OMG! An Aspie with empathy?! What sorcery is this?!

One of the more notorious stereotypes I’ve seen regularly attributed to Autism Spectrum Disorder, including Asperger’s, is a supposed inability to empathize with other individuals. While I personally find this generalization to be highly inaccurate, I would be lying if I said it doesn’t make sense. People who are on the autism spectrum, myself included, often experience various difficulties when it comes to interpersonal communication. This includes failing to  facial expressions and other non-verbal cues tied to one’s emotional state, like the tone of their voice or certain hand gestures. In addition, people with ASD can sometimes have trouble expressing their own feelings, such as when reacting to someone else’s misfortune. As a result, Aspies may appear to be apathetic to or unfazed by other people’s problems. What’s likely happening in many cases is that they are missing non-verbal indications of how other’s feels which most neurotypicals can detect easily, or simply not doing a very good job of expressing their own sympathies. Moreover, it can be very confusing to many Aspies when people tell them that they are “feeling fine,” when they are clearly not.

However, does this mean that people with autism or Asperger’s have zero issues with empathy whatsoever? I did some research to try to answer that question, and I came across a couple of scientific theories on the matter that seemed somewhat credible. Well-known clinical psychologist and autism researcher, Simon Baron-Cohen, has claimed that people with ASD tend to struggle with “cognitive empathy”, meaning that they have difficulty “imagining other’s state of mind”. [1] According to Baron-Cohen, this is primarily caused by a higher level of fetal testosterone, leading to what he calls the “extreme male brain” – based on his theory that men’s higher testosterone levels cause them to have more systematic and less empathic brains compared to women. [2] Additionally, Baron-Cohen performed a study in which he reported that a certain gene linked to people’s empathy patterns are more prevalent in people with Asperger’s Syndrome. In the academic journal, Molecular Autism, he concluded based on his study that specific kinds of SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in GABRB3 (don’t ask, I’m not a biologist) are more common among Aspie subjects, which apparently correlated with their overall lower scores on empathy tests. [3] These theories of Baron-Cohen’s are definitely intriguing, in my opinion, though I wouldn’t say that they accurately describe my relationship with empathy. I shall explain why later.

A study from Scientific American speculates that there is an indirect connection between autism and a condition known as alexithymia, which is defined as a “difficulty understanding and identifying one’s own emotions”. [4] Rebecca Brewer and Jennifer Murphy emphasize that although there are higher rates of alexithymia among people with autism than the general population, ASD does not directly lead to alexithymia and only about half of individuals with ASD have the condition. “We found that individuals with autism but not alexithymia show typical levels of empathy, whereas people with alexithymia (regardless of whether they have autism) are less empathic. So autism is not associated with a lack of empathy, but alexithymia is.” [5] Interestingly, their findings contradict a previous report from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, which stated that, in a study of 111 adult participants, approximately 85% of those with ASD suffered from alexithymia or had “impaired emotional processing”. [6] In any case, this connection between autism and alexithymia may also be plausible as a general concept, but just like Baron-Cohen’s thesis, I don’t think it’s very relevant to me as an Aspie.

There is a theory I’ve discovered, fortunately, that does seem to be very applicable to me. It’s a thesis forwarded by Swiss researchers Henry and Kamila Markham, dubbed the “Intense World Theory”. The main idea behind this thesis is that instead of being insensitive to other people’s emotions and experiences, people with ASD are actually hypersensitive to them, just as they are with any other kind of stimuli. “The Intense World Theory states that autism is the consequence of a supercharged brain that makes the world painfully intense and that the symptoms are largely because autistics are forced to develop strategies to actively avoid the intensity and pain. Autistics see, hear, feel, think, and remember too much, too deep, and process information too completely.” [7] In other words, when someone with ASD observes another person’s feelings or hears about their experiences, they think about it and empathize with it too much, to the point where it severely overwhelms and disturbs them. They can’t handle all of the input they receive from trying to emotionally connect with other people, often leading to mental breakdowns and needing to retreat “into a controllable and predictable bubble to protect themselves from the intensity and pain.” [8] This explains why Aspies may appear to be completely uninterested in other people’s issues and sorrows; their method of escaping the overflow of emotional input often comes across as aloofness or an inability to relate with others. The reality, according to this theory, is that they aren’t aloof and they can relate with other people. Instead, Aspies are actually so sensitive to what other people are feeling or going through that it can quickly overpowers them and causes them extreme levels of mental tension. [9]

You’ve probably already guessed why I like the Markrams’ theory more than the others I’ve presented: because I think it best describes my issues with empathy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Intense World Theory is factually correct and the other two theories are completely wrong, and I’m totally willing to acknowledge if Baron-Cohen or Brewer/Murphy’s thesis has been scientifically verified. I simply know that my relationship with empathy is almost identical to what the Intense World Theory states: I’m highly sensitive to and in touch with other people’s emotions and experiences. Unlike how many people like to stereotype Aspies and ASD individuals, I genuinely feel for another person when they are going through a rough time and easily become distressed while hearing about their bad circumstances. Much of the time I put myself in their shoes and imagine how I might feel if I had to go through the same hardships, making me want to help them out in any way that I can. Moreover, this intense sympathy will sometimes, though not always, come to a point where it’s just too much for me and I need to leave the situation and distract myself so that I don’t become too anxious or depressed. As a result, some people may accuse me of not caring about their feelings in plights, when in actuality, I do care. I care too much.

My sympathies towards others, as a general rule, doesn’t have many boundaries or strict limits. Whenever I learn about one or more individuals enduring some sort of adversity, injury, or just severe inconvenience, I usually can’t help but feel sorry for them no matter who they are, where they’re from, or whether their specific hardship is common among other people. This applies to a wide range of situations, from young children who are horrifically starving in third-world regions of the world, to an overweight person in America who is constantly harassed and bullied by his peers. Of course, I fully acknowledge that some instances of suffering are substantially worse than others and that there are countless numbers of people going through difficult times. Nonetheless, I am unable to not sympathize with any individual who is experiencing some form of injury, no matter how severe or minor, and I always hope with all of my heart that things improve for them, even when it seems unlikely that this will happen. As I indicated earlier, I tend to imagine myself physically experiencing the same calamities they’re going through, feeling their hurt and unhappiness, and desperately wanting someone to come over to let me know that I’m not alone and that things will be ok. While not everyone likes to accept sympathy from other people, I’m not ashamed to admit that I like receiving support and compassion when I’m experiencing rough moments in my life.

A plus side to my “excessive” empathy is that it can motivate me to try being helpful and generous to others who seem to be in need. Aside from the occasional charity donation and helping people out who are struggling with tasks, I often like to offer a kind, sympathetic ear to people who are experiencing troublesome times, hearing them out and occasionally giving them some advice. However, I would strongly hesitate to call myself the most supportive or humanitarian person that I know. Due in part to my social anxieties and time management difficulties, I honesty don’t spend as much time as I would like talking to others about their personal struggles or volunteering for local charity causes. Moreover, as I indicated earlier, it can sometimes be mentally overwhelming to hear about other people’s hardships and misery; causing me so much anxiety that I end up either walking away from the discussions or trying to change the subject so that I don’t have to think about it. This can apply to both direct conversations with other people as well as hearing about a great tragedy or sad story from the news. I know that this isn’t the most considerate or appropriate way of dealing with empathy, but I personally find it necessary at times to calm myself down so that I don’t end up having any emotional outbursts or meltdowns.

