Tag Archives: Autism Spectrum Disorder

20 Jul ’13: The wolf in sheep’s clothing

A few books and blogs written by and for adult Aspie females have alluded to the fact that an alarmingly high percentage of females on the spectrum have reported having experienced sexual assault, molestation, rape and other forms of sexual abuse. This information was of great interest to me, as a survivor of similar, but it had never occurred to me that the incidents could possibly be related to my Asperger’s.

This topic was recently explored within a particularly close-knit online group of adult Aspie females and I was shocked, not only at the number of other women who had experienced some form of sexual abuse, but the sheer extent of some of the abuse tolerated. As stories were shared, we were all taken by surprise at the similarity of many of our situations and experiences. One conclusion that seems to be indisputable is that the Asperger trait of being unable to read non-verbal communication (and therefore unable to discern intent) and our tendency to be naïvely innocent and trusting of people, has resulted in dire consequences for many of us. Furthermore, the difficulty we experience in establishing connections with peers, and our general communication difficulties, mean we often don’t know who to tell or how to obtain support, so therefore continue to suffer in silence.

Respect for the privacy of my friends precludes me from writing about their specific examples here, so I will use my own experiences to illustrate my point.

I was sexually assaulted by a large (15+) group of boys in my high school toilet during one lunchtime when I was 14 years old. It was set up by two females who didn’t like me and persistently bullied me, most likely because of my AS traits. I didn’t perceive myself to be in any danger, even as the boys blocked my route, closed in on me and began pushing me backwards towards the gents toilets. Perhaps if I’d been able to read their intent, I’d have realised what was happening sooner and possibly made enough noise to have alerted help? Who knows. Subsequently, I was also coerced into sexual activity against my will by a few boys/men between the ages of 14 and 16, finally losing my carefully guarded virginity when I was raped by a boyfriend at 16. My literal interpretation and unquestioning acceptance of my misogynistic upbringing and Christian faith meant that I assumed I was now obliged to marry him. So I remained his girlfriend for three months, tolerating all manner of sexual abuse as he ‘trained’ me to meet his needs. That was, until he grew bored and moved on to the next girl, leaving me confused and devastated.

Most, if not all, of these situations could have been preventable if I had been able to read nonverbal communication.

This conclusion has also been reached by many of my fellow Aspergian female friends but as harrowing as many of their stories are, another character trait appears to emerge. Resilience. We each have our emotional (and in some cases, physical) scars but there is a resilience that I think could be born out of the AS tendency to process things logically, using intellectual rationalisation. Although, quite understandably, there is evidence of dissociation of various sorts and many of us have struggled to reclaim our own sexual identity and autonomy, there is still something so very uniquely pure, innocent, and irrepressibly frank in the recounting of these incidents that endears us to each other.

Discovering our common experiences and traits has been a very liberating experience. However there’s no escaping the fact that these incidents have had their impact. Speaking for myself, in my early 30s I was finally in the fortunate position of being able to undertake extensive psychotherapy to undo the damaging effects of my upbringing and experiences, but it wasn’t an easy process. It took two years of serious commitment and nearly cost me my marriage.

Now, as the mother of a young girl who also appears to have many AS traits, I find myself agonising over trying to strike a balance between leaving her to enjoy her childhood innocence and making sure she has learned the safety skills she may need, especially as she starts school soon and will no longer be fully under my watchful protection.

My own mother tells me of a terrifying moment for her, when I was nearly 3 years old. She was shopping and dropped my hand for a moment to pay at the till for something, then turned to look for me and saw me being led off towards a small passageway by a strange woman. Needless to say, I’ve already had the ‘stranger danger’ talk with my daughter and she is fully aware that there are a few circumstances when it is absolutely ok with mummy for her to kick, scream, bite, hit and run away from a stranger. At what point I extend that advice to include people she knows, who are behaving inappropriately towards her, I still haven’t decided. That requires explaining what is inappropriate. And at her current age, much ‘inappropriate’ behavior is still very innocent exploration. This is where I rely on my more neurotypical friends to keep me right. Their more typically developing children seem to acquire this knowledge and reserve quite naturally. I didn’t. I still often struggle to understand the unspoken societal rules surrounding some behavior and hope that people make allowances for me since I’m a ‘thespian’.

