I'm getting a surprising amount of feedback from people who are essentially saying, "I kinda wondered if I was on the autism spectrum, but I don't have trouble figuring out or empathizing with what people are feeling." This has been my thought exactly for the past few days. I'm still a little torn on the matter. On the one hand, the practical purpose of getting an ASD diagnosis, especially for a child still in school, is to give the adults in the area some context about what to expect socially and accommodation-wise. A piece of official paper with the word "Asperger's" on it tells them that when little Johnny refuses to work with paste because the feel drives him crazy, he is not fucking around. On the other hand, a spectrum diagnosis encompasses a lot more than "not real great at making eye contact and using an indoor voice", much of which is sort of cognitive-procedural, and presents many of the same issues as working with gifted and talented kids, i.e., your textbooks are shit and will be basically useless to anyone with a non-standard learning style.

[I think the 'no empathy' thing is bollocks, by the way. Sociopaths have no empathy. Austistic people have trouble seeing signs of things normal people expect them to empathize with in real-time -- if you tell them they've upset you, they might be confused if they can't immediately work out why or what they did, but they feel terrible about it just like everyone else does. Most aspies I've known, like people with social anxiety, have developed a tendency to apologize as a knee-jerk reflex.]

I have about as much intuition as I do IQ, which is not surprising, since I'm inclined to think it's pretty much the same thing. A friend of mine once said, "'Intuition' is what they call it when smart people don't want to bother explaining again." In my case, at least, I think she's right -- things I know 'intuitively' seem to be summations of a lot of very tiny observations that individually are too small or subtle to overtly notice, but when collected add up to a fact that my subconscious deems worthy to send upstairs for conscious review. It is, in fact, a large part of what I used to sweep out all the paranoiac balderdash my mother spent eighteen years cramming into my head. I did it backwards, taking note of how I felt and then figuring out what sparked it. Learning to explain it was the difficult part; it turned out that I already knew how people ticked, I just couldn't use it until I stopped believing my mother when she told me everything I thought was going on was wrong.

Taking speech very literally is also a hallmark of Asperger's interactions; I don't recall ever having that problem. My metaphors are kinda screwball and I treat clichés like LEGO blocks, swapping out words until I get the denotative meaning I want with the connotations of the original. I am also boffo at reading between the lines, for what people aren't saying. I wasn't very good at figuring out when people were lying to me, as a kid, but that had more to do with me being a very well trained pet to crazy people who told me, in exactly so many words, that I was an absent-minded professor who was hopeless with humans. It was very much a "you're broken and no one will ever be generous enough to love (tolerate) you like we do," thing, which incidentally is a great indicator of an emotionally-abusive relationship, in case you were wondering.

The fact that I have like two-thirds of a diagnosis but am completely missing an entire category of symptoms suggests to me that the sociocommunicative weird and the perceptual-cognitive weird are not actually part of the same syndrome, but rather, common co-morbidities that share one or more causative or contributing factors. Sort of like anxiety and depression. Why they haven't managed to pathologize "thinks in weird shapes" yet, I don't know; I've caught at least as much flack for that as I have for, say, panic attacks, and that's with having no trouble following the subtitles on conversations.

[...actually, wait, that makes a lot of sense. If you don't have the sociocommunicative issues, then the wider social message to shut the fuck up about your brain-weird gets through loud and clear. Can't study what nobody knows about.

Goddamn it. I know I complain a lot about humans not applying logic to things, but you know, sometimes it's worse when they do. That's kind of like when I finally worked out that my mother's ideas about how to get attention without ever asking for it were perfectly internally consistent, if you assumed they were coming from someone who completely lacked the ability to monitor her own behavior.]

I keep royally fucking up the scoring scale on all of the social questionnaires, because I can answer everything equally validly from both an allistic and an autistic perspective. Most of the difference is in how you fill in all the blanks left by what's not said. If you walked up to your friend and said, "Check out my cute new shoes," and he said, "Those shoes are ugly," there are two completely separate and unrelated ways to take this. The allistic one is to be insulted -- the given statement is elliptical, and stuff gets filled in around it as "(I think that my opinion that) those shoes are ugly (is more valid than yours, and by extension I think your fashion judgement is questionable and you dress yourself badly)." The ellipsis is different from the autistic viewpoint; the blanks are filled in with, "(My opinion that) those shoes are ugly (seems to be different than yours, and I mention this strictly for informative purposes, without any particular reference to what you think)." My instinctive reaction to most of this stuff is allistic, but a split second later the autistic interpretation kicks in, and which one I decide to roll with depends on what I know about the person the words are coming from.

