Monday, December 17, 2007

Mild Social Difficulties

"The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome.[2] Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or enjoy spontaneous interests or achievements with others, a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.[1]
Unlike those with autism, people with AS are not usually withdrawn around others; they approach others, even if awkwardly, for example by engaging in a one-sided, long-winded speech about an unusual topic while being oblivious to the listener's feelings or reactions, such as signs of boredom or wanting to leave.[3] This social awkwardness has been called "active, but odd".[1] This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people's feelings, and may come across as insensitive. The cognitive ability of children with AS often lets them articulate social norms in a laboratory context,[1] where they may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other people’s emotions; however, they typically have difficulty acting on this knowledge in fluid, real-life situations.[3] People with AS may analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into rigid behavioral guidelines and apply these rules in awkward ways—such as forced eye contact—resulting in demeanor that appears rigid or socially naive. Childhood desires for companionship can be numbed through a history of failed social encounters."

(Wikipedia entry on Asperger Syndrome)

Descriptions like this make me wonder if I'm really autistic. I have mostly normal nonverbal signals. I make eye contact fairly normally. I talk a lot about my interests, but I'm more likely to notice boredom or discomfort than most autistic people are. I understand a lot of social stuff fairly well.

But descriptions like these are another matter:

"My group has rules and punishments about everything. There are seven of us and there can only be seven. I mean, we have kicked people out for breaking the rules and only then can we add someone.
We have rules about what we wear. You can only wear your hair up (like in a ponytail) once a week. You can't wear a tank top two days in a row. You can only wear jeans on Friday and that's also the only time you can wear sneakers. If you break any of these rules, you can't sit with us at lunch. Monday is the most important day because you want to look your best - it sets the tone for the rest of the week. So wearing something like sweats on Monday is like going into a church and screaming 'I hate Jesus!' when you walk in the door. Friday is downtime. When we hang out that night, we wear sweats, watch movies, and talk about what bothered us during the week.
If you want to invite someone to lunch [from outside the group], you have to formally invite them and the group has to vote on it. We do this because it's like buying a shirt without your friends telling you whether you look good in it or not. You may like someone, but you could be wrong. If three or more people in the group really like her, we offer the girl an extended invitation - for a whole week. That's a trial period - it's like getting a dog at the pound and trying her out before you get her a license and call her 'Fluffy.'
Gabrielle, 15"
(Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman)

That book, about the social complexities of normal teenage girls, really shows me that I'm autistic. I was oblivious to all that stuff. Thinking back, I can identify one Queen Bee and two Targets (including me) from my class in grades 5-6 but the rest I have no idea about. In grade 10, I was a Floater because many of my friends didn't know each other, but I have no idea where any of them fit into the social hierarchy. I didn't even notice there was one!
I remember sitting and wondering why two girls were talking about such boring subjects - who did what to whom and who's in love with whom and who got incredibly drunk at which party. I couldn't keep any of those people straight and I didn't care what they were up to.
Now, autistics form social networks too. But they are looser, because there's much less thought put into it. This actually mimics some cultural differences - my father has noticed many people from India and nearby places are much more into social networking and social rank than Western people.
I wonder how many autistic teens who are supposedly 'indistinguishable from their peers' really are like me - they get the stuff that adults understand about teen culture but not the stuff that adults don't get, and are as out of place as an adult in among the other teenagers.

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Blogger stevethehydra said...

Unlike those with autism, people with AS are not usually withdrawn around others; they approach others, even if awkwardly, for example by engaging in a one-sided, long-winded speech about an unusual topic while being oblivious to the listener's feelings or reactions, such as signs of boredom or wanting to leave

This seems like a ridiculous, stereotyped definition to me. For a start there is no meaningful distinction between "autism" and "Asperger's" - AS is a form of autism, but the criteria for distinguishing it from other types of autism are completely arbitrary, and the autistic spectrum (like an actual spectrum of light or wavelengths) has continuous variation which really doesn't fall into separate categories.

Also, i'm supposedly a typical case of (the stereotypical) AS, but i am withdrawn around people unless i know them well (social anxiety, which is described as a "symptom" of AS in everything i've read about it, even if IMO it's more accurately a symptom of the PTSD caused by living in a neurodiversity-unfriendly society), and very conscious of boring or alienating people with the obscurity of what i'm telling them about.

I've seen other people (Jane Meyerding?) talk about a distinction between "social" and "asocial" autistics, but again i feel like that's a fairly arbitrary distinction, and i think all of us are social and asocial some of the time, or depending on context.

There have been times, especially before my diagnosis, when i was just beginning to explore whether Asperger's was a label that might fit me or not, when i've gone from absolutely convinced that i had AS to thinking "oh, maybe this doesn't fit me, then" on reading a description of a particular supposedly diagnostic "symptom" which didn't fit with my self-perception.

Then i realised that, a) to fit into the criteria of a syndrome one doesn't have to have absolutely every possible symptom, b) that "syndrome" is in fact a fairly arbitrary section that has been taken out of a much wider spectrum, and c), perhaps most importantly, the medical professionals, academic psychologists and other "experts" on autism actually don't necessarily have the best explanation or understanding of autism, and autistic people are much better placed to properly understand certain aspects (eg. the whole "lack of empathy" thing) which have been described in misleading and inaccurate terms (ie, autistics are the true "autism experts").

Ballastexistenz was particularly helpful to me in understanding the latter...

6:23 AM  

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