In today’s article we have the first of the personal stories. This article comes to us from Nancy, who has shared her experience with Asperger’s. I’m sure some of you can relate to the experiences Nancy shares about and will find it helpful.
My name is Nancy. I’m 70 years old. Ever since I started hearing about Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve wondered if that was my problem. I have a very high IQ, especially in non-verbal areas, and I’ve lived with some intense social anxiety. When I took your test a few months ago, I scored on the low end of AS, but above borderline (23 or 24, I don’t remember).
I remember clearly when I stopped looking people in the eye. I was maybe 3 or 4. When I looked in people’s eyes, I saw the anger, hatred, selfishness, and other negative feelings there. People are not all negative feelings, but what I saw really frightened me. So I stopped looking. I looked at their mouths instead to focus on what they were saying and not what they were feeling. Just in the past couple years, I asked a couple friends if they noticed that I rarely looked them in the eye. They said they hadn’t noticed. Maybe people don’t get out from inside their heads to see what others are actually doing.
I grew up with lots of social anxiety, social paranoia. I had trouble talking with people, always felt they didn’t like me, always knew they didn’t understand me. Always interested in the workings of the mind (why was I so strange and anxious?), I majored in psychology in college and got a Master’s degree in experimental social psychology. I was in a Ph.D. program, but left with the Masters because I was expected to create hypotheses about why people behave the way they do, yet I felt I didn’t really understand people.
I began working and eventually met an astrologer with whom I became friends. He taught me astrology over a period of years. That really helped me a lot, because it gave me a tool for understanding people. I could mathematically calculate a person’s chart and see all the factors in their personality and how those factors interrelated and how they interrelated with me and why people did the things they did. I think I learned more psychology through astrology than I ever did in college. Now I don’t calculate charts much anymore, but I’ve had enough experience reading them that I can understand the various factors that may interrelate to create any given personality — I understand the possibilities.
I dabbled in Tarot for a while, which also helped me. As a child, along with reading people’s feelings in their eyes, I felt I could also know what they were thinking. But everyone denied it. That left me really confused. Through reading Tarot, I learned that (1) people will never admit that you know what they’re thinking (maybe because it invades their personal space and privacy?) and (2) much of the time people don’t even know what they’re thinking. The first two cards in the Tarot layout concern the question being asked. When I would read the question, people would tell me I was wrong, that was not their question. They would deny even thinking about that topic. If I pushed and pushed, they would eventually admit that it was in the back of their mind, but insist that it wasn’t relevant. Yet how often does what is in the back of the mind determine what the person expresses? Eventually I quit reading Tarot—too hard to communicate with the people.
I don’t know if being able to read people’s thoughts and feelings is AS or not. I only do it to help myself understand people so I can relate better. But that was part of what led me onto a spiritual path in my life. My difficulty in social situations, the anxiety it causes, has led me to lead a very solitary life. I need large amounts of time in solitude to decompress after social interactions. But on the spiritual path, you need to spend a lot of time in solitude in order to progress. Once I realized my need for solitude, I actively pursued it and learned to really enjoy being alone. And of course, that allows me to make brief forays into socializing with others without coming all unglued.
I have heard that autistic children often relate better with animals than with humans. I think I understand that. Animals relate in a straightforward manner, not playing games, not pretending to be something they are not, not demanding that you feed their ego or their idea of how you should relate. Humans, on the other hand, are all those things that animals are not. I think humans have a lot to learn about relating in a straightforward manner. They would be a lot less confusing and intimidating that way.
I retired from work a couple years ago. Work life was hard for me, mainly because of the social situations, but I had my solitude to unwind and recharge. Work was also difficult because of my need for mental stimulation. I didn’t work any job for a long time. After a year or so, I’d start asking myself if that was all there was for the rest of my life, and I’d have to leave, try something different that would challenge me. Maybe that’s the high IQ part of AS—my mind needs constant stimulation. But I managed to support myself throughout my adult life, not well, but I got by. At this point in my life, I can handle most social situations, and I feel free, if I don’t feel comfortable, to leave the situation and be alone. If people don’t like it, too bad, that’s how I am.
I don’t think that having family and friends and a busy social life are necessarily the greatest things in life or what we all should do. If I have a high IQ and everybody else has an average IQ, am I to assume they know best? It was hard for me to break away from that mold of following the majority, and that mold is fine for the people who want it, but it’s not necessarily the best way. Through spending so much time alone, I’ve learned to do things myself, and I’ve gained a great deal of self-confidence and self-assurance that I can provide for and take care of myself. I think, especially as a woman, that that is more important than having family or a great social life. I’ve learned to be comfortable with who I am.
Nancy Dechter graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from Chatham College and an M.A. in experimental social Psychology from the the University of Texas in Austin. She studied Astrology and Tarot at Manly P. Hall’s Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles.