Saturday, 29 November 2008

Aspergers Sydnrome

Listed below are traits relating to asperger’s syndrome, supplemented with a personal description as far as my memory will allow. My long term memory is commendable, allowing me to remember as far back as junior school. I have spent a substantial amount of time concluding how and why I believe Asperger’s Syndrome has affected me. It is an arduous process trying to compare it to anything else, as this is the way I am and unable to grasp any other way, despite trying. I have included a few selected examples, but please be aware these are only a fraction of the number.

It is as though sections of my neocortex are attempting in vain to compensate for missing or crossed wires, adopting a task which goes beyond their parameters, i.e. processing emotions. The result can be mental fatigue, and possibly portraying a hebetudinous posture, when infact my brain is just working harder than it should, affecting mood, short term memory and ability to multi task. The relief when I am not emotional or in contact with emotional people can be compared to taking mental amphetamines.

Being unable to understand other people's thoughts, motives and behaviours, and being accused of selfishness for failing to consider other people's feelings, is frustrating, as I am not aware of my unbecoming approach. Similarly I become impatient when others lack predictability.

I have had epilepsy ever since I was a few months old, although under control now. The seizures were quite severe when I was a toddler and doctors informed my mother the chances of developing a learning disability were high, which I guess is partially true emotionally and socially speaking, although at the moment I refrain from the possibility of this being the cause, as this cannot be proved.

• Are often bullied in school – Victim of name calling, and was taken advantage of recently. Seems mildly trivial compared to what others are exposed to, but I believe asperger’s syndrome increased my vulnerability, taking their comments too literally. I have memories of other children sniggering, querying what I was doing in the top classes when I appeared such a 'thicko', possibly due to poor executive function, hence being unable keep up with the rest of the class, possibly as a result of teaching style, despite comprehending everything. Many teachers were perplexed when receiving my high SAT exam results, especially when I was in the top 3 for the whole year in science and mathematics when I was 14. The same goes for GCSE mock exam results, which failed to coincide with under performance during the year.

• Have trouble making friends – Able to approach people when special interests are involved, with a slight sense of haughtiness, believing people who share them must think exactly the same way about anything. Otherwise I am hampered by limited social knowledge/initiative to interact any further, causing me to reluctantly resist the rudimentary steps, however undesirable that approach is. I never had a large circle of friends/associates at school (2-3 during a given time period, emotional interaction was scarce, and felt incredibly uncomfortable if the dialect was beyond a one to one exchange). Non-verbal interaction never arose as it mainly involved interests in cars, computers, and playing chess. Friendships/associations usually emerged through my mother introducing us as a result of her own social life involving their parents. I don’t believe it was the person inside drawing me in, more the hope that they might be knowledgeable about a particular area of interest. My brain prioritises lust for information over social intuition. I am either too distant or too intense, and altruism does not come naturally, even if I desire deep down to be more gregarious.

• A very quiet voice – People more than often request that I raise my voice, or ask me to repeat my recent peroration, despite hearing myself perfectly, causing frustration as my sensitive hearing means the internal volume is constantly inflated, which relates to my annoyance towards innumerable random noises. When I hear recordings of myself from childhood or adolescence, my intonation appears significantly different to others in terms of prosody and volume.

• May be sensitive to touch or random noises – Could never and still cannot tolerate loud chewing or breathing, random background noise for example several conversations or thumping music in background, I can be driven to distraction. My tolerance threshold within loud public places is low unless I am there to view a band with only a single sound source. I have a high detection of stimuli (especially aural) to steal my attention which is why I have found it difficult to concentrate in classes at school and at work and being unable to sleep or focus on tasks unless I wear ear plugs.

• May be clumsy – Was substandard during physical education at school, being the last to be picked for team games. I am always correctly being accused of clumsiness, with a reoccurring habit of knocking over cups of coffee at work. Have to be told that I have made a mess otherwise I am oblivious to it.

