Category: childhood


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King T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) in Black Panther.

This is a post that my girlfriend Megan suggested I make after I told her about one of my favorite characters from Marvel’s Black Panther film, which I saw a few days ago. Both Megan and I have the Asperger’s trait of having extremely focused, almost obsessive interests in learning about technical things. Even when I was little, I loved to collect and categorize information about geography and astronomy, while Megan would study a specific period of history or the grammar and syntax rules of an unfamiliar language. We both enjoy video games and working with computers.

When I was growing up, I had the niche of being “nerdy” to fit into. I didn’t know anything about Asperger’s, but I knew it wasn’t that unusual to be nerdy and into technical things. But until recently, the “nerd” stereotype seemed to only be applied to boys. There wasn’t much of a “niche” for Megan to fit into aside from being the “shy girl.”

But that seems to be changing! I’ve noticed a number of examples of technically-minded girls in recent popular movies and other media. I think that’s a great trend– hopefully examples like these can inspire more girls to have fun learning about the technical side of things.

 

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I’ve had a tough time getting started on this post. It’s another reflection on the book Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate by Cynthia Kim, and this time the topic is bullying.

I’m not sure if it’s difficult for me to write about because I don’t have a lot of personal experience with being bullied, or if it’s just because it’s such an unpleasant topic in general.

What’s interesting about Cynthia Kim’s story is that she experienced bullying from both sides. In elementary and middle school, she was picked on by the children in her class– they made fun of her, took her things, and in one case the biggest boy in class cornered her in a coatroom and kissed her against her wishes. For a while, she didn’t know what to do about it aside from trying to hide.

But eventually, Kim found a different way to respond– becoming a bully herself. If she could focus people’s attention on making fun of someone else, it meant that she was no longer the target. She explains that she was able to identify who to pick on, because they looked just like she used to when she was the target of bullies herself.

I thought there was a very Aspie-like honesty about Kim’s account of becoming a bully. She doesn’t attempt to excuse her own behavior– she knows it was wrong and hurtful– even when she was doing it, she knew it was wrong. It just came naturally to her. And then, as she grew older, the bullying behavior gradually faded away, along with her friendships with the other “mean girls.”

When you’re a kid, both you and everyone around you is learning social skills at the same time, and one of the things we all have to learn is how easy it is to hurt others by what we say and do.

It makes me think of how I probably treated others rudely without realizing it when I was growing up, and later I had to trust that God would give them grace to forgive or to forget my mistakes. I don’t think I ever bullied anyone, but there were certainly times when I felt relieved that someone other than myself was being teased.

One good thing that has come out of Kim’s experiences is that she is able to give a helpful list of why people on the autistic spectrum tend to experience bullying, which can be a problem at any age, not just in childhood.

Traits that make autistic individuals vulnerable to bullying (quoted directly from Kim’s book, with my own comments after each item):

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In her book Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, Cynthia Kim talks about the experience of learning about Asperger’s and seeing how many of the signs were present in her life from an early age, leading to a question: How did nobody notice the signs back then? Asperger’s may not have been defined yet, but she definitely was different from other children her age.

She spent a lot of her time by herself– she felt most content when she could spend hours in her room playing games of Risk and Monopoly against herself, or going on long bike rides around her neighborhood alone.

When I was that age, I was likewise able to entertain myself for hours alone with just a book or a road map or atlas to study. It was hard to shift my attention to something else while I was still exploring it!

Kim writes that another reason she thinks her Asperger’s was harder to spot was an issue that I’ve written about before on this blog: for a number of reasons, boys are much more likely to be diagnosed with Asperger’s than girls are.

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nsicoverOne of the presents on my Christmas list this year was a book about living with Asperger’s syndrome. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life was written by Cynthia Kim, a woman who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in her forties.

I’ve really enjoyed learning about other Aspies’ stories and experiences, and seeing the similarities to and differences from my own story as a man diagnosed with Asperger’s in my late twenties and still learning about it in my thirties. I haven’t posted much on this blog for a few years, but I have been writing reflections giving my responses to other books like this one– it’s just that I’ve been sharing them with my girlfriend Megan rather than posting them here. It’s been fascinating getting to hear her perspective too, as I’ve never come across anyone else whose thinking patterns were so similar to mine!

