Forget the Gay Friend! Judging from the tips in this guide, especially step number two, the hottest new accessory is the Aspie Friend. The tips and warnings sections seemed pretty good, with a few exceptions and some bad grammar, but the step-by-step guide is not too impressive. Don't worry, I wrote some comments to make sure you find that trainspotting partner you always dreamed of.
Step number 1 seems good: read books about AS, preferably those written by people who have the syndrome. Good. Do that, instead of following guides like this one, which was probably written by a person who does not have it and has read books by others who don't. Number 2, "find someone who displays characteristics of Asperger's" is beyond weird. The introduction to this post is my comment on that one.
3. "Approach them slowly, and casually. If you see them in one spot every day, say around noon, start bringing your lunch to that spot, and sit next to them. Don't talk to them the first time, let them get used to your presence first."
If someone tried this on me, I would probably feel extremely awkward and try to get used to sitting somewhere else that same time every day. No need to be creepy.
4. "Start a small conversation. People with Asperger's are not very good at conversations, so you will probably need to lead them. You know, start by introducing yourself, and asking their name, then ask them about themselves. For now you just want to get them talking, what about isn't really important yet."
Of course. Aspies are known for loving small talk and will love you if you try to force them through a casual conversation... or maybe not. This one belongs in the guide "How not to approach someone with AS". I would advise you to do it the other way around: find something specific to talk about and start with that. Don't try to "just get them talking", that is the most annoying thing anyone can do. If you tried to start talking to me this way, I would probably try to escape somehow and hide whenever I saw you in the future. Until you find something to talk about, leave it.
Here's an example from real life: I was sitting in the cafeteria at campus, when one of the two guys at the table next to mine nodded to me, pointed at his forearm and gave me thumbs up to show that he had noticed my Einstürzende Neubauten tattoo and that he liked them too. A minute later, I was sitting with them talking about music, then we went on to discuss their forthcoming phonetics exam, which I had taken a couple of months before, and after about thirty minutes we introduced ourselves. By then I was interested in knowing their names, and we still talk sometimes. About things (not the weather).
5. "Try to find some common ground, some activity that both of you enjoy. Agree to get together some time and do it. Show up for the get-together on time."
Wait, when is this supposed to happen? After a couple of minutes of chit-chat? Relax, just let it evolve naturally. If you've had a few interesting conversations, it will be natural to ask if he or she wants to get together some time. This step doesn't have to be so specific - why not just have a beer or coffee and keep talking? I am more likely to agree to a casual meeting of that sort with someone I've had some quality conversation with than to want to spend quality time with someone who just introduced herself and asked for basic facts about me.
6. "Lay your emotions bare to them. Tell them how you feel, even when you think it's patently obvious, and ask them to do the same. They'll love you for it."
Well, maybe. First of all, ask yourself if it's important for your aspie friend to know how you feel. If your emotions are related to something that person has done, or if your current emotional state somehow affects your interaction, then it might be a good idea, but don't just randomly tell him or her how you feel just because it's something that you think should be done. The aspie is not your pet and you shouldn't see it as your job to train them to know how people feel all the time. And don't try to push him/her to tell you how he/she feels all the time either (again, ask how she feels if you get the feeling that something is the matter or if it is important for you to know in a particular situation, but ask yourself why first). Personally, I can find it difficult to know what to do with the information if someone just tells me how he feels for no apparent reason at all, although I certainly care. Try to be specific when you talk about feelings - if you just want to vent, or ask about the aspie's opinion on an emotional situation, say it! I appreciate it when people trust me with their problems, as long as I know whether I'm expected to say something or just be there and listen.
7. "If they are acting strangely, tell them (if it dangers them or others). It's important to let them know. Don't say it meanly either, just say: "Most people don't do that"; or, "That's usually considered inappropriate"; or just "Please don't do that". If it's no harm to anyone, then leave them alone. It could be a comfort to them."
This one is actually very good, both the part about saying it in a constructive way and leaving it if it doesn't harm anyone.
8. "Introduce them to your other friends, and try to keep everyone getting along. They may act differently in the presence of your friends, or their friends. They may simply not get along. Don't try to force them to get along with your friends. They will probably be most outgoing when encountered one on one."
