Personal Musings of a Latter-day Saint with Asperger's Syndrome

This morning I started listening to a podcast I’d downloaded from LDS Radio. It was an interview with a woman whose son has Tourette’s Syndrome, and much of what she said about her son’s experience reminded me of my own early years with undiagnosed (and at that time, unnamed) Asperger’s. For the longest time I saw myself as a victim of other people’s cruelty, intolerance, impatience, and failure to understand and accept me for who I was. But lately, I find myself less inclined to see myself as the innocent victim, and more inclined to take a good look at what part I may have played in my early experience. (As Dr. Phil says, “we teach others how to treat us”.)

A major reason why I found it easier to see myself as the victim and to blame others is that I didn’t want to take responsibility for what I perceived as mistreatment by others. Having often been scapegoated, I learned early on to take the blame for pretty much every unfortunate occurrence. But taking blame is not the same thing as taking responsibility. Taking responsibility simply means observing what part of a given experience is due to my input. I can take responsibility without blaming myself by accepting that I meant no harm, but that I was acting largely out of ignorance and was doing the best I could at the time. Just as I can hold one of my children responsible without chewing them out, I can hold myself responsible without beating myself up.

Of course, there is always the embarrassment that I feel when I think of my past behavior: biting people, sticking my foot out at the bottom of the slide (not realizing that somebody’s stomach would run into the foot on coming down), living in my own fantasy world and missing important instructions in class (and therefore not getting assignments or projects done), saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, being self-righteous, tattling on friends (in front of them, no less), telling my teacher that I liked my previous one better than her, calling girls with braces names, etc., etc.

Writing all of this, I realize that one common element in the above is my apparent inability to anticipate and connect consequences with what I did. I still have that trouble to some extent, though not nearly as much. (Or could it be that I just avoid people and don’t have the opportunity to misbehave? Or could that even be why I avoid people—that I don’t trust myself around them?)

It now helps to revisit these experiences and many others in the light of my AS—not that it makes them appropriate, but it does help me understand why I acted like a brat, when doing so was the furthest from my mind. Not once was my conscious desire to hurt anybody, and once I realized I had, I was horrified. And the older I get and the more I think about these incidents, the more horrified and even sickened I am.

The upside of this is that I have been able to learn from painful experience what I didn’t know intuitively: that my actions do have consequences; that what I do affects other people, no matter how isolated from them I think I am; and that slowing down to consider what I am about to do, and how well it aligns with what I know to be right, will keep me out of trouble and will make my company much more pleasant for others.

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Hugh Nibley [off the record]

Candid musings of the LDS scholar who was the church's strongest intellectual defender and Mormon culture's gad-fly critic.

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