Monday, January 9, 2012

Do You Have Asperger's Syndrome?

I once had a friend who couldn't spell.

Not like normal can't spell, but like over-the-top insayne hadd too sownd out eetch lettr and than tipe it evry time couldn't spell.

Learning disability.

And he was in a business where text messaging and chatting and doing shit fast was the best way to get things done-so spell check was not an option.

In real life he was an intelligent and articulate sounding person, but on the page his disability (plus a sort of tendency toward oblique hipster code, perhaps developed over time as a defense mechanism around his spelling) made you expect--if you never knew him--that you were about to meet Bennett.

But despite all this trouble living in a wired and therefore text-centric world, he did a fine job of it and did well and convinced many people to do many things via the written word and was eminent in his field.

His secret was: he told you that he couldn't spell. First message he'd go: "Sory I hav a lerning disbility I cant spel, forgive me. Now onto bizness: wear will you be on tha 25th?"

And it worked fine. People didn't assume he was a moron or too lazy or disrespectful to run spell check, they just went, oh he has that thing, let's move on.

So now Asperger's Syndrome.

I don't have it, nor do I know anyone in real life who does (EDIT: now I do). Or knows they do anyway.

What I knew about it before I started D&D blogging comes from Mandy--who is an expert on all physical and mental maladies--and a Fantastic Four comic book.

(For those of you who don't know, the shorty is: Asperger's Syndrome is a kind--maybe range--of subtle autism that makes people think kinda like robots and have a hard time socializing. I hope I got that right, apologizing in advance if I didn't.)

Anyway, I don't know if it is provably true that the D&D community contains way more people with Asperger's than the art world, the porn world, or the literature world but I sure know that my email inbox contained zero references before this blog existed and now it comes up all the time. Anecdotally: I have way more contacts from outside the D&D world than in it but all references I've heard to the syndrome are within that social circle.

So: some people with Asperger's are really cool. They send me stuff, they talk to me about what they're working on and what I'm working on and are usually indistinguishable from everyone else aside from maybe they send longer emails. And they appreciate rigor and precision, which is always nice.

(A few have weird reactions to my art. There is apparently some connection between autism and the perception of detail and a handful of people with autism tend to have an intense-love or panicky-fear reaction to my more elaborate pictures.)

However, once in a while we have a conversation like this:

Them: "(something I don't understand)"
Me: "I don't get it. How does (whatchamajigger) relate to (whosamacallit)?"
Them: "(Wall-of-text-that-sounds-technical-but-is-actually-easy-to-understand-but-doesn't-actually-explain-anything)"
Me: "Thanks, I know that already. But I still don't get how blah blah blah"
Them: "(Exact same wall of text)"
Me: "No, I mean I know that, I don't think you're listening, I just...Ok, this might be an Asperger's thing."
Them: "Yeah, probably, skip it."

What's striking about this conversation is that, other than the last two parts, this conversation precisely resembles the beginning of an insane, endless Internet argument.

This is because, this behavior--
"Request for explanation"
"Request for clarification of explanation"
"Exact same explanation again ignoring what you just said"

--is, outside Asperger's, mostly commonly found in:

-People who are hiding something and hoping that if they just keep saying the same thing over and over the other party won't notice (most notably politicians and press agents)
-Internet trolls

Of course, these email exchanges with people I've met do not result in insane internet arguments because I know the person I'm talking to has Asperger's. Because they said it. So it's cool and whatever.

This is presumably a known fact within the Asperger's community but I'll just reiterate it here: if the person you're talking to (even online) doesn't know you have Asperger's then it is very easy for certain conversational tics to be mistaken for idiocy, bad faith, or trolling.

Now, from what I understand, five things are true:

-Within the Asperger's community, socializing on-line is generally pro-indicated as a way of meeting people and having conversations in a less risky environment
-A lot of people in the RPG community have Aspergers
-A lot of people in the RPG community get into fights over interesting-but-not-important things because one party thinks the other is an idiot, a liar, or trolling
-The local cluster of people around the OSR and DIY D&D communities is a bunch of cool people who will be understanding if you tell them you have Asperger's before getting into any kind of complex rhetorical thing with them and will understand that, despite communications problems, you may be smart, honest and talking in good faith even though it doesn't seem like it at first

Now I don't know what the official therapeutic line on it is (and maybe this is the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do, in which case I apologize now), but I'd just like to ask, on behalf of everyone in DIY D&D: if you do have Asperger's, please go ahead and say that, especially if you sense you're getting involved in any kind of heated conversation. It'll lower the temperature considerably and make things you say easier for the other person to understand and head off trouble.

And if you do that and anybody has a problem with you having AS and gives you any shit about it, they are invited to go fuck themselves. We will back you up 100%.


RobChandler said...

Reading this, it has dawned on me that perhaps one member of my regular gaming group may have this condition. He's basically a friend of a friend of mine from my primary gaming group who has recently joined in our sessions. He either doesn't know he has it, or has failed to let anyone know...or is maybe just an idiot.

