Sometimes – my memory being short and this blog being long – I have to do a quick search when I’m planning a post to see if I’ve done it before. But a quick entry into the box brought zero results so we’re on for today’s title, which is of course a parody of James Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’ Before I’d read either I used to confuse it with the Henry James novel ‘Portrait of a Lady’, which could hardly be more different. But I digress. Today’s post is linked to my upcoming short story ‘Alien’ (working title) about an alien coming to earth in human shape and trying to fit in. This is not so much sci-fi as psychological narrative: the experience of being slightly autistic, or feeling that you might be, is analogous to being an alien among humans.
I’d better say at once that I’ve never had a diagnosis of autism, and I’m far from certain that I am actually ‘on the spectrum’; however I did a fairly lengthy test online which indicated that I might have some autistic features. Be that as it may, if I were to have autistic traits it would certainly explain such things as my total failure in many situations to know what the hell is going on. It explains the prevalence of so-called ‘tumbleweed moments’ where I say what is on my mind and there’s a prolonged awkward silence.
In such situations I am reliant on people telling me what I’ve said wrong, otherwise I don’t have a clue – but people mostly don’t want to do that because it’s the social equivalent of breaking the fourth wall; in other words, of shattering the social veneer and admitting what is going on underneath.
At other times it isn’t so much my words as my manner. Like many a ‘Professor Branestawm’ type I get carried away by subjects sometimes: I get a passionate gleam in my eye; I lean forward and converse animatedly, I go on and on. It’s much easier for people to get this if you are obviously a geek (which nine times out of ten means being male) but alas, if you’re a woman talking like this to a bloke they’re likely to think it’s a come-on, and this really drives me crazy. I’ve even had women on occasion think I was coming on to them: and in one case I didn’t find out why I’d lost a friend for ages afterwards.
To summarise: I often find social norms baffling. Everyone else seems to share a series of assumptions to which I have no access. When I say something out of line the usual reaction is a tumbleweed moment, and I rarely get anyone to explain to me what I’ve said, though sometimes I figure it out afterwards. I find all this very difficult.
Should be a good story I think: sometimes I wish I looked more like a geek so people would know what to expect. But then I wouldn’t be so pretty. Ho ho.
Perhaps I should get this lovely t-shirt:
Lazy Carrot t-shirts: image removed on request
5 thoughts on “Portrait of the Autist as a Young Woman”
We’re all on the spectrum somewhere, and when I do the online test I am always quite a way above the threshold. But it was only when I read Chris Packham’s Fingers in the Sparkle Jar (I posted a review) that I realised what having Aspergers is really like, and I don’t think I come anywhere near.
I’m sure you’re right and I don’t make any special claims. It’s just a way of understanding myself that helps me and sometimes helps others to understand me
I too, according to an online test, have some traits. I think I am more awkward in social situations, while I kind of feel comfortable in my weirdness; perhaps finding the challenge I place on others (to think outside their box) something interesting to ponder later on. And this is typically what I do; I’ll find myself in such a situation and then afterwards replay it in my mind to consider what went on and how things could have been different.
I agree with you about the challenge; I think sometimes I have influenced people in ways that would not normally have happened. The problem is I find the awkwardness excruciating and I can’t seem to get past this
I think I just avoid putting myself in situations I would expect to be so awkward in; it’s just random situations that catch me out from time-to-time, and work stuff that I battle through.