- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Aspergers Syndrome - Living as an Adult Aspie, Social Life
Aspies and a Social Life
Aspergers Syndrome is connected to social problems, problems with social interaction, but what is often misunderstood is that Aspies actually crave the interaction, they just can't seem to get it right. In trying to mix and fit in, to socialise, they will simply crash and burn and then feel inadequate or be seen as strange by others when they're trying to have a conversation. Aspies don't do chit-chat.
Aspies just don’t fit into social settings comfortably, on the other hand they tend not to care or notice, or they refuse to. I've spent many an uncomfortable time out, in the company of others, just gritting my teeth and counting down the minutes until I can escape, yet knowing I have to be out there because that's what we're told to do to make friends. Get out and make friends. The getting out bit can be done, it's the making friends part that's so hard for an Aspie.
In these situations, because of the problems with environment, noise or light, I've also sometimes just completely gone into my own world, resurfacing occasionally to look up and smile (because we're supposed to!). But not being or feeling a part of the environment at all. It's like your own bubble you lock down into, listening to your own thoughts or focussing on some small detail; sometimes I will trace a carpet pattern carefully, or be completely absorbed with the face that a curtain corner is turned. Usually fighting an inner urge to straighten some things up - in a pub I would want to make sure that everybody has a beer mat and they're using them and that they're all turned the same way round, or lined up with the table edge. I will lock down into noticing the tiniest of details, the way the wax has burnt in the candle, how untidy the menus are in the holder - and I'll occupy myself with straightening them. I'll literally be in my own world, noticing tiny details while those around me chit-chat together, I just can't.
While they are chit-chatting I will be aware that I have nothing to contribute. One of three things can happen... if I am asked a direct question I might answer inappropriately, I might launch into a 10-minute non-stop dull and very detailed answer or I will just offend the people by staring blankly at them and saying I don't know in what can be perceived as a negative fashion.
Inappropriate Responses from Aspies
It's often remarked that Aspies respond in an inappropriate manner, but what does that actually mean? How? Do I suddenly shout "F*** off" at the vicar? No, it's more that I am likely to offend somebody by declaring what seems like a strong opinion that is anti anything they stand for. e.g. if a parent shows me a baby picture and says "Isn't he lovely?", I'm most likely to say "He's like all babies, crikey he looks like Orville the Duck doesn't he. Babies are ugly aren't they". Crash and burn. Everybody now hates you.
The trouble is, Aspies can't lie if asked a direct question. "Does my bum look big in this?" "Yes, it does", or "no more than usual". It can be perceived as being harsh or nasty, but it's a simple answer to the question asked.
The trouble with an Aspie is, they have no social skills - and suffer from complete honesty. So, when asked a direct question they will answer truthfully. I can't pretend your baby is cute/gorgeous/lovely ... he looks like Orville the Duck and so I say so. It's not meant to offend, it does that by default.
On the other hand, if the direct question was "Do you have any children?", that is an open question (never ask an Aspie an open question) and therefore will result in a 10-minute long answer. Because the question is open, the Aspie doesn't understand or know the framework within which to answer, so they have to therefore answer with every answer they would have that would fit every response that was required. Do you have any children is an answer that might require going back over the last 20 years of my life, every situation, every thought, every opinion, every experience of it. Yes, you get treated to the lot. Now, you all hate me ... crashed and burned again. Everybody will go quiet, nod knowingly between each other (the Aspie won't spot this) as the Aspie goes on and on ... and on ... Then somebody brave will change the subject and you'll get the cold shoulder for the rest of the night. No, longer. This one social faux pas has now terminally tainted any future friendship or relationship you can ever have with anybody that was present. In a club/social situation, this means that you might never feel able to meet with these people again because for some reason they didn't seem to like you (after your long, unwanted, answer, they will have been a little hostile for the rest of the night, or taken the opportunity to shuffle away.
So there you stand, everybody's shuffled off, you're in the corner counting the ceiling tiles and you think "B*gger it" and slip out the back door.
Aspies Don't Like Goodbyes, We're Just Useless at Them
Saying goodbye is another thing that's difficult for Aspies. That departure time, how do you do it. Most Aspies will simply spot an opportunity and run. If they can't handle a "Hello, how are you?" there's no chance of doing the whole big goodbye routine. So avoidance of the end bit is inevitable. The alternative to slipping away unnoticed is to be the last to go. Neither is good. Slip away unnoticed and maybe people think you are rude or don't like them (I've no idea). Maybe this is the bit where people arrange to do the keeping in touch thing, I've no friends so not sure about how keeping in touch works (another thing I am rubbish at that I will cover in a bit). So, the alternative is to sit it out. So you sit there all alone, speaking when spoken to, but you can't initiate a conversation. If sonebody initiates it, you can't take it forward. Their questions are answered either with one word replies, or volumes.
What is Asperger's Syndrome?
Aspergers Syndrome was first written about within the medical community (in a German publication) in 1944 by Hans Asperger. It took a further 30 years or so until it started to creep into actual diagnosis and formal recognition.