Anyway...its interesting to see that you apparently interact with enough of these people in the gaming circles to warrant a post about it. I am anxiously awaiting your post on dealing with folks with outstanding Scotish genes though.

Unknown said...


Matt Finch said...

My son has Aspergers -- it's one of the things that people with the syndrome are advised to do, letting people know up front.

Dr Vesuvius said...

Until losing my job last year, I worked in IT, and it's definitely true that a lot of people in that industry exhibit behavior that sits somewhere on the Aspergers-Autism spectrum. Even the cool, well socialised types tend to have their own quirks. I've never known anyone to be openly Asbergers, but that could be a British thing - we tend to be a lot less open about health issues and especially mental health issues.

Zak - (read this next sentence, take a deep breath then read it again so you don't misunderstand me.) As an aside, I've always thought a lot of your art looked like it was drawn by someone with autism. Something about the fine linework and detail, like you say. Check out some of Stephen Wiltshire's work - I remember seeing him on the TV news years ago when he was just a kid. He was drawing what started out as just a jumbled mess of short straight lines, but then resolved itself into an image of the Houses of Parliament in picture-perfect detail (as in exactly the right number of windows, all the gothic twiddley bits, perfect). Absolutely stupendous work.

And I'd second the final point - Pretty much everyone I game with would bend over backwards to help someone work around an openly stated condition like that. We might not succeed, but we would certainly try. The sort of gamers who wouldn't do that? Not the sort of gamers who are worth gaming with.

Peter Robbins said...

My older son has Asperger's. My younger has High Functioning Autism. Thanks for addressing this topic. I am relatively sure I'm on the fence at having it, but I digress. I agree, a LOT of people in the wargaming/rpg community have it, or darn well are on the border of diagnosis. Anyhow. Yes, It's good to now up-front. I've only recently had "the talk" with my 9 yr old. My wife and I really didn't know how and when to approach it; as his younger brother having a more difficult to handle version of it - he already had a "bad" idea of what Autism represented. Anyhow. Thanks for posting this one.

Peter Robbins said...

Meant to add, "Aspies" (their own community term, not mine) tend to have extremely concentrated topics they are interested in. RPG, is one that offers a great deal of minutia to study and chat about. So, it is an area that Aspies or HFAutistics likely flock to. That, and computer topics of just about any kind.

Zak Sabbath said...


I always thought it was impressive that Wiltshire could remember that shit but the drawings themselves look depressingly unrigorous and out-of-the-box to me.

It's like he can see the place in his mind but not the picture in front of him.

Anonymous said...


I have both AS *and* Scottish genes! Is there some sort of a prize?

Joachim von Kieselhorst said...

The funny thing is that an INCREDIBLE number of kids are diagnosed with Asperger's or AD/HD. A lot of them are under some kind of "treatment". In most other parts of the world, the definitions are way narrower, and the serious scientific world (at least in Germany and France and Europe in general - that's the part I am most familiar with, so don't take my word for granted for experts in the USA.) is not even sure whether those conditions are that manifest at all.
Of course there are autists and people with disorders. But among internet kids it has become some kind of status symbol to claim they had asperger's syndrome. The whole trend of diagnosing children and teenagers with all kinds of shit has done so much bad to the persons actually affected, and I guess it's just another way for the medicine industry to sell pills to people.

Too long, didn't read: Autism sucks, but it's being diagnosed too often under the term Asperger's when it's often not true. It's easier to tell parents that their kid has a disorder than it is to tell them that their kid is a jerk. I don't want to insult anybody right now, it's just that resorting to maladies for all kinds of stupid behaviour is somewhat silly. Also, it makes things harder for those actually affected because nobody will take them serious anymore.

This is not at all related to your post, but with myself being diagnosed with both Asperger's and AD/HD by an American doctor - which made German doctors laugh, because it's clearly not the case - I have to say that some assumptions are quite risky.

I'm sorry if I didn't make much sense, and you may delete this post if it's either too offensive or too stupid (or even both).
Also, I'm sorry for any mistakes I might have made. I'm multiclassing as a German/Iranian.

migellito said...

First, an fyi.. Scotch is a drink or a brand of tape. People can be (if luck and fate have smiled upon them) Scot, Scots, or Scottish, depending on context. hehe ;)

Second, thanks Zak :) I hereby promise that if someone tells me they have AS, ADD, OCD, etc., it will not lower the esteem in which I hold them. It will instead help me to understand and appreciate them more fully.

Most of my immediate family has ADD, sans the hyperactive component. I, on the other hand, believe I probably have OCD, although I've been able to suppress a lot of associated behaviour. This mix requires a lot of patience and understanding.

huth said...

Most of my immediate family has ADD,

On behalf of myself and everyone born after me, I would like to announce that every single one of us has ADD. Please adjust expectations accordingly. Thank you for your time.

Anders said...

Excellent post.

I've gamed with three Aspies that I know of. One of them I didn't know had Asperger’s when I gamed with him the first time. You could tell there was something about him but but I couldn't quite say what. Some people got really annoyed, started losing their temper and were pretty rude to him.

