As I am sure you all know I have Aspergers Syndrome (AS) - or as my future father-in-law calls it: Rude Bastard Syndrome. It was recently pointed out by a not-so-tactful friend, that I don’t really talk about it much, or how it affects me and he was quite right, I don’t very often. I find that Aspergers Syndrome is quite a difficult subject to write or talk about, not because I am embarrassed, it is just rather difficult condition to explain. It is a bit like a cyclist trying to explain why he shaves his legs – it is a bit strange, a bit technical and a bit personal; and others tend to be afraid to ask about it.
Aspergers Syndrome is a developmental disorder, whereby parts of the brain simply don’t work correctly. It is one of several Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Aspergers Syndrome causes the parts of the brain that process sensory input, emotions and memory to work a little differently. People who are born with AS are all affected in slightly different ways, but I would say that I am a fairly typical example of someone with AS, although it is difficult to be sure. Aspergers is thought to be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors and is increasingly common.
Aspergers affects around 1 person in every 100 or so. Albert Einstein (Inventor of Space/Time) & Sir Issac Newton (Inventor of the Cat Flap) had Aspergers, but then so does Bill Gates (Inventor of, well nothing actually). It is suspected that Adolf Hitler (Short man with an Aryan fetish, unfortunate facial hair and questionable politics and dress sense) did too!
In practical terms, the traits Aspergers Syndrome cause create certain challenges, especially socially and emotionally. Of course I don’t think of them as challenges or problems, these are technical terms that Doctors and Therapists use. I just see the world quite differently than most people. My world is full of patterns and it is mostly very pretty, although often very lonely.
I do have problems though. I am really quite useless when it comes to social queues. I cannot easily read the expression on your face or your tone of voice. It seems to me that people tend to speak two languages, Body and English, and I am not bilingual.
I am not very good with emotions. I can’t usually tell what people are feeling, unless they happen to be crying or laughing, and even then, it isn’t always obvious unless they tell me. Obviously I understand what fear, anger, love and happiness are; but the subtle shades in between are a complete mystery.
I don’t really understand why people behave in certain ways, especially when it comes to pettiness, jealousy and cruelty. These concepts don’t really have any significant meaning to me. I don’t have the social imagination to really understand why people would feel or behave that way and experiencing those kinds of emotions is very confusing. To me they are just words and awkward feelings that don’t really mean anything. I do sometimes get very angry and frustrated for very silly reasons and I used to have quite a short fuse when I was younger, but with age I can control it better. Sometimes I don’t get angry at all when I really should and often feel indifferent about things that perhaps I should care more about. I am not very emotional in general, but on the rare occasions I am emotional, I tend to be a little too emotive, as I don’t have the inbuilt psychological software to deal with that kind of thing.
Despite rumours to the contrary, people with Aspergers do have a sense of humour. I have a pretty good one I think – enough not to take myself too seriously anyway, what else can you ask for? The great Winston Churchill once said, “A joke is a very serious thing”. I agree.
Socially I tend to be better when I am doing things on my own terms, and I like to know what I am doing a few days in advance. When I meet new people, I am definitely not a first impressions kind of guy, unless I am having a very good day.
I am really rather clever. That is a rather bold statement I know and I don’t want this to sound like I’m blowing smoke up my own bottom, but I do have a very high IQ. Unfortunately, a high IQ does not in any way compensate for a low EQ (Empathy Quotient). I have to work very hard not to bore people, or even worse – correct them, which is something I learned at a very early age that most people do not appreciate.
Another common symptom of Aspergers Syndrome is insomnia. I go through long bouts of it, often because I have something on my mind and my brain will not shut down. I have seen more than my fair share of sunrises. This does mean I have a lot of time on my hands, which is one of the reasons this site is here. It is 4.48am when I am writing this (hope you are all sleeping well).
There are certain things I do that I like to do my way; I am not going to bore you with details, but there are certain day to day things that I like to do in a specific order (not the most logical order by any means), and I get a bit grumpy if I can’t do them my way. Thankfully unlike some people with Aspergers, I am not obsessive about routine, I can deal with change, I just don’t like it much. I don’t like surprises much either (well if you want to surprise me with a laptop or something I’d quite that). Just don’t throw me a surprise party. I don’t like other peoples parties very much let alone my own!
