Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Compensatory gifts in flawed people.

December 03rd, 2011 by Bookslinger

Or, “My Crazy Has a Name.”   (A cross-post.)

Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called “Light Verse” about a defective robot that could create works of art, generating fame for its owner.  A robot engineer happened to be visiting the owner, recognized that it had a defect, and, not knowing that the defect was tied into the creation of the art, “fixed” the robot on the spot, thinking he was doing the owner a favor.  However, by fixing the defect he removed the robot’s ability to create art.

Moroni mentions something related to this in Ether, about weaknesses and strengths, in chapter 12, verses 27 and 28:

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me — the fountain of all righteousness.

At first, I thought that the passage was only talking about a weakness that is overcome or cured.  But an additional meaning may be that the weakness can turn out to contain a strength or talent in and of itself, like the defective robot being able to produce desireable art.  I believe this is a possible additional meaning to the text, not the sole meaning.

One of my weaknesses is a lack of understanding in social relationships, how people interact and communicate.  I’m a literalist.  Hints and implications are usually invisible to me, and when I do detect them, they are frustrating, and sometimes offensive.  If you want to communicate something to me, you have to state it directly, explicitly, and in complete sentences.  I’m better than I used to be when I was younger, but in general I don’t understand non-verbal communication.  And what little I have picked up has been a hard-earned skill, not something that came naturally.  And vice versa, what I think is obvious in a given context is rarely obvious to others.

To compensate for that I tend to belabor points in my writing, repeating a subject/object in order to avoid pronouns which require an assumption of what the correct antecedent is.  (One thing that mitigates my frustration in the matter is that the scriptures and the temple ceremony are replete with anal-retentive, almost obsessive-compulsive explicitness and repetition of subject/object and a tendency to avoid use of pronouns.)

I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but looking back, I believe I’ve had Asperger’s Syndrome my whole life. Being a form of autism, Asperger’s is thought to be organic in nature.  But I also think, at least in my case, childhood trauma, a toxic parent, and a dysfunctional family played a major part in my lack of relationship skills and communication skills.

Has my poor ability to make and sustain friendships/relationships been improved over the years?  No.  I still have few friends, and don’t do a good job of maintaining the friendships that I have made.

However, the new or revealed use or “strength” found in all this is the ability to promulgate gospel material via the short-term contact.

By lacking the social programming (either innate or society-imposed) that most people seem to have, I also lack whatever thing that blocks most people from initiating a religious conversation with a stranger in a public place.  Hence, this defect of being “socially stupid” has a beneficial side-effect, and it was only discovered/revealed in the setting of trying to serve the Lord and others in a gospel context, i.e., offering strangers a copy of the Book of Mormon in their native language.

Conversely, many people with good social skills have as a weakness an absence of the ability or confidence to initiate a conversation with strangers.  That’s where the humility that Moroni mentions comes in.  As I understand it, the thing that blocks people from talking to strangers about religion is fear of being thought of as stupid or un-cool.

While growing up I was most often unable to make myself understood, and I constantly frustrated others by not being able to understand their hints and nuanced implications. (If you didn’t actually say it, I never “got it.”) Therefore, as a survival skill, I learned to worry very little about what others thought of me.  Pride is still one of my big flaws, but I seemed to become used to others thinking that I’m different or weird.

For you folks who don’t have Asperger’s, this may be the key to talking to strangers, learning to stop worrying that others might think you’re stupid or un-cool for believing in the restored gospel.

One key to dealing with literalism is that “Aspies” can learn social interaction by thinking of interactions in terms of formulas, rules and patterns. One can create/discover and document a series of nested (and sometimes it can seem complicated) series of “if… then…else…” rules.

For instance, a couple of the rules I learned are:

1. If a person makes eye contact with you, they are giving you permission to speak with them.

2. If a person makes eye contact with you, and smiles at the same time, they are inviting you to speak with them.

The problem for Aspies is that among “normal” people, the rules literally go without saying, they’re not spoken nor taught.  They’re taken as commonly understood. But for Aspies, or others on the autistic spectrum, they’re not. They need to be specifically taught and learned how to be applied.

Sadly, when “normal” people do attempt to verbally describe the rules of social interaction, they tend to use “soft” words (iffy, wishy-washy, non-specific, non-concrete words) that have no literal meaning to an Aspie.   One trick is to break down and “dumb down” the instructions to the level of a small child, but without condescension, so that you still respect the chronological age of the Aspie. I.E., be so literal and so step-by-step basic that a child could understand, but don’t use the “Primary Voice.”

I would hope that the job of parenting an Asperger’s child would be to convert the unwritten rules into a literal form that can be understood by the child.

I’ve looked at Amazon.com, and there are a few books for parents of Asperger’s (or autism spectrum) children, and books for adult Asperger’s people.

Literalism also has strengths in careers that are technically oriented and in the hard sciences.

Comments (3)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , , , , ,
December 03rd, 2011 10:20:23

December 2, 2011

His Majesty says being powerful in the Dark Side is my compensatory gift for having a bit of a temper.

[Jokes aside, it’s a very nice essay. The Ether scripture is one of my favorites, in part because it’s a lot more profound than it looks at first.]

Adam G.
December 3, 2011

Well said, and marriage in particular teaches you that people’s strengths and their weaknesses are often the same thing, with no clear way of improving the one without sapping the other.

December 8, 2011

I’m quite sure that if I went to a doctor I could be diagnosed as ADD (what do you think I’m doing on this blog?). Certainly my difficulty in concentration has had its detriments in school and employment.

But I think (there’s no way to know for sure) that it’s the flip side of my quick-wittedness and creativity, which has served me at least as well in my career than any ability to grind out studying in the wee hours would have. It sets me apart from my competent but unimaginative peers. And it’s a lot more fun to be the witty distracted guy than the boring but focused grind. So I refuse to look at it as a problem. It’s just one of those trade-offs, like how 300-lb offensive linemen wish they could run faster when blocking downfield, but wouldn’t lose weight to do so.

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