Next time I met him, I GM'd him. He sent me an email before hand: “Hi, my name is XX and I signed up for your game. I have Asperger’s, which means that …” (he explained very concretly some problems he had). I remember going “Yes! That explains it!” The game went great.

So yeah, just tell us you've got this thing, we'll work around it and get our game on!

Callan S. said...

I don't know why you think Aspergers, first and foremost? Have you heard of Dyslexia?

I'm supposed to have it myself to a degree. Over time I think its actually that people with Dyslexia don't find words 'holy'. They are just made up and very abstract series of markings - it's like trying to remember a long number like 3497574589734. Who remembers that? With the Dyslexic, words are like that. While you get other people who drift to the other extreme, who find words holy and my god, if you use your instead of you're, it's a sin.

Next time you correct someone on spelling, maybe instead of looking exclusively at them, question how much you worship words. You might find you find them more sacred than you realised.

huth said...

Who remembers that?

Me? I mean, I've memorized most of my access numbers and bank things. Does that mean that dyslexia is an information-chunking issue?

Mandy said...

The kids I worked with who had autism spectrum disorders were certainly not misdiagnosed and medications are not usually prescribed (at least in the settings I worked in) for autism spectrum disorders. The kids needed particular kinds of care, teaching, facilities, and understanding staff and parents to function to the best of their abilities. Now kids diagnosed with ADHD and ADD are unfortunately too commonly over medicated rather than sent to appropriate forms of therapy and more versatile classrooms. Wait lists for programs for kids with stuff like this here are atrocious and parents want help fast.

As far as dsylexia and AS I'm pretty sure Zak knows the difference here, Callan S.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think you misread the post:

the guy at the beginning of my post who can't spell is a guy who had dyslexia. i used him as an example who made his problem a nonissue by talking about it up front.

Then second half of the post is about AS, which is a different thing, but has maybe a similar solution.

noisms said...

Being controversial for a second here, because I like being controversial, I'm not entirely sure at what stage Asperger's begins and just being an obtuse bore ends. Can't it sometimes be an excuse for just not really using much common sense and not making the effort to learn social skills?

I want to stress the word sometimes, because obviously Asperger's Syndrome is a real thing which real people have. But I do sometimes think that being a "normal" person is something that you have to learn, and that some people don't get the chance to learn because they shut themselves away from other people and then shroud themselves in the excuse that "I have Asperger's", because a doctor told them they do, which means they don't then ever put the effort into learning how to be "normal". Not deliberately, but subconsciously.

I'm not being judgemental about individuals - I think that sometimes society in general and the medical profession in particular is too keen to explain things away as a sickness or a disease, and that then becomes an excuse for the individual concerned not to change. Whereas they'd be better served by other people just treating them like normal.

Disclaimer: I'm mostly talking out of my arse, since I know nothing about this subject, but I can't really stop myself doing that. Which is probably a psychiatric condition all of its own.

Zak Sabbath said...


I don't actually strictly care, in a conversation, if anybody has AS. If they just SAY they have it, then at least they're opening up a conversation where they're saying

"Hey, I may communicate weirdly here because of issues of my own which have nothing to do with the topic. I'm willing to take responsibility for that."

That's still a step. That still controls the temperature and is appreciated.

huth said...

Now kids diagnosed with ADHD and ADD are unfortunately too commonly over medicated rather than sent to appropriate forms of therapy and more versatile classrooms.

The therapy can be as simple and cheap as just basic yoga or mindfulness techniques (at least, that's that was the most help for me), although I can see that being a difficult sell in certain jurisdictions.

huth said...

@ noisms

Being normal—i.e. telling if someone is bored by what you're saying/doesn't like you/is pissed off—is hella easy though.

John said...

@huth Bores are common as kobolds, though. They don't all have Asperger's.

migellito said...

Yes! New monster idea - Huthbores.

Dave said...

Like Mandy used to I work with people and kids with autism, ADD, apsergers etc. and I am of the opinion that it is overdiagnosed.

In the UK, and I suspect in the US, getting extra educational resources for a kid who is a bit difficult to deal with in class is linked to getting a diagnosis of this kind. But in the majority of cases there is another solution that needs to be tried first, and that's old fashioned discipline, and it very rarely is either by schools or parents.

There are all kinds of reasons for this, but the fundamental point is that everywhere except the English speaking bits of the world a lot of the shit kids do is treated as within the range of behaviours expected of kids and dealt with. We medicalise it too quickly and too harshly, we treat social problems as medical ones because it is easier that way.

And noisms is right, the use of pop-psychology jargon in everyday language is not helping. I can only laugh when someone who is being a bit of a dick says 'I have ADD'. I know the real thing, people who forget they are eating their dinner and wander off, who don't ever hear the ends of sentences, stop to inspect specks of dirt on the wall and then forget where they were going in the first place.

We are all on the spectrum someplace, its why its called a spectrum, but most people have the wits and wherewithal to change at least a bit. All they need is the motivation, and that impetus can be the simple act of someone saying to them 'Stop being so rude'.

