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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Finding the Rainbow (part 1)

Sanctuary of Kali - S. Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)
Sometimes in life we discover something that changes us and our view of ourselves. To discover that after so many years of inner confusion, doubt and incomprehension, that there is actually a quantified and measurable reason for why I have struggled with the social world in the way I have and that I am actually not alone.
Nearly a year ago I discovered from a psychiatrist I have what is known as Asperger’s syndrome. Some view it as a form of high functioning autism, however on the eve of my discovery, I find it has been, (with much controversy) removed from the DMS 5 and is now seen as a mild form of autism.(ASD). Learning I have this syndrome has been a huge help in dispelling my lifelong confusion, of why other people have an ability to do things I cannot, like have an ease and flow in communication between each other, that is often a mystery to me. How I either make people laugh or piss them off, without even ever understanding how, and other things. People that do get to know me, find me smart and at the same time socially clueless, while others totally misunderstand me or even dislike me.
The knowledge and research into the syndrome is most recent, so I cannot fault any childhood pediatrician ‘if I had ever seen any’ in my youth for not diagnosing me or my parents for not supporting me more, though in light of their general neglect, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference anyway.
Aspergers was in the past thought to be a male only disorder but this has been dispelled in recent years. Today treatments are focused mostly upon the young, and concentrate on improving communication. The majority of adults with Asperger’s, go undiagnosed, the majority of adult women with Asperger’s, even more unlikely to be diagnosed because they present differently to males and can mask their differences better. Tony Attwood: Girls and women who have Asperger’s syndrome

People with AS have problems with social skills and communication, obsessive or narrow interests, sensory overload and motor skills. this often leads to problems with depression, frustration and anxiety. Many are highly sensitive. 

People with Aspergers have problems connecting to others because they communicate differently than most other people and their brains process things differently. They do not do social chit chat very well and there is reason for this. We have an inability to read non verbal body language, being unable to perceive or use it, we also do not display much body language ourselves in our communication. Our voices can be flat or monotone and our faces may seem emotionless, leading others to think we lack emotions or empathy. When we are upset, even if in great pain, we state simply ‘I am feeling really sad or hurt’ but have little visual expression, leading others to dismiss our distress as mild, or false and making us feel others don’t care. 

 Also, I may have a friend who is upset or angry, but says everything is good but somehow displays non-verbally, that she is not. To her, it should be clear. But to me, I am only reading the words coming out of her mouth as everything else is blank and I respond in a cheerful manner. She then thinks I am being cold, heartless or just a bitch. I am in turn am hurt, (little outward expression) because I don’t know what I did wrong. This is how I fail at making friends, especially among women. I have very few female friends.

I am also inapt at sarcasm. People with Aspergers are known to take things people say quite literally. Some of this again is body language but some is that we use mostly logic in communication and thinking. Even among females, we have what is known as a ‘the male brain’. We may have problems understanding that people often communicate by not saying what they mean. This just does not seem to make any sense to us. When making sarcasm, others display subtle cues indicating it’s a joke., but of course we miss it, making us look totally stupid or gullible. One can often find oneself being taken advantage of by manipulative or dishonest people if rushed into decisions.

Interacting in a social group can be full of anxiety, a terrible minefield of potential miscommunication and misunderstandings, one never knows what the outcome of a social interaction will be, so I tend to hold back, making some people think I am snotty or aloof. Will I offend someone?, will I be laughed at, will I be rejected, will I get used?. Due to sensory overload, it takes me a while to process information and I may reply eager to participate and be a part of the social conversation, only to have everyone groan that , ‘we done talking about that ages ago’. Sometimes I have real problems with verbal communication. It’s so hard; I cannot form the words and sentences fluidly, so I have to rely on acting out well rehearsed lines and phrases like an actor, sometimes I can do this very well but sometimes I annoy people, who have heard them too many times and succeed in making myself appear boring or dull. It can be so frustrating communicating, often its easier to just withdraw altogether. But it’s not possible or an option I can accept. If I want to reach any of my goals in the world, I just have to keep trying, no matter the anxiety and the mistakes.
Aspergers people can have problems with co ordination. I used to have this but have found great progress can be made by learning co ordination manually, so to say. What does not come naturally can be learnt. This is true in all things. I used to feel very uncomfortable in my body. My gait was not so graceful and when I was young I got the nick name of ‘horse’ because of my plodding gait. I got plenty of scars from falls I made. As an adult practicing aikido, helped me to connect with the motor-co ordinations. Somehow in the course of the repetitive training, it seemed I downloaded a new script of how to move, that seemed to facilitate the growth of new neural networking pathways in my brain. It was wonderful, now I can spin and twirl, dance and have confidence in all my movements, on and off the mat. It was such a boost to my self esteem. Movement therapy is very much promoted in the therapy of autistic children. Many such children improve their motor co ordination skills in practising a martial art like aikido. Also, engaging in a mutual, friendly, honest social activity with others, that does not rely on social chit chat and that's primarily non verbal, is of great benefit to ones emotional well being.