Today, I received a question which deserves a post-long answer:
I am curious to know how other ‘Aspies’ think about this article.
My personal opinion is that there are troubled people from all walks of life, from all races, of all religions, in all socioeconomic groups and all that. It would be surprising if, every now and then, there were no troubled people who also have Asperger’s.
That was the ‘general’ answer. This article, however, was about a person who considered himself victimized for having Asperger’s – for having been born an Aspie. So, I will go a little deeper into this specific case.
The troubled young man wrote of his ‘right not to have been born’…I think that bit tells us a lot about him: he may have had Asperger’s, but what crippled him was depression.
Unfortunately, it is not all that uncommon for Aspies – especially adolescent and young adult Aspies – to suffer from depression. This is – and I am guessing here, not making a medical diagnoses – likely because in that stage of our lives, we learn to grow apart from our parents and begin to form our individual identity. All young people who perceive themselves to be somehow stigmatized and thus not valued by society, for whatever reason, are at at increased risk of depression during this process.
This is because they may perceive their ‘differentness’ as a serious flaw which will prevent them from having a healthy self-image…which is where the depression sets in.
That is why it is essential that Asperger’s is not treated as a disease or a disaster.
I’ll illustrate what I mean by contrasting two examples:
My friend has three kids. When her middle daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s, the whole family took the diagnosis as a disaster. The older sister came to talk to me and was crying about the ‘horrible sentence’ her sister was dealt. The father turned more religious, and spent a lot of time praying to God to ‘fix’ his daughter and take that curse off of her….
Needless to say, the Aspie daughter took was devastated by all this and spun into a depression…would not get out of bed, flunked out of high school and lost all interest in just about everything. It took two years before she started going to a special school to try to finish her high school.
She considers herself as being victimized by having Asperger’s.
On the other hand…there is my younger son. My husband and I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s when our older son was and they did a battery of tests on all of us and all three of us came up Aspies… In addition, many of his cousins are also Aspies – including his favourite one whom he has always identified with and emulated.
So, years later, when he was ALSO diagnosed an Aspie, he was thrilled!!!
He said ‘Finally, I’m one of you guys!’
And, I even got a call from his teacher to please ask him to tone it down with his Aspie pride, because he was making the other children feel inadequate for not having a diagnosis of Asperger’s…
I suspect that the difference in attitude towards the diagnosis of Asperger’s is what makes a huge difference in how people will cope in life.
Because, cope is what we must all do – Aspies or not.
Each one of us has personal traits which are positive and negative, which make it easier and harder for us to succeed in whatever we do and how we live. It is up to each and every one of us to maximize our positive traits and minimize our negative ones – or even find a way to make them work for, instead of against us. The attitude with which we approach this will make a very real difference.
If we lament our negative attributes ans feel ourselves aggrieved and victimized by them, if we wallow in self pity, we will grow into bitter and unpleasant losers.
If we accept ourselves for who we are, but think we cannot change our selves – including our negative qualities, this will become a self-fulfilling prophesy and we will not improve ourselves.
But if we accept ourselves for who we are and understand that, for whatever reason we got our traits, each one of us is now an individual who is responsible for all of ourselves, and for what we do with our traits, we can utilize both the good and the bad to our best advantage and improve ourselves. We can develop coping mechanisms to overcome the bad traits and capitalize on our good ones.
And, we will be able to take pride in who we have become because we will understand that we have maximized our potential!
Asperger’s is not a disease or an illness – it is a set of personality traits that require specific strategies to properly integrate into society. Some Aspies despise the expression ‘being diagnosed with Asperger’s’ as they consider it stigmatizing. They prefer the term ‘being identified as an Aspie’. Perhaps this difference in attitude is more important than we know: you don’t get ‘worse’ because you were diagnosed – you will be exactly the same, except that now, you will have identified some of the tools that may be helpful to you to overcome your negative traits and maximize your positive ones.
But, I digress…back to the example at hand.
This man said he was self-diagnosed as an Aspie. This suggests that he never received specialized help in how to overcome his difficulties. Perhaps that is why he could not maximize his potential: he did well in a highly structured environment, like school (he had master’s degree in engineering – they don’t hand those out for just showing up), but could not cope with the unstructured world outside of academia. His father and his father’s girlfriend were also academics – so they would not have been particularly useful in helping him integrate into a non-academic world, which is very different indeed.
In fact, there is very little in our school system to prepare people for the non-academic world, but that is a different rant. Suffice it to say, a person who has difficulty with social integration, but who had successfully (masters in engineering) integrated into the academic world would indeed have terrible difficulties adjusting to the non-academic one…and without help, he might indeed ‘crash-and-burn’. If, in addition to this great disappointment in himself, he also has the attitude of wallowing in self-pity and not taking responsibility for himself (which are personality flaws not associated with Aspergers – they occur across all of our species), such a person might indeed commit a horrendous act…
But blaming his dad for passing on Asperger’s genes is just scapegoating, nothing more!
A reader, Angel, who is raising an Aspie son, has been kind enough to contribute this article on Asperger’s and teaching the art of communication. I hope you like it as much as I do!
