Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Aspergers and Social Interaction 101 - a lecture & vent

As I've mentioned before, my love of Urban Fantasy extends beyond books. I also love the show Supernatural, and as part of that love fest I follow several of the actors on twitter. One of those actors is Jim Beaver, who plays Bobby Singer. From following him, I learned he has a 10 yr. old daughter who is very much like my son. And by that I mean she's been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder but has learned enough coping skills to blend in and get by.

So recently, she (because I'm betting she's highly intelligent) figured out how to access her father's twitter feed. And for some reason, some of his followers decided to attack her and her father for it. I'm not privy to  the tweets others sent her. I've read one, tho, and that was enough to make my blood boil.

How did this woman, who's twitter name I won't mention, respond to this 10 yr. old? "Tell your dad that me & many others like me will stop following him unless you get off his twitter account." WTF?!

This person then went on to tweet to Jim "I'm unfollowing you cos that thing with Maddie caused me grief from other people. And also cos you've become a boring old man."

Now, you'd assume this was some sort of troll. But she's not. She's someone who loves Supernatural (from other tweets), but felt inclined to attack a 10 yr. old girl and her father over something trivial like a kid tweeting on their parent's feed. I'm astounded. And yet I shouldn't be. Because I'm all too familiar with people like her. I deal with them on a daily basis.

So, I'm doing this post in the hopes that she reads it. And I'm calling it...


Aspergers is a hidden disability (and trust me, I hate that word "disability", but for this post I'll use it). By that I mean that people with Aspergers look just like you or me. But they are not the same. Their difference is in how their brain operates. It's like being a Mac computer in a PC world. You can make most software compatible if you know what you're doing, but some things just won't work no matter how hard you try. And the way you process information is completely different, which can cause malfunctions if input is PC friendly, but not Mac friendly.

The biggest issue for people with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism is social interaction. Most people understand the nuances of facial expressions and non-verbal language. We learn it almost instinctively. But for people on the spectrum it's nearly impossible. They have to learn social rules and interactions like the rest of us learn ABC's. I'll give you an example:

On Monday, Billy is playing with Joe outside. The sun is shining. Joe has a ball and Billy wants it. So Billy takes it. Mrs. Jones, their teacher, intervenes. She tells Billy that Joe had the ball first and that's he can't just take it. Typically developed kids will learn from that interaction that they can't take things from people. BUT for a kid on the spectrum, this means literally on Monday when he's outside and the sun is shining he can't take the ball from Joe. Does it mean he can't take it on Tuesday? Or what if it's a block? Or it's Daisy? Or it's raining? All new scenarios that have NO connection. So what might take a typically developed child 2-3 times to grasp the concept "don't grab things away from people" could take a spectrum kid 20 to 200 times to learn - IF YOU'RE LUCKY!

Another example: My son's 1st grade teacher had a rule "we will raise our hands". She could not understand why he kept calling out to her and having meltdowns when she didn't immediately respond to him. Until I read the rule. I rewrote it (on a sheet she pasted to his desk). "When we need the teacher's help, we will raise our hand. We will not call out to her. We will wait quietly for our turn for her to help us. We understand this may take a long time. We will be patient." Now, that may seem like a lot, but after I re-wrote the rule and went over it every day with him before school for a week, she only had occasional problems with him.

Now imagine how complex social interactions get as you get older. 

Next, imagine how many people (and I'm talking full grown adults) give a kid who struggles with proper social interaction a hard time because they look normal, so they should get it. I can't even begin to tell you how many friends and family members suggested ways for me to "teach" my kid (which usually included physical punishments). Never mind the strangers in the mall!

Now imagine how cruel other kids would be to a kid who can't interact socially with them - a kid who is socially awkward, doesn't understand when someone likes them or not, doesn't see when someone isn't interested in what they're talking about, doesn't get when someone is making fun of them. A nightmare, right?!? My son is 16. He had NO friends until 3rd grade, one - ONE - friend from 3rd-6th grade, NO friends 7th & 8th grade, and finally a small group of friends in 9th grade.

NOW imagine a slew of people attacking a little girl on Twitter because she was probably incredibly lonely and she figured out how to access her father's account so that she could talk to people. She was probably thrilled that she was talking to people. But when these "fans" could have chosen to chat nicely with her or just ignored her tweets, they instead chose to attack her viciously. And then went on to attack her father because he didn't "teach" her not to do it.

To those people, I say this: Until you walk in our shoes, until you see the social ostricization that our kids endure on a daily basis, until you see the toll it takes on them emotionally, until you sit with them while they cry because they are SO lonely and people keep being HATEFUL to them, until you get what it's like to live day in and day out as a person with Aspergers - SHUT THE FUCK UP AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

Go look at your kids and count yourself BLESSED that they don't suffer what our kids do. While you're worrying about soccer practice times, we're worrying about whether our kid is going to need physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, medication, etc etc because people like you make the world a difficult, unfriendly place for them. While you're planning birthday parties, we're planning Individual Education Plans. While you're imagining weddings, we're imagining group homes and us not being there someday.

And the worst part about all of this?? Jim Beaver didn't get to tell his daughter that she had a disability in the loving way he should have been allowed to - no, he tweeted to these people to leave her alone because she had a disability and SHE READ THE TWEET. I can't even imagine how devastating that was for him.  She was crushed and she thought he didn't love her. And these people kept right on tweeting telling her things that should ONLY be coming from her father. How dare they?!

To those people who caused Jim and his daughter such stress, I say you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. What could have been an outpouring of friendly tweets that made a little girl feel accepted and good about herself (while gently suggesting she should ask her dad's permission to tweet as him) instead crushed her. And probably crushed him as well. Why don't you go kick some puppies now, you idiots?

You know what's wrong with Aspergers? Nothing. I have never met a person on the spectrum who was anything but kind, respectful, generous, funny, sweet and a joy to be around. I can't say the same for the rest of society. 

Okay, I'm done. I'll shut up now.


  1. Yet another reason why I don't want to go anywhere near Twitter.

  2. Holy crap. I go on twitter once week if I'm lucky... I figured out from the post you mentioned thAt something had happened but not what. Poor maddie and Jim

    People are cruel. And when the contact is relatively anonymous, they're worse. Was Everyone that bad? Surely there must have been some sane people. Some days, I fear for humanity .

    For people who claim to be fans, I see very little understNding or respect for the man and his family.