Recently, a woman wrote me and asked . . .
Perhaps you can help me. I am interested in finding out how I can be tested for Asperger's. A light bulb turned on for me after my niece was diagnosed with this disorder a few years ago and after I heard somebody on CBC radio talking about his brother. I feel this may be what is wrong with me and what has made me feel different than other people all my life.
As a child, I was fearfully shy and prone to incessant crying. I've also struggled my entire life with social problems and with making friends. I am artistic in that I did photo-realist portraits for awhile but have not been able to continue on with it because of the attention I received for this or for some other reason I have yet to identify.
At this time I do not have a medical doctor. I've done extensive reading on this and feel I am not getting anywhere nearer to an answer.
Thank you for any help you may have to offer,
After encouraging her to write back in more detail, Heather sent this . . .
Thank you so much for getting back to me. I really do appreciate it. I don't know where to begin actually. Let me start by saying that long before I ever heard about Asperger's, I heard about Autism. This was years ago and I had read some articles about it. Even back then, I though I must have a milder form of Autism.
Then a few years ago, one of my nieces (on husband's side) was diagnosed with Asperger's just after I had heard a man talking about his brother, an author on CBC radio. As I said in my message, I have done some reading on this and believe this might be the answer to my questions about what is wrong or different about me.
Crowd noises give me sensory overload and I have to focus really hard on blocking out what's happening around me to just function. I think it would be fair to say I am socially inept. When I have made this statement to people that feel they know me though, they disagree and think I do just fine but am just shy until I warm up. This is not true though. In my head I am engaging in self talk to get me through it. And if I force myself to interact with people whom I don't know, I will often talk too much, digress, and am unable to find my way back which of course is a source of much embarrassment. I work on appearing calm and in control.
I have trouble making friends and maintaining friendships and am often relieved when people give up on me. I avoid eye contact to avoid social interaction. If I can get out of a social engagement I will. I'll always choose solitude over going out to a public place unless there is something there that I specifically want to see or do.
I am/was artistic and have created some photo realistic portraits that were exhibited in juried shows years ago receiving honorable mentions. I haven't worked anything in more than a few years now. I don't know if I'm blocked or just don't want to do something I already know I can do well and will likely get unwanted attention for it. I've attempted getting through the book The Artist's Way several times which usually results in my feeling like a failure when I stop again.
I don't know what all to tell. Before I wrote to you I could have and probably should have written out some of these things. Now that I have to to relate what my concerns are I am having trouble.
I apologize for the length of this. I feel there are a lot of words here but not a lot of information. If I try to edit I will end up deleting almost everything or not send anything.
Thanks for you time,
And also this . . .
Thank you for your reply. I wrote to that email address but am guessing that it was blocked by your spam filters.
I wrote a lengthy email but am unable to paste it in here.
I have had social problems all my life. Starting with being fearfully shy as a child and prone to bouts of crying. Incessant crying. I have problems with noise and can be over stimulated by sounds easily. I'd like to be invisible when I attend some sort of social function and avoid eye contact.
Making and maintaining friendships has and continues to be a challenge for me and for the most part I would rather people just left me alone. I have proximity issues with people and would rather keep an arms length distance or miles away if possible.
I have an eye for detail and can become fixated on the details. Drawing was an escape for me growing up and I have as an adult created some photo realist portraits that were exhibited in juried competitions and exhibited years ago. I don't like the attention I get for doing something well although I am driven to perfection. If I don't believe I can achieve that I will not attempt something at all. I can become fixated on things like making espresso perfectly as an example.
That perfectionism spilled over into cleaning, something I feel I am recovering from. Everything I learned on how to parent and about social interaction I learned from books. I will remember details nobody else does yet miss things everyone else gets.
I have come to accept that I am different and only want some clarity and tools to help me deal with this better. I've had therapy over the years but have not seen anyone in over 15 yrs.
There is more to this but I am having trouble putting my thoughts and words together so I'll end it here. Any help you might be able to offer would be greatly appreciated.
My Response . . .
Your apology for the length of your email is actually the first possible clue; people with Asperger's, sooner or later, get injured by someone's angry or rude response to their having gone on and on. Thus, most Aspie's spend conversations lost in head with feet kinds of monitoring activities. Trying to do it perfectly well, without ever offending someone. God forbid.
