This is What Asperger’s Looks Like
During the sexual harassment discussion, one commenter said certain elements of SF/F fandom simply lack social graces, and you’re going to run into these drooling Asperger types. It’s not their fault. All you can really do is avoid them and try to warn others.
I’m not linking to the comment, because several people have already confronted the commenter (including an excellent post by Mrissa here). I’m certain it wasn’t intended to be hurtful. It’s the kind of comment I’ve heard many times, and I know it’s not malicious.
But it hurts.
I’m having a hard time being my normal, “reasonable” self about this. My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s early this year. He’s high-functioning, but there was no question about the diagnosis. It’s been months, and I’m still adjusting and learning. But I know one thing — my son is Fucking Awesome.
Let me show you one example of what Asperger’s looks like:
That’s my son Jackson in his Halloween costume, vanquishing one of our neighbors. (Everyone knows the gorilla is the natural enemy of the Italian plumber, right?)
Jackson does struggle socially. I remember picking him up from preschool last year, asking how his day went, and fighting tears when he said, “Nobody wants to play with me.” Most days I’d find him playing by himself in a corner. He has meltdowns when routines get broken without warning. He can also be overly physical and affectionate sometimes, and we’ve had to work with him on that, but he’s learning where the boundaries are.
He struggles physically as well. He’s 5 and a half, and still can’t ride a bike. He’s in physical and occupational therapy every week. He runs laps in the house most nights. Lately, he’s started whipping his hands around as a form of self-stimulation.
He’s Fucking Awesome.
He’s in kindergarten now, and he’s making progress. He’s starting to learn how to get along with other kids. We visited some friends a few weeks ago, and he spent four hours playing with their five-year-old, with only a few minor, typical squabbles. I don’t know how to explain how much that meant to me.
The harasser from WFC? That was someone who knows to behave one way in public and another when he has a woman alone. That’s someone with social awareness. Hell, many abusers and harassers have very advanced social skills. I remember the first time I sat in on a batterer’s group, and how terrifyingly charming these guys were. These are not people who simply lack social skills or don’t know how to behave due to autistic spectrum disorders.
I’ve heard it before. Cons and fandom are full of Aspies who can’t communicate save through Monty Python jokes. Really? Because Asperger’s Syndrome is an actual diagnosis, with fairly strict criteria that include more than simple social awkwardness. Like sensory issues. (Jackson sometimes asks me to squeeze him, because the physical pressure is comforting.)
I had a rough time in school. My social skills sucked. But I didn’t have Asperger’s. I was just a geek. Smart and awkward and doing my best to get through the day without having my books knocked out of my hands.
I’m not sure when or why it became “cool” for people in fandom to self-diagnose as Aspies, or to misuse that label as shorthand for the awkward, unwashed masses, but I wish it would stop. It’s hurtful. It reinforces attitudes and false stereotypes that make life harder for those who actually have autistic spectrum disorders.
My son has Asperger’s. He’s not some filthy, drooling fool. I don’t believe he’s going to grow up to become a harasser. He’s a brilliant, energetic, loving little kid. He remembers passages from books and movies, and can recite them word for word months later. He loves superheroes and Mario and Transformers, and watching animated LEGO videos on YouTube. He’s excited about coming to his first convention with his Daddy this month.
And he’s Fucking Awesome.
November 9, 2010 @ 8:59 am
Your boy rocks, Jim.
November 9, 2010 @ 9:02 am
Looks like Jackson’s dad is pretty cool, too! He is lucky to have a dad like you. And you are lucky to have such an awesome son.
November 9, 2010 @ 9:05 am
My son is 14. He has Aspergers.
And he’s Fucking Awesome, too!
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 9:38 am
Damn right. Thank you.
