Please read this and tell me what you think
It seems that society these days is quick to assign psychological labels to those that do not fit in. They are told they have ADD, OCD, homosexuality, bipolar disorder, or autism. Often, those with social difficulties self-diagnose without ever seeing a health care professional. Sometimes those so labeled receive tolerance and patience from others for their harmful, anti-social behaviors that they would otherwise never receive if they claimed to be normal. Other times those so labeled find their very legitimate observations and concerns rejected for being nothing more than manifestations of their addled brains. A busybody control freak and bully may excuse her behavior by claiming to suffer from OCD while at the same time a “normal” employee who finds it impossible to do his job when others keep moving supplies on him might be told to get over his OCD and stop complaining. Who gets labeled is often arbitrary and subject to confirmation bias. Those considered normal can have an “off day” that is quickly forgotten, but those considered abnormal have to carefully watch everything they do so as not to confirm what people already think of them. Once one has a reputation, there is usually nothing one can ever do to change it. These are my observations.
In Dunbarton Elementary School (circa 1988-1991) I had absolutely no inkling whatsoever that I was not completely normal as perceived by my peers. I was popular and it was others that my friends made fun of. Then I moved. In North Londonderry Elementary School (circa 1991-1992) the other kids rejected me first, before I ever had the chance to do anything stupid. I was ruthlessly made fun of. I moved again. In Highland Goffes Falls Elementary School (circa 1992-1994) I was mostly shunned. From then on I was gradually more accepted, but never again really connected with anyone at school.
So far my story is not unusual. Many people are picked on for being different, whether for a physical disability, an accent, dressing differently, wearing glasses, or even for being a twin. I understood the pecking order and that what constituted good fashion was based on circular reasoning. Those at the top set fashion so that anything they did became the new cool, while those at the bottom defined uncool no matter how well they copied those at the top. Since leaving school, I have heard the existence of this phenomenon corroborated by others. I have also heard from others that sometimes bullies pick on the uncool kids so that they will not be picked on by still higher bullies. The entire pecking order gives the schoolyard social cohesion and somebody has to be on the bottom. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are different, let alone that something is wrong with them.
In my case, my peers seemed to resent my intelligence. In Dunbarton, kids were naturally curious and tried to learn as much as possible. In Londonderry, kids hated knowledge and acted dumber than they were in order to fit in (this has been corroborated by someone who went there at the same time I did). That I was socially isolated meant that it took longer for me to learn new slang and to learn how to behave my age. It was not because of anything different about me, but only because of the behaviors of others that I didn’t always know what was common knowledge. It amused kids to ask me trick questions so I would unknowingly answer with innuendos. They had incentive to keep me uninformed.
In 1998, I began working at McDonald’s and this is where I quickly became popular again. Everyone else was like me and I had no inkling whatsoever that I was in any way less than perfectly normal. By the time I graduated high school in 2000, I was accepted as completely normal and my knowledge of slang and social norms had caught up with everyone else. I thought my trouble days were behind me forever.
This is where things began to get weird. In 2006 I began working at The Saint Anselm College Coffee Shop. Right away, I was categorized and labeled as something I wasn’t. I was told I was a whiner, a complainer, argumentative, crabby, clumsy, insensitive, hyper-religious, anti-sexual, indecisive, long-winded, and more. Others told me that I often misunderstood them, yet in every incident I was able to show it was in fact they that had misunderstood me – including when they failed to understand that I already understood them perfectly.
The nature of language is such that misunderstandings are inevitable, but there is a qualitative difference between my misunderstandings 1982-2006 and my misunderstandings 2007-present. In the past, misunderstandings were immediately recognized and cleared up. Whoever recognized first that there was a misunderstanding knew just what additional information was necessary to clarify. Since 2007, misunderstandings persist and there is no effort by anyone other than myself to reword things or ask questions. Other people simply repeat themselves louder and louder. It is the same whether I have misunderstood, or they have.
It was soon after these difficulties began that my father first suggested I had Aspberger’s. His supposed evidence was simply that I had had social troubles most of my life and that it took me a while to learn the social norms. Soon, others corroborated his sentiments. I had a hard time swallowing this. I thought that my past troubles had already been adequately explained in social terms rather than psychological ones. I know I don’t always know all the slang about sex and drugs, but that is partly because for a while I had no friends my age and partly because my parents never had the money to pay for cable television and would not have allowed me to watch “those” types of shows anyways. It’s not because I’m neurologically different; I’ve simply had different experiences. If there was anything wrong with me, how was it that I got along so well with others 1982-1991 and 1998-2006? Even since 2007, I have not had the same problems everywhere as if the problems are with me. Instead, I have one set of problems with some people and another set of problems with other people.