Outbursts and meltdowns from being too sympathetic were pretty frequent when I was younger. I cannot count the number of times where I had a huge shouting fit or anxious tantrum as a result of hearing about or witnessing someone else’s misery or injustice. A good example would be when I read a non-fiction book called Chinese Cinderella for a high school English class. The book recaps the memories of a woman named Adeline Yen Mah who grew up in China during the 1940s to 50s and had to endure constant emotional and psychological abuse from her family (particularly her step mother). To say that I felt incredibly sorry for the woman while reading the book would be a vast overstatement: I would constantly shout angry, hate-filled things about the people who horrendously mistreated her and then spend several minutes feeling depressed about how horrendously unfair life can be to certain people. There was also the time where I tried standing up for a math teacher in middle school because I felt like she was being wrongly harassed and bullied by the students. It made me extremely upset to see how she was being treated by the students, so I angrily yelled at the other kids to shut up and leave her alone, which naturally didn’t work in the slightest. After school I would often rant to my family about how mean the other students were to the teacher and how stressful her job must be with such “loud, disorderly punks”. Looking back, I probably should’ve known not to sympathize with that teacher so much because anyone could tell that she was being far too laid back and idle when it came to stopping disorderly conduct.

While my ability to cope with my intense sympathies and not let them get to me has greatly improved, my tendency to feel sorry for people who may or may not actually deserve it hasn’t all that much. For some reason I still can’t help but have small amounts of compassion for people who probably don’t deserve it, such as powerful politicians who’re going through corruption scandals, high school students who constantly bully smaller, weaker kids, people who repeatedly cheat on their spouse, or people who nearly hit me by cutting me off as I’m driving. I will absolutely be upset with them and view their actions as wholly inexcusable, but at the same time I will think about what this individual person is possibly going through, why they did what they did, and whether I would have acted differently in their shoes. In fact, I may ponder if what’s happening to them isn’t 100% their fault or if there are somewhat valid, understandable reasons for why they commit these horrendous misdeeds. Moreover, I might consider the fact that they hate themselves deep down and feel completely alone, like no one truly understands them or is willing to give them a chance. I won’t go as far as to say that these people are necessarily good or even redeemable, but I’m also unwilling to disregard them as just “scum” or “monsters who don’t deserve any sympathy”. I’m not sure if this is something I should be proud of or attempt to change, but I do know that it means I don’t have trouble empathizing with people as some may assume I do.

Once again, I can’t speak for every Aspie, and it’s very possible that this “Intense World Theory” that I’ve been using to describe my relationship with empathy is applicable only to a small number of cases like mine. In fact, I am interested in hearing from other people with Asperger Syndrome or ASD about their relationship with empathy – whether they have any trouble feeling for other people and how they usually deal with sympathy whenever they experience it. So I highly encourage readers with the disorder to share how they experience empathy in the comments below so that I can learn whether I’m alone in being hypersensitive to other people’s troubles.

  1. Baron-Cohen, S. (@sbaroncohen). “Myth 9: autistic people lack empathy: untrue, most struggle with ‘cognitive empathy’ (imagining other’s state of mind) but not ‘affective empathy’ (feeling an appropriate emotion triggered by another’s state of mind) (if they hear someone is upset, it upsets them).” Jan. 23, 2018, 11:11 PM. Tweet.
  2. Baron-Cohen, S. (2004). The Essential Difference: Male And Female Brains And The Truth About Autism. London: Basic Books.
  3. Warrier, V., Baron-Cohen, S., & Chakrabarti, B. (2013). Genetic variation in GABRB3 is associated with Asperger syndrome and multiple endophenotypes relevant to autism. Molecular Autism, 4(1), 48.
  4. Brewer, Rebecca, and Jennifer Murphy. “People with Autism Can Read Emotions, Feel Empathy.” Scientific American, Spectrum, 13 July 2016, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-with-autism-can-read-emotions-feel-empathy1/.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Hill, E., Berthoz, S. & Frith, U. J Autism Dev Disord (2004) 34: 229. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JADD.0000022613.41399.14
  7. Henry, M. and Kamila, M. (2012). Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism. Online interview. https://wrongplanet.net/interview-henry-and-kamila-markram-about-the-intense-world-theory-for-autism/.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
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“Can we skip this song, please?”

It is widely known among ASD experts (or just people who know anything about autism beyond outdated stereotypes) that many individuals who have autism are notably sensitive to most forms of sensory input, particularly sound. In other words, people with an ASD (including Asperger Syndrome) tend to strongly dislike having to listen to a lot of noise at once, especially if it’s loud or sudden. For them it can lead to what I like to call “sensory overload”, which is when someone experiences intense anxiety and distress from the amount of noise and other sensory input they are forced to endure. This is a common source for a many tantrums and outbursts among younger individuals with autism, particularly when they’re out in public where sound volume can be high.

I have already discussed this topic and how it relates to me in my blog post, LOOOOUUUUUUUD NOISES!!! , so please go read that if you haven’t already.

There is, however, another aspect to my auditory sensitivity that I didn’t bring up in that article. It’s a little weird, hard to explain, and may only be relevant to me, as I can’t find any evidence that this issue exists in other people with autism or Asperger’s. The best way I can describe this phenomenon I can sometimes be emotionally sensitive to certain kinds of sounds, especially music. This was specifically prominent when I was a child and it’s not as much of a problem today, though it does persist to some extent.

What do I mean by emotionally sensitive to certain noises and music? Well firstly, we all react unhappily to some music, particularly when it’s intentionally meant to sound sad or depressing. Many of us can’t help but cry or get teary-eyed when listening to songs like “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Mad World” by Gary Jules, or “Hurt” by Johnny Cash (“Hurt” is definitely a tear-jerker for me). Secondly, all of us naturally feel somewhat anxious when having to listen to unpleasant noises such as jack hammers, kids screaming, people chewing with their mouths open (talk to my sister about that one), chairs being dragged on the floor, and buzzing flies.

Of course, just like countless other things I’ve discussed on this blog, this issue works a little bit different for me. What I mean by that is that, for one reason or another, I can’t help but be more susceptible to negative emotions when listening to certain music or hearing specific sounds. There are quite a few songs and noises that normally wouldn’t upset people at all, but for some reason can make me feel rather uncomfortable.

As a kid, it wasn’t very hard for me to cry or feel really sad when listening to a particular song or instrumental score that somehow rubbed me the wrong way. I think you can imagine how annoying this could be: getting all gloomy and teary-eyed out of nowhere because of some music that had no such effect on anyone else. The worst part about this is that the tears and gloominess would often persist long after I had listened to the song, making it even more difficult than it already was to socialize and have fun with others.

I can name a fair amount of songs and music scores that wouldn’t upset or even annoy most people but would usually get me to cry or just demand that it stop. In fact, right now I’d rather not name any specific songs or music that often caused me such unhappiness, because I’m worried that I’ll start thinking about it and maybe start crying again.

Well ok I guess I should give at least one example: I remember when I used to go on car trips with my family and listen to soundtracks from movies and Broadway musicals with them on the way. One soundtrack that we had must have listened to at least 50 times was that from the Beauty & the Beast Broadway musical. There a few songs from the soundtrack to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack that were technically sad, but not exactly the kind of music that would cause people to break out in tears. Whenever we played the soundtrack while traveling, I would insist that these songs be skipped otherwise I would start to cry or get all sad (either then or later in the day). I could tell that my parents didn’t like this and wanted to listen to the whole soundtrack, but they did it for me because they understood that I simply couldn’t handle the music. So, thanks for doing that for me guys! I greatly appreciate it! 😊

Another example I’ll post here so that you can get a good picture is a short hymn that my church would often play during Sunday sermons when I was a child. Well, at first it was in a key that I didn’t really mind at all, and I believe it better suited the message of the song (which was, I think, to simply say “praise the Lord” and all that jazz). Later on, for some reason, they changed the key of the hymn to something that sounded a lot more somber and depressing, at least to me. Keep in mind that the music was played on a church organ, which is already well-equipped to play somber music (because, you know, funerals). Thus, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and sometimes even teary-eyed whenever hearing it. Luckily, my parents stopped dragging me to Sunday sermons when I was like 13. Thanks a lot for that too, mom & dad!