• Can take things too literally - During English class when I was about 12 or 13, the class was given the task of producing an essay regarding the differences between tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. For the majority of my essay I wrote address details regarding my paper round, the difficulty of pushing broad sheet news papers through a letter box, not to mention the broadsheet impact on trees for using excessive paper. This is the earliest I can remember, amongst others. A recent example was taking ambiguous text on an insurance document too literally, which resulted in a magistrate’s court appearance for driving without insurance despite having a comprehensive policy. This is on top of banter which I really struggle with.

• May have trouble understanding other people's emotions – Due to Alexithymia-esque characteristics I cannot forebode emotions, especially in an unfamiliar or unpredictable situation which requires at least basic intuition. I can understand intellectually if in black and white and given adequate time to work it out by comparing to situations I may have been in. Individual's moods/prosody can affect me maladroitly, which was an issue at school, and is a huge issue at home and at work. Failed to pick up cues in the past from women, presupposing the notion that they were acting weird, as I was oblivious to their hints. Limited adroitness when striving to understand my own emotions, requiring excessive cognitive effort to apprehend what emotion I am experiencing or have experienced in the past. This has often resulted in meltdown or shutdown when the emotion is not profound. My childhood/teenage years were spent initially oblivious to them and eventually internalising them.

I fail to believe that I have really made a true 'emotional' connection with anyone, or at the very least barely realising it. Regarding family, the concept 'emotional connection' hasn’t really emerged until recently; rather I believed that we do practical things for each other to show we care. It is obvious a smile could portray happiness, but I have recently learnt that there is a variation of smiles, resulting in a failed attempt to determine them. When I observe a face, a checklist procedure has to be carried out: are they happy? No. Are they sad? No. Are they bored? No. Are they angry, No. Going through the list can be more stressful than any benefit it would provide, especially when nothing is achieved. Having said that it is alot easier doing this whilst watching people on television due to the generous amount of time allowed for study and lack of distraction.

• Poor at multi tasking - I cannot easily comprehend anything else whilst performing a current task either at work or at home. For example being rude to someone who is attempting to communicate with me whilst I am watching a documentary, one example among many. When doing a task at work I get frustrated when asked to put it aside to do something else, which I internalise. I cannot join a conversation or help anyone if my mind is fixed on something else. I believe my executive functioning skills are mediocre.

• Do not like changes in school, work, and home life routines – I must turn up for work exactly at 9am and leave exactly at 5pm, to the second, and experience difficulties working in other offices when occasionally when requested by my boss, otherwise I feel very anxious. I consume exactly the same food daily, at virtually identical times. I can become agitated if disturbed when my mind is fixed on a task, ranging from watching a documentary, executing a task at work or absorbing information from a book. My mind has to know in advance what it will be exposed to regarding any potential situation, otherwise anxiety prevails. The words maybe and possibly are personal irritations.

• Have a strong interest – Interests dominate my thoughts, feelings, desirable conversations and behaviour. Anything else I am obliged to think about is a burden, the intensity of this increase in times of anxiety. See the ‘special interests’ article for further details.

• Have difficulty reading the sounds of people’s voices – Interlocution is bothersome and awkward with prolonged silences. My boss has told me about my phone manner. I find conversations with strangers and even people I know rather awkward and people with unpredictable or extreme tone of voice are difficult to converse with or reason with, as overwhelming confusion can influence my logical thought.

• Get confused if a person's body language and words don't say the same thing – Multiple and conflicting signs counteract my one tracked mind, providing my brain with excessive stimulus to process, mind blindness the net result. Conversations with less familiar people will dry up apparently due to a 'need' for an exchange of non verbal cues. Eye contact isn’t essential with familiar people because they are used to my mannerisms. Eye contact feels exactly like staring into the sun regardless of who it is, it can be my mother, dad, sister, boss, anyone. Even more so when I am preoccupied and cannot make a conscious effort towards studying a face.

