Do find yourself becoming bored when others talk excitedly about ‘sales’, ‘the latest fashion trends’, ‘bargain basement make up prices’ or ‘who said what about whom’?
Do you often feel like you’re the only person in the world who doesn’t understand why family, friends and large pockets of society become excited over minor events or inconsequential trends?
Do group conversations confuse you?
Do you find yourself still pondering the first topic of conversation while those around you move on to talk about other things?
Do you either miss or misinterpret sudden changes in tone of voice, facial expression or body language?
Do you sometimes feel as if you are always the last person in the room to get the joke? Especially if it’s illogical or cruelty dressed as humor?
If you’ve ever felt, even one of these things, then perhaps you’ll be able to understand (or calculate) just how confusing and disparaging social interactions can be for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome.
For many years I used to tell others that I had a low ‘social IQ’.
The problem with trying to explain my social difficulties in such a way were two-fold; either people wouldn’t understand the concept of having a ‘low social IQ’ or they’d assume that I’d tried to make some kind of awkward joke.
I’d often wonder why it was that people would believe that I’d waste my time making fun of, what for me, was (and still is) a very real difficulty.
This inability to stay afloat in social situations, despite working so hard internally to do so, alongside the social expectation that I should always be seen to be able to do so (pretend), or risk rejection as an inept social outcast, still bugs me.
Sometimes it felt as if everyone else has been born with some innate social rule book hardwired into their brains.
Everyone that is, except me.
Yet, whenever I’ve analyzed these feelings of ‘being different’ of not knowing the rules, I’ve found that the analogy is not entirely true.
Because, if the ability to communicate socially were simply just a matter of learning the right rules, which is a task that I am usually good at, then I’d be able to learn those rules, internalize them and move on in much the same way that I’d learned and internalized academic concepts.
Therefore, social interactions are not just about knowing the rules or knowing when to nod in all the right places or learning when to send forth a smile or scatter a frown here or there.
So I decided to draw on the calculus analogy when trying to explain just how difficult I found social interactions, particularly in group settings, to my family and friends.
I’d ask them if they’ve ever thought of math whizzes as people who have somehow been born with an internal calculator.
One that not only instantly enabled them to recognize what sort of math problem they’re dealing with but also simultaneously provided them with exactly the right formula to apply in order to solve any given mathematical equation within seconds?
Then I’d ask them to imagine how they’d feel if they suddenly found themselves sitting in a room full of math whizzes who are all busily going about their day, solving their respective math problems and chatting to each other about the life of Pi?
How would they feel about their own math skills if they were to find themselves in such a situation?
Would they try and convince themselves that they are just as good at maths as every math whiz in that room or would they admit that they feel like they’re in the wrong room and there’s no way they could keep up?
Most people, I’ve found, seem to be able to relate to the experience of feeling lost, if not awkwardly confused, or completely disinterested in performing or talking about the joys of mathematics.
So, once they’d admitted that they’d feel awkward, lost or disinterested, I’d tell them that I find social interactions, especially in group settings, every bit as difficult as they’d find it to be in a room full of math whizzes, because to me, trying to keep up with the flow of their ideas, as well as trying to interpret the tone of their voice and the meaning of their facial expressions simultaneously, was just like being expected to suddenly solve a complex mathematical equation whilst discussing Pi.
It’s hard work for me.
I can’t instantly look at someone who’s smiling and know if it’s a real smile or a false smile.
I have to work it out.
In just the same way that most people admit they’d be bored witless and unable to participate if they were surrounded by people who only wanted to talk about Pi, I can’t see the point of participating in a conversation that I can’t understand or view as boring.
When it comes to social interactions, particularly conversations, I don’t have that internal social rule book, so to me conversations can be hard work.
As much hard work as it would be for most people to sit a spot calculus exam.
Yet it seems, everyone else still has the advantage because only one of us is being constantly expected to be delighted with both the prospect and the reality of having to sit that spot calculus exam every single day.
Social communication obviously isn’t as difficult as engaging with calculus to most people, if it were; they wouldn’t continue to do it.
Nor would they expect others to treat them differently simply because they lacked the ability to fully understand, appreciate or enjoy chatting about, calculus.