Myths about Asperger’s / autism ~ Part 2

True to form, the previous post got longer than I expected (Lol).  This post is a continuation of a discussion of myths about Asperger’s and the rest of the autism spectrum.  (You can find Part 1 here.)

Also true to (Aspie) form, I’ll get right down to business. 🙂

Myth: Aspie/autistic people seem stoic and unresponsive; therefore, they don’t perceive any stimuli; nothing gets through.

The truth–and the issue–is actually the opposite: everything gets through.  One of the keystone characteristics of the spectrum orientation(s) is that while allistic/off-spectrum people naturally filter out background noise or everyday benign/non-threatening stimuli, the brains of spectrum-oriented people don’t work that way.

Walking into a crowded room, restaurant, or mall is like walking into a wall of sights, sounds, smells, and other peoples’ energy.  It’s a barrage that we’re never quite prepared for and can’t handle for a prolonged period of time.  Although the stoicism might appear to be a calm, nonchalant indifference, it’s actually often a combination of frozen fear underneath a hard shell erected only by the tiring, taxing, and well-practiced ability to act and mask.

Myth: We’re missing out and we’re always alone; therefore, we must be lonely, and depressed.

On the one hand, we often decline to venture out and interact with the rest of the world, having resigned ourselves to the idea that friendships/relationships generally take too much work and the results of our efforts aren’t often worth that effort.  And as mentioned in the first post on this subject, we might not prefer it that way, but have come to accept that that’s just the way it is for us.

On the other hand, we’re not necessarily miserable people who feel lonely all the time.  Quite the contrary, we’re often very well-adjusted at home, peacefully existing in a comfortable and familiar environment.  Having played and worked independently from a young age, we certainly find plenty of pastimes to occupy ourselves contently.  Most of our adult hobbies and activities are a “one-player game”, and we have grown accustomed to a life without much companionship.

Sure, we do crave the company of others every once in a while.  It’s definitely not uncommon for us to get together with a close friend or family member with whom we feel comfortable.  But even a few-hour interaction with that person may indeed result in a need for us to have time to ourselves, to rest and recharge, without doing much or talking to anyone.  We’re not usually depressed about it.  For us, it’s just a fact of life, and most of the time, we’re generally OK with that.

On the specific subject of depression, however, many of us do experience that.  I have from time to time.  It’s different for everyone; my bouts of depression are usually fairly transient, and they hardly ever become prolonged or severe.

For others, however, the depression is deeper and more chronic.  In most of our cases, I think it comes from having to live in a world in which we are ignored, cast aside, unappreciated, forgotten, undervalued, unrecognized, talked down to, patronized, rejected, second-guessed, doubted, and not listened to.  It comes from criticism or belittlement.  It comes from teasing, bullying, harassment, or abuse–either in the past or present.

It comes from not having found a satisfying career or from being constantly reminded of the disability/challenging aspects of being on the spectrum.  It comes from not being able to express ourselves in a way that’s understood.  It comes from the dissolution or fading away of friendships, marriages, or family ties.

It comes from trying so hard, only to succeed so little.  It comes from being surrounded by a world that only perceives our defects and fails to acknowledge our gifts.  It comes from hurtful assumptions made or judgmental accusations.

These seep into–and under–our skin and permeate our souls.  They write the book on who we are.

If enough bleak “paragraphs” are written, then that’s what we become, and that becomes how we live.  (I feel a depression-dedicated post starting to stir (update: there are a couple – one here, and another here), so I’ll expand on this then, in that post; when I do, I’ll probably edit this part for simplification.)

Myth: Asperger’s/autism is just a result of bad parenting; our parents didn’t interact with us, or our parents let us slack off or throw temper tantrums, or somehow failed to socialize us properly.

This was the mantra of the 1950s, when mental health experts assumed schizophrenia caused by dysfunctional or absent parenting and cast the blame solely on the child’s mother for either being absent, or for otherwise failing to establish a close connection with that person in infancy.  And now we’re hearing it again, only this time with autism spectrum classifications.  Ooooh, boy.

We now know that schizophrenia isn’t caused by anything of the sort, and the world at large needs to apply the same newfound science to autism.  Although autism and schizophrenia are completely different issues, society must understand–and accept–the fact that in the debate of Nature vs Nurture, Nature is what sets the stage; Nurture just influences the specifics.  Although what we express outwardly at times (in regards to a meltdown) may appear similar to a tantrum, it isn’t; it’s a totally different animal.  It’s not that our parents were too lax with us; often, the reality is just the opposite.

Myth: We’re lazy, underachievers.

Actually, our minds are probably more active, on average, than the rest of the world.  We brim with ideas, thoughts, feelings, memories, curiosity, interests, and so much more.  The trouble is, these are complex and varied; how do we find the words to express them?  How do we get them out in the open?  Infuse the complicating factor of social anxiety and social awkwardness and the result is: we probably don’t.

Therefore, this brain activity remains internal.  And meanwhile, we simply try to “act normal”; we avoid puzzled stares and unexpected reactions by staying silent and pretending we’re no different from anyone else.  After all, if we don’t say or do anything, we don’t call (usually negative) attention to ourselves.

Then there’s the school situation; we may be bright and intelligent beyond our physical age, but we might be bored when confined to the same activities and the same subject material as everyone else.  I hated school in my early years; I just wanted to do my own thing.  I stared, zoning out for hours, finding comfort in creativity and fantasy worlds.  Since all of that occurred in my head, nobody found out, and nobody could take it away from me.