• Feel lonely and unwanted – Not because I am alone but more the fact that believe I am ineffective in the art of giving and receiving expression and points of view from other people, like firing social blanks. Misunderstandings with family members and the few friends/associates I do have are frequent, even more so with the involvement of voice tone and facial expression. During secondary school 6th form and college I was usually left in the form room alone during lunchtimes, or alternatively I hid in the toilets. Everyone else had each other for company. I didn’t know how to explain my inner turmoil to my parents. It arrived during secondary school when the social world properly arrived, and things may have appeared quite normal to them. Their only knowledge regarding the extent of this was in May 2008, although it started roughly 15 years before that. I could attempt to copy what other kids did but was never fulfilled. I required solitude in order to recharge, and is probably why I spent many lunch times alone. I seemed to have more enemies than friends, for no apparent reason, a concept which appeared true until this point.

• Like doing or saying the same thing over and over again – Immense difficulty when obliged to converse, with reliance upon pre rehearsed phrases, facts and figures. The same film, piece of music, and factual conversation can be ritualised, over and over again, which has been commented on. The consequence is frustration when I am unable to understand why they see it as weird, I love to talk about my interests. A ritualistic game called the parking game used to be performed to excess at junior school. Weight training was carried out to excess with its incredibly repetitive philosophy being the main appeal.

• Not know that another person is upset or annoyed, until the other person shows it clearly – Limited emotional understanding requires black and white facts. Incompetence can overrule my understanding of, picking up on or acting upon other people's emotions unless they are verbally explained to me. A physical display would require an extreme and prolonged procedure for me to fully pick up on it because subtleties are frustrating.

• Not know if a person is joking or not. They have difficulty understanding if someone is using irony, sarcasm, or slang, or if they really mean it – A joke can be understood if clearly stated beforehand that a joke is about to occur, for example on a television show like the Simpson’s. Sarcasm provides an equivocal state of mind because I cannot tell if they are being sarcastic or if they are telling the truth despite understanding both sides, but I cannot make a decision. I can perform sarcasm myself, simply because I am the one carrying it out.

• Not understand the interests of other people or why other people do the things that they do - My mind is one tracked, believing everyone thinks like I do, hence making false assumptions at school, only recently I was told otherwise. That mindset promptly dissolved, as I can snap out of undesirable habits using brute force conscious thought once I am enlightened. I struggle to understand alternative opinions hence people implying that I am selfish and self centred, increasing my frustration as I take those comments personally, not understanding why. Conversations with strangers or people I don’t too well feel forced, unable to adequately read a face, process thoughts/emotions and implement my own facial expression within a corresponding time interval. Any of these must happen separately, so speaking involves looking away, causing an awkward scenario with people I attempt to interact with or vice versa. Even more so when I became more aware of the wider world. Arguments can arise with people who conflict my point of view which I believe is perfectly rational and logical, but they fail to realise. The same could possibly be said from an opposite angle when I attempt to understand people and I don’t 'get them'.

• Have or had nervous tics in the past – Used to twitch my head during junior school, moving onto screwing my face up which I still often do. I currently tap my fingers like playing the drums, tap my teeth together and subconsciously shake my leg or foot. I chew my finger nails and the inside of my mouth to the point of drawing blood, a habit since junior school. I tend to notice merely when it is pointed out, and only recently because my consciousness has been raised towards it. I can physically channel anxiety leading to a release, which provides a soothing ambience.

• Have ability to see and remember the details of things that other people miss – At work I constantly spell out to engineers certain methods of improvement, I remember facts and conversations from the past that people fail to remember. At Junior's school I correctly told other children, alas without malicious intent, they were failing to do their mathematics correctly which I got disciplined for. I still remember pin numbers given to me by associates several years ago. Thinking in pictures and applying the words accordingly supplements my long term memory giving the impression of daydreaming. I have detailed obsessions within my special interests i.e. the Russian T34 tank of WW2. My mind plays back images like a video recorder. I can produce a mental illustration of tank battles, rocket launches, playing the Cello note for note when I hear classical music.