Teaching the Art of Conversation:
Let’s face it. Kids don’t want to talk to the odd kid out—the dork who always says the wrong thing. This sets up a vicious cycle—those who need practice interacting the most, get it the least. My son fell victim to this downward spiral—practically no one would talk to him, so he couldn’t get the practice he needed to talk to them. In an essay he wrote recently, he recalls what it was like to fall into this pit:
I couldn’t understand them, these seven-year-old kids. I felt like I was the butt of every joke, and I couldn’t handle it. It seemed like I always said the wrong thing, and I couldn’t ever just roll with the punches and “play along,” the absolute skill. Embarrassment was a fire that never ceased to scorch me. It was a daily emotion, and one that I learned to hate above all else. All of this culminated in one event that I’m still unwilling to share, especially with an unknown number of strange readers. It was so embarrassing to me that I was absolutely sure that I could not go back, could not face the kids who shared the knowledge of that day.
Though he didn’t confide in me at the time, I saw something I hadn’t seen before—a dark side emerging from this loving son of mine. I pulled him out of public school and taught him myself until he decided to return in his junior year. To both of our amazement, when he returned, he was instantly popular with other kids.
How did talking to me about his reading and writing assignments translate into excellent social skills nine years later? It seemed that by practicing his skills on me, he was not only able to catch up, but actually got ahead of other teens. Why are adults so much better than kids when it comes to teaching Aspergers how to conduct a good conversation?
Adults can be skilled listeners who help children “fill in the blanks.” They will entertain any topic, shared or not. They don’t insist on conventional turn-taking, doing most of the talking for children who barely respond and most of the listening for children who talk like the wind. Adults will also prompt for further elaboration, or provide elaboration when a child omits the details he needs to complete a story.
If you are doing what comes naturally when talking to children, you are practicing speech therapy—coaching your child in what therapists call Speech Pragmatics. Pragmatics concerns itself with what people mean, not what they say—usually the only type of speech therapy that Aspergers need. Pragmatics teaches three fundamental skills: contextualization, turn-taking, andelaboration.
Contextualization may be the hardest for Aspergers to learn. If a child’s statements are irrelevant to a shared topic, he may have misunderstood or forgotten its original context—responding as if he is willfully evading a question or changing the subject. Parents must listen carefully for this conversation killer, gently insisting that the child stay on topic. Queues for opening and closing a conversation should be explicit. Taking turns is also a discipline that should be gently enforced—this could mean getting your child to pipe down and listen or prompting your child to come out of his shell. Finally, elaboration is necessary to keep a conversation going.
To slow down the action, so that an Aspergers child has the extra time he needs to rehearse each of these three vital skills, you might try what I did for my son at home—interactive reading. With a book in hand, the context of any topic will not be forgotten or misunderstood until you are ready to turn the page. You can practice taking turns with your child through give-and-take questions and answers, then move on to general two-way discussions. The story also provides a springboard for further interpretation and elaboration.
If you take every opportunity to rehearse proper contextualization, turn-taking, and elaboration in a safe environment as a pace your child can handle, you’d be amazed at the way this translates to better conversation with friends.
My son, now a teenager, happily converses with friends as if he never had Aspergers. Words are spun round and round as each speaker elaborates, thickening the context of shared information, beginning a new round of contextualization, turn-taking,and elaboration,a self-perpetuating cycle, spinning so effortlessly that it sometimes escalates into the wee hours of the morning—particularly with teenagers who are keenly interested in self-expression.
When I first took him out of school, he had a long way to go before this could happen. He needed extra prompting to move a conversation forward. For years, we privately worked at sowing the seeds of his future success. We rehearsed the contextualization, turn-taking, elaboration, contextualization, turn-taking, elaboration, contextualization, turn-taking, elaboration “spin cycle” until it became second nature. Who could have imagined that rehearsing at home would eventually lead to popularity at school? In my son’s own words:
So, can you successfully educate an Aspergers kid at home, then, after he has matured, send him back to public school? While I can’t say that this method will work for everyone, the answer is yes, it is possible. At least one person has done so.
While I was reading up on famous Aspies, I came across an assertion that Albert Einstein could NOT have been an Aspie, because he had a sense of humour!!!
This came from someone who is apparently considered to be an ‘expert’ on Asperger’s syndrome…. How sad. It sounds like one of those ‘experts’ who only considers a very small percentage of Aspies and – proverbially – sweeps the rest of us under the rug.
Just for the record, I would like to repeat: Aspies have a sense of humour!!!
If you don’t believe me, read xkcd (apparently, they picked the name so it could not be pronounced as a single word…but I was only told that after I HAD been pronouncing it that way…my native tongue can have sentences that are gramatically correct and make sense – yet contain no vowels…and YES, I DO love ‘tongue-twisters’!)
Alternately, let me tell you a story about the island of Merzy….
Once, long ago, when the Earth was smaller than it is today – well, at least the ‘KNOWN’ world (i.e. known to the Europeans who KNEW they were at the centre of the Universe), there was a small, unchartered island somewhere in the tropical band about the world. This island was called Merzy.
It was inhabitted by a wonderful peoples. One day, a European explorer happened upon that island and immediatelly fell in love with it, the people, their culture – or, perhaps, just the
Either way, he feared that as more Europeans would come, they would consider the natives to be ‘savages’, because they did not display the ‘European trappings of power’. The best way to protect them, her reasoned, was to -within the frame of their culture – also teach them how to emulate some of the things that would force the Europeans (who were bound to follow there, now that the paradise-like island had been discovered) to treat the islanders with respect - and not like the other indigenous cultures they had encountered while ‘discovering’ the globe.
