Egocentric much?

Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) are seen as being egocentric. Or aloof. Or arrogant. There’s a distinctive tendency to focus on one’s own experience, sometimes to the exclusion of everyone else. As one of the hallmark traits of AS, this is a social difficulty that has had a profound effect on my life. In my case, it’s more subtle, but it’s had no less impact than on people like my brothers, both of them social misfits.

I won’t speak to my brothers’ experiences right now–Deep Thought (the younger brother) told me he’d be interested in guest blogging later–but I can speak to mine. I’ve never been a social butterfly, but I can talk to people. Then again, that’s often the problem. I can talk to people. With? Well…I’ve always been a chatterbox. Even when I was little, I could talk an elephant’s ear into oblivion. As long as I had something to tell an audience, I was happy to share every little factoid. This remains true today, albeit with filters. I also liked to ask questions. However, I had little patience for listening once someone answered. This didn’t play well with other children, of course.

Interaction with peers is the bane of existence for anyone who is different. I remember wanting so badly to have friends that I would try to find ways to impress them. Whether it was drawing, getting a popular toy, or trying to show how smart I was, nothing seemed to win me friends. I had the notion that being good at something or having a trendy item would win me favor. In a 2002 paper, Tony Atwood shares a story from his sister-in-law’s past:

In their attempts to make friends, the child’s intentions can be misinterpreted. The author’s sister-in-law explains that as a child she was “longing to make friends, when someone complimented a drawing I had done, I started giving people drawings until someone accused me of bragging – a rebuke I never forgot. I was only trying to win friendship”. (Atwood)

In my case, I didn’t go around giving out drawings too all the children, but I would go around showing my drawings to anyone who would listen. What stopped me wasn’t someone telling me not to brag, but another children who accused me of tracing a horse head I was particularly proud to have drawn. I was crushed that anyone would think I cheated! Although it wasn’t in that incident, I did get the “it’s not nice to brag” lecture at some point. This upset me, of course, as I had no intention of bragging. I just wanted to share things that I did well so that others would like me. If I was good at something, what was wrong with sharing it?

Seeking acceptance is a pattern that has followed me throughout my life and continues today. Fortunately, I’ve learned to hold back when appropriate. Usually. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult impulse to deny. No matter how hard I try, I still fall prey to the urge to info dump when someone shows interest. It’s like any spark of interest grants me permission to go full bore into the subject. This has caused me more than a little embarrassment.

In 2008, I attended the Chicago-North RWA (a Romance Writers of America chapter) Spring Fling writers’ conference. Christie Ridgeway was one of the headline speakers, and a very nice person. During that weekend, I was trying very hard to act like a “normal” person. Choosing my words and topics carefully, letting other people speak, etc. Then Christie said something about horses. I can’t remember what, but I think it had something to do with Del Mar, north of San Diego.

I often forget that there’s a race track at Del Mar–my one experience with it was the outdoor arena where I got to exercise a show horse (hunt seat [English], not race). With that in mind, I launched into an animated, one-sided discussion about riding horses. Poor Christie couldn’t have been nicer, sitting there and listening. In the end, I remembered to be nice and ask a question. To my horror, she admitted she never rode, and that she was afraid of trying to get on a horse. She’d be referring to the Del Mar race course and being there as a spectator. Yeah, my face went red.

You can see how this can be frustrating. No matter how hard I try, I inevitably slip. There are other ways in which I appear egocentric. Besides the drive to talk about subjects important to me, I have to constantly remind myself to show interest in what’s happening in other people’s lives. I am trying to be a better listener, but it’s a challenge. The following excerpt describes this difficulty. I don’t fit every point here, but parts or all of it do apply to anyone with Asperger’s, and many people with ADHD:

Because adults with Asperger syndrome struggle to understand emotions in others, they miss subtle cues such as facial expression, eye contact and body language. As a result, someone with AS appears aloof, selfish or uncaring. Neurologically, adults with AS are unable to understand other people’s emotional states. They are usually surprised, upset and show remorse when informed of the hurtful or inappropriate effect of their actions. Affected people show as much interest as others do in intimate relationships. However, most AS adults lack the social or empathetic skills to effectively manage romantic relationships. A person with Asperger syndrome behaves at younger developmental age in relationships. The subtleties of courtship are unfamiliar and sometimes inappropriate physical contact results. (Leigh)

I’m not going to discuss any romantic situation here, other than to say that I’ve been married for eleven years, and it’s been a rocky ride. Out of respect for Xife, I’ll set aside this aspect of my life for now.