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 9:38 am
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 9:38 am
Tweets that mention Jim C. Hines » This is What Asperger’s Looks Like -- Topsy.com
November 9, 2010 @ 9:40 am
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisa Shearin, Laura and John O’Keefe, Jim C. Hines. Jim C. Hines said: New Post: This is What Asperger’s Looks Like http://bit.ly/bKR7BL […]
November 9, 2010 @ 9:44 am
A friend with OCD has similar complaints when he hears people say they have OCD because they like things in particular order or organization. It diminishes the hardship he deals with every day and I have to admit I was just as guilty as everyone else.
As for him not knowing how to ride a bike yet, I was 7 when I learned how. Don’t forget the fundamental importance of big wheels to one’s childhood. 🙂 (Do they still have those? Because they were awesome.)
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 9:49 am
No luck on the big wheels either. The pedalling requires a degree of sensory awareness and body control that he’s still struggling with.
I’ve misused OCD that way on occasion. It’s something I need to be aware of too…
November 9, 2010 @ 10:10 am
I tried several times over the years to teach my son to ride a bike. Never with any success. As soon as he wanted to learn he taught himself in an afternoon.
November 9, 2010 @ 10:21 am
Not all the socially-clueless fanboys (and fanbois) have ASDs, whether you are talking about mild cases of autism or Aspergers Syndrome or ??? This self-diagnosis makes all-too-convenient an excuse for *some* of them (some of us?) not to even try to interact appropriately with other fans. Further, it leads to fans treating “mundanes” with contempt; not the best way to get along even under ideal conditions.
However, being a woman who socializes widely in fannish and net-geek circles, an education activist for special-needs students, and the parent of a trio of twice-exceptional kids, none of whom meet the diagnostic criteria for ASDs, I will say that fandom as a whole, takes its members as they present themselves, and tends not to harass those who are shy, diffident, narrow or atypical in their interests, or otherwise different-but-not-harmful in behavior, while also holding people accountable, within the group, for not behaving too disruptively. It’s remarkable how much difference it makes, to me, not to be treated primarily as “nubile female” when I first meet most SF/fan people. It’s very different from encountering say, a fellow parent at the PTO, a new neighbor or a new colleague at work. It also makes those few individuals who try to capitalize on the “I’m bad at social skills” meme to grope or gape at me (or the younger women, I’m now more matronly than is attractive to those folks) stand out very starkly as the worst sorts of opportunists and violators of social norms.
In many fannish gatherings, ideas are considered more on their merits and the skill with which they are expressed than on the social status of the speaker. Friendships start and grow based on commonality of interests, rather than on similarities of age, formal education or place. This is a sub-culture in which many persons with autism can interact on their own terms and be taken seriously. At least one MI group who studies autism has asked to allow a researcher to tag along with a couple of Ann Arbor area families whose parents are fannish and whose kids have been brought up within the fannish subculture. Apparently these young people have done much better at developing social skills and a tolerance for ambiguity than their therapists expected, and at least some credit is given to their having a face-to-face community in which expertise and language skill, rather than age, gender, athleticism, or family wealth is *the* way to enhance one’s social standing. They, like Jim’s son, and the other kids described by the commentators, are Fucking Awesome! So are my kids, who don’t have any ASD’s, but are geeky-nerdy-weird in ways that include “reciting whole passages of books and movies” and being at least as knowledgeable about several alternate histories as they are about the real one.
Rock On, Mario Jackson! Defeat the gorillas and rescue the princess. Unless, of course, the princess in question has already rescued herself!
So yes, we will have those drooling dopes who inappropriately lech after the sweet young things in Slave-girl Leia costumes around from time to time, but *they* are scarcely ever people with Asperger’s. They are merely poorly socialized opportunists. They need to either learn better ways to interact, or be made unwelcome.
November 9, 2010 @ 10:23 am
I was 8 before I took my training wheels off my bike, fwiw. And yes, your kid is completely awesome! His dad’s pretty cool too.
Right, wrong, or indifferent, I think it’s pretty common to joke about these things, a variety of gallows humor, in that it takes away from our anxiety about our own non-“normal”-ness.
