Comment on whether I have ASD
What follows is an excerpt from an email exchange where I talk about myself in relation to Autism Spectrum Disorder. The discussion was about autism and whether I might also be autistic. I have never been formally checked/diagnosed as such. The block quote below (indented text) is shared with permission, while the identity of my correspondent remains private.
I discovered it after stumping by chance to a video about autism for women
Behind the Mask: Autism for Women and Girls | Kate Kahle | TEDxAustinCollege https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tbes1mm2VgM
Good to know! I just watched the video. Based on it and other things I read, I have gathered the following notes:
Autism is indeed as you suggest: either you have it or you don’t.
There is a great deal of variety among autistic people. Meaning that what applies to one, may not hold true for another (at least not to the same degree).
The science behind it still has ways to go and there are deep-seated biases that remain to be overcome. Perhaps we will discover that things are even more nuanced/complex.
I would expect neurotypical folks to not be ‘typical’ within the confines of their own categorisation: they should exhibit considerable variety as well.
A quick review of my case:
I am very good at “masking” and that was my default mode of conduct in ages past. It led me to a period of depression. The length does not matter right now. I managed to address it by changing my attitude: no more masking and apologising for who I am—I am just honest and don’t care what people think about me (whether they like me or not, consider me a weirdo, etc.).
The apparent cost of that change in attitude is that I quit my career and changed my beliefs/social-expectations from the root to the branches. I became a different person in terms of aspirations, outlook, attainment of “social points” (e.g. a respectable degree, a successful career). Old me died a long time ago. No exaggerations!
I used to work at the European Parliament (my university studies were on EU-related issues; everything else is self-taught, normally through trial and error (i.e. tinkering) instead of some formal training). Now my jobs are whatever sort of part-time manual labour comes my way, which means “unemployment” or “partial employment”. The good thing is that I do not need to socialise with people to get things done. The bad thing is that they do not pay well and require a lot of energy; energy which I would rather direct towards my intellectual pursuits, Emacs packages, etc.
About me being honest, it helps that I am a philosopher. People have this stereotypical notion that philosophers are irregular fellows, which helps my case as I don’t need to tell them more. As soon as they realise I am philosophising, they have the “oh, you REALLY are weird” kind of epiphany (without ever saying it, though it is obvious and funny).
I do not pursue friendships: never call anyone, never message them, and so on. For many years now I live in a remote village in a mountainous area and have no social circle as part of my day-to-day life (a friend might visit my area once in a blue moon or I might have tea with a neighbour, but still no need for social activities). For example, when I was in Brussels, I had two people I would usually go out with: they would contact me once every few months and be like “Hey, did you disappear again? Let’s go for a drink!”. If they would not message me, I would just stay alone without ever realising that several weeks had gone by… My sense of time and direction is excellent, though not when it comes to interpersonal relations and the need to “keep in touch”.
I also have no social media presence. To my mind this is a good thing personally and politically (won’t elaborate on the politics here). If someone wants to learn about me, they are welcome to ask me anything. No need to peruse a profile page.
I have not had issues with motor skills. For example, I played football in a semi-professional capacity (would have become a pro, were it not for a major injury), and I have done (and still do) lots of jobs that involve manual labour: motorcycle mechanic, stone mason, bartender, waiter, and the like. I remain athletic.
I can read other people really well by understanding the intent behind their actions and combining it with relevant information to predict their behaviour. I know when someone is lying or has an ulterior motive (obviously this is not possible/easy for written exchanges). Though I do not empathise with them: I do not feel them emotionally, but I reason how they feel—I interpret them the way an AI would, if that makes sense.
I have never had a romantic attachment to anyone. Not even what we call a “crush”. Never! (I understand it rationally, as noted above.) I have had a few cases where others were attracted to me, but I never felt infatuation or, generally, this notion that “you are my other half and I cannot live without you”. In this regard, I have no dreams of an “ideal partner”, never idolised some celebrity, was never sad about being potentially rejected by someone, do not feel any need to be in a romantic relationship, and simply can’t relate to people who obsess about these issues (by “can’t relate”, I mean that I consider it super-easy to not think about them and go on with my life).
I should clarify here that I am not emotionless. I do care about other people, such as my friends and family. I do love my dog and care a lot about animals in general. And so on. I just can’t relate to the obsession or this feeling of emptiness/fulfilment if you are alone/romantically-attached.
I let my beard grow for health reasons. In order to keep a clean shave, I need to apply a razor twice-a-day: this results in my skin being irritated (dry skin and razor burns) and I would rather avoid all those chemicals. The beard is healthier for the skin and considerably easier to maintain—I just wash it daily as part of my cold shower, though I was told that some people use all sorts of products on their beards (I have no need for any of that).
What I also discovered about having a beard, and why I want to keep it even if I can somehow keep a clean shave and retain skin health, is that people no longer try to get close to me for the friendly hug, kiss on the cheek, or cross-kisses in the air around the cheeks. I believe you know what I am referring to. In France, they salute you by kissing you once, in Belgium twice or thrice, in Greece twice, and so on (I am not sure about the number of kisses, but you get the idea). I no longer need to proactively extend my hand for a handshake and implicitly warn “no kisses”, as the beard does that automatically. Yay!
I am not a control freak and do not obsess about particular interests. If I am alone, I will think about some philosophical theme or work on my hobbies (e.g. Emacs), but I will not act as a nerd in a social context. It probably helps that my friends are already carefully selected, so I don’t have to unexpectedly talk about wildly random stuff (e.g. what was discussed during some gossip show on TV—I don’t even have a television).
I believe I am competent with eye contact. What people would find unsettling about me is my seemingly inexhaustible capacity for listening. I have been with people who can go on talking for 30 minutes straight and who will interrupt you as soon as you utter a word (many folks in politics are like that). I would never interrupt them and would then recall what they talked about and be able to make accurate remarks on what they shared. Put differently, I am a good listener and am very patient.
Being a good listener sounds like a wonderful quality, though it is not always desirable. For example, in the world of politics you have to be assertive, appear unequivocal in your statements, leave no room for doubt, and the like. In most cases, I consider those signs of either dogmatism or foolishness (similar, but not identical) and would not play that game. As such, I might appear “weak” when, in truth, I am confident in my abilities: I do not see the point of pretending to be certain about my opinions—the “I would die for my beliefs” sounds ridiculous to me, because you imply that you will die for something that might be a falsehood (put differently: “are you sure your beliefs are true?”).
This covers it for now. I may have missed something, though this should give you a good idea.