You probably know someone with Asperger’s. Several people in fact. And you might misjudge us a bit.
In a way I get that. Everyone only has so much time for other people. But I think social ineptitude gets a worse rap than it should, considering how low it actually is on the scale of bad human traits.
I want to know why people are so put off by it. Is there an evolutionary reason? Is our hindbrain trained to think different = dangerous so we avoid everyone who doesn’t respond to things in ways that we’re used to? If that’s true, then why are non-homophobic and non-xenophobic people still so put off by us?
Why such a visceral reaction to weird?
As an awkward person who goes out, I find that about 40% of people will talk to me and the other 60% won’t. Some people are just naturally more tolerant. Which isn’t a bad thing really. It just is.
People with Asperger’s can talk to you. We’ve learned to make eye contact. We’ll listen to you, laugh at your jokes, and remember what you say. You’ll think we’re unique and genuine and there’s a good chance you’re going to tell us that you’ve never met anyone like us before.
But we space out a lot. We seem arrogant. We go on tangents about things we’re passionate about, like my boyfriend and Italian food, with an earnestness that our culture has deemed unfashionable. We might even come off as melodramatic. But you wouldn’t necessarily think we have Asperger’s. We’ll just seem weird.
I think people get put off by our behavior because it’s unexpected. You’re talking to someone who seems pretty normal, but then you’ll notice that they’ve said the same thing four times in the last couple of minutes. Or blurted out something weird. Or maybe someone you know says, “Hey, why does your friend keep staring at me?”
I understand why those things creep you out. But you have to understand how our brains work.
According to some studies, the autistic brain isn’t as interconnected as other people’s. We have more connections within certain regions. But less connections between them. We pick up on plenty of things individually, but then we have to consciously sort through and tie them all together to figure out what they mean. It’s hard work for us. When we do that all day every day the cracks are going to show at some point.
I start to get overwhelmed when I’m in a group. Or when I have too much to do at once. Or (and this is how I got a reputation as a drama queen) when I’m not sure how to deal with my feelings. People with Asperger’s learn to avoid situations that are too much for us. If we’re not “out” to you, we might make some shoddy excuse about why we can’t come out tonight/why we don’t like your friend/why we can’t keep a job. It’s to save face. I do it often. We don’t want to make you uncomfortable by unloading our problems on you.
So what do people with Asperger’s look like? I’m not going to lie to you: a good percentage of us really are that guy who talks too loudly about shit no one wants to hear. But hey, I’m friends with people like that. And they’re smart. If you want someone to talk to about anti-aging research or Ancient Rome with, these are your guys. You’ll learn a lot from them. And if you’re a guy, you can gain a sense of satisfaction from helping them out.
Women with Asperger’s are just as smart as the men. We like science and math too. If you want to talk to a woman who knows about quarks, quirks, and nuclei, we’re your girls. But we also like art. And fantasy. That girl in your class who sketches unicorns might have Asperger’s. And she’s lonely.
Many of us are less stereotypical. A lot of us like music. Something about the mathematical, repetitive structure of it appeals to us. I know “aspies” who hit raves and music festivals regularly. A lot of us get into alternative scenes because those are the people who, while usually not that awkward themselves, are far enough away from the mainstream to not care about how weird someone is.
Also (this is interesting) research suggests that shows we’re more likely to be transgender.
And of course, some of us are more obviously autistic than others. There are a lot of us who got diagnosed as kids (*raises hand*) who might have just almost learned how to pass. Or who never got diagnosed at all. There are so many people walking around who have no idea they have this. (Although there’s a good chance they’ve gotten slapped with something else by the mental health system.) There are so many borderline-normal-seeming people on the spectrum with jobs, friends, and families who’ve learned to arrange their lives wisely enough to get by.
When you hang out with someone with Asperger’s, you’ll have to be patient. Like I said, we repeat ourselves a lot. You might also have to pick our ass up. Because a lot of us have trouble driving.
So what are the good things about us? Well, for one, we’re analytical. People always say that about me. Autistic people have to think analytically because of how our brains are structured. When you connect things intellectually instead of intuitively then you end up being rational by default.
Most of us don’t care about things just because they’re popular. Truly, we don’t. We’re also less likely to listen to someone because they’re charismatic. (Although not always in a romantic sense. I’ve sure as hell fallen for the alpha males.) But in most situations it’s about message, not tone. Some of that is because we know what it’s like to be that quiet smart person that nobody listens to. Part of it is because we’re such honest people that we’re naturally looking for truth. I kind of wish someone with Asperger’s had moderated the debates.
Most of us are tolerant. Very tolerant. In fact we’re probably a little too tolerant. We attract some strange people because of this. We don’t pick up on things as easily or get out as much so everyone and everything is fascinating to us. You can say something you think is totally obvious, and to us it’s like a revelation. Talking to us is going to make you feel special.
We’re especially good at listening to people’s troubles. I often feel like I’m the last person to know things, so I always get a thrill out of being someone’s confidante. And if we’re socially aware enough, many of us will give you great advice. We’re straightforward about what we see. People love it when we tell it like it is.
We’re like the court jester. A lot of the time we seem ridiculous. But sometimes we say things that are so great, so on-point, and so preternaturally wise it will shock you. And you won’t be able to tell if we’re doing that consciously.
Neither can we.
Okay. Here are the problems: We’re annoying. We’re sometimes embarrassing. We might seem condescending sometimes. But we don’t mean to sound that way.
And we’re picky. Many people with Asperger’s may seem to have stark ideas about what we will and will not do. Sometimes it’s just that we can’t be somewhere because it’s too overwhelming. Then you’ll have to take us home. But a lot of the time we’ll attempt to muscle through an uncomfortable situation with you so we can be a good friend.
Don’t make us do this. If we look uncomfortable, there’s a good chance we’re waiting for you to ask us if we’re all right.
We might come across as controlling. We like our routines and we like to talk about certain things and if you can’t deal with that then we won’t be able to spend much time around you. That’s not us being controlling so much as keeping things comfortable for ourselves in a world that’s not designed for us.
But some of us actually are controlling. That’s where theory of mind comes in. We have to learn that other people can exist functionally if they’re different from us, and that we don’t have to feel threatened by it. It’s a difficult balancing act: learning to gain some understanding and control over our lives without controlling anything else.
People with Asperger’s are like anybody else. We all handle life differently. Some of us become wiser and kinder because of our hardships and some of us become bitter and mean. As human beings, we get a bad rap. All the media does is tell everyone how awkward, self-centered, and repetitive we are, without telling you why.
I can promise you two things about us though. One, we’re interesting – 100% of the time from what I’ve seen. We are curious people who care about how things work. And two, if you become friends with us we’ll bend over backwards to make you happy. We’re like Chewbacca with his life debt. If you do that; if you help us, we’ll be loyal for life.