Tag Archives: non-verbal communication challenges

Paradoxes in social competency and the criteria for Asperger syndrome

I have mentioned that I haven’t had much contact with my mother since I was kid (or even then, if contact means more than just being around), that I don’t really want it, and that the conflict of interest – desire for contact VS desire to be left alone – is stressful for both me and my mother (at least that is the impression my mother conveys).

There are many reasons for my lack of interest. One is habit – the relationship has never really been built up, and so from my point of view there is nothing to build on.

However, I do want to be as accommodating as possible (while still preserving my integrity), so if that was the only reason then I would try my best to build up some rudimentary “good enough” kind of relationship (and I have tried that every now and again), because I don’t want to be a source of hurt feelings – loss – fixation – disappointment – if I can avoid it and preserve my sanity.

But it always fails, because it isn’t really about the past: I did find her hard to take in the past, but the tendencies that trigger me are still there.

I forget the triggers after a while and begin to mellow when I haven’t seen her for a long time. However, even a little communication – like an email from her (especially if it has LOTS OF WORDS IN CAPITALS, large font in bold and colours et.c. – because I read it as an email version of attention-seeking behaviour) revives the aversion.

Most of all, it is her communication style, and her attitude to me, that triggers me.

While I’ve traditionally felt like the “problem child” of my family, I know I’m not the only one who gets triggered by my mother’s communication manners. These reflections turn the whole Asperger’s issue a bit upside down:

Normal yet not quite right

My mother meets all objective criteria for being socially well integrated and Normal in a quantitative sense: she is sociable, people-orientated, smiling, talkative, easy going, strong on eye contact, has friends and acquaintances, is well educated, worked full time until she became a pensioner, is extraordinarily good at her profession which is also her big interest (a language), and is active and involved in community activities. She also clearly sees herself as a socially active and well integrated person.

When her life and personality is described in a superficial way, she definitely meets all the criteria for being Normal.

Green tick button (clipart)

However, in more qualitative social aspects, she has obvious challenges which she seems remarkably oblivious of.

Her conversation style can best be characterised as anecdoche. Once she gets on track with talking, she goes on and on – not really saying anything of substance, and always gravitating towards the same tried- and-tested anecdotes and opinions. It is like loops of words.

She talks with big gestures, plenty of inflections and theatrical expressions in what may seem like lively talk, but after a little while it starts to sound mechanical, and she never really listen to others. She doesn’t seem to get the point of listening: to learn what the world looks like from someone else’s perspective. It is all about churning as many words out as possible and get heard as much as possible (increasing the volume of her voice to beat the competition). I don’t think she even truly understands that people have perspectives, and what it matters: that each person’s reality is unique and has its own unique and valid inner logic.

She interrupts and talks over people, invades personal space, maintains relentless eye contact, makes no pauses, doesn’t grasp irony, seems to have no sense of conversation rhythm and timing, makes confusing expressions and often acts perplexed about peoples’ reactions (especially mine). She seems like always out of sync with people around her. Not “in her own world” – she is very socially motivated, but clueless about social context.

It has always been like that, from the time I started to notice her conversation style: which was when I was an older kid and guests came for dinner in our home, or we were out as a family (or something) and she talked with other adults. She didn’t converse much at home.

I could go on, but I think the gist of what I’m saying is clear enough. My mother appears socially active, outgoing and normal, but upon a closer look she doesn’t really communicate, she performs one-way conversation scripts that look like communication.

Also, she is defensive against any critique of her social manners – if she ever did anything wrong, then it was obviously due to external circumstances and not ever her responsibility [*sarcasm*]… She is not receptive to social feedback. This means that she doesn’t change, her social understanding doesn’t seem to grow over time.

I find it very hard to cope with her communication style because:

  • It causes social and sensory overload very quickly, and she doesn’t notice or understand that, so she goes on and on until I manage to flee (desperately), or I snap
  • The pointless-chat, similarity-seeking conversation style makes it even harder to tolerate the social invasiveness (like her constant stare, need for constant attention, theatrical face expressions, standing too close et.c) and sensory stress, because when the whole conversation seems pointless, why do I have to suffer?
  • If I stay with her, stress accumulates rapidly until I snap. Then I’m the unreasonable daughter with emotional issues, and she’s the unhappy victim. If I stop it before breaking point by directly asking her to stop talking, give me a pause, leave me alone or similar, then I’m the intolerant daughter with rude manners, and she is the unhappy victim.
  • Since my discomfort goes unnoticed and verbal critique is met with a victim attitude, there is no way to fix the communication problems.

So it ends as a lose-lose situation no matter what I do – and it is always my fault.

The situation is awkward because there are no socially acceptable scripts for politely telling someone off. People are supposed to discretely pick up “leave me alone signals” from subtle hints such as physically turning away, displaying “I’m busy” body language, moving away, so that no one loses face, but my mother seems totally blind to such cues and she responds to direct feedback with a victim-attitude, so what can I do? No socially accepted scripts for handling these situations exist.

So: many of my problems with my mother stem from her autistic-like tendencies combined with her defensiveness and her expectations to me (which I can’t quite gauge, but I can tell they are off), and my intolerance to her manners and rejection of her needs in regard to me (whatever they are).

She is stuck wanting something from me very badly that doesn’t exist, and I’m stuck in an unwanted role as a Bad Daughter who has disowned my mother.

