When searching for traits, characteristics, or symptoms of Asperger’s (and the rest of the autism spectrum, to an extent) online, the first–and the majority of–information you’ll probably find focuses on the negative aspects, at least as perceived by the “official sources” and “experts”. It begins to sound like a broken record… “lack of empathy”… “rigidity”/”cognitive inflexibility”… “clumsiness”… “obsessions”… “developmental disability”… “socially awkward”… “inappropriate [fill in the blank]”… “impairments”… “unemployment…”
Good lord. If the “rest of the world” sees us that way, refuses to recognize or acknowledge our positive traits, and treats us according to their exclusively-negative stereotype (if they have even formed an impression of us beyond the “Rain Man” stereotype at all), then no wonder that people on the spectrum experience higher rates of depression and self-harm.
It’s time to balance out the equation.
I’ve touched on some of these concepts before, in passing, but it’s time to dedicate a whole post to it. And who knows, there may be follow-up posts, if I think of more to write on this subject. Or I may edit this post on occasion. Time will tell.
Here are several positive characteristics that we Aspie/autistic people have working in our favor:
…..We usually have a pretty sharp and vivid long-term memory. The average person can remember back to about age 4-6. Many of us can remember much further back than that. We also tend to learn visually, so when we see a diagram or a picture, we often absorb it like a sponge. Even when we learn something that doesn’t interest us as much, or something that we initially struggled with, we may take longer to learn….but if we keep at it, we learn it even more thoroughly and tend to remember it for much, much longer. For me, one case in point is Math; I just couldn’t get Algebra or Geometry. They both bored me; I would’ve much rather written a musical score or a short story during class (and when I was younger, I did–to my own peril).
Finally, I matured enough to understand that there are certain subjects I’m simply going to need to master in order to enter university. That was a fact of life. As I learned, I began to understand that although I may not need Algebra or Geometry now, they may come in handy later, and when they did, wouldn’t it be nice to know them well? To this day, 20-22 years later, I can still set up an algebraic equation and solve for “x”. And I have needed to do exactly that, too. I also remember many of the “laws” used in Geometry, as well as applying those laws to “proofs”. (Half of you are cheering; the other half are shivering in PTSD-like fear. I’m sorry about that.)
…..We’re genuine, straightforward, and honest. No hidden agenda here. No double-meaning, either. No alter-ego, split-personality, or two-faced attitude. We don’t play head games or manipulate people. What you see is what you get. What we say is what we mean. We’re not going to BS you with little “white lies” just to make you feel better. If your haircut sucks, we’re not going to tell you “it looks absolutely marvelous!” If you’ve got a string of toilet paper hanging out of your jeans, we’re going to tell you. Basically, you can trust us.
…..We’re drama-free, in general, preferring calm, serenity, and stability instead. We don’t start crap, stir the pot, or pick fights. We’re not itching for the “excitement” that some people derive from being locked in conflict and rollercoaster relationships. We prefer stability. We’re generally logical and cerebral, which sometimes earns us the “lack of empathy” and “flat affect/stoic” raps. We don’t give in to trolls online. We try our best not to get sucked into family drama or catfights among friends. We’d rather leave the room…or the planet.
…..We pay exquisite attention to detail. The way our brains work is to recognize patterns and connect dots that ways that other people may not perceive. We can make some lightning-quick analogies between two seemingly vastly different concepts. We also don’t do things halfway; if we’re going to do it, we’ll do it, and if we’re not, then we won’t. If we decide (or realize) that something is worth our time, we’re going to give it our full effort. “Just good enough” is usually not “good enough” for us. Yoda from Star Wars might’ve had some Aspie traits: “Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.”
…..As alluded to above, we perceive things differently. Many of us view the world with both hemispheres of our brain engaged, and we process certain types of information through different parts of the brain altogether (or so the theories and some scientific research say). This means we process information a bit more slowly at times (although that’s up for debate; I think it depends on the type of information).
We can also, in turn, offer this alternative perspective, contributing a unique viewpoint to a discussion or problem-solving session. We can think up new ideas, by approaching puzzles from an unusual angle. We tend to be very independent thinkers, not easily swayed by outside forces. Most of us use an interesting blend of unwavering logic and strong intuition to make decisions (and essentially, to live the rest of our lives as well). I know that my own gut feelings do not fail me; I’ve learned to trust mine. I know I can offer that, along with my cerebral outlook, to others.
…..We’re usually intelligent; some of us are literally hovering at genius level. Most of us are a hell of a lot more intelligent than we give ourselves credit for. Our IQs can be quite high, which is often one of the major driving forces behind our perceived “social awkwardness”. It’s not that we’re snobby. It’s not that we’re simply “too shy”. It’s that when a small group of people are so far removed intellectually from the societal average, there isn’t much to talk about, and thus, the two groups can’t relate. When one group is much tinier than the other, they lose, for lack of numbers; they’re outvoted.
…..We often have few or no children, which means that unlike so many other average people, we don’t lose our identities (who we are) in our children, attempt to live through our children by forcing them to provide a vehicle for our own desires and regrets, and we’re probably going to be available when you call us up to meet (in a quiet, calm, out-of-the-way place, please) for coffee or dinner or a walk in a park. Having few or no children often means our house will be quiet and our daily schedules and finances will be simpler.
…..We’re odd and quirky, providing variety to an otherwise mundane world. We’re highly individual.
…..We’re rarely–if ever–intrusive. Our degree of sociability and social preference varies widely, but chances are good that the average Aspergian/autistic person is a lot more introverted than the average non-autistic/allistic person. Chances are pretty slim to none than we’re going to come barging in unannounced and uninvited and bang on your door. That might sometimes mean that you have to do a little more work to keep the relationship/friendship alive, but we try to make it worth it.
…..Many of us have a hidden talent up our sleeve. No, we’re not all science lab geeks, astrophysics proteges, human calculators, or what-have-you. We’re not Rain Man, and we’re not all Temple Grandin (although some of us may wish we could be!). Our interests and talents run the gamut: music, art, chemistry, philosophy, invention, writing, biology, genetics, engines/mechanics, genealogy, psychology, foreign languages, math, archeology, photographic memory, business administration, systematizing, analyzing, technology or computer science, history, education, comics, fashion, world religion, physics, crafts, woodworking, theater, economics, gardening, comedy, etc. Sometimes we’ve got more than one. Sometimes we may not realize it; it might be laying dormant, ready to sprout at any time. Some of us aren’t aware of one, and that’s OK, too!
…..We prefer not to be in the spotlight, in general. This means that we probably won’t embarrass you much, if at all. Interacting with us also won’t turn into a constant competition. And we’re definitely not going to take the spotlight away from you or fight you for it, if you want it. We’ll certainly let you have it.
…..We don’t feel any pressure to conform or fit in. This takes a load off our shoulders (and adds a load back into our bank accounts), because we’re not having to “keep up with the Jones’s” (whoever the hell they are), and keep tabs on the latest fashions and trends. Our friends/family can be themselves, too, without added pressure or critique from us. We look beyond superficial physical beauty and weight, gender and sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender, ethnicity and religion, socioeconomic status, what zip code you live in or what car you drive, and other such labels and surface characteristics. We want to know what’s inside, beneath the labels. We want to know what’s at the core. We’ll either accept something or someone, or we won’t. When we decide we like or love something or someone, it’s not because they’re attractive or because we both vote the same way; it’s because we like, admire, look up to, or “gel with” the deepest center of that person.
I think it would be beneficial to everyone, both those on and off the spectrum, if we added this information to the “diagnostic” manuals, too. 🙂