Don't assume that your aspie friend is incapable of making friends on his or her own. This seems to be the assumption here. It's not your job to "try to make everyone get along" or make friends for the weirdo. If the aspie has said that he feels lonely, has few friends and doesn't know where to meet people, you could do this, but don't think it's something you should do just because he has Asperger's! Of course, I'm not saying that you shouldn't introduce your new friend to your old ones either - just put some thought behind it. I love being introduced to people if the mutual friend does it because he thinks his friends and I will actually like each other and have something in common.
Since I found this link in one of the "aspie wife" blogs, where it was referred to as a helpful guide to communicating with your husband with Asperger's, I made this post the first "For the Asperger Wives" entry. I hope you made it past the sarcasm in the beginning and found it useful.
söndagen den 27:e februari 2011
Some are picky about food, others can't stand sitting on the wrong side of the kitchen table. I have rigid ideas about showers, not as in extreme hygiene rituals that I expect everyone else to follow, but ideas about the things involved when taking a shower. If I can, I shower at home which is usually the only way for me to feel clean at all. When I shower somewhere else, it is usually because I want to show that I'm not disgusting, or because I'm going somewhere or won't be home for a long time anyway. Gym showers are not even real showers, in my opinion.
The following things have to be right:
The bathroom and the shower itself.
Most showers, if they're not mine, are annoying in one way or another. The water pressure might be too low, or it takes too much time to get the right temperature. Heated floors can be too warm, which makes my legs hurt, and hand showers can be weirdly shaped, which is irritating. If someone happens to have a nice, newly renovated bathroom with a fancy shower, it can be really good though. Even better than at home, at least if I brought my own shampoo and towel. (Which is usually not the case, since the only people I know who have a bathroom like that are my parents, who don't mind if I use their stuff, so I usually forget which means that even the nice spa bathroom is wrong).
Towels have to be large. Seriously large; not the type that barely covers your butt if you tie it around your chest. I can accept smaller towels if I'm away and my host lets me borrow a towel, because I know it's nice of them, but it doesn't feel right and I don't feel dry even if I actually am. Fabric softener is another no-no. I hate soft towels. (Fortunately, my parents tend to boil their laundry so that their towels and clothes always feel like they will break if you try to fold them).
The washing stuff.
Okay, my parents have a great bathroom and huge towels that are rougher than sandpaper, but I still don't feel good after showering at their place. I don't like their shampoos and shower gels, which is the most important part. There are only two kinds of shampoo that I can use: Lush's shampoo bars and a special black pepper scented liquid shampoo that I found at a shop in my neighborhood. It's not snobbery, I just think that most shampoo reeks of chemicals and has too much perfume in it and the expensive stuff that hairdressers want you to buy won't do either. It's the same thing with shower gels: I can't stand the kind you'll find in the grocery store. I imagine my nose itching, which is not true, but as I said I believe I can smell chemicals. I usually go for paraben free shower gels, not because I suffer from parabenophobia like the rest of the world – I have no idea what they are or why they pose such a great threat to mankind – but because the brands that think “paraben free” is something that should be written on bottles tend to make stuff that smell the way I want them to smell. An entire day can feel wrong if I smell wrong, and I don't like the smell of my clothes afterwards either so I tend to wash them if I've had to use someone else's soap.
Did you think it ends there? Nope. There are scents that I hate even if it's all “natural” and paraben free. I won't shower with anything that smells like flowers, fruit (the only exception is one specific kind of cinnamon and orange shower gel that I always buy in bulk), berries or candy. Vanilla is fine if it's a warm, spicy, classy kind of vanilla, but most vanilla scented soaps etc smell like people who like cupcakes, which I don't really understand, so I usually don't want my things to smell like vanilla. Coconut is another no. It makes me think of naked Germans at a Canary beach.
Now, dear readers, I'm going to take a bath with my collection of soaps that don't smell like strawberries, naked Germans, evil chemicals or cupcake people. After that, I think I will practice watching the Big Bang Theory – I don't like watching TV and I am allergic to recorded laughter, but I think I will identify with the characters. ;-)
fredagen den 25:e februari 2011
There was no room for my brain in school. I understood it as early as in second grade, if not before.
“Uneven” intelligence seemed to be a concept impossible for teachers to understand – you could either be a good, bad or average student, which meant that you were good, bad or average in every subject. My teachers and my parents were puzzled: how could I be so hopeless with math while being exceptionally good at reading and writing?
