I cringe every time I hear the word “antisocial” used to describe someone (or people in general) on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. I’m baffled by the refusal on the part of those who statements like this, especially professionals or other conventionally-respect authorities, to show a little humility and sit down to talk with us. I’m equally baffled by the assumptions these people make in place of such a chat.
Just because you have a degree or a license doesn’t mean you know everything. Assumptions are still assumptions, and they can make one look like a foolish jackhole. Just because someone with a fancy academic pedigree or a rank of high authority assumes an idea to be true, that doesn’t make it so. The truth is the truth.
I’m confused and frustrated to be constantly reminded that although we, the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, are perfectly capable of stringing words into sentences in some way, shape, or form, just like the rest of the world in general, we continue to be ignored, marginalized, and sidelined. We’re perfectly capable of giving our viewpoint and sharing our perspective, but ours is never sought. We might be the subject of the conversation, but we hardly ever receive the invite to be a part of it.
Would that be Vexation Without Representation?
(See what I did there?)
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah–“antisocial”. Let’s explore that topic. I feel the need to push the keys around and get some words on record.
Defining the vocabulary is usually a good place to start, so why not?
JRANK.org, which contains a decent free psychology encyclopedia, defines Antisocial Behavior as:
A pattern of behavior that is verbally or physically harmful to other people, animals, or property, including behavior that severely violates social expectations for a particular environment.
PsychCentral gives a similar definition, but from a slightly different angle:
Antisocial Personality Disorder is a disorder that is characterized by a long-standing pattern of disregard for other people’s rights, often crossing the line and violating those rights.
JRANK goes on break down Antisocial Behavior, particularly in children, into two elements:
- the presence of antisocial (i.e., angry, aggressive, or disobedient) behavior, and
- the absence of prosocial (i.e., communicative, affirming, or cooperative) behavior.
PsychCentral illuminates several interesting facts regarding Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD):
- It first appears in later childhood or early adulthood, and persists throughout life.
- This is the clinical term for the phenomenon which popular culture refers to as sociopathy or psychopathy.
- Neither sociopathy nor psychopathy actually exist as formal diagnostic conditions.
- People with this disorder may have an over-inflated sense of themselves; they may be excessively arrogant, opinionated, self-confident, or cocky.
- They may, for example, the belief that ordinary work is beneath them, or perhaps they may be unrealistic in their assessment of their current problems or their future.
- They may be superficially charming, flippant or glib, deriving satisfaction from talking over other peoples’ heads with fancy jargon or an otherwise convoluted vocabulary.
- It’s a pervasive pattern that must be seen in two or more of the following areas:
- interpersonal functioning
- impulse control
And, although most people would like to believe that APD is a rare condition, it’s actually rather common. Just like Asperger’s/autism spectrum conditions, new APD diagnoses top over 200,000 per year (the top tier prevalence category; I’m not sure about exact numbers of annual new diagnoses).
According to PsychCentral, symptoms of APD include:
- Failure to conform to social norms (such as established laws, etc)
- Deceit, such as lying (i.e. the “pathological liar”), using aliases (again, think in terms of law enforcement), or scamming other people for their own gain
- Poor impulse control, failure to plan ahead or consider the potential consequences of their actions
- Irritability/Aggression, usually involving a history of physical fights or bullying
- Recklessness and disregard for their own or others’ safety
- Irresponsibility, such as being unable to hold down a job or make payments on loans, etc.
- Lack of remorse, especially after wronging someone else
To an outsider (most likely an ignorant one–either one who is genuinely, innocently ignorant, or perhaps someone who willfully remains ignorant due to an underlying current of judgmentalism), someone on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum might appear to share some of those characteristics used to describe the Antisocial Personality.
After all, (meanwhile), Asperger’s/autism is characterized by what is commonly known as the Triad of (Social) Impairments as part of our set of diagnostic benchmarks:
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
- Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understand relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
However, the way I see it, Asperger’s/autism and Antisocial Personality have very little in common. So why might the uninformed connect the word “antisocial” to people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum? I’ll explain, working my way down the bullet points of the list of Antisocial Personality symptoms, comparing and contrasting the two conditions as I go along.