Your not wanting to do something you already know well is another very common trait. Learning new things is what excites people with Asperger's. Redoing things they already know? Pure hell.
That your friends say you don't have Asperger's is quite common too. Not for all Apsie's mind you. But for those who manage to fake social skills enough to have friends. Yes. This is common. In fact, many experts miss the mark here when they make the primary symptoms of Asperger's their lack of social skills. Duh! They miss that many folks with Asperger's are at least smart enough to fake it. And they'd know this, if only they would just ask. Then again, I guess you have to know what to ask in order to be getting these kinds of answers.
Then again, it may be you have friends because they are all more like you than you realize. In which case, they too, may have some or more Asperger's tendencies.
As for the crowd noises thing, it may be you get overwhelmed by your inability to understand what is being said. People with Asperger's make understanding, and learning, what is spoken or written more important than the people who write or speak this stuff. In my work, this is the primary symptom of Asperger's, and to get a picture for what I'm saying, go spend some time watching how babies between one and two communicate.
“Pen,” and they hold up the pen. Twice or three times or more if they want. Or repeatedly if it feels good. This despite the fact that they may be boring someone to tears. Or to rage.
Here than is the picture for what having Asperger's is like. You are eighteen months old and simply in love with learning how language and the world connect. Especially when you receive accolades for having correctly identified something. Anything, really. It just feels good to be correct in someone else's eyes.
Obviously my work on Asperger's is somewhat different from anyone else, in that I am coming from the position of being a personality theorist. I have, in fact, written the first personality theory one based entirely on fractals, rather than on research data. Cold logical facts to describe human nature. Bah. Humbug. Give me warm infinitely interesting personality fractals any day.
I guess what I'm saying here is, my way of seeing Asperger's is to see it as some variation of normal rather than as some medically oriented brain problem. And seeing it as an extended stay in the second year of life makes it infinitely more accessible. And more understandable.
In the end, being does not matter to me though. What matters is that my work help people. Thus if what I write to you helps you then I have met my goal.
To be honest, Heather, I'd like to hear more about you. For instance, do you have, or have you had, any “special” interests? If so, how engrossed in them did you get?
If you did have any of these special interests, did you ever feel urges to puke out all you had learned about them onto other people? Did you ever start to do this and then catch that they were just trying to endure you?
How about learning? Do you love learning about things, especially thing which interest you? The photo realistic portraits for instance. Did you totally immerse yourself in them when you were learning to do them?
Then there are some of the more interesting symptoms of Asperger's. For instance, do you find it illogical that people are prejudiced? Folks with Asperger's are among the most tolerant of people. At least toward other peoples' differences. I, myself find these differences infinitely interesting. Then again, human personality is my Apsie “special interest.” So maybe it's just me (smile). Or not.
Are you hyperlexic, meaning, do you read bread package labels at the dinner table? The words on the fork or spoon? The ten year old magazines at the dentist's office? Hyperlexia is a common symptom of Asperger's.
Do you also feel compelled to understand what you read? Or what you see? Or what you learn? Feeling compelled to learn is another trait of Asperger's. A trait enmeshed with the need to always be correct.
Then there is the correcting other people in public thing. Do you feel urges to correct people when they use a word incorrectly? Meaning wise, but also grammar too? Correcting people is one of the main symptoms of Asperger's, including that Aspie's feel terribly pained when they say or do incorrect things. Or act in incorrect ways. Even when there is no way they possibly could have known.
This, in fact, is the source of their terrible digressions; the need to be so precise as to never be vulnerable to being corrected.
In any event, I hope I've given you some starting places from which to explore yourself. Do you have Asperger's? Maybe. And I say this knowing how imprecise it sounds.
Know it's taken me years to be able to do this.
Write back if you'd like to exchange more.
P. S. I'd like to ask your permission to post at least a little of what we speak about. Anonymously, of course. I do this as I find that for every person who finds the courage to write me, there are hundreds who can't get themselves to write. And if what we say helps even one person, it's so worth it.
And hers . . .