There's another good example on the essay I linked to before, about Sherlock -- the author gets pretty frothingly angry over John and Lestrade muttering about Asperger's while Sherlock's away, and clamming up tight when Sherlock gets back. From the (autistic) author's point of view, this is deeply obnoxious, condescending, and infantilizing: If someone else knows something about me that I don't, why the fuck are they not just telling me? Do they think I'm too stupid or uncontrollable to handle it? What gives? And I understand it perfectly, because I'd be insulted, too.

The view from John and Lestrade's side, however, is different. The logic, such as it is, goes thusly:
  1. It is rude/mean/inappropriate to say things about someone which you know will upset them. If you don't know explicitly whether the thing will upset them or not, use what you know about people at large and that person in specific to give it your best guess.
  2. It is especially rude/mean/inappropriate to say the upsetting things when the person in question isn't there to offer a defense.
  3. Best social practice, and ideal behavior, is to not talk about people when they aren't there unless you're absolutely sure nothing you say will upset them.
  4. If you break this rule, do not let anyone outside of the conversation find out. It's especially bad if the person you're talking about is the one that catches you.
They're not actually thinking about Sherlock relative to the contents of the conversation when they clam up; they're thinking about Sherlock relative to the fact that they're having the conversation. It's about him and he's not a part of it, and that's considered bad, so they both immediately go into cover-up mode, anxious and ashamed at almost being caught. Where they both specifically err is in assuming that the things they're saying would be upsetting to Sherlock -- either hurting his feelings, making him loud and argumentative, or both -- if he heard them. I actually give odds of maybe 80% that he wouldn't care in general, and definitely 100% that he wouldn't care during a case -- and he does care, very much, about John's opinion, so whether it would be upsetting even if he did think it was a idea worth turning over in his head for a while depends largely on whether John treated it like it made him broken or just like it was an explanatory thing.

Both viewpoints on social interaction strike me as being on the same level of "not completely insane". When I'm the one speaking, I tend toward the autistic tactic of just saying what I fucking well mean, but I actually do this because I know there are eight gazillion interpretations for everything, and if I'm going to be misunderstood I might as well be misunderstood the short obvious way, rather than having to go through an entire painfully long conversation to get around to it. I'm also perfectly capable of having conversations where no one actually says what they mean -- it's a much more fun game when the other person also knows you're playing.

The autistic viewpoint on interaction is actually something that I taught myself the same way I taught myself the allistic set of social skills. It stems from my family being complete lunatics. My relatives are to normal well-adjusted allistic people as most allistic people are to autistics: Inconsistent, incomprehensible, arbitrary, constitutionally incapable of just telling you what they want, and prone to being inordinately mean if they perceive you as not cooperating. Breaking it down and telling them exactly what they just said, as opposed to what they think they said, and repeatedly outlining for them how I am not a fucking mind reader, pissed them off to no end, but was the only way for me to escape with any of my marbles. Picking apart their meanness and realizing that I felt horrible every time I talked to them because they were saying good-thing blah in a tone and accompanied by actions that meant it was really bad-thing bleh was pretty much the last straw, and most of the reason I'm not in contact with them anymore.

So, apparently this is how I got the surprise-Parseltongue. Cool. I like talking to unusual people.


  1. “The ellipsis is different from the autistic viewpoint; the blanks are filled in with, "(My opinion that) those shoes are ugly (seems to be different than yours, and I mention this strictly for informative purposes, without any particular reference to what you think)."
    The way you describe the autistic approach here has been my primary problem communicating effectively with people because I just don't imply these kinds of value judgments when I say stuff. In fact, most of the time these factual statements are my (from an allistic perspective probably hugely clumsy) way of connecting with someone: "Hey, I noticed X! That's so neat! Yay similarities!" Of course, most people read implications into those statements which just lead to everyone getting frustrated. I'll think it is insulting that a) they think I'd say something mean about them when that is totally out of character and b) I would have actually SAID it if I meant to imply that.

    The thing is, I do learn these situations but they're highly contextual for me; I don't generalize it into some broadly applicable rule because that just doesn't make any sense to me. I am a scientist by heart (and profession) and it's usually a terrible idea to extrapolate when you can't support that with evidence. It drives me crazy that people do that all the time because quite often it IS completely off the mark. The strange thing is, I can give very convincing reasons why I do all these things this way. I don't at all think of it like "oh damn, something must be broken in my brain!" which seems to be a common perception allistic people have about autism?

