Category: girls / women


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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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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.

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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To the Moon screenshotThanks for reading my introductory post about the computer game To the Moon!  This post will start to get into the details of the plot in earnest, so only continue reading if you don’t mind finding out what happens in the game.

My girlfriend Megan has already written over a dozen posts reflecting on her reactions to the game and how it relates to Asperger’s syndrome, and they are really neat!  Her posts are a lot less spoilerish than mine, so you can check them out if you want to learn more about the themes of the game without being spoiled about the details of the plot.

Megan seems to have less trouble expressing her thoughts in words than I do; I usually have to have all of the details laid out in front of me before I feel like I can say anything.  With that in mind, the spoilers begin below…

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So, what is it like to have a girlfriend with Asperger’s?  To put it simply, it’s incredibly awesome!  It’s been a lot of fun sharing stories with Megan about growing up feeling a bit different from everyone else and realizing how much common ground we have.

Like me, Megan was the smart, shy kid in her class and tended to spend a lot of time thinking silently to herself.  She has intense areas of interest (languages, Japanese culture, manga, Biblical word and topic studies, and a host of other creative projects that can occur without warning!) that she pursues with a tireless focus and gleeful joy.  She loves her friends, but being in social situations– even ones she enjoys– can be very draining, and it takes quiet time spent by herself to recharge.  (I can’t count how many times I’ve messaged Megan saying “Sorry I wasn’t online for a while; I was taking a nap,” only for her to respond “Me too!”)

The first time Megan came to visit, we went for a walk around the neighborhood together and talked about all sorts of things.  That’s when I began to notice something interesting.  Ordinarily in this situation, I would be devoting a lot of my energy to coordinating my body language, facial expressions, and trying to maintain some rhythm of eye contact in order to give the correct appearance of being attentive.

But in talking with Megan, I started to lapse back into my more natural habit of letting my focus remain on the path ahead of me, or drift off into the distance as I chose my words.  I would still look over at Megan and smile (how could I not?), but I stopped worrying about how my natural expressionless, unfocused face would look and just talked.  I knew that Megan would understand, because I noticed she was doing the same thing!

The feeling of peace that came over me as I settled into this pattern was amazing.  I had never realized how much energy and worry I had been putting into social interaction all these years in order to appear more “normal.”  I suppose I was finally “being myself.”  When I needed to pause to think of how I wanted to complete a sentence, Megan never interrupted me, always patiently waiting for me to find the words.  It was wonderful!

What makes me even happier, though, is that I thought I saw the same transformation in Megan.  When we first picked her up at the airport and immediately went to lunch, I could sense a little tension in Megan’s voice and mannerisms– she spoke quickly and softly, with the same slightly exaggerated nodding motion that I always use when I’m afraid people will think I’m not paying attention.  But during dinner that night, after we had all had a chance to rest, Megan spoke more slowly and confidently, sharing her knowledge on a lot of fascinating topics while displaying a delightful range of emotions.  I was so happy to see that she felt comfortable with me and my family.

I don’t know if that was how I came across when I was talking to Megan, because the fact is that– for once– I wasn’t paying attention to how I looked or sounded; I was fully focusing on what I was saying and whom I was saying it to.  But I felt at peace.

All of this seemed to point toward a happy possibility– that Megan and I are both made better by the mere fact of being together.

 

In my last post, I said that I had some “new and awesome things” to tell you about.  Well, the biggest thing that has happened to me this past year is that I have met a young woman named Megan, and she has become my girlfriend!  Like me, Megan is a Christian diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  We actually met through this blog and started a discussion about our shared experiences with Asperger’s that spread to all sorts of topics.  Over the past several months, we’ve been able to travel to see each other a few times and meet each other’s families, and we have had a wonderful time together.  Megan has been such a blessing to my life, and I thank God that we met!

I’ve been thinking for a while about what I want to say about my relationship with Megan on this blog.  In online discussions between Aspies, the topic of “How can I find a girlfriend (or boyfriend)?” is understandably one of the most frequent and earnestly asked questions among young adults with Asperger’s.  Loneliness can be such a nagging, wearing thing to deal with.  Of course, I have sometimes wondered whether a message board full of people who struggle with social skills might not be the best place to get relationship advice!  😉

In truth, it might not be much different from advice you’ll find anywhere else on the Internet, or in the world in general, though.  There are people who think they have relationships simplified to a formula, a set of steps that is guaranteed to work.  There are plenty of people who’ve become bitter because of past experiences and will try to tell you why “All women/men are the same.”  There are those who will try to convince you that if you don’t hurry and conform to a specific pattern, you will be “too late” and forever undesirable.

There have been a lot of specifically Christian relationship trends during my lifetime:  During junior high and high school, the main advice was “Wait and go slowly; better safe than sorry.”  Then in college it was “Dating is unbiblical; you should only date someone if you want to marry her.”  Then, “Not enough men are taking responsibility; stop being afraid to take the initiative and ask a girl out.”  Then after college, “Too many people are waiting too long to get married!  What’s going on?”

