“It’s like you are just a spectator in this thing”: Experiencing social life the ‘aspie’ way
2. Asperger syndrome
The autism spectrum incorporates a range of disorders characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication and social imagination/theory of mind,4 including Asperger syndrome (AS). Some people diagnosed with AS can be described as high functioning in some areas while struggling in others (Attwood, 2006). Difficulties in social interaction and communication can be attributed to several factors, not least the lack of mainstream understanding there is about the syndrome (Portway and Johnson, 2005). For people with AS, a difficulty in understanding body and facial language, sensory sensitivities such as hyper- or hyposensitivity of hearing, sight, smell, touch and/or taste and a tendency to interpret things very literally all contribute to making social life largely illegible and, as a result, unpredictable (Davidson, 2008). Given the significance of trust and predictability in social relations, it is perhaps not surprising that intense and unpleasant ‘autistic emotion’ (Davidson, 2007a) has been linked to the experience of AS. Yes, but, the ASD industry fails to correctly differentiate cause or origin of AS from their social conceptual idea prison. The “fault is one sided and falls on the Asperger / ASD person. The “helping, caring fixing” industry remain focused on their mistaken opinions, which have become hardened and unshakeable stereotypes; society continues to see AS / ASD individuals as collective objects.
There is considerable controversy surrounding the definition of AS (see, for example, Mayes et al., 2001; McLaughlin-Cheng, 1998) and the existing literature tends to present a stereotypical picture of people with AS as unemotional, non-communicative and anti-social (Stazmari, 2004). Recent non-clinical research as well as personal accounts written by individuals with AS do, however, present a very different picture, conveying the range and diversity of people with AS while demonstrating some striking similarities (see, for example, Davidson, 2007a; Grandin, 1996; O’Neill, 1999; Williams, 1995). The picture of the ‘aspie’ experience gained from this literature suggests alienation and a powerful sense of being able to view mainstream life without being able to access it fully. As Davidson (2007a: 669) writes;
These emotional states can form a long term background to the pronounced terrors, frustrations, embarrassments and revulsions that characterise daily attempts to engage with that other world.
Feeling alienated and not fitting in, of course, contributes to difficulties in maintaining a working consensus in social encounters, and people with AS could be identified by others as ‘faulty interactants’ in the sense Goffman wrote about. This concept, however, does not allow an engagement with the ‘aspie’ experience or perspective and, as this paper will demonstrate, there are places in which people with AS do fit in, underlining the importance of an engagement with the emotio-spatial hermeneutic (Davidson and Bondi, 2004).