I know that I’m probably clogging up your inbox, newsfeed, Twitter feed or whatever other way you might be using to follow me by posting two blog entries in the same day and tonight, I say, tough beans. Rest assured though that this is one of the few days where I will be posting more than one blog entry a day, since most of my multiple-post days will be done through my Facebook page: The ZEZ Connection. Primarily, this blog will be reserved for either a daily recap of each day during my Europe journey, or otherwise, periodic updates on things going on with me related to the world of Asperger syndrome (AS).
Tonight’s post will actually be used to address the second part of that sentence: Asperger syndrome.
Quick show of hands, how many people just read the word Asperger’s and drew a blank on the definition?
Don’t worry, if you don’t know what Asperger’s is, then you are not alone. Many people today aren’t familiar with Asperger’s although according to the CDC, 1 in 88 children are affected with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
But what about a definition? According to Autism Speaks, they define Asperger syndrome in this way:
Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.
Like any medical condition, there are different things associated with Asperger’s and again, according to Autism Speaks, here are some things associated with AS:
• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms
For those of you that know me, I’m guessing a light-bulb may have just gone on in your head and you had what I like to call an “a-ha” moment. Some of the things that Autism Speaks talks about with the associated behaviors, you have now associated with me. I’m hoping that by knowing both the definition and some of the things that go along with AS, you can now gain a better understanding of why I do some of the things I do, or why I say some of the things that I say.
While a textbook definition for me is great, I’m going to take some of the behaviors that I just mentioned and break them down for you to show how they specifically impact my life, or how they might come up when I’m with you.
1. Inability to Understand Social/Emotional Issues or Nonliteral Phrases
While I’m pretty good with gestures and most of the time I’m good with facial expression, one thing that I’m terrible at, are nonliteral phrases, or what’s commonly referred to as sarcasm. While I have gotten better at sarcasm as I’ve gotten older, I still have a problem recognizing changes in vocal tones when someone is speaking to me. It’s my understanding that when someone is being sarcastic, there is a tone associated with it where the voice changes and that’s a hidden clue that the speaker is saying something sarcastic. Since I have AS, I can’t recognize the change in tone, so I take almost everything people say, literally. So, if you are talking with me and you say something sarcastically, it might be a good idea to tell me immediately after, “You know I’m just kidding right?” or something along those lines. That way I won’t end up in a situation like these M&M’s in the clip below:
2. Lack of Eye Contact or Reciprocal Conversation
My lack of eye contact is one of the first things that people pick up on when they meet me. If you start a conversation with me while we are sitting in your living room, don’t be surprised if my eyes go to the house plant that is sitting behind your head as opposed to your actual eyes. It’s not that I don’t want to look at you, I do. It’s just that with AS, eye contact is something that is especially difficult for me. As is reciprocal conversation.
Reciprocal conversation is pretty simple. Person A says something and then Person B says something. This pattern goes back and forth to complete what the average person calls, “Conversation.” With people that have AS, reciprocal conversations are difficult which means that many times, a conversation that is between Person A and Person B will just consist of Person A taking up all of the talking time. For someone with AS like myself, if that happens to you, say something as direct as, “Hold on a second Zach,” that way, I’ll stop talking and give you, Person B, a chance to talk as well.
This leads to the final thing that I want to address with AS:
3. Obsession with Specific, Often Unusual, Topics
I’m sure everyone has that friend that loves to show you pictures of their cat, or to use a current trend in today’s social media world, that one Mom who posts pictures of her kids every five seconds. While that kind of repetitiveness might be annoying, it’s not the same type of repetitiveness that people with AS exhibit.
To illustrate how people with AS tend to be repetitive, below is a clip (which I don’t own of course, it’s a United Artists picture), from one of my favorite movies, Rainman:
While I’m not always an excellent driver, nor do I have as nice of a car that Tom Cruise had, like Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond, I do tend to repeat myself on a few main topics, one of those being cemeteries.
Yes, you read that right, cemeteries, as in the places where we bury people.
While many people might see cemeteries as depressing places associated only with the end of life, I see them as much more. To me, a cemetery is not only a place to lay someone to rest, but also a place of historical and architectural significance. Just look at Arlington National Cemetery. I’ve been to Arlington and they have a driving lane just for tour buses. See, not everyone hates going to cemeteries, some are popular enough for tour buses. Anyway, I really like cemeteries and if you are ever in a car with me and we drive by one, don’t be surprised if I randomly point one out as we pass by. For all of my readers ahead of time, you should know that I plan to visit some of the most famous graves in the world when I’m in Europe, including those of Winston Churchill and Jim Morrison. Yes, Jim Morrison, the rock star. I don’t even like rock music but I’ve been told that in Paris, going to Jim Morrison’s grave is a must-do.
At this point if you are still reading, thank you. Really, I know this is a lot to read and this is probably going to be one of my longest, if not the longest ever blog post that I have on The ZEZ Connection. Since Asperger Syndrome is a big part of who I am though, I thought it might be best to address it in the very beginning of this blog so you will get an insight into what an “Aspie” really is.
If you have any questions about my life with Asperger Syndrome or about AS in general, feel free to contact me on my Facebook page or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading and have a great first weekend of 2014.