The same general principle can be applied to various non-musical noises. There are more than a few kinds of sounds that have had the effect of making me feel somewhat anxious or miserable, especially as a kid. An example of a sound that has always gotten under my skin is an infant crying. The thing is that every time I hear it I try SO HARD to not let it bother me, to not get upset or stressed, and to remind myself that it’s a natural part of life and that we all have to put up with it. “You cried when you were a baby, weren’t you Tim?” I tell myself. “You shouldn’t let it bother you so much when it’s so natural and common.” Unfortunately, that only works for a short while until I’m just mentally screaming “Oh god, PLEASE, make it stop!” and I sort of feel like crying as well. It takes quite a bit of restraint and effort to not walk away, cover my ears, or ask whoever is supervising the child to try harder to make them stop. (Note: I do not wish to offend parents of infants in any way by saying this. I’m just saying that the sound really gets to me, that’s all)

Now don’t get me started on buzzing bees or flies, particularly in movies and television shows. The sounds of real buzzing bees and flies are bad enough, but somehow when its used in fictional media, they manage to make it even more grating and awful to hear. Seriously, whenever a bee or fly or similar insect appears on-screen as I’m watching something, I have to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the incoming “auditory onslaught”. If you want to understand what I mean, just watch this.

Luckily, as I’ve mentioned several times before, this issue has GREATLY improved for me and I’m nowhere near as bothered as much by certain music or sounds as I used to be. I still tend to avoid various kinds of music and sounds on occasion (it’s partially why I avoid church services aside from weddings and funerals), but overall I’m far better at tolerating audio that doesn’t exactly put a smile on my face. I’m mainly just glad that I could get this topic off my chest and that I’ve managed to clarify it to my friends and family who’ve probably been curious about it since I was little.

Here’s one last thing I’d like to share: if you ever play Little Black Raincloud from Winnie the Pooh near me, I reserve every right to physically destroy whatever it is that’s playing the song. I’m not kidding. Your computer, Android, iPod, or whatever will be DEAD in seconds if you try to play that song within my presence.

“Hey, I’m in college now! Why do I still have so few friends?”

Throughout my high school years, I did not have a very large network of friends or acquaintances. At most, I think I had something like four close friends at once and a couple of casual acquaintances here and there. Moreover, I rarely ever went to any parties or big get-togethers, save for some club meetings and events that involved video games, movies, and other things that I enjoyed.

None of this should come across as a big shock given the fact that I have Asperger Syndrome, and that I’ve talked about this in more than a few previous blog posts (check out  if you haven’t already).

In the leading up to my first semester of college, however, I had this plan in my head to essentially “start anew” in terms of my social life and become much more outgoing and popular among my fellow students.

“When I start college, I’m not going to be the awkward, isolated introvert anymore!” I said to myself. “I’m going to make plenty of friends, attend plenty of parties and other events, and be far more involved in the overall student social network.”

… yeah, I think you can see where this is going.

Firstly, transitioning from living at home to living on a campus (although I had been away from home several times beforehand) was tough for me. I actually cried quite a bit on my first two days and part of me wanted to just go back home. So, I wasn’t in the best mood to immediately make friends with other students or go to loud, crowded parties.

I spent the first several weeks mostly keeping to myself, only occasionally hanging out with other students – with a mental note to “get back into gear and start being more social” when I felt more comfortable living on campus. Unfortunately, this simply turned into a cycle of “social procrastination” for me – constantly saying to myself, “Meh, I’m not going to hang out with them today. I’ll do it tomorrow or next weekend, perhaps.”

As the semester went on and I was given countless opportunities to socialize with other students, I continued to be habitually introverted and spend at least 80% of my free time alone. When I wasn’t studying I was playing video games, watching YouTube videos, practicing bass guitar, surfing the web idly, and sometimes chatting with people online. Of course, I did make several acquaintances and a few friends while living in the dorm, and I did try to go to several social gatherings during the semester – but nowhere as frequently as I originally planned.

Throughout the other semesters, my social life still didn’t really improve. I had a couple of friendships and acquaintanceships that mostly just came and went. The network of fellow students that I knew never exceeded 7 or 8 individuals. I seldom attended parties or large social gatherings, and when I did it was usually because something like video games, movies, or food drew me there and I wasn’t interested in chatting with others. Sound a little familiar?

Yup, in the end, my social life at college was hardly any different at all from how it was during high school. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I just wasn’t very motivated to completely change my introverted ways. So, I eventually gave up and simply allowed myself to continue being myself – mostly introverted and on my own, but hanging out with friends and acquaintances once in a while.

To be honest, I think this was perhaps the best course of action for me, as forcing myself to completely change my introverted nature seemed like a bad idea to start with. I mean, it was good that I wanted to have more friends and spend less of my time alone and isolated from my fellow students. Nevertheless, I shouldn’t have set my expectations so high or assumed that everything would be completely different because I was in a new setting. I suppose what I should have done was give myself smaller, simpler goals that would help me gradually move out of my comfort zone over time – as opposed to demanding that I transform entirely within a matter of weeks.

More importantly though, I should have been far more accepting of the fact that I’m simply not a very social person and that I like to keep to myself a bit more often than most others. Of course, this isn’t to say that I should not have tried at all to socialize more often and be more connected with my peers. What I mean is that I wish I had realized much sooner that it’s perfectly ok to not have a large network of friends or to spend some (or even most) weekends alone.

Indeed, as an introvert, I personally believe that while we shouldn’t let ourselves be social hermits or stay fully isolated from our peers, we can accept ourselves for who we are and let ourselves live the way that we wish. Not having a lot of friends or staying at home most weekends isn’t a bad thing or something to be ashamed of, at least in my opinion. Therefore, I don’t see any reason to believe we need to be more social or “get out” more often. Again, as long as you try to reach out to others now and then (both online and offline), be somewhat open to social gatherings, and not be like Boo Radley from To Kill a Mocking Bird, you shouldn’t feel bad being introverted or even a little reclusive.

Here’s something to keep in mind: just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I’m lonely. It simply means I usually feel more comfortable on my own or with a small group of friends than constantly being surrounded by others.

One of my most embarrassing moments ever: Pajama Day

I think it’s fair to assume that nearly every person on this planet (autistic and non-autistic) experiences some embarrassing, humiliating moments every once in a while. Since human beings are never perfect or flawless, we all have to deal with being in a really discomfiting situation at least a couple of times in our lives.

Naturally, people with Asperger Syndrome such as myself often experience more than our fair share of humiliating moments, given our  difficulties with socializing and our repetitive, “weird” behavior. I believe that a huge chunk of our most embarrassing moments occurs during childhood, when our social interaction skills and communication abilities are usually at their worst. If you’ve seen some of my previous posts on this blog, you’ll know that I am definitely no exception; many of my most humiliating experiences happened when I was a child (particularly between the ages of 8 and 14).

If I were to choose one specific moment that I felt was the most embarrassing of them all, it would have to be Pajama Day from when I was in Second Grade.

I think some of you might (vaguely) remember a Pajama Day when you were in elementary school. It’s a day when you the school allows you to come to class in your pajamas. Sounds pretty fun, right?

Well apparently, back in 1999 (I think), at least 95% of the kids in my school thought the idea was lame and decided to wear normal clothes instead. Unfortunately, I was one of the very few kids who thought it might be cool to sport our PJs to class. In fact, I can only remember one other student wearing pajamas to school that day.

