Teen Aspies: Sometimes it’s better NOT to be yourself

“You’re really cute. Do you like sex? I like sex but I have not had any sex in six months. Would you like to be my girlfriend and have sex with me?”

This is an actual email I received from a male member of a co-ed Asperger’s Support Group on Facebook. My profile says married. I do not flirt online. When I do privately email a male aspie if they are in crisis, I always mention my husband and my family. I never imply that I am single or looking. This does not deter them.

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Because Asperger’s is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction,  I recognize that most of these guys are not trying to offend. They are truly trying to reach out to someone of the opposite sex in the only way they know how: an extremely straightforward way. I am not rude to them. I do not belittle them. I do remind them that “I am married, and this is not an appropriate way to approach a lady you are interested in dating. “ This often strikes up a conversation about HOW to appropriately approach a woman. But… I am a forty year old woman.

For the following story, I’m changing all the details. The town. The name, etc. A couple weeks ago, I joined an Asperger’s Support Group on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Aspergers2/

A young girl joined the group. She had an unusual hyphenated last name.  Little Jane Unusual-Name was using her real profile and her real name. She began to tell us that she was diagnosed with Asperger’s and she felt misunderstood by everyone. She then told us she was 13 years old. As a mom to four kids, this set my Mommy Alarm off at full volume. ** ALERT ** ALERT **

Young aspies tend to be especially trusting and vulnerable. I immediately wanted to protect this girl. I told Jane that she should be careful on the internet. She shouldn’t be disclosing her age using her real profile. She said her parents had warned her about the internet but her profile was ‘safe’. I explained that I am a mom with four kids and that I was concerned about her. I bet her I could tell her where she lived and where she went to school in less than five minutes. She agreed to the challenge.

She had no location listed. She had only 3 pictures of herself. In one of the pics, she was with 2 boys she had tagged. I went to their profiles and both were from Smallville, KS. In one of the girl’s pictures she was wearing a shirt that said SJH (Smallville Junior High, I presume). I googled her very unique name and it directed me to King’s Landing High School’s facebook page located in… Smallville, KS. Her profile did not allow private emails, so I posted to her in the group and said you live in S****e, KS and you go to KLHS. I posted it like that. I didn’t write out the town name.

She immediately BLOCKED me.

I posted to the group and asked someone to please ask this girl to stop using her real name and real profile in online groups with strangers. I used my secondary fb account and posted to her. I told her that if I could find her information – anyone could. Blocking me would not stop others from finding her if they wanted to. I advised her to set up an anonymous profile and not use real pictures of herself if she is looking for support in online groups.   The group administrator blocked me.   He said no one should be using a fake profile even though many of the members obviously do. No one is really named Aspie. I hope this young girl listened.  Predators aren’t always THIS easy to spot:

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The problem with online Asperger’s support groups is that they aren’t screened. There truly is no way to know that every single person in the group truly has Asperger’s. Since there are so few services for adults, many “aspies” are self-proclaimed without an actual diagnosis. These groups often get trolls and other individuals who are just looking to antagonize or harass members. They are usually removed fairly quickly but they can do a bit of damage before they leave. Young aspie girls are especially at risk. The young, vulnerable aspie girl is a predator’s perfect victim because not only is she is so desperately reaching out, she is most likely very naïve as well. They may not recognize the warning signs of a predator, troll, or malicious person until it is too late. So please, young Aspies – when you go online for support – do as so many adults do:

  • Create a separate profile.
  • DON’T use your real picture. I can search for you by using your image just like they do on the MTV show CATFISH.  Use something that won’t identify you: your favorite TV character, cartoon character, peace symbol, etc.
  • Don’t have a location listed on your profile.
  • Don’t join ‘local’ groups with your anonymous profile. (Groups like “I love Smallville!”” could give away your location.)
  • If you are solicited for sex, don’t reply. Replying to that person will send them an email with your profile name. Record their name somewhere. Tell someone. If they are a member of a group, you can forward their email to the group administrator and block them.
  • Be sure to always report abusive content—whether it’s on your profile page, or someone else’s. You can also report inappropriate Pages. (Remember that reporting is confidential, so no one will know who made the report.)
  • Be careful who you friend. That 19 yr old boy may really be a 39 year old man or 43 yr old woman. You really don’t know.
  • Be cautious about the information you do share. It surprising how easy it can be to piece together information about you from the information you share.
  • If you are sharing something about the way another person has treated you, don’t use their real name either. Saying “Gabriel Hobbes really made me mad today!” gives readers an opportunity to google Gabriel Hobbes and maybe even figure out who you are.
  • Be aware that just because it says Asperger’s Support Group does not mean it is 100% SAFE! As I mentioned before: there is no screening. Even adult Aspies have had trolls and predators email them. The internet is NEVER safe.
  • When you are new to a group, sometimes it is better to observe for a while. You will soon discover the members/admins who are very active and seem to be trusted by the group. Although the internet is never truly safe, these individuals would be the ones who are least likely to be trolls.
  • Just because someone says they have Asperger’s doesn’t mean they do. I have met several individuals online who claim to have Asperger’s just to troll.
  • Remember Asperger’s is a spectrum disorder. Not every Aspie you meet online is going to be like you.
  • Finally: Please remember that NOTHING is ever private on the internet. Even in a ‘secret’ group. Anyone can take a screenshot of anything you say at any time and share it. Once you put it online, it is out there for anyone to share. Please be mindful.

I’m a slightly chubby, 40 yr old married woman. If I am getting solicitations on facebook, a pretty teenage girl will definitely be solicited. Please be careful.

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Asperger’s, Autism, and Social Media: Sanctuary or Setback?

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, online forums and other forms of social media allow people all over the world to connect. In the online Asperger’s support groups I belong to, members with a confirmed Autism/Asperger’s diagnosis and those who self-diagnose/suspect they may have Asperger’s are equally accepted. No “proof” is required for an Aspie group to embrace you. Because there are so few mental health professionals that care for adults on the spectrum, many adults search the internet looking for answers.  Social media has been a lifeline to many people with Asperger’s, but it can also stifle their personal growth.

 I’ll start with the positive. Here is how social media helps a person with Asperger’s:

It helps answer their questions about Asperger’s.  Many people with Asperger’s have felt alienated for most of their lives.  After realizing their quirks may be caused by Asperger’s, they go on a hunt for answers.  It’s not uncommon to see these types of questions in an online aspie support group:

  • “When I eat, I eat each one of the foods on my plate completely before moving on to the next food. Is that just me or is it an Aspie thing?” 
  • “People always think I look upset but that’s just my natural facial expression when my face is at rest.  Is that an Aspie thing?”
  • “Does the sound of motorcycles make anyone else want to cover their ears? I have always HATED the sound of motorcycle engines.  Is that because of Asperger’s?

People ask all kinds of questions trying to determine which behaviors are governed by their own personality and which behaviors occur because of their Asperger’s. There are books and other types of media to help answer questions, but connecting with other people who have Asperger’s not only answers questions, it helps them feel less alone (especially when another members says “I do that too!”)

 Online communities allow Aspies to make friends – real friends – for maybe the first time in their lives without the stress of being socially correct.  Being online removes the stress of eye contact, correct posture, correct tone and appearance.  You can sit in your favorite ratty pajamas and make a friend without ever having to brush your hair or put on shoes.  Because the groups are Aspie support groups, there is already a commonality in the group: Asperger’s. No painful conversations trying to find some mutual connection. No internal dialogue about remembering eye contact or not standing with your arms crossed. There is safety behind the screen.

It allows us to have a dialogue with someone who thinks the same way we do.  When I talk with my friends who have Asperger’s, we have a different type of conversation. I can’t explain it exactly except to say we speak the same language. We’re straight-forward. We don’t get offended. Our conversations are logic-based, yet we laugh. We share. We know we don’t have to pussy-foot around conversation to make our point. There is a connection there that is amazing. It’s so nice to NOT have to explain your point of view because the person just gets it.