I figured that I’d share some of my reflections with Megan as I read Cynthia Kim’s book, but I also wanted to get back to posting on this site, so I figured I could do both at once! I’ll share about the parts of the book that stand out to me as insightful or that make me think of stories from my own life, and others are welcome to post their comments and questions– including Megan, of course! : )

So, I’ll go ahead and look at the first chapter. (One of the things that is annoying about my obsessively ordered brain is that I always feel like I have to write a big introduction to everything placing what I’m saying in context– it’s one of the reasons I don’t like writing.)

Like me, Cynthia Kim grew up before anybody had defined Asperger’s syndrome or knew anything about it.

For the first few months after learning about Asperger’s I spent a lot of time playing “What if…?”

What if I’d been diagnosed earlier? What if I’d been given the type of supports and accommodations that children on the spectrum receive today? Of course, it’s impossible to know how my life would be different.

I’ve certainly thought about those questions myself. To be honest, though, I have a hard time imagining myself growing up a different way than how I did. If I had known I had Asperger’s, I might have been less hard on myself for the social skills I struggled to learn. But I fear that, if I’d had that Asperger’s label to fall back on, I might not have tried as hard to achieve what I did while I was in school. By God’s grace, I had a wonderful group of classmates who accepted me as I was, even when I was a bit strange, and that bore fruit in a wonderful senior year when I finally opened up to forming friendships with them and found that I enjoyed it! Would that still have happened if I’d thought of myself as “autistic” rather than just “smart, shy, and awkward”? I don’t know.

At the same time, those labels of being “smart” and “shy” affected the way I thought about myself all the way on into adulthood. I really identify with Ms. Kim’s description of her internal reasoning about growing up:

Because I was quiet and did well academically, the adults in my life attributed my difficulties to extreme shyness and timidity. I’d grow out of it eventually and all of my problems would be solved. That explanation carried me into adulthood, where in the back of my mind I was waiting to magically outgrow my social and communication difficulties.

[…]

Decades passed and there I was, still waiting for someone to give me the secret handbook that would explain all those social nuances the people around me seemed to instinctively grasp.

Wow; that is exactly how I felt! I even told my Mom I wanted an “instruction book” that would tell me how to be an adult, because I was nearing the end of my school years, and we still hadn’t covered it.

The assumption is that the shy, quiet boy or girl is just maturing mentally or physically faster than they are socially, and before long, they will “catch up” and it will all even out. That can be true in some cases; all you need to do is be patient, and time will solve the problem.

But in my case, the difficulty I have with social skills are due to the way my brain is configured– it is a learning disability. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn social skills, but it might mean I will have to find a different way of learning them, and using them might never feel quite “normal.” I’m still working on that every day, and it’s not because I’m dumb or lazy!

It’s taken several years for me to “unlearn” the thinking I’d built up that my struggles were my own fault– thankfully God and my parents have been patient! It’s really been a rewarding time of learning and growing for me. I think another quote from Kim describes this sort of thing well.

Since discovering that I’m on the spectrum, I’ve been blogging about my experiences, processing what it means to suddenly be autistic at 42. In a way, I’ve been forced to relearn how to be me. All the things I thought were broken or defective or weird about me? It turns out they’re perfectly normal for people like me. Even more exciting? There actually are other people like me. Lots of them.

I felt like I spent a while after my diagnosis trying to figure out who I am in light of it. And I’ve had the joy of meeting one of those other people like myself. I’m so thankful I met Megan– I’ve learned so much from her and had a lot of fun at the same time!

Anyway, hopefully it won’t be too long until my next book reflection.

It’s amazing how much of the trivia of television history is preserved on YouTube.  I recently came across some clips that had been buried fairly deep in my memory– some of my favorite short segments from the children’s educational show Sesame Street.

To be specific, I’m not talking about segments involving the main cast of human characters or Muppets like Bert and Ernie.  I’m talking about the short (30 seconds to a minute) pieces on a variety of subjects that were shown close to randomly in between those.