• Be very good at remembering rules, laws, systems and important facts. This is useful in many types of work – We follow a standard procedure at work, if engineers break from this I must tell them otherwise, becoming angry if this is ignored. When I know for definite somebody is telling me something incorrect I have to bluntly make it clear. I can do that even if I am not originally involved in the discussion/scenario.

• Be better at writing than at talking to people, because they are careful to choose words that mean exactly what they want to say – I like taking my time over things that matter especially expressing my inner thoughts. I can perfect what I can say in the future, it gives a partial remedy to my poor short term memory when using given a base point of reference where conversational skills are not needed. I am not an articulate genius, but writing helps to guide visualisation which in itself is the ultimate way to grasp a concept. Despite that I have a habit of rushing through things whilst under pressure or exposed to external stimuli, like at work or school. The energy that goes into the give and take of verbal intercourse distracts me from saying what I intended to.

• Enjoy doing the same thing many times over, which most people find boring – I listen to one piece of music over and over again for extended periods of time, taking a completely different slant from every juncture. I used to continuously watch the same films during 6th form, and read the same space books at junior school in a ritualistic fashion.

• Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome are good at practicing scales on the piano, at adding up long sums, and at searching through books and papers to find information and mistakes – I become transfixed when researching interests and enjoy practicing invariable pieces of music on my bass guitar, especially blues scales. As mentioned previously I can read a book over and over again.

Arguments opposing a diagnosis of asperger’s syndrome, and counter arguments to reinforce my claim using a process called critical thinking (which involves the notion of considering both sides of an argument but the side with the most rational body of evidence reigns supreme).

• It could be just a personality disorder based on experiences at school – My mother has stated multiple situations that hint towards asperger’s-like behaviour for example running away on my first day at school, pointing out capital cities and countries from around the world before I could walk. What explains my lifelong fascinations? Why have I always opposed a lack of routine as far as my memory permits? School and my childhood were abundant with routine, so the issue never became apparent. It was during 6th form when weight training began, satisfying my needs during that particular time. The argument towards the case transpires because more questions crop up during the counter claim, which can be answered by the original claim. Also, a psychologist has explained with confidence after analysis that the chances of me having personality disorder are slim, partly because a rational attempt is being made to draw a valid conclusion, and partly due to her judgement based on experience. When emotions are not involved, rationality is virtue I can capitalise with ease. Avoidant personality disorder was suggested previous to this, although I do attempt to interact with people I know in the only way I know how, despite the awkwardness.

• Cannot recall enough of my childhood to be absolutely sure and why was nothing ever picked up? - Alot of my childhood within the family circle was quite normal, being relatively content. There was abundant routine, we went swimming every Saturday at half five, had certain meals on fixed days of the week at virtually the same time (half five) and obviously the school day did not have an ambiguous time structure. I even played on video games with my cousins, although that initial interaction is not needed with family, because you cannot choose them. Despite that, all I would ever do with my cousins would be to play video games, I was not overly aware of them as 'sentient beings' so to speak; I just wanted to reign supreme at super Mario kart. My awareness of sophisticated social activity remained secluded until sixth form. My substandard level of social recognition remained with me from Junior School in stasis until that point, progressing only a very small amount since due to my consciously driven perception. During that period I realised I was severely falling behind, being accustomed to providing my own entertainment inside school and college where introspection never became an issue. Only afterwards did I question why failing to look at people and ending on bad terms was developing a perpetual trend, even more so when I would fail to understand my error. An incident a couple of years ago arose when the frustration reached a climax, the consequence being a meltdown and a hostile situation.

• Did have a couple of friends at school, have a good friend at the moment - We were geeks and seldom on the popular end of the scale. I initially knew them through my mother's circle of friends, sharing interests being sierra cosworths, video games, science or computers. That world that differed to the mainstream as these interests provided the single reason for any kind of interaction, although to my parents I would have appeared content and normal. With hindsight, the priority was not social interaction but rather information exchange about our related interests and less reciprocal. The vast majority of more recent associates or friends were established through family members. An attempt was made to fit in with a group a couple of years ago, but through no apparent fault on my behalf they took advantage of me and it ended as frustration, a meltdown, impulsive behaviour, and a hostile reaction towards me.

