Year Read: 2022
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It is known that people with Asperger syndrome love information, but why? Information gives our thoughts an anchor, it gives us an identity and is something we can control. We don‘t have to charm it, take it to lunch, or impress it. It is ours to do with what we will.
Some people, like author Bill Stillman (2006), believe that children with autism have a “God connection”—that their deficits are compensated by a higher spiritual awareness which gives them access to knowledge and gifts.
Why do we read with greed? (Or play, or design, etc.?) We want to fill our minds with knowledge the way others want to fill their bellies with food. Information replaces confusion, which many of us experience in interactions with others. It is a place to focus, apart from all the external stimuli in our homes, schools, shops, etc. It is completely within our control how much we want to let in, unlike dealing with people, who are unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Aspergirls do not thrive under scrutiny, if it has just the slightest bit of hostility in it. Whether from our peers or teachers, if we are looked at with an unfriendly, intimidating, or threatening eye, we fold. Alone, we are talented, graceful, witty, and smart, but under such circumstances we curl up like hedgehogs.
A windy day makes you anxious not because of an irrational fear, but because trees are swaying, their leaves swirling, branches waving chaotically. The sound of wind is loud, distracting, an unpredictable assault on the ears. The wind pulls your hair and whips it into your face and eyes; it tugs on clothes and aggravates the skin—this is sensory overload.
Because we have minds like recorders, even hearing a song before bed means it might play over and over again, robbing us of our rest. We have to limit what we take in and we must be selective.
Recently I spent a day walking and exploring the historic city of Boston. By the end of it, even though I‘d worn ear plugs and shades and had paced myself, I had taken in too many things for my brain to process. I had unnecessary images and sounds in my head that needed releasing. As I tried to sleep, these pictures played in my mind like a kaleidoscope, each one appearing and then morphing into the next. It was so vivid and full-color that it was like looking at a movie screen. While it was happening, my temperature shot up to a fever. My body was frantically working to “rid” itself of this invasion as if it were a virus. This went on for an hour or two before it slowed and I was able to sleep. Sometimes we just can‘t get rid of unwanted images so we may be quite selective about what we want to see. Other people might see us as being fussy, difficult to please, oversensitive, and they may hesitate to invite us out anywhere for fear we won‘t like it. They just don‘t understand the intensity and repercussions of so-called normal stimuli.
The Aspergian need for soft fabrics and a firm touch is well known. We all have aversions to certain products and fabrics, though what those are vary from one individual to the next. Uncomfortable, fussy clothing is a torture for most people with Asperger‘s, not just females, but females have more fashion choices and may be expected on some level to wear fussy things. If you don‘t believe me just go to any shop: ruffles, strings, lace, polyester, wires, straps. We don‘t like fussy and we don‘t like frilly. Some of us like soft, tight undergarments like camisoles and leggings, to keep cold air off our skin. Others may only wear loose-fitting things. Always soft.
We usually hate the cold, so we wrap ourselves in layers of soft, warm, frumpy clothing rather than something more becoming. Aspergirls are notorious for dressing for comfort before style. This can give others the perception that we don‘t care about our appearance, that we‘re unfeminine, a bit lower-class.
Splitting AS traits along gender lines may seem unnecessary to many on the spectrum because we tend to be androgynous creatures—in mannerisms, behavior and, mostly, in essence.
“I think gender roles are a load of BS. I didn‘t understand gender when I was young, and had issues with bullying because of it… I don‘t understand femininity. In my mind, stereotypical women seem boring, petty, materialistic, and completely irrational. I‘d rather be interesting and outcast.” —Andi
Our androgyny shines through our feminine shells. Many times I‘ve been accused of being either a transvestite or a lesbian and that has also happened to my Aspergirl peers.
In my mind, in my self-perception, I have a male identity as well as a female one and can visually picture my male self.
“I have never felt female or able to be “one of the girls.” I actually feel as if I am half male and half female.” —Camilla
Our anima and animus seem to be of equal influence and power. For some it manifests in obvious ways—being the breadwinner in a relationship, or allowing children to live with their father while she pursues her career. For others it manifests sexually; although most of the Aspergirls are heterosexual, a substantial number said that their partner‘s gender didn‘t matter. Mostly it manifests as frustration, and disinterest in society‘s expectations at what being female means. As usual, we march to our own drum.