(For my part, I was so withdrawn from social activity in general that I would shake my head and laugh at all of these trends as they zipped by.  If you’ve been on zero dates, it’s all pretty theoretical, isn’t it?)  🙂

Ugh; I feel like I’m getting far away from the point of this post.  Anyway, now that I have a girlfriend for the first time in my life, I feel like I should have some sort of wisdom to impart to those who want to know how to go about finding one.  Except I really don’t.  Honestly, I’m probably more surprised by this situation than anyone else.  I still get a stupid grin every time Megan calls me her “boyfriend” because it sounds so strange!

The only thing I can say is that long before I met Megan, I’ve always taken comfort in the idea that I don’t have to become what “every woman” expects in a man.  I don’t have to meet the expectations of every woman in the world, or of anyone on a website, or even every Christian writer who’s published a book about the topic.  I reject the idea that all men or all women are the same, anyway.  In the end, all that matters is pleasing God, and if it’s His will that I meet a woman to be my girlfriend, wife, whatever– then what I need to do is love *her* as the individual creation– the bearer of God’s image– that she is.

That’s an awesome task.  And it’s an exciting one!  I don’t know what God ultimately has in store for me and Megan, but He designed each of us down to the most intricate details of our hearts and minds, and I trust that He has the best in mind for both of us.  A boyfriend-girlfriend relationship between two Aspies might very well be expected to look a bit different from one between two neurotypicals.  And it will be different again because of the two unique people that Megan and I are.

I’m sure that I have a lot to learn, and I look forward to sharing some of our experiences here, in hopes that they will be helpful or at least interesting!  Thanks for reading.

Just a quick post while I continue to work on others…

I’ve been really enjoying attending a young adults Bible study in my area. In addition to Bible study, we have had game nights and other informal gatherings, and it’s given me a chance to work on my social skills. In general, the group is very relaxed, which is a big help to me. We took Myers-Briggs tests, and found that most of us in the group were introverts.

Before a Bible study a few weeks ago, though, I was reminded how faceblindness can be a real obstacle to making friends. I thought I was doing okay at small talk with a young woman; she told me her name and I told her mine. I told her about how one of my daily tasks was watching our three dogs, and trying to get my physics editing done in between letting them in and out. She told me about her two beagles, and said she thought our grouchy old Welsh corgi sounded a bit like them.

It was a nice conversation, and it would ordinarily be something I could refer to the next time I talked to her, but then I walked to the other side of the room to get something to eat. When I walked back to where I was, I realized that not only had I forgotten the name of the woman I had been talking to– I couldn’t even remember which of the women in the room she was! Just moving to a different place was enough to make me lose the context I had been using to identify her.

So… the next time I see her, I might end up having the same conversation over again, because I can’t remember who I already told about my dogs! I think I was focusing so much on listening to her and responding with sentences that make sense (both things I don’t want to neglect, to be sure) that I didn’t remember to come up with some way of identifying her, since I don’t have the automatic face-recognition system that many people have.

I think it explains why making friends at college at more than a superficial level was tricky for me. Oh, well. I think I will eventually learn who people are if I keep attending the group– it will just take me longer than most people! : )

A lot of what you read about autistic and Asperger’s personalities tends to focus on their typical weaknesses, like social awkwardness and difficulty connecting with other people.  There’s a lot written about how traits like introversion can be a hurdle for autistics trying to fit in to a workplace or to form relationships.

But it’s a huge mistake to dwell only on the negatives.  Let’s ask a different question:  What are the strengths of an Aspie personality?  Can a person with Asperger’s or autism be a good coworker, a good friend?

I believe that the answer is yes, without a doubt!  People with autism, Aspies, shy people– have a lot to offer, especially if others are willing to listen and be patient with them.

I think that the character of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series is a great example of some of the strengths of an Aspie personality, and the way her friends accept her is a great example of how to treat others who may seem a bit different.

Speaking as an Aspie, it tends to be hard for us to talk about our strengths because we are so constantly aware of our weaknesses, but I think it’s a little easier to point out the strengths of a fictional character like Luna.

With that in mind, here are five positive character traits I see in Luna that I think she shares with a lot of Aspies:

1. The fruit of time spent alone in thought.

Aspies tend to need a lot of time alone to sort out our thoughts.  It’s not that we are smarter or deeper thinkers than anyone else, but we are more easily distracted by all of the sensory data bombarding us from every angle and the conscious effort it takes to participate in the give-and-take of interacting with other people.

In some ways, the magical world of Hogwarts seems like it could be a nightmare for someone who is prone to sensory overload.  It has all of the noise and busyness of a school, with people headed every direction all the time.  But I think the most annoying thing would be the pictures.

All of the paintings on the walls at Hogwarts are enchanted, so the people and things in them can move and talk.  So you can be walking down the hall by yourself, and one of the pictures might try to start a conversation with you.  If have a light on late at night, they’ll all start complaining that they’re trying to sleep.  Sure, sometimes it’s funny, but I think it would get annoying feeling like you’re always being watched.  (And then even if you get away from the pictures, you still have to deal with the ghosts!)