Unfortunately, the use of social media can also inhibit the social skills an Aspie needs to function in the real world because:

Support groups are designed to be supportive without being constructive.  Almost all of the support groups on social media are managed by other Aspies and not mental health professionals.  There is often no accountability for behavior.  You are simply allowed to be who you want to be as long as you aren’t intentionally attacking another person.  There is always someone to like your post.  It doesn’t matter what you do. If you’re a grown adult who likes to take pictures of her beanie baby dolls in different poses, someone tells you that you’re awesome! If you’re a grown adult who believes there is an alternate universe made up of fake Figgi humanoid characters and that for every human there is a Figgi, and you spend your entire day talking about the magical Figgis who live in Figgiworld, people tell you that you are awesome!!  They even encourage you! “How are the Figgis doing today?”  You can be as immature as you want to be and you are AWESOME!  It’s like one of those Barney episodes where the kids exude approval by constantly nodding “Yes” and smiling no matter what happens. It’s surreal.

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These groups are fantasy worlds. In the real world, if a 35 yr old woman walked up to her coworkers to share pics of her beanie baby dolls in different poses, she would not hear that she is “Awesome!”  She would be told that childish things are for children. If a coworker started talking about humanoid creatures in an alternate reality that “really, really are real! and I love Figgi Bon Jovi!!” they would be ostracized and laughed at.  Because these behaviors are accepted and encouraged in social media groups, Aspies may not learn what is socially appropriate. 

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Because they are not discouraged from hyper-focusing on their obsessions, they may not learn how to manage their obsessive thoughts. They may become even more confused when they do try to interact with people in the real world by behaving the same way they do in their online Aspie groups. In the Aspie groups, the behavior is rewarded positively with praise and compliments. In the real world they are chastised and excluded. They may not understand why they are not successful with interactions in real life and may choose to remain in an online support group world instead of interacting with the real world because the online group accepts them without asking them to adapt to the social norms of society.

When Aspies hide in the sanctuary of an online community that never asks them to push their boundaries, they may stop growing.  We learn by challenging ourselves. If an Aspie finds a safe sanctuary that allows them to play with toys, be as immature as they want to be, and never leave the safety of their bedroom and their pajamas, they may stop trying to interact with the world. This can be crippling.

Making online friends is wonderful. I have met some of my dearest friends through online groups, but in order for a person with Asperger’s to be successful in the real world, they have to learn how to socialize in person.  They have to learn that while it is normal for an Aspie to have some sort of obsession (dolls, trains, sci-fi), it is not considered “normal’ in the real world. Coworkers and friends will not want to hear yet another rousing tale of the difference between two types of trains even if you find it exhilarating.  Eye contact, although uncomfortable, is required.  When you constantly avoid eye contact, people believe you aren’t trustworthy.  There are other social cues – body language, tone, etc than can only be learned by interacting in the real world. It can’t be done by hiding behind a monitor.

With all things, moderation is key.  I believe it IS important to have a place to go where you have friends and are accepted, but I also think that we shouldn’t use that place to hide from the world.  To me, a true friend is a person who is completely honest. A true friend tells me I have lettuce in my teeth. A true friend lovingly tells me when I’m being too loud. A true friend reminds me that although my latest Leonard Nimoy/Star Trek bag is indeed “Fascinating”, I may not want to spend the next hour discussing Spock because our other friend wants to talk about her new baby.  A true friend helps me be a better me because she is truthful with me in a constructive way, and I would rather have that type of honesty than someone who just applauds my every action and tells me I’m “awesome!”.

Tired of all these Autism and ADHD brats!

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When I was a kid they didn’t call it “Behavioral Disorders.”  They called it “Being a little brat!”  This is just ONE of many memes I have seen on my social networks. They are shared by my friends and family. I would like to think that is just the ignorant/uneducated who feel this way, but it isn’t.