The PJs I was wearing were Toy Story 2-themed (the film had come out earlier that year), and to be fair, I don’t think they looked embarrassing or silly upon retrospect. However, that didn’t stop much of 2nd grade class, all of whom were dressed in normal attire, from pointing and giggling at me. It didn’t take long to realize that everyone else decided against celebrating Pajama Day and thought that I was being ridiculous for wearing my PJs to school. One kid that I really hated back then made fun of the fact that I was wearing Toy Story-themed PJs, saying that stuff like that “was for babies” (yeah, he apparently thought it was uncool that I enjoyed one of the best animated films ever made).

Needless to say, I felt humiliated and just wanted to disappear right then and there. I think my face must have been as red as a tomato, and I must have been fighting super hard not to cry. Unable to deal with the embarrassment, I convinced the teacher to excuse me so that I could go to the nurse’s office. Fortunately, the nurse was nice enough to give me some extra clothing that belonged to other students that I got to wear for the rest of the day.

I was still somewhat embarrassed throughout the rest of the day, and had to deal with teasing from a couple of kids (especially from that one kid I mentioned earlier). Nonetheless, I was able to mostly survive the humiliation of being the only kid in class wearing his pajamas on Pajama Day. More importantly, though, I learned that day to never celebrate school “holidays” where you wear something weird or special. It may or may not have also played a part in why I haven’t worn pajamas to bed in a long, long, long time.

On another positive note, I don’t think I’ve experienced another moment where I’ve felt as humiliated as I did back then. Oh, I’ve certainly had more than a couple of embarrassing and shameful moments in my life afterward (having Asperger Syndrome certainly didn’t help in that regard), but none that made me feel as bad as I did back then. I suppose that’s one good thing I can say about the rest of my childhood and my life up to now. Hopefully I’ll be able to maintain this trend and avoid instances where I feel so humiliated that I want to disappear and die.

I apologize to those who were hoping to see something more related to Asperger Syndrome in this blog post. I simply really wanted to share this childhood memory of mine as it’s an experience that I’ll won’t forget anytime soon and that left an impressionable impact on my childhood as a whole. Hopefully some of you out there can relate to experiences like this one and can now back on them and say, “Yeah, that was seriously embarrassing, but I’m glad I remember them because, as bad as they were, they’re still a sort of important part of my life.”

Autism as an insult… oh boy

Warning: this blog post contains some strong adult language and may not be suitable for all readers. If you are under 16 years of age or are sensitive to certain terms, then I advise you not to read this article. In other words: reader discretion is advised!

In the past several years, I have noticed two major trends among younger generations throughout the U.S. and other western countries, particularly on the web:

On the one hand, we have the ongoing rise of what I, along with many others, like to call the “regressive left”. For those who aren’t sure of what I’m referring to, I’m basically talking about the growing number of young “liberals” (I use the term very loosely) who spend much of their time contending what they consider to be “prejudice,” “bigotry,” or “threats social justice” – frequently taking radical, morally questionable measures to do so. You will most often see these kinds of people in two kinds of settings: on college campuses refusing people who have even the slightest degree of right-wing beliefs to speak within 10 miles of them; or on websites such as Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. accusing nearly everyone who isn’t liberal or a minority of being a bigot, racist, sexist, fascist, etc. In other words, they are people who believe that political correctness must be maintained at all costs, and anyone who does anything that could possibly offend someone is a horrible monster that should be shamed and treated like a criminal. Yeah, if you can’t already tell, I’m not a fan of those types of people, and neither should you be if you value free speech and reason over emotion.

On the other hand, we also have increasing rates of young individuals who are going in the complete opposite direction. They are not necessarily becoming racist, sexist, fascist, or anything like that; in fact, many of them wouldn’t really call themselves conservatives (although the group I mentioned earlier often stops them from calling themselves liberals either). Rather, they simply political incorrectness with a passion and frequently like to be as offensive and provocative as possible on the web, usually on sites like 4Chan, Reddit, or YouTube. Some of them will do this merely to spite regressive leftists, whom are, naturally, very easily provoked (and sometimes deserve to be offended, in my opinion). However, many of these people like to upset not just hardcore SJWs, but practically everyone, leaving comments and posting things that any reasonable person would consider unintelligent, annoying, and all-around distasteful. So, the most appropriate term for those individuals would be “trolls”: they say and do things online that don’t contain any true value or importance, but are only meant to get your attention and get you all riled up, simply to entertaining them. This is not to say that everyone who likes to be “offensive” online is a troll, simply those who attempt to shock and upset everyone for no good reason and come across as an utter jackass while doing so.

What makes these two crowds of people similar is that they like to leave comments online that contain a lot of provocative buzzwords to insult each other. Several common buzzword insults I’ve seen over the years include (commie, fascist, Moslem, racist, SJW, the f-word (the one directed at homosexuals), the n-word, bigot, white supremacist, the c-word, cuck, libtard, Trumpster, cuckservative, and autistic.

Yeah, let’s talk about that last word. Firstly, in case you are not aware, Asperger Syndrome is an Autism Spectrum Disorder; a “milder, more functional” form of autism, as many people would put it. Consequently, using the word “autistic” in such a manner does sort of impact me, and, as I will explain why, does bother me a little.

Now, there is one very important thing I’d like to clarify before I continue: I am not entirely opposed to poking fun at individuals with autism, provided that its done tastefully and does not unavoidably insult autistic people. I’m someone who believes that just about any topic, no matter how controversial, sensitive, or taboo, can be made into a funny joke that most people should be able to enjoy. Critically-acclaimed comedians like Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Dave Chapelle, and Bill Burr all use jokes that are meant to be offensive to some individuals. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset in the slightest if they occasionally used a joke about autism, provided it that was tasteful and wasn’t intended to directly insult people with the disorder. So, there is nothing automatically wrong about poking fun at a subject like autism, as long as you’re doing it right.

With that said, I nonetheless find it very morally suspect when someone uses the term “autistic” or “autism” in a derogatory manner. My reason for this is quite simple: whenever you use a certain term or label to insult someone, it essentially implies that there is something negative about the word that you are using. After all, the purpose of an insult is to say something bad or offensive about that other person. For instance, if I were to call someone something like lazy or a jerk (and mean it), that would imply that I am accusing them of something negative – of not working hard enough or of being unkind to other people. I mean, we can all agree that laziness and being an unkind individual are not things to be proud of. The same goes for things like calling someone a “libtard” or a “fascist” or even an offensive slur – in each case, you are saying something bad about the other person because you’re accusing them of something that you frown upon: such as being a “America-hating, communist” liberal, a “misogynist, racist” conservative, or a minority that you have negative feelings toward for some (unfounded) reason.

As a result, we are compelled to presume that when you use the term “autistic” in a mean, critical manner, you are saying something adverse not only about another individual, but also about autism in general. You are, advertently or inadvertently, making a statement about autism or autistic people that isn’t very nice or pleasant.

I think that what most people (unintentionally) infer when they use autistic as an insult are the common stereotypes attributed to people with autism: below-average intelligence, social awkwardness, having singular obsessions, needing “special help” for everything, being “really annoying”, and “doing cringe-worthy things”. Y’know, the image that comes into a lot of people’s minds when they think of autistic children.

Naturally, as with most negative generalizations of any group, I many of us can agree that such a view of autistic people is overly-simplified and very inaccurate. I seriously hate to sound like a SJW or a “pretentious, annoying liberal, but there is WAY more to autism than having “low intelligence” or being “irritating”. In fact, there are vast amounts of autistic individuals with above-average intelligence and who are no more “awkward” or “annoying” than most non-autistic individuals.

