Ambassador from Asperger’s

Yes I have Asperger’s.

Or I did, as a child. They say it’s incurable, and yet there are things that make it better. I believe that I am in the process of being cured.

One time I described my life as a child. I said that I didn’t see other people as people, only objects. The reply I got was “That sounds like a very selfish way to look at things.” YES I was selfish as a child! Helen Keller was selfish as a child! Do you know why? Because she didn’t have the equipment necessary to recognize the objects around her as equivalent to her. She didn’t KNOW they were people! Her senses just didn’t tell her enough! Well there is a sixth sense. I know, because as a child I didn’t have it, or couldn’t use it, but I am beginning to now. It’s like learning to read! I don’t know what it’s like to hear for the first time, but I do know what it’s like to not be able to hear and then regain that. The sixth sense is more important to navigating the world and communicating with people, and I didn’t have it!

I’ll tell you why Aspies talk the way we do. Our subject matter is alive to us. When we speak, we don’t care who we’re talking to, we just want to put all these marvelous ideas we have on display.

In our minds we are pointing out the obvious, because it’s inconceivable that anything could be seen in a different way than we see it. After all, we’re the ones with the eyes. Duh.

I remember the exact day, the exact conversation when I first spoke while focusing on the person in front of me. It was exhilarating, navigating using this sixth sense instead of the map of ideas I had created to explain the world. The sixth sense is so much easier, so much freer, so much more real! It was like flying! I imagine it’s like being blind and gaining vision, but again I really can’t know. All I know is what it’s like to gain access to this sixth sense.

My second cousin’s dorm room, sophomore year of college. Woah. Personal connection is some drug. I remember not even being conscious of putting together words. I was just communicating. Communing.

Of course without having a direct sense that the people around us are people, even when we have a map of good and bad behaviors, we often don’t know or forget the effects we might have on them. My use of the sixth sense is still growing, and recently I’ve caught myself saying something that I realize afterwards is rude or hurtful. I wouldn’t have caught that before, and not because I wouldn’t have been interested to know. I just wasn’t tuned in to it. This is eight years after gaining access to this sense. I think of it as growing up; I can use the sense at perhaps the twelve-year-old level. Most of the time I act more mature than that, because in many situations I still rely on my old map. It was quite faulty, because most of its default responses were silence. I’ve been improving it through many new experiences, and it’s now fairly reliable.

Eight years ago I stopped eating gluten and dairy. Stopping isn’t like flipping on a switch, at least not in terms of behavior, because once I had the sense I still had to learn to use it. I’ve found since that starting again is like flipping a switch. The lights go out. But this time I still had the improved version of the map I was working on. I knew how I would treat someone with courtesy to evoke a friendly feeling. I followed the map as best I could. I found myself compelled to treat familiar objects with this same courtesy, because I couldn’t read anything or anyone, so I just had to treat them the way my map told me they would want. I had to pat our car, Ame, and wish her good night. That was strange.

Under the effects of gluten or casein in situations not mapped completely, I would feel as if my skull were clamped down on my brain so tight I couldn’t think properly. My mind was accustomed to roaming free among other people’s auras, but instead it was stuck in my own skull again. How claustrophobic.

I know it isn’t anything like what people think of as autism – at least from the outside. I could always carry on a conversation that sounded, if not normal, at least logical, by assuming the logical thing – these other animals shaped like me think in a similar way to the way I think. I don’t know if that even occurs to people with low -function autism. I can almost imagine what that would be like – to be so focused on finding the patterns in the input that I relate to that it doesn’t seem worthwhile to try to sort out the things that don’t make sense.

I’m fascinated with knowing as much as possible, and from that isolated perspective, what’s worth knowing looks very different. To me, the things I wanted to know were more facts about the subjects I already knew about and were interesting. I could not get enough knowledge in the area of Star Trek, for example, and I loved the intricacies of grammar.

I can almost imagine what would have happened if my mother hadn’t read to me so much, if I had never grasped the beauty of the patterns of stringing words together. I might never have learned how to talk well enough that I would actually venture to try it. I would often remain silent if I didn’t understand the subject intimately, and if I didn’t understand the language intimately, I don’t know if I could have brought myself to use it. I wonder if I would have been diagnosed as autistic.

One of the strangest things to me about neurotypical people is they often don’t seem to know whether they know something or not. I always know when I know something. That’s a large part of my mental functionality, my map of things I know enough about to talk about. Of course, I’ve also learned that there is always more information on a subject, and when I gain that information it might change the way I think and talk about a subject. I once assumed that this was how everyone operated. What shocks me is the way neurotypical people throw around opinions like they are nothing.

