The Hidden Village of Aspergers

June 7, 2010

Life in the Hidden Village

Filed under: introduction — kankurette @ 6:45 pm

When I mention I have Aspergers Syndrome, one of the questions I often get asked is, “What does it entail? What are the symptoms? What’s it like having Aspergers Syndrome?” Thankfully, no-one’s mentioned Rain Man. Yet.

More and more people are aware of Aspergers Syndrome than was the case back in 1994. More people are being diagnosed, and Aspergers is making its way into popular culture. We’ve had The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. We’ve had Adam, which – from what I’ve heard – was an incredibly moving and true-to-life portrayal of a young man with Aspergers. (Memo to self: rent movie.) We’ve had Jerry Espenson in Boston Legal, Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory and – hurrah, a female character! – Karla Bentham in Waterloo Road. We’ve had Naruto fans discussing whether the character Sai has Aspergers, on account of his lack of tact and social skills, and inability to deal with emotion (I think it’s because of his ninja training, myself, but I digress). We’ve had Craig Nicholls of the Vines and Pip ‘Ladyhawke’ Brown coming out as people with AS. My mum will phone me up and mention there was a programme on Radio 4 about Aspergers Syndrome. And so on.

I’m beyond happy that we have increased visibility. The more people know about us and our condition, the more realistically we’re portrayed on TV and in books and movies, and the more people ‘come out’, the more accepted we will be, and hopefully, the more people in general will understand the condition. However, not everyone knows exactly what Aspergers Syndrome entails, so I’ll summarise.

It is not just social awkwardness or lack of social skills. It is not another form of OCD. It is not being a little bit eccentric, a bit of a loner. It is not just shyness. And no, not all of us have mad counting skills. There are some AS and autistic savants, but there are also a lot of people on the spectrum like me who are, well, ordinary. I did do well at school, but I’m not a genius – I just worked hard. And I hated maths and preferred languages (though some people do think maths is a language, so maybe there’s some connection there).

Since this blog is called the Hidden Village of Aspergers, I’ll use a metaphor. Bear in mind that what I’m saying is very generalised – Aspergers comes in all varieties, to the people on the extreme end like Christopher in The Curious Incident…, to people like me, to people who are right on the borderline.

In the Hidden Village of Aspergers, the people live by a strict timetable. You get up at 7 o’clock, have a shower at quarter past 7, then a breakfast at half past 7, then organised activities. Lunch is bang on midday. Then you have more organised activities, then dinner at 6 o’clock, culminating in bedtime at a designated time. They must adhere to these times. If anyone does anything off-schedule, people will get nervous. They don’t like it. It makes them uneasy.

‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ is one of the Village’s favourite sayings. These people do not like you moving their stuff, and that’s an understatement. Relocating workplaces or homes just isn’t done here. The thought of moving to a strange and unfamiliar place frightens them. They do not want to go beyond the borders to which they’ve become accustomed. Their parents, grandparents, ancestors have always lived here, and so will they, and their children, and their grandchildren and other descendants.

The people like hobbies and collecting things; everyone has their own interest. Dinosaurs. Trains. Military history. Pretty seashells. Transformers. Their five kittens, named after the Sailor Senshi. Metal Gear Solid. You get the idea. Like Adrian Mole and the Norwegian leather industry, they can bang on about the interests for literally hours, perhaps not realising that the person they’re talking to couldn’t give a flying’s rat’s bollock unless they come straight out and say, “Look, hun, I couldn’t give a flying rat’s bollock about your collection of Sylvanian Families.”

There are no lies, no mind games, no passive-aggressiveness, and no subtle manipulations. People speak as they find; they say what they mean and mean what they say. Tact is some kind of weird foreign concept. They can be inadvertently offensive, but may not notice. They’re bloody awful at making small talk; they don’t care about the weather or what you did over the weekend, and see no point in asking you about it. They like to talk about themselves. Sometimes they socialise, but in general they’re a suspicious lot. They can’t read each other’s faces and body language and tone, and they don’t always look you in the eye – not because they’re rude, because it just doesn’t occur to them. Some of them speak in a monotone, or quickly. You’re always on the edge, not being sure how to react to another person, not knowing what they’re implying.

They are not rude or cruel. Thoughtless, maybe, but it genuinely does not occur to them that what they are saying and doing might hurt others. Of course, some of them do realise that they’re Doing It Wrong, but not all.

They bump into each other and trip over things. They walk with their hands in their pockets, their shoulders slumped. Some of them can’t dance or play sport. They have a sense of humour, but it does not involve sarcasm or subtlety. Loud noises and bright lights terrify them. What might seem a minor annoyance to an outsider is, to a citizen of the Village, nightmarish, and akin to making a dog watch bottle rockets going off. They find parties difficult. They can form relationships, sometimes with outsiders, but don’t always know how to make the relationship work. They may be mistaken for unfeeling and cold, but that’s not true at all. These people are not robots. They can love. But strong emotions of any kind can overwhelm and confuse them. They can read many things in books and learn facts, but no book can entirely teach them how to deal with their own feelings. It takes more, much more.

Other Hidden Villages might find the people of the Hidden Village of Aspergers weird, antisocial, psychotic, clumsy, crude, stupid, cold. They isolate the Village and sometimes talk of declaring war on it, but then decide it’s better to leave the people to each other’s mercies. Some villages will try to make contact and build relations; sometimes they will succeed. But the Hidden Village of Aspergers is a bizarre kind of place indeed for an outsider. Better be careful. Take this map, and also this kitten. You could get lost in there.

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