Monday, March 2

Music of the Mind

As a person with Asperger's, I have discovered there is no defense from thin skinned, politically correct, humorless Eugenians. No matter how hard I try to be courteous and polite, sometimes I say things that sound tactless without knowing it. 

We live in an era of hyper entitlement where people can not tell the difference between unintentional and deliberate offense. Any and every offense --real or imagined-- has the same unpardonable weight, where the offending person must be removed from their position or they must grovel and apologize immediately for hurting someone's feelings. 
A privileged executive with Korean Air is served snacks incorrectly and the resulting tantrum creates a scandal. A celebrity innocently says "colored" instead of "black" and people react with manufactured outrage.
Imagine what happens when the socially clueless autistic encounters such a person. Close friends and family accept my limitations with kindness and understanding but encountering strangers in the current environment is fraught with anxiety.Whenever I tripped, I would be acutely embarrassed and withdraw as a defense mechanism. This was  often mistaken for indifference or insensitivity, making the situation worse.
Society places a high value on human interactions and if the autistic compares themselves by those standards, they will always fail. After the latest gaffe, I gave considerable thought to what was going on and came to an interesting conclusion: the important skill those on the spectrum lack is social improvisation.
Conversation is like jazz, someone takes a theme and passes it to another, who changes it and passes it back. Neuro normals learn  a vast number of themes and how to alter them while those with ASD develop only a handful. For someone who only knows three chords and two songs, the frustration is compounded when they realize they can't expand their repertoire.
The autistic can learn to imitate themes but not grasp the nuances or their proper use. They are repeated without variation as a result, introductions became stilted, conversation focuses on a narrow subject, body language is misinterpreted.
After years of walking through this social mine field, I resigned myself to being shut out because I was comparing myself by neuro normal standards and always failing. But as I looked deeper into this analogy, I discovered those with ASD know more than three chords, in fact, our internal music is vast but fundamentally different from others because of the way our brains are wired. 
To use another analogy, the person with ASD has genetic roadblocks to "normal " function so new pathways are found around them that may seem perfectly clear to us but are baffling to the rest of the world.
An extreme example can be seen in synesthesia, where the senses blend. Colors have sound or names have taste. Until recently scientists scoffed at such claims but now see it as a legitimate phenomenon occasionally found in those on the spectrum. The discovery of savant skills are these new and unknown pathways of the brain.

Bach was famous for using staid old musical forms to weave new intricate melodies. Jackson Pollock dripped paint on canvas in patterns so complex, computers using advanced algorithms are needed to tell the real from the fakes. 
How easy it is for me to separate each orchestral part of  Bach's Toccata and fugue in D as seen in Fantasia. One long look at Jacksons splotches and I can see the fractals buried in the color  scheme but when talking to people, I can't tell whether I made a clever remark or insulted someone. 
Those on the spectrum may suck at the daily songs of conversations but we excel at the symphonies of ideas, patterns, and seeing the beautiful world around us. 

1 comment:

Christi Britton said...

I like this analogy. Although I feel you are more perceptive than you give yourself credit for. When someone with a chip on their shoulder has it blown off by the breeze of your passing by, it is best to let the chips fall where they may - tis not your responsibility to clean them up. But I understand your inference, so often I think of a much better response hours after an awkward encounter - Our american culture seems to want instantaneous problem solving, commentary on events while they are still happening and using 20/20 hindsight to criticize decisons of those lacking 20/20 foresight [that being 99.9% of human population]. Conversations seem to be more a game of one-up-manship rather than exchanges of information and sharing of differing points of view.