THOUGHT PORN: [UNDERSTANDING MY ASPERGERS]

SEMANTICS AND SOCIAL ANTICS

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Some Experience.

We live in a modern world, technology is rife and the pace is beyond human. We have all these new ways to communicate: Facebook, WhatsApp, Email, Text, FaceTime, iMessage, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Tinder. This vast assortment of options can be overwhelming to anyone. Especially when there are so many sub-languages to learn: texting, sexting, tweeting, poking, picture messages, voice messages, links, hashtags, URL’s and more.

Now add Aspergers and Autistic Spectrum Disorders into the mix. There is debate as to whether these should be diagnosed as disorders or just differences, and there are many levels and differing traits on the scale of Autistic Spectrum Disorders that can make putting a diagnosis in a box difficult; but overall one thing that is a consistent difficulty for sufferers is communication and social interaction.

I was diagnosed somewhere between Aspergers and High Functioning Autism during a prolonged stay in a psychiatric hospital aged 17. Although this is considered a late diagnosis, once I’d looked it up and asked some questions, it came as no surprise to me, and in fact offered some relief in the acknowledgement that I wasn’t just “wrong” or “stupid”, there was a name to match these difficulties I was experiencing and other people experienced these things too.

Naturally like any mental health disorder / difference, there is a tricky balance to strike between knowing you have one and acknowledging it, versus indulging in it until it to holds you down and disables your life. Acknowledging it and letting someone know you have it in certain situations may help someone to help you when it comes to communication and empathy.
However, if you sit there telling yourself you have an ASD all day then you may get bogged down in negativity struggling to proceed with your life. This in itself is tough as it is typical of people with ASD’s to experience repetitive behaviours and depression, so naturally the default pattern would be to get bogged down in negative thoughts repetitively. Furthermore, there is a stigma attached to having any mental health variance; employment, friendships, romantic relationships and even basic daily tasks such as speaking to the till operator at a supermarket can become stressful and overwhelming tasks.

Over the last 6 years and looking into my past with retrospect, along with developmental studies that were carried out on me in hospital, I have some experience in identifying some of the traits that match my typically ASD behaviours which affect my daily functioning, such as:

-Below average nonverbal communication skills, yet above average verbal communications skills.
-Tendency to discuss self rather than others.
-One-sided conversation and “verbosity”. (Wordiness / using lots of words).
-Inability to understand issues or phrases that are considered “common sense”.
-Difficulty understanding the concept of time.
-Speaking Figuratively / Literally in figures of speech (Metaphors / Similes).
-Improper or very few social interactions, (Explains why it’s so hard to keep up to date with so many different people and I usually only manage 2 or 3 consistently at any one time.)
-Obsession with specific unique topics.
-Tendency to discuss self rather than others.
-Awkward Mannerisms.
-Repetitive routines and rituals.
-Socially and emotionally inappropriate behaviour and the inability to interact successfully with peers. (causes confusion with “boundaries”).
-Problems with non-verbal communication, including the restricted use of gestures, limited or inappropriate facial expressions or a peculiar, stiff gaze. (Yep, that weird stroke face I do).
-Speaking in an overly formal manner. (Hence the essay).
-Speaking in monotone / not pausing for breath.
-Repetitive speech.
-Inability to read subtext and small physical gestures, (sarcasm, hidden meanings, jokes etc).
-(at times), Total self-obsession and a complete inability to empathise.
-Difficulties living independently.