“I was probably seven when I was one shot from beating a boy at table hockey. I saw the look on his face that he could lose to a girl. I scored. I have never backed down from a guy. Nevertheless, females do not make much sense to me. When one plays with girly-girls, heaven only knows what the game is about—I certainly never figured it out.” —Widders
Though we may not feel particularly womanly, others will still see us as such and measure our behavior against nonautistic females, when in reality I feel it would be more appropriate and fair to measure our behavior against a man‘s—after all, men are not expected to be socially adept, or have an abundance of nurturing feelings. This would be a much fairer standard of measure and other Aspergirls agree.
“Women are typically measured by how well they can multi-task, regulate their impulses, smooth over conflict and soothe other people‘s emotions. People say women are equal to men, but they still expect women to carry far more of the burden for other people‘s happiness than they are conscious of or care to admit—this magnifies ridiculously for spectrum women.” —Stella
Another aspect to being a woman is the amount of grooming we may be expected to do. I once read that the average female spends thousands of hours of her life—hundreds of days—getting ready to go out. That just seems silly to us. While basic hygiene is not a gender issue, how “decorated” society expects us to be is—makeup, hair products, lotions, potions, etc.
“Makeup makes me want to claw my face off, I can‘t/ won‘t wear it.” —Elfinia
It‘s not just gender identity that we may struggle with—it‘s identity in general. It does seem to be a trend, for some of us, to have a changeable personality either based on our current role model, or changing interests.
“I have exhibited that well documented chameleon-like nature that is spoken of in relation to women with AS. I do not have a clear or typical sense of self.” —Camilla
Are we just impressionable or are we true chameleons? Does this changeability stem from a mind hungry to experience life from many angles, a dissatisfaction with who we are, or really just not knowing who we are? When I was a child I wanted to see, be, and do as much as I possibly could. I read and later traveled voraciously to seek this out. I remember that I always felt like an empty vessel that needed to be filled with experiences so that I could craft an identity out of them. Other people, throughout my life, seemed like they already had identities and therefore, seemingly, had less need for experiences.
Alien to our gender, to our culture… and to our species? The term alien has often been used to describe the Aspergian experience. Some of us felt not only like we weren‘t particularly female as children but also like we were not from the same planet as everyone else. This is a good part of the reason so many of us love sci-fi and fantasy.
“I still love X-Men. When I was younger, thinking of myself as being like one of the mutants (without the super powers) made me feel like even though I was different, I could live with others.” —Dame Kev
If our sense of who we are changes with our interest, maybe being a chameleon is our nature. I do believe that we each have core identities which will run throughout our lives, no matter what externals change. Each woman that I interviewed for this book had a distinct voice and character and it was easy for me to see that they had strong personalities even if they can‘t see that themselves all the time.
Dads, the great thing about having an AS daughter is she will be more likely to want to help you fix the car and build a fort than help Mom cook dinner. This is a trait that may be overlooked because she‘s in her head so much and is so solitary much of the time. Being a goofy but intellectual tomboy is normal in our world. Similarly, if she wants to decorate her room like Rivendell and can‘t get her nose out of her fantasy books, understand she feels that she doesn‘t fit in with this world. Who‘s to say why this is? As the saying goes, we are in this world, but we don‘t have to be “of it.” This world is not of our making, so it‘s no wonder we want and need to make our own. This can result in a type of restlessness, a craving for experience and identity. It could result in lots of stops and starts, whether in the areas of employment, education, or even geographic location. If you daughter seems to be losing herself, she‘s probably emulating… again, this is normal, but if she‘s behaving in a way that is inconsistent with her usual code of conduct and ethics, you might want to find the source and help her replace it with a more appropriate role model.
We are far too sensitive mentally and physically to engage in “recreational” drugs. They can be very deleterious to our health and well-being.
But since we are emotionally naïve, very sense-oriented, have a lack of understanding of gender roles, and a fight-or-flight reaction to others, if we are romantically inclined, you might get a girl who chases boys with a dreamy idea of romance who can‘t actually stand to have a boyfriend.