Luna grew up in this sort of magical world, so maybe it doesn’t bother her that much.  On the other hand, it’s not that different from having to contend with blaring advertisements in a crowded mall or airport in the real world.

But she does seem to appreciate time alone.  In Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter finds her in the forest feeding thestrals, the silent winged creatures that are invisible to most people.  When Harry asks why no one else seems to see them, Luna explains that she and Harry can see the thestrals because they have seen death– Luna lost her mother at the age of nine in an accident, and Harry was orphaned when he was just a baby.  Just months ago, Harry also witnessed a friend and classmate being murdered by the killer of his parents, the dark lord Voldemort.

At this point in the story, Harry is feeling isolated from his friends and ignored by his mentors.  He knows that Voldemort is about to strike openly and try to seize power, but the authorities are in denial.  They refuse to even speak Voldemort’s name and have published stories in the “respectable” papers portraying Harry as a liar.  Some of the people that Harry thought were his friends are avoiding him, and he has started to avoid them.

Luna quietly observes that perhaps Voldemort wants Harry to feel isolated.  “If I were You-Know-Who,” she says, “I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat.

This isn’t the sort of insight that occurs to someone without the benefit of a lot of time spent sorting out her thoughts.  Who would expect a shy little girl to have spent time considering the strategy of a ruthless enemy?  It’s an insight she has arrived at only after a great deal of thinking quietly by herself.  Luna, too, has felt isolated, because of the teasing of the other students and the fact that she has experienced a loss that most children her age can’t relate to.

It turns out to be the insight that Harry most needed at that point in his life.

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Let’s go back to the scene in the carriage from early in Order of the Phoenix.  After getting off to an awkward start, Hermione tries to recover the conversation by commenting on Luna’s necklace.  “It’s a charm, actually,” Luna responds, then leans forward.  “It keeps away the Nargles.”

There are a few seconds of silence that seem uncomfortable for everyone but Luna.  Finally, she pronounces, “Hungry.  I hope there’s pudding.”

The scene that just unfolded is actually a good example of what a conversation with an Aspie can be like.  (Or at least, I can certainly remember having conversations that went that way with classmates my age.)  It may not seem like it, but I think Luna is trying her best to politely participate in the conversation in this scene.

It can be a challenge to keep a conversation going with an Aspie.  Hermione actually started out really well by commenting on something literal and specific, Luna’s necklace.  The intense focus on details that tends to come along with Asperger’s means that, as long as the topic is something I have “data” about, my mind almost instantly brings up a catalog of information to answer with.

It’s a lot trickier to come up with an answer to a question that’s more open-ended, like “What’s going on?” or “How is your day going?”  (First, I need to remind myself that these questions usually don’t literally mean that the other person wants to know everything that’s going on in my life.  Then, I need to select an answer that matches the level of depth the other person actually wants.)

Assuming I’m not stumped for something to say, there are still a couple of pitfalls that can derail a conversation at this point.  One is to give a response that answers the question but doesn’t suggest anywhere for the conversation to go.

For example, suppose someone messages me on my computer asking “Hey, what are you doing?” and I respond “I’m going to watch a movie.”  I have answered their question directly and fully.  If it were a question on a test, I should expect full credit.

But look at it from the other person’s point of view.  Now they don’t have anything specific to respond to!  They could try again with a different question, but at some point they will start to wonder whether my closed-ended response really means “I don’t want to talk right now.”

A better response might be something like “I’m going to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Have you ever seen that one?”  Providing more information (and especially asking a question) tells the other person that I want the conversation to continue.

The other extreme can happen if the conversation turns to a topic that falls under an Aspie’s specific area of interest.  “Finally, we’re talking about something I love!” I think, and a ten-point lecture begins spilling out in a burst of enthusiasm.  This has a tendency of scaring the other person away.

Getting back to the scene, Luna’s special area of interest is magical creatures, particularly ones that most people don’t know about or don’t believe exist.  She spends a lot of her time thinking about them.  In explaining the purpose of her necklace, she brings up the topic of Nargles, which she could surely spend quite some time talking about.  (She suspects they have been stealing her possessions.)

If I had to guess, Luna has already discovered that most people aren’t interested in hearing about creatures that they think are figments of her imagination or made up by her father’s silly tabloid.  It’s part of why they tease her.  Even though she could surely regale Harry, Ron, and Hermione with all sorts of fascinating facts about Nargles, she holds back from saying more.  I think this is either because she has been made cautious by previous experiences of trying to share about her strange obsession, or because she is trying to be polite by not dominating the conversation.

In either case, Luna’s caution proves justified, as none of the others is interested in hearing about more creatures that quite possibly don’t exist.  They’re uncomfortable saying any more because they don’t want to hurt Luna’s feelings by letting her know how strange she seems to them.  And so the group falls silent.

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