National Autism Awareness Month: The following piece is written by a dear friend of mine. He wishes to remain anonymous. Please take the time to read and learn that people with Asperger’s syndrome, though different, are not wrong or diseased.
Hello. My name is RJ, I’m a college student, and I have Asperger’s syndrome. My mother asked me to write about what goes through my head in order for her and my father to get to know me better. This writing is an account of what goes on inside my head so others can get a better picture of what it is like to be diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome to hopefully understand people like me better and to maybe prevent you the reader from automatically labeling people like me nerds, geeks, or outright weird and insensitive. I have no idea how long this account is going to be so buckle up.
So if you were to ask me how to describe Asperger’s syndrome I would tell you to picture a line, let’s say a jump rope. On one end you have normal people, and on the other end you have people with autism. In my opinion people with Asperger’s syndrome would be put right in the middle of that line. I feel like I experience both worlds but I’m not wholly in either one of them. For example I have a desire to meet people, have conversations, do things with friends, and to form relationships just like any other person. The only problem is that because of my Asperger’s syndrome I have a social impairment which makes it hard for me to relate to other people, communicate effectively, and have back and forth conversations. Asperger’s syndrome does have its perks though but I’ll get to that later.
“So how do you think?” you may ask, well I think in pictures. In order for me to understand or do something I have to be able to see what’s being told to me inside my head, and I have to understand how the thing you just told me works inside my mind. If I don’t have that mental image I have a really hard time understanding something told to me or accomplishing the task in front of me.
Sometimes my mind also does things by itself without me telling it to. For example say someone was giving me directions while I was driving and they said “turn in where the red truck is”. In this scenario my mind sort of focuses on the word red and my eyes automatically look for any vehicle that is red. Say I see a red SUV and not a red truck. My mind assumes the person meant to say SUV not truck and then I go park where the red SUV is. But as it turns out in this scenario there actually was a red truck, but I didn’t see it because my mind went with the first red thing it saw.
Another instance where my mind does things without me telling it to can also occur while driving. Sometimes someone will send me on an errand, but while I’m driving I will start to take a specific route to a separate destination. Whenever I drive back and forth between two places my mind keeps track of the route it’s taking and it saves the route in my memory. The effect of this is sometimes I will be driving and I will start going down that familiar route without being aware of it. Then at some point I’ll remember where I’m supposed to be going and do my best to get to the destination as quickly as possible.
Something else my mind is constantly doing is replaying clips from movies over and over again in my head. These movie clips aren’t just vague images. They are the exact same thing that was on the screen with every detail captured. Sometimes I think that if people could see which movie clip was playing though my head and then compare it side by side with the actual movie clip, they wouldn’t be able to tell a difference. My mind has always done this since I was a child, but it never stops. My mind is constantly cycling though movies. The movies can be anything from something I just watched yesterday on YouTube, to something I watched years ago.
This can be a problem at school because the movies playing through my head make it hard for me to concentrate on what the teacher is saying. Most people would tell me to stop thinking about them, but I can’t. My mind is constantly going at 90+ miles and hour and I don’t know how to make it stop. This makes it hard for me to concentrate on my schoolwork since I can’t give my full attention to what the teacher is saying.
There are something’s I like about Asperger’s syndrome. One of those things is attention to detail. A detail can be anything from a picture on a set of instructions to something you don’t see occur on a day to day basis. These things stand out to me in my mind but it’s hard to describe how they stand out in my mind. All I know is that they do and my mind is constantly looking for then without me telling it to.
My Asperger’s syndrome is also helpful when I’m putting something together that comes with a set of instructions. Whenever I am building something with my hands or on the computer and following a set of instructions I can look at each step in my mind see how it goes together piece by piece. But the more I work with whatever I am working on it’s like my eyes, hands, and mind merge together into a rhythm that lasts until whatever I’m working on is completed or I decide to do something else.