Works with the real autistic people I work with, and if you keep it up and are consistent in setting boundaries it does help, but since most have LD on top the effects are always going to be limited. The troll-like behaviour you describe mostly comes from people with all cerebral cylinders firing and they only have a short distance to go in making the way they express their opinions less objectionable; telling them if they get out of order is all the therapy they should need.

Bit of a rant there, but a subject dear to my heart... Shit, have I got Aspergers...?

amanuensis said...

Art-fan and DND-fan with AS here.

I suspect that the reason some people with the syndrome don't mention it where perhaps it would benefit them to do so, is partly to do with all the noise around false diagnosis (self inflicted or otherwise) that they don't want to have to deal with, plus the tendency of AS folk (along with almost anyone who has a disability) to want to overcome the condition and not become dependent on other people to make allowances for them. I rarely tell people unless specifically asked (and that might be a good policy online when someone is behaving ASish, use with caution) because I want to be able to know when my behaviour is offending or confusing people. The particularly unfortunate thing about AS is that when we fuck up, we often don't know that we have unless someone tells us. The risk in saying "Hello, My name is X, and I have AS" is that people (particularly ones with little knowledge about the condition) won't call you out on any weird behaviour for fear of causing offence. AS is a developmental disorder, and to be able to learn to communicate as I do now I had to be held to same social standard as people without AS, with some sensitivity of course.

amanuensis said...

Also to clear up Zak's explanation of the syndrome, it's not quite true that we think like robots, but that everyone else looks like a robot to us. We don't have any intuitive empathy with what is going on in other peoples minds, in the same way you don't have an intuitive empathy with your computer. You have to gather information together and then logically analyze it in order to know what's going on, and we have to do the same with people. Sometimes we even forget other people can have different states of mind to our own.

It varies in severity from case to case and gets better with age and experience, but I think once you know about this (it's called mind-blindness) you can understand most of the odd things that AS people do.

Mandy said...

I think the kids I worked with had more severe cases than the type being discussed here.

In any event telling someone they are being rude on the internet rarely accomplishes anything useful at all.

However, what YOU just did--that is, the potentially rude person taking the initiative and saying "I may be being rude, sorry" often works and does help.

Anonymous said...

on adhd: i write healthcare news every week. adhd is a structural brain thing, the studies are just coming out. this week they found that being poor and having an overweight or obese mother who eats a lot of refined starch also contribute to having adhd. not kidding. moral of the story: rich countries where they eat a lot of shitty junk food and a lot of refined carbohydrates are not good places to be poor. anyway... i have never played dnd even though i have been reading this blog for a year. i am not claiming to speak for all people who have asperger's but in my case i have a serious addiction to facts and this is a problem. can someone please tell me how i can enjoy dnd? i'm being serious here. like i look at the nagas and i've read about 3% of the mahabharata which is enough to know that i actually really like nagas. adore them actually, and their queen, and their underworld realm which is reachable by tunnelling underground. but that means that i can't play dnd. this is a really common problem with aspergers. we want to be on the same wavelength with folks because they so often aren't. that's why the ones who are intelligent become mathematicians -- all books follow the same rules. everything is a fact. everything is part of the same theoretical fabric. (the ones who aren't have trouble finding jobs. 90something percent of us are unemployed, according to the national autistic society of the uk.) so anyway how can i enjoy dnd? whenever i take a gander at zak's blog i always mainly look for art, art is nice because everything is part of the same contextual fabric of the visual cortex -- everything's 'hacking' your cortex. brilliant. but i sometimes wonder if playing dnd might be fun, and make me an art genius like zak. ha ha. then i remember that i would basically need to play a game where i either know nothing or everything is based on facts. help.

Mandy said...

What if you could play with a GM who could run a super fact based game? With stats and simulations based on historical records and stuff?

Mandy said...

Also my response about rudeness was a response to Barry's post. I think there are useful ways to let a person know when they aren't communicating in a way that's clear to you but calling someone rude often just gets people aggressive.

While I haven't been diagnosed with any developmental delays of differences (aside from being kind of advanced at certain stages) I still find learning mindfulness techniques very very useful for dealing with my medical problems. I have a hard time remembering sometimes that people can't tell I'm sick or in pain. Especially healthy people who have no idea what it's like. I'm sure I act crazy/rude/mean all the time to those people. "They" said that might have been why I was good with the medically fragile and special needs kids. I'm technically in the same category.

John said...

osirises, I'm having a little trouble understanding what you mean, but I'm interested in knowing. Is the problem to do with suspension of disbelief - like you need everything to be consistent and logical or you're not into it? Or is it that you need the fiction of the game to be consistent with the facts of real life? Or something else?

richard said...

Telling people "I may communicate weirdly here because of issues of my own" seems like a good thing to do regardless.

@osirises: are you saying that factual inaccuracy would throw you out of being able to play a game? What if it was just stated up front that the world of the game has its own facts/truth, and that these facts are sometimes different from those of the real world?

