By Daniel Szyper
I have Asperger's syndrome. It is a high functioning form of autism. Here I would like to furnish a synopsis of my challenges, which are among other things a function of my neurologically ingrained mental rigidity, extreme obsessionality, and profound deficits in social and nonverbal learning ability. Here goes: For a person with Asperger's syndrome, it is possible to learn new social skills over time. But the learning disability itself is permanent. Social skills can gradually be developed, but only with time and effort. For a neurotypical person, these skills develop naturally in childhood. For an Aspie, social insights and awareness must be developed through intense observation and application of the intellect. For a neurotypical person, this process is effortless and organic, beginning in early childhood. We can intellectually grasp certain things that other people experience on an instinctive and felt level. We do not necessarily experience these things the same way they do. Like social ambition and the desire for ever higher social status, for example. We tend to be too preoccupied with our special interests to think about these things. Neurotypical children develop hierarchies and social cliques through observing each other, through imitating each other, and through play and competition. We Aspies, unable to keep up with the neurotypical kids, and uninterested in playing their Machiavellian games, tend to bury ourselves in our solitary special interests. Like cars, trains, maps, astronomy, computers, animals, etc. Many of us want friendships, and hate being isolated all the time. But the friendships have to be on our terms, because we don't play other people's "let's pretend" agreement games. And other people may not necessarily share our interests, or at least not as intensely as we do. And the gossip and scheming that neurotypicals tend to engage in doesn't interest us. So the neurotypical kids learn to conform, while we become more and more alienated and socially disenfranchised. Our limited social interaction with people turns us into loners and misfits. This haunts us all our lives, and hampers our ability to date members of the opposite sex, and find and hold onto jobs, throughout our lifetimes. Neurotypicals learn from childhood to hide their true intentions from one another, and to put on a socially acceptable and convincing persona. They maintain different personas under different circumstances. A man can have one persona at work, one at home with his wife and children, one at church, one with his drinking buddies at his local sports bar, etc. We Aspies tend not to be capable of such guile and sophistication. We tend to have only one social persona, and it may not always be an acceptable one for situations or environments like the workplace or in dating. Or we develop such a mask, but it fails under stress. Or it slips over time, as people get to know us better, and we start to feel too comfortable around them and start letting our guard down. That is how I lost the one job I ever had, which lasted a year. I tried to be a perfect employee. I never missed a day's work, never called in sick, and never failed to meet my production standards at my high pressure, fast paced data entry job. But I got too cozy with my supervisor, because he seemed like such a laid back, salt-of-the-earth guy. I was living alone in a strange city, far away from my parents. I had no friends, no one to open my mouth to, and no one who would even acknowledge my existence as a person. So I began approaching my immediate supervisor after work hours ended, late at night. I would chat with him for just a few minutes at a time, about things like 1970s music, cars, and popular culture. But I mistook the man'ssuperficial friendliness for friendship. I began to tell him weird jokes and make excessive self-disclosures about the bizarre workings of my autistic mind. It made him feel uncomfortable. He ultimately baited me into saying something grossly inappropriate, and had me fired. That was over fifteen years ago. I never recovered from the humiliation and the trauma. I never made a serious effort to find work again. And to this very day, ten waking minutes don't go by without me vividly reliving that trauma. Now I doubt I can ever hold a job. The traditional workplace is a hostile and alien environment for me. I cannot count on myself to create a smooth, socially confident, and socially appropriate persona, and to keep it on at all times, even under stress. I am also extremely emotionally needy, and that makes me vulnerable to becoming overly attached to people, and to keep the often bizarre landscape of my mind a well hidden secret. My neediness and social cluelessness has caused an endless litany of social and interpersonal failures and bad experiences in my lifetime, which I end up reliving every day. It sets me up for all manner of misunderstandings and confrontations, and for being a victim for bullying, manipulation, gaslighting, and scapegoating. It has progressed to the point where I have little desire to seek out neurotypicals to interact with at all. And of course, having by the age of 43 only asked a woman out on a date twice--and having been rejected both times--I will not take a chance on approaching another woman again, for fear of being rejected again and being further wounded. So I guess I'll have to die alone and a virgin. It was a hard thing to accept when I was younger, but I am at peace with it now. Such is the fate of many men with Asperger's syndrome.