As time went on, it seemed clear to them that I belonged in the “bad students” category. There was no way of making me understand mathematics, subjects like history and geography didn't work either because I found most of the information uninteresting and couldn't remember any of it no matter how many times I read it, and I usually didn't even participate in gym class. The natural conclusion was that I was lazy. Just to make it all even worse, I had trouble concentrating and would often look out the windows or daydream in class, sometimes sat under my desk and refused to come out and didn't respect the teacher's authority. One talent was not enough to compensate for bad behavior and a large number of difficulties, so that one talent was no longer worth mentioning.
Although I moved to another school in fourth grade, it never got better. I was always put in the lower part of the average category, or even seen as stupid. One teacher frequently accused me of cheating until he finally realized that I got perfect results on the English and Swedish tests because I knew all that. Whenever I learn a language, it takes me years before I feel comfortable actually speaking it, which meant that I never read aloud or spoke in class until seventh grade. When asked to, I would start trembling and sweating, saying nothing, so it was believed that I did not know a single word of English. The same teacher even accused me of plagiarism once: “Anna, you copied this. You can't write this well”. By then I was ten and wrote novels, but I didn't match his idea of a good student.
Every time I came to a new class, there was already a “good student”. Someone who was good at everything and would get top grades no matter what, because they had such a reputation of being brilliant that it would be criminal for a teacher to even consider their results. They deserved it, of course, the problem is that nobody could ever be considered to be as good as those perfect students – even in my best subjects, I would get a lower grade than I should have, or I had to struggle three times as hard as others to get a proper grading.
The ideal image of the good student has to die. It is a structural discrimination against children with Asperger's syndrome and a ritual murder of our self-esteem. When I shared this story with aspies online, several responded and said they had the exact same problems in school - a majority of them were women. It's not only destructive for aspies, of course – I have seen several “good girls” suffocate under the pressure of their teachers' and parents' expectations of perfection – but it is an ideal that a majority of aspies can never fit into. We are all at the mercy of our teachers' subjective ideas about whether or not we deserve good grades. The teacher's notion of the individual student's intelligence is rarely based on actual achievements in the subject. It will be influenced by irrelevant things such as other teachers' personal opinions, the student's behavior (sometimes even critical thinking is seen as a bad habit), how well (s)he fits in with his or her classmates and his/her achievements in other subjects. Needless to say, this does not work very well for a quiet child who has trouble adapting to social codes and struggles with some subjects while being exceptionally good in others. Throughout my school years I spent significantly more time trying to prove my worth in my strong subjects than actually learning things. As late as high school, I would have tantrums in class because of the frustration of constantly being seen as an idiot, which of course didn't make things any better. My journey from being the intelligent hyperlectic child to a hopeless school kid was not only painful and frustrating – it was a loss of identity.
A side note (which I feel uncomfortable calling it because it is positioned at the bottom of the entry, not on the side):
The ironic thing is that I'm not actually bad at math. In fact, I am quite good at it, at least on those levels - I just have a (quite AS typical) need to visualize certain types of information in order to understand and use it. My problem was that there was only one acceptable way of doing things, and I was forced to assume that the number seven looks like this: 7. It doesn't. These things: 1, 3, 20 etcetera, are not numbers. They are simply someone else's way of visualizing them. I agree that they are good for communicative purposes – they are standardized symbols for numbers, and therefore good for situations where you have to write down a number for someone else to read and understand. My way of counting is like a game of Tetris (or pentis, hexis, heptis – you get it). Each number is represented by a block consisting of smaller blocks, and they can be put together in certain ways to make new numbers, or divided. Yes, I see them falling, but there is no Russian music to it (it just clicks when one block joins another). The number four is the square, never the L or any of the other possible Tetris shapes, and the same rule applies to the other "number blocks". Of course, drawing little squares on a paper wouldn't get me any points at a test, but I have no problem transcribing it to standard symbols or explaining my calculations step by step. Even so, it wasn't good enough – in school, you are not just given useful tools, you are taught how to think. My answers were correct, but as long as I found them in a way that differed from the expected (and in my mind far more complicated) method, it was no good. I tried to do it they way I was supposed to, got everything wrong and kept struggling without success for the following fourteen years.
onsdagen den 23:e februari 2011
It seems like most aspies have been called “too normal to have Asperger's” at least once. People in general, as well as far too many clueless psychologists, expect people with Asperger's syndrome to be motorically and socially clumsy half-idiots who stare at the floor all the time and barely answer questions. Every time I tell someone what I suspect, I expect them to laugh or react with disbelief, but it actually hasn't happened. Not until yesterday.
