Late diagnosis and loss of identity

It is a fact that humans are social beings.  It is through being together that we support, protect, nourish one another and thrive.  It is said that the main difference between us and our closest ancestors, the apes, is our development of culture and society.  Every animal is born with the genetic make up for survival, whether that is distinctive plumage to attract the best mate, or a social brain.  It is through social communication that we ensure our survival; subtle body language, touch and eye contact includes or excludes individuals in a group, indicates the ability of someone to lead or protect the pack.  Any genetic weakness in these areas means an extra mouth to feed, rather than an extra pair of hands to hunt.  It is in this way that those of us with Aspergers can be ‘socially disabled’.  Many Aspergians are able to ‘learn’ social skills and can appear successful in an NT world, however for none of them will this be ‘natural’ behaviour.  The AS brain will not naturally initiate the social body language required in the split second of opportunity required by the NT brain to confirm ‘belonging’ and ‘acceptance’ in the social group.  As a result, growing up with undiagnosed AS can lead some individuals, especially women, to spend a huge amount of time imitating the social behaviour of their peer group, in order to try and fit in.  Unbeknownst to me this is exactly what I did.   In fact, I have become quite an expert and find myself mimicking accents, feigning interest in unlimited topics of social ‘chat’, altering my clothing according to company.  The problem with this ‘social learning’ is that inside, how you see things, how your brain interprets the world, will always be different to someone without Aspergers and you are aware of this difference, even if you cannot explain or describe it.

At the same time you leave yourself behind.

Swing

For many aspies who cope through imitation, this mechanism begins at a very early age.  I became aware during primary school that I was different to the other children and I knew that this difference could be seen and was not accepted by my social peer group.  The need to belong socially was so strong that I believed this was the most important thing in life.  I didn’t know why I was different and what I was doing wrong to make the other children reject me.  Initially I went into myself and studied hard, but when the time came to discover myself as a teenager I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.  If I found someone who would accept some kind of friendship with me then I would try my hardest to like what they liked and do what they did, rather than developing my own interests and meeting likeminded people.  Spending so much time trying to be like other people makes you lose sight of who you really are inside.  I feel like I left that person behind as a seven year old child in the playground, I rejected her in the same way that I felt rejected by most of the other children.

Linear processing

Sally & Anne

In Baron Cohen et al. 1985 experiment ‘Sally-Anne’ it is suggested that many children with autism do not understand that because Sally doesn’t know her marble has been moved,  she will look for her marble where she originally left it.  The children know that the marble has been moved, so they think Sally also has this information and will look for it in the new location.  ‘The experiment seemed to reveal an impairment which was specific and unique to the condition of autism, an impairment in the ability to understand that people have mental states which can be different from the world of reality and that can be different from one’s own.’ (Autism in the Early Years, Val Cumine, Julia Leach & Gill Stevenson 2000)

I would propose that this reasoning may not be entirely accurate.  My own experience and those of other high functioning individuals I know suggests that what is ‘impaired’ is not the understanding of different mental states and ‘realities’, but the ability to think of these simultaneously.  I believe that it is the brain’s difficulty in performing multiple tasks simultaneously  which lies at the core of many ‘autistic difficulties’, including social imagination, but I would argue against social imagination being the primary core in itself.  It is also this ‘linear’ thought process, engendering great detail and depth of thought, which allows for ground breaking discoveries.

If one’s thinking can be likened to spaghetti, then one could either have thoughts similar to a bowl of cooked spaghetti, or a bowl of uncooked spaghetti.  In order to follow through a thought process it is easiest to have uncooked spaghetti, a thought can be followed from beginning to end, clearly and without interruption.  A neurotypical brain seems to have the ability to order thoughts alongside one another as uncooked spaghetti.  Not only that, it is also able to simultaneously switch attention between bits of spaghetti, pausing along each piece so as not to lose the way to the end.  However, in order to work as effectively as possible, an autistic brain needs to start at the beginning of one piece of thought spaghetti and continue, uninterrupted, right to the end.  If this process is interrupted, the person will need to start from the beginning again and anxiety builds.  If the person is expected to follow a number, if not numerous, pieces of spaghetti simultaneously, as a neurotypical would do automatically, the brain becomes a bowl of cooked spaghetti thoughts and it is very difficult to follow a single thought through from beginning to end.

In the morning my brain is uncooked spaghetti, by 4pm daily it is cooked …