Asperger’s Syndrome: There are some things I can’t do…

When I was a child, my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be. And I wasn’t clever enough to say I wanted to be a tall black man. Or a Sherman tank. And my parents didn’t know I had Asperger’s Syndrome— I wasn’t even diagnosed until after my father’s death.

Aspies tend to be intelligent people. Sometimes we can harness the power of our Special Interests to acquire knowledge and skills that would be highly valuable in the workplace. Yet 80% of people with Asperger’s Syndrome are unemployed.

Sometimes they lose jobs or can’t get hired because of things that wouldn’t apply to me. I could make it through a job interview without having a ‘meltdown’ or behaving in wildly unacceptable ways. But I don’t make eye contact correctly and so people probably think of me as shifty and probably dishonest. Once hired I would have difficulty with some tasks, such as answering phones— I just can’t manage phone conversations with strangers. And I’m not an organized person— People with Asperger’s usually have executive function deficit, which is kind of like having AD/HD as well.

Another thing I can’t do is have friends. I had one best friend in 1st and 2nd grade, and then my family moved out of state. Every friend I had in school and college was a person who would not have considered me a friend but an acquaintance. In the years after college, I had not one friend and the only people who spoke to me were my parents. When I got online, after a few years I discovered a few people I consider friends. At least they sometimes comment on my Facebook posts.

It’s just that I don’t know what to do to signal to people that I want to be their friend. Oh, I’ve had people give me advice (or orders) as to what I had to do to have friends. But all this advice might as well have been given in Chinese. People might say, just be friendly, talk to people. But how do you do that when you are not able to gauge which ‘friendly’ actions are just the right degree of friendly? Wrong actions might make you seem disinterested in friendship, or, worse, creepy and intrusive.

And the worst thing is that sometimes it seems the world around me wants me to spend less time on the things I can do that give me happiness and spend all my time working on somehow developing the skills I don’t have and have not yet been able to learn and perhaps cannot learn. It’s as if they want me to stop being an Aspie, and to become normal at the sound of the magical incantation ‘Behave yourself!’ Moreover, when it comes to family members, they don’t want me to become just ANY normal person. They have a specific person in mind. She’s thinner than me, dresses in pant suits in pastel colors, goes to social occasions chosen by family members willingly, and says all the right things, never mentioning anything a family member would need to correct in mid-sentence. Never being interesting, just obedient. I call this false person ‘Suzette.’ She is not like me. She couldn’t assist a ewe in giving birth to a lamb in the middle of the night with a dying flashlight. She wouldn’t be caught dead in some farmer’s field, inspecting the ‘important parts’ of a breeding ram she was considering buying. I really don’t like Suzette much.

But I do like ME. Sometimes, anyway. And I guess I’m going to keep doing the things I do, like blogging and writing, until I’m too old and feeble to do anything and the government either puts me in a shoddy nursing home or gives me a poison shot. And even in my extreme old age I hope I shall be able to scream an angry haiku and pee on them.

Poem of the Day

still life with autism spectrum disorder

and then there is the
social problem of those
who have selfishly failed
to grow wings

and then they ask
for doors
and stairs
on the ground floor
which they do not in fact need.

all that they need
to grow wings.

Nissa Annakindt, (c) 2011
Included in my poetry chapbook ‘surly petunia.’
Amazon (99 cents):
Smashwords (free):

This expresses the frustration of a person with a ‘invisible’ disability in the situation where the authority figures expect him to do the impossible (‘grow wings’) in order to be allowed to ‘fit in.’

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Don’t make race or gender identity your special interest.

A couple years back in a bookstore I leafed through a book by Temple Grandin. She suggested that people with Asperger’s Syndrome (high functioning autism) should not make their Asperger’s Syndrome their special interest.

A ‘special interest’ is an obsessive interest that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have. I have seen a trend for people with Asperger’s to join Asperger-related Facebook groups, make accusations that people with Asperger’s are discrimination victims, and make vows not to have ‘neurotypical’ friends.