November 9, 2010 @ 10:54 am
As the parent of a kid with high functioning autism / PDD, I applaud you for this post. It’s very frustrating to deal with this crud from people who think it’s just “part of being a geek”. Ugh. And the people who try to “encourage” you by saying something similar. It’s hard to put into words just how much that bugs me. Thanks for your efforts.
November 9, 2010 @ 11:13 am
Michelle Sagara has a very interesting and insightful series on her livejournal: msagara.livejournal.com about her son (now 17) and his journey w/ Asperger’s. Sounds a lot like you 🙂 Best wishes and warm regards to you and your awesome son! Thanks for a wonderful blog!
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 11:15 am
Michelle’s a friend of mine, though I’ve never met her son. I agree her posts are very much worth reading.
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 11:19 am
Thanks. And yes, it can be normal … but some of it can also be hurtful or harmful, too.
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 11:20 am
Thanks, Boyd. And yeah. I think I understand…
November 9, 2010 @ 1:16 pm
Hubby (fan, gamer, writer) has Aspergers. He was dx at 14. He words damn hard to deal with the world as it comes. He’ll never feel MY love, but he loves me unreservedly. He’s Fucking Awesome too!
November 9, 2010 @ 2:09 pm
Your son is definitely Fucking Awesome, love those pics!
And he has a far better chance of knowing himself to be Fucking Awesome, and finding other people who realise that he’s Fucking Awesome, because he has parents that see that and love him for exactly who he is, but are willing to help him develop the skills he needs to interact with the majority of society.
I know that my father liked to self-diagnose as having Asperger’s, though not in the joking manner most people say it (or OCD as referenced above). He never actually tried to get a real diagnosis, and from what I’ve read he certainly fit some criteria and certainly did NOT meet many other criteria. I think that for him he wanted some “thing” that he could point to that made him so socially awkward and caused others to pick on him for most of his life and even for his parents to neglect/verbally abuse/physically threaten him. I think he felt that if he could point to this diagnosis as something he couldn’t help or change, he wouldn’t feel so bad or guilty about those things. (Unfortunately I think he also felt like if he had Asperger’s he couldn’t be held responsible for his social failings, explosive anger, or the way he treated his own family.)
November 9, 2010 @ 2:15 pm
Thank you, Jim. This is terrific.
And your son sounds fabulous, and also just the person one needs when facing gorillas.
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 2:51 pm
He’s great. When we roughhouse, he gets into his tough pose, beckons with one hand, and says “Bring it.” Which is unbearably cute coming from a five-year-old 🙂
November 9, 2010 @ 2:53 pm
I so feel what you are going through as you adjust to your son’s diagnosis and to navigating the challenges of Asperger’s. My son was diagnosed when he was in second grade, and I can still vividly remember the cascades of emotion that came with accepting and learning to work with that.
And I share your hurt at the unthinking and offensive comments about people with ASDs; it’s hard for me to get over those, too, especially as they seem so needless. It’s shocking that it never seems to occur to the makers of these comments that their remarks *are* hurtful, and that Asperger’s etc. are real disorders that real people are struggling with.
I love the pictures of your son–he does indeed look like an awesome kid. My son is awesome, too (of course!), and I’m happy to say that he’s now in college, majoring in physics and truly enjoying (for the first time) the society of his fellow students. But he’s still never learned to ride a bicycle. 🙂
Carrie Mook Bridgman
November 9, 2010 @ 5:08 pm
Jim, it sounds like you and Jackson have already discovered OT for sensory issues. My son, now 12,is very bright and verbal and the consummate extrovert, so we had a hard time getting others to recognize that he really did have sensory integration problems. No, he was not being spoiled or manipulative when at age 6 he screamed hysterically over a shampoo or utterly refused to put his face in the water at the pool, or when his shoes “had the lump in the wrong place,” or when he ate almost nothing that the school served. We finally did OT for a short time, and learned some techniques–like the burrito wrap for deep pressure, or chewing gum before eating. Just the validation that his problem was real was a big help to him. We have learned that all sensitivities–physical and emotional–go up when he’s under stress, so we can be proactive.