They could use animation, stop motion, or live action film.  Most were musical, but some had lyrics and others just had interesting pictures set to music.  They seem to have come from a variety of sources– I still have no idea who made most of them.

But a few of them were among my favorites when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed whenever they would show up.  My faint memories of them led me to look them up on YouTube, and I was pleasantly surprised to find all of them there!

So, in no particular order, here are my favorite non-Muppet Sesame Street segments:

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Now it’s time for me to give you the ten summer Olympic events I can most easily imagine myself doing, whether that’s because I have some experience with them, because I think they fit my personality, or just because I think they might be fun.

 

10.  Sailing

I love to watch the sailing competitions.  Boy, do they look like fun.  Cutting through the water on a clear day, leaning out over the side of the small craft to steer it, using your weight to angle the sail and catch the wind just right.

Of course, I don’t know the first thing about operating a boat– it’s complex enough keeping track of where you are going in a motorboat, let alone a tiny sail craft that will capsize if you lean too far.  So I’m under no illusion that it would be easy to learn.

I’d have to start out by asking my girlfriend Megan to give me some lessons in how to pilot a boat– she at least has some experience in the area, even if it wasn’t as tiny a boat as the craft they race in the Olympics.  And that sounds like fun.  : )
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This post contains spoilers for the plot of the computer game To the Moon.  If you don’t want to be spoiled, play or watch the game!  Otherwise, keep reading.  This post looks a bit more at one of the game’s most interesting characters, River.  (“River” is a popular name in sci-fi, isn’t it?  You also have Firefly‘s River Tam and Doctor Who‘s River Song, both of whom are also very interesting people.)

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I recently watched a playthrough of the computer game To the Moon, which I knew nothing about except that it was independently made and that a lot of people were impressed by the depth of its storytelling.  I found it to be a gripping story that managed to use the genre of a video game to draw the player into a tale that was both tragic and beautiful at the same time, while giving the player a lot to think about.

To the Moon screenshotI really can’t talk about how the game does this without giving the story away, so if you want to experience it the way I did, you can download it for Windows computers at http://freebirdgames.com/to_the_moon/ for $10.  Or, you can look for a playthrough of the game on YouTube, preferably one without anyone talking over the game, such as this one.  I was so impressed by the playthrough that I bought a copy of the game to play myself.

There’s actually enough to talk about in To the Moon for a whole series of posts, and I’m afraid I will need to reveal most of the story in order to talk about it.  So I’ll just start with this post for now, and include the following spoiler warning:

If you are the type of person who wants no spoilers at all, then I’m afraid you have to stop reading here and play the game!  Be prepared for tears, though– it’s an emotional story.

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There’s a line in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I always liked.  It’s from the episode “Ensign Ro,” which introduces the character Ro Laren, a young Bajoran Starfleet officer who is a bit of a rebel.  She was serving time in a detention center because of an incident in which she didn’t follow orders and several Starfleet officers died.  Ro is released from detention to help the Enterprise crew with a mission involving the Bajorans.  She’s made to feel less than welcome on the ship, and she’s not thrilled about being there.

Inexplicably, Captain Picard’s old friend, the wise bartender Guinan, decides to become Ro Laren’s friend whether she wants it or not.

Guinan: Am I disturbing you?

Ro:  Yes.

Guinan:  Good. You look like someone who wants to be disturbed.

Ro:  I’d rather be alone.

Guinan:  Oh, no you wouldn’t.

Ro: I beg your pardon?

Guinan: If you wanted to be alone, you would’ve stayed in your quarters. The only reason to come here is to be among people.

Later on, after Ro does hide in her quarters and Guinan still tries to start up another conversation with her, the two women have this exchange:

Ro:  Why is it that every time I tell you something, you tell me I mean the exact opposite?

Guinan: Because you’re one of those people who’s got their poles reversed.

Now, I’m definitely not much like Ensign Ro (I’m pretty far from being a rebel), but I often find Guinan’s assessment of her amusingly fitting for my own life.

