Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Is It Like To Have Asperger's? Adulthood

So with my health issues I have been lax in posting the last part of my series on what it is like to have Asperger's. Sorry about that!

Part 1: What Is It Like To Have Asperger's? My perspective.
Part 2: What Is It Like To Have Asperger's? The Tween and Teen Years. 
Part 3: What Is It Like To Have Asperger's? Adulthood 

Something that happened in the last few days got my wheels turning on the subject again, and I now have the energy (if not the time) to post on this subject.

I mentioned in my last post that I sometimes say things that are very out-of-place. Sure - people who don't have Asperger's sometimes do the same thing, but I theorize that the mechanics behind my slips and theirs are sometimes quite different. Let me use an example.

*Identities have been modified to protect the unwittingly insulted.

So I was talking with some friends the other day - a husband and wife couple with an adorable little girl. Husband is currently trying to stop smoking and daughter has a "binki" that she just isn't ready to give up. Mom is more than ready for both husband and daughter to give up their different habits. As we were talking, daughter piped up asking for her binki.

This is when the muscles of my mouth entangled themselves in the cogs of my brain. Within a split-second the following thoughts processed through my noggin. Synapses flew at lightning speed relaying the thoughts:
  • The act of sucking helps the neurons in a baby's brain make increasingly faster connections.
  • Sucking a binki or thumb releases endorphins in the brain, resulting in a feeling of relaxation and pleasure. 
  • The nicotine inhaled by smoking a cigarette causes a release of endorphins in the brain which can be highly addictive.
  • I myself was both a long-time thumb-sucker and was once a smoker. 
  • Quitting smoking (in my 30's) and ending my thumb-sucking habit (at age 12) were very similar experiences for me.
  • Thumbs/binkis and cigarettes are both strong addictions.

And amid the lights, the noise from the playing children and my own suppressed social anxiety, my mouth somehow involved itself in the thought process unbeknownst to me. The filter didn't make it anywhere near the lower section of my face before I blurted out "Give her a cigarette!"

A millisecond after my mouth moved, I was mortified! I didn't mean or even think anything of the sort. It was a ridiculously  illogical step in the hypothesis running though my brain and had been kicked out of the flowchart forming itself somewhere in the gray matter inside my skull. Apparently it was kicked out so hard it flew right out the first opening it found.

I tried to make it out to be a joke, muttering something about addiction and binkis... but WOW!

Even as an adult, social situations can be a challenge. This does not mean that I don't enjoy socializing. I love hanging out with friends... especially really understanding ones! But the challenge comes in when I try to coordinate my flying brain processes, my mouth and my body language simultaneously. Now that I'm in my 40's, it works most of the time. Sometimes (like my adventure above)... not so much, really.

It's taken me years to learn to balance my sensory processing issues, frequent sensory overload, language, learned body language (or unspoken language) and other players in the team sport that is socialization. Any imbalance in the formula can tip me over - and see? I have learned to use figurative terms too :o)

Here's another example. Parent-Teacher Conferences. I go to a room filled with seemingly thousands of educational wall decorations in vivid colors. The fluorescent overhead lights make the colors seem like they are glowing, and the buzz from the lights is impossible to block out. I seat myself in a chair meant for someone a quarter of my size, leaving me feeling physically disconcerted. Then I am expected to partake in an adult conversation and remember what the teacher tells me.


So... some of my self-taught coping techniques include tunnel vision. If I look about the room and attempt to take in all the new visual stimuli, I won't be able to speak, so I aim my eyes just on the teacher and perhaps the table between us or the latest report card on that table so I can think about what the teacher is saying. OK, did you catch that? I "aim my eyes." I don't focus them on anything. Because I am a visual thinker, I have to work extra hard to process audio information, so if the teacher is going to talk to me, and if I am going to absorb that information, I have to intentionally not focus on visual stimulation unless it directly pertains to what the teacher is saying. Otherwise there is too much stimulation coming in and I will go into "shut-down mode" until I can sort through all the incoming information. I know that must sound convoluted.


Basically, my brain is oversensitive to information. Each of our senses gives us information - sight, smell, sound, touch, taste (and if you're the creepy kid in The Sixth Sense, extra-sensory perception... heeheehee). Anywhoo - like a mail room on steroids, the "typical" brain takes all this information in quickly and efficiently and sorts it into it's proper box for immediate or future use. Let's just say that the mail room workers in my brain would have been "let go" a long time ago if they were people and not neurons and synapses. If those workers are supposed to put one company memo in each box, mine will flood certain boxes with multiple memos while not putting the memo in other boxes at all.

"Did you get the memo?"
"Boy, did I EVER!"

It's not a bad thing. It's just a bit different.


 In fact, there can be benefits to such differences. I rarely forget any information I've read if I'm interested in it. Because I think about things differently than most people and have a brain full of semi-useless information that I can access at any given time, I can often come up with solutions to problems that most would never have thought of. (My "solutions" can sometimes seem a bit unusual to others, but they generally work.) I am a very "out-of-the-box" person in this sense.

Over the years I've learned to rely on all that information to try to fit in with my peers. Like, where do you put your arms/hands while you're talking to someone? Well, different hand and arm positions express different messages to neuro-typical people. It's this funny thing called "body language" or "non-verbal communication." This never came naturally to me, but I'm a wizard at observation. I have also learned from various studies what the different arm positions mean. Where my arms are most comfortable while I'm standing may not be the message I mean to convey to people. I constantly have to think about it so I don't come across as defensive or aggressive when I'm feeling relaxed and casual.


And how do I hide my oddities to seem "normal?" For instance, I find being cold physically painful. It's the kind of sensation I'll do anything to avoid and I worry that my peers may be driven to distraction when I give up style or social norms to wear a giant coat at a nice lunch. Or if there's a stray hair in my bra. I'm sorry, but this is one of the worst annoyances there is for me. Some little hair down in there tickling and poking me with every move I make. I have to excuse myself just to go on a hunt for the offending hair which is often hard to see in there unless I can get it in just the right light. This happens at least once a day in my world, but luckily rarely when I'm around friends since I don't work outside of the home.

Well... that's all I can think of for now because my son is up and trying to talk about his latest video game adventures, and because I can't block out external sounds at all, I will leave this post here. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask!

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6 comments:

  1. I love these posts! I find them very fascinating. I would have totally though your cigarette comment was a joke - too funny!

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  2. This is a really great post! Thank you! :)

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  3. Lovely to read! Has given me a lot of insight.
    Do you mind me asking if you are able to picture things, and if someone relays something unpleasant or gory, do you get an uncomfortably real internal representation of it? I'm trying to find out if these are features of Aspergers or something else.

    : )

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  4. Linda - I "see" all words in my head, and yes - if someone were to describe something gory, I can picture it as if it were on the television... blood, colors, textures, movement and all.

    This is not to say that this "talent" is only possessed by those with Asperger's. I'm sure some people who are not truly in the spectrum do the same thing.

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  5. The arm thing... just never stops amazing me. I do that, too, and had no idea anyone else had to analyze things like I did! So weird!

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  6. That was an interesting chart...I often stick my hands in my pockets or clasp them behind my back to hide my finger flapping and flicking. I guess I can't win! I'm enjoying your blog though :)

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