Someone found my blog today by googling “seduce asperger,” and it inspired me to come up with a list of handy tips to get a little closer to the special Aspie in your life:

 

1. Ask the Aspie about his or her special interest.

2. Listen to the Aspie talk about about the special interest.

3. Listen some more.

4. Keep listening.

5. Flat out tell the Aspie that you’re trying to seduce him or her, because that fact will probably not occur to your Aspie on his/her own.

Advertisements

Neurotypicals are supposed to be the ones with the innate mad social skills and superpowers in the ancient art of nonverbal communication, and yet it’s the people on the autism spectrum who have to train themselves to behave differently so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of their more “normal” counterparts.

And so I, as a person with Asperger’s, must dedicate a fairly significant amount of my energy and mental faculties to modifying my behaviour so that I don’t make people uncomfortable. I’ve become pretty skilled at a lot of the tasks. I can talk about the weather like a champ. For the most part, when people ask me how I’m doing, I don’t actually tell them the truth. The demon eye contact continues to baffle me, though.

Part of it is that eye contact can be quite unpleasant for me, as it is for many people on the spectrum. But I think my biggest issue is that I just don’t get it, and it’s hard to constantly engage in any ritual that makes no effing sense to you and gives you no useful feedback.

The weather? That one was relatively easy. I simply went and developed an actual interest in it. I walk to the subway every day. I do most of my running outdoors. Therefore, I am actually quite connected to the weather and have an investment in its patterns. If someone comments on it, I don’t have to be annoyed by this thing that normal people call small talk, because the subject actually has relevance to my life.

Responding to “How are you?” with “Fine, thanks, and you?” is starting to become a more natural reflex. I mess up sometimes, and actually tell people how I am (and then I occasionally tell them other stuff, as detailed a couple of posts below), but I at least logically understand and appreciate the exchange. “How are you?” in NT basically means “I acknowledge and welcome your presence in a friendly but distant manner in accordance with the extent and depth of our acquaintance” in Aspie, and I can appreciate that sentiment, so I at least try to respond in kind with a “Well thanks. And you?”

But eye contact? I’m told that it helps NTs feel like I am paying attention to them and that I care about what they are saying. Personally, I tend to try to demonstrate these things by paying attention to people and giving a shit about what they are saying, but NTs apparently have some sort of wonder twin power where they lock their eyes and just feel the other person’s attention-paying and shit-giving. At least that’s what it seems like, from the highly refined research I’ve done on the subject: a heady and highly academic blend of articles on Asperger’s and eye contact, and a bunch of song lyrics about eyes (except Dio, because his people have ocular rainbows, and I suspect that’s a different thing). I don’t really feel any of that when my eyes fix on another pair.  Sometimes I look at the veins in the person’s eye. Sometimes, if the eyes are shiny enough, I am fascinated by my own reflection in them. But that’s about as much as I get out of the experience. It actually makes me less connected with and focussed on my conversational partner(s), because making and maintaining eye contact in a way that is not creepy takes a lot of work.

I don’t really try to make the ole’ EC with close friends and loved ones now. They seem to like me well enough as I am, and they’ve never complained about the fact that I tend to look anywhere but their faces, so I prefer to channel all of my energy into my shit and how much of it I genuinely give for them. But when I’m interacting with someone outside of that circle, and I know I’m going to have to go there, my brain splits in two: One part is the nervous pageant participant, so eager to smile, perform and please. The other part is the stage mom, lingering in the back of my brain, reminding me of all the steps:

You can’t just set your eyes on the other person and leave them there, because staring is creepy. And even if it’s not creepy, it can end up looking like a “blank stare” and that makes people think that you are dumb or not paying attention. So you have to look away sometimes, but don’t look down, because that implies that you’re lying. But sometimes looking to one side means that you’re lying and looking to the other side means that you’re recalling a memory, or maybe that was just some made up nonsense that I caught on an episode of CSI. Looking up is good, because that looks like you’re trying to recall something important. Also, some well-meaning souls have told me that looking at someone’s eyebrows can give the impression that you’re looking at their eyes, but the few times I’ve remembered to try this, it’s been just as complicated as the more authentic alternative and… oh god, you’re looking at their teeth again, aren’t you? Why do you always look at people’s teeth? Look at their eyes, for fuck’s sake! BUT NOT TOO MUCH!!!

