Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life
by Cynthia Kim
I’ve been picking up books on Autism since we realized my husband was on the spectrum, in hopes of finding tools to help us manage daily life. He’s too busy with school and work to do much reading these days, so I’ve been doing the research and bringing it to him to discuss. It’s led to some enlightening conversations and we’ve both learned a lot about each other. Cynthia Kim’s blog was one I pored over and read parts of to him, and I finally got her book from my library.
One of the things I noticed most was she details social rules in ways I never would have thought to do – she has a list of seven very specific rules for eye contact, for example. As an allistic person, most of those rules are things I do instinctively, without even really knowing the reason for them. Like, in conversation, looking up or to the side means you’re thinking, looking down means you’re done talking. I read that to my husband and he jumped in, surprised, with “so THAT’S why I get interrupted so much!” I never would have thought to codify that into words, but it’s something I naturally do.
She talks about meltdowns vs shutdowns, which are things we’ve already learned the difference between with my husband, but we’re both eager for strategies to avoid, mitigate, and recover from them. She gave some strategies as places to start, but that’s hard to give general advice on as every autistic is so very different in that regard.
The chapter on alexithymia was really interesting. Alexithymia being an impairment in identifying and describing emotions. It leads to a lot of “Hey, are you okay?” “I don’t know.” “Well, how do you feel?” “I DON’T KNOW!” We’d already been introduced to this concept through her blog, but she expands on it in the book.
Another interesting (and applicable!) chapter was the one on executive dysfunction. (We joke that I am my husband’s personal assistant – I keep his calendar and remind him of important dates/events/homework due dates, and sometimes nudge him to do things if it seems he’s having trouble getting started.)
Kim uses the term Asperger’s in her writing (as well as autism), but Asperger’s has been rolled into the greater Autism Spectrum Disorder since 2013. Very recently there’s been some debate about the Asperger name, as it’s been revealed that Hans Asperger at least cooperated with the Nazis, and possibly was one himself. It’s still used commonly, though, and there is a large community built around being Aspies. Personally, I think using the Asperger term is a little too divisive – it’s basically the same as “high-functioning.” But. I’m allistic and my opinion on the matter isn’t the important one, so. We use autistic for my husband. (His choice, and when I asked his thoughts, he also thinks the Asperger term is divisive and not useful.) There’s a number of Twitter threads and articles on the subject of using or not using the Asperger term, and what it means to the community.
Overall, this was a really great book for learning about how autism affects day-to-day life, and gave us lots of talking points and words for things we didn’t have the vocabulary for. I’m looking forward to tackling the rest of my Autism Reading List.
From the cover of Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate:
Cynthia Kim explores all the quirkyness of living with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) in this accessible, witty and honest guide looking from an insider perspective at some of the most challenging and intractable aspects of being autistic. Her own life presents many rich examples. From being labelled nerdy and shy as an undiagnosed child to redefining herself when diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult, she describes how her perspective shifted to understanding a previously confusing world and combines this with the results of extensive research to explore the ‘why’ of ASD traits. She explains how they impact on everything from self-care to holding down a job and offers typically practical and creative strategies to help manage them, including a section on the vestibular, sensory and social benefits of martial arts for people with autism.
Well known in the autism community and beyond for her popular blog, Musings of an Aspie, Cynthia Kim’s book is rich with personal anecdotes and useful advice. This intelligent insider guide will help adults with ASDs and their partners, family members, friends, and colleagues, but it also provides a fresh and witty window onto a different worldview.
The problem, as usual, with opinions by “allistic” people (an invented term, by the way, that is rarely used by actual autistics), is that it’s so easy to accept statements about autism that aren’t true for everyone. Is “Asperger’s” divisive? Not in the many blogs I read and the forum I participate on. There are many good reasons to retain “Asperger’s” and many of us do so. “Allistics” are forced, as outsiders, to accept either overgeneralizations or close analyses that are specific to the writer. If Kim’s book helps your husband, well and good, but as someone who is on the Asperger’s end of the spectrum, I found that it was too closely tied to her own, personal experiences to be useful to more than a small segment of the spectrum population.
This is exactly why I have a list of books I’m intending to read, to try to get a broad spectrum of experiences. This is just one of the first. If you have any that are closer to your experience, I’d love to hear your suggestions! You can see what’s already on my radar in my last Top Ten post.
It’s also always been interesting to me how different segments of an online community can have such different experiences – I’m aware allistic is an invented term, but so is cisgender. Both terms preferred over “normal” or “non-.” Because those can be ableist and othering, according to the autistics I’ve been reading. (Both in print and online.) So I usually try to use allistic or neurotypical. Is there a term you prefer?
Glad to hear that you’re reading a wide range of books about autism. As for allistic, language does change, and many of the terms that are current are invented, but whereas cisgender seems to be spreading in its acceptance, allistic apparently isn’t. I’ve been reading about autism issues for over a decade, and it’s popped up very recently, but only on a few blogs. Neurotypical isn’t lacking in controversy, but it’s far more widely used and understood. I had to look up allistic when I first came across it. That alone makes it a poor choice for wide acceptance.
I avoid labels for myself, but in my writing and communication I use the most widely accepted one. I’m afraid I can’t suggest any books close to my experience, since I’m somewhat of an outlier. A book that probably wouldn’t help your husband but might expand your general understanding is Women From Another Planet. It’s one of the originals and still one of the best to illustrate the very wide range of experiences of women on the spectrum.
Thanks! I’ll add it to my list! I’m currently waiting on Loud Hands and Pretending to be Normal to make their way through the library system to me, and waiting to get paid before I make an order from Autonomous Press. Looks like my library system doesn’t have Women From Another Planet, but the Kindle version is only $5, so that’s downloading now!
Hope you enjoy Women from Another Planet. It was one of the first books I read when I was trying to find my own place as either ND or NT. Many voices, many experiences.
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