So what’s an Aspie? It’s not an award for making a great touchdown catch or an impossible basketball shot. That’s an espy. It’s not a citizen of a Colorado resort town. No, it’s what many of those with Asperger’s syndrome call themselves and one another, and that’s why it’s part of the URL and blog title. An Aspie is what I am. It’s not the only thing I am but it’s important and I would say probably few but my close friends know about it.
I’m not sure where I first heard the term “Asperger’s”. I’m sure it was probably on television somewhere but I don’t recall exactly. At the time, it was just a word that I didn’t know the meaning of. I like to know what things mean, words and phrases and slang and what have you. When I hear something I don’t know, I often look it up. If it’s not convenient, I often look it up later, and thus forget where it was I first heard it. It simply becomes a word in my head without a meaning attached to it, and to me these are like loose threads that must be tied up. When I looked up the word, I was intrigued because I recognized some of the characteristics in myself. I also learned that it was diagnosed mostly in children age 6 or younger and that it was not recognized by the psychological community until the early 90s, when I was already past the usual age of diagnosis. I found a particular website that was a great deal of help to me, www.wrongplanet.net. I read the forums and suddenly found page after page of people that talked like me, acted like me, thought like me, and had the same problems I had. I found many tests that one could take and even some for parents. All these tests pointed to the single conclusion that I was, and always had been, an Aspie. I always knew I was different, from when I was a young child. Other people looked like me, but I was different, separated somehow in a way that I didn’t fully understand. Finally, I had a name to attach to this, and a way to understand myself. It was an “A-HA” moment for me. I have not, and probably never will be, officially diagnosed. As previously stated, most diagnoses are in young children. It is difficult, expensive, and imprecise to diagnose an adult with any developmental disorder, and since there is no known treatment or medication one can take for AS, there is little practical value in doing so. The only value would be in the credibility of a doctor’s opinion, but even this would fall short of certainty, as misdiagnosis is quite common even in children. So, I am one of many “self-diagnosed” adults who reached similar conclusions.
Now that the back story is out of the way, we can move on to the main theme, so to speak. I’m very particular about the definitions of words, and since Asperger’s Syndrome and the related terminology are likely to be referred to many times in this blog, I think it wise to define the terms with as much precision as is possible and get some background info about it out of the way. Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder. It is considered to be on the autism spectrum. It was not an official diagnosis until the early 1990’s, and the most recent DSM has included Asperger Syndrome along with autism and several other diagnoses in a catch all category called “autism spectrum disorder”, which is now the “official” term. Indeed, the condition was often confused with high functioning autism and the symptoms are almost identical, save that AS patients do not have any verbal or communication deficits present in classical autism. The symptoms are somewhat different from one person to the next, but the defining symptoms are as follows: The most defining characteristic is that AS (Asperger Syndrome) will cause difficulties in socialization. That’s rather broad and vague, but the truth is that there isn’t a broad agreement on what exactly causes the social difficulties, although a lack of empathy and an inability to recognize non verbal social queues and information are often listed as characteristics of the condition. Second, there will be an intense focus on one or a few topics, with an inclination to simply accumulate as much information as possible about the topic regardless of any apparent practical value. Physical clumsiness, repetitive compulsive behaviors, are often listed among the symptoms as well.
That, of course, was the dictionary definition, and probably was not at all helpful to anyone trying to get an idea what it actually means to be an “Aspie”. So, in this post and many others to follow, I will attempt to explain in a way everyone can understand. To be blunt, AS could well be described as being “socially challenged”, in a way not altogether different from those who are “physically challenged”, or “mentally challenged”. Indeed I have often felt this way. I can recite songs from memory. I can list all the presidents in order. I can name all the capitals of the 50 states. I can assimilate large quantities of information with limited exposure. I can match colors in clothes and furniture from memory with a fair degree of precision. I can visualize things in my mind that allow me to see what some project will look like before it is finished. Yet, I often have difficulty keeping up with a conversation when there are more than a handful of people in the room. I often misread people’s intentions or think they’re angry at me when in fact they’ve simply had a bad day. I sometimes am completely oblivious to things which are obvious to others. I sometimes won’t recognize someone’s face if I meet them in an unfamiliar location or am not expecting to see them. I sometimes say things that are insensitive or confusing without realizing. I tend to ramble on over technical explanations and not realize how annoyed people get listening to me (monologuing). I could go on, but I’m not going to be able to explain even with several paragraphs, and after all, that’s part of the reason I started this project.
Those who know me from childhood will recognize some of these problems. Some of you may have thought I had “grown out” of this awkwardness, when, in reality, I simply got very good at hiding it for short periods of time. Just as many blind persons develop exceptional hearing, I have learned to compensate in many ways, but I never get it entirely right. Socializing for me is a bit like trying to steer a vehicle while seated backwards with only 2 buttons to turn left or right so that the wheel is turned all the way one way or all the way the other. It’s a lot of guessing what’s in front from what’s going by and hoping there isn’t anything unexpected to crash into. There will be more to come about specific issues, but this should give everyone a good start at understanding exactly why I am such an “odd duck”.