Since I’ve started keeping this blog, I’ve been exposed to new perspectives and styles of thinking. I’ve particularly been drawn to autist and apsie writers (The Silent Wave | Auticulture), especially articles about social unease, feeling like you don’t belong or fit in, and rejection of mainstream culture. I relate to these articles. I used to be painfully shy. To the point where I’d chat on ICQ to someone I had never met (but was intellectually attracted to) and sweat would just pour down my arms. My armpits were crying — not sweating, crying — because I was so nervous, and there wasn’t even anyone physically in the room with me. That was in middle school or the summer before high school (so I was 14 or 15). For my first job, I worked as a cashier, and I was too anxious to even look at the customers I would help. I stared down at the counter when I greeted them and methodically rang their items and bagged them. My drawer was the most accurate night after night, but interacting with strangers made me extremely uncomfortable.
I’m not shy like I used to be. A combination of karaoke, college speech class, and some good old-fashioned self esteem have brought me a long way. I enjoy interacting with strangers, especially at farmer’s markets and art fairs where you don’t have to guess if conversation is welcome. Vendors at these kinds of venues love to talk about their products and art because a lot of time, effort, and love went into them. I can sing karaoke if I don’t look at any strangers in the room, and I can give a presentation to a room full people; I’ll be sweating, but people generally can’t sense my discomfort when I speak publicly. However, I get confused in conversation sometimes. I’m unsure when it’s my turn to talk (this is much worse on the phone when the body language cues fall away), I habitually overshare, eye contact can be very intense, and I have little interest in conventional small talk. I’ve found ways to redirect small talk to be more engaging, but I’m still working on timing, leaving space for my conversation partner, and discerning what is actually appropriate to say.
Becoming conscious of my lagging social skills, and with my recent exposure to writers on the spectrum, I decided to take an Asperger’s diagnostic test. Here are my results:
Your neurodiverse (Aspie) score: 95 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 117 of 200
You seem to have both neurodiverse and neurotypical traits
In an aspie, the web would encompass predominantly the right side of the map, and in a neurotypical (NT) person, the area covered by the web would be mostly on the left. My web expands pretty evenly on each side with aspie relationship characteristics. I decided I could rule out Asperger’s Syndrome for myself, but wasn’t convinced I’m NT.
The next article I found and related to was Samantha Croft’s checklist for aspie women. I read through the checklist and marked items I felt pertained to me, thinking perhaps the Rdos evaluation is biased by gender. I found that I do share aspie characteristics in a few of the ten categories, checking 90% and 95% of the boxes related to deep thinking and sensitivity and more than 60% of three other areas. The conclusion I arrived at in my self-evaluation using this checklist is: I’m a sensitive (95%) deep thinker (90%) who experiences difficulty with social interaction (71%), is dissociated from her sense of self (67%), has trouble making friends and employs escapism (65%). Here are my highest scoring categories for example, and you can find the full checklist here.
Section A: Deep Thinkers (90%)
- A deep thinker ✔
- A prolific writer drawn to poetry ✔
- Highly intelligent ✔
- Sees things at multiple levels, including her own thinking processes ✔
- Analyzes existence, the meaning of life, and everything, continually ✔
- Serious and matter-of-fact in nature
- Doesn’t take things for granted ✔
- Doesn’t simplify ✔
- Everything is complex ✔
- Often gets lost in own thoughts and “checks out” (blank stare) ✔
Section G: Sensitive (95%)
- Sensitive to sounds, textures, temperature, and/or smells when trying to sleep ✔
- Adjusts bedclothes, bedding, and/or environment in an attempt to find comfort ✔
- Dreams are anxiety-ridden, vivid, complex, and/or precognitive in nature ✔
- Highly intuitive to others’ feelings ✔
- Highly empathetic, sometimes to the point of confusion ✔
- Takes criticism to heart ✔
- Longs to be seen, heard, and understood ✔
- Questions if she is a “normal” person ✔
- Highly susceptible to outsiders’ viewpoints and opinions ✔
- At times adapts her view of life or actions based on others’ opinions or words ✔
- Recognizes own limitations in many areas daily, if not hourly ✔
- Becomes hurt when others question or doubt her work ✔
- Views many things as an extension of self ✔
- Fears others opinions, criticism, and judgment
- Dislikes words and events that hurt animals and people ✔
- Collects or rescues animals (often in childhood)
- Huge compassion for suffering (sometimes for inanimate objects/personification)✔
- Sensitive to substances (environmental toxins, foods, alcohol, medication, hormones, etc.) ✔
- Tries to help, offers unsolicited advice, or formalizes plans of action ✔
- Questions life purpose and how to be a “better” person ✔
- Seeks to understand abilities, skills, and/or gifts ✔
This checklist confirmed for me that I don’t have Asperger’s, and it gave me something new to go on: I’m highly sensitive. I searched for “Aspie vs Sensitivity” and finally found a diagnosis I relate to completely at The Highly Sensitive Person in an article which compared and contrasted the Asperger’s diagnosis (ASD) with highly sensitive people (HSP).
