Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Asperger's and the Internet

Stacey posted a few weeks ago now about what online communication has done for her son, who has Asperger's. It struck me really powerfully because while I was taking a break from blogging, I found out that I have a form of Asperger's. For those of you who have no idea what this means, here's a general explanation:

Individuals with AS can exhibit a variety of characteristics and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see. It's important to remember that the person with AS perceives the world very differently. Therefore, many behaviors that seem odd or unusual are due to those neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness or bad behavior, and most certainly not the result of "improper parenting." (Source)
In many ways, this was a painful realization for me, since I'd always assumed my social awkwardness was a result of growing up in an abusive household and that I'd eventually grow out of it. Having to finally place my problems on nature instead of nurture was depressing at first, but as I thought over my life it just made perfect sense.

I had no idea how to be myself with other people as a kid, so I either stayed silent or I mimicked how the "good girls" acted. Living my life was always having to play a role unless I was by myself. I didn't have many friends and I had a hard time communicating my thoughts to people - which was one reason I became obsessed with being a writer. I thought that if I just used the right words, someone would finally understand me.

As the internet started opening up new possibilities for me in my teens, I embraced its ability to connect without all of the crap associated with face-to-face communication. I started several online journals on several different sites, looking to connect with others who were like me. And I did. Connecting to people online helped me find RL people to connect with. I just learned to look for the geeks and I knew I'd find people like me who connected largely by discussing things we liked: games, movies, memes or what-have-you, and in that way expressed who we were to each other.

I've learned to accept that the majority of society will find me unconscionably odd or even crazy because my mind works differently. Stacey said of her son: "Because he is unusually talented at his instrument the band kids ignore his odd behaviors and he's formed social connections. That doesn't mean it's not still a bit scary and anxiety producing to talk with them." It's the same way for me and writing. I'm awesome at it, which gets me attention, but in RL connections are very arduous for me to navigate, and I often turn to flirty charm to keep people from knowing how uncomfortable I am.

Like Stacey, I'm glad the internet is around for us Asperger's types today, giving us the tools for communication that we don't get any where else. On the other hand, it's weird trying to translate my ease of communications from the online realm to the real world, but I like to think I'm getting better at that every day.

Related posts:
Balloon Me!
Why I Blog
Personality Analysis for Bloggers

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Stacey K said...

I'm glad you found my post interesting and odd as it may sound I'm glad that you discovered that you have Asperger's. Not that I wish for anyone to have a 'syndrome', but I know it must be frustrating to be different and not fully understand why.

Have you read Look Me in The Eye by John Elder Robison? It's a good book and it talks about life with Asperger's before there was any understanding of it. It's also one of the few books on the subject that didn't annoy the crap out of me.

Too often the tone of books makes Asperger's to be the defining point in a person's character. It's not. At least in my view it's not. It's part of what makes a person who they are - not the definition of who they are.

May said...

That's actually what helped me to realize that I probably had Aspergers! It was almost creepily close to stuff I had gone through as a kid! 95% of his problems were problems I had. It was a real eye-opener!

Spyder said...

I can only imagine that putting a name to it has helped. I still have my moments of awkwardness & I'm 52. I don't think I have anything, just my own geeky, unique self. But isn't that what makes life interesting is that we are all different/unique. I don't mean to make it seem like it's nothing that you have Asperger's. Just that you are no weirder than the rest of us.

May said...

Yeah, it really wasn't that big a deal once I got over it.

John Elder Robison said...

I'm glad you found my story useful in some way. You might be interested in some of the other female Aspergians near you. There's a Sharon Davanport who has the Asperger Womens blog, and there are a bunch of female Aspergians among my FB friends. If you go over there and send me a friend request you can paw through them.

There are also a number among the commenters on my blog

I found the experience of meeting other Aspergians in real life to be a real eye opener.

Best wishes

May said...

Hi John! Thanks for stopping by. I actually read your book because my boyfriend has Asperger's so I was shocked how familiar it all seemed. Thanks for sharing your experiences. And I'm checking you out on Facebook right now! Thanks for the tip!