I haven’t posted much about being an Aspie. A friend heard me use the word, and asked about it, because she hadn’t been sure if it was a word that people with Aspergers considered insulting. If it is, I’ve never seen an Aspie who considered it so. I don’t know if it was Aspies themselves who started using it first, or the Neurotypical community, but the Aspie community has taken ownership of the term. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is the fact that Aspies are struggling for acceptance of what they are, and therefore aren’t sensitive about being recognized as having Asperger’s syndrome. You can’t gain acceptance for what you are if you’re ashamed of what you are.
But also, “Aspie” isn’t a word that’s used as a general insult. I think possibly by embracing the term and not reacting to it like it was an insult, the Aspie community has maintained control over it and the meaning it conveys. When it’s understood at all, it’s understood to mean “a person with Asperger’s syndrome” and hasn’t ended up gaining any extra negative connotations the way words like “retarded” (which was once a politically correct term) has collected.
Anyway, in this post, I’m going to kind of try and paint a picture of Aspergers syndrome for you. I’m not trying to show you how terrible it is, or how much I suffer, or what other people have to deal with to be my friend, or even paint a complete picture. Just a little bit of insight on the sort of things my friends notice when they get to know me really well.
I don’t like certain things mixed with other certain things. As a child, I would carefully separate the peas on my plate from the mashed potatoes. Foods dished out of different pots would not be on the fork at the same time. I didn’t like foods served at different temperatures to touch. For example, if salad was served on the same plate as cooked meat or vegetables, I didn’t like them touching. Salad is a bunch of things mixed, but they’re supposed to be mixed, so it’s fine. But I prefer not to get any salad dressing on anything it doesn’t belong on.
And honestly, it’s not about taste. It’s all about organization. And I’m not that bad – if things touch, I’m annoyed. But I’ll eat it. I generally re-separate them if it’s feasible, but it’s not the end of the world, and I generally don’t say anything. I’m not such a severe case as I would have some kind of crazy meltdown over stuff like this.
Nathan once made macaroni and cheese for me, and cooked frozen vegetables in it. He says he knew something was wrong as soon as he saw my face when he brought it out. It took me like, ten minutes to pick all the vegetables out and eat them, and then I ate the pasta. The friend I mentioned before was observing me putting blueberries an whipped cream on french toast she made me, and realized that I was arranging the blueberries in such a way that I could get a blueberry in every bite as I cut it into pieces later.
One day, my friend was commenting on how she hated chocolate covered raisins. I replied that I like them.
And she was like wait, what?
See, she knows me pretty well, and knows I don’t like chocolate with nuts or dried fruit in it. And I explained, chocolate covered raisins aren’t raisins in chocolate, they’re chocolate on raisins.
That’s the point where I think her head exploded.
It’s two things that are such different textures – one you suck on and one you chew, and then I don’t know how to eat them together. And they’re never evenly distributed through the chocolate. One bite might have two peanuts in it, and another one might not have any. So, if someone offers me a cadbury fruit and nut bar, or almond bark, or chocolate with candy cane in it, I’ll usually politely decline. Unless it’s one of those situations where refusal would upset someone, in which case I’ll take it, suck on it until the chocolate is gone, and then chew the rest. It’s not a huge deal.
Then there’s chocolate covered raisins. The chocolate on them is never so thick that it’s worth sucking it off, so it’s easy to chew them without having to suck the chocolate off. But most importantly, there’s a more or less even distribution of chocolate and raisin in each bite.
Now, keep in mind, I don’t normally consciously think about these things, even as I’m arranging my skittles in lines by colour. I just do it. I don’t freak out of suffer unduly if I’m prevented from doing it, it’s just a tendency. Kind of like how when you smile at someone, they tend to smile back. It’s not about Aspergers being a terrible thing I suffer from, and it’s not about me being better than other people because I have Aspergers. It’s just me.
The frustrating thing is that there are people out there who won’t accept this is me. They want me to be normal. It doesn’t matter that none of this hurts or even affects them. It makes them uncomfortable that I’m different. They see it, and when they see it, they think there’s something wrong with me that needs to be fixed. I’ve been called a retard by someone like that, who was just that frustrated that I couldn’t just be normal. Who made fun of me as he watched me eat a sandwich because I was spending more time than he thought I should deciding where to take the next bite. I’ll let the internet pass judgment.