Failure to conform to social norms:
We (Aspie/autistic people) also often “fail” to conform to social norms, much preferring to march to the beats of our own drums. We like to work at our own pace. We tend to have higher instances of gender fluidity, nonbinarism, or other types of nonconformity. We like to build our environments to suit our sensory systems and construct routines that fit us like comfortable shoes, all in order to make life easier.
However, in stark contrast to APD, the social norms we choose to shirk usually have minimal–if any–impact and are relatively harmless–even if embarrassing–faux pas. In general, we’re not setting things on fire, vandalizing property, driving at breakneck speed, beating people up, or otherwise getting into trouble with the law. In fact, most people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum prefer to stay out of that limelight, thank you very much.
About the only form of “deceit” (if one could even call it that) that I’ve seen in people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum (including myself) are the uses of pseudonyms, screen names, and avatars online. However, this custom is highly justified and hardly immoral or harmful. We might not have fully “come out” as Aspergian/autistic to everyone in our lives, nor would it be advisable for many of us to do so, and thus, if we’re going to offer up our voices and other contributions to the world, we might not be able to afford to slap our real names and faces on it. I argue that that practice could hardly be considered deceit.
Unlike Antisocial Personality peeps, we’re not repeatedly lying to anyone, nor would the vast majority of us dream of conning or scamming anyone else. If anything, we’re much more honest, direct, and straightforward. I enjoy our Aspie/autistic no-frills, no-muss, no-fuss style. With my fellow autism spectrum community, I know where I stand, and I try to make it clear where they stand with me (which is overwhelmingly positive). Some people might think we’re shifty or dubious in light of our scanty eye contact, but those people obviously didn’t get the memo that one’s honesty has hardly anything to do with one’s level of eye contact.
Poor impulse control/lack of planning ahead:
Although Asperger’s/autistic people may experience “executive function” (EF) challenges, an umbrella term under which planning, critical thinking, complex decision-making, and even physical coordination are nestled, that’s a slightly different phenomenon than that which pertains to Antisocial people. Our version of EF challenge might manifest in benign ways such as running into a wall because we turn a corner too early, or forgetting something at home or school, or perhaps veering off our to-do list because we didn’t stay focused. Or, if you’re like me, you didn’t check to see if you had enough peanut butter before starting to make that sandwich. It’s nothing that will harm anyone, especially not on purpose.
On the other hand, the APD version of poor impulse control can hurt people. They might be hyped up on grandiose self-thoughts, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting it way too close when pulling in front of other cars, and they could very well cause serious damage–to themselves and other people. They do this because they honestly think they’re capable, and they don’t stop to consider that maybe they won’t succeed next time. They simply don’t think that far ahead, nor do they care to do so, because they figure They’ve Got This.
Personally, I frequently feel irritated, and I’m pretty sure that my spot on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum has something to do with that. It’s not like it’s “all autism’s fault”, though; it’s my own individual, personal flavor of my Asperger’s/Autistic OS. Not everyone on the spectrum is prone to irritation; that’s just how my nervous system expresses its periodic feelings of stress, overload, resentment, over-stimulation, or bombardment. Rarely do I become aggressive; if I do, it’s usually in very extreme situations, after which I’ve given every benefit of the doubt and taken every countermeasure I’m capable of. In my rare aggressive instances, the target is not a person or people, nor is it physically expressed; it’s usually verbal, and may be directed at a specific individual or limited group, or maybe even a concept/idea that I find offensive.
In the Antisocial Personality, however, this irritability is taken to a whole new level, and it becomes aggression much more frequently. These folks get loud and overbearing, attempting to intimidate others so that those people succumb and submit to their control. They’ll initiate conflict, picking fights with others; they may also respond in a very exaggerated manner to a slight comment, often resorting to bullying.