When we’re underwhelmed, we often do start to slack.  It’s not because we’re slackers; it’s because we’re not being challenged or engaged.  We’re not being partnered with by our teachers, parents, or counselors.  We’re being talked down to, talked at, and told what to do, without being understood.  When we don’t know WHY we’re supposed to do something, we’re probably not going to do it.  The most influential philosophers are on our side; they say: “Begin with the end in mind.”  So, stop calling us lazy and give us an “end” goal or ultimate reason already.

Myth: We’re angry/have “anger issues”, or we’re prone to violent outbursts.

It took me a long-ass time to realize that a mild-to-moderate, passing irritability was being perceived as “anger issues”, or that I’m “an angry person”, and it took me even longer to realize that this irritability was actually the outward manifestation of one of two things: anxiety or fatigue/overstimulation.  I kept responding to accusations of “anger issues”, insisting that I’m not this angry person some people thought I was, but–you guessed it–those protests fell on deaf ears.  (Which, over the years, of course, did begin to make me angry.  Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!)

An allistic (non-autistic) friend of mine who was a teacher had tried to link a teenager’s violent outburst to an autism classification.  They didn’t know this kid well, nor did they know much about Asperger’s/autism, so natch, I probed for more specifics.  The details were fuzzy (the encounter had been a long time ago) and the information was scant, but I had enough to be able to discern that this confrontation had nothing to do with any spectrum orientation.  I stated flatly: “that is not inherent to autism.”  If we’re going to get physical, it’s going to be for a handful of reasons: 1) the Aspie/autistic person is a child, without established inhibitions, and probably during a meltdown; 2) we feel threatened and are trying to defend ourselves; 3) there’s a co-existing condition (i.e. multiple issues in the same person) in which violence is a trait, that has nothing to do with the Asperger’s/autism itself; 4) we’re mad, like anyone else.

Myth: We’re irrational and rigid; we’re “stuck” in routines.

We may not always be able to make sense of our routines, or know why we need to carry them out.  Personally, my routines are relatively unnoticeable, successfully fading into the background unless you’ve spent a lot of time around me or watched me carefully.  They blend seamlessly into regular life and don’t appear to be much different from those of the people around me.  I eat with a spoon instead of a fork, and a cereal-sized bowl instead of a plate.  I blog, tweet, read, and comb through other peoples’ blogs and the research journals.  I keep my keys, wallet, and phone on the ledge by the front door.  I have one package of two Theo dark chocolate peanut butter cups after dinner.  I put my work bag in the same place and take out my computer at night, after I’ve shed my work clothes or jeans in favor of jammies (which are yoga pants or light sweat pants).  That’s about all I can think of.  I go to work, come home, and do my thing.  Weekends work the same way, except I’m home pretty much the whole time; venturing out is extremely rare.  I know which weekdays I’m in the office and which ones I work at another location.

On the surface, these don’t look that abnormal.  Everybody goes to work, comes home, watches a movie, reads a book, goofs off on the computer, etc.  But throw me a monkey wrench that disrupts my routine, and my distaste for that is unexpectedly strong.  My routines bring me stability, which reduces stress.  They’re something I don’t have to consider deeply, something I don’t have to decide, something that’s just sort of a given.

Myth: We’re irrational and phobic.

We’re not phobic, in the regular sense.  We do experience a social awkwardness that can easily bubble into anxiety territory.  We do get anxiety about other things, too.  But I wouldn’t call it a phobia.

Myth: “Meltdowns” are just voluntary tantrums that you throw when you don’t get what you want.

Please see this post, and read from top to bottom. 🙂

Myth: We’re just trying to get attention.  Additionally, we’re just perpetuaters of an autism “fad” because it’s the cool, new, hip “thing” to “have”, and everybody has it.

There is zero attention-seeking behavior in Asperger’s/autism.  It’s simply not a trait.  In fact, we’re usually making constant effort not to draw attention.  So much so that we get accused of being antisocial reclusive homebodies.  Seriously, we can’t win!  Can anyone give us a break somewhere?

We’re also not perpetuating any “fad”.  Spectrum people have been around a lot longer than recent decades; some of the healthcare providers and other professionals are simply getting (somewhat) better at detecting it, especially in children.  Parents are becoming more aware, and having their children evaluated more proactively.

Many of us, however, got passed up.  Many of us were born during the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s, when it wasn’t cool to succumb to the Establishment and have children, and many of our parents were Baby Boomers who took revolutionary new “hands-off” approaches to parenting, either because they were burned out from the drug/hippie scene or they were burned out from working too hard in the later-’80s corporate world.  Either way, we were often latchkey kids who started babysitting our siblings before we had entered puberty, or whose parents were otherwise somewhat less-than-traditional.

Most importantly, an autism diagnosis was reserved for severe behavioral manifestations and the “need” for an institution or special ed classes, and an Asperger’s diagnosis was nonexistent.  Now that the world is gathering more knowledge, the internet is making that knowledge more freely available, and people are becoming smarter, savvier, and more self-reflective, we’re starting to catch on…to ourselves and the truth about our nature.  We’re late to the party, but we’re arriving in droves.

Oh geez, I didn’t expect this, but it’s going to go to a Part 3.  Well, with any luck, you’ve enjoyed these posts so far, because another installment will be on its way in the near future has been written lol 🙂

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