I’d been studying Asperger’s and autism in connection to human evolution for maybe ten years before it dawned on me, after reading Michael Fitzgerald’s Autism and Creativity, that Asperger’s was a feature of my childhood.  As I was growing up, people seemed opaque to me.  I was in speech therapy almost all those years.  I had a strange sense of humor.  I was astonishingly gullible.  My closest friend was a boy that I later realized had Asperger’s.  He was also a math genius and a musician.  I was a collector and an artist.

Over time, it grew clearer to me what other people were thinking and feeling, particularly regarding how they were relating to me.  My obsessions grew integrated with my goals.  I became far less split or self conflicted.

The split that I experienced had perhaps less to do with my Asperger’s tendencies than with a childhood characterized by extreme stress.  But, I’m not sure.

People with autism aren’t generally understood to display classic personality splits featuring conflicts with self, self deprecation or a deep feeling of personal responsibility for what is wrong.  That split would suggest a developed theory of mind, with a mind in conflict, assigning responsibility for difficulties to a self that feels separate.  Nevertheless, there are degrees of split depending on where one sits on the autism-Asperger’s spectrum.  I’ve observed those with Asperger’s feeling deeply divided, assigning to self responsibility for a life characterized by distress.

It was often, if not usually, the case that children with Asperger’s were isolated from most social groups and often were targeted with teasing.  I was teased when others discovered that I would believe most anything I was told.  This occasionally would make me a center of attention when a joke could be constructed around my believing whatever had been imagined.  I often felt humiliated, furious and alone.  I would assign blame to myself for my feeling of isolation.  I expect that this is a common experience for those with Asperger’s.

One way I would adjust was to recoil from those that the class shunned, boys with Asperger’s.  I felt like I could blend in with the “normal” side, and mostly I did.  Yet, I often maintained a feeling I’d be “discovered.”

I was terrified of being singled out for torment.  At the same time, I felt powerfully attracted to people on an individual basis or while playing sports.  I spent no small amount of my childhood collecting boys to play baseball and football.  I proactively sought out playmates.  Yet, I only liked groups when we were playing games.  Mostly, I engaged in various collecting hobbies with another boy.  I introduced many friends to new hobbies such as collecting stamps, coins, rocks, miscellaneous stuff and comics.  I was obsessed with comics.  This was the 1950s and 1960s.

The idea I’m trying to tease out right now is that autism theory suggests that neurodiverse individuals maintain an experience characterized by the “other” as often absent or inscrutable.  Yet, as children, experience is often characterized by uniquely high degrees of stress in social situations because those with autism and Asperger’s are often singled out as different and worthy of receiving negative attention.  This tends to engender self reflection as possible sources for the distress, and malaise is explored and evaluated.  I’ve observed in myself and folks with Asperger’s a tendency to assign to the self blame for being “different” and blame of self for the experience of ongoing distress.  In other words, in some ways Asperger’s individuals have a heightened theory of mind as they experience a deeply personal divide.  They may not be able to easily intuit what is happening in others, but they often engage in a struggle characterized by two sides, and they take both sides in the conflict.

I say such an individual is able to take both sides in the conflict because the person evidently participates in both the placating and blaming polarity in the struggle, identifying with both sides, taking turns.

This begs a question.  Perhaps theory of mind is not an ability to experience both sides of a polarity but an ability to have that experience, to some degree, simultaneously.  Do neurotypicals have an ability to experience simultaneous identification with another while being with self, while the neurodiverse, even while in relationship with self, are only able to identify with one at one time?

Clearly, the neurotypicals are often just as split within themselves as any person with Asperger’s.  A question is:  Do neurotypicals have some brain-structure advantage when it comes to identifying simultaneously with both aspects of the split?

I am suggesting that theory of mind is not just an estimation of what goes on within another person.  It is also an ability to identify with what is going on within the self.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2009 at 8:16 am and is filed under Autism, Neurodiversity, Unconscious. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. Martin on October 24, 2010 10:24 am

    I think that the principal difference between neurotypical and neurodifferent people is the lack of the sense of the social status, legitimity and hierarchy that exists at neurodifferent people. They are unable to imagine hierarchical and coercively behavior that is the base of neurotypical relationships.

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