Now these are just a selection of symptoms and patterns that I experience as someone who is diagnosed with an ASD. It is different for everyone but as time goes on I learn more about myself as well as learning certain tools and tricks on how to either, “pause and adjust”, to these traits or how to turn them to my advantage and use them as, “Super-Powers”. Personally there is a lot I wish to achieve in my physical life. I am a very ambitious person and I see it as a necessity to learn how to do both the acknowledging and space making things I may need to do, as well as the utilising and advantage making things.
On the whole I’ve found ignoring these traits pretty ineffective and in some cases damaging. Ignoring them, pretending they don’t exist or blocking them out with drugs can sometimes work, but like many problems they have to be acknowledged and worked on to improve. Simple ignorance is just as useful as procrastination or lying to ones self. I’m not saying it’s an easy task to address these differences; in fact it’s bloody exhausting, however, as I said, there’s certain things I wish to experience in life, (material and spiritual), and for me to proceed I must be honest with myself.

Naturally people who suffer with Aspergers or ASD’s will suffer heightened levels of anxiety. I worry everyday that I may offend someone when I didn’t intend to, that i’ve said or done something that was inappropriate, that I can’t trust my own eyes and senses when it comes to someone else’s body language and that I may never be able to get out of my own head long enough to fully articulate myself to another or to listen to them properly in return. It is stressful and exhausting to constantly analyse every word and action of those around you, let alone the extra strain of social media and technology placing even higher expectations on somewhat subliminal communication. I am left feeling selfish, lost, confused, lonely and tired, and this is before I’ve even completed the basics of a daily routine.

I am going to talk about some of the things that I have come across in conversation and situations that I have found to be useful things to acknowledge and may help others to understand what makes communication easier or more difficult between people such as myself who suffer from an ASD.

One common thing I’ve found to cause communicational confusion is the rhetorical question, “You know what I mean?”. Chances are that I will not know what you mean. Even if it is something that is considered common knowledge. My experience is that I’m often not aware of what is common knowledge. I cannot make an assumption based on common knowledge if I do not posses this knowledge. It will make communication clearer if you just tell me what you mean, even if this may seem completely obvious to you and you didn’t expect to have to explain it. If it’s something you can’t explain instantly, then perhaps take some time and we can discuss it again later. I will also have had some extra time to try and figure it out my end.
Further to this, if I have educated and memorised an aspect of common knowledge and correctly applied it to what I think you are trying to tell me, then the emotional reaction will still be confused as deep down I have no feeling behind the common knowledge as it is not ingrained in me like it is in others.

Similar to this are the difficulties I experience in understanding subtext. If someone is being sarcastic or making a joke then I have a tendency to “not get it”, or not, “find it funny”. I can often only understand the words coming out of your mouth. I have no vision or concept of the underlying nature of what you are implying behind the words, only the words themselves. So if you say to me, “your work is rubbish”, because my work is good and you are trying to push me to do it even better, then I will not respond well. I will just believe that my work is rubbish and fall into repetitive negative thoughts and obsessive self-loathing. I did not understand the subtext you were trying to communicate with me.
If you are being sarcastic and you say, “Omg you’ve really pissed off so and so”, and you are really just making a joke, then I will not understand; chances are that I will panic that I have unintentionally hurt yet another person with my inability to properly communicate with people.

Another way in which subtext can be confusing is when I cannot understand my own subtext. The subtext I am unintentionally giving out. For example, in a certain situation I may be attempting to respond with my words instead of reacting with an emotion; yet to the other person I am completely transparent. They can see my emotional subtext even though I cannot. I can only compare this to me thinking I’m fully clothed and then finding out that the other person I’m speaking to is looking at me with x-ray goggles. This means that it is pretty much impossible for me to lie. I have no poker face. I am completely emotionally naked.