Sure, I could refrain from doing it. Force myself to mix my vegetables with the potatoes. It’s not like it would cause me to have some kind of breakdown. But here’s the thing: why the hell should I? It would take a huge mental effort to constantly remind myself to not do those things, and I would slip up regularly. Why would I go to all that trouble just so that you can watch me and not notice that I’m a little bit quirky? Just so that I can pretend to be some silly ideal of normal, as if it would make me healthier or happier? It wouldn’t.
But it makes me more grateful for the people I have around me who do accept me. I don’t need people to put on an Aspie pride parade for me. I’m perfectly happy just being Lindsay, and being allowed to just be Lindsay and not be made fun of for being Lindsay. That’s all Aspies ask. Is it really so much?
Lindsay, to me diversity is beautiful, why on earth would I want everybody the same? Everybody who is different can teach me something new, show me the wonder of who they are and what they know …… that is what I love in life.
The world needs more people like that 🙂
I share some of your preferences, Lindsay, though I just call them tastes. Some might call such things ‘OCD’, but I think such labels are a double-edged sword, useful if seized by the person, as seems to be the case with many ‘Aspies’, not so much if imposed on them.
I’ve just finished reading Richard A. Lupoff’s ‘CIRCUMPOLAR’, a Dieselpunk novel published thirty years ago, before Steampunk got its name, not to mind Dieselpunk. Most of the main characters are real life pilots, such as Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, and the Von Richthofen brothers. Hughes’ legendary ‘OCD’ is not portrayed and I wondered how it might have changed the novel if it had been. Certainly the movie ‘THE AVIATOR’ showed Hughes’ aversion to food mixing, for example, as quite extreme.
I would consider what you describe as being well within the normal spectrum of behavior, but I don’t consider normality a virtue in itself. I rather like that ironic diagnosis ‘Neurotypical Syndrome’ in fact. I love the ‘Institute For The Study Of The Neurologically Typical’ website (www.isnt.autistics.org).
As for the guy who called you a ‘retard’, please excuse my language and allow me to hereby pass judgment on behalf of the internet. The guy was an ASSHOLE!
Well Aspergers is a diagnosis that you get for having at least a certain number of one list of symptoms and at least a certain number of another list. You can be borderline and not diagnosable and certain still have autistic traits. It runs in families after all, and people in families with autism have higher incidence of people with milder autistic traits, who are not full blown autistic or diagnosable.
That said, I don’t think there’s any such thing as normal, and I agree it’s a bad thing for the world to consider any deviation from this imaginary idea of “normal” to be a sign of illness.
An interesting post. It reminds me of the old gag about querks in software code being ‘a feature’ rather than ‘a bug’ – so that in the end do you take something like Aspergers and say it’s not a condition but actually just a feature of the person. I’d be cautious about saying too much about this because I just don’t really know enought about this subject- but i’d guess there are advantages and disadvantages to going down either route. So for example if someone is an Aspie you might not want to withhold support or allowance for that from them simply because it’s considered a feature of who they are, neither would you want to stigmatise them because of it.
As I get older I find myself moving more into the ‘accept people as they are’ camp. So for example if someone I know wants to separate out there food before they eat it, so what? Let them. Maybe the people this person is eating with are exhibiting their own particular behaviours which they are choosing not to criticise or comment on. I guess it might depend on how you feel about this aspect of who you are.
One things for sure, if there’s anyone out there who is currently thinking “I want to be a pilot but I can’t because I have Aspergers” need only look to you for a role model, sure it might depend on the degree of Aspie-ness but the mind set is “I can do this” and that’s got to be good.
Heh – except that the “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” is generally used to make fun of a bug that the software developer won’t acknowledge exists.
I think support systems like you’re talking about should be focused more on ability, and discovering a person’s strengths. I mean, it’s definitely important to acknowledge and accept a person’s weaknesses, but that also should go for everyone, not just for people with diagnoses. There are people out there who are just not smart, and maybe they’ll never be university professors – maybe they’d make great garbage collectors, and we need to respect all those professions as worthy and valuable, and the same to the people who do them. Find out what each person is capable of, and find them someplace they can contribute to society.
Like, I can manage smaller periods of a lot of social interaction decently well, but I do better when I have recovery time in between. Long periods where I’m left to my own thoughts. Flying somewhere for hours at a time would work well for me, so most flying jobs will likely be a good place for me.
The entirety of your explanation of food touching on your plate sums up my childhood eating habits. I completely understand!!!