Category: social skills


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.

Sensory overload is one of the most common struggles for people with autism or Asperger’s, but as with most things, it looks a little different for every individual.  My friend Megan had a really good post on her journal in which she listed the sensory inputs that she finds comforting and the things that lead to sensory overload.  I also like the point she makes about how being so sensitive is not all bad; it also means that we can find a lot of joy and comfort in simple things.

Anyway, I thought I’d use the same format she used to describe what sensory overload is like for me.

What sounds are comforting?

  • Rain on the roof.
  • A breeze rustling the trees.
  • The normal background noises of nature– frogs, insects, and birds.
  • An album of familiar songs that I know by heart.
  • An instrumental passage or guitar solo that rocks so much I have to turn the sound up, close my eyes, and nod my head (hopefully when no one is watching!)
  • A cat’s purr.
  • Silence.

What sights are comforting?

  • Maps.
  • Systems that use symbols and/or colors to organize things or convey information (especially if the color choices make sense).
  • Simple graphics using straight lines and bright colors.
  • Complete sets (of elements, constellations, countries, planets).

What textures are comforting?

  • Cold, smooth, clean surfaces.
  • A couch where I can stretch out and feel that it is there from my head to my toes.
  • A car or bus window when it is cold outside and I can press my head up against it.
  • A purring cat curled up on my chest/stomach.
  • Holding a smooth, hard game piece like a domino or a shogi tile, feeling the grooved patterns on it.

What spaces are comforting?

  • The edge of a room, with a sturdy wall I can lean against and feel that it is there.
  • The arc of a swing.
  • A hiding place.
  • A beautifully and logically designed game board.
  • The golden ratio.
  • A wide open place that is uncrowded and safe, where I have room to move and I know I am allowed to move.

What smells are comforting?

  • Waffles (or really any good food) cooking.
  • Approaching rain (ozone).
  • Autumn smells (fallen leaves, wood burning).

What tastes are comforting?

  • Pasta (texture as well as taste)
  • Cinnamon Life + Honey Nut Cheerios (the meal I have eaten more times than any other)
  • Mint Oreos in milk
  • Key lime pie with graham cracker crust

What are some of my favorite places?

  • Our cabin at Penn’s Creek, especially waking up in my bedroom feeling refreshed after my only lucid dream, when I decided to fly after I realized I was dreaming but didn’t wake up immediately.
  • On a cruise to Alaska, the quiet corner of the ship’s lounge my family found to talk, play games, enjoy hot tea, and watch the scenery pass outside.
  • Some parts of my football website (the few parts that are up to date!)
  • Places that aren’t real!  Red Brinstar in Super Metroid and the underwater glass tube, Snow Barrel Blast in Donkey Kong Country, the Tiger’s Claw (Wing Commander I), the Shire and Rivendell in Tolkien’s books.
  • The basement of our house when it is cool and quiet.
  • The tire swing at our house in Danville.
  • Being at home with the whole family around a warm fireplace while it rains or snows outside.

What things trigger sensory overload for me?

  • Having to navigate an unfamiliar place.
  • Multitasking (except for a few specific exceptions, like following multiple games in sports).
  • A lot of people talking at the same time, especially if some of them sound angry, frustrated, or upset.
  • Situations with a lot of rules that I don’t know or understand (or where I am expected to “just know” what to do).
  • A lot of bright lights from different directions in a dark area (especially driving through a city at night).
  • Signs, messages, and arresting images everywhere that don’t have any rhyme or reason (like a shelf of books or CDs in a bookstore; every cover is trying to get me to look at it by being the brightest, the most different, or the most shocking).
  • Portrayals of infinity.
  • Situations where I can’t find a place to stay out of the way and observe.
  • The feeling of chalk dust on my hands.
  • Being covered with dirt, mud, or sand.
  • A blaring television or radio that no one else is paying attention to.
  • Emotional overload.
  • Sometimes, I experience sensory overload after the fact– I’ve managed to negotiate a social situation or other challenge successfully, but as soon as I’m back home and able to relax, all of the stress comes crashing back in on me.

How can I tell if I’m approaching sensory overload?

  • My muscles tense up.
  • I find it hard to concentrate on work or fun activities.
  • I get a headache (sometimes a migraine)
  • I have an overwhelming urge to escape the situation I’m in, as soon as possible!

