Aspies: if I know it, everyone knows it

One of the most difficult things for a young Aspie to grasp is that not everyone has access to the same information, nor is everyone taught the same rules for everything.  Even a mature Aspie, who is aware and tries to be mindful of it, can easily fall into this ‘trap’ and leave out bits of information that are ‘obvious’…

Let me back up a little:

Aspies, especially young ones, have difficulty understanding that not everyone reasons from the same baseline, has access to exactly the same information, using the same ‘rules’ as they do. 

It is hard to understand that ‘available’ information would be denied or inaccessible to others.  The corollary also holds true:  many young Aspies have a hard time understanding that information beyond what they know may be available to others…as in, that they do not have all the available information.

Predictably, this may lead to confusion – and frustration, misunderstandings, resentment, self-doubt…. 

I remember reading that one of the very early childhood tests for Aspergers is to take a candy box and ask the child what is inside.  The child will answer ‘candy’.  Then, the therapist (person administering the test) opens the candy box to reveal that there is a crayon inside instead of candy.  Now – this is the tricky bit – if the therapist were to ask the child at this point:  ‘If your mom came in and I asked her where the crayon is, where do you think she’d start looking for it?’

While many children would understand ‘the joke’ (it’s not really a joke, as it only satisfies the ‘unexpected’ or ‘secret knowledge’ aspect, which alone is insufficient to constitute a joke, but many ‘neurotypicals’, especially children, often mistake it for one),  the Aspie kids expected their mom to go directly towards the candy box to find the crayon

This is an illustration of the Aspie ‘if I know this, then everyone knows this’ blindspot.  It is becauseof this very inability of young Aspies to differentiate between ‘I know’ and ‘everyone knows’ that many ‘specialists’ do not consider us capable of ‘higher abstract reasoning’. 

Predictably, I think them stupid (this was the mildest word I could bring myself to use) for this patronizing, self-centered presumption:  Aspies are capable of extremely abstract reasoning!  Plus, most Aspies do learn this differentiation – perhaps using a different part of the brain than ‘average’ people, but we do learn it.  Perhaps we learn it at a higher age, and some of us learn it more easily than others.  Perhaps some of us learn it at an intellectual level, but still have a difficulty applying it at a mundane, practical lever… but this is NOT an indication of an inability to self-conceptualize, to ‘differentiate’ between ‘the self’ and ‘others’, as many misguided ‘specialists’ condescendingly and erroneously attempt to suggest!

So, having (hopefully) established that this ‘blindspot’ is not what many ‘experts’ pretend it is, it is still very important for Aspies and for people interacting with Aspies to be aware of this.

Many times, people think Aspies ‘arrogant’ for presuming that everyone ‘ought to’ hold the same views.  The corollary is that the Aspie may view the failure of other people to gather the same information, follow the same reasoning process (at this has ‘definite rules’) and arrive at the same conclusion to be a sign of inferior intelligence in other people.  After all, the Aspie followed this process without any difficulty – why couldn’t everyone else?  Or, perhaps more accurately, why wouldn’t everyone else do the same? 

It is not an attempt at being ‘haughty’ or putting other people down – the Aspie may simply not understand why other people would not follow the rules of reasoning to arrive at the same conclusion as they had.  So, either the person has chosen not to follow the rules of reasoning – and Aspies like to stick to their rules – or that person is unable to follow the process….  You can see how that could cause the Aspie to ‘appear haughty’.

It may alienate peers, care-providers or educators and make them not want to help the Aspie.  After all, they are trying to help this person, and getting this attitude in return! It may make the Aspie appear ‘arrogant’ and to ‘lack empathy’ – something that has also often been erroneously asserted about us by ‘specialists’ who do more harm than good  by misunderstanding their observations of Aspies and than basing great, sweeping theories on these misunderstandings.  If you ask me, they have failed to follow the reasoning process correctly!

I am not saying that adult Aspies should be excused for not properly compensating for this known aspect of ‘Aspieness’.  However, when kids are young, it would be unreasonable to expect them to have developed coping mechanisms to deal with this, as they may be too young to even understand that this is happening, or that it is something they should try to compensate for….  So, understanding the root of this attitude is important in order to not discourage people from helping – and also in teaching the young Aspie what is happening and how to compensate for it.