The inability to understand subtext has caused me great confusion over the years. Utter disbelief from teachers, wild confusion in a deeply sarcastic British society, worrying about the “wrong” things, (things outside of common knowledge that people with common knowledge deem not important), and taking unnecessary actions to try and right wrongs which were not really wrong in the first place.
This, doubled up with an intrinsic self-obsession and lack of empathy continues to baffle me and cause trouble. For example: not knowing that I’ve upset someone and not having the capacity to empathise is incredibly confusing and disorientating. Particularly when I can’t figure out what I’ve done wrong. The person I have hurt is sending me subtext, they want me to apologise, yet I cannot read this. So it gets left, that person stops talking to me and I am upset because clearly I have hurt them and I don’t know how, even if it is obvious common knowledge to everyone else.
My intention is very rarely to hurt people; but if I do not know what common knowledge is, I am self-obsessed and have no empathy then it is only logical that my actions will hurt people from time to time. This is extremely upsetting to me and very difficult to live with. Knowing that I am likely to cause great harm to my closest friends and be totally unaware of it, is not a trait that I desire and it is one that appears somewhat unavoidable.
The best thing to do in this situation is to tell me that I have hurt you and explain to me how. Again, even if it seems like the most obvious thing and you feel you cannot do it straight away because you are angry with me or you don’t feel the need to justify yourself to me. I will do my best to understand what you have said to me and I will try not to repeat the behaviour in future. But I cannot promise an emotionally involved apology if I do not possess the same understanding of what is and isn’t upsetting in common knowledge.

Semantics are another large factor which can affect communication. They can alter the entire meaning of what someone is saying. It is really important to me that when someone uses a word, that they know what that word means, and that they use it logically in context. If a word has several meanings then It may be necessary to define how you are using that word in order to understand what you are communicating.
Again I do not possess the common emotions attached to these words, so I am not limited in my vocabulary in the same way that those with emotional attachments are. Like previously, this can be good and bad.
The positive is that I can be very creative with words and use their various definitions to creatively describe something in a way that may have otherwise been missed, this can allow for heightened levels of verbal articulation and paint very clear pictures and commands for others to follow. I can listen to a teacher explain something to a class and have the whole class be confused; then I can reword it slightly only for everyone to go, “oh, we get it now”.
However, it can go the other way, and I will describe something in a way that to me makes complete sense. I have used words in their varying definitions logically to visually paint a picture; yet because someone else may not be able to detach themselves from a particular definition of a word, (due to common sense/emotion/knowledge), they can completely misconstrue what I am conveying. For some, talking to me is like talking to an alien – we speak completely different languages, however, if we can both learn to detach ourselves emotionally from a words definition and concern ourselves with the various semantics of it, then we can learn how to describe something in innovative and clear ways, increasing communication levels.

Another key symptom that ought to be discussed is inappropriate behaviour and the inability to interact successfully with peers. This again can be linked to a lack of common knowledge – a common knowledge of boundaries.
Boundaries can be difficult to enforce for even the averagely functioning person. However, if we have no common knowledge of boundaries and don’t know where our own lie then we have nothing to enforce.
This can be both a good and a bad thing… A positive result of this symptom is the ability to go into situations and meet people who may be much higher up than you in a hierarchical system and talk with them as you would talk with any other. They often appreciate this level of unfiltered, unaltered honesty and you end up making friends and acquaintances who can help and advise you on matters that others perhaps will not access because of their boundaries.
A lack of boundaries can leave you out in the open, stranded amongst life and vulnerable to new experiences. This again can be a good and a bad thing. Perhaps you will learn useful life lessons from travelling to another country or entering an environment with no knowledge of the geographical area or language, (both physical, spoken and subconscious/spiritual), you will be open to meeting great new people and experiencing new things, but perhaps also you could be prone to accidents and walk into dangerous situations without realising that is what you are doing.
You have unintentionally handed yourself to the world with zero defence.
Where I have learnt a lot about boundaries the experiential way is in Sex. This again has caused both positive and negative experiences. I have discovered for myself that monogamy is not the only way to find love and that I enjoy sexual interaction with people who are not solely in my expected peer age group. I have made connections that although may have started as a random hookup, (casual sex), grew into wonderful loving friendships.
However, I have also had sex against my will many times. I thought I wanted it, and by the time I had discovered I didn’t want it I had no boundaries to enforce. It was too late to say anything and I have been paralysed by fear and shame unable to enforce it. Often the result is that my head is overwhelmed by the emotions coming up and I go into a state of detachment and shock until the sexual experience is over. Then later I am showered in a sea of shame and guilt. I then totally cut the person I had the interaction with out of my life to the best of my ability. I have learnt from these experiences that I have to somehow enforce a boundary. But how do I do this? And at which point do I enforce it without it limiting my life experiences?
School was also very difficult when it came to boundaries. There is an unwritten code in schools and amongst peer groups. It could also be called subtext! It is primitive and twisted and deeply, deeply confusing to someone travelling through this environment blind to subtext. It is no surprise that people with ASD find the social aspect of school so vastly disruptive and difficult. Making and maintaining friendships in school was a huge struggle and still can be today.

