Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Aspergian Advantages

What’s it like, being an Aspergian?

Since I’ve never been any other way, it’s hard for me to compare myself to non-Aspergian people except by observation and inference. Since I hesitate to call such people “normal” I will refer to them as neurotypical, or NT.

Many NT folks who talk to me express sympathy for my condition. I don’t need or want sympathy! I am not suffering! What I could use is some understanding. When I don’t look you in the eye, or I say something unexpected – consider the possibility that I might see the world differently than you, and my response is not meant to be arrogant, or nasty, or offensive.

Having said I’m not suffering, what am I doing? I'm just existing. That’s what Asperger’s is. It’s a way of being; a way of thinking, seeing the world, and acting. I’m no more conscious of it from moment to moment that you are of your own conditions (whatever they may be.)

Anyone who’s read about Asperger’s knows about the “problems.” What about the benefits? Benefits, you say? Here’s an example:

I don’t learn things by having them told to me. I learn by experience and experimentation, primarily on my own. I’m very curious, always asking, Why? And I don’t see people and other things the same way others seem to. Here’s how that Aspergian attribute helps me go through life largely devoid of prejudice:

You or someone else may look at a person and say, “He looks Jewish.” I hear comments like that fairly often; we all do. Some, like, “He looks like a gangster,” or, “He looks like a pimp,” are meant to be derogatory. Others, like, “She looks really good,” or, “He looks like the engineer,” are meant to be complimentary. I don’t say things like that or make those judgments, because I am not aware of a reliable set of visual characteristics to identify Jewishness, membership in a gang, a person who works as a pimp, or even a good looking girl .

I do realize that some NT people are much more tuned in to subtle visual cues than me. I’m aware that some of them(you) may see a concealed gang sign on a fellow’s arm. Others may be able to pick out the girl 99% of the other guys on the beach will agree is hot. And a few may even be able to pick out a fellow Jew on the basis of appearance alone. Not me!

Others (as I have observed) think they can make those determinations, but experience proves them wrong nearly 50% of the time. An Aspergian like me would never take odds like that when describing and grouping people.

I can’t categorize people out of a crowd, and I know it. So I don’t expose myself to ridicule or worse by trying. And I have never myself been invited to join a social group (unless you count freaks and weirdoes as a group) so I don’t identify much with the whole concept.

As a result, everyone starts out on the same footing with me. We talk, and I ask questions, and form opinions based upon what I hear. If you bring a car to my service department, it won’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl. Or if you're white, black, brown or even a subtle shade of green. It won’t matter if you wear a leather jacket or a business suit or a t-shirt – I’ll ask you the same questions and I’ll do the same things.

You may think I’m rude or you may think I’m friendly, but really, I am what I am. I’m always the same. No matter how you appear. Every day of the week. I am very consistent.

To me, that’s an advantage. Others may see it differently, but I’m glad I’m that way.

Here’s another example:

I am very logical. And I’m not very emotional, at least not outwardly. Some people look at me and say, “He’s a robot.” Others liken me to Star Trek’s Mister Spock. Comparisons like that hurt my feelings. I don’t like them, but I do understand I sometimes act in ways that lead ignorant NT people to jump to those conclusions.

There are times when logical thinking gives me a big advantage. In business dealings, I am very unlikely to become overwhelmed by emotion. I just plod along, unexcited and on an even keel, to reach the logical conclusion.

And it works. I started life at the absolute bottom of the economic ladder, as a high school dropout. And now, in middle age, I’ve risen near the top. Many would say that’s evidence of better than average decision making ability. I think it is.

It’s certainly not evidence of a charming, friendly and outgoing personality! That’s not something I’ve heard said about too many Aspergians, and definitely not me.

Given a choice, I’d rather make most decisions based upon logic.

For both the examples above, it’s possible to think of situations where the way I am would put me at a disadvantage. But there are many more situations where those traits confer a huge competitive advantage. The trick is placing myself in situations or lines of work where my unique attributes will work for me, rather than against me.

