Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Different


I alluded to my difficult relationship with my father in Pop, RIP and more directly to some specific issues on Kim and my (still seldom used) parenting blog in the post Humiliation as parenting. Neither of those, nor any amount of writing I could possibly do, capture the complexity of our lives and relationship. I can't even begin to understand it myself.

One day on one of the subjects that we discuss, my mom said she'd read a book John Elder Robison, although she didn't remember his name at the time. She said it reminded her of my father, which wasn't at all what she had been reading it to do. Robison has Asperger syndrome, which was not a light I'd considered putting my father prior to that, but it started to click, as I thought about it.

(Robison explains that he does not prefer "has Asperger's" for reasons I understand and even agree with, but I couldn't find a way to structure that sentence to use one of his preferred explanations that I didn't dislike, aside from "Robison is an Aspergian", which I felt was being needlessly unclear to most readers.)

Very close to this time, my wife, the lovely Kimberly Rae, suggested that I might have Asperger's. She approached it very carefully, concerned I would take it in a different spirit than the one intended. I said it was interesting, based on her thoughts, and said that my mom had mentioned the book and how similar she found Robison's thought processes to my father's. I thought this over quite a bit and found myself largely convinced that my father was most likely Aspergian, as it were, but that any tendencies I might have would be as a result of having grown up in a house with my father.

And I kept in my mind that I wanted to read it, but there are some emotional issues a person isn't anxious to go messing with and, for me, that was one of them.

But then Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's popped up on a list of downloadable audiobooks available from Austin Public Library. Somehow I started looking at it without even really thinking of that until I was close to listening, so I didn't have any anticipation built up.

What I found, however, did more to confirm Kim's theory than my own.

Oh, I am more sure than ever about my father. Some reading I've done beyond that book only makes that more clear to me.

I don't know how to express how I connected with the Asbergian nature of the things Robison expressed. So much of what I related to wasn't in what he said or his actions, as we are definitely different people. At it's most obvious, Robison is a widget guy, who works with electronics and focuses on things of that sort. I am, of course, an art geek, who works with movies and words.

But the way he thinks resonates with me very explicitly.

I have moved on to Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger's and My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families, and Teachers, which I relate to even more, most likely because it's much more directly about his Asperger's.

His descriptions of being a child are just so absolutely right on for me, especially the things about school, although he is much more forgiving of the system. I still think School is a prison! at a most basic level. He clearly sees recent improvements in recognizing and working with students who are basically different to be meaningful, or feels it's beneficial to express it in that manner. I think the very things that have for so long made it so difficult for people whose differences are perhaps larger and we can now be diagnosed and, hopefully, helped with, systematically makes it difficult for everyone that is different, many in ways that can't be diagnosed yet, and perhaps will never be diagnosed as anything but different or, worse yet, difficult.

But I've drawn this somewhat off topic.

I'm not sure exactly where to start listing the points of comparison, especially since many require more explaining to a readership that largely doesn't know me personally or at all, but here are some things that strike me as particularly notable, edited from an email I sent to a friend, much copied and pasted from Asperger's Characteristics with my own emphases.

"Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (for example, showing others objects of interest), a lack of social or emotional reciprocity (social games give-and-take mechanic), and impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture"

Now, I make eye contact generally, or at least don't very often stare off at something other than the person, so this could be a wash in some ways, although if I'm really listening, I do generally stare off somewhere else.

"People with AS may not be as withdrawn around others compared to those with other, more debilitating, forms of autism; they approach others, even if awkwardly. For example, a person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener's feelings or reactions, such as a wish to change the topic of talk or end the interaction.This social awkwardness has been called 'active but odd'. This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people's feelings, and may come across as insensitive. However, not all individuals with AS will approach others. Some of them may even display selective mutism, speaking not at all to most people and excessively to specific people. Some may choose to talk to only people they like."

"Although individuals with Asperger syndrome acquire language skills without significant general delay and their speech typically lacks significant abnormalities, language acquisition and use is often atypical. Abnormalities include verbosity, abrupt transitions, literal interpretations and miscomprehension of nuance, use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker, auditory perception deficits, unusually pedantic, formal or idiosyncratic speech, and oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody, and rhythm."
"Three aspects of communication patterns are of clinical interest: poor prosody, tangential and circumstantial speech, and marked verbosity. Although inflection and intonation may be less rigid or monotonic than in classic autism, people with AS often have a limited range of intonation: speech may be unusually fast, jerky or loud. Speech may convey a sense of incoherence; the conversational style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener, fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal thoughts. Individuals with AS may fail to monitor whether the listener is interested or engaged in the conversation. The speaker's conclusion or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics, are often unsuccessful."

 Sounds a lot like a certain blog I know.  Hell, it sounds like this very post.

"Children with AS may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called 'little professors', but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally. Children with AS appear to have particular weaknesses in areas of nonliteral language that include humor, irony, teasing, and sarcasm. Although individuals with AS usually understand the cognitive basis of humor, they seem to lack understanding of the intent of humor to share enjoyment with others. Despite strong evidence of impaired humor appreciation, anecdotal reports of humor in individuals with AS seem to challenge some psychological theories of AS and autism."

Some of those things don't really describe me, and were certainly the things I would think of when I would say to Kim that it was an interesting idea, but I didn't think was accurate.

The thing I notice is how strikingly well the things that do match me fit.

This also seems tricky at first, but has moments of real resonance.

"Individuals with AS often have excellent auditory and visual perception. Children with ASD often demonstrate enhanced perception of small changes in patterns such as arrangements of objects or well-known images; typically this is domain-specific and involves processing of fine-grained features. Conversely, compared to individuals with high-functioning autism, individuals with AS have deficits in some tasks involving visual-spatial perception, auditory perception, or visual memory. Many accounts of individuals with AS and ASD report other unusual sensory and perceptual skills and experiences. They may be unusually sensitive or insensitive to sound, light, and other stimuli; these sensory responses are found in other developmental disorders and are not specific to AS or to ASD. There is little support for increased fight-or-flight response or failure of habituation in autism; there is more evidence of decreased responsiveness to sensory stimuli, although several studies show no differences."

I'm not sure I'm up to into further detail today.  I'm still working out this idea and what it means, how it does or doesn't apply, and I think I need to lay down on the couch and watch some classic Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. I somehow felt the need to express this, though, exorcise it while it's rolling through my mind so much..  It's the writer in me.

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