But our society is really plagued these days by people who make their other differences into their special interests— whether they have Asperger’s Syndrome or not. Like the students who created a racial incident in a university library, howling at students of a certain race who wouldn’t quit studying to join their protest. Or like the people who demand that we call a person with transgender feelings by a new name and the biologically incorrect pronoun.

I think we are missing out on most of real life when we take one aspect of ourselves and make it into the center of our lives. We not only are ignoring the rest of our complex selves. We are ignoring the fact that there are other people in the world.

Centering our lives around our selves— or a part of ourselves— used to have a name. It was called ‘selfishness’ or ‘being self-centered’. Now, this is an occupational hazard for us Aspies. When we are cut off from the world of other people by the poor social skills that are a part of Asperger’s Syndrome, we are left alone with ourselves. It can make us seem self-centered, and in time we can come to be somewhat self-centered.

But, really, we don’t have to understand other people to start being more other-centered. We can just make a point of doing little things for others. Donating two bucks to the town homeless shelter. Giving a couple cans of food to the food bank. Going to a  local church even though the sermon or service is boring to you.

The point is to stop having a one-dimensional life, centered around our Asperger’s Syndrome or our skin color or our gender dysphoria. There is more to our lives than that. Or there should be.

The Asperger Writer and Executive Function Deficit

Look, Serbian cattle!

Look, Serbian cattle!

‘Writer’ is one of the careers mentioned for people with Asperger Syndrome in one of my books about the disorder. Yet why don’t I have more success in getting my writing projects finished? Executive function deficit, AKA executive dysfunction.

Executive dysfunction is a fancy way to describe some traits we Aspies have. We can be chronically disorganized, easily distracted, have difficulty making and carrying out plans to get a complex task done, we are constantly ‘a day late and a dollar short’ as my Dad used to say…. Much like people with AD/HD, we can have severe problems in getting tasks done. And the world is none too tolerant of this deficit— one reason that around 80% of Aspies are unemployed.

Workplace accomodation: Employers don’t expect their wheelchair-bound employees to run up and down a staircase during the course of their workday. They don’t expect their blind employees to sort objects by color or other visual cues. In the same way, employers should be prepared to accommodate Aspie employees by limiting the amount of tasks requiring high levels of executive function that the employee must perform (and giving him extra tasks of the sort he’s good at), and by breaking down complex assignments into smaller  parts. (It is of course legitimate for an employer to not hire an Aspie with poor executive function for jobs that are nothing but executive function tasks, just as they needn’t hire the blind man to work in the color-sorting department.)

I believe that we Aspies can become excellent writers in spite of our executive dysfunction. Because our brains work in a different way, our stories can have unique qualities. We can use our obsessive Special Interests to master topics related to our stories, making those stories richer. (Think of Herman Melville, the Aspie author of Moby Dick. His Special Interests in whaling and the sea made Moby Dick what it is today— a book well worth repeated reading, if you haven’t had it spoiled for you by being forced to read it in school.)

Each Aspie is different, and our executive function deficits are different. Here is my assignment: grab a writing instrument and something to write on (I recommend paper and pen over chisel and stone wall, but whatever works for you), and write down some issues in your writing life that may be affected by executive dysfunction. To help you get started (and to give my page trolls something criticize me about), here is my list:

  • My messy writing area. I have had a pile of papers on the left side of my desk for years, that I dare not disturb, because then I won’t be able to find stuff. I haven’t looked at the bottom of that pile in over a year, and there may be some paper in the pile that ought to be thrown out. There are books on my writing desk. Some are urgently needed reference books, like my thesaurus and my KJV Bible and my Strong’s Concordance and my Esperanto dictionary. Others were part of long-abandoned projects, and one or two should even be given to Goodwill rather than cluttering up my home.
  • Disorganized way of handling writing project related papers. A writing project generates papers— notes, print-outs of internet research, lists of characters or story events. For my most recent project, I have papers in three places, and some stuff still in my computer that needs printing out. I have in the past lost important notes about a writing project and never found them again.
  • Mental disorganization about the steps to writing a novel, novella or short story. Poetry is easy. I can hold all of a short poem in my head. In some cases I’ve done two or three revisions of a poem in my head before I ever wrote the poem down. But longer writing projects can’t be held in the head like that. My story writing is wildly disorganized and I often generate tons of character lists, scene lists, and actual scenes to the point that I’m paralyzed at the prospect of organizing it into anything resembling coherent fiction.
  • Everyday life disorganizations. Or, how can you sit down and work on your novel when the sheep have escaped? Being disorganized about your essential daily tasks means those tasks take longer than they need to, and this will cut into your writing time.

