23 Sep 2013

Look Me In The Eyes

A phrase which, if you read some of the literature, is thrown at us daily. Bypassing why this may be a fruitless exercise (vis-à-vis, repeating the same process and expecting different results), why is eye contact deemed so important? Is it a requirement of communication, a forced social protocol, or an indicator of a person's attitude?

Almost every source on the importance of eye contact states that it is key to fully understanding social interactions(at least with humans). Some suggest it's normal, natural, and that not maintaining eye contact is a sign of disinterest or distrust. On the other hand, eye contact is considered impolite in some cultures. Surely this in itself is proof that the necessity of eye contact is mostly a social construct.

But let's look more in depth at eye contact. If we first accept that the eyes are the window to the soul, then by maintaining eye contact during conversation, a person is seeing someone else's innermost self. Even the most vapid of us is a massively complex individual with layers of thought, intent, beliefs, perceptions, preconceptions, and sub-conscious compulsions. How can even the most empathetic and quick thinking of us absorb all of this information, find out who someone truly is, when concentrating on what words are coming out of their mouth. Would anyone be expected to notice a fly against the vastness of the universe?

Of course, this argument has now reached a level of absurdity. So if eyes do not broadcast the intimates of the soul, then is there another reason to stare so intently at them? Well, the musculature around the actual optic spheres is used by most, albeit subconsciously, to display meaning. A raised eyebrow or two, a furrowed brow, raised cheeks. So the eye may in fact be a centroid to all of the moving parts. But hang on... What about the lips? They should be given some credit when it comes to conveying meaning. The eyes may be aligned centrally on the head, but are certainly not the focus of the face. That would be the pointy, or bulbous as the case may be, bit sticking out the front. Look me in the nose.

So the eyes are simply a focal point on which to base your disinterest, as opposed to the nose. I'm suggesting it's because the eyes are interesting. Surely, at publicly acceptable conversational distances, no one can tell if you're looking at an eye, or an ear, or that interesting painting just over their left shoulder. Do you have my undivided attention? Therefore, provided the face is visible, is it not irrelevant which specific area is focused on? In fact, is it not more polite to observe, with a slight air of disinterest, a person's least spectacular facial feature?

Up to this point, these arguments have been pertinent to all, neurotypicals included. I don't look at people's faces. At least, not often, and not people I'm not well acquainted with. This may partly be because seeing someone is one step away from acknowledging them, which is one step away from greeting them, which is one step away from a brief and probably halting exchange - a situation I don't want to deal with. That aspect at least I have covered before (probably), and will likely cover again (made more likely by the thought processes fired off by this post). I know I can't read faces too well - better than some, but it's not done fluently and instantly, and I'd give myself a 6.5 out of 10 on that score - which may add to the anxiety of an unplanned interaction.

To those who don't understand: imagine talking to someone, hearing their words, then they give you a funny look, you feel bad, and they leave shortly afterwards. What went wrong? You missed half the conversation because you didn't know it was there, or you did, but it was like a foreign language to you. And that's your fault, you wierdo.

So if you are focusing on a face you don't understand, and not on the words you do, it's possible you'll miss something. A verbal nuance. I always turn to the side, to get a better hiew. I'm coining that phrase - a view for your hearing. I'm not distracted by either an ugly or attractive face (or any face between), and I am giving you as much attention as I can spare. I don't need to look in your eyes to hear you. The deaf don't. A metaphor to end on, perhaps? I like those almost as much as Dr. McCoy from Star Trek does. Don't tell someone to juggle, then set their shirt on fire - it's distracting. That's also good, literal advice for any social situation.

29 Aug 2013

You're An Effort to Deal With

It's not a uncommon view that people on the spectrum are hard to deal with. I accept that this may be true, especially as you go further along the spectrum. Neurotypicals have to "deal" with people with milder ASDs because we are, to them, unconventional. Trust me, there are books on it.

Well here's something - I find NTs hard to deal with. Twice recently, this has been brought home to me. Like any introvert, I like my own time to 'recharge'. As someone  with Aspergers, my sympathetic nervous system is 'on' more than that of a physiologically normal person. What does that mean? My parasympathetic nervous system is less effective at relaxing and recharging me. In real terms, it means I genuinely need time after work, or after a social gathering, or any situation with stressors, so I can be prepared for the next day. Twice recently, I have had guests from the moment I walked in (and one basically until I went to bed).

I enjoy seeing these people. But when I have company sprung on me without time to recharge or mentally prepare, I feel out of sorts. I'm not disturbed that my routine is upset (or upset that my routine is disturbed, take your pick), and I'm not put out that they want to see me. It purely is that I was trying to wind down, and someone accidentally dropped a spanner in the works.

This is true for many Aspies, and possibly, to some extent, everyone else. There doesn't need to stereotypical stress, and it doesn't have to have been a hectic day. I might post again about the nervous systems (as I have done about the brain), but for now let me say this: everyone is hard to deal with for a lot of Aspies, and it gets tiring, so it may seem like boredom or disinterest or anything else, but it can genuinely be that we've had enough socialising for today, so please go away.