What I finally realized was that I need not push him on things that weren’t necessary. If Jackson *wants* to learn to pedal, I hope his OT and PT can help. My Ben now *can* ride a bike, but he doesn’t choose to. He loves swimming and *can* tolerate doing it without a mask if absolutely necessary, but what’s wrong with a mask?
Given that you and Jackson have bigger fish to fry, take a deep breath when a difficulty arises and first decide if it’s worth worrying about. Thank God he’s got a dad who’s in his corner. God bless you all.
November 9, 2010 @ 6:06 pm
Your son rocks, Jim. And kudos to you for being such an awesome dad.
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 6:25 pm
My wife is a licensed therapist, which has helped a lot in staying on top of the research and things like the sensory integration trouble. We’ve done the burrito wrap before, though I hadn’t heard of the gum-chewing.
We’re also trying not to push on things that aren’t as important. I’ll ask him about the bike, but if he’s not interested, or if he only wants to do it for a minute and then stop, we’ve never turned it into a fight.
And the mask is a good idea. He’s had a lot of trouble in swimming class. That might be something to try… Thanks!
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2010 @ 6:26 pm
Of course he is 🙂 And I’m very glad to hear he’s doing so well.
November 9, 2010 @ 7:29 pm
Thank you thank you! Thank you for having your son checked out at an early age and not simply insisting he’ll ‘grow out of it’. As someone who was diagnosed with ADHD at the ripe old age of 42, I can tell you, living with an undiagnosed mental difference is hell. Your son will grow up knowing he is unique AND knowing how to compensate well for those things his brain kind of falls down on.
I’m just learning how to do these things after a lifetime of being a fuckup and a failure, being told I just had to try harder…
and yes, your son is fucking awesome! Mine is going through a full evaluation right now, and no matter what it says? He’s still the King of Everything.
November 9, 2010 @ 8:32 pm
Scooters are good bike substitutes. Less coordination across the midline because no pedals. The balance learned does help with bike riding as well. Or take the pedals off a bike and just buy a lot of shoes.
My son has Asperger’s. He’s awesome.
November 9, 2010 @ 9:58 pm
I… um… still can’t ride a bike. I have no sense of balance. I think it comes from growing up hard-of-hearing (I’m better now, though). I’m fail at anything involving spatial awareness and balance, even MORE fail if it involves both at the same time. Me and Rollerblades are like watching Herman Munster on a tight rope.
I’m glad he’s learning how to compensate socially. We’ve all got stuff going on (I’ve got some other stuff that I have to work through too), and learning how to cope and compensate is about all we can do. And getting help to learn how to cope is sooo valuable. I’m glad you’re able to get that for him now when he’s young. It will make things so much less frustrating further down the line.
November 10, 2010 @ 1:40 am
Your son is absolutely awesome, no doubt about it 🙂 So is my daughter, she has Asperger’s, too, and suffered for it growing up undiagnosed. I agree with you, one hundred percent, in everything you said.
November 10, 2010 @ 2:00 am
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for posting this.
My son doesn’t have Aspergers, but he does have Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is something else that regular/average people don’t understand. While he has issues we are treating, he is one smart, awesome kid.
Nobody’s diagnosis should *ever* be used as an excuse for some @sshole’s bad choices.
P.S. Yes, your kid is awesome too. 😉
Jim C. Hines
November 10, 2010 @ 8:49 am
Thanks, Tammy. That’s the hope — that the sooner we identify the challenges, the better we’ll be able to help him learn how to address those.
In his case, I think it’s a sensory awareness thing, but the results are similar to what you describe re: balance and coordination.
November 10, 2010 @ 2:32 pm
I’m a special education teacher and my classroom is primarily students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I know that teachers are not supposed to have favorites, but my students with Aspergers are the most amazing, fun, and hardworking students! You should be proud!