To do that, I need to understand how I am, and how I’m different. Self awareness, they call it. That’s one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge any Aspergian can acquire.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The trick is placing myself in situations or lines of work where my unique attributes will work for me, rather than against me.

To do that, I need to understand how I am, and how I’m different. Self awareness, they call it. That’s one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge any Aspergian can acquire

WELL, MY FRIEND, I do believe that is one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge us NT's can acquire too! Maybe we are not so different after all!

Maprilynne said...

I think that for people who are not very familiar with Asperger's it is helpful to remember that A. is technically classified as a high functioning form of Autism (or at least that helped me when I started learning about it.;)) I have a friend whose son is probably a medium to low-functioning Autistic (about 22 or 23 now) and he's so wonderful! I know if he could just crack through that Autistic shell (say, if he were at the level you are at) you would find not only this sweeet, wonderful man (he loves to shake hands!!) but also a briliant and creative thinker. I used to watch him sitting on the floor playing with whatever happened to be around him and even though sometimes other didn't see it, I could see his mind working, creating, exploring, with the comlete inability to communicate what was going through his head. But I firmly believe that his thoughts were there and intact. I have often suspected that Autism is a brilliant gene gone terribly wrong. Because of that, in Asperger's it's a brilliant gene gone only very slightly "wrong."

However, like every Autistic I've ever met, the Asperger's I know is brilliant, completely unprejudiced (like you mentioned!), and willing to accept everyone at face value each time he runs into them . . . even if they have been hurtful to him before.

Unfortunately, that also sets him up for ridicule and it always makes me so mad when people use that opportunity to do so.*huff*

But that's a whole other topic.:)

Hi John!

kimthebloggerwith2asdgirls said...

Hello, John and thanks for coming to my blog! I think you look very handsome and dashing. Good luck with your book!

Kim Stagliano

Kim Stagliano said...

John, I wanted to tell you that I have the honor of participating in an anthology coming out next March about autism and Stephen Shore's chapter bumped my chapter one position. Fine by me! :)

Kim

Mom26children said...

Hi John,
I also define Asperger's and Autism as a "way of being". I am the mother of 5 autistic children. Our 12-year-old is the most intelligent girl I have ever met, she is our Asperger's child. We have 2 with classic autism and they are both honor roll students also. Our other 2 are mildly autistic and brilliant...probably leaning more towards Asperger's as they get older.
We have one NT child, she is our most challenging right now.
I love how our children have learned to fit into this "judgemental and challenging" world. They have all done it with pride and dignity.
Jeanette

John Elder Robison said...

Five little animals like me. My word! That must be a handful.

Why do you think you've got five? Are you and your husband "almost Aspergian" the the two sets of genes reinforced each other?

Or do you have another idea, like the chemical poison suggestions?

Holly Kennedy said...

John, I followed you over from Kim Stagliano's blog.

I ADORE the cover of your book!

I've had a story haunting me for a while now that I just know will become my 4th published novel. In many ways, I'm nervous about writing it, but it was my fascination with Aspergers and autism that drew me to the main character, and he keeps tapping me on the shoulder, impatiently begging me to get it written.

I can't wait to read Look Me In The Eye. Nice to meet you via the blogosphere!

Gina said...

I love the cover of your book too!

My daughter has Asperger's. We live in MA now (metro-west), but are from the FL Panhandle (my mom is from northern GA).

My daughter got diagnosed right before she went to college. We never thought anything was *wrong* with my daughter, just wanted her to have an easier time. We have always really liked her quirkiness.

Do you think growing up Southern helps you realize Asperger's is just a way of being?

Michelle O'Neil said...

Thank you for this.

John Elder Robison said...

Being southern didn't really help with realizing what Asperger's was because I didn't learn about it till 10 years ago, long after I'd left the South.

I don't know that "being southers" actually helped, but my southern family members did.

They were the ones who always believed in me and encouraged me.