A friendship I currently have originated from junior school, as our parents knew each other very well, hence why we knew each other in the first place, so not awkward small talk required, our conversation almost exclusively comprise of space, music, psychology and motorbikes. Seldom social demands during childhood, my portrayal of people was never appropriate for developmental level, as though I was 'always 8 years old' socially and emotionally until after college. My nature is to assume everyone is congeneric to me and would share my cogitation, especially people with similar interests. Frustration would germinate when I eventually become aware that reality conflicts this philosophy. During secondary school peers were interacting with new friends and forming relationships with the opposite sex and I along with the limited number of individuals I knew from junior school were still acting in our traditional way, where a sophisticated social level was imperceptible. The development of my social/emotional brain became indolent despite the above average ability of my academic brain, according to several teachers. I wasn’t inspired by the general peer group/stereotype; the limited number of kids I collaborated with shared a commensuration in terms of social/emotional development. I could only confer with to them individually (which still applies now) and were all into computers, science and machines. They eventually matured and I was belated.

• Lack of eye contact could be a lack of confidence - I am unable to consistently look at my friend or family members in the eye let alone strangers. When I do look at people in the eye at work, the situation is a formal exchange of information. It can be compared to looking at a bright light rather than just a paranoid fear of looking at somebody and being the target of a stare. I am able to cast my eyes at someone when that is all I have to focus on. The online autism 'eye test' is manageable due to it being an artificial situation lacking conversation so I am unhurried during my study of the eyes. In reality the practicality is reduced severely and may be accused of stalking. I can study eyes comfortably on television with partial success but it is a conscious effort.

• Can do conversations – Small talk can occur for limited periods at work. Fundamentals issues are them not being face to face conversations, The use of pre-rehearsed phrases will reign supreme, for example 'hi how are you, good weekend?'. I become soporific, and dread having the obligation to perform it every time I walk through the door or when someone communicates with me at random. I cannot maintain an eye to eye exchange, instead compensating by looking 'through' them. I feel compelled to join conversations which relate to special interests, attempting to manipulate it towards my interest with a blunt approach of dictating facts or figures. Conversations are usually based on my interests but can only maintain for so long, depending on the victim, before mind blindness and awkward silences emerge. I am exhausted and bored after a small period of seemingly 'informal' conversations. I have always related better to much older people but seldom with people of my own age, with the exception of my friend.

To conclude I can simply state that I have suffered over the years for my lack of natural social skills, not understanding why. Many issues have caused confusion leading to ultimate frustration in the form of self harm. No one had explained that the world is different for me because other people through no fault of their own were negligent towards my perception of the world, and the same can be said in reverse. I don't understand most people and generally it is vice versa, but my ultimate goal is to achieve conscious permutation. Some people call me an "old soul" and marvel at my wisdom and mature knack for knowledge, but the evidence towards me having the emotional and social capacity of someone in their early teens is pronounced.

I am more at ease now I have stopped trying to conform to the masses. I believe I possess an irresistible childlike curiosity of the world and the universe. I am constantly informed that I am in my 'own little world' by average people who just worry about what is on television, although I believe I am more enlightened by the physical world than the majority of the community. That is the trade off, the physical world and the social world, the question being which one does one hold more dear? I assume that the majority of humanity would compromise between the two, and the minority go either way like a spectrum. Enlightenment is one step, followed by an understanding and subsequently wisdom, but I now realise after all this time that they both depend on each other, being equally important when discovering the truth about humanity.

1 comment:

Quiet Contemplation said...

I very much relate to your list, Matt. Almost every one of the things you listed could've been said by me.

I particularly love the phrase "shooting social blanks". That is such a descriptive way of putting it that's spot on!