It would not be as difficult as all that, our explorer thought…
First, the Chieftain had to be referred to as a ‘King’. That is what all the Europeans called their leaders.
Second, he had to appear ‘kingly’. That meant a proper, golden throne, and that sceptery thingy and the apple-gold-bally thingy. (I love technical terms!)
Third, they had to do something about the architecture….since all the buildings on the island were really just straw huts, the Europeans might not take them seriously, after all. So, they had to ‘Europeanize’ the buildings – you know, they had to put up a fancy facade…
Getting everyone to call his beloved’s father ‘King’ was easy. At least, he taught them that the word ‘Chieftain’ translates into multiple European languages as ‘king’ – same thing, really.
Then, they set about building a huge, multi-story straw hut. Yes, a ‘proper’ building would have been better, but, well, you had bamboo and much straw – and little else for building materials, so the plans had to be adjusted a bit from ‘palace’ to ‘big, two-story hut’. (Please, note that I did NOT say ‘hutlace’.)
But - they did it! It was magnificent! It was very large, so most of the natives from the tribe could gather inside for celebrations. It had two stories around the edges, and the middle was open to the tall ceiling.
And, in the place of honour – the centre of the hut/palace, they placed the masterpiece – a magnificent, golden throne! Yes, it was not easy to make the throne, but it really was magnificent: inlaid with mother-of-pearl and all kinds of precious thingies. A real throne!
The King even got a crown, sceptre and the roundy-bally thingy, which matched the style and look of the throne: golden with pearls all over.
Now, they would be ready for any Europeans to come!
The explorer, sadly, had to return home. After all, even though he wanted to stay, he owed a debt of honour to the Queen (it is ALWAYS queens who fund the most excellent explorers – I think it has to do with longing and the mystique of the unknown) to come back and give his report. With him, he brought many specialities from the island… and he promised that as soon as possible, he would seek permission from his Queen to return to the island and seek the hand of the Merzian princess (chifetain’s daughter) in marriage.
Time passed, but nobody came.
More time passed, and nobody came.
When it became clear that something had gone wrong with the explorer, and he was not coming back – and nor were any other Europeans (the island was rather well sheltered and hidden from major shipping routes), the islanders slowly put away the’European trappings of power’ – except that they did like the big hut! It was an AWESOME party place!
But that big throne was always getting in the way….so, to keep it a bit out of way, the islanders decided to shove it up to the second story of the hut – the whole second floor had, really, become one big storage space.
One day, they had a most excellent party!
Lots of dancing, tea-drinking, singing, and coconut-clapping…..and then, suddenly, with horrid, tortured creaking and cracking, the floor under that heavy throne gave out!!!
The whole hut started collapsing, caught on fire from the party torches, and EVERYBODY DIED!!!!!
And WHAT, do you ask, is the moral of this story???
PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN GRASS HOUSES SHOULD NOT STOW THRONES!!!!!!!
… and they say us Aspies have no sense of humour!!!! We can make things funny AND follow the rules of how humour works!!!
One of my most popular posts of all times is ‘Aspergers and Writing’, in which I explore some of the difficulties Aspies face when writing and, perhaps, some practical advice on how to improve this difficult-for-most-Aspies skill.
Over the years (yes, years…) since I have written it, it has received a lot of comments which update the post and keep it ‘fresh’.
Here is an example of a ‘conversation’ in the comments which shows how the comments people leave help others and keep the post relevant.
A reader called Riayn left this comment:
I’m an adult with Aspergers and what you have written rings very, very true.
As a child I had enormous problems with handwriting and had to undertake remedial handwriting classes. I never learnt how to form cursive handwriting that is legible. I even have problems signing my name that matches what I have signed on the back of my credit card as I can’t always form the letters properly. However, my printed handwriting, when I concentrate and take my time, is extremely neat.
When it comes to writing, I find there is a disconnect between my brain and the page. I know exactly what I want to say but I just can’t write it down. I blog to improve my writing abilities, but many of my posts sound fantastic in my head but come out completely different & inferior on the page.
I wish I could remove the mental block.
To this comment I replied:
I SO KNOW what you mean. I have found the same thing with my posts…
Though, I have found that if I write it – but not really finish, then I can’t get back into writing from where I stopped. Especially if I have had the chance to bounce the ideas off of someone else – to actually verbally ‘speak’ what it is I am trying to get across in the post.
Then, I find it easier to just start from the beginning again: complete different angle, and so on. The act of trying to write it, then saying it out loud (sometimes getting feedback – my poor family!), and then tackling it from a different angle seems to help me get more of my point across.
I also find it much easier to answer comments: then, it’s more like talking to a person, and it seems easier for me to type the words ‘naturally’ than if I am trying to compose a post. Perhaps that is connected to the fact we, Aspies, tend to be more verbally skilled than and less skilled at writing.
Have you tried recording yourself as you ‘speak’ your post – then transcribing it? I’ve been toying with the idea of, perhaps, doing a few of my blog posts by speaking them, instead of writing them down, just to see. Perhaps.
This exchange had been up in the comments for a while.
