F84.5 is the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases v10) for Asperger Syndrome (AS). This blog post is merely a picture of how some who are diagnosed with, or who maybe only share traits with, Asperger Syndrome might find life. Deeper medical material can be readily found elsewhere.
Asperger Syndrome is also sometimes referred to as a constellation disorder, in that just a stars in a particular configuration in the sky are recognised as Orion, The Big Dipper, Seven Sisters etc., a set of personality traits exhibiting certain intensities are recognised in those with AS. The stereotypical configuration might be something like; strong / compulsive interest in a certain topic, uncomfortable in loud noisy environments, comfortable in a settled and stable environment, and well .. sometimes quirky.
Compulsions v OCD
An example of this could be realising that the wires behind the TV cabinet weren’t optimal. By this I mean that audio cables and power cables were tangled together, which brought the risk of interference to the audio or video signal. The tangling also meant that removing pieces of equipment would be problematic. It also looked a darn mess. In actual fact, the sound and picture were fine and I couldn’t really see the spaghetti behind the cabinet, but I knew it was there. Triumphant in it’s tangled dustiness.
You see, if I didn’t do anything about it, the world wouldn’t end. Not even the slightest. But I knew that it could be better. And so late in the evening I pulled the TV unit away from the wall and started to unplug all the wires, wipe the dust away, loom, hank, arrange, route. When Mother Duck came back from where-ever she’d been at 22:30 she found me tired, dusty, itchy and irritated behind the TV.
I did finish the job, nearly to my satisfaction. It did look neater, if anyone ever cared to look.
Looking back, I can see how that was what I might call an “A.S. moment”. I was tired, and got caught out by a run-away thought that the wires were a mess. These feelings still crop fairly often, and often when I’m tired or run-down (a little like the spell stuck in Rincewind‘s head). Now-a-days I’m very often able to spot these moments as they try to sneak up and decide if it’s something I want to start now, or wait until I have more time and energy to really savour the job.
This, I think is the difference between a compulsion and it’s larger sibling, OCD. For me, there are no rituals that hold me captive. I have strong desires to complete tasks sometimes and whilst these can quite strong, I can put the job off until later if need be.
My latest fad is bread baking. I’ve really gotten into it which once led to starting a batch off when I came back from work. I misjudged the timing and was up until mid-night waiting for the darn stuff to finish baking. The compulsion hit me from no-where with a “hey buddy, let’s make some bread”. Since this is the thing I’m doing right now I thought, “Yeah, let’s make bread”. If I’d taken a moment to check timings, well, I’d have slept longer and Mother duck wouldn’t have been so cranky the next morning.
Everyone has something they are into. For me, something will take my interest, and I will chase every last drop of information about it I can find. In the past it’s been mushrooms, herbal medicine, TCP/IP theory, computer building (and collecting parts). I’ve a suspicion the next one will be a BSD firewall solution. A few years ago it was cider. Thank goodness I got that out of my system (I’m not a gifted brewer). Right now, it’s bread making.
All things being equal the fad will last anything from a month to half a year. This fact now gives me some piece of mind because I know I’m not going to having this drive to make bread at stupid hours of the day forever. The down side is that I genuinely enjoy it. The bread tastes good and it a lot more cost effective that shop bought bread. My rye sour is now nearly a month old.
This one fad I’m gonna try to keep going.
Pro-stability / change resistant
Being change resistant is often touted as bad thing. Those who are, are seen as stick-in-the-muds, immovable, a problem that prevents progress. I prefer to see my self as pro-stability. From where I stand, changes made too suddenly without proper forethought run the risk of bad implementation, sometimes in a small way, sometimes in a large way.
Being pro-stability doesn’t negate change. For me, it just means that I like to consider all the
risks options before I take the plunge. There have been times when even the sudden move of a cupboard from one room to another was enough to give a panic attack which locked me up for hours. A recent achievement has been to help plan the re-organisation of the furniture in the lounge, including moving the sacred server. I’d spent ages looking at the cupboards, tables, computers etc. making the plans, working out the angles – and then one day – wham. I started moving things around and it’s working out really well.
The planning phase has taken about half a year though. Mother duck’s skill is she can make this jump a lot quicker than me. You’ve no idea how this tests Mother Duck’s patience. On the flip side, being pro-stability I can sometimes temper her impulsiveness.
Another achievement at a professional level was single handedly moving our teams national file server between sites as part of reorganisation, I had plenty of forewarning, and was able to contact the various network teams in plenty of time to arrange new IP address. The planned change went through on time, with the service only suffering 1 hour of inaccessibility.
Social interaction preferences
“I like people, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.”
As with others who share my brain wiring, I have a preference for being with familiar people. This is linked a little to the previous section on being pro-stability. Meeting new people involves a small degree of change. Mother duck thrives in these situations. She enjoys meeting new people, making connections and sharing stories. I do too to a certain extent, but where she can do this en masse, I prefer to do this on small scale.
One of my biggest challenges, something that is shared with people with A.S., is parsing the amount of social and emotional information that happens between people. There is a tendency to process this information more literally than it is intended, meaning that often jokes will pass by barely noticed. Reading between the lines is hard enough, at least for me, at the best of times – in a busy social situation a general response I might employ is to smile, nod , take a sip of my drink and hope that I didn’t just agree to sell a kidney.
The more people in the group, the more information to process which on occasion becomes overwhelming. To a certain extent this why during a large party you’ll find me in the kitchen. It’s a place that holds only a small number of people and has a fairly standard set of social rules.
It’s life Jim, but not as we know it*.
With my particular skill set, I’ve managed to get a nice quiet job in IT by the mere fact of being able to suck in enough information to transition in from being a daycare teacher. I keep the car running thanks to being bought Lego and Mechano as a kid, and as the family keep telling me, “There’s nothing you can’t fix.”. After becoming more familiar with A.S., I see the A.S. moments and can smile at the private joke I share with myself.