Of course, it would be naïve and simply incorrect say that the stereotypes I mentioned have no grain of truth whatsoever to them. Autism is, by definition, a mental disorder because it typically places a sort of limitation on one’s mental processes, cognitive abilities, and/or social abilities. Even many people with “higher-functioning” forms of autism such as Aspergers (like me, for instance) often have a tough time fitting in with others and will sometimes engage in activities that some might perceive as “weird”.

Nevertheless, there are five things to remember: 1) every person with autism is different and not all of them act in a similar way; 2) most people with autism have little to no control over how their minds work or how they act; 3) autistic individuals usually suffer a great deal more than the people who “have to deal with them”; 4) so many autistic individuals manage to overcome their limitations to become wonderful, extremely productive members of our society; and 5) poking fun at people with autism for the reasons stated above is like teasing someone with blindness for not being able to walk down the street independently or a veteran with PTSD for “acting so weird and oversensitive.”

If you’re someone who still legitimately believes that autistic people are somewhat problematic to our society and that being autistic is a bad thing to some degree, then… well… I’m not going to try to change your mind. You are fully entitled to your opinion and I wouldn’t be any better if I tried to force you to think differently. I’m not sure if we would get along well in person, but I’m not going to judge you any further; instead, I’m going to be the better person and just say, “whatever.”

Unfortunately, what bothers me the most about the whole issue is that most of the people who use “autistic” as an insult usually insist they aren’t trying to insinuate anything negative about autism. If I were to earnestly ask these people if they have a problem with autistic people, I imagine their response would probably something like, “Oh no, I’m not saying people with autism are bad or stupid or anything. I’m simply calling this person autistic because I think this person they’re being dumb and annoying, and because I really like being politically incorrect,” (they might also add something like “lol, get triggered, snowflake” for good measure).

Ok, here is why that kind of argument doesn’t work: you wouldn’t be using the word “autistic” in a derogatory if you weren’t trying to imply that there is something negative or undesirable about autism. I mean, why would you call someone or something autistic in a disrespectful or insulting manner if you were implying something positive or neutral about autism? As Spock would put it, that is “most illogical,” at least from the perspective of someone who wants to offend or insult someone. That would be like angrily calling a hardcore liberal a “commie” and then saying, “Oh no, I’m not saying that communism is bad or anything, I’m just calling you a commie because I think your views are stupid and anti-capitalist.” You may disagree with me on this, but it makes about as much sense as that does.

Consequently, unless you wish to say that you think that people with autism are problematic to our society, you should perhaps not use the word “autistic” in a derogatory manner, that is if you want to be taken seriously or receive any respect from me. Oh yes, I can hear so many people calling me “triggered SJW” or “easily-offended snowflake” for daring to suggest that (unintentionally) smearing autistic people might not be a kind, respectable thing to do. Well, guess what? Simply throwing anti-liberal buzzwords like that at me is not going to make me change my mind or make my whole article invalid. Oh, and calling my blog post a “bunch of Marxist, pro-censorship propaganda” won’t work in disproving my argument either. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I have zero problem with dark, offensive humor if it’s done correctly, even when it involves autism. Simply calling someone or something that you disagree with autistic does NOT count as funny dark humor; to me, it simply counts as trolling. There is a stark difference between an intelligent, light-hearted comedy routine or sketch involving autism and throwing the word “autistic” at someone or something you find stupid or annoying. I’m certain that just about any successful comedian (except for maybe someone like Andrew Dice Clay or Seth McFarlane) would agree with me on this.

So, to make this incredibly long blog post short: if you’re going to use the word autistic as an insult, please at least admit to having a prejudice against people with autism. Otherwise, please just stop using it altogether. Then again, you don’t have to follow my suggestion; as I’ve already emphasized several times, I’m not one of those people who constantly demand that everyone else be as non-offensive and politically correct as humanly possible. Honestly, I really don’t care what you do or how much of a jerk you like to be on the internet; its none of my business. All I’m saying is that if you want me, along with many other people, to respect you or to treat you like a sensible, mature adult, then you should act like one and not use words like “autistic” in a derogatory manner. Once again, if that doesn’t sound fair to you, then… whatever! I can’t control you; just know that I don’t have to take you seriously.

“I KNOW, I KNOW! STOP YELLING AT ME!!!”

As a kid, one of the things I hated the absolute most was being yelled or scolded at by others.  Well, naturally, no kid (or even adult) enjoys being yelled or scolded at. I think all children feel sad and intimidated someone, especially an adult, gets frustrated at them and shouts, “NO! BAD! STOP!” However, for some reason, I usually took it much harder than most other kids.

Whenever any adult yelled at me or spoke to me in a loud, strict tone, I would often feel daunted and sometimes wanted to cry. To me it like they were turning into a big scary monster that was roaring at me, and I was supposed to “take it like a man” and not be scared or upset.   I can remember a few distinct moments of my childhood where a parent, teacher, relative, or even stranger shouted at me and caused me so much anxiety. For instance, there was the time when I got yelled at by my karate instructor (yeah, I used to take karate lessons) after I complained about being left behind during a jog with other students. At first I was intimidated and could barely move or think. After a few seconds, I became increasingly agitated and even angry, thinking to myself that I had been treated unfairly and wanting to scream right back at him. Then I tried to avoid the karate instructor and keep to myself as much as possible. I was able to shrug it off eventually, but it’ll be a while before I forget how scared and frustrated I was then.

That is essentially what would normally happen if someone shouted or loudly scolded at me: I’d initially be alarmed and silent, then I’d be upset and irritated, and then I’d isolate myself from others and try to make myself feel better. Occasionally I’d end up crying and had to be calmed down by one of my parents, but in most cases I wanted to prove that I “could take it” and showed as little intimidation as I could. In fact, I’d sometimes feel ashamed of being so anxious because an adult yelled at me; I assumed that people would think of me as a baby or wuss if I was unable to accept some discipline. So, there were plenty of times when I was pretending to be calm and happy after being reprimanded, when, in actuality, I wanted to break down in tears and beg them to stop.

Over time, as I matured into an adult, my reaction to being shouted or scolded at did sort of change – but not for the better. Nowadays, whenever I get shouted or nagged at, instead of becoming quiet and reclusive, I typically get defensive and apprehensive. In some instances, I might have a bit of an anxious meltdown.

A good example to point to happened several years ago, when I had to use my dad’s car to drive to work, since my sister had the car I usually drove and dad was out of town. After I got into the car I accidentally forgot to open the garage door and bumped into it, causing some minor damage. Upon hearing the noise, my mom immediately rushed into the garage and yelled out, “TIIIIM!!! WHAT HAPPENED?!?!” I freaked out and starting screaming much louder than she was. I can’t fully remember what I said and did, but I do know that I was scared, frustrated, and really want to be shouted at or scolded by anyone. I had to take a short walk to calm myself down before I drove to work.

There have been several other instances like this in recent times, mainly with my parents. While I’m certainly trying to control myself much more often, I still have difficulty maintaining my temper in these kinds of situations. The problem is that whenever someone shouts at me or speaks to me in a very loud, strict tone, I still feel the same way that I did as a child: scared and distressed, like an angry drill sergeant was screaming at me. I think the two main reasons for why I’m so sensitive to this are due to my struggle with anxiety as a whole and my apprehension of being judged negatively by others. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by people scolding or yelling at you if you’re already dealing with pressure from within.