Then, a new reader named CD joined the conversation:
‘I’m an aspiring writer who has Asperger Syndrome. This post defines me to a “T”.I can spend three hours sitting down in front of a computer, trying to compose a story, with no results.Perfectionism is one deterrent.Another is over thinking.I don’t know what runs through other As minds, but I know my own. I over think things to death. The solution I incorporate is to write endlessly, uncontrollably, for a set time limit.For example: I could write “The smoke descended the stairs. Shawn was the only person who saw it. He wanted to warn people….”Well not my best but you get the idea. To write this simple sentence I’d begin like this: Smoke, grey, moves, stairs, horror, Shawn sees it, won’t talk, why, wants to…Anything for an hour, like I said. Then I return a day later and piece the words together like a puzzle, trying to produce coherent meaning.My ideas are so insightful. I won’t allow AS to prevent me from expressing them in any damned form I see fit. My goal is to write
‘endlessly and uncontrollably’ until I complete an entire story, then return to fix it up. After that, the process of general editing, which a normal person without As would’ve already completed, comes into play.Though this may be a daunting task, it has worked for me.Plus, taking care of your physical health is very important for an AS individual to hone and display his natural god given gifts. Just waking up everyday with AS and dealing with the world, not just writing, drains the persons health.Anyway, I hope this long post helped. I’d like a personal email telling me how I helped. If you find the time that is. I don’t check blogs very often. Guess I should get started creating my own blog,huh?Well that is another topic in and of itself. I’m rambling now so hope I was of some help.Thanks.CD’
Recently, I got a question on my post ‘Aspergers and ‘hearing dyslexia’ (over on my other site).
When my highly imperfect answer topped a thousand words, I thought it worth a post of its own, because I think that while some Aspies might find it useful, others might have helpful suggestions – much better than mine, which, if they are willing to share, could benefit us all.
My son is 16. We didn’t notice this “hearing dyslexia” for many years [perhaps we were too distracted by the other symptoms] but now it is overwhelming. Unless someone speaks very slowly and distinctly to him, my son will answer, “What did you say?” almost inevitably.
My question is: Am I understanding correctly that there’s really nothing to be done about this? My son can read great, can speak [though he tends to speak way too fast and mumbled; doesn't seem like he used to as a child], but he definitely has the problem listed on this site.
Nice to know what it is, but beyond that, no suggestions?
This is a difficult question.
Something can be done, but…
There are therapies which have been used on young children – 3-6 years of age – which are showing definite improvement. This therapy is in the form of computer programs where they do simple tasks (say, help frog catch a fly) based on the length of a tone…which later builds up into series of 2,3+ tones done in the proper rhythm.
The theory behind this is neuroplasticity: the brain is being trained, slowly but surely, to use a different bit of the brain to do the job of integrating time with sound. Because the different bit of brain uses a slightly different ‘strategy’, even to accomplish the same task, the underlying problem will not interfere with that task.
Of course, trying to get a 16-year-old interested in a video game designed for 3-year-olds is not likely to have positive outcome.
But, there are other ways.
They are less effective, but they can work. And, for a 16-year-old, they are more practical.
It really depends on the Aspie: what will motivate them and what will work for each one individually.
One thing that helped both my sons was music.
With a metronome. (One on their computer was more ‘fun’ than a real one – plus it’s much cheaper.)
The sounds are written down in the music score – not just the tones, but their lengths and pauses.
He creates the sound on his instrument (from a cheap recorder or little keyboard to a sexy instrument he’d be willing to play, this bit is way less important) based on what is written down and the metronome helps him integrate the time element into the sound which is generated based on the visual input from the music score. Listening to himself play is the feedback…
I think the visual component is important – ‘playing by ear’ lack the rigor of integrating visual stimulus with the tone and metered time elements necessary to help re-route the ‘time-sound-synchronization’ bit into another area of the brain. Then, as he learns the piece (motor nerve integration into the time/sound system), the metronome can eventually be eliminated and he will still be able to ‘keep pace.
This is not a quick and easy solution, but one that might make an improvement in a teen. We definitely saw an improvement in ours once they took up an instrument – but only an improvement…certainly not an elimination of the problem.
Of course, the ‘shortcut’ would be the videogames where the computer plays the music and displays the colour-coded notes which have to be pressed for a specific period of time, which information is conveyed visually. (Games like RockBand and so on.)
Now that I come to think about it, these are the ‘teenager’ versions of the young-kid games used in the therapy which has been demonstrated to be effective in clinical trials for 3-6 year-olds!
Music could not ‘work’ for me – not only am I not interested in it, I find music actively annoying. Yes, I am sure that my hearing dyslexia is at least partly to blame – imagine listening to music, but with some of the notes jumbled up…you, too, might find it gives you headaches. (This is one of the reasons I avoid shopping malls and other places that force music at me.)
And even though I took piano lessons, within 2 years, 3 teachers kicked me out as ‘un-teachable’…so, no, for me, music absolutely did not work. (For example, I still have difficulty telling apart the movie themes from ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ – the same pathetic bombast, the same notes, just slightly re-ordered. Unless I hear them together, I have to think very, very hard to tell which one it is…)
However, what did work for me (a bit) was learning to speak foreign languages. Practicing making the sounds in front of a mirror, getting audio feedback to make sure I eliminated mispronunciation, and so on. (If you want to get really fun, you can use an oscilloscope to display the proper sound wave pattern, then try to match yours to it – hours of fun!)
