Posted by: CJ | May 24, 2011

A Friend’s claim…

A close friend of mine made the following claim to me.

“I know you think you’ve got Asperger’s, but I don’t think you do. Most people with Asperger’s just don’t understand emotions. They don’t notice them, they don’t understand them, and they don’t respond to them. But you, you notice them and you understand them, you just don’t respond to them. It’s more like not responding to them has always been a winning strategy for you, so you haven’t ever changed it.”

I’m not really sure what to make of that comment. I mean, I don’t really notice emotions. I don’t really read them. When I was younger, I acted as an echo chamber for other people’s emotions. If they were hurt or upset or giddy or in love or whatever I would feel the emotion, particularly the strength of the emotion, as well. But I wouldn’t understand it, and I didn’t know how to shut it out. Other people’s emotions could feel very overwhelming to me, and I strongly preferred being around nigh-emotionless individuals.

I don’t know about me now. I am better at noticing emotions and emotional states. But I have to actively look. I won’t just notice without thinking about it. I’ve become too good at blocking other people’s emotional states completely. And even if I notice I won’t intuitively understand. My understanding is based on years of thinking hard about my own emotions and those of others. And responding…well…when it comes to human behavior I tend to approach things scientifically. I’ll try stuff, and over time I’ll find that some things are right and others wrong. But it really, really doesn’t make sense to me in any coherent fashion. At least that’s my take…

I’ve never thought about my reactions to other people’s emotional states in this framework before. And I don’t really know what characteristics are typical vs. atypical for aspies. So I have no idea how to evaluate this friend’s claim. It seems that she thinks I’m not an aspie, but rather just socially awkward and very unskilled/uninterested in responding to people’s states in a suitable manner.

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Responses

  1. hmmmm…..the more I read about Aspies, the more clear it is that it’s hard to make many concrete claims, especially because not only are they in many varieties on the spectrum, but aspies are capable of learning…depending on what they learn to notice and respond to.

    Getting you to this stage of awkward included years of you not noticing anything emotional–even as you echoed emotions of a few very close people, you didn’t have any realization that you did that, or any names for the emotion. You’ve also gone through times where you didn’t recognize or respond to other people’s emotions, but you noted behaviors that were different than usual with no clue why their behavior changed. You’ve spend hours, and days, and months, slowly learning to watch cues for emotional states, but the fact you’ve gotten good enough at it to just seem awkward is a credit to your anthropological dedication, I suspect. And the sense that you’re uninterested….you’re not (well, unless you don’t like the person….), but you don’t show interest via the same type of empathy that many people view as “caring.”

    For a long time, emotions were just another “fact” of a person’s behavior to you, and often a messy, counterproductive fact–that’s a very aspie worldview. I’m not sure that’s where you are now in daily terms, but we worked hard to get to that point when you were younger.

  2. And I suppose that’s what I thought.

    I should also mention this friend earlier had a strange reaction when I told her about my lines of hot wheels cars which were not to be disturbed. She thought that sort of behavior was just kinda normal for children around 2 or 3, to spend some time trying to bring systematic order to the world around them once they realize they can affect it. Or something. She said she thought it was kinda normal because by comparison when she was young she had a Barbie outfit drawing kit, where you could draw different combinations of shirts and dresses and shoes and accessories. She spent ages going through and doing all 200 or 300 possibly combinations.

    So it could easily also be that this particular friend is reticent to classify anyone who isn’t fairly severely handicapped as aspie. I’m unsure.


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