I’ve just read a lovely article by Sara Ryan and Ulla Räisänen [“It’s like you are just a spectator in this thing”: Experiencing social life the “aspie” way. Emotion, Space and Society, 2008, 1, 135-143] who interviewed people with Asperger’s syndrome to explore their experiences of problems like social exclusion. Some excerpts from the interviews:
“… it just sort of highlighted and made me almost feel as though basically sort of like a freak. You know you really had nothing in common with these people and with people in general and it was a very lonely feeling […] You know, loneliness, I think, sort of becomes the default setting.”
“… like you say something stupid, and then realise you have said something stupid, and say something even more stupid, and or say something or do something awkward and then sort of combination of doing something awkward and saying something awkward and trying to make it funny and then making it even more awkward, making yourself look like a complete and utter idiot and then going all sort of red in the face and then hiding for days.”
This sort of detail of what it feels like to be an aspie in an (in general) non-aspie friendly society is sadly missing from other parts of the psychological literature.
It would have been lovely if they had also included a matched non-Asperger group. For instance after discussing how it felt for one of the participants to try to have a conversation, the authors comment:
“Of course, this is an experience that is probably familiar to many neuro-typical people but the level of intensity and frequency is substantial for people with AS who are unable, or find it difficult to, internalise social norms and values.”
So, how does it feel for a non-autistic person to have a conversation? There must be a tremendous amount of variation! Where do people typically get their ideas from? Where does it feel like they come from? Do they just pop into memory? I have been in many fairly unpleasant social situations where people simply have nothing to say to each other. Wine is then wheeled in before disaster strikes. I have seen a professor practically inhale a copy of the Guardian just before going to lunch; from the conversation that followed it seemed that he was replaying much of what he read, but the result was that people had interesting discussions. To make sense of the autism spectrum experience, the worries of non-autistic folk must also be understood.