Aspergers Bag

Image by TheTherapist via Flickr

As I have mentioned in previous posts, about five years ago I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism. I think it is probably closer, at least in me, to a variation on normal, but there are certain personality traits that I have that characterize Aspergers–focusing on one or two interests to the exclusion of others, failure to understand small talk, failure to understand the nuances of human communication, saying exactly what one thinks regardless of the social propriety. The ultimate problem is a failure to understand adequately other minds. But the diagnosis should not be used as an excuse for social impropriety. There are times I have been rude, not realizing that I was rude, because of my habit of saying exactly what I think, and to my surprise, the party whom I addressed was offended. But I, like all human beings who are not prevented by drugs or certain illnesses, have free will–whether I have Aspergers or not, I, like all people, have a moral responsibility to be tactful and to avoid being rude–and the proper reaction when someone is hurt by my actions is to apologize for being rude. The reason I have been open about Aspergers is not to make excuses for the times I have behaved in a rude fashion, but to encourage those who have known me over the years or who remember me from the past to understand me better. Those of us who are Aspies also should learn enough social graces to get by in the world–we do have to find jobs, and hopefully get married and have families. Many of us teach, and that means learning how to interact with students, faculty, and staff.

There are some personality traits that I find practically impossible to change. I do not not like small talk, but I have learned the mechanical rules of small talk enough to get by in most settings–at least for a short period of time. And although I, like many other Aspies, enjoy certain intellectual pursuits, not all people enjoy those pursuits as much as we do, and they may not be as interested in hearing all about our particular interests. Even though we do not mean to come across as full of ourselves, we do.

I have never liked the term “neurotypical” as used by some advocates of Austistic and Aspergers people. I know those who originated the term are trying to avoid Aspergers being considered a disease rather than as a variation of normal. But some people think that we are trying to set ourselves apart from other people as a special class due special privileges, even though that may not be the case at all.

While those of us with Aspergers should not make excuses, this does not excuse those who make fun of our diagnosis or who are cruel. It is human nature to fear that which is different, and sometimes the toughest looking people are those who are the most afraid–at least in my experience. I attend many chess tournaments, and although most chess players are not Aspergers, I have seen several who are. I can understand why they might be off putting to someone who is “normal.” I am sympathetic to the child who constantly talks about Dungeons & Dragons figurines when he is not playing chess, or to the child who is so fascinated by astronomy that it is all he talks about. Sadly, there are people in the world, both children and adults, who are not sympathetic. They demand of people that they should meet their expectations of “proper” behavior about matters that should be matters of indifference. We do have feelings, and the lack of acceptance hurts. If we do our part to function better, to learn some small talk, some social graces, and some tact, others should do their part to realize that just because we are different does not mean that we are bad people, it does not mean we are frightening or threatening in any way. It just means that we are different on matters that, unlike morality, do not make much difference in the long run. We can be too serious, but most of us have a quirky sense of humor. Many of us are successful in our chosen fields. Some of us have a lonely existence. We can get by for a few minutes in a social setting, but we often feel more comfortable at a party, say, standing off to one side by ourselves. We probably should mix more with the crowd and make an attempt to talk, but it is quite difficult–I have difficulty even in academic settings, my own field–in a party of people from many professions it is extremely difficult to gather the courage to walk up to a group of people and talk.

Hopefully most people will strive to understand those Austistic and Aspergers people they encounter, and hopefully we Aspies can do our part to bridge the gap.

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