Learning a language (even without the oscilloscope), I could use the audio, visual and work in the timing with the motor nerves of speech.
And the hook that kept me interested in learning languages was the pattern-making intricacies of grammars. Yes, grammars: because each language has a different approach to this and exploring this logic puzzle set my endorphins hopping! (I get happy just thinking about it!) It’s kind of like algebra, but with words.
(OK – the different alphabets were fun, too – but grammars are like logic puzzles on steroids! Especially when you compared the grammatical ‘philosophy’ to the culture it was used in and the religious memes it best supported – what could be more fascinating!!! But, I’m off on a tangent…)
Again, I am nowhere near ‘cured’, but it certainly helped me become more functional.
I still have extreme difficulty understanding spoken words when there is background noise – like, hum of other conversations, but, especially, music. That is why I loath movies – their background music is not just icky to listen to and calculated to be emotionally manipulative (a deep insult to the audience – in my never-humble-opinion), but it makes it difficult to follow the dialogue in the movie. I usually have to wait to see movies till I can buy them and watch them with subtitles. If the soundtrack is particularly emotionally manipulative, I’ve been known to turn the subtitles on and watch the movie on mute – a much more satisfying experience!
In social situations, I often rely on partial lip-reading: it helps me make more sense of the sounds. (And, yes – that is one reason why I hate the cultural normalization of niqabs and burkas.)
Well, that is my best advice for how to improve your son’s comprehension. As to speaking fast and mumbling…
If I knew how to stop my sons (13 and 18 now) from speaking very fast and mumbling, I’d try it – because they both do.
I’ve tried to get them to recite poetry in order to get them to improve the cadence of their speech – but they are about as interested in reciting poetry as I am in learning to sing movie scores… (Many of us Aspies have a deep-rooted hate for pretentiousness – and let’s face it, much poetry is very, very pretentious.)
In grade 9, my older son took drama in school – that did help him learn to speak slowly and understandably. Now, when he remembers to do so, he uses that skill.
Another thing which has helped them was talking to their grandmothers: one has a hearing problem and does not tolerate hearing aids well, the other struggles with English. So when they speak to either one of them, they have to consider not just what they want to convey, but also how best to convey it. They have to tailor their words differently for each grandmother – which forces them to pay attention to their diction.
It is surprising how helping other people overcome their difficulties can be an excellent tool for Aspies to help themselves overcome their own ‘little things’!!! ;0)
I wish I could be of more help…
If anyone ‘out there’ has better suggestions, please, comment and let us all know.
Here, I would very much like to ask Aspies who consider themselves to be ‘theists’ (who believe in one or more deities) to describe the mechanics of their ‘belief’ as best as possible. (Of course, I would like all Aspies to describe their mechanics of ‘belief’ – but theist ones in particular, because I suspect that Aspie theists are quite rare.)
I have as yet to meet one…
I do know many Aspies, most of whom have been raised in theist homes when they were children. Yet, when I have discussed this whole topic of religion and belief, it has become clear to me that not one of them ‘believes’ in deities in the sense that neurotypicals who ‘believe’ do. The closest to ‘belief’ these people have come is to choose to live as if this whole ‘God proposition’ were true in much the same way that people can accept that something ‘is true’ in the ‘universe of Star Trek’ and can then extrapolate ‘new ideas’ within that pre-defined frame. Within these parameters, this is true…
But, of course, this does not really relate to reality…
I am not sure if I am explaining this in a way that non-Aspies will understand.
What I am trying to describe is akin to saying: not that I agree with this, but let’s accept this to be true for the sake of this discussion… I suspect that the Aspies who live as theists follow some version of this reasoning, which I understand is different from the ‘belief’ that most neurotypicals experienc.
Yes, I do understand that I am skirting the whole debate ‘what constitutes belief’ – but I hope that rather than focusing on the greater debate here, people will comment (so we can explore this discussion) on the difference between ‘religious belief’ as experienced by Aspies and non-Aspies.
Why do I think this is a topic worthy of discussion?
For the sake of the children, of course… Let me explain.
I know that I am incapable of ‘belief’ in the traditional sense – at best, I view validity of ideas based on probabilities. Even the ideas I hold as my ‘core views’, the ones I consider define me as me, even those ideas I cannot rate at 100% probability.
I have been this way from as far back as I can remember. I could never understand why other children would behave as if things were ‘definite’ or ‘certain’, how they could be so sure of, well, anything… They, on the other hand, thought that my constant qualifications of my position on anything meant I was setting things up so I could lie, or some other display of dishonesty…which, of course, was the exact opposite of what I was trying to do. I have since learned, in most social interactions, to censor out the vast majority of the uncertainties and qualifications – yet my speech still contains much more of these than displayed in majority of neurotypicals’ conversations.
Back to ‘the children’: I know many families where two non-Aspies have Aspie children, but I do not know of a single family where two Aspie parents would have any non-Aspie children, which is why the focus of this discussion is on Aspie children in non-Aspie households.
If I am correct in my observation that Aspies are physically incapable of ‘neurotypical belief’, what happens when theist parents are raising Aspie children?
What happens when Aspie children are sent to be educated in religious schools?
The demands made on Aspie children to ‘believe’ (in the neurotypical manner) in deities may be something these children are simply not physically capable of!