Technology is something that has often caused confusion communicatively. Although technology allows us to communicate in ways and places we previously wouldn’t have been able to, in practice, it limits the amount of information we receive from a person compared to person to person, real time discussion.
In phone calls we cannot see someones facial expression, this limits the amount of communicative information we are receiving. Reading subtext is difficult enough in person and if we limit aspects of communicative information via technology then understanding each other can become more difficult. In texting, emails, Grindr, Tinder, and WhatsApp, not only can we not see a persons facial expression but we also can’t hear the tone of their voice. We use assumptions and common knowledge, (which I don’t possess), to fill in gaps in order to try and understand what the person on the other side is communicating with us. On top of this, each form of these communicative devices has its own subtext to understand. For example, we must speak a certain way in emails, perhaps more formal and structured than in person – and Grindr and Tinder are entirely different entities with unwritten rules and extreme levels of suggestive and manipulative subtext. These can completely blur communication and I have truly struggled to understand people via these devices.
Then we have FaceTime, webcam and Skype; these possibly give us the highest level of communication that technology can offer as we can see the persons face and hear their voice. However, ultimately we are still limited, we are not sat in the same emotional environment, geographically we are distanced and we cannot see all that is surrounding the person on the other side. The amount of information being transferred is still not as much as an actual person to person, real time interaction and can again cause difficulty in communication.
The point here is that it helps for me to gain as much communicative information as possible if we are to understand one another. And although an email may allow me to send out a balanced, well articulated and unemotional response to something, if you communicate to me via those means, (email, text etc), then it is likely I will not have enough information to understand what you are saying to or asking me.

Ultimately these are just a few of the aspects of my ASD that I have identified and felt I am able to articulate. We have only scratched the surface and over time I will learn more and be able to describe it in a way that makes sense logically and is not tainted with subtext.

But what can we do?
I believe that there are some simple things that we can do together in order to improve our communication.
One is to be very clear in our words. Rid yourself of any assumptions of common knowledge or otherwise and just say what you mean. I will work hard to observe and understand common knowledge in return and be similarly as clear in my vocabulary.
Another is to limit the confusion of subtext. If we are communicating with each other it helps for me to gain as much visual and verbal information as possible. Please try not to use sarcasm or jokes. Again try just to say what you mean even if it requires a few more words and a little extra thought. In return I will articulate myself as best as possible, and if you want an unemotional response to something then I can write you a letter or an email so you are not influenced by my transparent subtext output.
Finally, is that we all allow each other a bit of time, patience and love. Society would understand itself better if we all took a breath and got some perspective instead of rushing everything and pushing ourselves beyond a human pace. Technology, money and greed are effectively cleansing many people off the planet and out of society. They are too broke, overwhelmed and rushed for the basics of human life and there is no time, space or way for them to think and communicate their basic needs to the world.
Autistic Spectrum Disorders / Differences are real. They affect many, many people daily; yet with some understanding, education and better communication these people can live lives just as successfully as anyone else.
But it requires education on the other side too. I hope that by reading my experience it may have given you some clarity or relation on some of the things affect me and others with ASD’s. Perhaps it will help us to understand how to better communicate with each other and live in harmony.


Written by Ted Rogers “Artpornblog”
xXx

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