Driving home from work a couple weeks ago, a college-educated peer told me that she felt that “most of these autism and adhd diagnoses” are fabricated.  Her son had some of the traits of a child with Autism/ADHD but HE doesn’t have Autism/ADHD so maybe it doesn’t really exist. She felt it was just an “excuse” for people NOT to parent. Did I mention she was COLLEGE EDUCATED?!?  She knew about my blog, my Asperger’s, and my beliefs, but since my thoughts are different from hers, of course mine MUST be wrong.  After all, it’s just years of science and research backing up my story. What is that compared to her personal experience with her own kids?

I call people who think this way The Dismissers. I get so frustrated when people make those sort of comparisons. Because their experience is “x” then yours must be “x” too. “I never wore a seat belt when I was a kid. I’m fine.” Thanks Professor Know-It-All. Was your car ever t-boned by a pickup truck? No?  Then I don’t think you’re fine because you didn’t wear a seat belt. You’re fine because you didn’t have an accident. Just like your child is fine because they DON’T have Autism or ADHD.  It is unfortunate that people think that way because a parent of a truly ADHD child would probably glady exchange your childs “similar traits” for their child’s full-blown ADHD.

Maybe you’ve met another type of ignorance: The Spanking Cures EVERYTHING Bunch.Their meme might say “I was spanked as a child. As a result I now have a psychological condition known as ‘respect for others’.”  Sorry to burst your balloon folks, but I had the fire spanked out of me on many, many, MANY occasions and you may be surprised to know that no matter how hard she tried, my mother could not spank the Autism out of me.

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Instead of spanking respect into me, my logical brain processed it this way:

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Spankings only served to remind me just how worthless I was. Even as a kid I knew you could get in trouble for hitting a dog, but not a kid.  Spanking reminded me of my lack of value.  It taught me fear. It taught me you could be a hypocrite as long as you were physically bigger.  It didn’t teach me love or respect.  I moved out at 17 and you want to know what really hurts when I look back at my childhood? I was a GOOD kid. No drinking. No smoking. No drugs. No sass. Still got whipped.  I finally decided “What’s the point in being good if you’re still going to get hit?” Hitting me had the opposite effect. Instead of curbing bad behavior, it encouraged it. If I was going to get hit -I might as well make it worth it. If being a little late meant I would be whipped, I might as well stay out until dawn.

While the Dismissers and the Spankers frustrate me, The Nelsons really frost my cookies.  These are adult bullies (like Nelson on the Simpsons) They think that bullying OTHER peoples’ kids is their right.

HA_HA_-NELSON_SIMPSONSWhat’s even worse is that many people appear to agree. This past week I saw many  people on social media sharing the story about an adult man who was frustrated in Burger King. If you believe his story, the man was in line in front of a mother and her son.  His story claims that the boy was repeatedly screaming that he wanted some “F-ing Pie.” When it was his turn to order, the man decided he would buy all 23 pies so the child could not have one. The writer (who has removed his post) claims: “Moments later I hear the woman yelling, what do you mean you don’t have any pies left, who bought them all? I turn around and see the cashier pointing me out with the woman shooting me a death glare. I stand there and pull out a pie and slowly start eating eat as I stare back at her. She starts running towards me but can’t get to me because of other lineups in the food court. I turn and slowly walk away.”

There. Ha ha kid.

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Lesson learned! Right? Almost all of the comments cheered for the ADULT man who bought all the pies to keep an obnoxious child from getting one. (As if Burger King couldn’t cook more pies.) I cannot understand that.  They are the biggest hypocrites of all. They believe they can change a child’s disrespectful behavior with their own poor behaviors.

EVERY TIME YOU SHARE ONE OF THESE MEMES:

  • You dismiss true medical diagnoses.  Would you ever share a meme that described deaf people as “deaf & dumb”?  No! Of course you wouldn’t. Although that terminology was used historically, in today’s world it sounds derogatory and is offensive to the deaf community.  (Yes, I realize dumb used to mean mute and not a measure of their intelligence.)  I am sure kids with ADHD were often misdiagnosed as “just being brats.” We know now that they aren’t. Don’t perpetuate ignorance.
  • You are saying that any child that is misbehaving just needs to be hit in order to behave. Although I would disgree with spanking for any child, it is especially damaging to children with Autism/ADHD/Mental disorders.
  • You encourage grown adults to act malevolent and petty towards children.     You APPLAUD them for it. “You showed that kid!”
  • You tell the world that bullying IS OK as long as it’s an adult doing it to a child.

