Category Archives: Autism/Aspergers
I watch Girl Meets World. I’m not the only adult who does. It has a huge fan following of adults nostalgic for the old Boy Meets World. But, I have to admit that I watch kid-TV all the time, mostly Disney (#^^#)
Anyway, last night, an episode dealing with Aspergers aired. I was hoping they wouldn’t make a complete mess of things. I had a little bit of hope and some anxiety. All in all, it wasn’t bad. It addressed a few problematic pop-culture representations, but it also re-enforced others.
The character Farkle (Stuart Minkus’ son from BMW) is suspected to have an ASD. He is a genius character with some social idiosyncrasies. He fits the hollywood Aspie stereotype of genius, a little weird, but popular enough non the less. By the end of the episode, we learn that he doesn’t have an ASD after all. I like the message that being a little “weird” doesn’t necessarily indicate autism, nor does being a genius.
I am also really pleased that a female character (Isadora Smackle, who has a crush on Farkle) was revealed to have Aspergers. Females Aspies are terribly underrepresented on television and in general, so that’s progress right there.
But here is where a noted a problem. Smackle’s character has overly exaggerated Aspie traits. I know there are some Aspies that may act like her, but for the most part, I think her character was dramatized as is often necessary for character representations. We have seen Smackle before, but she has not been a regular. In order to cover something like Aspergers, and make a point in such a short time, her traits had to be exaggerated. She was so “obviously” autistic, that even Maya and Riley, who had not even heard of Aspergers before, recognized her as having it after reading a list of symptoms.
This isn’t the worse thing Disney could have done, but it increases an issue I run into as a female Aspie, that being the comment “But you don’t seem autistic to me!” As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is not all that unusual for a female Aspie to blend in better than a male. This isn’t always the case, and there are certainly Smackle’s in real life – but it’s an assumed stereotype that makes communicating my own situation more difficult.
In the interest of countering pop-culture, let me share with you my favorite Aspie-related youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fTBM_3sdwE
Smackle ends up becoming a semi-regular character on the show and her autistic traits become a lot more nuanced. I was really happy to with her character development. It’s a shame the show was cancelled after only three seasons.
Asperger’s wasn’t well known when I was growing up, but even if it was, it’s possible that I would have remained undiagnosed.
Aspie females tend to be better than males at blending in and mimicking proper behaviors. But this skill takes time to develop. As a young child, I freely and unashamedly displayed autistic behaviors. Nevertheless, these behaviors were not as show-stopping as they would have been had I been a boy. More often than not, young female Aspies obsess over topics appropriate for their age and gender, wheres the boys tend to pick out more eccentric interests. Also, so I have read, boys will be more aggressive when stressed.
As far as parents are concerned, if you maintain good grades and don’t cause them undo stress, they are likely to accept all manner of quirks without being too terribly concerned. The only thing they were ever concerned about was my lack of social skills. But these, they thought, they could handle without outside help.
So what does a female Aspie’s childhood look like? Again, we are all different, but perhaps some common threads can be found.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Before my own conscious memory begins, one of my parents favorite stories to tell is about me and dryer sheets. You know those obnoxiously-fragrant and chemical-laden sheets some people like to stick in the dryer with their clothes? Apparently, as a baby, I wasn’t so offended by them. Perhaps I played with used ones, I don’t know. Anyhow, I used to entertain myself for a long time tearing these sheets up into tiny bits and arranging the pieces neatly on the floor. I didn’t eat them. I didn’t hide them all over the house. No, I just lined them up meticulously on the carpet. I’m pretty sure my parents considered my ability to self-entertain without wrecking the house to be a miracle rather than a reason to worry.
And so, much of my childhood progressed like this. I’d find something to hyper focus on for long hours and leave my parents alone. For a while, it was watching the color portion of The Wizard of Oz over and over and over again. In fact, today, my mother laughs at herself for not considering this to be a strange thing. In hindsight, she and my father agree that I was one strange kid.
