Very specific interests and analytical thinking are common (though by no means necessary) symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder. Obviously many other people can and do have those characteristics, but when thought in the context of an autism, it’s one of the better (in the eyes of some people, even “cooler”) forms of repetitive behavior (unlike stimming or rituals, which can be pretty nasty).
It’s the focus on these narrow interests that sometimes leads AS people to become really good at something, which has created the myth of autism as a superpower which makes you a super genius. Again, it’s just a mind that works a bit differently; it can be an advantage (and I use it for all its worth, personally), but for the most part it causes social difficulties, which can fortunately be quite well managed if you learn (with proper support) to properly adjust, and even better managed if everyone else understands what autism is and isn’t and maybe even learns how to interact wíth autistic people (which can’t be counted on, hence why it’s mainly our own problem to deal with).
I hope people aren’t bored by all this talk about AS - it’s just that so far in the book, it has been a very relevant aspect of our narrator and not much has actually happened yet, so I keep coming back to that. Plus, maybe people will learn something new that not only helps them understand Kit and the book but us real people. If you already know this or don’t care to read about it, feel free to skip my posts. I just want to be sure I don’t take the focus away from other matters people might want to discuss (tell me straight, I don’t get hints).
Well said. I can put up an amazingly good front in social situations if certain conditions are met.
- it’s at a place I already am familiar with (one previous visit not enough)
- there are less than 12 people (on top of me)
-> If it’s 1-on-1, it has to be someone I know extremely well (boyfriend/mom/a close sibling, typically)
-> If there are 2-3 people, I know all people previously, but only one has to be known extremely well
-> If there are 4-6 people, I know at least 2 people comfortably and I know others previously, except max. 2 new people
-> If there are 7-12 people, I have to know one person extremely well or 2-3 comfortably, plus I have to know at least half the people there
- I’ve rehearsed lines (on a particular topic, or just chit chat)
- I have arranged it so (either my location, or otherwise) that I have to talk as little as possible without it seeming like I’m avoiding talking
- I have a place to go and hide for a few minutes every 15-30 minutes (bathroom, usually)
In these perfect circumstances, to new eyes, I can seem to be social (meaning here that I go and socialize with others), talkative (just the right amount), well-versed in casual chit-chat, friendly and a person who smiles and makes eye contact. I’m none of these things.
If some of these conditions aren’t met, I can still seem alright. I’ve learned most proper reactions, etiquette and facial expressions, but I can’t always remember to smile (I have to keep reminding myself) and I sometimes react with the wrong amount of surprise or worry (the latter being a hard expression for me to simulate), but I’m good at looking like I’m listening (not that I’m not actually listening). I can usually hide most of my stimming in public and channel it into other activity I do with my hands, and I can hide some compulsive behavior as well (some I don’t even use energy trying to hide, because they don’t seem so strange to people). I’m bad at body language; it’s not that I don’t use any, but I tend to start flailing my hands around pointlessly so I try to not move. I’ve learned not to pointlessly argue with people when I know they’re wrong and could prove it, because it makes me seem petty and a party-pooper, though I sometimes can’t help myself.
It’s hard for me to follow some subtle cues, especially if there are a lot of people and my senses are overloaded, and that’s where I often get caught up and slip up with something else. I can be following a conversation between 4 people, analysing their body language, expressions, sarcasm, inside-jokes… and suddenly I notice I’ve forgotten to keep my posture and facial expression in check and and huddled in a weird position, with my mouth open, looking kind of spaced. Or if I’m having a really exciting conversation, I can start stimming with my hands (shaking them up and down - think about the stereotypical autistic movement, yet a little lighter and without the back-and-forth) without noticing. The longer I have to socialize, the more I show nervous symptoms, like picking my hair and skin.
Of course, sometimes I stop trying, and hallelujah it’s such a relief. Like the last time at school, during the first week and with my post-rehab blues, during day 4 of the week I sort of stopped giving a damn when I was around my classmates (7 people who I’ve known 1,5 years and am relatively comfortable with most of them, having slowly yet surely let my guard down a little) and just didn’t even pretend to be a normal, social being but huddled around and didn’t force smiles and didn’t make effort to strike up conversation. Still talked with them sometimes. And they cared. So that’s nice. Not that I should never make an effort, but there’s middle ground there where I don’t have to use all my energy to act so normally yet still make an effort to make myself understood and understand others.