What happens when my senses are overloaded?

  • I try to get away, become (even more) quiet, and try to be inconspicuous.
  • My stimming behaviors, like toe-walking, rocking in place, swinging my legs, and biting my nails become more pronounced.
  • I appear to “zone out,” avoiding eye contact with everyone, instead focusing on something in the distance or on nothing at all, the “thousand-yard stare.”
  • My speech becomes very nervous; I speak faster, more quietly, and less clearly.
  • I have a harder time listening and retaining information.
  • With strangers, I may freeze or operate in slow motion, perhaps giving the impression that I am stupid or impaired.
  • With people close to me, I may become impatient and grumpy, snapping at them (apparent from my tone of voice; I may say “Okay, thanks,” but my tone of voice says “Stop talking to me and leave me alone!”

How can I prevent sensory overload?

  • Learn my capacity for sensory bombardment; accept the fact that it is less than most people’s and that I need to choose which things I participate in.
  • Give myself permission and allow time in my schedule to stay at home and rest.
  • If I’m in a situation that could lead to sensory overload, plan ways that I can take breaks, such as going for a walk by myself or sitting and reading during an optional activity.
  • Have others who know me well, that I can go to for help when I start to feel overloaded.

What’s in my sensory emergency kit?

  • Headphones and an MP3 player with all of my favorite music on it.
  • A puzzle book (especially cryptic crosswords).

How can I recover from sensory overload?

  • Time by myself, not talking to anyone.
  • After that, someone to talk to.  🙂
  • Taking a nap.
  • Taking a hot bath.

How do I know when I’ve recovered from sensory overload?

  • I no longer have a headache.
  • I am able to be around other people and enjoy their company.
  • I can get work done; I can be creative again.

What things cause you sensory overload, and how do you deal with it?

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! : )

Earlier, I wrote about how I was afraid that becoming a teenager would turn me into a rebel and make me fight with my parents.  That didn’t happen.  But my thinking did change.  Looking back, I think that was when I first started dealing with “the voice.”

It was a voice that would remind me of all the times I had messed up, when I had looked silly, when I had hurt someone’s feelings.  Being reminded of a mistake felt like reliving it– even years later, I would look back and shudder about the smallest misunderstandings.

It was a voice that told me to pause before speaking up, reaching out, or taking action.  What if I made a mistake?  Better to stay silent and hidden.

It was a voice that told me whenever something bad happened, to assume it was my fault.  “I’m sorry.”  I felt like I needed to apologize for everything– it probably was my fault somehow.

It was a voice that told me to compare myself to others and that I wasn’t ready for the challenges ahead– I didn’t know how to drive (or want to learn how), I didn’t have a job, I didn’t like to go out with friends, I’d never had a girlfriend, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated.  And before I knew it, it would be too late to learn.

I want to be clear about this– when I talk about hearing a “voice,” I don’t mean the sort of voice that a person with schizophrenia might deal with, where you can’t tell for sure if what you’re hearing is a real sound or coming from your mind.  (Also, I know almost nothing about schizophrenia aside from the fictionalized portrayal of it in the movie A Beautiful Mind, so my concept of it may not be very accurate.)

See, I knew that the critical voice that plagued me came from my own mind.  It was my own voice, the voice of my fears.  As I said in an earlier post, part of growing up was that I became more aware of other people, and of their awareness of me.  And that caused me to be more careful about what I did and said.  But my rule-oriented mind took it to the extreme.  And it tended to create a vicious cycle, because the more I hid from potential failure and embarrassment, the more I feared that I was leaving myself unprepared for the world by not trying.

To greater and lesser degrees, every day since then became a fight against that voice in my head– usually subtle, but sometimes exhausting.  I could fight it by distraction, or by applying myself to a task that I really enjoyed.  Better still, I could fight it with other voices– the voice of God’s Word telling me that I was forgiven, my sins had been paid for, and God was in control of my future.  The voice of the Holy Spirit assuring me that I was a beloved child of God, and the voices of my family echoing that same unconditional love.