The only advice I could give for how to enjoy dnd is, try it. The quickest, easiest path to that is, get a google+ account and ask to join a constantcon game.

Dave said...

@Mandy - You are right, trying to tell a troll to be polite is not going to work, which is a problem of internet communication.

We treat it like a conversation when it quite patently isn't, it's words on a screen, little letters fired of into the void with none of the visual and other cues that tell you what another person is really saying.

You have to be careful in taking internet posts too seriously and making too many assumptions about what kind of person and motivations lay behind them.

And its a peculiar form of community with few consequences for bad behaviour. You can block people you really don't get on with, and amongst the thousands of online folk you are bound to find some who do agree with and thus form a little society supporting for whatever opinion, no matter how objectionable and divorced from reality. People never really feel the weight of being ostracised.

Back when letters were the main way of communicating with people they treated it as an art form in itself, and collections of letters from the 19th century are a joy to read. Perhaps internet written communication needs to be taught, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

first, two relevant studies, in case people were interested. i should have provided them last night but actually i was typing with a broken keyboard past bedtime:
1) As many as 1/3 of all people in Korea may have autism (point being that the projected statistics for autism-spectrum disorders occurring in the US is inherently a bit prejudiced in favor of not diagnosing people)
2) ...and, ADHD linked to structural brain differences:

@Mandy i imagine that, for me, a game where not only the GM, but every player, was totally focused on recreating a completely factual atmosphere would be extremely interesting.

@richard i think you got it. i can't really 'suspend the disbelief'. for me, everything's just a fact.

like those Tekumelly Soviet/Mayan playing cards posted a while ago. perfect example. at first when i saw them i thought 'wow, sweet.' but i know enough about mayan script, or i've admired it enough, for part of my brain to be able to say, 'those pretend glyphs aren't actually mayan glyphs because that shape never occurs without another shape and that shape never occurs at all, it's actually aztec' etc., and then i've lost it. i've lost the ability to go anywhere with that particular stimuli.

which is probably another reason why i like some of zak's art so much. it doesn't ask you to imagine it, or to believe it or to disbelieve it, it's just sort of there, doing what it always does for me, which is to be and look really cool in brand new interesting ways that I never thought it could.

with something fictional, part of my brain can always find a place where it's just not going to work. nope, seen that before, it actually works that way instead. which i can't help. it just does that without my intervention. which makes me wonder if i'd make a good GM, but since i've never played dnd that's kind of a silly question.

incidentally, this makes it very difficult to enjoy reading fiction. i love ancient epic poetry, and folklore, but i love it because it's factual. ie, it records the innermost thoughts and superstitions of entire past civilizations. once in a while i like a story (like, as previously stated, i love everything to do with the nagas in the first bits of the mahabharata, they rock), but that then requires people to like the exact same story and want to play it as a game AND a whole host of other complications that arise when a pre-existent fictional universe comes into the equation. it's really just a headfuck.

it would be much easier to have a fictional universe that doesn't make sense or is always new, or both, like finnegans wake. or one in which the fabric of space is always re-generated with slightly different rules every time it gets played.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

@osirses: A D&D game that's deliberately incoherent and contradictory is totally doable. Some kind of Dreamlands game, maybe, or certain flavours of Planescape.

@Robert: I can sort of imagine how someone with Asperger's would perceive conversation that way, but it's not the case. With some rare exceptions, people are not deliberately trying to embarrass you.

Unknown said...

Speaking as someone with Asperger's Syndrome, when someone makes a "request for clarification of explanation"I often feel someone is asking me to explain why 1+1=2. I understand the concepts well enough that I am thrown by this request because I do not know much explanations to give basic concepts.

Further, conversations usually feel adversarial and like a mean-spirited, thin skinned, exercises in zero-sum gain. People talk to avoid silence and to dominate others. I find myself trying to end conversations quickly to avoid this, even when it means I am rude.

Anonymous said...

@The Grumpy Celt i can sympathize. when my wife reports a problem with her computer i usually get a bit dismissive and piss her off. but i actually have a whole section of my personality that just doesn't use words. ever. and that's the part of my personality that does stuff with computers. so after about five minutes i come back and get her to hand me the keyboard, type in some commands, presto.

there's a dark side to that, though: before i got married, I used to bullshit a lot. i mean i'd make (usually kind of accurate) guesses about the way stuff worked and when people asked me 'why?' i'd kind of give them a sneak-peek of the guess. but because it was just a guess i'd get defensive when they asked for more information, because I myself didn't fully believe what I was saying.

the only solution for me has been to develop a brand new personality that relates to neurotypical people. that personality pretends to listen to stuff, distracts the rest of my brain when necessary, and tries to smile and tell jokes. quite often, i am the only one laughing at my jokes. but i've been told that this is not a bad thing, it actually makes me seem more approachable.

