Learning from Asperger's
Learning from "From the Inside":
Being on the Spectrum
Excerpts from and comments on Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison (Crown Publishers, 2007)
"Asperger's is not a disease. Its a way of being. There is no cure, nor is there a need for one. There is, however, a need for knowledge and adaptation on the part of Aspergian kids and their families and friends ...."
"Asperger's syndrome isn't all bad. It can bestow rare gifts ... "
Among the gifts that people with Asperger's syndrome (along with others on the autistic spectrum) have to offer is a lens through which all of us might see and reflect on our own behavior in a wider context. Giving us all, perhaps, an enhanced ability to adapt, to conceive ways our behavior might usefully be otherwise ...
"By [my teenage years], I knew I wasn't being shifty or evasive when I failed to meet someone's gaze, and I had started to wonder why so many adults equated that behavior with shiftiness and evasiveness. Also, by then I had met shifty and scummy people who did look me in the eye, making me think the people who complained about me were hypocrites."
Many of us do tend to mistrust people who don't look one in the eye, who don't smile, who don't have a firm handshake, who .... And yet we all know people who do each of those things, whom we therefore trust, and who subsequently prove quite untrustworthy. Maybe we should better understand the arbitrariness of many of the social conventions we use to evaluate people, and learn to withhold judgement until we have had enough experience with individuals to know how trustworthy they actually are?
"As I got older, I found myself in trouble more and more for saying things that were true, but that people didn't want to hear. I did not understand tact. I developed some ability to avoid saying what I was thinking. But I still thought it. Its just that I didn't let on quite so often."
The Emperor's New Clothes springs to mind, of course. But maybe there's even more here to recognize than that? My guess is that most of us learn "tact" and are proud of it. In fact, we're probably good enough at learning tact so we don't actually have to "avoid saying what" we're thinking; lots of it we are even aware of thinking any more. But are those really such good things to do? To keep things to ourselves? Perhaps even from ourselves? Maybe instead of learning how not to say things that might bother other people we'd be better off learning how to listen to what other people have to say without being upset by it?
"Many descriptions of autism and Asperger's describe people like me as "not wanting contact with others" or "preferring to play alone." I can't speak for other kids, but I'd like to be very clear about my own feelings: I did not ever want to be alone. ... I played by myself because I was a failure at playing with others"
My guess is that everyone would like not to be alone. Maybe we could get better at recognizing this in everyone, and preventing people from feeling like failures "at playing with others"?
"I figured out a way to capitalize on my differences from the rest of humanity ... I became a trickster ... Perhaps I could create my own reality."
Maybe that makes life more interesting. For everyone?
"At times like that it was fun being a misfit ... the creative people in the music scene all seemed to be misfits, so I blended right in"
Maybe we could all enjoy more being creative, ie being different from other people?
"I'm a very logical guy. Psychologists say that's a very Aspergian trait. This can lead to trouble in common social situations, because ordinary conversation doesn't always proceed logically."
My guess here is that "logical" means down to earth, literal minded. Its interesting that that leads to trouble in "common social situations." And raises the question of what is valued in social situations and why.
"I don't know if its an Aspergian trait or not, or if its just me, but I was never affected by celebrity. No matter how famous a musician was, he was just a guy with a broken guitar or an idea for a sound effect to me. But I could never explain that simple reality to other people .... 'Your're just modest,' people said when they felt nice. 'What an arrogant jerk you are,' they said when they felt nasty."
If its an Aspergian trait, maybe its one we could all adopt? My guess is that being interested in people for what they are to one instead of because of their social status would by itself vastly improve the average sense of well being in the population at large. To say nothing of saving a lot of money spent on magazines, flashbulbs, blogs and the like.
"I suddenly understood that Laurie's statement has been meant to entertain or impress me, and that my response should have been an expression of admiration or excitement ... Thinking about conversations like the one I had with Laurie makes me mad. People approach me uninvited, and make unsolicited statements. When they don't get the response they expect, they become indignant. If I offer no response at all, they become indignant at that ... Now I realize that normal people are acting in a superficial and often false manner ... there is no external sign that I am conversationally handicapped. So folks hear some conversational misstep and say, 'What an arrogrant jerk!'"
Maybe a little more conversational handicappedness would be good for all of us? Maybe we could/would all have more time/inclination to create things that actually entertain or impress others if we stopped spending so much time trying to do it in "superficial and often false ways"?
"We were there to create new things and solve problems, not impress anyone with our suave social skills."
My guess is that a little more along these lines would significantly reduce the incidence of anxiety disorders, to say nothing of making less unlikely sudden economic catastrophes (and booms as well).
"the higher I advanced in the corporate world, the more I had to rely on my people skills and the less my technical skills and creativity mattered. For someone like me, that was a formula for disaster."
Its probably a disaster for lots of people. Why should "advanced" be equated with less significance for "technical skills and creativity"?
"I had found a niche where my Aspergian traits actually benefited me. My compulsion to know everything ... made me a great service person. My precise speech gave me the ability to explain complex problems in simple terms. My directness meant that I told people what the needed to hear... And my inability to read body language or appearance meant - in any industry rife with discrimination - that I treated everyone the same."
What do you suppose its telling us that its hard to find niches in our culture where those traits are valued?
"When I wrote Look Me in the Eye, I wanted to show readers what it was like to grow up feeling like a freak or a misfit. I thought my book would show how people with Asperger's are different from everyone else. To my great surprise, my book actually shows the opposite: Deep down, people are pretty much the same. ... all the so-called popular people ... came to my events and they spoke up. They felt like misfits too! ... In the end, telling others how hard it was for me to fit in has helped me fit in better by revealing the universality of the struggle.
Maybe we could rethink our ways of interacting, our culture, in ways that made everyone feel .... less disabled? more valued for the distinctive features every individual has to offer?