By this point it should be well-understood that I really, really, really don’t like it when people talk to me in a loud, stern tone. Unfortunately, the reality is that I may have to learn to get used to it a little in the future. I think all of us can agree that being yelled and scolded is a part of almost everyone’s life, whether we like it or not. We all have to deal with people getting angry at us and yelling at us occasionally, and these people may be employers, close friends, romantic partners, spouses, and strangers. Becoming agitated and yelling back at them certainly won’t help in most situations, even if you don’t deserve to be talked to like that. In most cases, you need to accept it with good composure, not let it get to you, and move on. This is particularly relevant in the workplace, since I know I will probably get scolded and even yelled at by my boss every once in a while.

At the same time, I don’t think I can fully blame myself for the way I react to being yelled and scolded at. I think I can at least partially blame my Asperger Syndrome as well as problems with anxiety. From what I’ve seen and heard, many others with Aspergers react similarly to being in that kind of situation; when they are put under a great deal of stress and given a lot of audio sensory. I can definitely feel for Aspies when they have a tantrum or meltdown because someone shouted at or scolded them. They don’t necessarily mean to freak out or go ballistic; they just really hate being treated like that.

I will end this post by saying this to my non-Aspie readers: the next time you’re about to shout or wag your finger at someone with Aspergers, please don’t. If possible, please try to find another way of getting your point across without intimidating them or making them feel bad.

“I’ll have the usual… as always”

I have noticed that my last couple of posts touched upon issues that were more relevant to me as a person than to Asperger Syndrome as a whole. Therefore, I thought it was about time to discuss something that I know many people with Aspergers have to deal with, and that is sticking with things that we’re familiar with. To some, this topic may sound very similar to one that I’ve already talked about earlier, which is having singular interests. Yes, these two subjects are closely related in a lot of ways. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to give this topic of sticking with familiar things its own post since it significantly affects the daily lives of us Aspies.

To begin with, everyone has their own personal tastes in various areas of life, including food, entertainment, activities, aesthetics, etc. More simply put, we all have things that we prefer or fancy. For people like me, preferences go a little further than that. The things that I favor are, in several cases, the only things that I’ll choose to have, or in some cases, the only things that I will accept period. I frequently avoid experimenting with new things, and instead prefer to stick with the stuff that I currently like. Essentially, I’m just much more inclined to “have the usual” as opposed to trying something different.

This habit of mine applies to a lot of different things: food, drinks, literature, movie & TV franchises, personal activities, video games, among others. It’s probably been most prominent when it comes to food. When I was younger, I was extremely picky about what foods I’d eat and would often insist on having certain select meals. Consequently, I ended up having the same foods repeatedly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nowadays, I am slightly more open-minded and at least try to have some more variety in what I eat, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone a little. However, normally I choose to eat what I like and only try something different on occasion or when I have no choice. Plus, if I go to a restaurant or someplace similar, I will most likely order the meal that I typically have there or something that I am familiar with – as opposed to “exploring a bit” or having the daily special.

Another good example that demonstrates this pattern is the kinds of movies I watch or video games I play. On most days, I choose to stick with franchises, genres, series, and other (look up) that I’m already a fan of. For instance, it isn’t often that I will choose to see a new drama film, even if it’s receiving massive critical acclaim, over the next entry to the Star Wars or Planet of the Apes reboot series. Furthermore, I am more likely to replay an older game from my childhood or play the newest Mario or Sonic game than to something more new and popular like Minecraft, Counter Strike, or Overwatch (though my laptop probably couldn’t handle them very well anyway). Of course, I am not completely against watching or playing something different; it simply wouldn’t be my first choice.

As usual on this blog, it’s somewhat tricky to adequately explain why I do this. I think a partial reason for it is due to my abovementioned tendency to be obsessed with certain things and have very focused interests. It goes without saying that when you’re fixated on something, you rarely have an interest in anything different. However, I think the main reason for repetitive behavior is that often feel somewhat nervous and sometimes even scared about the prospect of trying something completely new. Sticking with things that I’m more familiar with helps me feel more secure and doesn’t “expose me to the threat of something I don’t like.”

Allow me to further illustrate: Let’s say, for instance, one of my friends offers me two choices for a game we could play: Mario Kart 8 or Battlefield 1. I am more than familiar with the Mario Kart series, having played nearly all the console versions (from Mario Kart 64 to 8), and consider myself to be a rather adept Mario Kart player. With Battlefield, on the other hand, I have not played any of the games in the series and therefore have no idea what the series is about.  I haven’t played that many popular FPS games to begin with, and the ones I have played I wasn’t particularly skilled at. So, the idea of trying out Battlefield 1 with my friend makes me a tiny bit uncomfortable because there is a chance that I will not enjoy the game and will perform horribly at it. Given my sensitivity to discomfort and general unwillingness to take huge risks, my most likely choice in this scenario would be Mario Kart 8.

I feel confident that some of Aspie readers can identify with me on this topic. I say that because many of the other Aspies that I’ve come across in my life demonstrated this kind of habit: clinging onto this that they are familiar with as opposed to wanting to try new things. In addition, I’ve read a couple of online articles that discuss this pattern among people with Asperger Syndrome.* I certainly do not wish to imply that every single Aspie has this issue, since Aspergers is a very broad condition that has many ranging symptoms. Nonetheless, my point stands that this habit is prevalent in a significant portion of us, so I know that I’m not the only one with Aspergers who does it.

I for one fully acknowledge disadvantages of being so inflexible, though I don’t think that I should feel ashamed of it. On the one hand, it’s easy to see why people say I should explore a lot more and “not be so close-minded” about what I choose to do, watch, eat, listen to, play, etc. In fact, a large part of me wishes that I could be more open to doing new things and wouldn’t be so scared of, say, trying coffee, watching Orange is the New Black, or reading Game of Thrones. At the same time, I don’t necessarily see any reason to feel guilty about it. What, in all honesty, is wrong with wanting to stick to routine and chose stuff that I’m familiar with over stuff that I’m unfamiliar with? I’m not saying that I’m necessarily proud of it, but I just don’t see anything immoral or disgusting in choosing to eat fruit every day for breakfast or playing Crash Bandicoot while everyone else is playing League of Legends.” In all honesty, I consider it part of who I am, and I genuinely appreciate who I am. I strongly believe all of us should.

*See: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-psychology/autism-aspergers/#.WFW4hFziMn0, http://wildsister.com/2014/03/im-coming-out-of-the-autism-closet/, http://dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com/p/adhd-aspergers-syndrome-teaching.html, https://www.quora.com/What-Does-It-Feel-Like-to-X/What-does-it-feel-like-to-have-Aspergers-Syndrome#!n=30

“Relax, Tim, don’t think about it so much”

In my previous blog post, I gave a detailed illustration of how my mind generally works to try to explain why I sometimes talk to myself. To put it briefly, I stated that my brain produces so many thoughts at such a rapid pace that I find it tough to keep what’s on my mind entirely to myself. In my view, the chief problem is that it’s near impossible for me to calm or slow down the constant activity that’s happening in my mind. As a result, I very often feel compelled to observe and contemplate things in an excessively analytical, critical matter. In other words, I tend to overthink things. A lot.

Now, before you go and say “Wait a minute Tim, all of us overthink things from time to time, what makes you think you’re special”, I fully realize that no one is immune to excessive analysis. Heck, overthinking is something that we sometimes depend upon to get important work done or to solve complex problems. I’m not saying that I’m special because I overthink. What I am saying, however, is that I believe that I do it a bit more often than most people, as in practically all the time.

So, referring to previous post again, I like to see the minds of most human beings as something that works at a relatively steady, manageable pace. For the vast majority of people, the brain produces one or two thoughts at a time, and they are usually able to react to them in a prompt and efficient manner, without having to worry about whether they should keep it to themselves or not. The way my mind works, however, is slightly different. My mind evidently likes to produce a lot of thoughts at once, far too many for me to handle effectively. Instead of having one or two thoughts at a time and allowing them to sink in before responding, I am thinking so rapidly that I’m given barely any time to appropriately react to them. I’m essentially forced to keep up with my thoughts and observations as they come, constantly trying to make sense of everything and prevent myself from being confused or overwhelmed.

