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 (11)
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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.

December 8, 2015

I have a son who sounds a lot like you, at least in terms of needing to say things explicitly before he gets it. I take it you have not been diagnosed with Asperger’s? Do you intend to get diagnosed and/or get treatment? I’ve been torn as to whether I should get my son diagnosed (assuming there is something to diagnose). The idea of drugging him scares me.

I mean, in and of himself, he’s fine. He enjoys life for the most part and does not complain about his “defects”. But I do worry about him being able to make his way in a career due to his lack of social skills. By the way he’s a computer science major.

December 8, 2015

Ag, yes, he needs diagnosed. Approach it as a “consultation”. You may need to consult with the psychologist on your own first to see how best to breech the matter of a psych consult with your son. The idea is not to declare him broken or deficient, nor to “fix” him, but to determine how differently he is wired, and discover a framework of how he can learn (“add on”) what he needs. He likely knows that he is wired dfferent. He likely knows he is somehow unable or late-developing in people skills.

In CS terms us Aspies have a different operating system, or more accurately, a different BIOS ( he will understand what a BIOS is). In fact, if you ask him if he feels like he has a different BIOS than average people, and he agrees, just show him this whole post/thread.

We can’t really re-program our BIOS, but we can add an additional layer of software, or add new subroutines as learned and conscious skill sets. What comes naturally/automatically to neuro-normative (“normal”) people can be learned as a skill by Aspies. Another way of saying it is that we Aspies have to do our people skills in software (consciously thinking about it) , whereas normal people do it in hardware. We, in essence, use “software emulation”. But it is a skill, and with practice we can get quicker and better at it. But we have to “think it through” before we speak/act.

Two books to get for adults or older teens are:
Asperger’s from the Inside Out, by Michael John Carley. Very good.
Asperger’s on the Job, by Rudy Simone.
Both available used in Amazon.

I recommend both.

Good role models and peers are essential for Aspies. In the absence of (or in addition to) formal psych consults, coaching sessions (from people who know how to coach Aspies) and classes specifically for Aspies, we mainly learn by _mimicry_. Everyday mentors and “translators” are helpful, to whom the Aspie can go in order to have someone explain things to us in the literalist terms that we require.

Sometimes we just have to say to others, “Look, I’m on the autism spectrum. i’m a literalist, literally! I’m not stupid, but I don’t take hints. I don’t understand wishy-washy language, because it does not register. When I ask for a fact, don’t preface your answer with ‘I think…’ because that means you don’t know, and I will therefore have to ask someone else. To me, saying ‘I think the meeting is at 5’ is completely different than saying ‘The meeting is at 5.’ I can only understand you and believe you, if you use literal, precise, and concrete terms, and give me the blunt truth. Think of me as Mr. Spock on Star Trek. Your emotions are as alien to me as my way of thinking is to you.”

The problem is that people I call “english major types” or the “touchy feely” types are just plain incapable of using terms that Aspies can understand, unless they (the English majors that is) are highly intelligent themselves and are _very_ skilled at understanding and crafting literal sentences.

I don’t know if this is universal to Aspies, but I’ve never learned to communicate with people of less than average intelligence.

Not all Aspies are above average intelligence, but since he is a CS major, I assume your son is.

At the very least, he needs to seek out companionship and peers who are above average intelligence, and upstanding righteous moral people. Otherwise, his automatic “mimicry coping device” will cause him to emulate/mimic the stupid or unrighteous or immoral before he realizes what is happening. That then necessitates the kinds of jobs, projects, and hobbies he takes on.

To put it bluntly, “average” people are not good enough for your son to associate with, on several levels.

December 8, 2015

Mensa is an organization that seems to attract intelligent Aspies. Even the Mensans who are not Aspies themselves often have the ability to communicate well with Aspies. i’ve used Mensa as a learning laboratory for many years.

December 8, 2015

Ag, as far as I know, there is no treatment or cure for Asperger’s. It is essentially “autism lite”. The formal name is now “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Aspies are sometimes called “high functioning autistics.”

But us Aspies do need a lot of formal and informal coaching for us to learn those software layers or subroutines, in order to “figure out” how to acts/react in various situations.

The most difficult thing for me has been “exception processing”. When things all go right, and doing what I have come to expect in that situation, I know how to act. But when someone is acting up or acting out, being a bully, being selfish, obstructionist, illogical (ie, a non-Vulcan), then I don’t have the skills/software to figure out how to respond. I usually under-react, or over-react.

So the Aspie has to learn how to handle classes or categories of problems/situations/exceptions. And, be humble enough to admit when they don’t know what to do, even when “normal” people know the “obvious” appropriate response. But, hiding our “handicap” is one thing that smart Aspies do well, and is usually taken on as a survival skill.

Another question to ask your son is: “do you ever feel like you’re ‘faking it’ in order to get along in social situations?” And then, “How often do you do that?” If the answers are yes/often, then he’s likely got Asperger’s or something else that needs disgnosed.

