-Asperger autism"), and large chunks of it are based more on NTs' misperceptions of what autistic people are like rather than on anything actually self-reported by autistic people.

    (For example, the "autistic people lack empathy" thing, which actually made me spend several years thinking i couldn't possibly be autistic, because if anything i "over-feel" empathy to the extent that i get utterly overwhelmed by it - but recent studies have shown that autistic people actually are more likely to "over-feel" empathy than to lack it, and the "lacking empathy" thing comes from a confusion between *actual* empathy and NT assumptions about how one "should" show it...)

    I also feel a very strong identification with developmentally/intellectually-impaired people, despite the fact that i was always seen throughout my childhood as "intellectual", scored very highly in school exams, have a degree, etc, and often feel like i have more in common with them than with neurotypical people, although many people seem to see me as on the "opposite" side of "normal" to them. Whenever i see anyone in the street who has mannerisms that come across to me as either "autistic" or "learning disabled", i feel a strong sense of... i dunno, it's hard to describe, but a sort of "comradeship", sort of desire to watch out for that person, not in a patronising way, but in a "watching out for one's own kind" sort of way... i'm not sure if you know what i mean, but it's something quite primal and powerful in an almost "my tribe" sort of sense.

    It seems like maybe a lot of the people with AS you've encountered have been of the "Aspie supremacist" type? Personally, i don't really encounter them at all except online (and i can't really be bothered any more with the forums that they mostly frequent), but then i guess i move more in "wider disability movement" circles (containing a very wide variety of people with different impairments - although actually not that many with intellectual impairments, now i come to think of it, among those i know, but certainly a wide range of physical, visual, etc) than in specifically ASD circles...

  3. so i found this through your list of posts post. no, it doesn't strike me as odd, though i remember noticing as a teenager, once i started observing the handful of actual people with asperger's dxes that i knew, that *none* of them fit that very stiff, arrogant, robotic, mr. spock-like stereotype. a few of them-- including me, sadly-- are people who can sometimes come across as cold and uninterested in friendship or human contact, but underneath it's actually a result of anxiety or shyness or a deep conviction that other people don't like them and never can or will like them, combined with weird body language.

    i don't know, though, the people i get along with best are often considered mentally ill rather than autistic-- people with "personality disorders." also, for some reason, i tend to get on well with people who smoke a lot of marijuana (even though i don't). sometimes i feel like the dsm categories are all wrong, that there might be a good way to put people into groups according to how their brains work, but that what we have now is not even close to it.

    also, i wish that the asperger's stereotype would stop being "people with crappy social skills." i mean, i do have crappy social skills, but being overwhelmed by the constant intensity of my senses and emotions to the point of either freaking out and acting really manic or shutting down and disassociating is probably the thing that causes me the most problems in my everyday life and is probably the most significant way i'm "different" than most people.