30 Jul 2013

Ego. Again.

Some time ago, I posted about the importance of ego. Or at least, the importance of the appearance of ego. The ego is what makes you think you are important. If you have a big ego, you think you're more important than everybody else, and if you have not very much ego, you think you're less important than everybody else. Well here's the thing: autism. Self-ness. The name implies focus only on the self. But is this really the case across the spectrum?

I can only really speak of Asperger Syndrome, and within that, myself. It is not uncommon for Aspergians to feel something akin to paranoia. Why akin to? If a person has made more than a couple of social faux pas, they may be justified in believing that they are being watched or spoken about. So, not exactly the irrational belief that they are being observed or are the centre of secret discussions. But a large portion of that feeling is added by the person themselves: I'm not being included, it must be about me. And this is how people with low self confidence, introverts, and some people with AS suffer from an excessive ego.

But being so self-centric can be detrimental to social relationships. No one likes the guy who's a bit of an arse, but it's accidental offenses, rather than the self-interested egotism, that most of us are worried about. The 'oops, they didn't take that right' moments. The 'oh, that's why they're acting funny' moments. You can't change human nature, but you can change your own behaviour. If it upsets you that you've upset someone, you can learn from that. All you can do is learn.

But is this behaviour inherent, or is it learned as self defence? Assume the worst, and everything's an improvement. Not really the best philosophy for life, but getting over the emotional hump, the Wednesday of you ego, is the trick. By no means am I saying change yourself to make people like you, but I am saying try to curb the behaviour that you've found has upset people, because in the end, it's upsetting you. Be selfish in that respect. So, at the risk of sounding pseudo-philosophical, think of yourself and think of others.

13 Jul 2013

Fatigue

Fatigue, weariness, tiredness. Three things on a spectrum. Fatigue occurs after a prolonged period where physical or mental faculties have been overtaxed. Many Aspies either have experienced or will experience fatigue at some point in their lives. Asperger's is sometimes known as 'wrong planet syndrome'. This is effectively true, especially when thrust in to the working world.

Most types of employment involve some levels of stress. Not yours? Imagine sitting by a cool pool in warm weather with no cares in the world. Now imagine your job. Stress. Most jobs involve forms of social interaction. No example needed here unless you test code in a darkened room all day, or spend your nights measuring light pollution. Social interaction. A person with AS may not notice that it takes effort, because it always has - this is normal. Also, it is a fact that many schools of management think that specialisation increases work efficiency. Why bring that up? Let me phrase it like this perhaps: Are you tired of doing the Same Thing Every Day? Some people may like it, but for others the endless performance of one tasks s demoralising. Uniformity.

These factors contribute heavily to fatigue, but for most Aspergians, the constant social environment is the perhaps the largest factor. This may be why we have been "traditionally" unable to maintain full-time employment (cited in a lot of literature, though I have never seen any raw data). From my own experience, fatigue is very real. There are a variety additional factors in my case, such as the feeling of futility and impotence to change the ineptitude of low level management, giving me a sense of fatigue. Such that, I have taken two weeks off work simply to do nothing. Easy for some, you might say. Well, yes, I do have the means to take this break, and I certainly had the motivation. I still don't feel entirely at ease, and am due to return to work on Monday. I shall have to see how quickly the fatigue returns. But right now, it feels necessary, because for every week working, I felt increasingly tired in my bones. I've been employed for under 1 year.

11 Jul 2013

Would You Rather Be Normal or Weird?

When asked this question, most people would say weird. Weird, isn't it? It's because they're not answering the question. The real question is actually asking whether you would prefer to fit in or not. Think about it if you don't get it at first.

Normal means like everyone else. What it doesn't mean is a clone of everyone else. So when the neurotypicals say they want to be different from everyone else, they don't really understand. Being different is fine, being different can be great, but nobody wants to feel excluded because of their difference. And that's what weird is. If a person is too different for the social circle or peer group, they will be slowly forced or left out. Because they're weird.

There are probably many people on the spectrum who would disagree with me, but I would prefer to be normal. Or at least, I think I would given a few caveats. If normal meant no social anxiety, no difficulty understanding social situation, no need for stimming, that would be fantastic. But if it came with a trade off so that I was less intelligent, and could not really feel through my music, was not passionate about the little things, I'm not sure I would go for it.

I have always been the weird one in the social groups. This has suited me fine. It means I could be myself, and those around me could enjoy me being myself. But as time moves on, so do friends, and you find yourself in a shrinking circle. If I were "normal" I would probably just make new friends. But it's not that easy. Weird doesn't make you friends. I don't often feel weird, but when I do, it's not a good feeling. Can you, you who are reading this, honestly say that you enjoy feeling left out because of who you are?