Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Asperger's, Part I: The Positive Side

It's difficult for me to write about this because when I try to talk to people about the way I am, I only get the kind of reactions that really annoy me. But I feel that the time has come for me to "come out" because I have spent so much time making heroic efforts to conceal this from everybody and I'm sick and tired of doing this. So the reasons why I want to write about this are:
  1. it helps me to talk about it because I'm tired of self-imposed silence;
  2. it might help other people who share the same characteristics;
  3. it might help educate people who aren't like me to understand what Asperger's means. 
Once again, I do not consider Asperger's to be a disease. This is just a way of being. It has its limitations but if somebody offered me a magic pill that would "cure" it, I would run away from the "cure." This way of being makes me who I am and in many ways I really like it. I honestly would not want to be without it.

So I'm going to list the bad things and the good things about it. And, of course, Asperger's manifests in many different way, so my reality might be very different from somebody else's.

The great things about having Asperger's are:
  • I have a talent for amassing, retaining, categorizing, and reproducing huge chunks of information. If you ask me about a book or a painting or a philosopher, I have a colored three-dimensional picture of the history of world literature, art, history and philosophy in my head that allows me to place this work of art or author in her philosophical, social, and historical context immediately. As a result, I never have to prepare for my classes. I can reproduce information about any of my subjects on the spur of the moment.
  • I have an unbreakable concentration on my subject of interest. I can sit in a loud bar, with music blaring and people screaming at each other, or an airport, or a boring meeting, and work on my research. When I concentrate, it's like I go into a bubble that protects me from any extraneous noise. I actually worked out the ideas and the basic structure of my doctoral dissertation at a noisy bar.
  • I have an area of interest that I pursue single-mindedly and with an obsessive dedication. I've been extremely lucky in being able to turn this interest into a well-paying job. Now, all of a sudden, all of the weird and freaky ways in which I pursue this interest have suddenly become respectable and people even want to imitate them. (I say weird and freaky on purpose, because I prefer to have power over these words, rather than allow them to have power over me.)
  • I can be alone for long stretches of time and enjoy it profoundly. Once I spent two entire weeks with no human contact, and it was blissful. So I am not dependent on whether any one wants to spend time with me. 
  • I have a very logical, analytical way of thinking about things. I also have a very original and unusual way of seeing things that is also very helpful in my profession.
P.S. Let me reiterate that it isn't easy for me to talk about this and I would really appreciate people holding their hatred in check and not posting hateful comments.

15 comments:

Kola Tubosun said...

I have many of these "symptoms". Could I have Asperger's as well?

I can stay indoors without human contact for very many days. I can work within noise. I remember details... and many of the other "negatives" as well.

If it's not a disease, then I'm wondering, why should Asperger's be something to worry/be ashamed/be afraid about? It sounds just like a name given for a peculiar trait.

Clarissa said...

I think that it only makes sense to get diagnosed or identify as AS if you think it will help you on some level. For me, it has been extremely helpful to discover that there is a name for what I am and that there are many people who experience the world in a similar way.

I was brought up to believe that many things about my way of being are shameful, weird, and wrong. And a revelation that I am perfectly ok has been very important and liberating.

I understand, though, that many people may feel no need to identify as AS even though they might have many symptoms. That's upt o them.

NancyP said...

I think that there are Asperger-like individuals who share some traits to a very strong degree but who lack other traits. I had a high score in the Asperger test you posted, putting me in the range of "suggestive of but not diagnostic of AS". Shared traits may have different origins. My bouts of shyness seemed, according to my mother, to start in grade school (in response to bullying). This would indicate (to me) that I do not have Asperger neurologic features. I simply preferred (and prefer) solitude and intense focus on (subject of interest at the moment) to company for most of the time.

Clarissa said...