Hopefully I can prepare my daughter for the world a bit more thoroughly than my (very likely undiagnosed aspie) mother managed to prepare me.

Next post: The day after… a generation on

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Filed under Abuse, Aspergers Syndrome, Relationships, Sex, Uncategorized

1 Jul ’13: A new era of aspie therapy?

My last blog post kicked off a series of interesting posts in one of my aspie support facebook groups and a private message exchange with a fellow aspie girl (who, I’m sure, will be blogging about this too very soon!) has resulted in a bit of a lightbulb moment!

In my early aspie research, I was surprised to read that, due to sensory issues, many aspies don’t enjoy sex. Happily, I don’t have that particular issue, I think I may fall into the bracket of ‘sensory seeking’ in that department. It’s been somewhat reassuring to find out that I’m not alone in that.  Quite the reverse, in fact. In discussing sex as a stim, it came to light that many aspie ladies are enthusiastic participants in the BDSM scene.

The overwhelming exuberance of the discussion set my aspie pattern-seeking, finding-order-in-chaos, rationalisation-to-the-optimum-process brain into overdrive and the following question came to mind…

Is there a link between sex as an autistic stim, Proprioceptive sensory dysfunction and enjoyment of being restrained during sex?

This was quickly followed by another question…

If so, could the carefully structured experience of bondage, coupled with the emotional and physical release of orgasm, offset impending autistic meltdowns in adults?

It’s an interesting theory, is it not? And oh what fun to research! 😀

Could this herald a new era of autism intervention? Is there an emerging market for a new style of adult autistic sensory equipment? Is my husband going to freak out when I ask for his assistance in my research? Lol

To be continued… 😉

***

A day or so after I published this post, my aspie friend had a bad day and could feel a meltdown building. She sought support from our facebook group so I suggested she test out my theory. She did… and it worked! 🙂 This was her comment the following day:

“I feel great this morning! We had a great BDSM session last night. Even tried a couple of new things that we hadn’t tried before. I needed the rope really tight where I felt anxiety and tension (across my chest). Afterwards my husband gave me a shoulder massage. I felt so relaxed. All the tension, tightness, build up of energy and emotions in my body was gone. It was all released in a good way. I don’t have that horrible ‘full’ overloaded feeling in my body either. I slept really well too. I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately and this was the first night I slept really well. I feel refreshed and renewed this morning. Normally if I’ve had a meltdown I would be drained, tired and feel horrible but all the energy would be released from my body. I would probably sink into a depressive meltdown (depending how bad the other meltdown was) and then spend the next week trying to recover from both. But this time that didn’t happen. I feel great and like a new person.”

I was so pleased for her and even more curious now myself.

You can read my friend’s own blog post about this here: Fetishes and Autism

Next post: The wolf in sheep’s clothing

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Filed under Aspergers Syndrome, Relationships, Sex

12 Jun ’13: To be or not to be…?

I read an interesting blog earlier about the chameleon-like tendencies autistic women have and it set me thinking about my own role playing in life.

I’m a professional actor/singer.  It used to be a full time job but since becoming a mother (another role for another blog!), I just work weekends in a band.  My husband is a musician and plays in the band with me.  He once told me that when we first started dating, he would feel resentful watching my outgoing, flirtatious onstage manner vanish as soon as we finished the gig and got home.  He eventually realised, however, that I put on this extraverted, overconfident character in much the same way that I put on my stage makeup, and that it was an entirely different persona from the woman I really am.  He no longer expects me to maintain this charade at all times and I, in return, try to remember to bring out this alter ego at times for his amusement!

When I talk about ‘performance’ in a gig situation, I don’t just mean onstage. The ‘performance’ begins the moment I step out of the dressing room to face the public. In that respect it’s not much different from my ‘performance’ in other roles (when I worked in an office environment, for example, or when I go to play dates with my children). The common factor is that I need private time to prepare beforehand and a lot of down time afterwards to decompress. It’s why I’m so obsessive about making sure we have a private dressing room on gigs and that I allow enough time to follow my ritualistic preparation routine. It’s also why I’m usually completely wiped out the following day.