Another common trait of Aspergers is a form of sensory overload that can affect all five senses. It is called Sensory Integration Dysfunction. For example I am not a big fan of crowds, they sometimes overwhelm me. I am not scrared of crowds, it is just that I can’t process what is going on. I can hear well though, you can probably hear 12hz to 20,000hz, I can hear 5hz to 24,000, but personally I lack the ability to filter your voice out from all the white noise around you if you are in a crowd.
Again because of this sensory overload I don’t like hot baths or showers, I find them excruciatingly painful. I despise being tickled. I dislike swimming pools because they are painfully cold and certain textured foods make me nauseous.
My memory is very good. I remember almost everything I am exposed to, including books and movies, but I am incredibly absent minded. I am often asked to remember to do this or that, and five minutes later, it is completely gone. I forget I have put things in the oven. I often forget that I was meant to go to the doctors, or to do some shopping or make a phone call, or where I left that screwdriver. I often burn food because I start watching TV or something and I forget until I see smoke.
I don’t care for the telephone very much. I find it very difficult to talk on the phone, because I have no social queses to go off whatsoever, so I often can’t think of anything to say or worse I ramble about things and repeat myself. I dislike awkward silences too because I don’t know what to do with them and tend to assume they are my fault.
Speaking of things I don’t like, there is a long list of them. People usually have a reason for not liking certain things, as do I in some cases, but there are certain things I don’t like and there is no logical reason at all; Doctors, Muesli, Polo Mints, Custard, Chalk, Sodium Hydroxide, Water Polo, Fruit Salad, Slugs, watching Cricket and Gillian McKeith are among the list. I am not phobic about any of these things, I just have an intense dislike of them.
I get very engrossed in things and often get so absorbed in them that I ignore the things going on around me completely and I loose track of time. I have been known to play video games for 24 hrs straight or to sit down and read a book cover to cover for example. For the sake of family unity I try to limit these sessions as much as possible, but it can be tricky, especially as I can get quite grumpy when I am interrupted.
I also get bored very easily, and when I get bored I switch off completely and just go into autopilot and retreat into my own little world which is a complex and very visual place and is something as real to me as the real world around me. My world imposes itself on the real world too, a bit like augmented reality I suppose. When that happens it can be very distracting because real world patterns jump out at me.
Many people with Aspergers will take things you say to them very literally, I am not quite like that. I don’t take things completely literally, but if you tell me you are going to do something I will naturally assume you are telling me the truth. I do tend to get very confused when people say they are going to do one thing, then do something else. Lies confuse me too. I find life to be complicated enough, why make up more of it? Having said that, I do occasionally lie myself, especially when it makes life easier – yes I am a hypocrite
I have mild anxiety most of the time, but I don’t see it as a big deal. Anxiety is a neutral state for me, so I don’t really register it as an emotion, it is just what I feel when I am awake. Underlying and persistent anxiety is probably why I have a bad stomach (again something that is not unusual with Autistic Spectrum Disorders), which has resulted in a hiatus hernia which is rather painful.
The other Aspergers traits I have are also very common. I have very poor handwriting, even though I could read and write at a very early age for example. I also like numbers and patterns, I like repetitive tasks and I count a lot; I find all those things very relaxing. I like to understand how things work, everything from telephones to the unviverse.
Most people who have Aspergers Syndrome become increasing adept at hiding it as they get older, but that is all they can do, learn to hide the symptoms. There are no miracle cures or therapies that can change the underlying condition. Like all Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Aspergers Syndrome is what it is. It has its negatives, but it has a lot of positives too.
So that is me and my post on how Aspergers Syndrome affect me. I hope you found it informative and weren’t too bored. I have put some links below for further reading if you are so inclined, they are very informative and give a good overview of AS. If you have any questions on the subject, please feel free to ask away and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Remember, I didn’t get where I am today without being a little bit Autistic, and there are worse things to be
P.S. This video about Aspergers Syndrome may be helpful to some of you: