Today is apparently World Autism Awareness Day.
I am certainly no expert on Autism, though I have an “autism spectrum disorder”. I don’t know what that means and frankly, I’m too lazy to do all the research to become an expert. I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I was reading an article somewhere where people were complaining that the study that said that 1 in 88 students have some form of autism was an indication that our country is becoming soft and this was just one more thing people would use to get government assistance. They were saying things like, “just because a kid is socially awkward doesn’t mean they have an autism spectrum disorder.”
That’s true. Sometimes people are just socially awkward. I’m socially awkward and I have Asperger’s. But, being socially awkward is just one of many things about me that places me in the Autism Spectrum. As I said, I’m not an expert, but I know that most people who are socially awkward do not have Asperger’s or any other Autism Spectrum Disorder. But, pretty much everyone with Asperger’s is socially awkward to some degree.
Honestly, everyone has their social quirks. Most people feel out of place in some social situation or another. But, most people can find a group of people with similar interests and fit right in.
I work in IT. Surprisingly, not everyone I work with is a geek. Most of the people around me at work seem like “normal” people. Now, I’m not actually capable of identifying “normal.” From my perspective, there’s me and people more normal than me or there’s me and people weirder than me. Both of those groups that are not me are the same group. That’s right, normal people are weird.
If I had to define the one aspect of people that makes them “normal,” it would be the people that occasionally go out of their way to talk to other people about something where the primary point of the conversation seems to be just to have the conversation. They talk about things that don’t matter and they can’t change by talking about them, like sports, TV shows or how their kids are doing. That’s not something I can do. To me, that’s weird. If someone comes up to me and asks me about things I’ve actually learned to take my answers off on tangents a little. If someone asks if I saw the game, and if I actually had, I can now answer with more than ‘Yes’ and talk about some of the statistics or a notable play. It took me almost forty years to get to that point.
To say I’m socially awkward is quite the understatement.
Ninety percent of the time, when someone is talking to me, and the conversation is not an exchange of facts pertinent to completing some task, I simply don’t want to be there. Inside I’m panicked because I don’t know how the conversation is supposed to go. I’ve had training in communicating, so I know I’m supposed to ask questions to get more details, to show interest.
The problem here is I can extrapolate most of the details from the facts I already know combined with the facts presented. It’s hard to be curious when there are few, if any, details I don’t know. Statistically, it’s usually fairly easy to predict the direction of a person’s monologue. It’s a fun way of describing my Asperger’s as a set of super-powers, like the ability to predict the future.
For example, when a co-worker takes a trip to a foreign country and three months after they return they start handing out souvenirs, I don’t need to hear the story about how they accidentally left the souvenirs in their hotel room and had difficulty getting them shipped over here. It took 3 months, clearly there were difficulties. Lacking any heroic actions or spectacular coincidences, why should I have to listen to the obvious details. Right, to be polite, feigning interest is part of being civil.
As an example of a spectacular coincidence: One time, a check I was expecting in the mail didn’t show up, it was delivered to the wrong address. How do I know? It went to my wife’s aunt’s house. We live in different zip codes about two miles apart, on different streets (Our street is Cedar, their street is Arlington.) and have different last names (Okay so their last name is similar to my first name). The address on the envelope was my address, but it was delivered to my wife’s aunt’s house. We do have the same street number in our addresses, but there are hundreds of 2836’s in our city, our address is 2836 south, theirs is 2836 East. So it’s not an astronomical coincidence (I have that story too), still, what are the odds, right?
Speaking of socially awkward, is it normal to tell the same story twelve times in a two hour period? I work in a cube farm, and one of my Asperger’s symptoms is acute hearing. Or, in a more fun language, I have Super Hearing. Yes, it’s a little bit like hell. Also, my kids hate me a little for having that power.
I mentioned that most of the people I work with seem normal, despite working in IT. I should point out that there are certainly geeks among us, but they seem normal enough in their conversations with others who share their interests.
My contributions to conversations used to almost always be trivial factoids, delivered three or four beats too late in the conversation to be relevant. I still do it, but less often. Mostly I’ve learned to just drop the idea without voicing it if I can’t fit it in while still relevant to the conversation. My voice is one thing that is certainly not a super-power. It literally takes me two or three seconds to begin engage my ability to speak. Once I’ve turned it on, I can keep up with conversation just fine, but if I haven’t spoken for a few minutes, it’s like that part of my brain has shut down and needs to be rebooted. It turns out that, in other people’s perception, no matter how intelligent your words are, if they are a few seconds late in a conversation, people think you’re dumb. Ironic word choice there…It’s ironic because it just might be my intelligence that makes me unable to speak. Get it?
I have friends. I’m not good at having friends, but I do manage to maintain a schedule of social activities. Yes, they have to be scheduled. One of things I don’t do, is contact people without a reason. I mean I can see some social value in just hanging out with friends, but I would never be able to invite someone to just hang out or invite myself to a friend’s place to hang out. I need an actual reason, something that has a benefit to the other person, to contact someone by any means. I don’t call my parents, ever, because I don’t have anything to tell them that isn’t entirely predictable. Yes, I’m fine. Yes, my kids are fine. They’re doing well in school, better in some things than others. Kitty is still demonspawn. All just like normal. Why call someone to say, hey – everything is normal. I might be curious about their lives, but if something wasn’t predictably normal, I’d expect they’d have let me know, right?
Well, I’ve done my part of World Autism Awareness Day. I don’t know if other people with similar disorders are like me. I’m not an expert and don’t plan to become one. I’m just me, being me, being one example.