As a kid who grew up going to church, Christian school, and a Christian college (all of which I’m thankful for), I’ve had the chance to listen to more than my share of sermons, messages, and advice.  Generally, people want to help warn children away from the things that they think are most likely to mess them up.  So you’re much more likely to hear someone talk about the importance of working hard on your schoolwork than you are to hear them talk about how to make friendships and have fun with people your own age.  Because there are plenty of cases of people regretting not taking their studies seriously, but kids automatically know how to have fun with each other, right?

But what if you “have your poles reversed,” and doing schoolwork comes naturally to you, while making friends is hard?  For a while, you’ll probably think you’re doing even better than most of the people around you!  But eventually, you might feel that you missed out on gaining the social skills and experiences that other people take for granted.

Similarly, it’s common to hear a lot of messages warning against thinking too highly of oneself, of becoming prideful.  But what if your wiring is “backwards,” and the way you fall victim to pride is by tearing yourself down, expecting you will mess something up, and keeping track of your mistakes?  Like an undead enemy in an RPG, what’s meant to be healing can actually poison you (and even weirder, what others think is harmful may actually be what you need most!)  Weird analogy, I know.  🙂

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining, because I actually think it’s pretty neat to be this way, now that I understand myself a little better.  Sometimes I feel like laughing, because from where I stand now, the process of maturing mentally, socially, and spiritually is almost like a battle against conventional wisdom.  It’s kind of like my “homework” is to spend time making friends with people, and my “chores” are to look for reasons to be positive about who God made me to be and to enjoy the good things he gives.

I have a hard time complaining about homework and chores like those!

Hello again, readers!  My perfectionism has created a lot of writer’s block recently.  I have about five posts in various stages of incompleteness, but I find myself looking at them and saying “Who wrote that?”  Let’s see if I can get things moving again on the general topic of Asperger’s in adolescence.

A while ago, I posted about how I was worried about becoming a teenager because I thought it meant I would be rebellious and fight with my parents all the time.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

But there were changes in my thinking and behavior that I didn’t expect.  One of the most significant was this:

I became more aware of other people, and of the fact that they were aware of me.

Hopefully I’m not overstating things, but I believe I honestly didn’t care what my classmates thought when I started elementary school.  They were just other kids, after all, and I usually followed the rules about sitting quietly and keeping my hands to myself better than they did.  I took my cues for how to behave from my teachers or whoever was in authority.   I was taught to be polite from an early age, so I hopefully wasn’t rude.  But I saw no reason to be bothered by the fact that I kept mostly to myself at recess, for instance.  Comparing myself to those around me didn’t usually occur to me.

That gradually began to change as I got older, though– I began to think about the fact that my classmates had interests, thoughts, and feelings of their own.  I suppose that means I developed my “theory of mind.”

Looking back, I think one reason that I wasn’t caught totally by surprise by this was that I had one good friendship from early on in elementary school– in first grade, I became best friends with a boy named Ryan.  I think it started with something as simple as him choosing me to help him pass out papers to the class for the teacher, but I am very thankful he so easily accepted me as his friend.  We sat together at lunch and talked about our favorite TV shows and video games, and we stayed over at each other’s houses several times.  In addition to being fun, it meant that I actually developed a few social skills.  : )

Social interaction gets much more complex very quickly as you get older, though.  I had learned how to make friendships on a childlike level based on mutual interests, but there began to be a quality to the conversations of my classmates that I found very hard to connect with; they talked about things I understood very little about, like popular music and sports.  They joked about things I didn’t know how to laugh about.  If I tried to participate in the conversation by doing what had worked for me as a child– copying how other people sounded– it felt horribly awkward, as if it wasn’t me speaking.  So I mostly kept quiet and listened.

I eventually realized that I had gone from feeling more mature than most of my classmates (because I was able to handle the rules and schoolwork of elementary school so easily) to feeling like I was much less mature than they were.  I began to think of myself a lot differently.

I’m not sure how much of this discussion is revealing things about Asperger’s syndrome; it very well may be that this is just a part of growing up that everybody goes through– understanding that you have weaknesses as well as strengths.  Whatever the case, I had a lot more to learn about both.