A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘acceptance’

Being an Atypical Extrovert

I sometimes surprise myself when doing some self-reflecting into who I really am and how I would characterise myself. One thing that I discovered really only now about myself is that I am an extrovert. In the past, I never really associated myself with that term despite knowing about the terms introvert and extrovert for over six years. In fact, when I first heard of the terms, I immediately went for the term introvert. And until about a month ago, I never really about it further until I made comment to my family about it to which my mother said, “No, I think you’re an extrovert.” I believe this is because I’m a rather atypical extrovert.

I first heard the terms when I was in the middle of my undergrad at Acadia. I was discussing with a counselor I was seeing then about my difficulties in social interaction, which brought about. I forget the original definitions we used for introvert and extrovert, but whatever they were they led me to believe that I was an introvert. This was probably because I have a few qualities that introverts typically possess. For example, I tend to think before I speak and I like to work on my academic work alone with few interruptions. I think I made the error that introversion and extroversion rely heavily on how one behaves when alone or with other people. In my mind, I was thinking “this person talks a lot so they’re an extrovert” or “this person talks very little so they’re an introvert”. It really only dawned on me now that, while that reasoning may be true in many if not most cases, neither implication is true. It’s very possible to be a quiet extrovert or a loud introvert. They aren’t oxymorons.

For example, (as in my case) a person who is quieter than average isn’t necessarily quieter by choice. Due to other characteristics they possess, they find being quiet easier, more comfortable, more convenient, etc. I’ve discovered this is the case for me. I’m not as loud spoken as a lot of extroverts are, but this is due to circumstances that are quite challenging for me to control if not out of my control altogether. I didn’t choose to have a different perspective when it comes to socializing due to my autism (not saying that’s a bad thing!), or to be shyer than other extroverts, or to have social anxiety. I will admit I often get envious and even jealous of extroverts who don’t have these roadblocks in the way and who follow their natural desires without showing much sweat. However, I am taking steps to address such things, which I will tell about in a future blog post.

Trust me, if it weren’t for these things, and I believe I would be striking up conversations with people (new and old) every which way I turn at social gatherings, striving more forcefully for attention and to be in the spotlight and trying to be the life of every party. Since coming to this realization, I’ve done some research on the internet to see if anyone felt the same way. It turns out quite a few people do. Physical behaviours actually have very little to do with where you are on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. What really defines introversion and extroversion is your natural preference.

In growing up, I was always known in school for being the quiet one and even I was convinced then that my desire was to be in solitude. It’s difficult to distinguish what you want to do and what you find easy to do when you’re still growing up. I was always an extrovert. It just was (and still is) easier to act more introverted than I actually am.

Becoming Closer with my Sister

Last winter, I was dealing with a problem. It’s too private to even post on this blog, but in any case what it was is irrelevant and it was quickly resolved anyway. Like I usually do when a problem arises in my life, however, I normally talk to people about it to help find solutions and also since my perfectionistic mind can often distort a healthy perspective hearing someone else’s perspective on it can help combat it.

One of the people I ended up talking to about it was my sister Carolyn. She was sympathetic and told me to keep her updated about it and, in fact, she said she wanted to communicate with me more anyway. My relationship with Carolyn throughout our lives has probably not been the closes in the world. There might have been a little bit of sibling rivalry, but we certainly loved each other even if we didn’t express it in the closest of bonds.

We’re also different in a few ways, which most likely caused us to grow a little apart. For example, I’m much more of an academic than she is. I’m in my third year of a PhD while she after high school took a year off and didn’t really know what she wanted to do at the time. Since then, however, she’s found her dream passion in cooking and got both a culinary arts degree and a hospitality management degree and she’s now working in hotel management and eventually wants to become a chef. While her path in life might have been a little more disconnected than mine, I never believed that this was because I was more intelligent than her or anything like that. In fact, I sometimes feared she was intimidated. I just see her path as demanding a different (but certainly not less) kind of intelligence. I’m sure that the meals I make in my home can’t hold a candle to what my sister is capable of in the kitchen. I also sometimes wonder what it must really feel like to lead a slightly disconnected path in life (this is actually something in general that graduate students sometimes do, positing ‘what if’ scenarios since graduate school is quite demanding and “delays” your entry into the “real world”).

