beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)
[personal profile] beatrice_otter
Tuesday I saw a neuropsychologist. (Recap: I had to resign from my internship a few months ago mainly due to poor social skills caused by undiagnosed Aspergers.) I was diagnosed with Aspergers, which was not a surprise (I've known I had it since we started researching my brother's autism), but I was also diagnosed with Face blindness, which was a surprise but explains a lot. I've always been bad at pairing faces and names. When I was at camp in middle school, on the last day when we were getting ready to go home, one of the girls from my cabin came up to me and I didn't recognize her because she'd changed her clothes from what she'd been wearing in the morning. I can recognize people I know, but it takes me a while to learn to recognize new people, particularly when I meet them in a large crowd. From the testing I got, apparently I can memorize about three new faces at a time, and any more than that forget about it. I've never thought much about it because my Mom's the same way, and lots of people talk about being bad with names and such. But apparently I'm much, much worse than most people, which doesn't help social skills that are already pretty bad because of the Aspergers.

Apparently, they're in the middle of reviewing and updating diagnosis criteria as a prelude to a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). So she evaluated me on a version modified by current discussion on the issue.

Criteria that fit me:
  • Qualitative impairment in social interaction
  1. Marked impairment in the use of multiple non-verbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social behaviors
  2. Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  3. Lack of social or emotional reciprocity (it's not that I don't want to, it's that I'm never sure how)
  4. difficulties in understanding social situations and other people's thoughts and feelings
  • Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities
  1. Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus. (For me, certain types of science fiction; history; english lit)
  2. Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (rare in adults) (I pace, and sometimes tap my foot or fingers)
  • The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (as in, having to resign from internship)
  • No clinically significant general delay in language, but clinically significant qualitative impairments in verbal or non-verbal communication
  1. Tendency to turn any conversation back to self or own topic of interest.
  2. Cannot see the point of superficial social contact, niceties, or passing time with others, unless there is a clear discussion point/debate or activity.
  3. Pedantic style of speaking or inclusion of too much detail
  4. Inability to recognize when the listener is interested or bored. Even if the person has been told not to talk about their particular topic for too long, this difficulty may be evident if other topics arise.
  5. Frequent tendency to say things without considering the emotional impact on the listener.
I do not, thank goodness, have any problems with impairments in imagination.

What this is like from the inside: I don't understand people.  Really, I don't.  I can learn, by rote, how to interpret body language and how to function in social situations but I do have to learn it by rote; it doesn't come naturally, and it's something I always have to be consciously thinking of.  I care about people, but I've never really been good at showing it.  In fact, there's a real disconnect between what I'm feeling/thinking and what other people perceive me as thinking/feeling.  Often people don't understand when I'm trying to be funny or sarcastic.  When I was in high school, when I had really horrible awful days, nobody noticed.  But when I was having normal days, people regularly came up to me and asked what was wrong.  And for me, figuring out what people are feeling by looking at their body language is very difficult.  I like books, movies, and tv shows because they tell you what's important, by what they describe or what they focus on; I don't have to sort it out of the background noise.  (Also, that helps me figure out what I need to be watching for with real life people.)  But again, this is something I have to be consciously looking for, and often times I end up looking at the wrong thing because everyone's different and acts differently in different situations.  Most people get most of their information, socially, from body language and voice.  I miss most of that.  One of the reasons I like interacting with people online is that it's a level playing field.  There's nothing there that anybody else can see that I can't.  We all see the same text.  It's not a handicap, here.

I don't like calling it a handicap, philosophically, because on a fundamental level it isn't; it's a large part of who I am and how I think, and if it were miracularly cured tomorrow I wouldn't be me.  I'd be someone who looked like me, but thought about the world very differently than I do.  And yet, functionally, it is a handicap.  I want to have friends, I want to get married and have kids, I want to be a pastor, and it always has and always will make that more difficult for me than for most people.

You know what one of the hardest things for me to do, socially, is?  Small talk.  I understand its function (to demonstrate that you care about someone by paying attention to the minutia of their life; to break the ice; to provide neutral ground when needed).  But it still doesn't make sense to me on a fundamental level.  It's repetitive, it goes in circles, it provides no information of lasting value.  For me, when I'm talking, by far the most comfortable thing is to follow a line of thought out to its logical conclusion, in a straight line.  Kind of like a train on a track.  Small talk ... bounces from what you had for lunch to the weather to who you saw at the store the other day to how 'bout them Yankees to ... and on, and on.  It keeps jumping the track.  And each time it does that, I have to reign myself in, stop, consciously change directions, and try and jump back into the conversation.  It's tiring, and after a while it gets very hard to do.  Also, while I care about the person I'm talking to, I really don't care about the weather.  It was hot.  I already knew that.  It was obvious.  Everybody already knows that.  So why do we have to talk about it?  This holds true for most of the minutia that makes up small talk.  I understand that it's important to other people, but it's not important to me, and like I said, it's hard for me to do, and it's frustrating.  (This is another reason I love the internet.  I don't have to do small talk at all; when I post or comment, I can pick a subject and go for it.  Facebook is the online equivalent of smalltalk, and it's the most efficient way to do it; you comment once per subject and everyone can see it, and you see everyone's comments on their own small talk once in a concise, efficient way.)

