When someone is talking to me there is a lot going on.
Almost all the unconscious processing of facial expression, tone of voice and gesture and subtle speech nuance are missing. As we all know nature abhors a void so what fills it? Intellect and information processing and conscious thought fill this void for me. That is why many Aspies look so distracted and so tired. You are talking, and I, with full conscious awareness (lack of sensory filtering) am going through all the information I’m being given and trying to work out what I need to pay attention to.
Clearly the words you are saying are important so I try and anchor myself to them, as your lips move I watch them, I then remember that I’m supposed to look you in the eye so my gaze lifts, first your right eye and then your left and then your right again. I struggle, find it almost impossible to look at them both together as this is a soft focus that just doesn’t feel right.
I sense your speaking louder and I don’t know why. At the same time the lights are too bright and are flickering, the printer over the other side of the office sounds like its jammed again. I am having to listen (can’t filter) to the conversation that is happening behind us that you don’t even seem to be aware of and yet I hear it at almost the same volume as our own. Soon the pressure of this interaction builds I become distracted, you become angry because to you I am rude and disinterested. You may even feel that I think you’re stupid and don’t feel you warrant my attention. I carry on anchoring myself to your words, the best I can, as you talk louder and louder and I flit my gaze from eye to eye noticing the sight colour difference between them.
You say my name loudly as I have just started to go into ‘stand-by’ mode having just reached sensory overload. I look at you again square on; I blink slowly and you storm off. Later I discover the full implications of this exchange on your view of me. I in turn prefer (at this point in my life I wasn’t strong enough to explain my Asperger’s and not sure I even knew how) that I am thought of as rude and aloof, as in a strange way this seems like a better and more socially acceptable explanation of what happened, than for me trying to describe for them my experience.
I know now that I must explain. That if I am to ever find peace and somewhere it’s okay just to be me, I must tell other people what it is like for us. Because of how we are and how we see the world and the people in it, we have a special contribution to make to human understanding. We always have and always will.
© Paul C Siebenthal April 2012
Paul C Siebenthal is a 38 year-old Aspie who was diagnosed at 25. Started blogging and tweeting last year as Aspienaut, working for NASA (New Autism Spectrum Awareness). He is passionate about creativity and helping young people on the spectrum to see just how amazing they are and how great it can be to be Wired Differently.