This is the second in a sequence of occasional short posts exploring the very personal question whether or not I am ‘on the spectrum’.
An initial post set out my immediate reactions.
I made it clear that, if the answer is affirmative, I must be very much a borderline case:
‘If there’s a spectrum I’m hanging off the undeserving end. I don’t want to deflect time and attention away from the poor sods who really need help and support.’
With that in mind, I invite you to consider ‘the case for the prosecution’ – the testimony of a family member who’s convinced that I’m a bona fide Aspie.
This may help others who are struggling with a diagnosis, official or unofficial, by setting down a benchmark of sorts.
Is what I’m about to reveal ‘normal behaviour’ or not? Do I present evidence consistent with the syndrome, or am I simply a nasty piece of work, but otherwise indistinguishable from any random introvert in the street?
I’ve reproduced the arguments as faithfully as possible, clarified and confirmed the factual correctness of this post, refrained from riposte and self-defence, but retained editorial control over exactly how the arguments are expressed.
My interlocutor identified five overlapping reasons why I tip over the edge of the parameters of normality: inflexibility, lack of empathy, egocentricity, social isolation and communication difficulties.
This is the order in which the points arose in discussion and I’ve retained that order below. Some of the material in one section might equally belong in another.
I seem marginally better on this front since I stopped working full time, but now it is easier for me to be more flexible and there is also less need for flexibility, since childcare is no longer a factor.
I still prefer (need?) to stick to a fixed routine. If there’s a departure from routine it has to be known in advance, ideally as part of a pre-agreed plan, otherwise I flounder.
I tend to follow restrictive annual routines. For example I insisted for several years that we should spend our annual summer holidays lying on beaches on islands with warm temperatures.
This didn’t suit other family members who disliked the heat and were ‘bored rigid’.
I can respond to emergencies, but my definition of an emergency is pitched extremely high. I don’t consider adjustments to make someone else’s life easier. Spontaneity and responsiveness are extremely rare.
I see agreements about how we should spend our time as inflexible unbendable rules – I dislike deviating from them without good reason, or revisiting them once confirmed. I apply a strict definition of ‘good reason’.
For others such agreements are broad statements of intent rather than rules; they can be set aside if an alternative opportunity arises, or to accommodate third parties.
I place far too much emphasis on my work, whether paid or unpaid, as well as on my other ‘projects’. I put them ahead of my family’s needs.
When working full-time it was too important to me to catch the same train every day, to be at my desk by a certain time. Work took too much of my energy and commitment, leaving too small a residue for my family responsibilities.
Lack of empathy
I get no apparent pleasure from seeing other people enjoying themselves: it doesn’t make me feel ‘warm inside’.
I don’t understand or share in others’ grief, particularly when displayed in relation to someone – however close – with whom they have had a less than smooth relationship.
(‘Less than smooth’ is a more diplomatic phrase than the one I originally envisaged, but diplomacy is not my strongest suit.)
I display too little curiosity about the activities and feelings of others, especially those closest to me.
Particularly when there is initial secrecy or reticence, I don’t see or understand the signals that show why this can and should be breached, for example after the verdict in recent jury service:
‘You were the one person I really wanted to tell how I felt about the experience’.
I pay no attention to how I can be helpful to others. If they are having a hard time I don’t seem to wonder how they feel – and what I can do to make them feel better.
I don’t pick up the signals that I can be helpful in small things – helping someone on with a coat when they are having difficulty, or making their lunch when they are short of time. I don’t see, so I don’t offer.
Unless they ask me explicitly for help I assume that another person’s problems are not mine.
I presume that other people are mostly self-reliant, like me. I expect young people to develop self-reliance (for example by attending routine medical and dental appointments alone).
I’m not properly equipped to offer in-depth emotional support. I regard emotion as something to be managed personally and internally; rarely (if ever) displayed openly.
Because I am largely self-sufficient in this respect I expect others to be so too.
I perceive everything from my own point of view; if something isn’t important to me I won’t do it, regardless of how others feel. This inhibits others from inviting me to take part in new or different activities.
It makes me uncomfortable when others do me favours. I don’t want to be beholden to them – I don’t seem to understand or appreciate the ‘give and take’ of friendship.
Instead I see this as a ‘tit for tat’ thing: if someone does something for me I must reciprocate in kind immediately.
I’m too ready to think I’m being helpful when allowing others the freedom to make small decisions, rather than taking those decisions myself. Expecting them always to take the initiative can be stressful and wearing.
I impose my own set of rules to arrive at consensus on joint decisions, whereas I should more often set aside my preferences and ‘pull out all the stops’ to make the other person happy.
Those close to me have compromised much over the years, getting vicarious pleasure from seeing me enjoy myself. But there is a ‘tipping point’ beyond which this is acceptable. I don’t have a clue where that tipping point is.
I have difficulty coping with large groups and having the house full of people.
When we do infrequently attend social events I need ‘keeping an eye on’ to check that I’m OK. Often I’ll sit in a corner or read a book, which doesn’t always send out the right messages. Sometimes I’ll use alcohol as a prop.
More often than not I’ll refuse to attend. Given my boorish behaviour I think I won’t be missed. I don’t believe I have anything to offer socially, but other people wonder where I am.
I won’t organise my own social life. What little I have is strictly the property of others. I rarely spend time away from home of my own volition. I don’t like venturing out of my comfort zone.
Telling someone they look good when they don’t is dismissed as empty flattery. If someone asks ‘the bum question’ they must always expect a ruthlessly honest answer.
If someone is upset I don’t always see it. If I haven’t been wrong I don’t see the need to apologise. I don’t understand that an apology can help smooth over the situation and make the other person feel better.
I expect clear and unambiguous instruction (otherwise I might take a misleading instruction literally) and ask many questions to arrive at certainty over arrangements. This is wearing for the person who has to answer the questions.
I don’t respond to vague instructions to ‘sort out x’ and don’t appreciate that sometimes suggestions are tantamount to requests for action.
I don’t like making phone calls and will often take evasive action to avoid them.
I’m addicted to logic, but don’t appreciate that logic has its limitations:
‘When your wife is watching her weight that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want a birthday cake!’
Powerful testimony from the star witness for the prosecution – perhaps I’m more profoundly Aspie than I first assumed.
I certainly feel rather abashed, so I can’t be a hopeless case.
Maybe I can explain – or at least justify – some of this aberrant behaviour, though it’s going to be an uphill struggle to persuade you that I am not guilty as charged.
But wait. This is all unremittingly negative. There must be a positive side. I shall begin with a cross-examination to bring out the many compensating advantages of associating with an Aspie, whether full-on or borderline.
That will be the topic of the next post in this series.