“Doesn’t everyone do that?”

First of all, I hope everyone had a great Christmas and I wish you all a Happy New Year as my next blog post will be in 2014!

My blog post this week was inspired by a post on another autism blog which is fantastically written and hugely touching (see here-http://autisticchick.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/smaller.html). Reading this blog post was like reading the story of my life. I empathise completely with the frustrations this girl feels and I often feel the same as she does when people dismiss Aspergers as insignificant. Reading the post made me realise that the time was right for me to write about this issue on my own blog. I had been debating writing about it for a while but this finally inspired me on.

I know that this post is one of my more controversial ones but I feel that it is an issue that needs exploring. I will start by saying that I understand the reason behind why many people explain away traits of Aspergers Syndrome as something that everyone experiences-it is the way that a lot of people attempt to understand the complexities of the Aspergers mind. People have a tendency to rationalise everything that they come across in terms of their own experiences-they meet someone with Aspergers who explains about their social difficulties and make the comparison to a time when they felt shy and awkward at a social occasion-to them, that is similar but, to someone with Aspergers,it’s an insulting comparison. Just because I understand where the phrase “Doesn’t everyone do that?” comes from, it doesn’t mean that I don’t find it hugely frustrating. As Autistic Chick mentioned in her blog, the key is in the words “frequency” and “severity”. To return to the social difficulties scenario, there is a huge difference between feeling shy and ill at ease for a brief period of time at a social occasion (which happens a lot to everybody but the most socially extroverted people) and feeling so anxious around other people that you feel physically sick, have anxiety attacks and count down the time until you can retreat into your own safe environment once more. This, of course, is not to say that everybody with Aspergers has such a sense of dread at social occasions (indeed, I always try and attend social gatherings so that I have shared experiences to reminisce about with friends but I still struggle in environments where I don’t know people and tend to stick to the people I do know at such occasions) or indeed that everybody who isn’t on the spectrum does not experience anxiety at such occasions but it serves as a good highlighting point for how extreme our difficulties can be, It is hugely frustrating when I explain to people about Aspergers only to be met with platitudes such as, “Oh, but everyone does that!”. It is an insult to everyone on the autistic spectrum to be told that our difficulties are not worthy enough of a diagnosis.

Aspergers is a difficult condition to live with and classic autism even more so. Everyday life can be very confusing and frustrating and I often feel like challenging those people who believe that autistic traits are shared by everybody and so aren’t worthy of any understanding or special consideration to live inside my head for 24 hours. I believe that they would understand at the end of that 24 hour period just how extreme my symptoms can be and how hard I have to work to appear “normal” so that I maintain a successful career and relationships. They would understand that there is a difference between being slightly apprehensive and nervous about doing something they find difficult and the sort of anxiety I experience where I cannot focus on anything else, become increasingly emotional and tearful and end up picking compulsively at the skin on my hands with both my fingers and, on occasion, my teeth as well. They would understand that there is a difference between being a little socially awkward and not being able to read the body language of someone stood right in front of you and therefore missing social cue after social cue. They would understand why my emotions fluctuate so much and why I need solitude on a daily basis, even if the only time I can achieve such a state is at night once I return from work and can have 30 minutes of uninterrupted reflection time before bed. Most of all, they would be able to see just how much I think over things and analyse them all the time. My mind is constantly thinking and analysing and I find it hugely difficult to completely relax. I understand the importance of socialisation and I am blessed to have very special friends who understand the way in which I interact but I also understand the need that a lot of us with Aspergers have for “alone time”. It is this part of society that frustrates so many people with Aspergers-why are people so concerned about the way we socialise? We would be fine if we were allowed to interact in our own way instead of being urged all the time to “be more social”. Society seems to favour the extroverted and those who are more introverted in nature, whether they have Aspergers or not, are often made to feel like they need to improve the way they interact with other people when, in fact, the world needs all kinds of people to function. 

I believe one of the positives about having had people claim that Aspergers traits affect everyone so many times over the years since Aspergers has been publicised in the United Kingdom is that I know how it feels and therefore would never say anything like that to people with other conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (another condition that seems to attract the good old phrase, “Oh, I do that too!”). I know that my Aspergers has given me the traits of rigidity and obsession alongside a love of and indeed craving for routine but I also know that my experience with these traits in no way relates to someone with OCD and I know that to suggest such a thing would be insulting and dismissive of the problems that it causes them on a daily basis, the same as it is for those of us on the spectrum when people claim that our symptoms are nothing to worry about and that they are not worthy of a diagnosis.

My final statement is this-please, please consider how it might make someone with Aspergers or OCD or depression or anxiety feel to hear that their symptoms are experienced by everyone. I know that people may think that it is comforting for us to hear that our traits are shared by a lot of people in wider society but it feels incredibly dismissive and it also feels like we are being accused of over dramatising our symptoms when that is the last thing that we would think of doing. I don’t want my mind to be a tumultuous roller coaster of emotions and neuroses but that is (metaphorically) the card that life has dealt me so I have to deal with it as best I can. We need understanding, not dismissal and we need compassion, not rejection. 

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