Who has Asperger syndrome?

So the whole matter of Asperger syndrome isn’t black and white. This has caused lots of confused speculations and doubts since I discovered Asperger and recognised many of my own issues in the experiences of others diagnosed with it … because I recognised many aspects of my parents’ personalities too.

The speculations were: do I have Asperger’s, or have I evolved an Asperger-like personality due to being raised by socially clueless parents?

I’m still confused in some regards, because for example:

I think I can be much more socially insightful and advanced than both my parents in important qualitative social aspects (now) such as the ability to listen, analyse social patterns, and understand that people have different perspectives.

When I compare myself to my mother, then I can pick up many social nuances that I’m sure she can’t. I can see what she does wrong. I can see what my dad does wrong too. My parents can’t see what they do wrong (on the other hand, I can’t see what I do wrong).

My parents sometimes spot each others’ social faux passes, but never their own.

However, when looking at the criteria that measure success in society – then my parents both function much better than me.

I’m the one who had massive social difficulties during my adolescence and young adulthood, who couldn’t get through (or even into) the normal milestones my peer seemed to ace despite being intellectually brighter than many of them – high school, higher education, career, friends, starting a family (although I did achieve many of these things later). The mental barriers were too high.

I’m the one who stumbled through a cavalcade of new beginnings and abrupt endings, because I mysteriously couldn’t fit in anywhere socially. Who suffered depressions and panic attacks and ended up in mental hospital for well over a year in my early twenties; was disorganised and sporadically employed and almost always alone.

I’m the one who still don’t quite “hit the marks” of someone my age – career wise and financially*, socially, family-wise. Who still find small talk and mingling difficult, still don’t see any friends on a regular basis, still don’t have a full time job, who spends a great deal of my time immersed in concentrated hobby studies and projects, wear ear plugs in many situations where other people don’t, and avoid many places due to my sensory issues.

My parents, in contrast, were able to do the things they needed to do to tick all the boxes of normal development throughout the course of their lives, and they consider themselves Normal.

Male VS female autistic-like profiles

The paradox of qualitative VS quantitative social functioning level also exists between my parents.

If my dad did a screening test for Asperger syndrome, then I’m pretty sure he would score very high due to his minimal social needs, no friends, low awareness of other people’s needs, aloofness, formal behaviour at home, dependency on routines, attachment to places and hobbies more than people – prioritisation of hobbies above everything else (including family), social oblivion, sciency interests et.c.

My mother would score low because her answers would reflect that she is socially motivated and sees herself as a social person.

Yet, my dad is in some ways charismatic, even if he doesn’t have good understanding of people. His personality is distinct and consistent, easy to make sense of, and he respects interpersonal boundaries. That makes him relatable. He is someone I feel I know intuitively and deeply, even though I disagree badly with some of his choices. He isn’t perfect – or necessarily even good, but he is a real, familiar person.

My mother has a diffuse personality; I’m not sure what she likes and dislikes, how she feels, who she is. She has a poor sense of boundaries and seems like she struggles to see the difference between her own needs and others’. She seems much more social than my dad at a glance, but her personality remains enigmatic even to her close family.

She seems to zealously maintain and defend a social identity that I can’t quite grasp; but I feel it consists mainly of scripts, loops and theatrical expressions, and doesn’t connect to a real person (if there is one). I don’t even know if I would like her if I knew her better.

See the paradoxes? That’s why I find the whole concept of Asperger VS NT traits so confusing… it is full of paradoxes.


* Obviously closely related issues…



Important types of mental coherence

Essay originally written to explain to my therapist what I meant by mental coherence, and to explain how deficiencies in it can undermine essential aspects of life. He labelled it Weak Central Coherence.

Many of the issue described below are not that extreme anymore (and weren’t when I wrote the essay) – it is largely retrospective and describes worst case scenarios. However, the issues with weak mental coherence persist, albeit now in milder, subtler versions.

Coherence across time

Relevant for social understanding and communication, identity, learning from experiences, mood regulation, planning, punctuality and sense of meaning.

It is essential to understand that peoples’ feelings and actions are linked across time in order roughly grasp their personalities/values/preferences etc and make some sense of their behaviours. To consider that peoples’ moods and behaviours in different situations and across different points in time are part of patterns (not just sudden random events) and linked with many different factors; some which are present in the current situation and serve as triggers, and many other complex factors which are “invisible” in the current situation.

Without a grasp of that coherence, people tend to appear extremely shifty and unpredictable, and communication is like “fumbling in the darkness” without much sense of what is appropriate to say and do and what isn’t, due to not being able to forecast others’ reactions at all. That leads to high tension and high anxiety around people.

For example: if I don’t consider that a person’s attitude and reactions to me in this moment link up with past events (the person’s past experience with me + experiences unrelated to me, which I can’t know anything about); then I’ll assume that all behaviour is caused by something present “right now” and that I should be able to see what it is and adjust my behaviour accordingly. When I can’t see those factors, then I’ll be hyper-vigilant to a lot of different factors without knowing what I should focus on.
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History of Bad Parties

clipart of disco dancers with a disco ball and glitter, blue colours

In my youth years, I felt I had to take the opportunities I got to meet people and go to parties so that I could say (if asked) that I had been to a party fairly recently. It was my impression that young people who didn’t go to parties were losers, and I didn’t want to be one of those, at least not that obviously.
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