Of course, in theism, failure to ‘believe’ in just the right manner is interpreted as ‘sin’ and ‘heresy’ – a very bad thing. Children who fail to ‘believe’ are considered defiant and disobedient, to be punished and broken until they ‘believe’.
I have observed a number of Aspie children in these situations. In some Aspie children I have observed, this demand to ‘believe’ in a way they were physically incapable of had led to serious internal turmoil and led them to believe they were inherently bad people. In others, it led to further withdrawal from social interactions, and in two cases I am aware of it led to serious childhood depression. (Granted – other factors were there, but this was a big complication…)
So, we are talking about very serious effects here.
Last summer, an Aspie friend of my son joined us for our holidays: it was his first time away from his family and his parents were thrilled that he got an opportunity to spend a week ‘with his own kind’ – in an all-Aspie household. I think he had enjoyed himself, but there was one incident I was not certain of how to handle.
We holidayed up north, where the nature is pristine and light pollution is very low at night. As we were going through a meteor shower, we spent one clear evening lying on our backs on the beach and watching the deep, velvety night sky bejeweled by millions of stars. We saw some spectacular ‘shooting stars’ when our young (13) Aspie friend got quite upset: he explained that watching the vastness of the universe in the night-time sky made him finally realize that there probably is no afterlife…
This inability to ‘believe’ – in spite of a desire to – is unpleasant in itself. Adding to it parental and societal disapproval for ‘not believing’ – that can cause definite damage to a young person’s ability to grow up healthy and to their maximum potential.
Obviously, even though I probably know more Aspies than an average person does, my sample size is insufficient for anything more than ‘a hunch’…which is why I would welcome comments that might help us explore this issue together.
(Re-posted from Xanthippa’s Chamberpot)
She herself has degrees in Mathematica and Music (which is really just one form of applied mathematics). I do not know if she is an Aspie herself, but she certainly knows how to portray and entertain us! I would recommend watching The Guild (which is in its 5th season) to anyone who is or loves an Aspie (or who has to interact with us and who would like to get more of an insight into our psyches).
The first season was strictly non-sponsored, made for YouTube. It is so good and has such a following (I suspect that mostly among Aspies)
Here is the first episode of the first season:
Many parents of Aspie kids/teens have asked me if I think it is bad to let them have a lot of online time. I do not.
To the contrary – I think online interactions are an exceptionally useful tools for Aspies (and parents of Aspies) to encourage social growth.
Let’s face it – Aspies mature differently from NT’s (neurotypicals – non-Aspies). In some aspects, we are much more advanced than our NT peers and we find it quite offensive when NT adults treat us as idiots and simplify things to the point of error while talking to us. On the other hand, we are much slower to mature socially – some of us find most social interactions with NTs quite disturbing.
Interaction over the internet is both simpler – the rules are simplified and usually explicitly stated – and more in our control: if we feel a ‘melt down’ or if we want to leave the interaction for any reason, we can simply log off! That is an incredible ‘security blanket’ – being able to remove oneself from a stressful social situation rather than waiting for it to blow up.
When my younger son got a girlfriend (his first) in and MMO RPG, my older son was concerned that this might be wrong or inappropriate for his social development. I explained that I disagreed – his brother was aware that the online persona might hide absolutely anyone, but he was having fun ‘trying out’ flirting in a completely safe environment. When they eventually did ‘break up’, he did not ever have to log onto that particular site again. Ever!
This avoided a lot of awkwardness. Being in the same class/school with his ex and having to interact with her daily would have been extremely stressful and would have stifled his desire to interact with other humans. Like this, it was a perfectly safe (and supervised!) interaction, where he got to practice his social flirting skills without the fear of consequences should he fail.
I see that as a win-win!
Lately, I have neglected posting on the topic of Aspergers. Still, judging by the relative traffic among my posts, there is a need for more information there: both Aspies and educators are still looking for help.
Last December, I received the following comment:
I have an Aspie student, and when asked to produce 2 sentences about a topic in class, will just sit and think the entire period producing nothing… (I do believe that he is thinking about the topic). The topic has been given to student prior to class. Is this an unreasonable task? This is an 7th grade gifted autistic student.
I understand the perfectionism issue and that they may be unsure that it is good enough to put on paper, but in an educational setting I would like some suggestions to assist the regular Language Arts teacher. This is a graded assignment to be done in class.
Thanks in advance for any ideas you may have.
Special Education Teacher
While I gave a quick reply at that time, this is a very important point which deserves a lot of attention. So, I had attempted to write up a proper response.
It wasn’t right – so I edited t.
Then I fixed it up some.
Then t needed shortening down a bit. So, I cut a bunch of stuff out.
Too much of the key ‘stuff’ was gone. I started a re-write. From scratch…
…and so on, and so on.
It is now October. I have still not published the post – it is not ‘right’ yet!!!!
NO, I am NOT joking!
So, now, I will publish the draft I have, without re-reading it, with all the flaws, errors, sentence fragments and all – or I will NEVER publish this…
Here it goes:
Both my sons are in the gifted program. One has gone through grade 7 several years ago, one is going to get there in not too distant a future – so, I am familiar with the level of development of a gifted Aspie of that age group.
Just to be sure, I asked my older son if he remembered being in that situation himself. He did…and was in perfect agreement with me as to what thought-processes this student would be going through: trying to figure out what the assignment means!