And, somehow, I manage to listen to that voice in my head, obey it to fair extent, and still craft and engage in reciprocal conversation (which is a whole ‘nother monster). Some of the time. At any rate, my personal take on awkward seems to be leaning more toward cute or tolerable than off-putting and disquieting these days.

Now, my dear neurotypicals: I love you guys. I really and truly do. I mean, I’m willing to make eye contact for you. But I’d also love to see you try to pull that off.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome really know our shit. Granted, that shit is most likely narrowly focussed and potentially obscure, but we really, really know our obsessive, particular and esoteric shit.

The well-researched and expertly regurgitated favourite subjects of a person with AS are generally referred to as “special interests,” but that’s a rather flaccid, ineffectual term for what actually goes on in my brain when I’m in the throes of such excitable nerdity.

As a fan of both Dexter and cheesy puns, I’ve taken to calling it my “Dork Passenger.” I imagine that the underlying impulses, the all-consuming need is quite similar in both of our cases. They only real difference is in our respective Passengers’ desires. While Dexter’s sibilant mental companion unfurls its wings and demands blood and death, mine furiously flaps its hands and squeals all sorts of constructive suggestions into my ear. Suggestions like “We need to learn more about DSV Alvin, the research submersible that our hero Dr. Robert Ballard was in when he explored the Titanic the second time!” or “Mom definitely wants to hear more about the destructive but intoxicating relationship between Beecher and Keller and how it was so painfully miswritten in season six!” or even “Yes! We definitely need to explain the finer points of the Eastern European roots of plyometrics to this guy we just met at the bar, because this is obviously an excellent party topic!!!”

The Dork Passenger can show up at any time and turn what might otherwise be a productive hobby or interest enjoyed with a sense of perspective and respect for the other facets of a well-balanced life and turns it a far more unwieldy beast. No amount of knowledge is ever good enough for The Dork Passenger. No amount of time is ever long enough to dedicate to its latest fixation.

The Dork Passenger can stay fixed on the same target for years, or it can leave as suddenly as it arrived. I’ll just wake up one morning, and find that the urgency and the magic aren’t really there anymore. Sometimes a lingering fondness for the object of obsession remains, much like normals might feel for a long lost love that was never meant to be, but the details never last. I keep a Titanic charm on a necklace these days, but I had to turn to Wikipedia for all of that stuff about Alvin mentioned above. I’d gotten Alvin mixed up with Jason Jr. which would have been a cardinal sin up to twenty years ago.

Over the course of my life, The Dork Passenger has steered me toward a bizarre hodgepodge of Most Important Things Ever, including dinosaurs (though, in my experience, saying an Aspie went through a dinosaur phase is like saying that a classic rock fan went through a Stones phase), the ruins of Pompei, JRR Tolkien, Dune, Canadian indie music, Big Star, a couple of foreign filmmakers, David Cronenberg and Dead Ringers, pro-wrestling, slash fanfiction and pro-wrestling slash fanfiction.

The way in which I explore these things has evolved over the years. What began as a strictly qualitative exercise involving strict numbers and facts has grown into more of an interest in qualitative observations. When I was at the height of Titanic-mania, I was all about memorizing things like the names of passengers, the song that was playing when the ship sunk and the time and date of the iceberg hit. When I was in the midst of my latest spell, this time with the HBO series OZ (yes, the girl who loved one of the most devastating losses of human life on the high seas went on to adore a TV show in which machiavellian monsters stick all sorts weapons and body parts into each other- there’s a sunny Asperger success story for you) I paid far more attention to plot lines, structure and characterization than I did to who directed a particular episode.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the giddy thrill of it all. It’s like a scholarly sugar high without the crash. Special interests get a bit of a bad wrap in autism literature, but I can honestly say they’re one of the two things I genuinely love about my disorder (my fascinating rain mannish ability to throw almost the exact same punch 20 times in a row being the other).

I won’t deny that the Dork Passenger has caused the occasional issue over the years, but they’ve been comparatively minor to any other AS-related drama I’ve navigated. Most of the problems I can recall off the top of my head are pretty amusing in retrospect. I’ve pulled some really weird shit over the years in the name of my favourite things, and I stand by almost every single stunt.

