“While autism is usually diagnosed in childhood, some people remain “off the radar” for a long time and only receive a diagnosis much later. One possible reason is that they have learned socially appropriate behaviors, effectively camouflaging their social difficulties, including maintaining eye contact during conversations, memorizing jokes or imitating facial expressions.
This pattern of behavior could have serious consequences for the lives of some people with autism. It is easy to imagine that camouflaging demands significant cognitive effort, leading to mental exhaustion over time, and in extreme cases perhaps also contributing to anxiety and depression.”
Why do we mask? The answer is simple. We do it at a young age to avoid getting yelled at or grounded by our parents. We do it to make friends. We do it to get a job. We do it to find a spouse. Because of the way awareness was back then and still is to a certain extent, it was the only way to belong.
“To be honest, 9 times out of 10 when I walk into a room full of people. To me a room full of people could be just one person part from me. Usually what I do is I put on a mask, I climb into a skin, and I pretend to be human. Because it’s easy to do that than to show people…myself.”
‘With Asperger’s you put on a mask to pretend you’re normal. I ate lunch by myself to avoid people talking about things that were not work-related. The more I did stuff like that the more people rejected me” Daniel Lightwing
“My fear is that if I don’t mask, push through & show how capable I am, I won’t be offered opportunities in the future or be valued the same.” – Emily Swiatek
Look that little red-hair kid. He’s sitting all alone at the lunch table. The other kids…they make fun of him because of his red hair, freckles, and awkward nature. His parents don’t know…because he never tells them about it. He does very well in his classes. He never tells them because it doesn’t bother him. His happy here….Alone. Inside the universe in his head.
He will make a couple friends over time. Usually, adopted by an extrovert. He’s a good listener because he doesn’t say much. He is taken in by the extrovert and included with the group of friends. But that doesn’t last long. The extrovert doesn’t want to be seen as “uncool”. Associating with this socially awkward kid. He is cast a side. Forgotten about.
But the red-haired boy doesn’t mind much. He is happy here. Alone. Until the cycle starts again. It’s almost like a child in an out of foster care.
Then the boy will grow up. People wonder why he prefers to be alone. They try to “fix” him. Nobody should want to be alone all the time. But this is who is. This is who he will always be. He can fake it to a certain extent. Work, family, life demands it from time to time. But the first opportunity he has, he will recede back into himself. Into his universe. Where he is happy. Alone.
Let him be.
If you are lucky, He will let you in his universe.
Those with Asperger’s are likely to show symptoms of Depression, Anxiety and or ADHD.
Much like most men, I was diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression in my early twenties. I have since learned to cope with both without taking any mediation.
I don’t feel anxious unless I am put in an unfamiliar social situation such as meeting new people, public speaking, or being judged on my performance when I am not familiar with the subject.
My depression if very mild. I tend to only have “flare ups” when I am feeling stuck or without a clear direction because anyone who knows me knows that I must always being moving forward.
Finally we get to ADHD. Those that read my blog last year know that it wasn’t until age 31 that a was diagnosed and treated for ADHD.
I sought the treatment because I had so many ideas and desires of things that I wanted to do, but couldn’t slow down for two seconds to figure out how to do them, which then caused more frustration, anxiety, depression, yada, yada.
There is so much stigma when it comes to stimulant medication but I can tell you; that you use prescribed drugs properly you will find that you can do so many things.
I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today in my company, my community, and with my kids’ school if I didn’t start taking them. I’ve said it before; It was as I was blind and then suddenly I could see. And now, 6 months later. I don’t take them everyday. I have learned to regulate without them. I only take them when I know that I need to completely focus on the task at hand.
Anyone have a hobby? Most people do. Ever people so obsessed with a hobby that it jeopardizes your studies? Your job? Your relationship.
Most Aspies know this all to well and I am no exception. I usually don’t have much to say but if you start a conversation with me about whatever my interest is at the time, you might not get me to shut up.
Obsessions can last a long time and they can become all-consuming. Thankfully, these days I have people to answer to and people who depend on me to get up everyday and take care of them. I have been able to regulate myself to get back on track whenver I start to lose focus on whats important for too long.
Here’s my personal recollection of my topics of interest from childhood until now.
Age 3-9 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers : I know it’s normal for kids to have a favorite show but this lasted for many years and I had hundreds of toys that I would line up and bring everywhere with me.
Age 9 Dinosaurs : I don’t know what triggered this but I would copy text from every book and encyclopedia I could find into compositions books…dozens of them. The internet was not a thing back then and I would sit and study each page. Memorizing every pronunciation, every detail of each species.