In any case, I didn’t believe I fit the symptoms profile very well at all. I’m not unusually sensitive to touch or sound. I know I am well within the normal range. If I have Aspberger’s syndrome, so does at least half the population. There were other problems with my father’s unofficial diagnosis, too. Many of my disputes with others center on a difference of philosophy. If I were to admit that these differences were nothing more than a neurophysiological abnormality on my part, this would allow others to dismiss my very legitimate grievances and observations. Should I turn my back on what I know to be the truth just to get along?
A Matter Of Philosophy:
People do not always get my jokes and I do not always get theirs, but this is not because I have Aspberger’s; it’s because many people are stupid. Whether there is enough information given or not to solve an equation without having to draw upon external sources is a matter of mathematical certainty. No form of thinking can ever give a single value for Y when the only information given is X+Y=67 and no form of thinking can ever fail to give a single value for Y when I explicitly tell you that Y equals only 25 and nothing else. In the same way, whether there is enough information given or not to understand a joke (or anything else for that matter) without having to draw on additional cultural knowledge is also a matter of mathematical certainty. That many people don’t get my jokes even after I explain them and I don’t get many jokes even after they have been explained only proves that many people are stupid, not that I think differently.
People tell me that I miss details that others notice and that this is a symptom of Aspberger’s. While anyone can sometimes miss a detail that others see, I will at least as often pick up on details that others miss (this blog is an ongoing example). The truth is that everyone has different interests and they notice and remember those details that most interest them. Everyone is different. A marketer and a professional cook are going to notice different things at a restaurant. Of course, it would be a problem if someone missed something important to the basic essence of something, but what the basic essence is and what is and isn’t important are matters of philosophy. Because I am so well-read, I see the world differently than the average person and I pick up on different things. Is it now considered a brain disorder to be educated?
People tell me that I am physically clumsy and socially awkward and that both of these are symptoms of Aspberger’s. I don’t believe I am or that I am even different, but isn’t gracefulness and awkwardness in the eye of the beholder anyway? Does there exist an objective way to measure it? We all have different tastes when it comes to beauty. We all have different philosophies of friendship and romance. Is one person’s opinion worth more than another’s? Most say no, but when it comes to my aesthetic values, I am told they are somehow wrong. I am told that valuing playtime and holding on to some aspects of childhood are signs of Aspberger’s. I am told that wanting a few close friends rather than many acquaintances is a symptom of Aspberger’s. I am told that having friends much younger or much older than me is a symptom of Aspberger’s. I am told that valuing creativity makes me weird. Even though I do not avoid eye contact any more than the average person, some people tell me I do and tell me that this is also a symptom of Aspberger’s. Even if that were true, what is wrong with that? My first crush avoided eye contact with everyone and I found it very cute. To suggest that such a thing is somehow undesirable I find extremely offensive for her sake.
I am told that I do not understand analogy, metaphor, symbolism, allegory, humor, or irony and that these are also symptoms of Aspberger’s. I believe that not only do I understand these things, but that I am a master of them. I’m a writer! They are my passion! When I fail to understand someone’s analogies it is because they have delivered them poorly, do not understand well what it is they are trying to explain, or do not understand analogies. More often, it is others that do not understand my analogies, though I know them to be good. Is there an objective standard to settle these disputes or is it simply a matter of philosophy?
I’ve also been accused of having only a few, narrow interests (another supposed symptom of Aspberger’s). I’ve never had much interest in sports, but I do enjoy math, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, history, and political science. In other words, I am interested in literally everything in the universe. How can I have narrow interests? I am told that science is a tiny part of the world and the subject of sports covers a wide array of things. There are many types of sports. What I consider one subject they consider several and what I consider several they consider one. Which one of us has narrower interests? Is there an objective taxonomy or is it all a matter of philosophy?
Some of my disputes with others turn on disagreements over ethics and morality. Wanting to get along, I generally conform myself to the cultural norms, but some norms are in dispute, norms change all the time, and some norms need to be changed. Should I stop doing what I know is right just because others think it wrong? Should I start accepting it when others are rude to me just because they think it is right? Are all morals and ethics just manifestations of our different brains, or do we sense a real Platonic realm of absolute truth? For that matter, did Plato have Aspberger’s?
I See More:
Some misunderstandings are because I see more, not less, than the average person. Because I see more than the average person, I am fully aware that the cultural norms are in constant flux and there is much disagreement on them. Because others are too dull to understand this and only know of the tiny little world they live in, they assume that I do not know the norms. Eye contact protocols are a very good example of this. I am aware that different cultures and different venues have different standards. If I settle on only one norm standard and take sides, which group should I alienate?
