There is such a contradictory nature to having Asperger’s. I’ve blogged about that before but in no other setting does this become apparent than the world of socializing. However, if you were to go back nearly 30 years and see me then you might not think there was a problem and therein lies the contradictory nature.
The art of socializing with anyone my own age was lost upon me in school. Don’t get me wrong as I tried but I didn’t understand that a conversation, a true conversation, is one like a chess game instead of a tsunami. A true conversation one moves, the other reacts, and thoughts and ideas are shared. My conversations were a tidal wave of info that the person that I was speaking to may or more than likely not have cared about. I didn’t understand why those I talked to wandered off. This left me with little options and at recess in school I could often be found by the teacher as either she did understand what I was trying to say or maybe I had a captive audience.
The years progressed and the social dynamic became more complex and I was still as oblivious. I still had this yearning for communicating but each time I tried it ended in an abject failure. It got so bad I did everything I could to convince my parents that home schooling was the answer because I just couldn’t understand the social world of school. My peers were talking about music, movies, and other 6th grader stuff when I wanted to talk about racing safety, weather extremes, and the history of The Manhattan Project. There wasn’t much common ground between the two and there were times my classmates did enter my world but quickly the influx of data overload pushed them out. I never made an attempt to enter their world.
In 1999 I got my first job and thankfully, and this story is in Finding Kansas, and there was one person that got me. I felt comfortable having a conversation. It was odd, to be honest, to be talking more about bowling styles (the job was at a bowling alley) and critiquing the jerks of bowling instead of talking about my areas of typical interest. Shortly thereafter I started bowling in the adult leagues with my then girlfriend and I was thrust upon a team that didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, but this was a bit easier to deal with then the open world because we did have a shared interest and that was bowling. While it was easier the mainstay of my social life remained with me
Mainstay? A conversation requires processing and in all my social woes growing up and the times I said the wrong thing I learned to simply not talk. Isn’t that logical, though? If you were to try something and fail, and try again, and again, and several more tries and failure kept happening wouldn’t you do what you could to avoid the social scene? To socialize is to put myself on the line because when it goes bad, or at least back then before I understood what I do now, I would hate myself. Why did people just leave? Why wasn’t I interesting? Why wasn’t I good enough? With these thoughts of self-doubt the only outcome of a social situation was, indeed, failure. When there was a conversation happening at bowling that I was involved with and there was a witty remark I came up with I’d sit on it and weigh the options on if I should use it or not. By the time I decided it was the best thing in the world for me to say the conversation had long passed and I would sulk back into the world of listening instead of actively participating.
Each person with Asperger’s could write a chapter “To Socialize” and I can almost assure you it would be different. Put forth in this post is my story. Others, if they had a similar school experience as I did, may be convinced that socializing is something that just isn’t worth it. Others, with early intervention and therapies, may have learned the reciprocal nature of a conversation much earlier than I and the length of difficulties may not be as long as mine. That’s the thing to remember, if you’ve met one person on the spectrum you’ve only met one person on the spectrum and the world of socializing is one that this will show through the most. However, I believe that to socialize is to be human and even in my darkest nights when I told everyone I was convinced it wasn’t worth the effort and that I didn’t care deep down beneath all the layers of defense and all the layers of telling the world I didn’t care was my true self that looked at the social world in awe and wanted for, just for one moment, to be a part of that world.