We play at many weddings. Thankfully, the obligatory small talk with the bride usually follows one of a small selection of ‘scripts’, with enough predictability to enable most of my resources to remain focused on maintaining a plausible amount of eye contact. Recognising my client throughout the evening, however, can be troublesome because I also have mild prosopagnosia – a condition whereby I don’t use typical facial cues to recognise people (such as subtle distances between eyes, nose and mouth, etc) but other cues (such as hair, height, build and apparel). This strategy generally works ok but let me down recently at a civil partnership wedding between two men. In the absence of a reliable cue (such as the big white dress!), I struggled to identify either partner the entire evening and had to keep asking bar staff and band members to point them out to me!

As far as onstage performance goes, this is generally high reward for not too much effort. I have a large number of pre-prepared scripts, jokes and carefully rehearsed ad-libs to keep the evening running like clockwork. I’m an aspie who does actually seek connection with people and this is one way I get to obtain that, on mass, on my own ‘safe’ terms. I’ve been doing most of this the same way, successfully, for 10 years. The band is a slickly running outfit with each member playing their part. Incidentally, we reckon many of the members of our band are aspies (or at least have many aspie traits!). I think it’s one of the reasons why we work so well together. We are each obsessed with perfecting our part and all enjoy the buzz of connection as a whole. Just don’t get us started on one of our special interests! 😉

This heavy reliance on role play to function in every day situations is repeated in many other areas of my life. I see where I seek out roles that let me connect, but with clearly defined boundaries and purpose, thus reducing the need for the scary improvised small talk that threatens to expose my weaknesses. Weaknesses that include attention deficit, delayed auditory processing and inability to read non verbal communication. Through these structured interactions, I meet most of my needs for companionship. The connection with and validation of my authentic self is now largely met through closed facebook groups for other adult women with aspergers.

Next post: Let’s talk about…

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Filed under Aspergers Syndrome, Mimicry, Relationships, Role Play, Work

2 Jun ’13: The day after

Yesterday, an 8 month long process of evaluation ended with the news that I have been officially diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Looking back, I can now see a lifetime of signs that were missed; from twirling, humming, rigidity and obsessive interests to being bullied, eating disorders, depression and loneliness.

But why bother having an official diagnosis now, at this stage of my life, when a self diagnosis would have been enough?

Because Asperger Syndrome is hereditary.  My daughter is showing some traits and I can’t bear to watch her tumble and fall into the same black holes.  The sad fact remains that the current diagnosis criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorders, worldwide, is wholly based upon research with autistic males, who present very differently from autistic females.  Until more females on the spectrum are diagnosed and prepared to add their voices and experience to the pool of knowledge available, many more (particularly high functioning) autistic girls and women are going to be missed (or misdiagnosed) and continue stumbling blindly along in life wondering why they feel like they are on the wrong planet.

But that’s not the only reason.  I seek confirmation, validation.  Discovering I have Aspergers Syndrome has finally answered all of my questions.  More than half of my life, and a not inconsiderable sum of money, have been given over to extensive research and therapy to find out what is ‘wrong’ with me.  I now know that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with me, I’m simply different.  I perceive the world differently.  My brain is wired differently.  I have difficulties in some areas, gifts in others.  The relief is immense.  As immense as the burden of responsibility I now feel towards my young daughter.

I find myself wondering how different my life would have been if I had been diagnosed as a young child?  Would it have held me back?  Would I have limited myself?  Would I be the same person I am today?  I’m quite proud of many things, especially now I realise how much harder life has been for me compared with the more neurotypical population.  But there has been tremendous cost along the way. 

Do I wish I had been diagnosed as a child? 

Yes.

Next post: To be or not to be…

Other related links

Profile of adult females with Aspergers

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Filed under Aspergers Syndrome, Diagnosis, Relationships