I have opinions on the subjects that I know things about. I don’t have an opinion on foreign policy because I don’t know how it affects people. I don’t know anyone from Iraq or Afghanistan, and even if I did, I don’t know whether I would know what’s best for them. I don’t know things about the relationships between people. I don’t understand how a person living next to me here in America can form an opinion on a subject that is so…well…foreign. I don’t understand how they collect the necessary information.

It’s hard for me to gain knowledge in these areas, because I don’t have a structure in my brain in which to place them. I barely understand the relationships between the people in my life. People don’t fit into nice little patterned structures that I can sort and color-code. Gleaning the little information that I have about personal relationships took waking my sixth sense, and then a lot of work.

The sixth sense is the new hook in my brain where I hang everything that doesn’t belong anywhere else. As a child a piece of knowledge would only stay in my brain if it could fit into a context I had already worked out. If I wasn’t interested it would fall right out. The sixth sense catches a lot of those things in its context: the person who gave me this information cares about it and wanted me to have it for a reason. Without this hook my brain operated in a totally selfish way.

Now I want to talk about the words “can” and “can’t.” When I was in school, they gave me a lot of trouble, because I knew what they meant, but no one else seemed to. Rather, they recognized the meaning of “can’t,” but then turned around and denied its existence. When I tried to tell them that I didn’t have the knowledge necessary to complete a task, they told me I could do it anyway, but they didn’t explain how. They just said “try.”

“Try” has always been a fairly meaningless word to me. I don’t try to get up early, I either get out of bed or I don’t. I’ve never had a problem getting out of bed if the situation seems to warrant it. I know how to get out of bed.

Because of this kind of use of the word “try” it always seemed to me that when someone told me “just try harder” they were implying I already knew how to go about the task and was for some reason deciding not to do it. I tried to explain to them “I can’t,” and I didn’t understand why any other explanation would be needed. Everyone knows what the word “can’t” means, don’t they?

I didn’t understand how to remember numbers with no contextual value to me. I didn’t know how to write a paragraph supporting an opinion I didn’t have.

Eventually I learned my own value of the word “try.” It didn’t seem to have much to do with the concept of effort, as I understood it. Effort was what happened when I tried to lift something heavy and I had to put more force into it than I liked. the concept of force didn’t apply to my mental world. There was only know and not know, can and can’t.

The process I eventually labeled “to try” was a systematic evaluation of a task, looking at it from different angles to see if it could be fit into a category of things I could do. “remember numbers” became “make patterns.” I would look at the facts I did know of a subject until I found an aspect I could form a tentative opinion on.

As I got better at this, “effort” gained a meaning: How long it took and how bored I got during this process of analysis.

I had an argument with my Senior English teacher about this. The journal we kept was filled with these opinion paragraphs. Some of mine were long and some were short. She told me to put as much effort into the short ones as I put into the long ones. I was aghast. How could anyone measure the effort I put into things, especially someone who had so little idea of how effort worked?

I spent about an equal amount of time on each paragraph. When I wrote the short ones that time was made up of effort – I looked at the task from different angles and remained without much of an opinion. I was bored. I wrote down all I had gleaned.

The long paragraphs – they were a joy to write. The information I was given fit right into my existing interests and easily produced words. They took no effort whatsoever. It was like listening to music.

I think I may have yelled at my teacher at that point.

A disadvantage of waking up is that I have these troublesome emotions. Yes, they allow me to relate to people, but sometimes they make it very hard to do even the things I know exactly how to do. Because I really dislike being bored now.

An advantage of waking up is that I have an entirely new angle to look at information from, which provides so many more options for relating to information. Now when I try something new, I can form better opinions faster. The thing that confuses me is I don’t always know what information they’re based on. I think this use of the sixth sense could be called intuition.

I don’t have an opinion on whether schools or parents should be doing something different in the way they treat Aspie kids. I don’t know how different my life would have been if I were diagnosed early. I think it’s turned out pretty well as is. I do think people need to be aware of all the forms of autism and keep studying them. If people can understand better how the autistic mind works, it will prevent a lot of frustration on both sides of a lot of relationships.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] conversing, dialogue, learning experience, my brain evolves, writing You may know from my earlier post on my experience with Asperger’s that I’ve been putting a lot of work into consciously […]

  2. […] I should refer back to my two previous posts about what’s up with my brain, so here:  The first one The second […]

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