Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What if Asperger's was the norm?

I can't say I agree with everything in here. Maybe not what's said, but the tone. Occasionally the author comes across as arrogant, even though she says people with Asperger's are not perfect, but it appears that she thinks she's superior to "neurotypicals." She's not. A poster on an Asperger's message board made the very astute comment that we shouldn't expect others to change for us any more than they should expect us to change for them. There is a disturbing trend I have seen in the Asperger's community, using the term "neurotypical" as an insult. Yes, those of us with Asperger's are often misunderstood, but that does not give us an excuse to be prejudiced.
My other issue with this post is that it glosses over the very serious problems that come with Asperger's: tunnel vision (which can be good, like when focusing on a project, but also bad, as in an inability to move on when something is done), lack of empathy, inability to recognize when someone is uncomfortable or even hurt by something we've said or done, and arrogance in our "superior" intellects. I have been guilty of all of these traits, and still am to some degree. If Asperger's was the norm, these problems would also become the norm.
That said, I do wish that more people understood what Asperger's is, and why I act the way I do. Among the people I've met in the course of my life, even those who pride themselves on being "open-minded," "honest" and wary of the "norm" have gone running when they encounter me, given me strange looks, avoided me or talked about me behind my back. Men who claim to prize my "individuality" have ditched me for someone more socially acceptable and adept. In my relationships (if they can be called that) with men, I've found, more often than should be the case for anyone, that I was nothing but a novelty, a "Check out the freak I hooked up with," a cautionary story to later tell his friends. No one told me how I was expected to behave in relationships, or friendships, or with anyone. They all thought I just knew, which I didn't. Maybe if they, and I, had known about Asperger's, things would have been just a little easier.
I wish that I was able to express exactly how I feel without having to conform to arbitrary social "rules." I really wish I wasn't expected to shake hands with strangers and hug everyone in my extended family (although my family, aware of my condition, has accepted that I won't hug them). I wish I wasn't told in vague pseudo-friendly terms or excuses that I'm not wanted. I wish I didn't have to be "polite" and "friendly" to people I don't like. I wish I wasn't expected to make small talk with coworkers, people I have to do business with, salespeople and strangers. And I really, really wish people wouldn't assume they know my mood based on my outward appearance. Even from a social retard like me, telling a stranger to "smile" seems to be poor social form.
Above all, I wish that people could understand that just because I don't make eye contact with them, it doesn't mean I'm ignoring them or I dislike them. I want everyone I meet to know that I need to "get used" to them before I can open up or be friendly. I realize now that my condition had a lot more to do in ending my past relationship (which ended over a year ago), than I had previously thought. My ex, while claiming to be sympathetic to my unique problems, wasn't prepared to make the effort needed to help me be more comfortable in the social situations he so loved. He could be described as "anti-Asperger's": a purely social creature who thrived in and, I think, needed the rules that so baffled me. We fought frequently because I "wasn't behaving properly" and I thought he was being "too polite." The breakup hurt deeply, but I see now that we were not a good match.
For the sake of getting a job and taking care of myself, I have had to hide a lot of who I am in order to "play the game" of functioning in a work environment (but I think that's something we all have to do, Asperger's or not), and I've had to disguise my true emotions for the sake of decorum. But it hasn't been all bad. I have found a few friends who let me be myself, and wouldn't want me any other way. And Asperger's advocates, through the spread of information, have been making things slightly easier for people like me. Most of my friends who know about my condition are extremely supportive, and I thank them for that. I don't expect them to be more like me, to think I'm better than them. I just want them to understand that this is how I am, because if they do, things will be much easier. But those who refuse to accept that there are things that make me very different from them, I have spent far too much time worrying about them. The most I can do is try to educate them, and if they still won't accept it, they're not worth the effort and don't belong in my life.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bin Laden's death and logical empathy

As the entire world now knows, Osama Bin Laden, leader of terrorist organization Al-Qaeda and the man responsible for the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, was killed by the American military. While I recognize that the world is a much better place without Bin Laden in it, I can't bring myself to celebrate his death, or even say that the news had any significant impact other than "One less bad person in the world, which is good."
To reiterate, it is good for the collective consciousness of the world that Osama Bin Laden is no longer among us. And his death was the only way that was going to happen. My own feelings about the death penalty aside, it was just not possible that an egomaniac like Bin Laden, the leader of a violent cult of fanatics, would be taken alive, particularly not by his sworn enemy, the "decadent west." But I could not join the celebrations outside the White House, in person or in spirit, and not just because I find rejoicing in an execution grotesque.
Long ago, I made peace with the fact that I am just not like the majority of the world. Much of this, though not all, is due to having Asperger's Syndrome. One of the traits of this condition is an impaired sense of empathy. All my life, it has been difficult for me to see things from someone else's point of view, although in the last few years, I have tried, and I think I'm getting better at recognizing that the feelings of others can be impacted by things I do or say that I may think are insignificant. But it took a lot of hard work, and it still requires a distinct effort.
On an Asperger's message board, someone posted that he has acquired what he calls "logical empathy," a term that I think describes my feelings quite well. I can recognize that something like the events of 9/11 were a tragedy, and that it shouldn't have happened, but it is still difficult for me to be personally outraged by any of it, or to feel any personal joy that the person responsible is now dead. I see Bin Laden's death as a benefit not because he attacked my country, but because he personified prejudice and fanaticism, two traits I find highly offensive, and expressed these traits through senseless violence. But even this offense is intellectual rather than personal. Asperger's generates a tunnel vision, something that has caused significant problems in several areas of my life, and part of my journey has been concentrated on widening the scope of my mind to extend beyond things that only directly affect me.
It has always been difficult for me to identify as part of a group. I have always just been me. I think this is why it was so hard for me to join the sense of fear and outrage on 9/11. Because my country of origin was not an important part of who I was. It's not easy to explain. I know I'm American, and whenever anyone asks what country I'm from, that's what I tell them. But I guess I just have no sense of the national American identity. When terrorists attacked America, I did not have the sense of empathy and national identity to feel personally attacked, and now that the perpetrator of those attacks is dead, I still can't feel personally relieved or happy. However, while I still find the celebration of death distasteful, I won't stop other Americans who do feel the national identity from acknowledging that a destructive presence is now gone. And, for the most part, the joy has been a solemn one, not counting a few who took the reveling too far. In a way, I envy them. To be able to step outside of themselves and come together, to feel that sense of community and national pride. As for me, all I can offer is a distant, purely logical empathy, a simple recognition that a dark era has passed. It isn't much, but I'm afraid it's all I have.