Once you’ve made your own list, how do you fix things? Don’t do it all at once. Just identify one little thing that you could do to improve your performance, and do it.

What if you don’t know what to do, or the things you’ve tried don’t work? You might try reading books aimed at adults with AD/HD, particularly ones on organizing. I’ve found some great suggestions that help, sometimes. (I let the new organizing systems get cluttered over time— I must schedule weekly cleanups and cleanouts to keep this from happening.)

Do you have an executive dysfunction, whether from Asperger Syndrome, AD/HD or some other cause? What problems does it cause in your writing life? What methods have you used to cope? Drop me a comment and tell your story (briefly, if possible).

A is for Asperger Syndrome

A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775cBlogging from A to Z April Challenge

I’ve decided to go for the A to Z challenge this year, already I’m doing my first post LATE. I didn’t realize I’d actually signed up until this morning when I checked my email.

So — here goes: my topic for today is about my most favorite hobby, having Asperger Syndrome. It is THE cool disability for smart weird people. And I am a smart person. My IQ, for whatever that really means, is high enough for me to join the high IQ organization Mensa, if I wanted to do that sort of thing.

But because of the oddness fact of having Asperger Syndrome, I have sometimes been regarded as being mentally retarded. Now, there is nothing wrong with being a person with mental retardation, there are many excellent and worthwhile people with that condition. But it’s not the condition I’m struggling with, and it’s annoying.

The good thing about being an aspie is the Special Interests. The ones currently affecting me right now are: the garklein recorder, playing Civilization IV, baking bread, and re-reading everything Mercedes Lackey ever wrote.

I’m sad to say they’ve found a cure for Asperger Syndrome— they’ve renamed it Autism Spectrum Disorder. I wonder if the new disorder will be any different.

My New Garklein Recorder!

IM001172I’ve got a new addition to my collection of recorders— this one’s a garklein, the smallest size. Mine is a plastic Woodnote recorder I got from Ebay. (As you may guess, recorder playing is one of my Special Interests.)

Like the soprano and tenor recorders, the garklein is considered to be in the key of ‘C’, though it can play in other keys. I’m playing tunes I already know on the soprano & tenor recorders. The garklein is a bit more limited in range, though, but so far none of the songs I normally play is impossible to play on the garklein.

I made a YouTube video of me playing the garklein recorder— my first video with sound ever. Here it is:

The garklein is very shrill and some people say it makes dogs howl. My cats don’t mind it. Niki my old cat jumped in my lap twice while I was playing, and my 10 month old kitten Ender curled up on my shoulder while I was practicing.

The shrill sound can make practicing the garklein hard on the ears, so I wear earplugs. Enough sound comes through that I can hear it pretty well but my ears are protected. I suppose if I play for other people I should be in a large room or outdoors, or else pass out the earplugs— hey, they do that at my brother’s non-denominational church which has LOUD music.

The song I’m playing in the video is ‘Immaculate Mary’, also known as Lourdes Hymn. I first heard it in the movie ‘Song of Bernadette’. Here are the notes in case some other recorder person wants to play it. (It can be played on garklein, soprano or tenor recorder.)

Imacculate Mary

Was Spartacus a Thracian or a Thracian?


Recently I was reading Colleen McCullough’s ‘Fortune’s Favorites’ from her series about ancient Rome. In the latter half of this long book, she retells the story of Spartacus, but with a different perspective. In particularly, she questions the common wisdom that Spartacus was born in Thrace.