Another is: “do you frequently look for role models in whatever situation you’re in and look to them for cues as to how to act and react to things and people in those situations.”

“See a psychologist/therapist” and “get therapy” have negative connotations. “Get evaluated”, “get some coaching” “get some tutoring” “learn some formal rules for social situations” “build social skills” not only sound better, but for aspies are actually more accurate.

December 8, 2015

I’m another self-diagnosed Aspie. My wife first pointed it out to me a couple years ago. Before that I just thought I was weird/different (INTJ and such personality types also seem to overlap). As a child I thought highly of “Data” from Star Trek as the only character whose behavior seemed to make sense.

Your response was healthier than mine Bookslinger. I think I rather than stopped-caring assumed that nobody really liked me, or everything thought I was weird, and I could never begin to comprehend when/how to respond. I think, similar to you, I was a very sensitive child and had coping issues with what I found to be traumatic events (just things like bullying, etc.).

I also fell into hanging out with/mimicking bad influences without really comprehending it all.

I’m better now, but still find small talk nigh impossible and tend to always be bluntly honest, then later worry I might have said something that may have been offensive though not really sure/why how.

For an Aspie it might be nice to be reminded to wash your clothes and put on deodorant, whereas for everyone else it seems to be a cause for great offense (lol).

The plus side is that abandoning unhealthy (and to us perhaps incomprehensible) social norms can result in positive choices (e.g. interest in Christianity, Mormonism). I also turned towards a successful computer career.

I do have a relative who I believe was also Aspie, but he committed suicide in High School. Unfortunately he didn’t find a good coping mechanism and didn’t have a positive social environment like perhaps a Mormon community could have provided.

December 8, 2015

My son is pretty young, but he has some unique personality quirks that the internet says may be a sign of Aspergers. I think it runs in families. I need to read those books you recommended.

Bruce Charlton
December 9, 2015

Just a general comment on the theme of psychiatric-type problems – As a generalization, psychiatric professionals have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted, because they are easily manipulated – especially by Big Pharma.

For example, the diagnosis rate of ‘Bipolar Disorder’ rose something like fifty-hundred fold in the space of about one decade – linked to the widespread prescribing of unevaluated cocktails (maybe five different drugs) of self-styled mood stablizers including new (on-patent, profitable) agents.

It is the psychiatric professional community which has, in the past couple of decades, made anti-psychotics into among the most profitable (widlely prescribed) drugs (earning billions of dollars per year) – despite that these agents (discovered in the 1950s) have always previously been regarded as extremely unpleasant and dangerous drugs, only given to those with severe psychotic illnesses (and, even then, over-used).

Antipsychotics were the drugs used by the USSR to make political dissidents docile and to punish them – now the best selling drug in the world (Ablify) is an anti-psychotic. Western doctors are doing, en masse and to children and teenagers – and under the guise of therapy, what Soviet doctors did to enemies of the state.

My message is to be careful before delivering up yourself or your family into such people. Learn as much as you can yourself, and do as much treatment as you can yourself (using n=1, on-off-on trials of agents, in a carefully monitored and experimental fashion) – and if you then seek professional assistance, go to specific people who are well-motivated and that you can trust.

You cannot treat Aspergers as a whole, because it is a personality type, a cluster of traits (very varied indeed, some people with the same description having no overlapping features) – but some specific features can be helped, and without prescription. For example, instead of the psychostimulant Ritalin (or an amphetamine such as Adderall) to improve concentration and attention, the same kind of benefit may more gently and less harmfully be provided by Caffeine.

And remember – all psychoactive drugs produce dependence, and will lead to withdrawal problems. These can mostly be overcome, but may be difficult. Symptoms on drug-withdrawal do not mean recurrence of disease, they are often a result of treatment.

In sum, getting an official diagnosis of Asperger’s may be helpful or harmful according to what happens next – and the helps and harms will typically be mixed together, and will depend on the context.

Asperger’s is, afetr all, a very loose category, a rag bag, and most such diagnoses are made by people with an axe to grind, and by people of limited interest and intelligence. The diagnosis is merely a crude signal – the value of which depends on who gets the signal and what they do about it.

December 9, 2015

“getting an official diagnosis of Asperger’s may be helpful or harmful according to what happens next – and the helps and harms will typically be mixed together, and will depend on the context.”

Yeah, that, and the drug thing, are what have held me back from having him seen. I have read some articles on Asperger’s and I’m not sure what to think. A few of the symptoms seem to fit him but a lot of them certainly don’t. If he does have it, I think it must be a relatively mild case. Still, I do think he could use the social-skill coaching and so forth.

There have been no behavioral problems with him, thankfully. He has an analytical mind, and finds the arguments and explanations for Christian doctrine and morals logically satisfactory and convincing, and therefore is rigorously scrupulous about acting in a morally upright manner.

I really appreciate your thorough explanation and I will think and pray about what steps to take.

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