Monday, November 01, 2010

This Aspie speaks

I'd sort of seen some talk about today's Communication Shutdown, which encourages people to stay off of Facebook, Twitter, and social networking in general in support of autism.  With J. not sleeping and a build up on my "to do" list--plus my mind had registered that this was all taking place "next month"--I hadn't really paid it any attention.  But now it's next month and my Twitter is awash in #ASDay and #AutismShoutOut hash tags.

As it turns out, much has already been said of what I'm thinking, but I'll add my thoughts anyway.

The idea behind not using social media for a day is to experience the frustration of a social disconnect.  Yet this is almost backwards, as many people with autism have found that social media provide them with ways to connect much more successfully than in real life.  I prefer email and internet research to phone calls.  Facebook is how I keep in touch with many family members and friends.  I was late to join Twitter, but mostly because I have always known that it would suck me in too much (I'm trying very hard to balance that, and working has helped limit my time).  Online conversations play to my strengths and smooth over some of the weaknesses.  I get more time to process what has been said and think through my response.  My correspondent's words are available to read and re-read; I don't have to rely on a memory that's being bombarded with lots of simultaneous pieces of information.

The flip side is that Asperger's has not led to anything resembling silence for me.  I am frequently a chatterbug in real life.  In fact, I had to learn to be quiet and really listen and comprehend what's being said to me.  My experience of real-time conversations is probably different from most of yours, but I didn't know that for the longest time and have never known a different experience.  I didn't think to feel this set me apart until I was told that it did.

Slight aside: It irks me to be told that Aspies can't multitask.  The truth is that we are champion multitaskers; we just fill up our queues with items that might be considered a single task, or no task at all, by others.  When I'm talking to a person, I'm consciously processing what I hear, actively filtering out other noises, judging facial expressions and their relevance, scanning my databases for appropriate responses or anecdotes, weighing the quantity and quality of eye contact, and monitoring my own expressions and body language.  When I'm tired, I know that there will be a decrease in my comprehension, a lag in putting on appropriate appearances, and markedly less eye contact.

But really, that starts to get at my main issue with things like this Communication Shutdown.  So much of the conversation about autism is a description from the outside.  And I can't tell you how many times I've read an article about autism or Asperger's where the outside perspective is presented as fact and I find myself frustrated since it falls so far from my experience or clearly misunderstands.  I spent a long time convinced I couldn't have Asperger's because of these descriptions, because I am extremely sensitive and empathetic, because eye contact is difficult for me due to the overwhelming flood of information it provides.  It was only through the process of E.'s diagnosis, the 3 1/2 years leading up to it with us knowing this is what we were dealing with, and the persistent research both A. and I undertook that I was able to realize that there is a disconnect between a large part of the literature and the actual experience.

And I guess that's why I've shifted my focus here.  I want to correct some of those descriptions that share so little with my reality and give you a peek of the view from this side.

I can't do that if I shutdown communications.  Likewise, you can't hear me if you turn off your social media.


snayl said...

Excellent. Well said. Kudos! Etc.!

Aliki2006 said...

I hadn't heard anything about a Communications Shutdown. Oops.

I agree 100% with what you said. I don't like movements or faddish attempts to "box" in what AS is, and to define it by set parameters. I've been irked lately by the FB application--have you seen it?--on finding your autism quotient. I think a test like that is misleading, because it leads people to believing that reaching a diagnosis is as simple as answering some questions, while we know that a diagnosis can be a long, very involved, very detailed, very painful process.