My only complaint with the whole phenomenon is that it has seriously amped up the intensity of my impostor syndrome. It’s almost impossible for me to understand what a normal sense of knowledge and expertise is supposed to feel like now. When you become an authoritative expert on anything while you’re still in kindergarten, everything after that is bound to feel a little half-assed.

Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger published his first findings on autistic children in 1944, but the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” wasn’t coined until 1981, in a paper by British researcher Lorna Wing. The eponymous doctor’s original work wasn’t even translated into English until 1989, and didn’t gain much notice in the English speaking world until the early 90’s.

Which means that, by the time my condition was even being discussed in my native language, I had already managed to, among other things:

– alienate most of my peers with my idiosyncratic behaviour and complete failure to understand and respect boundaries

– embark on a lifelong struggle to tell time on an analogue clock

– develop a number of meticulous and bizarre obsessions with shipwrecks, dinosaurs, natural disasters and, um, a certain eighties television and Coke commercial phenomenon

– utterly fail at every sport I attempted in gym class, thanks to my stunning lack of coordination and boundless disinterest in team dynamics

– ace every cognitive test I was given, scoring well past University level in everything except fucking geometry

– conclude that adults were better than kids because they were nicer, they seemed to enjoy it when I talked about dinosaurs and shipwrecks, and they understood bigger words

– tell a picture of my favourite shipwreck, the RMS Titanic, in between hysterical sobs, that it was my only friend in the world

By the time Asperger’s appeared in the DSMV IV (the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), I had been forced to transfer schools because of bullying.

With no knowledge or proper diagnostic tools in place, and no proper way to explain the creepy little child awkwardly running around and talking like Alia from Dune, I was called everything from special, different and smart to weird, too smart for my own good, off-putting, and unlikeable. And, with no other information coming to light from my educators or support systems, that was how I saw and understood myself for the rest of my childhood and adolescence.

I was eighteen or nineteen when I first heard about Asperger’s, and I wasn’t particularly interested in the idea at first. My life had, finally, taken a turn for the better in many respects and a diagnosis seemed less vital than it would have been a few years earlier. I was emerging from the cocoon of a largely positive home-tutored experience (necessitated by further bullying) into a world that seemed a lot less cruel than I had expected. I had somehow managed to maintain three friends from childhood and was starting to cultivate a new one, making for a personal record of four whole peers who wanted to hang out with me and were seemingly free of ulterior motives to torture me. I had stumbled into an internship that not only tolerated my abnormal fixations and pedantry, but actually seemed to encourage them. The symptoms of Asperger’s sounded almost exactly like a six-year-old version of myself, but I wasn’t sure that the term really applied to me anymore. I was curious, but didn’t think that it was too important to pursue it.

Eight years, three careers, and all of the wonderful straight-from-a-Weakerthans-song disenchantment that comes with adulthood later, an official diagnosis and an appropriate method of treatment became a little more necessary. And, in the summer of 2009, I was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

I think I expected a little more relief to come with the diagnosis, but I’m still happy enough to have a name to put to my bundle of issues. I might have preferred that said name didn’t sound like “Ass Burgers,” and didn’t inspire a thousand well-meaning but repetitive puns tossed out kindly by well-meaning but repetitive neurotypicals (non-autistics) but it’s certainly better than “loathsome” or “that fucking weird bitch.”

It also would have been nice to know about all of this so much sooner, but then I always have been ahead of my time (I was all over that Titanic shit years before James Cameron, dammit). And an early diagnosis probably would have robbed me of a lot of the material I intend to exploit for this blog. Because aspie kids these days with a proper support system are probably a little less likely to enter into fights with the helper moms at their preschool who won’t let them sign their artwork as Max Headroom, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Autism: The term I use when I’m feeling fairly neutral about my condition.

Blahtism: When I’m not so neutral.

Awesometism: For the moments when Asperger’s – and the unique skills and worldview that it gives me – become an asset, making me just as mindblowingly weird and awesome as every little autistic kid at a piano in almost every single movie or tv show that has ever been made about autistic kids.

My first instinct was to call this blog “Blahtism,” but my therapist thinks that I should try being more positive.