In his latest post at Inside the Mind of an Aspie, Aspie Guy is up-front and honest about how having Asperger’s makes him uncomfortable with bad news:
I really don’t know what to say. I don’t want to brush the bombshell off like it’s nothing, but I also don’t want to dwell on the negatives and reinforce just how bad everything sucks for this person. So most of the time I just get socially paralyzed and try not to react at all, which makes me look wooden and heartless.
He is spot on here. Expressing sympathy in a way that leaves the person feeling genuinely comforted requires tact and skill, and it’s not something you want to get wrong, which leaves us standing there silent as we rack our brains for the right thing to say. And it’s our nature to want to fix things, so if we know the words we say aren’t genuinely helping the person, we often don’t say them. On top of that, many of us have trouble expressing emotions. All too often when I try to express to someone how much I care, my voice gets all stilted and almost mechanical, and nothing makes “I’m here for you” sound hollow and insincere like saying it as though you’re reading an instruction manual.
He then goes on to write:
Then, sometimes my Aspergers kicks in and I just don’t seem to care. It’s horrible to say, but it’s true – often, my first reaction is to figure out if and how the news will affect me. I may be self centered, but that comes with the Aspie territory.
I’m going to have to disagree with him on this one, if nothing else because my aspie husband is one of the least self-centered people I know. To be sure, everything from our difficulty expressing sympathy to our pre-occupation with our interests to having poor executive function and forgetting people’s birthdays makes us appear self-centered. On top of that, our difficulties with theory of mind mean can make it difficult for us to understand someone else’s perspective.
The problem is how he defines self-centeredness. If someone were to define self-centeredness as simply being focused on oneself, I would have no objection to that, because, well, it’s true. It takes a lot of mental energy to get through the day and we can get so absorbed in our interests that we forget to eat, let alone call our parents to see how they’re doing. But he goes one step further and equates self-centeredness with being selfish and uncaring. And there is nothing inherent to autism that would make someone selfish and uncaring.
Like so many other traits, self-centeredness in the form of not really giving a rip about anyone but yourself varies widely among different people and different situations, and it’s something that as humans we’re all affected with to some extent. I have a feeling his reaction to his co-workers illness is not that uncommon, it’s just that he is self-aware and honest enough to admit to it. We don’t usually have a deep connection with co-workers; that we spend so much time around people we don’t really care deeply about is just an unfortunate reality of modern life. But even the closest relationships are affected by this kind of self-centeredness. It’s the reason why parents drop their sick kids off at daycare when they don’t really have to or complain on Facebook that they had to stay up all night with their sick child. Self-centeredness isn’t an Aspie thing, it is, most unfortunately, a human thing.
Now, I have absolutely zero beef with Aspie Guy and would highly recommend his funny, honest, and insightful blog. But the characterization of Aspies as self-centered in the sense of being selfish and uncaring is not only inaccurate but perpetuates one of the most negative stereotypes about autism.
Some Aspies are selfish. Many are caring. Most are some combination of the two. Just like everyone else.