My friend and I were in her kitchen talking while our sons were playing under the table, and somehow we started talking about it. She said that not a single piece of me fit with the Asperger image, and went on to tell me that she had learned that the problems have nothing to do with situations (after I told her that I can feel comfortable enough to talk around some people, but usually not). I guess I could have told her the whole story of my life and explained every complex part of my social life, but I didn't feel like it, for many reasons. She did admit that she wasn't an expert and I'm sure she meant well, but I felt awkward in that situation. Although I knew she was wrong, I felt that I couldn't really give her a lecture on AS; she is a trained social worker and has met a few aspies in her work. I love her anyway, but will probably avoid that discussion with her in the future.
Once we turned the conversation to the general, it got better although my own having or not having AS was still mentioned a couple of times. My friend asked me why adults want diagnoses – a perfectly relevant question, in my opinion. Not everything is a problem. I, for example, don't mind being odd. I don't wish I had the ability to engage in social chit-chat about uninteresting topics. For an aspie who wants to fit in and be normal, but can't, this would probably be a big problem. Sometimes I say or do things that are beyond "charmingly weird" and hurt people, which I of course don't want to, but the thing that really troubles me is my lack of organizational skills. But for an adult who has learned elementary social codes, has managed to establish routines for keeping up with everyday life and has a functioning life with a home, friends and a steady job, undiagnosed AS is probably not an issue. A diagnosis wouldn't make a difference for everyone.
For me, the simple answer is this: I am too normal.
The situation was very different while I was growing up, but for various possible reasons, there is nothing obviously strange about me nowadays. My close friends, and people who meet me often, probably think of me as a bit odd but not in a negative way (mainly because I tend to choose to be around people who don't really care much for normality anyway). I don't look or dress like “everyone else”, but I don't radiate weirdness either. My clumsiness is funny – I laugh and joke about it myself – so people generally don't notice it the way they probably would if I had been extremely quiet, shy and introverted. Furthermore, I probably seem to function very well. I do about half of the time; when I don't, I don't let anyone find out. I have a nice home in a good neighborhood, a wonderful son and a good relationship, and I pass my exams with distinction. All of this is superficial shit of course, but as I said, very few people ever see anything beyond this list of signs of being a successful human being.
So, why is “being normal” a problem?
Imagine this: you are talking to somebody who is, or sounds like, a native speaker of English. After a while, he suddenly asks “does you want to have a beer somewhere?”. How do you react? If he'd had a strong foreign accent, you would probably notice the mistake but not think too much about it. You would understand that he was still learning the language, so you wouldn't expect his grammar to be perfect either. But he didn't. You speak the same language, so you expect him to handle things like that instinctively.
I am a pretty good actor – I never had a choice. There was no tolerance for saying things the wrong way when I was a child, and the harsh reactions were incomprehensible for me at first. Eventually I understood that there were nuances in the spoken language that others noticed, so I had to start observing and imitating. It was the only way of predicting how others would react to what I said. I started studying a second language, so to speak: native speakers know the grammar instinctively; learners have to study it carefully in order to use the language naturally. Most people believe that I speak the same language as they do. Still, there are things I don't know. I don't have a natural feeling for social codes or the grammar of facial expressions, and sometimes I get it all wrong. Sometimes I unintentionally say things that you just don't say and do things that you just don't do, and there is no apparent reason for it. If I had been clearly weird in every way, people probably wouldn't expect much from me. They probably wouldn't like me either, but my social mistakes would have seemed more natural.
Secondly, I have never been able to take care of myself and my life for longer than about six months at a time. I know that sooner or later, my home will start to get messy again, and from there it's a downward spiral. If I had a job, I would lose it. I've lost my student loans twice because I haven't taken or passed enough exams, and it will probably happen again if nothing happens. Every time something starts going wrong like this, the same things happen: I get depressed, forget to pay my bills on time (and half of them get lost), can't take care of my hygiene, stop eating real food, put on weight, start losing hair, isolate myself and lose friends... Then I have to build up my life again. That takes time. Again, I usually seem so normal that nobody would understand why this happens. If I had a diagnosis, there would be help to ask for when I needed it – as long as I don't, I'm helpless.
My friend finished the conversation by saying that a diagnosis shouldn't be necessary. The "norm" is so narrow that basically no one fits into it, but everyone still has to adapt to it. If you can't concentrate, you can't concentrate and should be able to get help with or without ADHD.
I agree. Of course she is right - unfortunately, the world is wrong but I still have to live in it.