I can't deal with people face-to-face for long periods of time without the opportunity to go someplace and be alone with myself and recharge.  Because dealing with people is very hard work.  And that's one of the reasons why it's hard for me to form friendships: much as I might want to have friends, be social, do things with people, it's damn hard work.  And then once I get to know someone well enough to relax around them, they generally find my quirks too difficult to deal with or I offend them by saying/doing something wrong because I missed the cues, or whatever.  I get anxious when I have to deal with people, because I want to do a good job, and I know no matter how hard I try there will always be certain things that I miss.  And yet, when I retreat inside my shell so I don't have to deal with that anxiety, I get very lonely.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-15 03:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I completely understand for you what's it like to live with Aspergers. My husband was diagnosed with Aspergers five years and it was like a light switch had been suddenly thrown on. It made things so much easier to understand the type of person he is, to understand that his inability to listen to me discuss my day wasn't because he was uninterested, his not wanting to go out and socialize with my friends wasn't because he wasn't interested in being with me. It helped me understand and love him more than I already did and it encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a counselor. I'm now a licensed professional counselor and I'd love to work more with adults who are diagnosed with Asperger's because I think it is a sorely misunderstood and under researched illness.

I also agree with you about not taking away the Asperger's. If you did that my husband wouldn't be him anymore and quirks and all, I love him just the way that he is. You are even more rare that you fall into the small percentage of women with Asperger's. If you would like recommendations on a good book to read by a woman with Aspergers, it's called Songs of the Gorilla Nation, it's a beautiful and moving book.

I don't know much about face blindness, but I have heard about it and I wish you the best of luck in coping with this new information that has been tossed your way.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-17 05:52 am (UTC)
thothmes: Dirty Jack and Prince Daniel from Need (One of These Things Is Not Like the Othe)
From: [personal profile] thothmes
Wow, what a lot to find out about yourself all at once! Still it must be a bit of a relief to understand what it is that makes things hard for you that other people keep expecting you to do naturally, and that that was the way you came. I have always told my kids that no one, no one should ever have to apologise for who they are, because there is a beauty in all of us as God made us, but if you don't know that you are that way for organic reasons, and think you're just somehow doing it wrong, it must be hard to stand up for who you are.

Thank you for the view from inside. I've taught swimming now for 36 years and some of my students have been both Aspergers and high-functioning Autistic, and while what you have said would not necessarily have changed the way I taught them, it does help me to understand better what it is to be them.

I'm generally someone who is not squicked by people reacting oddly to social cues, once I understand that this is normal for them, probably because I've worked at special education facilities and camps for the multiply handicapped where one gets to see the extremes, but I am not one of those people who can comfortably and continuously think of the right thing to say, because I'm shy, and I have trouble coming up with things to say in all social situations, unless I know the person very well. If you met me in rl, it would be all too easy for you to assume that I was offended, when in actuality I just have nothing to say (small talk is not my talent either, despite being boringly normal). Please keep on trying. Making a connection with someone who can see you and treasure you the way you are, and with whom you can be yourself is definitely worth it.

Is there a possibility to be a Pastor with an online flock? Is that a ministry that you can invent? From what I have read on your lj and in your fics, you are a thoughtful and caring person. It would be a shame not to use that to make this world a better place.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-17 09:39 pm (UTC)
thothmes: Gleeful Baby on Bouncy Horse Riding Toy (Default)
From: [personal profile] thothmes
Interesting to know. Here in the Northeast, there are Lutherans (mostly transplants from the Midwest), but they are not very thick upon the ground, so that although I understand the basics, I am not up on all of the particulars of the faith.

My husband, while not face blind, is umm... face challenged? He's a doctor, and it sometimes throws him for a loop when he runs across a patient at, say, the grocery store. And when he does figure out who it is, he seldom can find the name, although he always knows the diagnosis!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-01-17 07:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for the very good description. I completely agree with your examples - how small talk is meaningless, hard work and online communication is so much easier because it is a level playing field and much more transparent (it is also less rushed).

Thanks also for the detailed description of how the diagnostic criteria apply to you. I've read the criteria before and found them confusing, self-contradicting and unrealistic- the way I imagined the expressions of such symptoms would apply to no-one. The way you describe their application shows how the criteria can apply to an adult who can still function seemingly OK to some extend.


Date: 2012-01-17 07:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey, can you put a comma after 'hard work' in above comment? Otherwise the meaning of the sentence can be misunderstood, I think. Thank you


beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)

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