Girls are “supposed” to play hard to get, but Aspergirls don‘t play games. Besides not understanding gender roles and expectations, we are logical, direct creatures. We may think things like “I want to go out with him; therefore I should ask him out,” and set ourselves up for ridicule and rejection.
We might also neglect our appearance. We may not realize that our hair is frizzily out of fashion. We know there are metals in antiperspirants and chemicals in skin and hair products which are not good for us, but we don‘t realize that because we don‘t use them, we may look plain and even be a bit smelly. This doesn‘t make us too attractive to others. We have to find our own easy-to-maintain style, and natural products that bring out our best.
Other authors have pointed out that AS males tend to date or marry older women, but in our case, I‘ve noticed a trend for us to date or marry younger men. In many cases, this does work out—because we act, feel, and often appear younger than our chronological age it‘s logical we‘d get along with younger males.
Maybe you‘re not awkward, just lacking in confidence. Anyone can get a stylist. Not everyone can get an intellect. Your uniqueness will eventually translate into a personal style that is the real you. That is how you will find a partner that truly connects with you.
When I attend a rare dinner party, it is a short matter of time before all conversation starts to sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown (“ wah wah, wah wah wah wah wah”). No matter how nice or intelligent everyone is, I just want to go home, put on my tutu and roller blade. I simply have great difficulty finding people who are open and youthful, yet mature and experienced in a way I relate to.
Looking for reasons to leave, burning bridges, and quitting before we fail is an Asperger specialty, one that we need to watch out for.
Most of us won‘t want to go to college full time and get a time-consuming career in something else when we just want to paint or sing for a living, so we will start in those dead end jobs such as waitressing that require people skills and possibly end up in them as well. That means obscurity, poverty and very high stress levels for most of us.
Aspies can burn very hot and cold on hobbies and vocations, so it is good to stay in the area of your passion so that it will hold your attention and focus for a long time, and you will be paid to be “in the zone.” If you do not find work in one of your areas of obsession, you will probably be distracted, bored, depressed; you may even find you become physically sick. We need our obsessions. They give our psyches an anchor, they give our thoughts ritual and routine which we know is extremely important. Without them, our thoughts will just float about in the breeze like a stray balloon, not going anywhere, never really getting lift-off.
An Aspergirl‘s happiness depends on a combination of meaningful work, limited friction, freedom to create, and lots of control.
It is frustrating for parents when their 18-year-old is still living at home (or their 38-year old) and they just can‘t seem to find a job that works. It is not that your daughter is lazy—it is so difficult to explain to someone who has not lived through it, but feeling like a black sheep, feeling awkward, uncomfortable, scrutinized, having our rituals and routines interrupted, not having control over our environment, all these things make finding a job we like incredibly difficult.
Some of us, because of the social criticisms and isolation we have had to endure, may have internalized that we don‘t “deserve” a truly wonderful partner; that being lonely might be the price we pay for being flawed. The right partner will look at those same attributes with a very different perspective than the wrong one.
She didn‘t ask me if I loved my daughter. If she had, I‘d have said yes. It was being a mother I disliked, for I found it ridiculously demanding. From the moment she came out, screaming, tugging at my flesh, breaking the stillness of my small San Francisco apartment, filling it with horrible smells, my baby was an Aspergirl‘s worst nightmare.
From what I‘ve learned from other Aspergirls is that we make unconventional yet conservative moms; strict, safe, logical, protective, and intellectually stimulating.
Because Aspergirls are smart, creative, even at times outgoing, it is sometimes easy to forget that they have Asperger‘s. It is also easy to forget that Asperger‘s is mild autism. Sometimes we crave people, human contact, and even spontaneity. But, most of the time, we want to organize, straighten, engage in our rituals. Most of us spent far more time as children organizing our toys than actually playing with them.
We‘re either overanalyzing, so have missed the joke or point by misdirection, or else we sometimes assume people wouldn‘t bother to joke about such things. This often appears as no sense of humor, but while some Aspergirls have told me jokes are wasted on them I do not think this is the majority. The brain is a flexible organ and our sense of humor, like every other skill, can be cultivated and refined.