Recklessness and disregard for safety:
(This was covered under “Poor impulse control”, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself here) 🙂
Lack of remorse, especially after wronging someone else:
This Antisocial Personality attribute is perhaps the scariest one, in my book. Everyone is human, and all humans make mistakes. In fact, that’s one of the few “all/always” statements that I feel comfortable making about all populations across the globe. Sometimes, those mistakes hurt other people. Sometimes, someone gets hurt through the action of someone who is completely unaware of the harm they’re causing. It happens. I’m sure I’ve done it.
What separates the two populations (the Antisocial people from the Asperger’s/autism spectrum people) is this: when the person realizes they’ve negatively impacted someone else in some way through their words/actions, how do they respond to that realization? Are they genuinely upset at the idea, or are they cold, hard, and callous about it?
To the (warning: broad brushstrokes ahead) general neurotypical population, we Aspergian/autistic people might appear to be callous (or at the very least, ambivalent or nonchalant) upon hearing that their actions affected someone in a negative way. However, in 99% of the cases, it merely seems that way. If we appear ambivalent at first, give us time; we might be processing (either the verbal communication itself, or maybe the memory of the incident in question, or perhaps our emotional response to hearing the news, or possibly a socially-correct verbal response that contains all the “right” elements fit for a neurotypical-dominated society). During this Processing time, we may or may not be capable of putting together the right facial expression or verbal response just yet, because all of our resources are devoted to processing what we’ve just heard. Chances are, hearing that we’ve badly affected someone in some way is fairly earth- (and soul-)shattering news for us, and thus, we’re probably reeling from it.
What irritates people about our initial response to such news is generally the lack of one, at first. What irks people is the non-response we express as we pull inward, crunch facts and feelings, and attempt to assemble a gameplan to pick up the pieces. In the meantime, if we’ve just heard that we’ve said or done something wrong, the last thing we’re going to want to do is do or say anything else, at least until we’ve pulled ourselves together.
Contrast that with the Antisocial Personality response, which might simply be to shrug and fire off retorts like, “oh well”, “tough beans”, or “that’s their problem”. They’ll simply refuse to acknowledge that their actions were wrong. Or, they might haul off and pitch a fiery-tempered fit, going off explosively about their victim, or even perhaps the third party who simply acted as the messenger.
Once in a fluorescent blue moon, I might not feel very sorry about something I said or did that might have irked or offended someone. I might actually believe that that person was a little irrational and oversensitive. There is extra-sensitive, and there is oversensitive. Extra-sensitive is when you’re bothered by truly horrible concepts; oversensitive is when you can’t handle ordinary concepts or you get offended when someone tries to present a logical thesis. If I’m talking about ordinary, everyday, commonly-accepted-as-non-offensive situations, concepts, or vocabulary, or I’m making a logical statement, and someone gets offended, I’m sorry that they were negatively offended, but that’s as far as my remorse goes, since, in such a circumstance, I truly don’t think I did anything wrong. That’s not to say that I don’t feel bad for the person, but I don’t feel bad on that intense, deep, internal level. However, I don’t think that makes me an Antisocial Personality; if I know I truly hurt someone, however, I’ll feel devastated and incurably horrible.
Given all this discussion and upon hitting that Total Button and looking at the sum in a big-picturesque panorama, I can’t see how, the nanosecond one scratches away the first grains of sand from the surface, Asperger’s/autism and Antisocial Personality share anything in common or look anything alike.
So please, general population, if you’re using the term “antisocial” to describe us, please stop. It doesn’t fit at all. It’s like making the remark that we shoot purple rays from our auras or something, and it only makes you look ignorant and confused.
If an outsider wanted to call me “antisocial”, would it be just because I want to read a book or stay in for the evening, or maybe because I prefer not to be the life of the party?
“Antisocial” is not synonymous with introversion.
One is profoundly difficult to deal with, the other is a mild annoyance at most.
References & Further Reading:
“Antisocial Behavior – Causes and Characteristics, Treatment” – from psychology.JRANK.org
“Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms” – from PsychCentral.com
“Antisocial Personality Disorder” – from PsychologyToday.com
“Antisocial Behavior” – from HealthOfChildren.com
“Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Diagnostic Criteria” – from CDC.gov (United States Center for Disease Control)
This is one of my more popular posts!
(Image Credit: Ninjatic)