Xanthippa on Aspergers

Tools to help Aspies conquer the World!

Aspergers: a world with ‘fewer filters’

One constant criticism Aspies (and, perhaps, others with ADD/ADHD) face is that their ‘reactions’ are ‘inconsistent’.

One day, an Aspie can scream so loudly its unbearable, at another time that same Aspie may cover her ears and complain of even moderately loud sounds as ‘painful’.  A few minutes later, the Aspie claims not to have heard that a set of instructions was given out, even though the instructions were spoken clearly and everyone else ‘got’ them.

How come?

‘Obviously’, the Aspie was being manipulative and faking, because either their ears are sensitive, or they are not! Right?

Aspies are also often suspected of being manipulative in ‘faking pain’ by over-reacting in a theatrical manner to even slight bumbps or accidental brushes – but, they can then withstand great pain without seemingly noticing it while they are playing a videogame.  ‘Obviously’, this kid has a high pain threshold – so why the theatrics when someone steps on their foot?  It ‘must’ be a way of ‘getting attention’ or being ‘intentionally disruptive’:  in other words, another ‘manipulation’!  Right?

Teachers and parents do not like being manipulated….

Not even a little bit.  And when a particular kid is thought to be manipulative over and over and over, teachers and/or parents or other authority figures (like, later in life, employers) will have little patience with them.  Any new ‘situation’ the Aspie gets into, the ‘authority’ will already see them as a ‘manipulator’ before even finding out any facts about the ‘situation’.

Except that…

The Aspie IS NOT being manipulative!

He or she might not even be aware that their behaviour is seen as in any way inconsistent:  they are simply displaying their ‘honest reaction’!

So how is this possible?

Each one of us has a whole bunch of ‘filters’ which constantly block out a lot of the stimula which our senses are bombarded with.

The ‘hand  in cold water example’:

When you first put your hand into cold water, it will really feel cold.  This is because the touch sensors in your skin will detect a ‘change’ in state and send the message that you are ‘now experiencing contact with cold water’ with a specific amount of urgency.

After a while, you will still ‘feel cold’ on your hand, but you will have ‘become used to it‘:  since there was no change in state, the urgency of the cold signal had decreased.  It never really went away, but the intensity of the feeling of ‘cold’ had been reduced.

One way of describing it is to liken it to the ‘cold signal’ being passed through many filters, from weaker ones to progressively stronger and stronger ones until the ‘signal’ is quite negligible.  It’s still there – you are aware of it. But, it’s in the background.

Now imagine if you only had one filter!

The ‘cold signal’ would either be 100% strong and urgent – or completely filtered out.  And, imagine that you would not have a very good control over whether the filter is on, or off (most people are not consciously in control of their ‘gradual’ filters – but the very presence of ‘many’ filters which are ‘automatically’ applied in just the right order, their perceptions are modulated).

With only the ‘no filter’ or ‘100%’ filter available to you, your reaction would certainly be quite different when the filter was ‘on’ or ‘off’!

You would not be ‘manipulative’ when you reacted to the ‘100% signal’ – nor would you be intentionally inattentive when your brain did not receive the signal because the ‘100% filter’ was ‘on’!

With ‘no filter’ – even mild sounds would distract you into tears and trigger headaches, even a casual brush against your back would send you sprawling and feeling injured!  With ‘100% filter on’, you would not be aware of how loud you are – or that someone in the room is speaking…or that instead of chopping up a tomato, you have almost severed your thumb (yes, I am guilty of that last one – and now I hate stupid tomatoes!).

Most Aspies do have ‘some’ filters – but we are definitely missing others!  And, it differs from one Aspie to another:  both in the number of filters, and in the senses which are affected.

(Aside:  researchers have asserted that Aspies have fewer ‘temporary memory slots’ than most people – I wonder if that or related mechanism could be responsible for Aspies having fewer ‘sensory filters’ than most people do.)

So, what is the solution?

It is two-fold.