@John thanks for the tip. that gives me an idea. the concept behind Dreamlands sounds worth exploring (superficially i don't like anything with the word _insert-person's-name_-'mythos' attached, ie Lovecraftian Mythos, but that's just superficially) especially since i've kept meticulous record of my dreams for about 11 years now, and my wife actually suggested making the more labyrinthine ones into a game when she read this post.

that being said, i'd be trying to make a sort of from-scratch ruleset based on Dreamlands that would allow anyone to bring their dreams to the table and have them mesh together inside randomly-generated geography based on something like Nichols' Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time ("all human population can be classed as residual zones, spread zones, and in-between zones," paraphrase)

Unknown said...

Great post and discussion! Being clear and considerate is usually the best way to communicate, whether the other person has AS or not.

People with AS are often advised to make that fact clear up front, however there are reasons why one might want to keep the diagnosis private.

One reason why a person may not reveal that they have AS is because they fear it will impact their career. In art, game design, and IT, it's probably not an issue. However a good friend of mine who was in medical school rigorously kept the status of her diagnosis to herself because she believed it would bias people against her in the the medical profession. I've known or heard of a few people in similar situations.

It's pretty common for people to wonder if an AS diagnosis is being used as an excuse, or a way to get out of doing the work of making human relationships work. But the problem with many people who have AS isn't just that they have to work hard at relationships, but that they are missing crucial pieces of the social program that helps them understand social situations.

As an example, I know a person who cannot always distinguish between when a person is joking with them and lying to them. When you're speaking to them and change your tone to indicate that you're being sarcastic, or ironic, or gently making fun of them, they don't get the message. To them it seems like you might be lying, speaking in earnest when you're not, or mocking them. Just imagine how much trouble this can cause on the Internet, where it's already hard to catch nuance!

Mandy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mandy said...

@Osirises I think a game where the GM and every player agreed to try to accurately recreate a factual atmosphere, like the Japan in the Tale of Genji or medieval Europe based on actual historical records (I have a really neat book called The History of Private Life) would be very interesting as well. The players would have to behave as people in those settings were expected to behave, the social-behavioural constraints would be very different from what happens in the games I've played so far. I think that would be fun.

On a side note can you read Gravity's Rainbow or Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon? (Those are the only two I've enjoyed so far the rest irritate me, they aren't as...complicated.) Or Infinite Jest? That one like some of Zak's art has a weird effect on me, I get very anxious/panicked.

Another side note, I just realized that my diagnosis way back in the day, as "hypersensitive" is sort of the opposite of AS where you don't read certain signals in verbal and non verbal communication, my brain and body has an over developed and innate understanding of that--so my brain gets more stimuli than it should--at least that's how it was explained to me back in the day, they said it was probably a genetically inherited trait. Though I am having trouble finding a definition that matches what I was taught online.

Mandy said...

Close would be various definitions of the phenomenon of "empathy" in psychology.

Anonymous said...

@Mandy do you find that you get a sort of body-sense for how people are feeling, and if they're a bit upset it upsets you? do you think that could have something to do with your lupus?

i have read and reread gravity's rainbow and mason and dixon, and i agree that they're his two best books. but i don't read text anymore, i just listen to audiobooks i make for myself using text to speech. my ipod on shuffle is pretty fun. slices of the poetic eddas, 300 tang poems, gravity's rainbow, hundreds of other books.

Mandy said...

@Osirises Yes I get upset when other people are upset--sometimes either I or they don't realize why and that can be problematic. Also I stay in certain emotional states longer than some people, like Zak, if he's irritated he's irritated for like a second whereas I will get stuck being irritated for 30 minuets. Takes me longer to return to "normal or neutral" and takes very little to reach more intense states of emotional being.

But I don't have lupus, I tested negative, they can't figure out what I have beyond the 6 or 7 diagnoses I already have and they don't understand why I am getting sicker. Doctors love to bring up the psychosomatic thing, but they seem to forget that being chronically ill makes you anxious and depressed and speaking to doctors makes me very anxious as well and they never react well to being told that, rather they always seem to assume that anxious state comes before the illness which isn't the case. I had no issues with anxiety before my first nearly fatal asthma attack. I have found intense pain to be the trigger for most of my more difficult moods since it totally disrupts my ability to function normally or even think properly.

Zak Sabbath said...

@grumpy celt

that's interesting because I always thought "It seems like that Grumpy Celt guy has Asperger's Syndrome..."

Callan S. said...

Then second half of the post is about AS, which is a different thing, but has maybe a similar solution.
Ah, gotcha.

Though I'm not sure about the base line here. It kind of assumes the person without AB is somehow competent. The cognitive sciences are showing that normal people are actually quite theoretically incompetent. The person with AB explaining a theory might not make sense, not because of their AB, but because of a normal humans inability to genuinely handle theory.

Unknown said...

Zak... I am not certain how to react to that.

Zak Sabbath said...

@the grumpy celt

I don't mean it in a bad way, it was just a sort of hmmmm... mayyyybe

Unknown said...

I wonder what gave me away.

DartaJuan said...