Being in the gifted program means the student is smart. By the time they get to grade 7, smart Aspies understand perfectly well that when a teacher asks for ’any two sentences on a topic’, the absolutely last thing this means is ’any two sentences on a topic’!
Experience would have taught them that…by now. And not in a nice way.
But, it would not have taught them what it is that the teacher/assignment does mean – or how to guess it….
So, I think it most likely that the student spent the time trying to figure out what the assignment actually was! And, with so little information provided to the student, I really don’t see how anyone could figure it out!
Therefore, my answer is that yes, it is unreasonable an Aspie or an Autie gifted student, in grade 7, to complete an assignment of ‘writing 2 sentences on a given topic’.
- The assignment is non-specific.
- The parameters are not defined.
- The goals of the assignment are not known.
- The expectations are unclear (or, in this case, clearly misrepresented).
There IS a solution!
Aspies – and high-functioning Auties – are very good at meeting very specific goals. I know that teachers are not used to approaching teaching this way, but, they would get WAY better results from this class of students if they were absolutely clear with them what the point of the assignment is, what the goal is, and what the evaluation criteria will be.
This worked for me – and my sons, as well as a few other kids I worked with:
First, we establish that in order to produce marks, teachers have to produce metrics: marks which measure the student’s skill-set development in several areas. This may seem like a game, but, because teachers have to work within such a large system, metrics were required. And, these metrics are used to evaluate the student.
To an Aspie/Autie student, this can be an important revelation. It is not an intuitive leap, to conclude this, because we usually believe what we are told – and from the earliest age, we are told that the point of school is to learn. But, of course, it isn’t! The point of school is to PROVE what we have learned… There is no place in school for ‘learning’ without proving (through earning marks) that/what one has learned.
Explaining that the point of doing assignments is to ‘earn points/marks’ can be liberating for an Aspie student. After all, ‘getting on the high-score board’ is possible, even if one has not yet ‘defeated the boss’!
Once this groundwork has been laid, it is important to explain both the teacher’s goals for this assignment (what the teacher will be measuring for the needed metrics) and the student’s goals (what bits of what will earn points/marks). This bit can be hard on teachers, because they have to explain both the explicit goals and the implied ones – most teachers do not go through this step explicitly themselves.
Yes – most assignments at the grade 7 level come with a ‘marking rubric’. At least, in my area they do. But these are so filled with vague notions and ‘weasel-words’ that they are worse than useless! ”The student demonstrated some understanding…. The student demonstrated good understanding…” What the hell does THAT mean?
What is the difference between ‘little’ and ‘some’ and ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in this context – and HOW is it measured?
Obviously, I can tell that ‘excellent’ will get a higher grade than ‘poor’ – but how do I know what demonstrates ‘excellent’ and what demonstrates ‘poor’ – or any of the other non-specific terms used – in this particular instance, to the satisfaction of this particular teacher?
If the teacher cannot stand there and provide a specific, accurate answer on how the grading will be done – how can the student be expected to guess what expectations to perform to?
This is so much easier for maths and sciences. When a teacher assigns a problem, the student knows not just WHAT ‘the right answer is’ – she/he knows what form the answer is to take.
This is woefully not true of ‘soft’ subjects. Not only do different teachers consider completely different ‘things’ to be ‘the right’ answer (try writing up interpretation of renaissance poetry for a ‘born-again’ teacher), the format itself is undefined…. Yet you are judged how your performance measures up to something the teacher cannot quantitatively define: expectations!
It seems criminal that ‘educators’ are blind to this…
I am an Aspie.
I am married to an Aspie.
We have two sons – both of whom have been identified as Aspies.
Not surprisingly, I have some opinions about Asperger’s Syndrome and all the facets of life which affect Aspies.
Every now and then, I have written about the ‘Aspie experience’ and some of the tools I developed to help myself and my sons. Judging from the bog stats, I really ought to focus more on this – aside from a few posts (Aisha Ibrahim Dhuhulow and some of the sharia write-ups I’d posted).
Today, I got a most gratifying comment on a post I had written a while back about Aspergers and Writing. I know, it is a serious self indulgence to wallow in praise, but, if refreshing the post with a new link to this fresh post helps more Aspies, I’m willing to take the flack!
Here is the comment:
I just found your blog. Wow, wish I had seen this a long time ago. It should be required reading for all special ed teachers. My son was not diagnosed until the end of 10th grade (after failing English when previously a straight A student), and we have endured an often contentious relationship with the school’s special ed coordinator and the school psychologist during that time and since. At the end of his 11th grade year we had the IEP meeting, during which the first one asked him, “can’t you just write something to get it done?”, and the latter called him a snob. And this is a year down the road!!! It’s clear that too many of the people that are supposed to be caring for our children in the public school environment are woefully undereducated, and some also lack the empathy that the unfamiliar accuse the Aspies of not having. We finally found a teacher in the school who undertstands Aspies (and who admitted privately that she cringed at those statements during the
meeting), and she is wonderful. My question is why didn’t they allow us access to her last year, when my son had to be assisted by a special education “clerk,” who had no conception of his difficulties or abilites, who badgered him with “do you want to fail?” comments, and who evidently never bothered to pick up a book and learn about it during that time. I guarantee you, from my now huge Aspie book library, I know more about the condition than either of the people in that school that were allowed to make decisions about my son’s education, or the person that was directly working with him. If they had read your post, which would take about 5 minutes, they would have understood. I think you have explained exactly the problem from the Aspie side–I think this is what my son has been trying to explain to them for 2 years. So, anyone else with problems with the school: number one, don’t take it as long as I did, and don’t assume the people in charge will advocate for your child;
number two, print some information from this blog and give it to every teacher, the special ed department, and the principal. You want to know a funny thing? My son was one of about 15 kids in the county that was nominated for a National Merit Award due to his test scores on the PSAT (no writing portion, of course). To apply for the award, the student must write an essay!!!! He decided to write it about not being able to write essays due to the Asperger’s, and about his difficulties at school due to this. Somehow I doubt he’ll win, but good for him. Thanks for explaining something so difficult so well, and I appreciate the time it takes you, trust me!!!!
