Still peeling the onion. Asperger’s/autism discovery as an adult, for me, has been a never-ending–yet unpredictable–cycle of unpacking and reframing.
Unpack, reframe, unpack, reframe.
I unpack each trait as it hits home, leaving its fingerprint on my core, and then I peer through the retro-kaleidoscope that is my lens and apply the theoretical aspect of said trait to my life. Unpacking (for me) is the discovery of traits and tendencies; reframing is the application of them to their manifestation in real life.
It’s a process. 🙂 The important part is to be patient and allow it to germinate and grow and bloom and unfold and spread wings–and give you yours with which to fly.
Invariably, defense is never far away. After all, how else could I deal with the various expectations and accusations and labels lobbed at me over the years, for which I had previously had no self-expressive words? I had to make up for lost time.
By “labels”, I don’t mean diagnostic labels like Asperger’s/autism, ADHD, and the like. By “labels”, I mean those simple, everyday words that carry a subtle (or not so subtle) pejorative weight, casting shadows that linger.
Words like “picky eater”.
No, I’m not a picky eater. “Picky” implies a certain air of snobbery, as though a particular item is not “good enough”. I’m picky about what kind of cat food I buy, because I’m concerned about my fur-kids’ health. To be “picky” implies that there is a choice, and that it’s a strictly voluntary one. And it’s usually used as a criticism, to convey an unjustifiable elitism.
Food is another matter entirely. I’m a “super-taster”. Oranges are utterly sour to me, eggs taste too sulfur-y, mashed potatoes hit my gag reflex, vinegar (or anything “pickled”) is so sharp it burns.
Believe it or not, I want to be able to eat oranges. I want to enjoy a good salad at an Italian restaurant (which often involves a vinaigrette). High-quality eggs are akin to a superfood, according to some dietary circles. Why would I want to give them the axe? The truth is, I don’t. My tastebuds and neurological reflexes have given them the axe for me.
Some people like the sharpness, the sourness, the citrus-ness, etc, of different foods. But what if it was too much? To get an idea of what this might be like, just eat an orange peel; most of its citrus flavor is concentrated there. Or, to get an idea of what the sourness is like, eat a lemon peel. Not the citrus fruits, but their peels. I’m not you, so I can’t say for sure, but I imagine that the peels are a lot more intense than the fruit itself.
I now know that my “super-tasting” characteristic is likely a real-life manifestation of Sensory Sensitivity, a common trait on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. Ah!–explanation at last. I felt like running around and waving my arms in my former babysitters’ faces and saying, “see? See?? It’s not me being ‘picky’ and difficult’. It’s a Thing!”
Let’s take another one: “Underachiever”.
Ooooh, this one grinds me. It implies laziness, slackerdom, indifference, not caring.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
You see, I want to learn. I want to achieve. I want to succeed. I always have. I wanted everything a growing mind needs and wants. In fact, I probably wanted it more than anyone else in my kindergarten and elementary school classes. They were concerned with goofing off and chattering with each other, while I had my nose in books. Books were more interesting, and learning was more fun, than any chattering or goofing off.
But when Report Card Time came around (or ugh, those dreaded Parent-Teacher Conferences), my grades were lower. Why? Because I didn’t do my homework, that’s why. Why should I spend time drawing circles on worksheets–or later on, diagramming simple sentences–when I already knew the material and was ready to move on to something else?
Underachievement comes from boredom, my pretties. Boredom is a mere by-product of a much deeper problem: a steaming compost heap of insisted-upon mediocrity, pressure to conform, material below the student’s aptitude level, and an inability of the also-mediocre education system to adapt, reach, and negotiate with my brain-wiring.
When information is presented in a particular way, it might not stick. Present the same information, even with increased complexity, in a different way, and it downloads effortlessly into my brain, to be remembered for decades or even a lifetime.
That ain’t “underachievement”; that’s an alternative learning style.
“Oversensitive” is another term that frosts my ass.
There are two “flavors” or meanings of this word for me.