    I WANT to learn social cues on a case-by-case basis because every individual is different and they DO have very different needs/wants and ways to express these. Sure, maybe 90% of the common ones are the same for everyone, much like how we're 98% the same as chimps DNA-wise. But the whole point of that analogy is that the true differences lie in that small % of the cases where the guidelines are individual for that person. I feel like my approach is much more respectful of this fact.

    I do know that I've had HUGE issues with being misunderstood ever since I was little. Even before it became a problem (my mom can understand me perfectly well because she knows me thoroughly) I was like that, which makes me think it's more of a personality/character trait than anything internalized from personal interactions gone awry.

    Lastly (sorry again that this is so long, Ari): I run into a lot of trouble with people in terms of being labeled "defensive", does anyone else recognize that? A *lot* of times when someone gets upset with me it is because they took something from what I said that I didn't literally say, and never meant. But when you try to explain that, no, you really didn't mean it like that... most people will get MORE annoyed with you as if you're trying to invalidate their right to feel upset. I'm really not, and I feel terrible I've upset them, but I have this really strong urge to explain why I didn't actually say what they think I said. My thinking there is that in a given relationship it should just as much be up to them to get used to my ways of expressing myself as it is for me to get used to theirs. It seems a perfectly reasonable request to me, but to date I've had very few people who actually did it. Instead, I spend a lot of my interactions with people feeling like I can't speak my mind because they'll get upset about things I can't predict in advance, and it's terribly restricting (and hard to pursue friendships when you don't think you can freely contribute your thoughts to a conversation). And while there are some things I understand as being in the "Never okay to say" category, most offensive statements are highly person/context dependent in our society and can be very difficult to completely avoid.

    1. I had a further thought: maybe one way to think about it is that autistics and allistics have a different 'native' language when it comes to communicating. And due to the highly complex nature of the totality of human communication it is really not as fast as learning, say, English from scratch. But I think there are a lot of similarities in terms of how people have to learn the rules of a new language (and often the dominant culture's rules as well). For me anyway, when I think back about how I figured out communicating with the average person, it's a little like how I learned English if there hadn't been any books written in it that *clearly* show examples of its use. I think that may be one of the biggest hurdles for people who don't intuitively grasp the allistic 'language' (to call it that for a moment). There really aren't many good guides that explain how to interpret normal cues *that are written in terms that make sense to me/us*.

      In that context I think of talking with different people the way there are differences between how English is spoken/used in various parts of the world. If you go from the Southern US to Canada to Ireland/UK to Australia, for example, there are many similarities (most words mean the same) but because the culture is different and they each have their own 'slang', it can be really quite hard to know how to interpret things when you first get somewhere. And you can't necessarily say: well, I know saying X is fine in the UK, so let's greet my new acquaintance in South Carolina the same way. Does that analogy at all make sense?

    2. Ugh, sorry for all the comments here. I often run off to do something menial and suddenly get an "epiphany".

      It seems like a lot of sources on human communication are written by/for people who already are fluent in the language, which is a little like writing a primer on English in English, or writing basic make-up articles that already assume you know how to do make-up. To me those aren't very helpful because I feel like I am missing more basic, unspoken components that are never made explicit.
      I wonder whether some of us who *are* fluent in both ways of communicating, so to speak, may be the best way to translate these topics into terms that are accessible. I know that for example your posts on body language made a TON more sense to me than anything else I've ever read on the subject because I can clearly follow what you are saying and you tend to include all the necessary components that people often take for granted.
      Sure, you can probably pick up allistic communication by just soaking up information and trying to put everything together, but because the variables are so huge this is a daunting undertaking if you're not already well-versed in the basic assumptions (and more importantly, WHY those exist). That's essentially what I've been trying all my life and it can be painfully slow progress at times and I think it's part of the reason why I am really slow at making friends. It's such a huge effort for me to learn their cues and everything that I don't really have the energy to do it often. The cost/benefit of that usually just doesn't work out favorably.
      I think quite possibly it would be hugely helpful to have *explicit* examples to learn from. Maybe they already exist, but I haven't seen that many.

  2. --->My relatives are to normal well-adjusted allistic people as most allistic people are to autistics: Inconsistent, incomprehensible, arbitrary, constitutionally incapable of just telling you what they want, and prone to being inordinately mean if they perceive you as not cooperating.<---

    Pretty much this, for me too. I had the possibility of an Asperger's diagnosis raised when I was a teen, albeit behind my back---it was only when I found a snipped-out newsprint on the subject of kids with Asperger's in my mum's room that I went to her and asked, and she admitted to bringing it up with my then-therapist.

