My first response to taking Aspie tests and looking at the symptoms was along the lines of “Ah, that explains that incident,” and then, perhaps in denial, a few instances of “Well I don’t do that…”
I began to catalogue incidents I could remember from throughout my life, along with habits and preferences, and the list has grown and grown. Here’s a summary:
Stimming – this refers to involuntary movements, particularly at stressful times. It fell clearly into the “Not me” category until I started being aware that actually, it was me, and I’ve just not noticed. I’ve found myself rocking, and I hand-flap sometimes if I’m excited. I hum/chatter weird little patterns of sound to myself, although I generally manage not to do this in public. I sometimes feel compelled to jump, or jig from foot to foot in public. It probably looks a bit odd.
Meltdowns – oh dear. These are definitely me. These are triggered by feeling stressed and out of control. I’ll cry and fuss and make a complete idiot of myself, and will need to withdraw from the situation, which isn’t always possible. I’ve lost friends, lost credibility and lost confidence from this tendency because it’s just not acceptable for an adult.
Withdrawal – I’ve always attributed this to being an introvert, but there are times when I just need to get away from somewhere, and seem to shut off and struggle more than usual to communicate.
Offending people – there are so many instances where I’ve inadvertently offended people. Sometimes they’ve reacted immediately and I’ve realised. Sometimes they’ve reacted but I’ve not been sure what to. Several people have commented that I have a tendency to be insensitive, but unless someone explains where I’m going wrong, I’m often baffled as to what I’ve done, and really hate upsetting people (I often end up very upset myself when I realise).
Not understanding social norms – I find unwritten rules incredibly difficult to pick up. I have a history of struggling in jobs, and with interviews, because of saying or doing inappropriate things. If I can get a book that advises on good things to say and how to handle certain situations though, I can apply it and do well. But I need that guidance.
Copying others to try and fit in – sometimes this works a treat. I can start a conversation with someone because, in my 20s, I copied a friend who always seemed to be popular. I realised that after hello, you have to say something like “How are you?” It might seem obvious to neurotypicals, but it wasn’t to me until I made a concerted effort to work it out. Copying hasn’t always worked though: I figured at school the popular people seemed to be bitchy and unpleasant, so I thought I’d be like that too. The problem was that it was only considered cool if I was on the receiving end, and I just made things worse by alienating people who were nice.
Wanting to fit in and not – story of my life! This is perhaps why I’m so drawn to academia. I don’t feel I’m the only odd person around, and eccentricity seems more accepted than in some other environments.
Being in my own little world – I think this is probably a bit of a joke for those who know me well, as it’s often been commented on. It’s definitely a trait. It’s also something that makes me happy.
Obsessions – I don’t twig I’m being obsessive about stuff and boring people unless they tell me, but now and again, they do. My real obsession is music, particularly indie/alternative bands. As a teenager, it was electronic music-making: instead of sticking pictures of popstars to my notebooks, I had pictures of synthesisers – it was made known to me that I was a synth bore.
Creativity – I’ve always written stories, and I’ve composed music and make jewellery. I’ve self-published a novel (which has some rather lovely reviews on Amazon from people I don’t know, so it must be OK).
Conversation and communication – I struggle with this. The whole thing is just very awkward and feels clumsy. But I can do public speaking, and am considered to be quite good at it, probably because I’m in control and don’t have to try and work out what the other person means/wants. I’m not so great at dealing with the questions afterwards.
Clothes and appearance – I suspect I dress too young. My excuse for this is my shape: middle-aged-woman clothes assume you want to cover up flabby arms and that your cleavage is your greatest asset, but my arms are my best feature, and I don’t have a cleavage. I tend to go for quite androgenous clothes as a result, and am quite choosy about fabrics, and being comfortable.
Androgeny – one of my exes had a joke that I was from Mars and he was from Venus. I’m very definitely heterosexual, but I often feel my mind works like a bloke’s, perhaps because I’m not very interested in things like make-up and beauty treatments, and I was never really into dolls (I loved my train set and lego when I was little).
Avoiding social situations – this varies. When I was younger, I sought them out, desperate to make friends. These days my gut reaction to an invitation is to wonder how I can avoid the event without seeming rude.
High academic ability/intelligence: I have an IQ of 161 and am just completing my sixth degree, although I do better with self-teaching and distance learning. I’ve done two research degrees, which involve a lot of working alone. In face-to-face taught courses, I don’t achieve so highly. I love studying, have always been curious, and have always been drawn to non-fiction books, right since I could first read (again largely self-taught, pre-school).
Patchy employment history – I’ve never had the EQ to match the IQ, and my CV is a mess. I usually struggle to settle in a job and it takes a while for me to get my bearings, and I very easily screw things up. I’ve had quite a few low paid jobs which have been frustrating; I crave intellectual stimulation, but struggle to get jobs at the level where that’s part of the role.
Sensory sensitivity: there are some materials I can’t bear: the sponge/foam used in cheap furniture is the worst. I struggle with elasticcy textures, cotton wool, nail varnish remover pads… I also really struggle with fluorescent lights (they make me feel tired and a bit bleugh), and sunlight flickering through a fence as I walk/run alongside it. I get migraines quite easily from flickering lights.
Family instances: I think both my parents have some autistic traits; they both have hobbies that they’re quite obsessive about. They can, however, function well socially, and I think a lot of the things I’ve done have baffled them a bit. I’ve never heard anyone describe them as odd. My late maternal grandmother was considered a bit weird, though: she didn’t really have social skills and seemed quite aloof, although she seemed OK being something of a loner.
So there’s my list. I seem to tick an awful lot of boxes, some perhaps more than others. This is very much a summary, so I’ll explore individual traits in more depth in future blogs.
Are there any people in a similar situation out there who identify with these traits? Please share your thoughts if you do!