Thanks so much for getting back to me. I thought of many things after I sent that email and you have pretty much covered most of those in your reply.
I do possess traits of hyperlexia and actually so much of what you wrote smacks of me. I do believe I did learn to read differently than what is considered the norm. I learned to spell words by how I remember how they look and would sound them out in my head not in the normal way but also as they look.
I do not have many friends or people that I trust enough to discuss Asperger's with. There are only a couple people I have mentioned this to and based on their reaction I have decided to not share this with anyone else at this time. Not because I am ashamed but only because if confronted with questions concerning Asperger's I would be unable to supply the right answers as this is a problem I have as well.
I can read about things and learn about something for my own interest but when faced with a discussion on it I can not hold my own. All the information seems to swim around unconnected and I think I sound like a moron trying to get any of it out.
I do like to learn new things but also embrace routine because it feels safe. If I am learning something new purely for my own interest this excites me. I do however give up on these new interest rather abruptly as well. I will however remember the excitement of how something interests me but will not be able to give details of why it interest me so much.
I'm not entirely sure I know what you mean by “special” interests. My interest in drawing in a photo realistic style is one area I suppose, in that I prefer drawing people's faces, particularly the eyes. I will/have spent a great deal of time being very precise in this area. Where some photo realist artists will use overhead projection in order to achieve this result I use only measurements and angles.
I do find prejudice and racism illogical and always have. I like differences in people and am drawn to the unusual. I have possessed an interest in human behavior going back to my teen years during and after being hospitalized for suicidal tendencies. This is a time I do not wish to spend a lot of time re-examining as I feel it was something I have come to accept as part of my growth.
Correcting people is a huge thing for me and when talking to people on-line even I have to practically sit on my hands not to do that. This is something I have thought about a lot more than what I am sure is considered normal. Part of what stops me from correcting people is knowing I am not always right in my spelling and grammar and don't wish to be judged that way either.
I do not have a problem with you posting what I have shared with you here.
Writing to strangers is not something that came easily to me either so I know what a hurdle it can be.
Thanks again for you time.
PS I reread the first email and it pretty much covered everything I later wrote but a little more concisely.
And finally I wrote and said . . .
It feels so nice to meet a kindred soul. Especially one who seems to know all too well what it is like to have to hide ones inner self in public. Moreover, the more I see how and what you write, the more I feel you do fit into the Aspie corner of human personality. Along with me and so many other genuinely talented people.
Something which may be of interest to you then is how we Aspie's and clash with folks with ADD. Not always aggressively so. But sometimes. This is due in large part to how we and they process information in the exact opposite sequence. We from Precision, to Correction, to Digression, to Bluntness. They from Digression, to Bluntness, to Precision, to Correction.
These four processing states of mind are actually an important part of what I have discovered. And what I write about in Emergence Personality Theory.
This said, what might be a more accessible way to see how these differences can cause clashes is to see how people with Asperger's tendencies tend to speak what I call, “fussy,” while people who lean toward ADD tend to speak what I call, “fuzzy.”
For example, I've a man in his thirties whom I have worked with for several years. He has a more serious case of Asperger's. His mother, whom he still lives with, then, has a pretty good case of ADD, albeit I've never mentioned this to her.
In a joint session then I asked her to tell me what she meant when she told her son to clean his room. Imagine. He is in his thirties.
Her answer? She just wanted him to straighten it up a bit. Make is look better in some way.
I then asked him what he heard when she said this. His answer? He mind went into hyper digression mode as he tried to figure out wherein the “right” place to begin was. Which then quickly progressed into a blunt outburst about how he couldn't do it. And she shouldn't force him.
She wasn't forcing him and he was willing if only he understood. And when I got them both to see that she was speaking fuzzy and he was speaking fussy, they both had aha's about how their words were not reaching the other person. Her because she was being vague. Him because he needed her to be precise.
My whole point here is that I believe ADD folks make up about 50% of all people. Asperger's types; 25%. Thus this difference in the level of specificity between us may account for a lot of our discomfort. And our urges to correct them.
In any event, please do feel free to write again. On Asperger's or anything really. One can never have too many real friends in life and I find people with Asperger's are among the best friends a person could have.
Again. So nice to meet you, Heather.