All that said, there are a few things about me that makes some people question whether I have Asperger’s and “only” have ADHD: Empathy, and imaginative ability. With empathy, I have mixed feelings (no pun intended). I am very protective of people I care about. This gives the appearance of me being empathetic. I have also been known to show empathy for people I don’t know, a bigger “strike” against an AS diagnosis. That’s a surface judgement. Why does anyone show empathy to a stranger? I don’t know about other people, but the thing that gets me going for or against anyone is if someone has been–in my opinion–wronged. I hold fast and hard to my view of what’s right, and I hate it when people do things that aren’t right.

When I really think about it, my “empathy” isn’t feeling for the other person so much as reacting to the situation. If I feel joy for another person, it’s because something good and right happened. If I feel anger or sadness, it’s because something bad happened. The thing I wonder is if this is normal. Is it? Or is this atypical? I guess my view of empathy is that you’re supposed to feel something for the person. I’m feeling it for the situation. Isn’t that a big distinction? If not, and if I’m over-analyzing this, I will (cough) humbly let it go.

I’m not going to address my feelings about imaginative play/work, as it’s not germane to this topic. I will write about it another time. Frankly, I’ve always had a big imagination, but not in play. More like wanting to escape into fictional worlds through reading and writing. I can’t say that I remember any role playing other than when my cousin dragged us into playing “house.” It was boring, especially because I didn’t get to have a say in anything.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Feel free to post comments or pass on the link to this blog. Have a great weekend!

resources

Atwood, Tony. “The Profile of Friendship Skills in Asperger’s Syndrome.” TonyAtwood.com. 2009. Web: 08 July 2010 <http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=71:the-profile-of-friendship-skills-in-aspergers-syndrome&catid=44:resource-papers&Itemid=180>

Leigh, Samantha. “Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults Symptoms.” Livestrong.com. 18 April 2010. Web: 08 July 2010. http://www.livestrong.com/article/108614-aspergers-syndrome-adults-symptoms/

18 Responses to “Egocentric much?”

  1. Elise Says:

    I think you need to let the empathy issue go. The fact that you react to the situation instead of personalizing makes no difference. The fact is you do recognize when something is good for someone or not. Not all NTs react for the “person,” alot react due to the situation as well. If you didn’t care about any of it I would say there was a problem, but I don’t see one here. Stop worrying. I think its fine.

  2. Christy Fix Says:

    Maybe you’re right. Still, I know that I tend to focus on myself and what *I’m* experiencing. I tend to forget other people as soon as something else catches my attention, especially if that something relates to one of my interests.

    The point I didn’t make is that I think there are more and more indications that Aspie females are taught to be empathic from early childhood. It’s a societal expectation that girls should put others before themselves. If they don’t, they’re considered bitchy/narcissistic (as my family believes of me). This is why I keep getting hung up on the empathy issue.

    Thank you for your comment!

  3. Aspie Brit Says:

    Empathy is a strange one for me, too. It’s like, I do care, but I can’t care openly. I get frustrated and angry and irritable, instead of being soft and caring. I roll my eyes and wish that the person hadn’t come to me for comfort. However, there are a lot of Aspies out there who do feel empathy toward strangers. It’s like the imagination thing – a lot of Aspies, including myself, have vivid imaginations and hide in a fantasy world away from reality. That’s normal Aspie behaviour in many cases.

    As you read in my blog, a lot of people see me as an asshole, or mouthy, or just rude in general, when really I’m just trying to be friendly and funny and amuse people and make new friends. Aspies are often interpreted in different ways than they mean to be, because of our lack of knowledge and instinct regarding social situations. I’ll often seem really uncaring, when really I just can’t get excited about something – I’m happy for you, man, trust me, but I just don’t seem to care out loud! It’s horrible, and I have to fake interest a lot, but it could be worse!

    • Christy Fix Says:

      I had a gal I know recently tell me her son just missed an Aspie diagnosis because he has “too much” imaginative play. I heard that and thought “HUH?!?!” That doesn’t make sense to me, especially because my youngest brother has a huge imagination, and he’s textbook Aspie.

      I read that the “official” diagnostic manual is too limited on a definition/criteria. I have to agree with that.

