Absolutism and Asperger’s go hand in hand. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word absolute as “true, right, or the same in all situations and not depending on anything else.”
This definition becomes apparent when individuals form an opinion that they absolutely, positively, refuse to deviate from. Even unintended consequences will not change the mindfulness of the absolute opinion. Here’s one of my personal experiences about absolutism and Asperger’s. I participated in a simple, mundane social event and drew an absolute conclusion that dramatically changed my body language. It led to many years of significant misunderstandings by peers, parents, and doctors. Ultimately I damaged my own socialization skills.
When I was young, I showed a wide range of emotions such as remorse, affection, empathy, and joy. I also teared up quite a bit. This was encouraged; I came from a loving, supportive family. It’s a natural expression that I did not think was unusual or shameful. I think everyone would agree this is typical and normal behavior. My showing of emotions all changed one moment when I was 11 years old on a class trip. Despite what happened next I still felt the same range of emotions as before. I just decided to stop showing any of them. A classmate had a radio, which she tuned to the oldies station. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons blared their classic, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” She made a statement singing along, “Big Boys Do Cry.” I took her statement to heart. I felt insulted, insecure, and emotionally exposed even though she’s not looking at me. I want to respond with a defensive, snappy comeback. It’s what kids do. Before any word leaves my mouth I assume I have a reputation that my eyes water quickly and easily. This defining moment made me realize that showing emotions was absolutely embarrassing. I keep my mouth shut. I make up my mind: I won’t give anyone any reason to poke fun at me. If I show no emotion, no one can tease me. If I couldn’t ignore a wisecrack at my expense, my eyes would water. It happens, and I believe this is perfectly reasonable for anyone. I was absolutely going to do everything I could not to give anyone the reaction they wanted.
What results do I get with my absolutism and Asperger’s? My flat affect seemed to work at first. I receive less and less negative attention. Some people say that when other kids try to get a reaction out of you, that’s what your peers want. But a funny thing happened. I looked indifferent all the time, or too intense. I smiled less and seldom moved my arms. Every single person, from teachers, doctors, and parents, to my peers, who looked at me assumed, “Clearly Simon has Asperger’s. He wants to be alone. He doesn’t show normal emotions. He doesn’t understand subtle social cues. He can’t seek comfort or respond to anger or affection typically. He can’t interpret other peoples’ thoughts and feelings. He can’t see things from another person’s perspective. He can’t regulate emotions.” Here’s what they missed: I tried to shield myself from feeling confused and hurt in social situations. I made an absolute judgment to have no affect. I would not budge because I thought I was protecting myself. I was not born wanting to be left out. My absolutism and Asperger’s ensured I was. To this day, I’ll often look stoic even though it’s not how I really feel.
About fifteen years later, in my mid-20s, I started to unravel this unnecessary absolute. I realized I created many different rules for myself and I loathed the results I got. The more I discussed absolutism and Asperger’s with Richard Kaplan, he got me to recognize that reducing my absolute state of mind helped my body language to be more representative of my emotions. I am no longer as rigid as I once was. My social life has changed significantly. I went from a basement shut-in to a standup comic, serving on a founding board of a charter school, and a mentor leader for kids with developmental disabilities.
Written by Richard Kaplan Med.Sp.ed and Simon Huebner
Resource Education Solutions
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