When Your Spot on the Spectrum is Unresolved
Ten years ago my therapist suggested I may have “a touch of” Asperger syndrome. Maybe this was her way of bringing it up lightly. To address issues I had been dealing with my whole life.
Maybe she thought I would be offended. Or that I would act holier than thou. Because I had lived a traditional life. Unaffected by any diagnosis.
I knew a little bit about Asperger’s, but not much. A year prior I probably would have walked out of a therapist’s office who suggested anything was wrong with me. Because I wasn’t ready to face it.
I didn’t walk out. I trusted her. But more, I was deeply in search of anything to explain some of my more celebrated and continuous behaviors throughout my life.
I still don’t have the answers. Because I don’t know how to get them. Because I don’t know if I need to get them. Because I don’t know if answers truly exist in this space.
“You don’t need to have Asperger’s to feel bewildered in a culture that relies so heavily on inconsequential chit-chat to grease the wheels of day-to-day life.” — Lynn Coady
An Introductory Note
I am an amateur at understanding Asperger syndrome. You will find out what research I have done, what steps I have taken, and how I tried and didn’t try. But it is limited. For many reasons.
I have been shy talking about it because of the many reactions a few people have had. Some of which you will read. Online and off. Friends, lovers, and strangers.
Nothing in my journey to understand myself is designed to minimize, sensationalize or undervalue those who have lived their life somewhere on the spectrum with Autism, Asperger’s or somewhere in between.
How We Started
My therapist suggested I take a couple tests online just to see where I scored. I can’t vouch for the scientific veracity of these tests. They very well could have told me which Harry Potter character I was too. But it was a start.
One minute into the first test I was like, “Holy shit.” You know how you can tell from the questions that your answers are moving your “score” in one direction? That’s what was happening.
It may sound trite, but there was some solace in just reading questions about behavior that I was familiar with. Whether I am on the spectrum or not, I felt understood just by the questions and answers.
I scored in the middle somewhere. Much higher than I expected. Because I didn’t know what to expect.
Part of me felt relieved. Part of me felt scared. Part of me was so f*cking confused. Part of me was numb. Numbness is a recurring theme.
But I still didn’t know much about Asperger’s. At all.
And now, in my mind, I was half-Aspie. I know how that sounds. But that is how I felt then. Trying to understand what it was. What I was. Where I fit.
“I think I had a mild case of Asperger’s as a younger guy, but that typically just wears off after a while. For some people, anyway.” — David Byrne
Trying To Understand The Parameters
I read books.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robinson
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller
I went to online forums.
Aspies Central (now Autism Forums)
I watched movies and TV shows.
I wanted to know more. At the same time, I was scared to know more. I was scared that the more knowledge I had, the more I would let it affect me. Especially since I had lived a “normal” life up to this point. I was clueless.
These resources helped. At the very least, I learned to have empathy for Autism and Asperger’s that may not have been fully formed before this. But I did feel a kinship. In books. In forums. And on screen.
But then I felt bad about that. Because most of the research I was finding and interacting with, involved people who “had it worse than I did.” I felt inadequate. Because if I was on the spectrum, I wasn’t very far up. I felt unworthy of being involved in the dialogue. An impostor.
The Online Forums
This feeling of being an impostor spilled over to the forums on Aspies Central. I was basically a voyeur for two years. Reading a lot. And feeling terrible about what these people I didn’t know had dealt with their whole life. But I was scared to participate.
Because I had done life. Boarding school on my own. Two colleges. Law school. A job as a prosecutor. Got married. Had kids. I always had a lot of friends. I thought this meant I couldn’t have Asperger’s syndrome. Or at least that everyone else was suffering much more than I was.
I felt unworthy of participating. And shy.
Aspie this. NT that. What about me? I had no idea where I fit.
There was so much pain in these forums. Feelings of being misunderstood. Feelings of trying so hard to be socially accepted, just to fail. Talk of severe self-loathing. Talk of suicide.
I just felt like my life had gone too well to say anything.
But I was struggling. On a much smaller scale. But struggling.
“In Silicon Valley, I point out that many of the more successful entrepreneurs seem to be suffering from a mild form of Asperger’s where it’s like you’re missing the imitation, socialization gene.” — Peter Thiel
Where I Fit or Don’t Fit
The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger syndrome. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:
• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms
Limited or inappropriate social interactions
Yes, please. I had learned to always have appropriate social interactions, but all I ever wanted was limited social interactions. I would much rather be at home than at a party. Anyone’s party. I don’t want to go.