      People usually see me as a feather-head or something. When I get excited about something, it’s like the rest of my mind steps back and looks out, yelling “Shut up already!” at this rebellious part that takes over. And yet, I have a terrible time overriding this impulse.

      By the way, I have a pretty vivid imagination, too, as does my daughter. Now that she’s talking more and better, we’re getting earfuls of stories from her!

  4. capriwim Says:

    I have Aspergers, and for myself, I don’t see it as so much about egocentricity as about difficulty multitasking. I can’t be simultaneously alert to someone else’s perspective and my own – I have to focus on one at a time. When I do care work, for instance, I simply focus on the clients and don’t think about myself – in fact, I find it quite disorienting if a client asks me a personal question, because my brain then has to jolt back to myself!

    • Christy Fix Says:

      I’m sorry, what were you saying? (Just kidding!)

      I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. It makes a lot of sense. Also, I get really bent out of shape if I’m focusing on something and I get interrupted. If I’m working on the computer or writing, watch out! 😉

  5. Isabel Says:

    I’ve read a lot rebuttals to the idea that autistics don’t have empathy, especially females. For example: http://www.existenceiswonderful.com/2008/04/empathy-conundrum-ethics-emotion-and.html

    And
    http://www.journeyswithautism.com/2008/12/25/autism-and-empathy/

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  8. danadk Says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful, enlightening post. I am a NT with a husband who has recently been diagnosed with AS. It’s been a difficult, rocky road to say the least. Since diagnosis, looking at our problems through a different lens has helped ‘some’. They are looking into the possibility that he also has ADHD or another anxiety disorder on top of the AS. Your post helps me to see into the world my husband lives. He is not able (yet?) to articulate what goes on in his head around his frustrations and melt downs. He doesn’t believe he has any of the mind blindness and believes that he has empathy, he just figures others are fine taking care of themselves. Thank you again for giving me some insights and clarity about empathy. That is a tough one to crack for AS individuals AND NTs.

  9. Marion Says:

    I am diagnosed with AS and still struggle to make life work. Iam doing a aprantice in carework and it is sometimes like sitting in a calidascope without an exit. Aslong as I work on my own, everything is just fine. But as soon its about deeper comunication, it ends up in a big mess of misunderstanding. In medical subjects I got 95% but in anything about communication, I end up below 50%. Thags frustrading. Got anyone a idea of how to.servive in Jobs with AS?

  10. Alison Says:

    Do you or anybody have any advice for people living with “happily eccentric” autists? Our daughter of 30 has so much trouble with family reunions – if we’re not all focused on her and her problems, she feels that we’re against her. She can’t understand that everybody has problems – and if we do, they can’t possibly be as bad as hers. She seems to do okay one on one with people who know how to talk to her but more than the core family is really difficult.

    • chris Says:

      at the end of the day, you’re the only person on this page that knows her inside out. Deep down you know what needs to be done

  11. whateverbrother Says:

    Hello ! This post & the comments are a goldmine of great thoughts. Anyway. Someone above mentioned having trouble keeping more than one perspective in mind, either their own, or someone else’s. I feel the same, and would add that (for me) it feels like it’s their whole “reality” that’s taking over mine for a moment. Their mood, beliefs, etc.
    While it makes me able to have great conversations with almost anyone, and I think that’s a cool gift, it also means that I often have a hard time going against the flow in groups, and it makes me very uncomfortable. Negative people can make me feel super depressed in no time. Now, I try to get alone time to do important decision making with MY reality plugged in, not anyone else’s…

  12. Vibha Says:

    My son had a similar experience with one of drawings he made when he was in class 2 . His classmates and class teacher accused him of tracing it, he was reduced to tears and couldn’t explain to them that he had drawn the Australian Aboriginal style lizard by freehand.( His speech was quite limited then) . He told me this many months after the incidence . I was mortified . my son was constantly bullied in his primary school and school acknowledged it finally when a school governor went into his class as an observer and reported it to the school committee. Having a high functioning child in mainstream school is tough as one has to remind the teachers everyday that the child needs clear written instructions .

  13. roger reid Says:

    I don’t know how old you are, but the beginning confused me to the point that I couldn’t bring myself to read on:

    “I WON’T SPEAK TO my brothers’ EXPERIENCES right now–Deep Thought (the younger brother) told me he’d be interested in guest blogging later–but I CAN SPEAK TO MINE.”

    How does one speak to an experience? You can speak to your what?

    Dissapointing


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