There is talk of there being no Aspie adults - we exist, we were pre-recognition. There is also talk of there being many more male Aspies than female Aspies, this is actually because men and women behave differently, so it can be more obvious in a man. Nobody knows what causes somebody to be an Aspie, there are theories though. Most research strongly points to it being genetic, so if you have an Aspie child, one of the parents (or grandparents) was probably also an Aspie, but entirely undiagnosed. Parents having their awkward child diagnosed formally will suddenly recognise themselves.
You probably know an Aspie, but they and you just don't know it. There are a lot of phrases I've heard throughout my life that I now know are people picking up on me being an Aspie, but neither of us had a word for it. A common one is being told "You're weird" when you voice your opinions. To be told this it's usually by somebody you have befriended and yet in that one statement there's a clear wedge driven through that. Without knowing why you're thinking and behaving like you do, you will find a lifelong problem in that your opinions and responses are varying massively to other people's. That makes you "not like them" in their eyes and people are friends with people who are just like them. Aspies have usually tried REALLY hard to do what any advice column would have them do, but without realising they are an Aspie they've probably had a lifetime of rejection, a lifetime of trying, a lifetime of crash and burn. Picking themselves up and starting again all the time becomes part of what you are and what you do... although ultimately one day you stop because it's easier to stop than to keep beating yourself up about it. Advice columns will tell the friendless "Join a club", well we know how that would go.
The Geek Syndrome, or Little Professor
Aspergers Syndrome is quite often referred to as the Geek Syndrome; Aspies can be referred to as Little Professors. Aspies are often drawn towards technological or scientific subjects, subjects based on logic or numbers. They won't be stood around a coffee machine at work chatting, nor round a jukbox chatting in a pub. In fact, I find standing in a group anywhere a most uncomfortable experience, a seat is preferred, with a wall behind in (corners are great), so I'd most likely be sat in the corner, alone, while everybody stood in a group chatting.
At work, Aspies are unlikely to small-talk with their co-workers, they're there to work so they do. They might chat if appropriate, but they have an overly-keen sense of work ethic and feel awkward at social chit-chat in the company's time - and guilty if any boss were anywhere near to see it.
Aspies rarely go to parties and gatherings unless it's with family members or people they knnow well, in a place they know; it's nice to know ahead who will be there, what will go on, until what time, what's the layout of the place, how/where will we all sit. Aspies also tend to not belong to groups, clubs, or organizations.
More in this Series About Adults With Aspergers
- Aspergers Syndrome - Living As an Adult Aspie
This is the first in a series of articles I've written, as an Aspie, to help explain how having Aspergers Syndrome affects daily living. You're probably here because you have Aspergers, or know somebody who has.
- Aspergers Syndrome - Living as an Adult Aspie, Work Life
Because Aspergers Syndrome is often accompanied by a superior intelligence, an Aspie makes a great employee. Aspies really excel when given a task to undertake and left to to work on it independently.
Hypersensitivity to Lights and Sound. Sensory Overload and Super-Awareness
One of the problems with an Aspie is that Aspergers Syndrome quite often brings with it a hypersensitivity to lights, crowds, noise, and activity or movement.
Being in a brightly lit room, that's noisy, where people are moving about a lot can negatively affect their moods. If I were to sit in a modern coffee shop, with machines squirting out their steam without warning, a high level of chatter noise and people moving to and fro I'd become very agitated and twitchy. I'd no longer be able to hear the conversation at my own table and would become super-aware of every individual noise and movement in the room.
An Aspie simply can't block out the unwanted noises. Many Aspies will find living alone and working alone suits them well. Being in control of my environment is important. It is possible for an Aspie to suddenly become over-whelmed if they feel they're trapped; this might be in a long dull meeting, or having to stand in a crowded pub, or being in a busy supermarket. At this point all the Aspie intuitions are telling them to get out immediately. Right now. You have to leave. Sometimes this feeling is just a strong desire to get out of the envrionment, which might be for a minute, so you can pretend you have to go to the lavatory and escape there (where it's quiet and cool), sometimes it's like a sudden overwhleming hot flush and you have to physically get outside of the building - in this case, if possible, you might say you're off to the lavatory, but actually go out the back door and sit down for 2 minutes. That tiny break can bring down those feelings pretty immediately. In a pub situation I will go and stand out the front for 2 minutes, I will just say I'm feeling hot and need to cool down, without any further explanation being needed. Sometimes though, if in a restaurant or bar, if it's that time when people are thinking about leaving then I will just have to go. Right now. I am leaving. This instant. And I wait outside while everybody else takes their time, slowly moving towards the door while chatting. It's black and white: I have to be in or out of a place. I don't like a slow chatty amble. If I think you're going to do a slow chatty amble I'll rush ahead of you and get out first and wait. I'm happy doing that, just don't think I'm weird!
This article is one part of a series. Check out my profile for the rest.
Thanks for reading.
Images by: Autism Awareness Ribbon: BL1961