I can do the same thing when I am building something of my own design. When I make something that I made up I start with getting a mental image of what I want my end product to look like. Something I tell people is “if I can see it in my head, I can usually make it”. What I mean is that I can take the mental image of the thing I want to make and make it using whatever materials I have at my disposal, and the end result will look like the picture I made in my head.
My Asperger’s syndrome also allows me to see how things work in my mind. For an example I’ll use a 4 wheel drive remote control car to explain what I am talking about. A 4 wheel drive remote control car has a center driveshaft that turns two differential gears. The differential gears are hooked up to two axles each which turn the wheels, allowing the car to move. The drive shaft turns when a spur gear that’s connected to the shaft meshes with a pinion gear which is connected to the motor shaft. In my mind I can visualize the entire system working. If you were to see the system working on a computer screen, that’s how I see the system working in my mind.
But it doesn’t stop there. I can look at each part of the system, take it apart, see each and every individual piece, and then reassemble it. If you have seen the movie Iron Man 3 there is a scene where Tony Stark is investigating an explosion that severely injured his head of security. In the scene he uses a life size 3D hologram to recreate the scene. As Tony is working he uses hand motions to open or close holographic computer screens.
I can visualize things the same way. When I visualize something in this manner I sometimes use hand motions to help me manipulate the mental picture in my mind. This helps me get a better understanding of how the thing I am visualizing works.
So let’s talk about social situations. What sets people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism apart in a social interaction? Like most people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome I have a very narrowed set of interests and it is very hard for me to start conversations with other people because of this. When I try to talk to other people I try to ask them about their interests but every time that happens my mind goes blank and the question “what should I talk about/what should I ask them?” goes through my head but no answer comes to mind. It’s like an invisible barrier comes up in my mind and it is unbreakable no matter how hard I try to break it. My narrowed set of interests are like a box and it’s very hard for me to start conversations about things outside of that box. I think this is why I struggle with being able to put myself in other people’s shoes. When I try to do put myself in other peoples shoes the mental barrier comes up and my mind goes blank.
Another social interaction that is hard for people with Asperger’s syndrome is in a group setting. Personally it’s really hard for me to talk to people in a group unless I know the people in the group really well. When I don’t know the people in the group I usually talk very little, not at all or just leave the group and go do something else. I can take one on one with someone just fine so long as the other person keeps the conversation going.
It’s also very hard for me to see past certain things. The biggest thing I can’t see past is the pictures in my head. In order for me to understand something I have to be able to see the thing I’m trying to understand working inside my head. I think this is why it’s hard for me to form relationships because relationships don’t have a formula outside of be kind to others, put the other person first, etc…
This doesn’t just apply to relationships. This applies to every part of my life, whether that be solving math problems, trying to write a paper, making a movie, doing a project, understanding the Bible, putting something together, etc… If I can’t see the thing being told or taught to me working inside my head I don’t understand it.
Something else can’t see past is my logical thought process. Whenever I do something I always think “how can I get this task done quick and efficiently”. Once I have my mind set on a course of action it is very difficult for me to change my mind about how to best get the task done.
However one of the biggest problems for me in a social interaction is getting overstimulated. I’m sure over stimulus has its own definition, but from the perspective of someone who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome I define over stimulus as the brain taking in so much stuff that it doesn’t know how to process it all. I can get over stimulated when I’m in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by a bunch of people I don’t know. What happens is my brain starts taking in all the new sights and sounds and it tries to make sense of all of it. But there are times when there is too much to take in and my brain can’t make sense of what’s happening and it just spins out of control. When my brain spins out of control my mind starts over analyzing everything around me and turns the information into all kinds of different scenarios that usually involves someone trying to get me and I have to escape from them. Some traits I have when I get overstimulated is I find myself wanting to be by myself, I get extremely quiet, I get moody, and just want to start crying for no apparent reason.
This is what it is like inside my head. I hope this has helped you the reader better understand what Asperger’s syndrome is like. Now granted everyone who has been diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome has had their own set of experiences that are most likely different then mine. This is my experience with Asperger’s syndrome and I hope it helps you understand people like me better.