Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Connect the Dots, Lalalala. . .

If I'm looking at you with a blank stare on my face, it's probably because I didn't understand what you just said, and I'm tired of saying "I'm sorry?" or "What?"

It's been this way all of my life. It's not a hearing problem. When I ask people to repeat themselves, oftentimes more than once, they sometimes raise their voices. Someone once even said to me, angrily, "Why don't you clean your ears out?"

I can hear you just fine. The problem is, I can't understand you. It all sounds to me like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons: "Wa WAH wa waa, wa wa wa WAH."

When I was a little kid I couldn't understand most of the dialogue in movies and on TV; I followed the story visually, and if it was something that couldn't be followed that way, like, say, A Man for All Seasons (which traumatized me as a kid because it was nothing but people yammering for two hours and then they cut off his head), I would just tune out and disengage.

It didn't start to get better until middle school, when stations started running things like Batman and Star Trek in the afternoons, and I could watch the shows as much as I liked, picking up something new every time.

To this day, I still have trouble with some people and certain words and certain kinds of voices. I don't always "get" all the dialogue in talk-heavy movies. In a group conversation, I still oftentimes miss a lot of what's said and end up withdrawing emotionally from the conversation.

It's one of the reasons I hate the telephone. I have a hard enough time understanding people when I can see their lips move. The only person I can really talk with on the phone for any length of time is my friend BC, who speaks quite clearly and distinctly.

If I appear not to be engaging with things that are being said, it's probably because I am not even "there."

As a kid they called this "daydreaming." Now I wonder if it wasn't something else.

I have to be careful here, because I don't want to make any claims, and I don't have the knowledge or experience to make a diagnosis. I'm certainly not looking for sympathy. What I'm about to type, I'm not saying that it's so.

It's just that every time I see a news story, as I did last night on The PBS News Hour, about Autism or Asperger's, I listen carefully to the symptoms and inevitably I think, "Jesus Christ, they're describing me as a kid."

When I look at pictures of those little boys, I could be looking at pictures of me.

My parents carted me to doctors who checked my hearing and told them that it was a little bit better than normal. They took me to a school behavior therapist who, as far as I know, never told them anything. Meanwhile, I lived in my own little world, read a lot, and interacted with other children only in one-on-one situations. When I got involved with groups, the other kids would inevitably make fun of me or beat me up and I'd go home crying.

The Hulk was my favorite Marvel Comics character because I could understand him: both what he was saying and what was going on in there.

Just now I Googled "undiagnosed autism in adults" (yes, I'm aware that this is about as unscientific as you can get), and once again, reading down through the articles I had the uncomfortable sensation that I was reading about myself.

Again, I'm making no claims; additionally, if this was true, then I feel it would have to be classified as a minor case -- probably trending more in the direction of Asperger's than autism.

But it would explain so much: the inappropriate reactions, the emotional outbursts, the sensitivity to heat and the sun, the frustration and anxiety, the manic / depressive spells, the feeling of constantly being overwhelmed by the daily things of life that most folks take for granted,  the occasional physical ticks and stammering, the anti-social feelings (when I was little I would actually hide behind the sofa when people came to the house; I'm too big to do that now, otherwise I would!), the single-mindedness, the discomfort I feel in group situations and the difficulties "maneuvering through complex social cues at school, at work, or elsewhere."

The things, in short, that I often write about on this blog.

Could it be? Maybe not. I'm lousy with numbers and math, no Rain Man here!

Do I even want to know the answer?

I'll have to think on that a while longer.

-- Freder.

1 comment:

  1. As a person with a kid who used to be on the autistic spectrum (I say used to be not because she's been cured, but because rett just got it's own diagnostic code in the big book, it's no longer under autism because the gene which causes rett has been identified) I can tell you that the top and bottom of the spectrum are quite a bit further apart than we used to think. There are lots of people who now would be considered to have autism than there were 20 or 30 years ago; back then they might have been called shy or awkward. If folks could pretty much function, they were fine. And the math/numbers thing the Rainman displayed is an extreme example of what's called a splinter skill. some people with autism, called savants, have truly amazing skills, without formal instruction. Could be in math, music, etc. They often are not particularly able in other areas of life. Folks with Aspergers tend to have a single overwhelming fascination with something, like trains or maps or presidents--they will learn everything about it, and talk about it endlessly, and do not understand at all that others do not share their interest. They are often quite bright, and therefore people have less patience with their lack of social skills--how could they not know how to behave? Another thing that can cause that "not hearing even though you hear" thing is an auditory processing disorder--a kind of disconnect between the hearing and the brain. You seem to have a lot of insight into yourself. On the one hand, it might allow you to understand your "symptoms.". On the other--folks on the spectrum usually lack self-insight. You should read anything by Temple Grandin. (I know my last recommended reading didn't quite meet your needs, but this is a whole different topic ;0) And as someone diagnosed as an adult with ADD, which also can cause some of those symptoms, I can tell you in my case, it's better to know. Doesn't undo all the years of feeling lazy or stupid, or the times I was chastised for daydreaming and not paying attention, trying, etc--but
    understanding it helps! Donna G.


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