Historical sources refer to Spartacus as a ‘Thracian gladiator’. But that phrase can have two meanings. It can mean that the gladiator known as Spartacus was a man born in Thrace. Or it can mean he was a gladiator who fought in the Thracian style— one of two combat styles used by gladiators in the era of the Roman republic.

McCullough, whose Roman series seems to be VERY well researched, presents Spartacus as a non-Thracian, a former Roman legionary who got in trouble with his superiors and was as punishment made a gladiator. In her fictional account, the new gladiator Spartacus (not his real name) was too aggressive with his trainers and ended up being sold to a more punitive gladiator school. Life was so horrible there that he and his comrades slew their tormentors and escaped— and without meaning to, accumulated a massive following of escaped slaves and others who looked to Spartacus to give them hope for a better life.

Spartacus is shown as acting not as a modern crusader to end slavery and oppression as he is sometimes portrayed, but as a man who acted as he did mainly in attempts to feed his followers and bring them to some place of safety.

The ending McCullough gives Spartacus, where both Spartacus and his wife possibly escaped the final battle to live peacefully in hiding, gives a rather hopeful note to the story.

Now, the source for the story of Spartacus as ethnic-Thracian does come from ancient Roman sources. But I wonder how much the ancient Romans knew about him? Surely there were no detailed records kept of the life history of every slave gladiator. And Spartacus was never captured alive and interrogated about such things as his life history. So that leaves the true story of Spartacus with a lot of mystery.

My Current Roman-History Phase

While Roman history is a Special Interest of mine, my current attempts to study it are actually part of worldbuilding, for a story-world I call Kirinia. Kirinia is a large division of a world called Erileth, which can be reached from our world through gateways. The tween-worlds gateways go to and from different time periods without necessary chronological agreement— so people from the Middle Ages can come through, build a society for a thousand years, and then a gateway can open up that leads to ancient Rome.

Which is the origin of Kirinia. A thousand years or more before the story begins, Koreans from the period of the late Middle Ages or so came over from our world to Erileth and build a society. Some of them settled in the land that would one day be Kirinia. As the story begins, the Korean-descended population has been devastated by a war, with only handfuls of refugee women left as survivors. A new gate opens up which connects to Earth in the era of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Roman legionaries go through the gate and start to transform an abandoned city into a Roman colony. Unknown to the Roman leaders, a number of Christians, with their presbyters and two bishops, have gone through the gate as well. And then, the gate closes. And the Romans meet the enemy that emptied the city….

Can Writers with Aspergers write Likeable Fiction?

aspergerThe most stereotypical concern of writers with Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) is that we can’t write social interactions because we aren’t good at them. But I’m not going to write about that today.

Instead, let’s look at the likeability factor. Aspies tend to go through life pretty well friendless, or having people we call ‘best friends’ who call us acquaintances at best. It’s because we don’t make eye contact properly, or we send off non-verbal vibes that we aren’t interested in friendship when actually we are, or we make mistakes and say something tactless.

But if we ourselves are perceived by others as unlikable, won’t our fiction be unlikeable too?

Well, all I can say is ‘I hope not’. But writing fiction is a different animal than winning personal friendships. Once you have a book out there that has been accepted as a standard, normal novel by a publisher (or by a community of readers, for indie writers), your book gets judged on what’s inside it.

As Aspies there may be something ‘missing’ in our writing because of our condition, but there is something added as well— an intensity due to our Special Interests. If we use our Special Interests carefully in our fiction, and don’t overdue it, we bring a passion to our writing that neurotypicals may lack.

An example of a probably Aspie who became well-regarded as a writer is Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick. I loved that book as a teen— probably because I read it on my own instead of having it forced on me in school. He gave a lot of detail on life on a whaling ship— I detect Special Interest there— and that added to the appeal of the book as a whole, at least for me.

So I think we Aspies can write fiction readers will like. We just have to get out there and get trying.