Robotic or repetitive speech
Everyone always said I was monotone. That my voice never showed excitement or sadness. That I never showed excitement. Just flatlined.
That my face always looked the same. That I looked unhappy. When I was completely fine. That’s just how my face looks. Or acts.
Inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
I have always been very matter of fact. When one of my friends would get dumped, I didn’t have sympathy. Partly because all they did was complain about their partner during the relationship (rational). Partly because I didn’t think it was that hard to get over (irrational).
I also have strict expectations around language. I mean exactly what I say. I would be talking to someone about parenting and say, “I’m a great dad.” They would respond by saying, “You don’t think I am a good parent?” And I would sit, perplexed. Because I wasn’t talking about them.
I have told every woman I have ever dated that I mean exactly what I say. The words that leave my mouth don’t have hidden meaning. I am not creating a maze with words for you to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I just mean what I say.
Therefore, I don’t often get nuance. I listen to words. And I won’t try to go deeper to figure something out because I just assume someone would tell me what they actually mean. Try that in relationships. Not good.
Lack of eye contact of reciprocal conversation
For me, this only comes up during relationship arguments. In a business setting I can lock in and do what I need to do. Same for quasi-social engagements with friends.
But when I am arguing with my significant other I stare at something. Not them. Not their eyes. I don’t look at them. I stare in the corner. Or at the TV (on or off). I also don’t respond much. Basically, I just sit there. Looking into space.
Obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
Growing up all I did was play sports or play sports board games in my room. Later, this became sports video games. But I also read sports books. Once in a while biographies, but mostly statistics. I could not get enough statistics.
I memorized the stats of every baseball, basketball and football player growing up. Not an exaggeration. I knew everything. It’s probably one thing that all of my friends growing up remember about me.
Where I fit
What does all that mean? I have no idea. But every test I took or survey I looked at or article I read, let me know that I had many qualities consistent with those who had Asperger’s.
Addressing Adult Aspergers in Relationships
The reason I never explored my relationship with Asperger’s as much as I should is because I never had any support. Both my parents were dead by the time my therapist suggested it. And I never told very many people.
And when I did, it was a disaster. Not in a blow out fight type of way. But in a dismissive way that still hurts me.
They always thought it was an excuse. An excuse for not wanting to talk about things. An excuse for looking in the corner. An excuse for not enjoying people. Or parties. Or crowds. Or loud sounds.
An excuse for liking a routine. An excuse for enjoying staying home. For anything that wasn’t going well in the relationship.
They thought I couldn’t have any trace of Asperger’s because I was successful. In life. In work. I had accomplished a lot. I had a lot of relationships.
They thought it was my way out.
Maybe they were right.
I know if my dad were still alive, he would understand. Because he would tell people how to handle my behavior and what it meant. He would tell my friends growing up that I needed time to go into my shell and that they shouldn’t take offense when I do.
What I Did in Response
I stopped. I stopped researching. I stopped bringing it up. I stopped “using it as an excuse.”
I never did that by the way. I was just trying to explain why I might have a certain way of reacting to some things. I didn’t and don’t know the answers. Maybe sometimes I was just being a d*ck. But maybe I wasn’t.
I gave up. I logged out of the forums. And I just did life. And I struggled. I struggle.
With being too honest. I still don’t know how this is possible.
With introversion as a crime. Sorry that I like being by myself and don’t enjoy f*cking crowded places with people everywhere.
With my spot on the spectrum. What am I, like 8%?
With relationships. Because I don’t always want to be that close.
Where Do I Go From Here with my Unresolved Spot on the Spectrum?
I really don’t know. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere.
The fact is, I’ve had a pretty good life. Over the past couple of years I have done a lot of work on myself to assure the second half of my life will be even better than the first.
I write with reckless abandon every day. But this one was hard. Because it means more. How it’s received means more to me. Because I don’t want to undervalue the true struggles of spectrum disorders. I mean, who the f*ck am I? I don’t know anything.
I just know I was always a little different. A little. And what does that make me? And where do I go with that information?
Whichever direction I go in, I won’t shy away from the fact that I share many similar traits with those that have been formally diagnosed with Asperger’s. It will never be an excuse. And I will continue to engage and learn, and help in any way I can.