Jim C. Hines
November 10, 2010 @ 3:19 pm
“You should be proud!”
Oh, I am. Of both of my kids. (My daughter is also awesome, in different ways 🙂 )
November 10, 2010 @ 5:29 pm
Your kid sounds amazing. Actually he sounds fucking amazing! Any kids who wants to be Mario at Halloween is automatically fucking amazing. 🙂 And how he overcomes is pretty damn cool, too.
November 11, 2010 @ 7:07 am
“I’m not sure when or why it became “cool” for people in fandom to self-diagnose as Aspies, or to misuse that label as shorthand for the awkward, unwashed masses, but I wish it would stop. It’s hurtful. It reinforces attitudes and false stereotypes that make life harder for those who actually have autistic spectrum disorders.”
Thank you. I wish people would point this out more often.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome. As a writer, I need to spend time socializing and building a network; as an Aspie, I can almost never bring myself to actually do this. I’m too afraid. These self-diagnosed “Aspies” have done a lot of harm.
Just wait. Your son is only five. Imagine how awesome he’s going to be when he’s fifteen. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
November 11, 2010 @ 3:41 pm
Oh, no. When he’s 15, he’s going to want to start learning how to drive. I’m not ready to imagine that yet!
Andrew S Balfour
November 12, 2010 @ 7:03 pm
A lot of what you’re describing reminds me of me when I was around 5-7 and just getting the hang of my own brain-related issues (ADHD, similar but different). Sounds to me like you’re giving Jackson exactly the support he’s going to need in the coming years.
For the record, I was Fucking Awesome.
Links are Future Trash, too « zunguzungu
November 13, 2010 @ 11:13 am
[…] Hines on his son with Asbergers: Jackson does struggle socially.
November 13, 2010 @ 3:53 pm
I had a friend, well – as close as I probably could have, back in sixth form. He was two or so years younger than me and he had Asperger’s, and he was one of the best people I ever met in that place. He was clever, he’d risen above his condition, he had friends, he loved his bass guitar and listening to music and whilst I’ve lost contact with him, I’ve no doubt he’s doing well for himself and by now he’s probably studying in University. I think he was an artist, too, and his art was brilliant.
Yeah, I’d say he was Fucking Awesome (Pardon my French).
November 13, 2010 @ 3:55 pm
(Oh, and before I forget, this is MichaelM. I just updated my details :p)
Jim C. Hines
November 15, 2010 @ 10:51 am
Given the post, I’m hardly in a position to complain about profanity in the comments 😉
November 22, 2010 @ 6:30 pm
Your son is super-cool 🙂
I don’t have Asperger’s, but I do have dyspraxia (a problem with coordination) which often comes along with the autism-spectrum package. I mention this because the difficulty in riding a bike might be a dyspraxia thing – I know I struggled with it, as well as things like jumping, skipping and climbing. It might be worth asking his psychologist/doctor/other specialist about it – maybe they could help him.
And a note about the future – my dyspraxia hasn’t held me back too much – I can’t dance, but I can do lots of other things! I’ll qualify as a doctor next year, along with a friend on my course who has (properly diagnosed) Aspergers. He, too, is super cool! He hasn’t found all of the course easy, and he’ll probably go into a low-patient-contact branch of medicine, but it shows how much can be overcome.
Good luck to Jackson, in whatever he chooses to do!
November 22, 2010 @ 7:43 pm
My son is almost 14 and also is a high-functioning Aspie (by diagnosis). I get just as angry, fed up, and disgusted by people using that label to describe various social issues as I do by people saying that every person who has a mental illness is “crazy” or “psycho.”
Like your son, mine has had a lot of struggles over the years and we’re not in the clear yet, but he is one of the most loving, insightful, witty people of any age I know.
Having gone to many a con of many a theme, I’ve met those lecherous souls what constantly overstep boundaries. They’re not Aspies, they’re just plain ignorant.