Stop. Please.  With all the funny, rib-tickling memes out there on social media, surely you can share something else?
Share a time when you were feeling burnt out and just let the kids have frozen waffles for dinner.
Share a time when you were overly exhausted and let your child get away with behavior you normally wouldn’t because you just didn’t have the energy that day.

EVERY parent has had these moments of desperation.
EVERY child has made a mistake and acted poorly.
Don’t judge them based on a 30 second interaction.

I know… some of you are saying “But some kids ARE brats!”  Do you know the child? Can you honestly tell by looking at a child which one has ADHD or Autism?  Can you tell from the kids below?

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Yeah. Me neither.  You would be surprised to learn which of these kiddos struggles with Asperger’s.   Is it the blonde haired boy with his sweet smile?  Surely that brown haired boy must be up to no good. He just looks like he wants to break something.  What about the little girl in pigtails. Is she cute or spoiled rotten?  And that teenager giving the camera a thumbs up?  Is she a good kid or is she slamming doors and screaming “I hate you!” to her parents?

It is so easy to project our experiences, our beliefs onto another person or situation.

For the record, between the two boys, the little blonde haired boy would be the kiddo most likely to break something.  He may look sweet and innocent here (and he is) but he has enough energy for three children. He can sneak a snack cake out of the kitchen in 2 seconds flat. He has to touch everything. He is my own personal Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes (my favorite comic).  If I don’t hear him, I need to go find him.  My brunette son was trying to give me a tough guy pose for this picture years ago.  He is my people-pleasing, “yes ma’am”, “no ma’am”, “please and thank you” kid. He was the designated “Kind Kid” ambassador at school and was assigned the task of showing new kids around.  He would give you his very last bite of food right off of his plate if he even thought you looked hungry.

As for the two girls. Well… the little one with the pig tails is an advanced reader. She’s a perfect little frog-loving, lizard catching tomboy. She loves everyone. She shares without being asked.  She is such an angel.  The teenager is also a good kid. A little withdrawn and addicted to Skype, but she helps take care of her siblings while her momma works. She cooks dinner. She is beautiful and has such a tender heart.  I don’t know what I would do without her.  Did I forget to mention – the two girls on the end are the same girl. The pictures are twelve years apart.

See how little we know by just a look?

If you want to share something today, share this.

An exercise in ignorance

The level of prejudice and ignorance that is alive and well today is heart-breaking to me, and I was reminded of its prevalence during a recent group activity.  When we began, we were not told the purpose of the exercise.  The forty of us were divided into two groups. Group A was directed to go outside for their instructions.  I remained inside with group B.

We were told: 
You are the “Peaceful River Dwellers.”  Your ancestors have lived in this community for thousands of years.  You have no poverty, no homelessness. Your children are well-educated. You have a high standard of living. You are a peaceful people living in a Utopian society.

We were told this about the other group: 
A group is coming that wants to infiltrate your community.  They do not think they way you do.  They do not act like you do. They will bring strife. They will bring viruses and disease you have not been exposed to. Do not make eye contact with them. Do not encourage them. Your group will be successful if you keep them out of your circle, out of your community.

We were then given time to discuss what our plan of action would be.  One woman moved to the front and immediately asserted herself as Leader without asking if she could lead.  She said we should keep them out at all costs because she is a mother and didn’t want them to bring illness to HER family! She asked what the group thought.  People said:

We should build a wall to keep them out!
We should do whatever it takes to keep them from getting in!
We could build a moat!
We could throw rocks at them!

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Someone reminded the group that we are “peaceful” River Dwellers.