Blunt, honest speech is another thing that can get us into trouble. We try to explain ourselves clearly but it seems to backfire. Aspergirls don‘t understand that the world wants their honesty wrapped in tact. Our tact skills tend to be at chopsticks level, not Chopin.
Because we have a childish innocence but a woman‘s body, when we are open and friendly, we are often accused of flirting.
Depression is triggered by feeling powerless—powerless to bring love, money, friends, health, understanding, or other things into your life.
As soon as you feel a meltdown coming on, get proactive. Get yourself away from the situation that contains the triggers. Eat healthy food before you lose your appetite, and drink plenty of fluid. Take your regular vitamins or supplements so your body and mind aren‘t weakened or starving for nutrients. Get some exercise, quick! Do not take to your bed—strap on your skates or your sneakers and hit the road or the courts, whatever your exercise choice is. Sweat it off. Comfort yourself—pet your dogs, take a hot bath, wear a soft robe. Stay far away from people who make you feel bad about yourself. Use your visualization skills—many of you can picture things vividly and then build them. Do that with your life. Picture your life then build it. Picture your attitude then build it. Picture your happiness and strength and then build it. For those of you who have a loved one, picture yourself holding their hand (if they are not there). Hang on to that hand, pull yourself up. For those who are spiritual, picture in your mind Jesus, Buddha, or whatever your ultimate pillar of strength and safety is. Visualization is a very powerful tool but it has to be steady and consistent to be effective, so put images in your home, especially your bedroom or wherever you spend your vulnerable time; positive images that reflect who or where you want to be.
While we mature fast when we are young, we level off and it often takes longer for us to be able to leave our parents‘ house.
“When things get so bad I can‘t take it anymore, I up and leave, burning every bridge behind me. The phoenix is a personal symbol of mine for that reason. Burn it all and rise from the ashes.” —Bramble
This shows up in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria as subtext, neatly hidden inside “failure to develop peer relationships”—we do develop them briefly, but then we toss them away.
Burning bridges is triggered by injustice—we do not want to patronize or support any ideology, institution, or person that goes against our strongly held ethics and views. Burning bridges affects employment. We have bad experiences on the job, so often, particularly when we‘re younger, we will leave a job abruptly without giving notice.
Burning bridges is closely related to the pre-emptive strike which many of us are also good at—quit before you are fired, dump them before they dump you, leave before things get messy. We do develop a tendency to sense trouble ahead. We learn to read the signs the way cats feel earthquakes coming and birds know winter is on its way. Cynics may call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I believe, based on my own experience, that it does sometimes coincide with PMS; enough to see a correlation. As our bodies are cleaning house, so do our psyches.
“I need to clean house a lot, metaphorically speaking, to cope, to keep the clutter in my personal life down.” —Anemone
“My life is a series of burned bridges. At the time, it feels as if I am right and that I am standing up for what I believe in. Often I am. I have, however, learned in the past decade that I can be very black and white in my thinking.” —Camilla
Since a substantial number of Aspergirls don‘t like sex and a large number don‘t want babies, menopause may actually be a welcome end to inconvenient cycles and hormones. Old age brings a bit of androgyny to everyone. Since femininity isn‘t one of our goals, many won‘t care about seeming less feminine and attractive to the opposite sex. We take a pragmatic approach to our appearance. Some of us will be fascinated by the scientific processes of aging and will even welcome them.
Tell your own story.
It is possible and likely that an Aspergirl will take longer to leave your house. The bird will fly the nest eventually, but if you push her out too soon you do so at her peril. She may seem mature for her age when she‘s little but when she is older, she will be emotionally more vulnerable than her peers. She doesn‘t learn from her mistakes as readily. She will be naïve romantically. She may have a difficult time finding and keeping employment. She can and she will, with help and effort, be successful at all those things but it may take a bit more time.
Don‘t ever be embarrassed or ashamed of who you are. And just as important, try not to spend too much energy trying to be something you‘re not. You are a special gift from God to the world. It‘s easy to be “average” but it is a blessing to be unique.