The first context involves personal comments–that is, those made About Me. I usually can’t tell if someone’s joking with me, yanking my chain, or pulling my leg (the last two sound painful…). If someone makes a remark, there are times when I’ve been unable to distinguish affectionate joking from sarcasm or criticism. Having been teased and bullied relentlessly in my younger years, I quickly learned that most comments made to my personality or appearance (or whatever) are likely to be condescending or critical.
My brain developed a sensitive, negative, and efficient detect-and-react protocol in response. It didn’t take long for that to become the default response to every comment unless/until proven otherwise. After all, that’s what brains do: they learn, adapt, and become Better Next Time. And there were many Next Times for critical comments.
But what happens when someone comes along and they’re joking? Initially, they probably get the hostile, sensitive response. It’s not their fault, but Top Secret: it’s not mine, either. Not that I’m into victimhood, but I’ve been made a victim of both chronic bullying and thus also my own neurology.
The second context involves a sensitivity in general. I can’t handle seeing or hearing about suffering, particularly that borne by the innocent and vulnerable. I also have a heightened reaction even to situations such as loud sports-obsessed rednecks – I find their obnoxiousness extreme.
Yet, because sports obsession–and the hooting, hollering, cheering, and yelling that comes with it–are considered within the realm of “normal behavior”, and there are more sports fans than there are Aspergian/autistic people, then it is they who are socially permitted to behave the way they do, and it is I/we who must adapt or leave. My fight-or-flight response might be kicking into full gear around people like that, but since fighting those people isn’t an option, I “simply” avoid those places.
I end up avoiding a lot of places. Malls, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Especially during peak-traffic times (i.e., Saturdays at the mall are out).
The same goes for news headlines and whatnot: I simply don’t think the world is sensitive enough. We should be saddened by certain current events. We should be offended or outraged by certain attitudes and injustices. If not, how truly human are we? Sure, I think that being offended can be taken (way) too far. But there are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed, certain behaviors that simply shouldn’t be permitted. And yet, society at large shrugs off cruelty as though people were covered with an invisible oily film.
I dare say that the crux of the issue is not “My Oversensitivity Problem”, but it’s more of a “Obnoxious and Callous Society Problem”. The world at large has poor impulse control and little empathy (ha! Irony), but it’s me who has to pay. (Hence my desire for more societal/cultural adaptation, to make the world more inclusive–and more sensitive/empathetic? Society is oversensitive alright, but in all the wrong ways).
But somehow the alpha-dogs and social engineers always elbow everybody else out of the way, and it seems as though most of the rest of the population, even if they aren’t alphas themselves, they wish they were and probably believe that with enough effort, they could be someday. Thus, they wouldn’t want to extinguish the very traits they’re looking to emulate.
Meh. So much for diversity; so much for progress. When a true alternative person comes along, they’re/we’re/I’m still shunned!
My defenses are largely within my mind. Sure, I’d like to go back to everyone who’s ever lobbed any nasty snark at me and zap them right back, but another aspect of my Asperger’s/autism that I’m starting to unpack is the realization of just how much sheer elbow grease that would take, and I’m starting to be kinder to myself in terms of giving myself a break and pacing myself so that I have the energy for the limited outside interaction (that which I can’t avoid) when I need it.
Otherwise, my best defense is education. Oh, you want to call me This or That? Well, allow me to enlighten you! That might be the best longer-term solution anyway–for the mental health of the world itself. 🙂
- I’m not “picky”; I’m simply tastebud-amped. It’s not something I can control or decide.
- I’m not “underachieving”; I’m bored off my ass. I learn better using some methods than others, and apparently mine aren’t the default mode of education systems.
- I’m not “oversensitive”; the world is loud, obnoxious, aggressive, borderline-abusive, and fairly callous and conscience-free. “Progress” and “diversity” embrace appear to be lip-service only.
- Bonus: I’m not a “procrastinator”; I work best under pressure, and I’m more motivated as a deadline approaches. So as long as I get the task(s) done, who the hell cares?
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