Cross-posted from Xanthippa’s Chamberpot (where the comment which this post is in response to was received).
‘Everyone’ who is familiar with Aspies knows that most of us struggle with writing.
Not all of us – Aspergers affects each person a little differently and to a different degree. And, it affects males and females a little differently, too. Perhaps that is why my post ‘Aspergers and writing’ continues to get so many hits.
Today, I got a comment on it which raises something important. That is why I’m posting this comment – and my quick reply to it – as its own post here:
Your comments about perfectionism and the difficulty Aspies have in putting words to paper make me wonder if this is why it’s so difficult for Aspies to revise what they’ve written: that once they get something down on paper they have committed their ideas to writing and there is no other way to put it. As a writing teacher, I often run into a wall when I ask my Aspie students to revise and I wonder if you think this explanation is accurate.
My response was:
I think that you are on the right track. I would like to nuance it slightly, if I may.
There are several things going on.
It is not that the Aspie may not be able to think of different words to put things into: it may be true at some times, byt certainly not at others. For example, many Aspies are very verbal – and they can say things out loud in many, many different ways. As a matter of fact, you may have a hard time shutting them up – they’ll describe the same things in so many ways.
The problem comes whith ‘investing’ into writing the words down. They have been ‘selected’ and ‘sweated over’ – why do you want to change them?
This constant ‘revision’ most writing teachers insist is part of ‘proper writing’ reduces me to white-hot fury! It it’s worth writing down, it’s worth doing it RIGHT THE FIRST TIME!
Once an Aspie HAS written something down and you are asking them to ‘revise’ it – you are asking them to take something that is ‘right’ and change it….obviously, if you take something that is ‘right’ and change it, you make it ‘wrong’! Then, when they hand in the version you forced them to change from ‘right’ to ‘wrong’, you give them a bad mark…
No wonder we don’t want to ‘revise’!
OK – that was the ‘emotional’ response.
Now, for more ‘reasoning’….
There is a problem – an actual physical problem in the neural connections – in the brain which makes it difficult for MOST (not all – we are all individuals), especially male, Aspies to write. Physically write.
Forcing us to ‘write’ and endlessly re-write the same sentences over and over is mental torture to us. It rubs our noses in our failure. So, we avoid it like the plague. If it’s a computer file, we’ll be less freaked out by it. But asking us to hand-copy out the same bits over because other bits had changed is unreasonable.
I actually can tell – byt the style of writning – if something I ‘produced’ was first spoken and then trans-scribed/typed into the computer, or if I wrote it on a piece of paper in longhand and then typed it into the computer, or if I directly typed it into the computer. Honestly, my sentence structure and syntax are significantly different in each one of these styles of ‘writing’. Perhaps you could experiment with your students on this theme….
This is the way I helped my kids ‘get over’ the whole ‘revision aversion’ (I could not very well undermine the teacher, right?).
I explain that the teacher is trying to teach them how to build a piece of writing ‘from the ground up’. It is a particular methodology to teach, and marks are awarded at each stage: sort of like when you learn to swim, they first teach you to put your face in the water and only later want to see you perform the full butterfly stroke…
So – first ‘version’ is NOT supposed to be ‘a written story’ or ‘a written essay’.
Instead, organize your thoughts and put 1-2 words for each paragraph: enough to ‘record’ the ‘main idea’ or ‘main thrust’ of what this will say. This will be handed in as ‘brainstorming’ – teacher needs to get it to keep a record of it, so they can prove what they gave you the marks for if someone audits their work.
On the next ‘version’, you go to each one of the paragraphs and put in 1-2 words for each sentence you will write in the finished piece. Check that each paragraph still has the same ‘focus’ as the ‘brainstorming’. This will be first draft – again, marks, teacher keeps for records…
In between each step, take the teacher’s feedback and incorporate it in – again, this needs to show up. It’s the teacher’s job to give you feedback, so it’s important for the records they keep to reflect it. If you don’t, they’ll think they are not teaching you right, be sad, not like your work….pick your sentiment.
On the next ‘version’, you write BARE sentences for the 1-2 word things. Make sure all ideas are there, but not really all the descriptions, and not nicely or fancily. You’re hitting the highlights. That is the next draft.
Finally, you take your draft and connect up things, dress up the sentences, and so on.
It’s a method of constructing something. Teachers must document they taught it to you.
This way, you’ll show how you built the written piece. It’s not so much ‘revision’ or ‘revising’ it – that is a very poor label for this. But, that is the label we are stuck with.
Does this help explain the thought process?