    I asked my then-therapist about it some time after, and she said she didn't think it was the case. Neither did the therapist I saw a decade later when I started having doubts about my functioning again. Feeling fragile, I called my original therapist about the same time, and she made a rather vague but nonetheless affirmative statement to me about our past visits: "Your parents have been VERY unfair to you." Huh. Haven't had much luck in some areas of my life, but I think I've always managed to land decent mental health professionals, at least.

    So I have some pet theories (a theory menagerie, really), and one of them revolves around being a particular sort of brain-weird that either resisted and/or formed in reaction to my inconsistent upbringing. I have empathy a plenty as well (seeing how easily I was swayed by guilt as a kid, and still was later in life, I mean, c'mon), but as the years went by and I felt LESS vastly insecure and prone to try reading minds in order to not displease others, I found myself more likely to be dense towards subtle social cues, and occasionally even got tired of people not saying what they damn meant!

    The people I've chosen to surround myself with over the years are a bit of a mixed bag. Largely freaks/geeks/nerds, so the predictable passel of behaviors and interests there. Occasionally one slips in that unfortunately proves to be toxic in a manner reminiscent of one of my parents (usually passive-aggressive like my mum, because people like my dad are more directly aggressive and easier to avoid), but mostly people who have either been a) floated a possible diagnosis of bipolar, or b) given or suspected of Asperger's or autism. An interesting cross-section, but as I see it, I like my friends to be clear-cut in their emotional and intellectual ranges so there's no uncertainty in our interactions. Apparently for neurotypicals though, this means some of my friends are nigh-deafening or completely tactless in expressing themselves. ...oh well?

    1. I don't think any mental health professional would have dared given me a diagnosis other than "very smart" and "maybe you should talk to someone" while I was still stuck with my parents. As I a minor, they would have also needed to speak with my family at some point, and I sincerely doubt that my parents would have been able to pass for normal for more than a few minutes, particularly if anyone had asked me about their behavior before talking to them. Even before I had any idea how crazy the relatives were, I would have been saying a lot of, "My mother says...." stuff that would have set off alarm bells.

      My mother would also have been rather resistant to anyone telling her something was "wrong" with her eldest child, in much the same way your average cat is rather resistant to getting dunked in a tub full of water. She was all for getting me as many "good" labels as possible and soaking the power structure for all it was worth in that regard, but the amount of resistance I got when I personally tried to get them to acknowledge I was deeply depressed (and not even for approval purposes -- she wouldn't give up my insurance card, and I wanted a psychiatrist) makes me figure she would have just decided anyone mentioning autism was a flaming idiot, and found another doctor.

    2. Hmmm, does that make her more narcissist than borderline? Or was there potential for one or each being applied to one or each of your parents? I've been reading this woman's blog and a lot of it seems spot on with my own parents, and possibly one or two couples I've known through adulthood:


    3. Borderlines are often profoundly narcissistic. Emotionally they're pretty much teenagers, who are known for being self-centered as all get-out. My mother is perpetually *mumble*ty-*mumble* going on seventeen. Dad is textbook codependent.

      Ultimately it doesn't much matter what clinical diagnoses they have as much as it matters that looking these things up gave me some idea of how to deal with them. All of the tactics for dealing with people who were unaware of their bad behavior, and the tactics for people who were aware of their bad behavior and didn't know how to change it, failed, which is why I'm not in contact with them now.

      Most of the benefit of looking up all the borderline stuff was in the form of giving me some clue about the thought patterns, and how/why she could say two completely opposite things in the same breath and then get mad at me for being confused. It didn't make her better, and it didn't per se make me any better either, but it did help me figure out what behaviors I had learned from it, and hence what behaviors I ought to unlearn as fast as humanly possible. Hearing similar complaints from other people also illuminated the fact that 1) I wasn't the only one who thought this was insane, and 2) the reason nobody else got it/believe me was that this was not normal, and really didn't make a lot of sense.

    4. I imagine your parents are likely in the same age bracket as my own, which leads on to the popular notion that narcissistic behavior is actually a hallmark of their generation. Maybe not to a psychotic extent for most individuals, but enough so that if the general... how to put it... temperature of their age cohort is raised to a noticeably higher degree, the type that ought to stand out as feverishly high don't as much as they otherwise would.

      The Onion, naturally, "goes there" in re when their generation will no longer be such a bother: http://www.theonion.com/articles/longawaited-baby-boomer-dieoff-to-begin-soon-exper,647/


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