I mentioned the other day that I wonder if I have a proper theory of mind (intuitive understanding that other people think differently to me, thought to be absent in autistic people – I’m going to assume for this post (and in most of my posts) that Asperger’s Syndrome is synonymous with high functioning autism). Today I was flicking through a book at work, deciding whether to withdraw it, and came across a theory of mind test. It is hard for me to analyse myself properly using these, as I have seen them before and know the right answer (when I first saw them, I was unaware that I might be autistic and did not use them to test myself), but I was skim reading fast enough that I was not so aware of the context. I think I failed it (i.e. failed to realise that another person would not know something I knew, indicating that I might be autistic), with the caveat that I was skimming very fast and so (a) am not 100% sure what I answered and (b) am not 100% sure whether I read the question properly. So the result is rather suspect, but suggests that I might be more autistic than I thought. I suspect that I have learnt logically how to work out what other people might be thinking to avoid obvious social blunders, which would fit with specifically high functioning autism.
This prompted me to go online to see if I could find a version of the theory of mind test that I hadn’t seen before to get a more objective answer. I could not find one, but I did find tests of empathy and alexithymia (inability to identify, describe and interpret emotions) and the scores did not surprise me at all with the caveat that these tests done online are not always scientific and even scientific ones can be controversial in what they test, how they test for it and how they interpret the results. So take this post with a pinch of salt. I scored somewhat below average for empathy, again indicating Asperger’s/autism. I do feel some empathy; when the depression is bad, I avoid the news because it is so depressing. However, I find it hard to know intuitively what other people are thinking. I think I have learnt how to hypothesise what other people are feeling (from experience observing other people and their actions and from reading novels, which are a way of learning what other people’s inner worlds look like) and to interpret their cues in a very laboured and conscious way, rather than an intuitive way like neurotypical people. Again, this mixture of problems with empathy and moderately successful workarounds fits with being both autistic and high functioning, as I understand it.
The alexithymia score was even less surprising as my therapist identified that a long time ago, in a context separate from autism without knowing the name, although she was pleased when I told her, as she knows I like labels; she may have been being slightly teasing or ironic (in a friendly way), I’m not sure – another autistic trait. I scored highly overall for alexithymic traits, which was really not a surprise. There is a detailed breakdown into different categories: I have high alexithymic traits for identifying, describing and interpreting feelings (definitely all true and what my therapist noticed), as well as for externally-orientated thinking, which apparently is about focusing on external rather than internal events and experiences. I am not sure about that, as I do think a lot about what I feel, but that could be a product of keeping a daily mood diary for over a decade to assess my progress with the depression. I certainly do find it hard to say how I feel about external events e.g. my sister’s wedding. It’s easier for me to say “Everyone else enjoyed it” or “I was not as depressed as I feared I would be” than “It went well for me; I enjoyed it.” I also scored high for restricted imagination, which is interesting as I did well at school in English, which requires a lot of imagination and I used to write stories and poetry for fun. However, I do find it hard to find inspiration; I’m not one of those writers who is overflowing with ideas and I am frequently ‘blocked’ and have been for most of the last couple of years, with brief intervals of inspiration. Certainly my imagination goes round in restricted circles and probably piggybacks on ideas I have seen in books and on TV. I apparently have some alexithymic traits in sexuality, although I found these questions impossible to answer, as I am still a virgin. I do have my experience of moderately sexual experiences (hugging, kissing) with my ex-girlfriend, but that was complicated by other emotions and thoughts surrounding it. I do still worry about being frigid, having scored so highly on most of the other alexithymic traits; I think the moderate score here comes from me answering ‘undecided’ in the absence of a ‘I don’t know, I’m a virgin’ button. I do apparently have no alexithymic traits regarding problematic interpersonal relationships, but I’m not quite sure what that means. From the questions, I think it means that my difficulty understanding emotions does not lead to conflict with others; they don’t complain that I don’t meet their emotional needs. I think that this was more of a problem when I was a child, based on some childhood memories. I suspect that, as with some of the empathy questionnaire questions, I have learnt rules and workarounds to let me identify what other people are feeling and respond appropriately e.g. when Mum has yortzeit (anniversary of a death), expect her to be upset and possibly irritable; phone and see how she is making sure to listen to her emotions before telling her how I feel.
I suppose that I still don’t know, and probably never will know for sure, whether I have Asperger’s, but it probably does show that I am neurodivergent in various ways. What I do with the information is another question. I doubt it will cause me to make allowances for how I feel/think, let alone stop beating myself up about my difficulties interacting with others and taking care of my emotional needs.