I think that the neurologic symptoms are the best way to discover whether Asperger-like characteristics should actually be attributed to Asperger's. They are also the ones that are the hardest to deal with. My husband's experience is almost identical to what you describe (shyness as a result of school bullying) but he doesn't have autism.

Kiwiguy said...

Clarissa,

I've found your comments on this really interesting & enlightening. Thanks for posting them.

Lindsay said...

I share most of these, too. They are very helpful!

(The only one I don't really have is the ability to screen out noise/extraneous phenomena. I actually can't do that at all --- which in some ways is a strength because it means I have to notice everything that is going on around me. But I can hyperfocus, too --- I just can't do it in a noisy, busy or visually demanding environment.)

Anonymous said...

Clarissa,if it is possible to clarify : what are the neurological symptoms of Asperger's?
are they those:
an unusual sensitivity to
1.light touch
2.sounds
3.light
4.monotonous voice
5.physical clumsiness
6.poor coordination at unknown places
7.either soft or too loud speaking voice
8.uncomfortableness to look at eyes
--etc
but seems those are not neurological,but rather behavioural.

Was you officially diagnosed?
What is the correlation between the test out of 200 and the official diagnose--I mean how the high score at test relate to a real diagnose.

Clarissa said...

A unusual sensitivity to touch, sounds, light, physical clumsiness, or coordination at unknown places, low muscle tone, poor sense of balance, inability to distinguish colors or left from right are, indeed, neurological symptoms. They cannot be corrected behaviorally. They are just there. I have every single one of those I listed. Maybe there are more.

Anybody who uses the word "diagnosis" in relation to autism is a quack, and I wouldn't visit them. What a good specialist tells you is that "it is highly likely that you are autistic," "you present many characteristics of an autistic" ot that "it is possible that. . ." Nobody can ever give a definitive, hard-and-fast diagnosis. At least, not at this point.

Since last fall Asperger's doesn't get a separate category in the US. Now there is just "autism".

Anonymous said...

Wait--if it is neurological symptoms--then we are NOT normal.
I called to a doc "I need to have the diagnose finally".He said "come we will talk" Me:"But do you have the possibility to decide if am can be diagnosted/denied for Asperger's";doc:"Yes I can prove it for you either way".
So we are NOt normal? At least from US point we are autists--but he asked on phone a few questions--which means to have a job, to be married and have kids are the sings of a full life, so to be realised,to be pactically normal unless losing all of that.
SO! We are neurologically not normal,but really having a full life means to be normal, So! All the neurological signs are just a few side effects and no one prove are they negative or positive, from our point of view definitelly positive effects, and the only negative side--to be "minority"--NORMAL means just to posess something that majority does. Am I right???

Clarissa said...

We are perfectly normal. We are just not neurotypical. And who wants to be "typical" anyways?

Everybody has their own vision of what constitutes a full life. There is no template that's good and acceptable for everyone. This has nothing to do with autism. It's just a matter of individual preferences. Many non-autistic people never get married and have children. Many autistics do.

It's important to find one's own version of a full life, I think. Whatever it is. And just live it.

Good luck with the doctor.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Clarissa, and please one more to erase--February 10, 2011 2:24 PM --sorry for that as well.
and I am disappearing now for long, thank you,the blog is fantastic.

Clarissa said...

I hope things start getting better for you soon.

Pen said...

"Since last fall Asperger's doesn't get a separate category in the US. Now there is just 'autism'."

-I may have to get a "diagnosis" in order to qualify to live on a college campus without a roommate (it's a necessity for me due to some severe OCD tendencies and other assorted issues).

However, I'm worried that such a diagnosis (because of the lack of differentiation between Asperger's and other forms of autism) will mean I will also have to receive special services, like extended time for tests, or extra tutoring. I've gone through my entire school career without receiving these things and am doing just fine (more than fine, actually). Is this something I should be worried about?

Clarissa said...

People only get tutoring and extended time for tests if they specifically ask for them, as far as I know. I don't think anybody will make you have them.