The best way I can describe this habit is that whenever I observe something or try to work on something, I will often dwell on waaay too much and form of these massive webs of thought. Apparently, pondering something for only a little bit isn’t an option for me. For whatever, reason, my mind feels as if it’s required to thoroughly analyze and elaborate on what’s going on, to look at it from all possible angles. One thought will immediately lead to another and then another and then another, and in a way that doesn’t always seem normal or consistent. Indeed, a lot of times my mind won’t stick to one topic at a time, but rather change topics every few minutes or even seconds. There are tons of times when I’m thinking of a topic and it somehow leads to another topic which has nothing to do with the first one – and yet I’m still obsessing myself over it!

Moreover, my mind is never content with having one thought or piece of information and sticking with it. It has to expand upon it. In many cases, this causes me to try to figure out everything all at once, or force myself to have a “complete” understanding. It is not enough to start to understand something piece by piece, and it’s never acceptable for me to “not get” a few things or to feel a little behind. My mind will not be satisfied unless it feels like it is perfectly in-tune with everything to the very last detail. If there’s even the slightest confusion, then my mind feels insecure and paranoid. In some cases, “knowing everything” isn’t even enough. I must elaborate beyond what’s presented to me, and apply it to my own situation

A great example would be when I’m reading a textbook for one of my college courses. As I begin reading a chapter, new concepts, ideas, and facts will be thrown at me. Instead of casually taking in each fact and detail one at a time, trying my best to remember as I go along, I mentally obsess over nearly each line of text and paragraph, especially when it teaches me something new. I try to ensure that I have an absolute grasp of everything that I read. It’s never acceptable to just move on if I’m even a tiny bit confused or may have missed something. Not only that, but I also want to have perfect, crystal-clear idea of what I’m reading. I want to make sure that the images in my head exactly match up to what’s being presented to me. Even when I already have a pretty good idea of what I’m being taught, I will still spend several minutes contemplating – just it to make absolutely sure that I fully comprehend it. All of this partially explains why it takes so long for me to read in general, and hence why I don’t like to read all that much (see this post for a further discussion on me and reading).

The same thing applies to when I do something that shouldn’t require that much thinking, such as watching a movie. Whenever I watch a film, much like with reading, it often takes me longer than it should to mentally absorb and comprehend things such as plot points and dialogue. My mind will waste a lot of time thinking about what’s being presented to me, as opposed to relaxing and enjoying the film. To make things worse, my mind is extremely adamant about understanding 100% what’s going on in the film – making sure that I’m not missing a single detail. Consequently, I might rewind a couple of times while watching to ensure that I’m completely “in sync” with everything. I just cannot be satisfied with having a basic understanding of what’s going on, and so it’s pretty easy for me to get frustrated when watching a more complex or dialogue-heavy film.

Needless to say, my tendency to overthink is another common source of anxiety and stress for me. All of the constant mental noise and activity can be a lot to deal with, and it makes calming myself down and letting things go more complicated. It’s a little like having tiny voices in your head that like to go on long, annoying rants and rarely ever shut up. Even when I’m doing something that is meant to reduce the constant mental chatter, like meditating, I will still instinctively think about what I’m doing and why it’s important. There are times when I wish to myself that I had a “normal” mind; that I could think at a much more steady, manageable pace – a mind that didn’t force me to think so much or waste so much time obsessing over things that really don’t matter in the long run.

The most frustrating part is that overthinking has been exceptionally challenging for me to reduce. I have tried a couple of strategies, such as meditation and positive affirmations, to help me with this issue, but I haven’t made much progress so far. I believe that part of the problem is that overthinking has become such a deep-rooted habit that it’s kind of hard to imagine a life without it. It would definitely be nice if I could experience what it’s like having a mind that’s much simpler and more quiet. Of course, I can’t be entirely sure that other people’s brains work that much differently, as I am unfortunately unable to read others thoughts. Also, I am unable to confirm if overthinking is relatively common among people on the Autism spectrum. Once again, it could simply be something that I have to deal with as Tim Kirtland.

I will say this though: if you don’t consider yourself to be much of an overthinker and believe that your thoughts are mostly simple and straight-forward, then you have no idea how much I envy you!

“Tim, if you keep talking to yourself, people are gonna think you’re crazy!”

Ok, it has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog. I sincerely apologize to anyone who has been waiting for me to upload something since last October. Unfortunately, I cannot promise that I will go back to posting articles on a regular basis after this, but I will do my best to post a bit more often than once every 9 or 10 months.

One reason why this post took so long for me to finish is because the subject I’m discussing here, intrapersonal communication, or talking to myself. Indeed, there is just so much for me to discuss regarding this particular issue that I don’t think I’ll be able to bring up everything in this article. I will do my best to cover as much as I can without making this an hour-long blog post, and hopefully it will be enough to give you an accurate understanding of why I regularly engage in intrapersonal communication.

To start off, for those who haven’t read my post “Tim, please, keep it to yourself,” (click here to read it), I like to express what’s on my mind with other people. A lot. I generally find it much more difficult than other people to keep my thoughts to myself and stay silent. Consequently, I frequently find myself openly discussing random topics with people as they pop up in my head. It can obviously get very irritating for other people, especially when I go off on a tangent and ramble endlessly about something that you really couldn’t care less about.

I believe that the main reason I speak my mind to others so often is because I simply have an exceptionally energetic, “noisy” brain. There is just so much going on in my head at once and it is near impossible for me to control all of it effectively. This means that a lot of my thoughts unavoidably pushed out through my mouth, even when I should probably keep my mouth shut – because there is only so much room in my head to contain my brain activity. Yeah, I know this is a bit perplexing to understand. As I said, this is a very complicated issue and I don’t think I could ever do it justice with words. So I’ll give you an illustration that hopefully clears things up a bit.

I personally like to think that human mind works a lot like an information processing center of sorts. In this processing center, our everyday thoughts are continuously being created, analyzed, and managed – each by a different department. The first department creates thoughts, and then forwards them to another department, which responsible for quickly reviewing them. After that department is finished examining the thoughts, they are then sent to a third department, which decides how to deal with these thoughts: either send them to the dump, send them to short-term memory, or let them be expressed through verbal communication. All of this occurs in our heads at a very rapid pace and hardly ever ceases as long as we’re awake.

In my view, this whole process usually runs relatively smoothly for most people: the thought-creating department generates thoughts at a constant, but steady pace; the analyzing department is able to examine these thoughts carefully before sending them off to the handling department; and the handling department is usually capable of deciding whether to send each thought to short-term memory, to the dump, or to the mouth.

For people like me, however, I like to imagine that it’s a bit of a different story. The primary issue is that the thought-generating department, for some reason, is producing WAY too many thoughts at once. As a result, the thought-analysis department is swamped with thoughts to review and hardly has any time to examine each one sufficiently before sending them off to the handling department. Meanwhile, the “workers” at the thought-handling department are constantly being overwhelmed with so many thoughts to manage at once. They are thus frequently hectic and unsure about what to do with each of them, especially with thoughts that are particularly “powerful” or “heavy”. Unfortunately, the short-term memory as well as the mind dump have limited amounts of space, and the workers don’t want to cause overflow or gridlock. Thus the thought-management department will sometimes have no choice but to let those thoughts be expressed through oral communication –even when it’s clear that it isn’t an appropriate time or setting to express them. It’s not their fault, they are simply given way too many thoughts to deal with and they are doing their best to keep things going as efficiently as possible.