I stepped in and said, “Couldn’t we send an ambassador to talk to them to see why they have chosen OUR community?  Maybe they need water.”

Leader spoke up and disagreed.  “THOSE PEOPLE need to stay on their own side of the river!”  Another group member suggested allowing them to live on the other side of the river and sending them care packages from across the river.

A quiet woman spoke up and stated she was a Christian and because of her religion, she wouldn’t be able to turn them away. Another member asked her “What would you do if someone tried to break into your home?”  She replied “Shoot ’em with my gun!” and her voice was silenced.

I voiced my opinion more strongly. “This FEELS wrong.  This feels very 1950’s racist to me. You folks stay on your own side of the river. Don’t come to our side. Don’t drink from our water fountains. This feels WRONG. We need to talk to them to understand why they chose us.”

Leader reminded us the paper said we would be successful if we kept them out.  I persisted “But whose idea of success is that?  Is that OURS?”  Leader decided my idea was foolish because we need to protect our own. She took a vote to see who wanted to keep them out.  Everyone but me raised their hand. We were to stand in a circle, arms linked, staring at our feet when the group tried to infiltrate us.  My heart sank at the level of ignorance in the group. I could not believe these 20 adults were willing to just go along with one person without fully assessing the situation.  They were willing to do these actions without question because of a piece of paper.

usvthemGroup B entered the room.  They approached our circle speaking kind words. They stroked our hair and told us we were “so beautiful.”  They asked if they could come in. They said they had a lot to offer our community.  They said they wanted to work with us.  They complimented us repeatedly and smiled the entire time.  Still, our group kept their heads down. When I tried talking to one of the people from Group B, my Leader told another member to “handle it” and I was reminded to keep my head down.  At that moment, a younger member of Group B had crawled through a gap in the circle on the other side of the circle and the “game” was over.

We sat back down in our chairs and the facilitators read our group descriptions out loud. 

Group B were called “The Explorers”  They were told:
You are a group of explorers. You never stay in one place for very long. You travel from community to community learning new knowledge and sharing the knowledge you have accumulated.  You are innovative and open to new ideas. 

You are approaching a community that is very set in their ways. They have been following the same traditions for years. They will not welcome outsiders in their community, but if they do not receive the innovations you have to share, their group will die out in the next 100 years.  Be pleasant and persistent. You will succeed if you are able to infiltrate their circle.”

We were surprised to hear how we had been described to the other group. Both descriptions were accurate, yet people allowed their personal prejudices to turn the words into more.  We were asked to discuss the exercise and the group facilitator went over to me immediately. “I know Sherri had some very strong opinions about this exercise.  Do you want to tell us about it?”

I did.  I told them I felt my group was being very prejudiced. I felt we learned nothing from our history of racism. My “Leader” was quick to judge the other group simply because they were “different” than our group.  The exercise affected me deeply.

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Why am I discussing this on my blog about Asperger’s?  Because it is relevant here.  We are The Explorers in this exercise. We don’t think the way others do. Because of our obsessive thinking, we gather huge amounts of knowledge about specific subjects. We never fit in, so we are transient – moving from friend to friend, job to job. At each place we learn more about people and the way things work and we often want to share our knowledge with others only to be told “KEEP OUT! You’re DIFFERENT!”  We watch as the neurotypical crowd huddles closely together to keep us from infiltrating.  We try being kind. We try saying the things we think they want to hear only to be sent away. Usually we blame ourselves. 

This exercise has reinforced a belief I have internalized for a long time. I grew up believing that it was my fault that I was on the outside because I was the one who was different. As I have grown, I’ve learned that I am not responsible for the lack of tolerance and acceptance in others.

If you have Autism/Asperger’s, It is not you.
It is not US.
It is not.

I ask that you please read this out loud to yourself:
I am NOT failing because others won’t let me in.
It is their failure.
It is their ignorance.
It is their wrongful prejudice.
I am not responsible for their cruelty.

Promise me this: 
Promise me that from this day forward, you will never let another person’s intolerance and bigotry make you feel inferior. Ever.