First and foremost, it is essential that when the Aspie is young, the educators, parents and other care-givers are aware that these behaviours are not manipulations.  It does NOT mean the resultant behaviour ought to be tolerated, either!

But, understanding that this is not a manipulation can build a lot of bridges, or, at least, burn them at a much slower pace…

Also, if the educators/parents understand this, they can observe their Aspie with this in mind:  learn the signs, and interpret them.  This is important, especially for young Aspies, because the parent/educator will have to guide the Aspie through it.

Aspies mature at different rates than other people:  they may be leaps and bounds ahead of ‘normal’ kids in some respects, but way behind in others.  So, their individual maturity levels must be taken into consideration when they are taught how to make sense of the world and how to help the world make sense of them.

The second part of the ‘solution’ is to explain this to the Aspie in terms which the Aspie will understand.  Age and maturity levels, and all that….  But, I do think that using the ‘filters analogy’ can help even young Aspies understand what is happening to them – and why others are not understanding it.  (Using props can help – and be fun!)

As I have written before – getting the Aspie to understand is the key to ‘everything’!

Especially if ‘being as Aspie’ is presented as being both a curse and a gift:  the way you are will create you some serious problems – but it is also these very things which can make you uber-succeed!  Just think of how useful ‘superfocusing’ is when you have to study for exams! (My favourite example to young Aspies.)

These are the two things the Aspie must be taught to understand:

1.  What is happening to you:  the ‘missing filters’ thing – or a similar analogy

2.  This is not what is happening to most people:  that is why they do not understand what is happening to you and are totally misinterpreting your reactions.  That is a longterm problem for you, the Aspie.

Once the Aspie understands both of these things, start teaching the Aspie how to notice on their own what state their filters are at…and, as they grow and mature, they can (not easily, not always, but to a great degree) learn to modulate their behaviours to ‘filter out’ the effects of their ‘missing filters’!


24/09/2009 - Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspie Communication, Aspie thinking, Comprehesion/Understanding, Hearing/Listening, Uncategorized, Understanding 'Society' | , , , , ,


  1. […] Aspergers and ADD/ADHD is? Instead of ‘not being able to put weight on foot’, we  have ‘malfunctioning filters’.  But, I am getting ahead of […]

    Pingback by ADD, Aspergers and the ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome « Xanthippa's Chamberpot | 24/02/2010 | Reply

  2. What a fantastic post. You makes fantastic point and do so very well. I found your blog as it was under my post as pos related lol.
    I too have a passion to raise awareness, as my son is ten with Aspergers.

    Xanthippa says:

    Thank you!

    I’m an Aspie.
    My husband’s an Aspie.
    Both our sons are Aspies – as of now, 17 and 11 years old.

    It makes life interesting!

    Comment by Claire Louise | 31/08/2010 | Reply

  3. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Xanthippa says:
    Obviously, I cannot see a problem from my side (or I would have fixed it). Sorry about that.

    Are you using a tablet?

    Comment by Nasiha Nigam | 15/09/2012 | Reply

  4. brilliant, thank you so much, this really helps, my daughter is 6 and is being assessed for Aspergers, i found your blog last night and have been reading lots of the posts, this one really describes her reactions accurately, and i had already explored Sensory processing issues. my question is when do you think it is an appropriate age to start to talk to them about their differences? i am struggling with describing it as Aspergers, because currently nobody official will confirm absolutely that it is, they say she has some traits but not all, she has good eye contact which they then have a problem with as it’s more NT than aspie, i would like to be able to say “you see/hear/respond/react to things differently to many other people, and those responses are not always going to be helpful to you” but in her very bright and questioning mind i can see that she will comment that everyone is different….her favourite subject is people, she studies people constantly, she watches faces and when she is switched on can be very intuitive and empathetic, but can also easily be switched off and utterly unaware and appears unfeeling and callous.

    Comment by mumofcrazynamedkids | 05/12/2012 | Reply

  5. Wonderful goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely magnificent. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it smart. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a wonderful web site.

    Comment by home based business ideas | 12/03/2013 | Reply

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