If the Aspie is not taught (or does not learn on their own) this lesson, they will never understand why it is that their ‘reasoning’ is ‘always out of step’ with everyone else’s.  This is not a healthy way to grow up. 

Either the Aspie will ‘learn’ that they are an ‘idiot’ whose ‘reasoning’ cannot be trusted.  After all, everyone else came to a different conclusion – and either the Aspie thinks, or someone close to them pointedly tells them that ‘it is higly unlikely that the Aspie is right and the rest of the world is wrong’.  In this case they will spend the rest of their life always doubting themselves and thinking their ‘reasoning’ skills to be faulty and untrustworthy. 

Or it might set up an expectation that the ‘rest of the world’ cannot be trusted and one must hide their opinions from it.  After all, every time you tell people your opinions, you are told you are being rude and then are ostracized.  Either way, speaking your mind causes people to be angry at you – so you learn not to.

Or, it may breed a complete contempt for the rest of the world in the young Aspie.  Or something similarly self-isolating…

Either way, it is not going to lead to the development of a  ‘healthy’ sense of ‘self’ for the young Aspie.  I do not know what the ideal solution to this is – or what the best ‘compensating behaviour’ would be, as these tend to differ from one Aspie to another.  The right age at which the Aspie is ready to deal with it may also differ greatly.   But, the ‘frustration levels’ of both the Aspie and the Aspie’s caretakers, educators and friends may all be reduced if this ‘blindspot’ is understood and addressed.

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13 Responses to “Aspies: if I know it, everyone knows it”

  1. Rae Ann Says:

    “if I know this, then everyone knows this”

    All my life, even now, I find myself thinking this same thing. It is sometimes difficult to remember that not everyone knows or thinks like me. I’ve never been diagnosed with Aspergers, but maybe I am one. From what I’ve read here it would explain lots of things.

    Xanthippa says:

    I’m glad this was helpful! Please, keep in mind that ‘Aspergers’ is not one of those ‘on/off’ things. When you have the flu virus – you have the flu. If you do not have it – you do not have the flu.

    Aspergers is a set of ‘traits’ which are presents to some degree within every member of the population… What makes it a ‘syndrome’ is just a measure of the degree…

    Sort of like ‘fat’. If you are ‘fat’ – you can be a little fat – but still have some ‘subcutaneous blubber’. Or you can be ‘obese’. Or you can be ‘morbidly obese’. Now, a ‘fat’ person just ‘this side’ of the ‘obese chart’ will be more like a person who is ‘just that side’ of that chart – they will be more similar to each other than to the ‘morbidly obese’ person – but one of them qualifies as ‘obese’ and the other one does not….

    Am I making any sense here? It sounded much clearer in my head: Obviously, IF it makes sense to ME, it MUST make sense to EVERYBODY!!! ;0)

  2. Flamingo Steve Says:

    Too true! It really does feel like I’m from another planet. It seems hard to believe that I speak the same language as those around me!

    I think that it’s a combination of the above. There are some things that Western society really IS wrong about. There are some things that Aspies are wrong about individually, and there are some things, of course, that NTs get wrong too. And there are some things our NT neighbor may know that simply aren’t getting through to us, or vice versa, because we think in different ways.

    While it isn’t arrogance to assume that everyone is wrong, it isn’t the first assumption that should be arrived at. It has happened in history in terms of empirical science (the earth is spherical, and it revolves around the sun. Things like that), but in daily living it’s best to try to come to an understanding first.

    As for speaking out, I must admit that I’m still trying to find a balance. I’m still not sure when the right time to speak out is and when to remain silent; it’s partially fear-motivated, but I also wonder what my opinion can add to the other person’s understanding. If I am about to speak in anger, I wait a few moments before I’m about to speak; if it retains some sort of ethical importance, I’ll pipe in.

  3. sjbraun Says:

    I enjoyed reading this. My husband has Aspergers (he doesn’t know it). We’ve been married 12 years and in the past few I figured out his diagnosis. It’s really rough, especially because we have 3 kids and I feel like I always have to explain his behavior to them.