So, did you get all that? I hope so, because it was the best illustration I could give to explain why my mouth works the way it does. The main idea I wish to convey here is that my mind produces so many thoughts at such a rapid pace that I simply cannot keep them all to myself without overwhelming my brain. I just have to allow some of them to be expressed, regardless of whether or not other people care to hear them.

This brings me to the actual focus of this particular blog entry: intrapersonal communication. First of all, I have mentioned numerous times in previous blog posts that I don’t have a very large social network. I certainly have friends, and I spend time with them as much as I can, but I’m not hanging out with other people as much as I’d like to. So if I have something to share, most of the time I’m the only person present to hear.

Secondly, it comes without saying that I’d always be interested in what I have to say. I mean, I am the same person who is thinking those thoughts and I obviously found them worthy of discussion in the first place. Therefore, I’m naturally the perfect audience for my own little rants and monologues, and sometimes I can even provide myself with a person to engage in “dialogue” with. Indeed, given how overactive and energetic my mind is, I can easily think from multiple points of view and come up with ways in which another person may respond to what I say. I have been able to engage in rather insightful conversations with myself about a bunch of things – ranging from the current state of the Republic Party to whether or not Green Day can be legitimately considered a punk band. This works slightly better than me ranting on and on about it to someone else who clearly doesn’t give a flying… fudge, doesn’t it?

With that said, there are at least three common subjects that I will usually talk to myself about:

  • Something that is relevant to the current situation or that just happened to me.
  • Something related to what I see or hear from a form of media or art (film, television, radio, book, website, video game, etc.)
  • A topic that simply popped in my head randomly and particularly interests me.

In each case, I will spend a couple of minutes either having a little “conversation” (or sometimes “debate”) with myself or going on some prolonged rant to communicate my feelings or thoughts. I basically act as if I am actually talking to other people or providing some sort of commentary to a small group of others.

A rather frequent example is when I’m driving somewhere, and I hear about something political on the radio or a political topic just pops into my head. For whatever reason, I will feel the need to articulate my own beliefs on the subject in a sort of brief speech, pretending that I’m speaking to a news reporter, political analyst, or well-known political commentator. Most of the time, I will do my best to make an appeal to a moderate, sort of “middle-of-the-road” approach to the issue in question; agreeing in part with both sides. I believe that I partially do this in order to clarify my political beliefs to myself, since I like to make sure that I’m always making fair, intelligent analyses of every subject.

In some cases, I will pretend that I am giving commentary for someone else – imaging that I am some popular actor, writer, musician, or scientist. This plays a lot into what I discussed a while back about “imaginary play” (click here to learn more). For instance, after watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I may pretend that I’m one of the cast members and provide some commentary for it. I will explain why the episode was written the way it was, what I liked most about the episode, and what it was like for me portraying my character. Of course, it’s pretty silly of me to act like I know what is going on in the heads of any of these people, but c’mon… it’s always fun to pretend!

I am not sure if it’s a common thing for people with Asperger Syndrome or Autism to regularly talk to themselves. I tried looking up scientific studies and articles online that may link Autism spectrum disorders with intrapersonal communication and I couldn’t find any concrete evidence that there is a connection. It is pretty likely that this issue doesn’t have much to do with Asperger Syndrome, and is simply another aspect of who I am.

I will say, however, that I don’t personally find anything really wrong with intrapersonal communication per se. Sure it was a little embarrassing for me to share this with you guys, but I’m not exactly hurting anyone when I talk to myself, including myself, am I? Hence, I don’t see any reason why I ought to stop doing it. I obviously don’t want to do it when I’m with other people, but if I’m alone and just minding my own business, I have no reason to be ashamed of talking to myself. So to those out there who, for similar reasons, like to engage in intrapersonal communication every once in a while: I say continue doing it if you feel like it. Don’t let anyone convince you that you’re “weird” or “crazy” for expressing your thoughts aloud to yourself!

Preschool memories of an Aspie

Yep, that’s right. I actually remember a couple of things from when I was in preschool, at which time I was 3-4 years old. Of course, my existing memories of preschool are extremely vague and few in number. Nonetheless, many of the experiences that I can recall seem to indicate my Asperger Syndrome pretty well, and they sort of set a benchmark for what life was going to be like for me throughout the years that followed.

One of the very first memories that comes to mind when I think of my preschool years is the time when one of the teachers got really impatient with me while trying to help me in the bathroom. You know how 3 or 4 years is usually the age where many kids start learning how to properly use the toilet? Well I guess that I may have been having a bit of trouble  in certain areas. I cannot remember what exactly I was doing wrong or why the teacher became so frustrated with me. All I know is that I was trying to use a toilet or urinal, while the rest of the class was watching a video I believe, and at one point she grabbed my pants and loudly whispered something along the lines of “Pull your pants down/up now! Or you’ll miss the rest the video!” My recollection is, again, tremendously vague and there are probably a lot of details that I’m missing. Regardless, that moment seemed to really stick with me for one reason or another, and I distinctly remember being very intimated and scared by the teacher. Consequently, whenever an adult angrily scolded me for my apparent misbehavior, I would often think back to this incident with the preschool teacher.

Another incident from preschool that frequently pops up in my memory is when I randomly hugged some boy in my class. We were all outside picking flowers and doing other stuff, and out of nowhere, for some reason that I have no recollection of, I gave one of the other kids this big hug from behind. As you might expect, the other boy didn’t enjoy this sudden physical display of affection and immediately told me to stop. Fortunately, I complied, and I believe not much else happened afterward. The best guess I can come up with as to why I did that is because I had been watching too much Sesame Street or Barney the Dinosaur (y’know, the shows that have unrealistic expectations of how young children behave). I can safely say that this was not the only time in preschool that I acted in ways that the other kids found weird or annoying. I think that in most cases I was imitating something I saw on television or a movie; completely lost in my own world and oblivious to what I was really doing (see “Imaginary Play” for a fuller discussion of this issue).

I can also hazily remember spending time with this one teacher, separately from the other kids, to engage in some special activities. Once again, I do not recall any of the specific things I did with this teacher, but I believe it was some sort of physical play therapy, designed to help me with my motor skills and coordination. I say this because I remember these sessions being heavily physical and focused entirely on my body – as if I were exercising. The fact that the teacher had me do these activities apart from the other kids also gives me a pretty good idea of what its purpose was. Whether or not this purpose was successfully fulfilled at the time, I could not tell you.

One last memory from preschool that I’d like to share is much more positive. In fact, it might be one the happiest experiences from my preschool years. At home I had this CD-ROM program that was a collection of kids games based on the Disney film, Aladdin. One of the games in it was a simple coloring book thing: where you have a pre-drawn image associated with the film, and you get to color it in however you please. One day, perhaps on the encouragement of one of my parents, I printed out a bunch colored-in pictures from the program and brought them to class to give out to the other kids. The teachers seemed pretty happy with what I had brought in, and made each of the children got a picture. I think we even got to watch some of the film itself, Aladdin, to celebrate. This was probably one of the very few times in preschool where it seemed that the teachers were pleased with me and the other students (sort of) respected me. I felt immensely proud for it!

I think that the reason why each of these moments really stick out in my memory is because they had something to do with the fact that I was “different”, or had difficulties that weren’t present in the other kids. I didn’t fully understand what was going on at the time, of course, but those incidents possibly gave me some sense that there was something “wrong” with me; something about me that was “special”. This would become increasingly clear to me in later years, from Kindergarten onwards. There are still times when I think back on those preschool memories, reminiscing how difficult it was for me even back then to be “normal” and fit in with everyone else. I believe that many others with Aspergers and other autism-related disorders might have similar memories of their early years.