One of the greatest things about God is that he is so near.  I don’t have to make a journey to talk with him.  I don’t have to go through a series of mental exercises to make my thoughts acceptable to him.  He is as close as my own thoughts at all times.  Just by remembering that he is there, I can turn any time of distress and doubting into a prayer.  This didn’t make the struggle go away, but it meant I never had to struggle alone.

Hopefully this post makes some sense; I don’t intend for it to be a “woe is me” post.  I’m trying to be honest about how I see my life and development.  My next post will be on something more fun and less serious.

I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that hint at how this struggle will end.  If you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, they are written as a collection of letters from a demon named Screwtape, whose nephew Wormwood is assigned as the tempter for a young man.  These sections come from the last letter, in which we learn that the young man was killed in a bombing raid, and Wormwood has failed in his task:

“How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you!  There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognised the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer.

Just think (and let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment.”

And:

“Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous?

“I know what the creature was saying to itself! ‘Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?’

“As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange.

“He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’

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.

Hi!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  There are some new things going on, though.

Probably the biggest is that I have a new part-time job!  I’m editing articles for an online physics journal.  Like my previous job reviewing English papers, it’s work I can do from home, but unlike it, I find it really interesting rather than stressful, so I have been able to get more work done.

I’m mostly doing copyediting for consistency in things like spelling, punctuation, and style of the reference list.  It definitely helps to have some familiarity with physics so that I can recognize the terminology, but thankfully I don’t need to understand everything the writers are talking about, because it’s really advanced stuff!

My coworkers/bosses have been really patient and helpful with all of the questions I have asked about specific grammar and style rules.  (I always have a lot of questions.)  So it’s not full-time employment yet, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m thankful for that!

I have also been continuing to try to develop my social skills; there is a local young adults Bible study that I’ve started going to.  It’s frustrating to me how little information I retain from talking to people, but I think I am beginning to remember a few names.

Other things that have kept me busy are watching our energetic dogs and following the crazy football season that’s been going on.

I have often thought about things I’d like to post about on this blog, but sadly most of those things fade from my memory when I don’t have time to write (or more often, the words to put them into).  I’d like to get to writing again, and I have at least one idea of something new to try for the video game posts, but we’ll see about that.  It seems that in order to write more, I need to think less, and the results are not always good if I do that.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, readers!

I was watching this online commercial about how Google pictures its Project Glass working:

 

If this kind of technology became common, one of the positive effects I could see would be for people who struggle with face blindness.  It wouldn’t be a very big leap to create a way to “label” people with their names.  The names could even follow them around like the labels hovering over characters in video games like Minecraft:

My brothers and I exploring the uncharted seas together. (The name labels are too small to read, but you can see they are there.)

 

That’s certainly what I would do with it!  It could also help with executive dysfunction by providing a framework for keeping an organized schedule, kind of like how the guy in the commercial uses it as a dayplanner.  I truly believe that the technology of the Internet has been and can be a tremendous help to people with Asperger’s if it’s used wisely.

 

At the same time, though, I can also see lots of potential drawbacks.  One, of course, is the fact that you have to wear the Star Trek-like headset that might make you look a bit like this:

Did Google make Geordi's VISOR?

 

Or, at least, like this:

Major Kira tests another Google prototype?

 

Of more concern is the fact that other people would have the advantage of using this information too.  A salesman could use it and say, “Oh, here comes a guy named Nathan; my records say he just visited a Star Trek site.  I’ll try to sell him my Star Trek DVDs.”  That would be annoying.

Even more likely is that Google could sell ad space, so if I used this as my dayplanner, it would be yet another way to advertise, this time literally right in my face!  The commercial, after all, is not just targeting ukelele-playing boyfriends– it is also catching the notice of businesses like the bookstore, the concert promoter, and the coffee truck, which all get business from the guy in the commercial thanks to Google’s invention.

It’s also interesting to ponder how such a device could affect the way people think.  One commenter on the news article announcing this project said something like “Goodbye spontaneity.”  It’s true– what might seem freeing to people who struggle with organization and socializing could be very restricting to people who are social by nature.

And if you have a guide to help do something for you, it might cause you to stop exercising the muscle (or in this case, mental facility) that allows you to do it yourself.  The idea is a little amusing to me– could reliance on technology like this make everyone think a little more like an Aspie?