Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Most Difficult Thing To Understand

If there was one thing I wish people understood about Asperger syndrome it is that there are peaks and valleys. There are going to be things I excel at, and then there will be things that I fail at. The thing about this is there may not be that big of a difference between the two.

Yesterday I had to go buy some cough medicine at Walgreen's here in Springfield and the sales clerk commented that I had to smile to get service. I said that I am usually unemotional so she too said she would become "flat".

Stores are a difficult place for me because of the possibility of a verbal exchange like that. If she could have seen me an hour later when I was at the podium giving a presentation that saw me full of emotions and full of facial expressions I am sure she would have been confused.

My chapter in Finding Kansas about Kansas is all about this, but I don't know if someone that isn't on the spectrum can understand what this feels like. At Walgreen's I was virtually paralyzed conversationally speaking, but at the presentation I came alive.

I perceive our society as believing that if a person can do something great at a given topic, they can do everything great. This is not so, but being on the spectrum makes this worse. This leads to confusion.

For younger kids, say school years, this may be impossible to understand. "How can my fellow student do math so easily, yet they don't talk to anyone else?" may be a question a student thinks if they see a person on the spectrum.

Parents too may become frustrated with this. I can write about it, I can talk about it, and I can come up with metaphor after metaphor but unless you live it and experience it I don't know if you can understand it.

My coworkers at the videogame store thought I was stand-offish or a snob because I was unable to communicate to them yet I was the smoothest talker when it came to talking to the customers. I can 100% see why they would be confused, but even so I was unable to do anything about it.

As frustrating as it may be for those around us that are on the spectrum, it can be much worse at times for us. I don't really realize just how big of a gap there may be unless someone comments. A racer asked me, "Are you sure you are that same person as the flagman who was flagging earlier?" when he saw the big gap between me in my comfort zone and not. This was an honest question and he wasn't trying to say that, "Wow, you sure are weird, why aren't you talking now?" but that was how the question was taken. I couldn't help it! The race day was over and all the rules that I was the enforcer of was gone. There was no "alias" and I was simply me, and I fell into the positional warfare and the end result was him asking me that question.

What I am trying to get at is we may know that we may be a little off in certain areas. Unless I am reminded of this short-coming I am fine with it. Others may not have this level of acceptance, but becoming frustrated with my lack of ability in certain areas is not going to help. I know when people are trying to help me, and those reminders aren't as bad, but becoming frustrated and being in a state where one is not trying to understand where I am coming from is not a good thing.

I've always had this and it started out by me being able to do math far beyond my years in 2nd grade, but I couldn't tie my shoes. In 5th grade I could do fractions had a speed that was on the verge of impossible, but yet I couldn't understand what a prepositional phrase was (still don't!). When I worked at the retail store I could talk to the customers with ease, yet I ignored my co-workers. And even now, I can write out my emotions and come up with concepts that let's you into the inner working of life on this side of the wall, yet I was unable to express anything to that sales clerk at Walgreen's. If anyone saw me do the great things I did how could I expect them to understand? We, of course, live in a society where one great deed means greatness throughout the board and that is, sadly, what makes this the most difficult thing to understand.


  1. I definitely understand and experience what you have written about here. The way I understand it is that we are sometimes able to perform in certain situations & for limited amounts of time and then we need to go away and re-group ready for the next performance. Unlike NTs, we can't be on all the time. Therefore, we can be the charming salesperson for the 10 minutes or so it takes to make a sale, but we can't be the charming salesperson to our work colleagues for the entire 8 hour shift.
    Also, in these roles, we know the rules, we know what to say, but in real life, there is no script we can follow and so socialising is difficult and sometimes we just don't have the energy to try.

  2. I totally understand what you're trying to say here. When I'm gophering (volunteering) at an anime/manga event (my Kansas) I am active and assertive. I walk up to anyone to talk to them and I can fulfill my duty in my shifts the way I'm supposed to (usually involving interacting with people).
    But when I'm in my daily life things change. Stuff don't go as easily as they go at an event. Suddenly I'm out of my comfort zone and everything seems harder.
    Sometimes when interacting with someone in daily life and I find myself struggling again, I think; "I wish this person could see me at an event, 'cause he/she would think so differently of me... But I can't take him/her, because he/she isn't an anime/manga fan... Guess I won't be able to fully show what I'm capable of to this person."
    It's also one of the reasons most friends of mine are anime/manga fans. They understand my hobby and I can show them what I'm capable of.

  3. Aaron

    I have a son with PDD and I can identify a lot with your experiences in your blog. I have to "prepare" to be in public and though I have always labeled myself an introvert, since I found out what that was, the reality is more of my life goes on in my head then outside it. Computers help a great deal with connecting with other people. ( for some reason they really facilitate things). I am not diagnosed with anything in particular, but I have always felt odd and been labeled it at times too. Great blog and I will read much more. - Susan

  4. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses- people with autism or not. I am sure some parents with kiddos with autism are frustrated with features of autism spectrum disorder. I am also sure that some individuals with autism like you are frustrated, too. Acceptance of weaknesses is a good first step. Next on the list is to address the weaknesses and try to get them to respectability. With autism, a lot of social aspects can require a lot of hard work to address such weaknesses. It's just the matter of having someone who can help you overcome such weaknesses while you putting in the necessary work and facing your fears head on.

    As I said a lot of times about things with autism, if you try to do better each time, you will be amazed by how much progress you make in a few years from now... and night and day a few decades from now.