When I wasn’t watching The Wizard of Oz, I was on my rocking horse.
It was similar to this one:
My mother probably has pictures, but I can’t find one that looks exactly like it online. It was a spring rocking horse that made sounds, but I don’t think I had batteries in it very often.
I rode this thing obsessively. For hours. Until I got too big for it and it broke. I think my parents got me a replacement once, but finally, they had to tell me to say good bye to rocking horses. This was sad. Very very sad.
So what next? I recall that My Little Ponies came next. Yep, I loved My Little ponies. I hated playing with other people though. By now, my parents began encouraging me to get out more and play with other kids. Ugh, I hated being told to go outside or to meet the new neighbors. But most of all, I hated playing imaginative games with toys or dolls with them. My father sometimes tried to play ponies with me. I was never amused. He’d do stupid things, like put a nasty old boot of his on the floor and say it’s a monster attacking. This made me so mad!! Incidentally, my youngest sister appreciates my father’s play style and she actually begged him to play with her all the time. Too bad she wasn’t born sooner to distract him from bothering me. lol. But it wasn’t so bad. My father was usually too busy with work to interfere often. When left to my own, I preferred to arrange my ponies into a static scene and stare at them for a long time, complimenting myself for a job well done, sometimes even imagining up the things they were doing, but not moving them around.
I had barbies too, but I never liked them as much as my ponies. The most attention the barbies got was getting dressed up and arranged on the stair-case shelves in my closet. Sometimes, I would rearrange them, or redress them, but their only purpose was to remain in an orderly way. I suppose you could say that of the ponies too, but there was more imaginative process that went into their arrangements – and they weren’t sentenced to long periods in the closet.
Eventually, I outgrew ponies. I never outgrew love of collecting them, but arranging them into elaborate scenes on the floor lost its appeal. So I found something else to occupy myself with and that was Michael Jackson.
An aside here: notice that none of my interests were peculiar, only obsessive. Becoming a fangirl too wasn’t particularly strange either, until you look into the exact nature of my fan-girling
I had identified as a fan of MJ since the age of four, when my grandmother introduced me to him via MTV. She always had MTV on at her house and I was always at her house.
But it wasn’t until I was 9 that the obsession began. I collected anything and everything even remotely related to the King of Pop. Books, documentaries, tabloids, cassette tapes. I kept a journal to collect trivia about him and eventually, I’m pretty sure that I knew more about him than he did himself. Most of my family probably ended up knowing more than they cared too because this is all I talked about. I’m not kidding. I even sometimes bothered people outside my family with it because I thought it to be a suitable ice breaker in awkward social situations.
I bought a fedora. I wore it to school everyday. Fortunately, MJ was still popular enough that I avoided too much bullying for it, but there was still a bit of mockery here and there.
That about covers my most significant obsessions as a child, but there were an assortment of lesser interests and quirks as well. I can’t even remember them all, but my parents tell me sometimes.
I remember loving to trace my hand and spend the greater portion of an afternoon filling it in with tiny dots. I used to pretend that it was armageddon or some terrible event and all the little dot people needed to get onto the hand-shaped spaceship if they wanted to live. When the space began to fill up, I got nervous for my countless dot-friends. I felt relieved for each one that found a space.
I also read a lot. I’d read until it got dark and I’d be too involved in the book to get up and turn on the light. My parents would usually show up to turn the light on for me. I carried a book around with me everywhere and insisted on reading at the dinner table even if I was told not to. I could read before I started school having been mostly self-taught. My mother tells me I used to come to her and ask her what a letter was from time to time (I don’t really remember this).