Age 10 Football Cards : I would beg my mother to take me to the local card shop and drop big bucks on packs of football cards. Certain players or card styles appealed to me. I still remember my favorite year and company. Score 1996. I would study the stats on the back of the cards. Fascinated by the numbers and what they all meant.
Age 11 Sharks : Same as Dinosaurs.
Age 13 Pokemon Cards : I have no shame in admitting it. It was a little past my age group. But that’s a common trait in people on the spectrum. They are overly mature in some areas and overly immature in others.
Age 15-16 Wrestling : By this time I was working and my hard-earned money was spent on wrestling VHS. My off hours were spent watching and analyzing the various matches.
Age 21 – when I stopped becoming and just and employee and started my career in management, when the results became “my results” and whole new oppression began. I have fought workaholism for the better part of ten years. Frequently blurring the lines between “driven” and “crazed” when it comes to my performance.
Lack of empathy is attributed to those with Asperger’s, but that’s an incomplete statement. What kind of empathy are we talking about?
“Empathy is made up of two important parts: the first is the ability to see the world from the perspective of another. This is the thinking or cognitive part of empathy. It is about identifying what is going on in another person’s mind.
The second part of empathy is more emotional—the ability to imagine what another person is feeling and then to care about it.
These two aspects of empathy require different skills. In a nutshell, people with Asperger’s Syndrome have more difficulty than the average person with the first part of empathy—seeing the world from someone else’s perspective. The second part, caring about what someone else feels is as developed and present as anyone else.” Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D.
As stated above, I struggle to understand why people do and feel the way that they do, or how they are going to react to a particular thing I might say or do.
I say a lot of blunt and social inappropriate things in the course of a day. I hurt a lot of people feelings unintentionally because at the time I see nothing wrong. When I learn about how I made someone upset I feel horrible and apologetic. When is called “effective empathy” which is, if I’m being honest, sets people with Asperger’s apart from Psychopaths.
I have had to practice, even deep into adulthood, to think about my what I say and how it will be received. Do I still slip up? Of course, more than I like to admit.
My advice to those who leave a conversation with me thinking that I am callous and cold : Tell me how I made you feel.
“As a child, I didn’t give any eye contact at all, but I now give it (or let people believe I’m giving it) in certain situations but not in others. If I’m stressed about something, I likely won’t be giving any eye contact, and in general I’m not a fan of it. It’s hard to explain why eye contact is difficult, but a lot of the time it feels spooky. It feels as though someone is looking right into your very soul. That’s why it used to be absolutely unbearable and still is in certain circumstances.” —
It’s hard for other’s to understand. It’s seen as “rude” or “anti-social”. I want people to understand that I listen and understand better if I’m not looking in your eyes. Much like Alex, I know there are situations where I must, more and more as I expose myself to more people. It’s so exhausting.
Here’s what some other’s said about eye contact.
“To me, eye contact feels like I’m being stared at, like I’m being scrutinized and judged. It makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I’m under immense pressure, and the tension builds and builds until finally I have to look away. It feels almost confrontational, which causes me a lot of anxiety. It’s just too much pressure, and I can’t keep eye contact for very long unless it’s with someone I trust… But despite how my eyes may wander, or if I’m even looking in another direction, make no mistake; I am still listening, and I am still interested in what you have to say.” —
“For me, it’s difficult because I feel like the person I’m making eye contact with may be able to see just how socially awkward and odd I am. I force myself to make eye contact when speaking to a person, but it can actually make my eyes burn or water while doing it.” —
“It’s sometimes physically painful trying to maintain a constant stare straight into someone else’s eyes. It does not mean I’m not listening or have something against the person talking to me, it’s just an uncontrollable struggle to maintain eye contact.” —
As I said I would, being Autism Awareness Month, that I would share with you what’s it’s like being an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome.
First of, what is Asperger’s Syndrome? It can be my commonly defined as “High Functioning, Mild Autism”
If you saw me walking down the street, you think I’m just a regular guy, for a ginger anyway. But if you had to stop to talk to me, you would know something was differently…well “off”
I will say that I have had a privileged and bless life. But growing up was very hard for me. I had trouble making/ keeping friends. I was socially isolated. I had trouble being understood. Still partially true on some counts.
Through a lot of practice I have been able to find my place in the world…while not truly feeling like I belong.
And if you are an individual with Asperger’s or Autism or someone who loves them : There is hope.
For the rest of the month I will share with you the traits of Asperger’s that I display and how it has affected me and how I cope with them.
If you felt like you learned a lot about me last year…you haven’t heard anything yet.