    Thanks!
    Susan
    http://www.girlsinwhitedresses.wordpress.com

  4. Jeffrey Deutsch Says:

    Hello Xanthippa,

    That’s an excellent post about how Aspie thought patterns can, if expressed inappropriately, foul up relationships with NTs.

    I’ve blogged about it (and linked back to this page) here. In general, I write about how Aspies and autists can relate better to NTs – and vice versa.

    Hat-tip to Miss Aspielicious for pointing me here.

    Please, keep up the good work Xanthippa!

    Jeff Deutsch

  5. mama mara Says:

    Found you via Jeff Deutsch, and I’m so glad. As the parent of an Aspie teen who falls in the “contempt for everyone who doesn’t think like him” category, I hope one day my son will be ready to deal with this “blind spot”. You give me hope!

  6. Nick Says:

    Wow … no wonder going through the internet / blog-o-sphere for thousands and thousands of hours has made life so difficult.

    Can you imagine what happens when an Aspie web developer meets isolation and internet truth movement? Ugh.

    Xan says: Yes, I can. ‘Ugh’ indeed…

    But remember: it may be a curse – but it is also a gift!

  7. Hoyt Famayl Says:

    The hardest bit is when you realize just how stupid Neurot’s are. THEN it gets really confusing – what’s correct? What’s false? It really causes a whole new inward journey. The fact that we can generally see through a whole gordian knot like its glass, and these mud-apes CAN’T, comes as a real shock on its first realization. And then you realize it goes deeper… and deeper… and deeper. I now wake up in the mornings not wondering if I’ll ever be a Real Boy, I wake up wondering how in hell Neuts survive day to day without killing themselves with sharp objects, electrical devices and being around vehicles.

    Xanthippa says:

    Aspie pride!!!!!

  8. Kendra Wagner Says:

    Triple Thank-you’s for your candid and straight shot advice. I am writing inside of an old blog post, because it is about writing. And that is my “baby.” (except that I just started a sentence with “And.”) I teach kids with LD to read and write, and do parent presentations, and am a bit of a conference junkie, mostly in the LD, Dyslexia, and ADD circuit, but, just like an addict, I tell myself I will stop and only go if I am paid to present. But then I give in and go back on the wagon and attend, eat fritos and drink Sanka, and learn a lot. I LOVE what you have clarified about the Aspie mind and writing. I have been able to sift some of this knowledge into my teaching, one-on-one, but parents still pressure their children so greatly it is hard to coach them to tone this down. So I am clasping hands together in prayer to seek this communication’s way to you, because I would like to get a PUSH going on self publishing my book on all of this, and am looking for some contributors.

    Kendra Wagner
    http://www.readingwritingthinking.net
    http://tamingtheoctopus-themanyarmsofwriting.blogspot.com/

    • Angel Says:

      As usual, this is insightful material. My first husband is an Aspie, hence, so is my son. In one of the essays my son wrote, he described the early difficulties he had developing a sense of “self.” I believe that if this confusion is dealt with when it first becomes obvious (somewhere between the ages of six and eight, when the child is old enough and already compensating fairly effectively), some basic exercises in self examination help a lot. For example, my seven-year-old son would tell me the dreams he had the night before and I would write them down in his “dreambook.” We followed this with a discussion of the contents of his mind. Why did the characters in his dreams do things that sometimes surprised him? If dream were his own inventions, why would he ever have a scary dream? What was his mind doing when he wasn’t looking? This is a general question that can be asked anytime. What are you thinking? What do you think I’m thinking? My son is now seventeen and popular at school. He has better social skills than his father has now. His father doesn’t know, until after the fact, when he is insulting or perceived as a bully. And that’s not at all what he’s about. He said to me once that people he knows often say, “You’re a nice guy, now that I know you.” “That has to mean that I make a dreadful first impression,” he told me. Obviously, after the age of six, any substantial confusion between “self” and “other” is gone. But, at least in my ex-husband’s case, some residual confusion remained. To this day, my brilliant ex has managed to get himself fired from every high-level job he’s ever had and can’t communicate with our son. He’s now hiding behind this “phony” persona that he’s cultivated since I left him, and most people find his personality “artificial,” so they stay away, but at least they are indifferent instead of disliking him. Had I known about Aspergers when we were married, we might still be together. But small misunderstandings snowballed and I felt that he was, at every turn, actively trying to hurt my feelings. My anger mounted, and he couldn’t explain why he said such cruel things to me. It also seemed that he didn’t recognize my “personhood.” I finally felt so inadequate that I had to leave. It was heartbreaking for both of us and we never really understood it, until my son’s diagnosis, when my ex was diagnosed himself. Too late for our marriage, but, thankfully not too late for my son. I am passionate about techniques for coping with Aspergers because I’ve lived through happy and sad outcomes for the people I loved most in the world.

