I’ve been skimming through Asperger Syndrome in Adults: A Guide to Realizing Your Potential by Dr Ruth Searle (skimming as it’s a library book and I don’t have time to read properly and a lot of it was familiar or uninteresting to me anyway) and as with all things about autism/Asperger’s, I find some things that aren’t me at all, but other things that are exactly me. I haven’t quite finished the book (I’m reading the section on romantic relationships, which is useful for me), but here are a few things I learnt about myself and about Asperger’s so far:
- Aspies tend to feel more comfortable with opposite sex friendships than same sex ones. It is suggested female Aspies prefer to talk to men, because there is less obligation to talk about emotions, while male Aspies prefer to talk to women, because they are more tolerant of lack of confidence. While I don’t quite understand why these tendencies don’t apply the other way around (so Aspie men prefer unemotional men and Aspie women prefer tolerant women), this definitely describes me. Since I was at university, and despite my general lack of friends, at any time I have almost always had one strong friendship, always with a woman, generally non-romantic/non-sexual, although in at least one case it was ruined by my wanting to make it a romantic relationship. The woman in question usually has some personal experience of mental health issues and/or is borderline autistic herself. A disproportionate number of my other friends are women too. This is difficult in the frum (Orthodox Jewish religious) world where cross-gender friendships (other than marriage) are discouraged and rare, because of fears that they will lead to extra-marital sex. I struggle with this and wonder how I will find a wife who will let me keep my female friends. I wouldn’t break off my friendships just to get married.
- Aspies tend to latch on to one person in a social situation. If forced to go to parties or networking events, we find one person who seems to tolerate us and don’t let them out of our sight. I do this a lot too, but I’m sufficiently self-aware these days to try not to outstay my welcome or take people away from their other halves. A number of the friendships referred to in my last point started this way.
- I think systematically. Dr Baron-Cohen, one of the UK’s leading autism experts, is famous/notorious for thinking that the autistic brain is an extreme “male” brain, assuming men think more systematically than women. Ignoring the gender essentialism (which I have my own views on, but I don’t want to start a fight about it), I always thought that this was evidence against my having Asperger’s, as I am not conscious of thinking particularly systematically. I suppose I do like all-encompassing religious, political or historical theories, but I have grown wary of them and suspect that they are often untrue, although I do still sometimes resort to them. But the book quotes Baron-Cohen as listing six different types of system that the human brain can construct and that autistic people might like. Type five is “organizable systems: a taxonomy, a collection, a library etc.” (emphasis added). This is my job! I am an assistant librarian, I catalogue and my work reorganising the subjects and keywords on our OPAC (online public access catalogue) is essentially creating a simple taxonomy. While I have said for a while that I deliberately ended up in a (mostly) autism-friendly job, I hadn’t seen it written down so starkly before, and presented as a type of system that is ‘legitimately’ systematic/autistic. I suppose I was resistant to thinking of myself as systematic as I tend to associate systematising with mathematical systems and in my family it’s my Dad and my sister who love those, not me – ever since childhood my father has stereotyped me as the artistic child and my sister as the scientific/mathematical one, even though we were both science/humanities/arts all-rounders at school.
- I have emotional issues. OK, I knew that already. But there is a list in the book of thirty-nine emotional states. The idea is to try and remember when you last felt them, to understand emotions better. I found it really hard to associate feelings with memories; I could remember situations, but not the emotions I felt in them. Some of the emotions I knew only intellectually and a lot of them seemed very similar to me. I’m not sure of the difference between being angry and being mad or perplexed and puzzled and while I know intellectually the difference between being distressed and anxious or terrified and afraid, I’m not sure how well I could identify them if I was feeling them. I don’t know how much of this is Asperger’s and alexithymia (the inability to identify one’s emotions) and how much is depressive blunting of all emotions except a handful of negative ones (depression, despair, anxiety, loneliness).
(I’ve written a proper summary for this post that should come up in people’s readers. If this works, I will try to write one for future posts, as I know my titles can be a bit cryptic. Let me know what you think, please!)