Please don't ask me how I am unless you want to know

If you are a person older than about 40 years of age with Asperger’s Syndrome (aka Autism Spectrum Disorder) and have finished college, maintained a career, supported yourself, attained financial independence, raised a child, or just managed to get through daily life, give yourself a round of applause. You have overcome great adversity. You have prevailed and found a way to thrive with a developmental disorder that was not identified or widely understood until after you came of age, in some cases long after.

We didn’t even know there was something wrong with us, let alone what it was or have tools to cope with it. We were told we were weird, stupid, careless, lazy, difficult, bad.

Today’s youth with ASD have understanding and support networks that did not exist in our time. If we did all this while left to our own devices, imagine what we could have accomplished with the proper support and therapy?

When I try to focus on what I have achieved in life instead of what I haven’t as a person living with Asperger’s, it makes me proud and it should make you proud too.

In my case, it was earning several advanced degrees including a law degree and academic accolades. For others, it’s becoming successful in a particular trade or profession like engineering, the sciences or something else that requires intense concentration and a keen intellect. For others it’s a satisfying marriage and family life. For the luckiest among us, it can be a combination of these things.

One of the most common characteristics of people who have Asperger’s is a natural inability to make “small talk.” Inability doesn’t do it justice. Someone can be unable to do something but still have a desire to do it and understand why it needs to be done. Many people with ASD don’t “get” small talk and believe it’s a ridiculous ritual. We say what we mean and mean what we say—to a fault.

We get right to the point. Down to brass tacks. If we need to seek or give information to a coworker or anyone else, we come right out and say it without any preliminaries. We dispense with, “Hi how are you? How was your (weekend, holiday, vacation)?” or “I love your outfit/haircut!” Because it’s fake as all get-out. (OK I have often said the I-love-your-outfit/hair thing, but that’s when I sincerely do love someone’s outfit or hair.)

Why in the world would you ask someone how was their day or their weekend when you don’t really care, they know you don’t care, and you know they know you don’t care? Conversely, we know they don’t care when they ask us the same thing. It’s called “small” talk for a reason.

It’s not that we’re cold or aloof. We just don’t see the point in asking people we barely know irrelevant questions just to conform to some social expectation. This is interpreted by the non-Asperger’s world as abruptness, bluntness, rudeness, antisocial behavior, and inconsiderateness. It can sabotage you in the professional context. For me, that has especially been the case in emails, in which get-right-to-the-point-ness can come across as short when there is no face-to-face.

I’ve always thought that the universal western greeting of “how are you?” is the most superficial. There’s got to be a better way of greeting another person. Again, with few exceptions, nobody really cares or wants to know how you actually are. That’s why everyone feels compelled to answer in the positive, even when they are far from alright.

Maybe “What’s happening” (e.g. the Spanish ‘¿que pasa?’) is better. That takes the focus off one’s subjective wellbeing and places it on events experienced by the person. I don’t know. I have a feeling that other cultures probably do this better. There should be a greeting that acknowledges someone in a positive way without requiring them to answer a question.

I sometimes wonder if we who have ASD are the normal ones and the rest of the world is whacked. How logical is it to ask a question when the answer is of no consequence? How wise is it to waste time with meaningless chitter-chatter just for the sake of it?

And we’re the ones with the social disorder?

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