The Upside of Asperger’s

Often, Asperger’s is portrayed as a condition that has nothing but negative consequences.  Those "suffering" from it have trouble socializing, can be overly preoccupied with interests, and are rigidly confined to preset schedules.  However, there are many things about being an Aspie that are good as well.

What some people see as having trouble telling other people’s meaning, I see as being drama-challenged.  Oftentimes, people will take someone’s actions, read into the meaning behind said actions, and then pass judgment on that person.  They declare why those actions were not socially acceptable and how the person should change in order to fit into their idea of what is allowed.

I, on the other hand, often don’t see these "hidden meanings."  I take people at their word unless they prove untrustworthy.  (Even then, I’ll often give them a second or third chance.)  I don’t tend to hate people even when I probably should.

Part of this might be naiveté on my part or never-ending optimism, but part is my inability to see the subtle nuances of social interactions.  The social world, as I understand it, is much simpler than how others see it.  While, this might not match up with reality, I think I prefer the simple, trusting view to the "what did they really mean when they said that" perspective or the "that glance had this hidden meaning" vantage point.

Asperger’s also brings with it a tendency for honesty.  I find it very hard to lie.  Small lies are ok, especially if there’s a good reason behind them.  ("No, I haven’t bought you a birthday present and it certainly isn’t hidden in the room over there.")  However, the bigger the lie, the harder it is.  Oftentimes, the truth just spills out of my mouth before my brain has the chance to veto it.  Like the time when, while trading my old car in for a new one, I mentioned how we thought the old car’s transmission might be going.  There was no reason to say that, but it was the truth and the salesman HAD asked why I was looking to buy a new car (in what I all-too-late realized was just small talk).  I don’t know if that affected the trade in value that I got, but it couldn’t have helped.

Still, on the bright side, B can be sure that I’ll never lie to her about anything important.  On the rare occasions that I’ve tried, it feels like the truth is burning inside of me and inflating like a balloon.  It is only a matter of time before it comes bursting out.

Finally, what some see as being overly preoccupied with interests, I see as an ability to dive deep into things that you like.  Others might read a book, but Aspies can totally immerse themselves in the tale.  Others might watch a TV show, but Aspies can tune out the rest of the world so that the only thing left is the screen.  Others might study a subject, but Aspies devour every aspect of it.

I think the best example of this tends to be when B and I watch Doctor Who.  Even though I’ve seen the episodes before, I become transfixed.  I can’t type on the computer or look away.  If I get interrupted, I have an overwhelming need to rewind and rewatch the entire scene again.  I have to see every visual and hear every line.  Even if I can recite the entire show by heart, I need to totally "zoom in" on it.

Meanwhile, B is knitting or crocheting right next to me while watching.  Oftentimes, I wonder if she’s even watching at all.  After all, she doesn’t express concern when the Daleks arrive.  She barely raises an eyebrow when the episode’s bad guys threaten to wipe out humanity.  She certainly doesn’t cheer when the Doctor saves the day using only his brain.  This is the difference between watching the show and hyper-focusing in on it.

Perhaps this hyper-interest was best summed up by geek-extraordinaire Wil Wheaton.  During a recent convention, a woman asked him to tell her newborn daughter why it was so awesome to be a nerd.  His tale of delving deep into interests struck a nerve with me.  (Excuse the shaky-cam.  The mother taking the video was so touched by Wil’s words that she completely didn’t realize her shot wasn’t perfectly still.)  What he said about being a nerd is equally applicable to those with Asperger’s.

Though our view of the social world may be very shallow, Aspies tend to love things deeply and intensely.  Yes, Asperger’s brings with it many challenges, but it also brings many rewards.  If I had the chance to suddenly become neurotypical, to toss aside all of the stumbling blocks that Asperger’s put in my way, I don’t think I would.  Asperger’s isn’t something I suffer from.  It’s part of who I am.  While it might have held me back in some ways, it has also, in many other ways, lifted me up higher than I could have gone had I not been an Aspie.

3 comments

  • Pete Sumner

    A great article and I found the final para truly inspirational. It reminded me of a quote I copied into my journal by Julie Brown, in the preface to: Writers on the Spectrum: How Austism and Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing. She said:

    “People are less familiar with the idea that an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) can affect those who work in the humanities and liberal arts as well. In 2004, Professor Michael Fitzgerald published his groundbreaking work Autism and Creativity, which analysed connections between autism and the creative process. He argued that certain features of ASD, such as persistence, single-mindedness, intelligence and non-conformity, can enhance not just the analytical process, but the creative process as well. He immediately followed up with The Genesis of Autistic Creativity (2005), which identified and diagnosed several writers, musicians and artists whose neurological differences contributed to their unique ways of using language, sound and color. Identifying talented individuals with autism in this way has been an important step in creating an awareness of “autistic culture.”

  • Kate Binder

    Thanks for this. Every time I hear from a successful Aspergian adult, I have more hope for my incredible, infuriating, adorable, brilliant, space-cadet nine-year-old son.

  • Mira McClanahan

    What a great post. I agree. There are times when I really hate some aspect of Aspergers, but I have ask myself a thousand times whether I would trade it off to be normal, and the answer is almost always no. Probably 90% of the time, I like being me. I am not really sure what normal is, and who gets to decide that, anyway.

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