      Xanthippa says:
      Thank you for sharing!

  9. Juggernaut Says:

    This is very true, Xan!

    Aspies often do have this fault. They assume that since they know something, that other people must. The flaw, in my opinion, based on observation, reading and personal experience as an Aspie, is lack of mindfulness and consideration of the other person’s circumstances and needs.

    And this doesn’t come from a sociopathic lack of caring nor does it come from any ill will. It comes from a genuine sense of forgetfulness. Training your mind to take into great consideration other people’s wants and needs is something that takes time. Our minds aren’t wired like that, but they can be rewired if you are willing to take initiative to do something about it. It’s something that I’ve trained myself to do and it was well worth the effort.

    This is a lesson Aspies need to learn because having too much pride for self-improvement doesn’t change or better anything.

  10. angelofletters Says:

    I admire you for learning so many hard lessons. My ex-husband, like every other Aspie I have known, is very smart, and he would have willingly worked on fixing his “blind spot,” if he had known, during our marriage, that he had unusual “wiring.” After all, it was the unnamed source of painful alienation throughout his childhood. I knew that he suffered, but thought his suffering was self-inflicted, so I didn’t sympathize. Now I know that Aspies are doing their best and that, no matter how hostile they seem, they have no intention of hurting anyone. To the contrary, they have to try harder than other people to make and keep their human connections. It’s too late for my marriage and I really regret that. I wish I had understood how hard he was trying to be accepted and loved. Ours is a truly heartbreaking story. Maybe I’ll write about it in detail some day (I have already written a book about my son). My heart goes out to you, Juggernaut, for all you have suffered and learned. Sometimes stories like yours are so close to home that I find them almost unbearable.

  11. angelofletters Says:

    Hi, Xan
    A friend of mine is writing a newspaper on Aspergers. She asked me what neurotypicals could do to communicate better with those on the autistic spectrum. What are your thoughts?

    Xanthippa says:

    Hmmmm – this is a difficult question because it presumes that all Aspies have identical communications problems – and we don’t, so that’s important to keep in mind. Still, there are patterns that we can work from.

    1. Say what you mean – don’t ‘send signals’. We’ll likely not pick up on those signals and, if they are part of the message, we’ll miss it.

    2. Be honest – we’ll take ‘little white lies’ at face value and believe that is your true opinion.

    3. Don’t freak out when we’re honest.

    4. If you have to ask questions like ‘Do you know what I mean?’, then we probably don’t.

    5. When we ask for clarification, please, please, don’t just repeat the same sentence as before, as if that would somehow explain things – use different words, clarify and explain!

    6. Don’t tell us how you feel, tell us what you think – we rely on intelligent people using their thoughts to override their feelings. Especially if the conversation is about issues and real-world stuff, if someone starts their sentence with ‘I feel that …’ – boom, we’ve tuned out.

    7. Same thing with ‘beliefs’ – if you cannot support it with facts, then it’s just a prejudice and we’ll resent you imposing your prejudices on us. So, unless we are specifically discussing ‘beliefs’, sentences starting with ‘I believe that…’ are not only meaningless, they are annoying.

    8. Don’t give us a choice unless you expect us to make a choice freely. If it’s a thinly veiled threat – we’ll simply see it as a choice you gave us and be bewildered if you get angry that we’ve actually made a choice, when you clearly offered us a choice.

    I hope this is a good start!

    • angelofletters Says:

      A very good start! I asked this of everyone in an Aspergers/autism support group that I joined recently. As you said, I’m not getting identical answers, but consistent patterns. Yours is the most comprehensive and specific response I’ve gotten so far. Why am I not surprised by that . . . ?


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