When taking a psychological evaluation or political survey, I can see that the questions are poorly worded so as to have multiple interpretations. In fact, it is a known phenomenon that political pollsters will ask questions a particular way in order to get the results they want to report. Sometimes when someone makes a statement, I have to ask questions to narrow down their meaning. Other people simply jump to conclusions without even seeing the other possibilities. This is one reason why the world is so screwed up. I see such miscommunication everywhere. Should I help to make things worse just to fit in?
In conversation, I normally have enough context to know what sort of information someone is looking for that allows me to correctly interpret their questions. Surveys are different. Questions are completely out-of-the-blue. Which of these things is not like the other? Which of these things doesn’t belong?
Sometimes I hold back judgment on purpose. When people begin to get angry with me, I don’t like to make assumptions why they are angry. For one thing, this can prevent me from learning what the real problem is and I know from experience how infuriating it is not to be listened to. For another thing, I don’t want to make the problem worse by insulting their intelligence, assuming they are only upset because they have made a stupid assumption themselves. This is usually the only reason I can think of for their anger (and I often turn out to be right – though not always). I like to give people enough rope to hang themselves so they cannot blame me. I also prefer to think the best of others as long as possible. Unfortunately, because I do not show I instantly understand someone’s problem, this only makes them angrier and it makes people assume I have trouble understanding others. I have read that extreme fear or anger can disrupt our ability to connect with others and make us “temporarily autistic.” Since I am always the last person to get upset in any conflict, I have strong reason to believe that the problem lies not with me.
I have noticed that the average neurotypical person is highly insensitive to the psychoemotional states of others, even when they sometimes have the same problems. Everyone is full of themselves. In contrast, I know people very well. I can put myself in their shoes. While I don’t believe I have any of the conditions myself, I believe I partly understand those with introversion, extroversion, Aspberger’s, autism, ADD, OCD, and bipolar disorder. I understand making sounds or movements to establish a sensory baseline and cancel extraneous signals. Everybody needs this to a small degree. Those with autism simply need to do it more. This phenomenon is what sensory deprivation tanks and acupuncture are based on. I understand that when others are angry it is not the time to confront them about it. I can tell when introverts are getting bored, annoyed, and fatigued with me, yet extreme extroverts seem to be oblivious to these clear signals. The average person cannot understand anyone even slightly different. This is the source of racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. This is why liberals and conservatives don’t get along. Should I become intolerant of others just to fit in?
From time to time I will read an article or book about Aspberger’s, communication, or emotional intelligence and I will always be struck at how well I am already following the author’s advice far better than anyone I have ever met. I have by far the highest emotional intelligence of anyone I know. I am absolutely certain of this. If you fail to see this, that only means you are too emotionally unintelligent to recognize it. That’s all there is to it.
I have said before that Aspberger’s is the new drapetomania. In nineteenth century America, it was said that some slaves had an irrational compulsion to run away. Rather than recognize that slaves were human beings with a common human yearning for freedom that anyone in their place would feel, they were said to have a psychological condition needing treatment called drapetomania. In the same way, much of what is said to be Aspberger’s is just the manifestation of healthy individuals trying to adjust to a sick society.
Us And Them:
My experience compelled me to study up more on what Aspberger’s was. It has many associated traits. Having few interests, being picky, and having sensitivity to touch are all supposed symptoms, but why were these attributes grouped together to represent what it means to have Aspberger’s? Why include physical clumsiness, avoiding eye contact, and the inability to learn and follow the norms? Why not define another disorder to include those very graceful and not at all picky, but still avoiding eye contact? What would those people have? The symptoms of Aspberger’s are not related to each other!
Basketball players tend to be taller than average, faster than average, and more coordinated than average. This makes them stand out as different – or at least it would if people paid attention to such things they way they do to symptoms of Aspberger’s syndrome. Why is Jordanitus not an equally valid neurophysiological disorder? For that matter, why not group together first language, hair color, and body-mass index? Everyone is different in some way.
There are so many thousands of attributes that people have that to be within the normal range on each and every one of them is itself abnormal. It is abnormal to be normal! Calling someone abnormal says more about us and which attributes we consider important than it does about those we label. What attributes must someone deviate in to be considered abnormal? Who stands out more in a group of Christian octogenarians? The only Jew or the only teenager? Who stands out more in a group of Arab women? The only Irish woman or the only male? It is all arbitrary!
I firmly believe that Aspberger’s syndrome is a completely arbitrary, gerrymandered designation. No one has Aspberger’s syndrome because Aspberger’s syndrome does not exist.
Those are my thoughts on the subject. I hope it helps more people than it hurts. Obviously there are some people who have some sort of problem and need help, but I don’t believe that calling it Aspberger’s makes sense. At least this is the way I see it. Tell me what you think and if you have had any similar experiences with labeling. What do people say about you?
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.