I don't think it's so easy. I mean, people with AS have what is called Anosoagnosia

the best example is this movie, maybe you know it, in wich it's played excepcionally well by Dustin Hoffman

I have a relative with AS, and it's strange. You don't know how to interact with him, really. He doesn't start to shout like in the movie, but he is clearly not in the same room as you.

Mandy said...

I always thought the guy in rain man was an autistic savant, that movie is based on a real person. There are lots of documentaries about autistic savants, the BBC has some good ones. AS is usually milder when it comes to social and emotional functions than autism, therefore the people actually have a much easier time of it than those with autism. I worked most closely with a non verbal autistic who also had developmental delays, but I have also worked with higher functioning autism cases and a few kids with AS. They are very different.

(I also worked with kids with severe cerebral palsy, fragile x syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc, etc. And my grandmother has cerebral palsy as well--she is the only adult I've ever know with it though.)

Mandy said...

However my mum and my grandfather (lived with us) couldn't really deal with the higher functioning kids with autism I tutored and cared for at home before I moved out, didn't know how to talk to them or anything, to me they were just as present as anyone else ever is only they were wired a little different, expressed themselves either more subtly or more blatantly (depending on the situation) than "normal" people which was never a problem for me.

Mandy said...

Most importantly not everyone with an autistic spectrum disorder (including AS) will have the Rain Man anosognosia or the savant-like mental abilities.

Mandy said...

It seems inconsiderate to lump everyone together like that and to say things like "clearly not in the same room as you". Just because someone's mind works differently and they may behave differently doesn't mean they aren't mentally present. From my understanding the autistic type of *hypersensitivity* to sensory stimuli is what leads them to often remove themselves from that offending stimuli by doing things like rocking, not making eye contact, covering their ears, screaming so they can only hear themselves and not the "external" world, etc. They are actually way MORE present and "in the room" than someone like you. They just don't like it sometimes because it's overwhelming, they can get way MORE info than a brain is usually equipped to process and lack the ability to express that or block out offensive or irrelevant "noise" (could be any kind of sensory stimuli) that someone like you would and does without even knowing you are doing it.

Anonymous said...

in my case i definitely have asanognosia. yesterday i threw a long drawn out infantile destroy shit scowl for hours sob intermittently head in hands can't enjoy anything tantrum, and it only ended when i realized it was all because my routine had been derailed. asanognosia is the number one shittiest thing about asperger's in my case, because it causes bad stuff to surface suddenly without warning.

@Mandy everything you say about asperger's/autism is also true in my experience. also, i definitely use things to calm me down, though i don't rock, it's not really obvious to other people that that's what i'm doing. for example, i suspect that the people who currently know me don't imagine me without my headphones on. listenin' to the sound of a computerized voice reading literature. fits of anger as described above do still happen, but much less frequently than when i don't have something to be obsessed with. when i was a kid it was my constant obsession with snes games like earthbound and super mario world that helped me keep-existing-but-be-focused-on-other-stimuli-to-stay-calm, then i moved on to books, douglas adams in particular, then i learned a few foreign languages staying in cheap hostels in china, egypt, and mexico, which was a very asperger's friendly experience, and i encourage everyone with asperger's who's reading to try, nonetheless all of it was an attempt not to play the cards i had been dealt in life but to read them without weeping.

Zak Sabbath said...

the stuff you've posted in the comments here is really interesting

Anonymous said...

@Zak (what i'm saying is interesting? glad to hear it. it's probably going to be scientifically proven at some point that those words to aspies = instant serotonin release. which will probably lead to a generation of aspies who are as fundamentally confused about themselves as tyrone slothrop.) what do you think i could do or read to flesh out this idea from my comment: "i'd be trying to make a sort of from-scratch ruleset based on Dreamlands that would allow anyone to bring their dreams to the table and have them mesh together inside randomly-generated geography based on something like Nichols' Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time ("all human population can be classed as residual zones, spread zones, and in-between zones," paraphrase)"

i so want to have the experience of playing something like that, especially with people who regularly pay attention to their dreams, but i have no idea how i'd make it gamey. part of me thinks, read 'dnd theory' (which is the dnd equivalent of music theory; and i don't know if it exists, but my brain's like that) part of me thinks, find a youtube channel with some people playing, download the videos, strip the audio off, and listen to it until ideas come.

another part of me says, actually just play games, some games, which is what i'm doing in 2 weeks with the 'london indie rpg meetup group' since it was the only thing in range where the people running it claimed to read and appreciate this blog.

Rocco Privetera said...

Long time reader of the blog! Love the work.

I've got AS and am considered pretty high on the spectrum, and most of the time nobody knows ("he's quirky") until I bring it up. Then it's all "OMG of course!".

I agree with the other poster: sometimes we regurgitate the same point because it seems so obvious. I find it a lot easier when someone says specifically why they don't understand something. To me, if I give an explanation, and someone's response is "I don't get it", my innate response is to think "he must not have really listened, because I gave all the relevant info". But if someone says "I heard you, but I don't understand specifcallly this about point X" then I can dive deeper on that point.
Or not, as usually by then people are rolling eyes - that's my cue I've talked to long :)
I will say this tho for AS and D&D: One of the reasons I can pass for neurotypical quite a bit is playing D&D at age 8 until my 20's (and then again now after a long break). Learning how to tell stories, improvise, adopt voices, and so forth went a long way for me to intellectually deduce how to sound emotion and read it better. I'm now a semi-professional comic and improviser, and on stage, nobody knows.