Suspect an ASD if the problem was noticeable even in infancy, and as much at home as at school. Are the social problems now due to a real problem with recognizing social-emotional cues, such as a bland response when others would have empathy? On the other hand, suspect sensitivity if only other people are concerned, or if there is a reasonable explanation behind the behavior–the desire to reduce stimulation, a history of social traumas, or a wish to avoid working or living in environments that require boisterous or highly competitive behavior, which is most of our culture.
My two best female friends both “broke up” with me, one in 8th grade, and one immediately after high school (although our relationship was strained long before she dumped me). I was very attached to these girls, and it hurt me badly. I’m not claiming I was the victim, I’m sure I share fault in the failure of these relationships, but I’d consider this social trauma. It’s been really hard for me to make and keep female friends since, but the friendships I do have I value deeply.
I’m not a competitive person, except in play. I don’t like to compare myself to other people, I get annoyed when people “race” each other or are uncooperative on the interstate, and I just don’t get sports. I understand the rules, and I used to play roller derby, but I never had school spirit or followed any team as a spectator. I much prefer creative pursuits and solitary athletic activities (like yoga and running).
HSPs process information more thoroughly and thus gain more meaning from their observations. Our states of overstimulation arise from too much to process at once. Those with an ASD are always processing the wrong things and always experiencing chaos unless they are able to shut themselves off from the world entirely.
I used to get into arguments with my partner about how he “doesn’t notice things.” I now realize I was the one that was hyper-sensitive and observant and to expect the same kind of attention to detail and over-analysis from him wasn’t fair or reasonable. That’s not to say I’ve outgrown this behavior; just this past Sunday (10-12-17) I got irrationally upset at a yoga event because someone put her bag and things in my line of sight. Doesn’t she know that is my space and I like my area uncluttered? No, of course she didn’t.
Sensitive children are generally at ease at home, but if the home environment is stressful as well, a sensitive child could indeed have a “severe, sustained, pervasive impairment in social functioning,” but still not have an ASD. (PTSD might be a more appropriate diagnosis, or a “reactive attachment disorder,” another diagnosis found in DSM.)
All of my romantic relationships until very recently have been extremely codependent and unhealthy. I think this may stem from my early childhood relationships to my parents, but I’m not ready to share my theory of how or details yet.
I realize self-diagnosis is frowned upon and that I should seek a professional opinion, but to be honest, unless I feel like my life is negatively affected or my personal growth stagnates I’m not going to a psychiatrist. I’m happy, growing, and making progress, and I feel with this new vocabulary and basic psychology research, I can start reading more deeply into the subject and more doors (I’d take a window, even) will open to further exploration. I’m getting to know myself, and what a trip it is.
Inspiration and sources:
- Laina Eartharcher. Dear Neurotypical Friends. The Silent Wave.
- Jasun Horsley. What is Auticulture? Auticulture.
- Lief Ekblad. Aspie Quiz. Rdos Operating System and the Neanderthal Theory.
- Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. (2009 Aug). Your Questions Answered: How Does Sensitivity Differ from Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and the “Autistic Spectrum.” Comfort Zone Newsletter Archives, The Highly Sensitive Person.