At any rate, in response to my sister’s request to remain in contact, I sent her another email and we’ve since had a couple of email correspondences since then. I feel I was more open with her about what is going on in my life. Doing so in writing like in an e-mail was a great method for me to achieve this since I could make sure it was exactly what I wanted to say and I could take my time with it, which helped combat perfectionistic thoughts in the process. Making yourself vulnerable in describing your short comings, your struggles, and your weaknesses I believe is a key component for any relationship to become closer. I’ve talked to Carolyn about how we’re corresponding and we both agree it’s making us feel closer to each other.

Carolyn also has a great philosophy on life, which I completely agreed with it when she told me. She said that everyone’s life sucks in some way or another and that if people though all their problems into a pile and actually saw how big the pile got, they would see that their life isn’t as bad compared to everyone else’s that they’re making it out to be. She also said it was okay to be unhappy and to let out your misery (so long as it was in private).

In a world like today where often family members may not be particularly close, I count myself lucky to not be in such a situation and to be close to a lot of my family including my only sibling.

It’s All a Matter of Strengths and Weaknesses

As I go through life I can’t help but observe that a lot of what I’m good at is not typically what the average person is good at. Also, what I’m not good at is not typically what the average person is not good at. Of the former, I’m talking about such things as my innate talents in math and philosophy and academia in general. Of the latter, I’m talking about such things as finding it difficult to make and maintain friendships and having a lack of social intuition. Also, while my autism has contributed much in the way of the weaknesses I don’t think autism is anything more than that. My autism is solely a contributor to my own sets of strengths and weaknesses and most of all to my own individuality. I don’t view it as a disability.

Let me elaborate. While I certainly think autistic people do need help with certain life tasks that non-autistic people won’t need help with, I don’t think this is any reason to view autistics as being any more deficient than the rest of us. It is only a different way of being and thinking. The problem lies in the fact that autistics are in the minority and so the world isn’t properly designed for them. In other words, autistics really only need help because they aren’t designed for the world as it is and not because of any intrinsic characteristic. If the majority of us were autistic, I think the world would be a rather different place. For example, social norms would be different. You’d probably be expected to talk in a straightforward literal sense with no chitchat or talking simply for the sake of talking. Conversations would have more logic involved and go about three times as slowly. Face-to-face communication wouldn’t involve body language or at least body language that wasn’t explained by what you say. Loud crowds of people at places would be a lot less common. In such a world, those who weren’t autistic would be the outliers and hence they would be the ones who would be labeled as having a disability, not the autistics.

If you think I’m somewhat too extreme in my view here, feel free to comment. It’s just my personal philosophy. I’m no psychologist, but I think the above explanation as to why we label people autistic would apply to a number of autistics, maybe depending on how severely affected one was with it.

There are a number of autistics, however, who have many admirable talents, such as me, and if an autistic individual has a talent that is quite admirable and rare as to be called a gift, they are called an autistic savant. Of course, there have been a number of famous individuals throughout history who while they had great gifts, they lacked a lot of everyday skills that the majority of people seemed to have. Albert Einstein, for instance, was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, but he couldn’t tie his shoes and had difficulty in leaning to talk as a child. What is more, very smart talented people who lack everyday skills has become a fascinating characterization to use in the entertainment world. For example, Sheldon Cooper on the popular T.V. show The Big Bang Theory is a prodigy who’s a gifted physicist, but can’t seem to relate to people in a neurotypical way.

In bringing up the concept of such characterizations I only want to point out that no matter what your strengths are and no matter what your weaknesses are they are natural to you. They are part of what makes you a unique individual. How you compare to the rest of society isn’t nearly as important. What is important is self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. You embrace your strengths and your weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of others. Being open in this manner requires you to drop any preconceived notions you might have about what combinations of strengths and weaknesses are ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’. The concept of what’s normal simply can’t be applied. As my aunt likes to say it would be good if everyone understood that everyone, autistic or not, is odd in their own way. It’s why she likes my poem A Foreign Autistic World so much that I shared in my second post. We’re all ‘a little queer’.

Yes, I suppose I do fit the characterization of the stereotypical introverted mathematician with no social skills at least a little bit, which I think is fun to joke around a bit, but you can’t lose sight of the big picture. I’m human with my own sets of strengths and weaknesses, which come natural to me regardless of whether anyone thinks them normal or weird to have. In this way being autistic isn’t a disadvantage. It’s a blessing.