Here's the only problem with your argument, about declaring it first , though. It sounds like a good idea but it does throw a layer of stigma on you. Everybody, to make a brutal point, thinks "aspergers" equals "retarded". Or Robot. Or Rain man. None of which is the case, obviously.

I've even tried mentioning it before trying to be sociable with women... ugh. The only time it seems to be a good idea is with friends/aquaintances that have progressed beyond the casual stage. Then it helps smooth over the flaws.

Zak Sabbath said...


yeah, i know there;s a stigma--i'm just trying to let people know that here is a "safe space" and I won't tolerate people being a dick about it.

thekelvingreen said...

This has all been really interesting to read. I know next to nothing about Asperger's or autism, but I feel like I have learned a lot from reading this post and the comments. Thank you all.

Anonymous said...

i forgot to mention:

asperger's presents itself differently in women. science hasn't really understood it. there's a book out

and (most of the people reading this blog appear to like tables and lists as much as i do, so) here's a table of symptoms:

Anonymous said...

regarding people being dicks, there are two types:

1) they tell you you're at the bottom of the gene pool, and insinuate that this has something to do with the opposite sex wishing to bear/father your children.

2) they condescend to you, telling you that they're 'sorry' about the way you are.

having asperger's, i'm unsure about how to respond to both sets of people. and if in the next sentence, they manage to get me laughing by pushing one of my very pushable buttons, i may eventually totally forget that i hate them.

Tom said...

My mother has a brain injury- she can't multitask to save her life, and is easily confused by simple decisions, especially when she's forced to make them in public (like at a store counter). If she does not tell people that she's impaired her behavior comes off as rude or offensive, as outwardly there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with her. Preemptive self-identification is key.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Sabbath said...

"So, when you (Zak) asked "do you have Asperger's Syndrome?", you actually don't care, but what you meant was: "if you are replying to my blog and you have known troubles about communicating with people (because of AS or whatever), please don't be a dick and make me know beforehand, so you won't be mistaken with a troll or an idiot." Did I get it right? "

No. Not at all.

Try again.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

Big OOOPS, sorry.
Now I'm clueless.
Some hint, please?

Zak Sabbath said...

I don't know what part of what I wrote is unclear to you.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

And I don' know what part of the "So, when you (Zak) asked blah blah blah" stuff I wrote is wrong. So... do you mind if I restart from scratch?

Let's go step by step...

Q: Do you have Asperger's Syndrome?
A: Yes.

> Is this answer (e)nough for you, or would you want me to elaborate it (f)urther?
> Thank you very much for asking. Good bye!

> Is this answer (e)nough for you, or would you want me to elaborate it (f)urther?
> OK. What would you like to know about?
> (1) Asperger's in general
> (2) Asperger's in Role-Playing Games
> (3) Asperger's in Internet forums
> (9) something else
> (0) Quit

Zak Sabbath said...

Sounds like in the above post ( July 23, 2012 10:40 AM ) you identified and answered the question. That is the only thing I asked anyone do. Good job.

Whereas in the post at
July 20, 2012 10:58 AM
you interpolated a bunch of things that I did not write for some strange reason, none of which make any sense.

Either way, you seem to want something and I do not know what it is.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

a)The original entry in the blog was pristine clear,

b)Whereas the comment by Zak S at
January 9, 2012 3:48 PM:

"IMPORTANT: I don't actually strictly care, in a conversation blah blah blah"

...made me confused and wondering.

Maybe I wanted something, I'll make you know if I can remember what it was.

In the meanwhile, I'll nuke out my original comment. NOW it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, either.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

Q: What do I want from Zak?
A: Ironically, I though that Zak was the one who wanted something from me. The "So, when you (Zak) asked blah blah blah" thing was me trying to second guess his agenda. Of course it didn't worked.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

Q: What do I want from Zak?
A: Nothing. What did you make to think otherwise?

It's not about Zak, it's about me. For the precision's sake:
"Do you have Asperger's?" may seem an innocent question.
Like "Are you gay?" or "Are you bald?" or "Are you retarded?"

Q: Are you gay?
A: Not my cup of tea: cocks give me the creeps!
Q: And are you bald?
A: No, my head is well populated with hair.
Q: And are you retarded?
A: No, I wish I was smarter, but my IQ is at a MENSA worth level already.

But there are some questions which always make me start rambling inordenately.
And "Do you have Asperger's?" happens to be one of these.

(BTW this comment was about to be self-demostrating,
but I've refrained myself and trimmed it off.)

I hope I made it clear.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

Q: What do I want from Zak?
A: Keep blogging, please. It's enlightening and provides good food for though.