In school, I excelled in everything except social studies. I hated social studies. I didn’t do bad, but I wasn’t a teachers pet the way I always had been in math class. My parents tried to have me skipped a grade on more than one occasion, but the school didn’t allow it because of my lacking social skills and common sense. Apparently, I took a test on which I did well in every category except common sense. I don’t remember this test. My fourth grade class was a mixed 4/5th classroom and my teacher allowed me to skip the 4th grade math textbook. Unfortunately, the school didn’t allow me access to 6th grade math the next year so I did 5th grade math again. I finally got to skip a grade after I was homeschool for one year. I skipped 8th grade.
I could probably write a short novel on all my childhood characteristics, but I think you get the idea. I didn’t cause anyone trouble and my interests were in the normal-sphere besides being obsessive. Only my social skills were lacking. And, boy were they ever. I came across as pretty rude at times. I am embarrassed to think of some of the things I did and said as a kid. But at the time, I had no clue that I was being inappropriate. One odd social moment isn’t too embarrassing to share: My mother was late dropping me off to preschool one day. The kids were already sitting in a circle singing a song. I walked to the circle as if I knew exactly what I was doing, sat in the middle, and didn’t sing. My mother asked me about this and I told her that I was supposed to sit there because the kids were singing to me. haha. After all, at the time, I fully believed that I was a fairy princess, so why wouldn’t they be singing to me?
On that note, I’ll end this post here. 🙂
In the past, I have been hesitant to admit that I have an ASD. Despite that diagnoses for it have been going up in recent years, it is still misunderstood and riddled with negative stereotypes. Aspergers (now diagnosed as part of the larger spectrum rather than its own thing) is popularly associated with sociopathic behaviors. At best, NTs pass it off as an imaginary condition. If I’m not a sociopath, I’m just looking for an excuse for poor social etiquette, apparently.
I grew up with no idea that I may be autistic. Besides being a very strange little girl, I kept out of trouble. My brother stole the show back in the day for his hyperactivity and poor grades. He was diagnosed ADHD and received all sorts of special assistance and medication. Meanwhile, I spent most of my childhood in my room, engaged in peculiar activities, but generally staying out of notorious limelight. Sometimes, my parents would reprimand me for staying in my room too often or I would get in trouble for being rude to other kids. But Aspergers wasn’t well known at the time, and being a bit strange isn’t as much a burden to parents as unleashing Dennis-the-Menace stye havoc all over the place.
Believe it or not, my brother grew up to be the most mellow guy you’d ever meet. I’d hardly believe he was the same person if I didn’t know better. As for myself, I began to amass more attention the older I got. Being strange as a kid can be passed off as a phase, but into adulthood, it loses its appeal as a cute-curiosity. Once my family learned of the existence of Aspergers, they suggested I, as well as a few male members of my family, including my brother, might have it. I considered the possibility, but it didn’t change anything. I carried on about my life, certain that there was still time to “grow out of” my issues. However, as I tried to enter the professional world, my quirks got in the way. More than one person asked me upfront if I’m an Aspie. I was also told that “my type” wasn’t wanted in the teacher training program that I was in at the time.
These armchair diagnoses are peculiar considering that most people I have told since my diagnosis are shocked to find out. They tell me they would have never guessed. Of course, I really like to believe that I have overcome many of my previous social obstacles.
I eventually took myself to have a psychological evaluation because I finally just wanted to know. During my evaluation, I got the impression that I wasn’t going to get an ASD diagnosis. In fact, I was entirely expecting an OCD, anxiety, and/or sensory processing disorder diagnoses instead. But nope. She said I am definitely on the spectrum. I also received a separate diagnoses for anxiety, but she said everything I suspected was OCD is really part of my ASD.
Well, so, now what? Does this mean that I can let go of all my progress and learned behaviors in order to have a free-for-all autistic experience? Of course not! It means only that I understand myself better as I continue on my journey to self-improvement. Sure, some aspects of life may be more difficult for me than an NT, but that doesn’t excuse me from anything.
And just so we are especially clear, I’m not a sociopath. An evil genius, yes. But my plans to take over the world are morally sound (more or less 😉 ) and don’t involve violence.