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Syndrome – Why They Say Those Mean Things
Hi, Ed, and all
my Wonderful Fellow-Flakers!
Just for the
heck of it, I've been going through the Archives to relive some of the
insights and debates over the years at Flake HQ, and an issue sort of
struck me with new meaning: I'm
referring to the phenomenon of people who make remarks about our P, and
don't seem to care when we make it clear to them (at least it ought to be
clear) that their comments are hurtful, or anyway, annoying.
Neither sarcasm nor outright confrontation seems to be effective;
either it completely blows past them and leaves them oblivious, or it
shocks them into dismayed silence to discover that they've said something
out of order, but they never seem to learn any better.
They just keep on making insensitive remarks.
Well, I've got
one possible explanation: Asperger
Syndrome! My own son either
has it or something very similar. (We're
currently exploring how best to get a diagnosis for him that might help
him get aid and services for his disability.)
It's one of the
Autistic Spectrum conditions, and the affected individual is usually very
intelligent but socially inept. The
unspoken signals that most people easily pick up on, which silently say
"Do Not Go There!" might as well be written in Ancient Sumerian
for the person with A.S. People
with Asperger's get a reputation for being rude, selfish geeks because the
give-and-take of normal conversation is foreign to them.
They may blurt out very blunt comments, may dominate or totally
monopolize the conversation. They
often obsess about their own fields of interest and have almost no
tolerance for other people's ideas. They
can have alarming, screaming tantrums when something unexpectedly goes
wrong (like their web-browser unexpectedly disconnecting or a radio
station that suddenly breaks up into static while they're listening to a
program). And they often
realize after the fact that they've said something wrong, but are clueless
about what it was or why it upset people.
Yet they may be
truly kind individuals at heart, if you can just see past the annoying
behavior and tactless remarks. My
son is very accepting and understanding of other people's disabilities,
even though he can be a "Tactless Wonder" sometimes.
He helps out at his church and does favors for elderly friends of
his, and while he's not very demonstrative, he does occasionally take the
time to let me know that he loves and appreciates his father and me, and
I'm very happy with him as a person. He's
honest (maybe a little TOO honest, sometimes!), hard-working and
conscientious. I only wish the
world at large understood what he goes through to try to fit into society.
It can be heartbreaking to watch him struggle.
apologize for the length of this email — I only wanted to suggest that
the people who never seem to "get it" regarding our feelings
about P may not be intentionally cruel.
They may be coping with something of their own that is an even more
isolating and less obvious disability.
(That probably even goes for the obnoxious derm I never go to
anymore because he always manages to say something incredibly jerky!)
To Think About. -Guinn B.
The syndrome is
named for a twentieth-century German doctor, Hans Asperger.
He and a doctor in another country (whose name and nation escape me
at the moment — brain drain!) separately and simultaneously identified a
condition in which children were unable to communicate, and seemed to turn
inward, shutting out external stimuli.
Both men even gave it the same name: autism!
I read about
Asperger Syndrome while researching on the internet, trying to classify my
son's difficulty with social interaction.
He speaks fluently and intelligently, but in a stilted sort of way,
with odd emphases, as if he were repeating lines he had rehearsed.
Also, although he wants to be friendly and does make eye contact,
he tends to talk at people
rather than to them, and he
doesn't use much facial expression or pick up on other people's body
language. Those and other clues made me wonder if he were high functioning
autistic, which is what Asperger's seems to be.
it can give a very negative impression to anyone who doesn't recognize the
symptoms. (And it pushes ALL
of a deeply insecure person's buttons!
My kid has the scars to prove it.)
Thanks for your
decision to present the topic via FlakeHQ.
It might help other flakers not to feel quite so bad when they get
thoughtless remarks from people. We
all probably know at least one person who says what everyone else is
thinking, but who does so innocently and without malice. –Guinn B.
This is a fine insight, Guinn, and the more I think about it, the
more I’m sure it’s played a role in some of the “Don’t Say This”
encounters I and others have experienced over the years.
I have a
grandson who requires speech and occupational therapy.
I take him to these therapies every Monday afternoon.
While he’s “doing his thing” with the therapists, I spend two
hours in a large waiting room, through which other children come and go,
some with types of autism, some no doubt with symptoms similar to (if not
exactly) Asperger. Countless
times these innocents have blundered up to me (I think blunder is an
appropriate word), studied my hands and made unsolicited comments.
In this context it’s all acceptable, but were I sitting quietly
on a bus or in some other public place, the comments would be shocking.
They would be “off putting.”
And from an adult who might have Asperger Syndrome?
Those comments would be interpreted as rude, indicative of
I’m very glad to know about Asperger Syndrome. It will make me hesitate and be a moment’s more thoughtful next time someone makes a comment about my P that I don’t think is appropriate. Thanks again, Guinn! -Ed