Being Wrong with Authority

“Logic, my dear Zoe, merely allows one to be wrong with authority.”†

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One of the first things I had to tackle after I found out that I have Asperger’s Syndrome was to understand how I think about everything. It was like having to step out of my mind and observe it from the outside, looking in, like being in a brain zoo.

To my surprise I was made aware by the specialist who diagnosed me that my brain is highly logical. This was quite a shock because I write poetry; I’ve got a degree in English Lit and I’m generally quite creative. He explained that because someone with Asperger’s Syndrome such as me can find the world a very baffling place we use logic to apply a sense of order to an otherwise unordered existence. He also told me that because my condition is moderate/severe, but I have an above average intelligence it is likely that I have to scrape by without anyone realising that I’m autistic. I logically work out some social situations and devise plans on how to conduct myself through them, and the ones that I couldn’t work out, e.g. loud parties and making friends, distressed me so much that I developed an aversion to them that bordered on social phobia.

To give an example of this I will the use a now slightly dated British expression that still gets used in my family, which is to get the needle. If someone gets annoyed we say that they’ve got the needle about something. I’ll tell you how I know what that means – it’s a fifty-fifty split between context and logic. To start with I was able to work it out because when I saw that someone got annoyed and someone said that he/she had got the needle I linked the two together. However, what really helped me to understand the metaphor is how, without realising it at the time, I used logic to form a hypothesis. Firstly, apart from amongst sewing enthusiasts, people in general find needles upsetting, as I found out when was inoculated at school and I saw the reactions of my classmates. Also needles are sharp, quite dangerous and made from cold hard metal, all of which are negative things that can be logically grouped with the negative feelings of annoyance or distress. So in short, to have the needle is to feel bad.

Inevitably my logical way of thinking extended to how I thought about and understood others, which, to be honest, is where it’s most likely to come unstuck. I have always found the behaviour and motives of other people difficult to decipher. This is one of the three ‘Triads of Impairment’ that are at the heart of Asperger’s Syndrome, which any reliable assessment for the condition will be looking for. They are the difficulties of:

  • Social & Emotional
  • Language & Communication
  • Social Imagination

This means that I find it extremely difficult to predict the behaviour of others, especially when they act irrationally. The best I can do is to use a memory of a social situation that may have been similar and use what I learned from that to make informed decisions on how best to act.

The best example of how this affects me is when I bump into people who try to persuade you to buy something or donate money to charity. The primary problem is that it is an interaction that I haven’t had time to prepare for. My mum tells me that I should say I’m not interested and keep walking but to me each time is different as the person may say different things in a different way depending on their personality and what it is they’re selling/collecting money for. Usually I struggle to say anything to them as they rattle off their prepared argument as to why I should care about the polar ice caps or my credit rating. My standard approach is to listen to what they have to say and then say that I’ll visit their website. I suffer because, due to my Asperger’s Syndrome, I don’t handle being put on the spot very well because I can’t think of what I should say quickly enough.

Although, having an impaired social imagination also has an upside. Being really logical helps to keep you from panicking in emergency situations and because it makes it difficult to emphasise with others it makes me hate telling lies because it relies on understanding what another person would or would not find believable. So there you have it ladies – there’s some boyfriend material in that somewhere, I’m sure.

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†Quotation and photo from Doctor Who story The Wheel in Space by David Whitaker (1968)

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6 thoughts on “Being Wrong with Authority

  1. Interesting reading! By the way, there’s some evidence that autistic people don’t have a lack of empathy as such. It’s probably a combination of a few things: a difficulty in reading body language to determine what someone else is feeling, insecurity about what will be seen as a socially acceptable response, and lastly a failure on the part of non-autistic people to recognise and appreciate our way of showing love, care, or affection. A true lack of empathy would be if you’re told that “this person feels depressed because they just got dismissed. You can make them feel better by sitting next to them and giving them a deep hug. They will also appreciate it if you offer to cook dinner for them.” and your answer would be, why would I want them to feel better? That is a lack of empathy. The rest isn’t.

    • I agree. I like to think that those with Asperger’s emote and comfort people in ways that seem unusual when compared to the norm, but in ways that are perfectly valid. My consultant told me that there is a very common trend in those with Asperger’s to provide a practical solution when comforting people, such as cooking a meal or making a weepy friend a cup of tea. Being quite British about it I usually find myself putting the kettle on when someone’s feeling upset.

      I think a significant part of getting around the difficulties are to make sure the person knows how you show it and realise that you are emphasising with them. It’s hard to shrug off a reputation of seeming indifferent towards others’ feelings.

      • Very true. It’s like learning cultural differences. Like how travel brochures explain that in that country, it’s a mortal offense to spit on the ground, or to eat food using your left hand, or stuff like that. Making a cup of tea is an enormous source of comfort for most Brits, but Americans would maybe see it as stand-offish. So that’s a cultural difference. I think differences between autistic and non-autistic reactions can be viewed the same way.

        But you’re right that it’s hard to be accused of indifference (or even schadenfreude, which happened to me a couple of times).

  2. Great to see you open up about Asperger’s! We need more voices!

    • Thanks, because I was diagnosed so late (age 23) I missed out on a lot of help I could have gotten when I was in school. My hope is to help stop others from slipping through the net, as getting an adult diagnosis in the UK is nowhere near as simple as it is for under 18’s.

      • Yes, an early diagnosis is crucial. It takes time to adjust, and more so to find help to cope.

        I am from the US, so things are a little different, but I am nonetheless glad I received my diagnosis in my early adolescence.

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