Asperger's Explained by a Writer with Asperger's

I have a good friend named Alice Smith who was recently diagnosed with Asperger's as a senior in college. That might sound like bad news, but it's not a new condition - she just finally has a name for it and a way of learning more about herself. So it's really good news! Alice is also a talented writer and set out in one of her blog posts to explain Asperger's in an understandable way. And I'm glad she did. All you get from Wikipedia is a list of behavioral observations. That might allow me to recognize someone with Asperger's better, but I still can't understand them or accommodate them any better. In fact, observations like "lacks empathy" make me think people with Asperger's are going to be jerks, which hasn't been my experience at all. So thank you Alice for shedding light and lifting ignorance! I'm going to share your explanation with my students, colleagues and anyone else who'll take time to read it. Below are some selected quotes from Alice's post...
Basically it's kind of like autism (or IS a form of autism, depending on how you look at it), and the part of your brain that decodes social situations and formulates appropriate responses, that part of mine isn't formed right. So instead of just "reading" a situation, I have to memorize social cues. I got one of those Terminator HUDs--"Subject resting hand lightly on shoulder of companion. Analysis: flirting. Do not under any circumstances: say anything negative about subject; say anything negative about companion; make reference to act of flirting. Allowed topics of conversation: weather, class, news." This is literally what goes on in my head. Without the cool neon lines, though, because my brain-computer's more like a Tandy. ... It also kinda sucks because now I'm second-guessing everything I do in a social situation, "Is--is this what normal people do? Am I being weird for saying this? Should I tell people I have Asperger's so they won't think I'm weird if I phrase things weirdly? Or will that make them think I'm weird, because only weirdos tell you right away about their weirdnesses?" And then I hit my head against a wall (figuratively, because of concussions) and say something and forget right away what I said because there are so many things I could have said that I can't remember them all. ...
I've mentioned my diagnosis to a few people who've wondered if they, too, might have Asperger's. For the most part they say this because I don't explain things correctly. If I adequately expressed the knot of not-knowing that lays twisted in your stomach throughout your day, covered in routine stomach sediment until it randomly unfurls and seizes your guts, wrenches and freezes them and makes you flail about to try to knock it loose, they wouldn't think they had it. They'd say, in hushed voices, "God, that sounds like it sucks." And I'd say, "Yeah.... So, who wants to play Rock Band? Woo!"
Writing out all this stuff is good for me, lets me admit to myself what I really face, so that I'm not angry with myself when I fuck up or run away.
EDIT: Alice was kind enough to send me a follow-up with more of her experiences, specifically within an educational context.
Another important thing to remember is that people with Asperger's / Autism Spectrum Disorders (the Autism spectrum includes Asperger's, autism, and some other stuff that's all related) often have problems with sensory overload. I didn't ever really realize that I had problems with this (i.e. that weren't normal), but I do, and so sometimes when multiple people are talking to me or there's loud or unexpected noises I get really upset. This manifests sometimes in me waving my arms around, biting my hand, looking overwhelmed, talking incoherently, or lashing out in apparent anger. So if your kid does something like that, it might be because too many people are talking, and you should slow things down and have one person talk to him at a time. (These behaviors also might happen if you are explaining something he did wrong, but aren't using neutral, logical terms, so that he feels attacked or confused. Logic is very good. Calmness is very good.) Anyway I didn't know how much you knew about Asperger's/ASDs, so I wanted to give a short overview of things that could very easily go wrong in a school environment. This is stuff that happens for me and I gather for many other people with Asperger's, although everyone's different.
Thanks again, Alice!

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Tags: asperger's, special-ed


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