I think about things all the time. Usually, however, they are things that I am not supposed to be thinking about (being a student, I ought to do more work - but since the work is tedious, that can be very laborious and depressing). Just give me a moment to collect my thoughts - after a day at church, I tend to be all over the place, as it were.
I find Asperger Syndrome a puzzling, yet fascinating, phenomenon. My father once said to me: ''Patrick, you might be able to recite the Aeneid in Latin but you can't tie your shoe-laces up.'' Does this seem so strange? Of course, I can tie my shoe-laces just as well as anyone - my mother taught me how to do that when I was little (I do, in fact, remember her instruction). This is all going to sound completely garbled, so please be patient. Of course, my parents have articulated similar pearls before - you are ''socially inept,'' or you have ''no common sense,'' or you don't ''walk in other peoples' shoes'' being three of the most common. Amusingly, a typically ''me'' incident occurred this very day at my parish. I was asked by the MC to go and fetch a set of keys from a safe in the Sacristy - and I was given specific instruction as to where they were too. And so I went, looked for the keys, and couldn't find them (or perhaps just couldn't ''see'' or ''perceive'' them). Not being able to find them, I returned to say that I couldn't find them - although the safe was locked. Explaining that I ''couldn't hit a barn door with a shovel,'' as the saying goes, the MC himself had to go to the Sacristy. He returned promptly, with the keys, saying that they were exactly where he left them. Why could I not find them? I don't know. This is a very complex question of psychology I expect.
What is ''common sense'' anyway? Does it entail being able to locate a set of keys? Or being told to write on alternate lines in Primary School, only to continue writing as usual? Or being sent to the post-box as a boy with an A4 size brown envelope, only to return to tell my parents that it wouldn't fit in the post-box, then my mother taking it from me, folding it, and giving it back and telling me to post it thus? I have read many approaches to this, from philosophical, psychological perspectives, and they all seem to fail spectacularly to explain exactly what it is - articulating fantastical theories rather than answering the question - ''beating around the bush'' as the saying goes. I always understood ''common sense'' - at least as articulated by my parents in relation to my behaviour in unfamiliar circumstances - to mean the apparent ability to take in information, process it, and act accordingly. I don't seem to have this ability - there seems to be some sort of barrier that prevents me from processing information that is commensurate to an unfamiliar situation.
Of course, in such a world that we live in, this can often have serious consequences. I remember when I was in the first year of Secondary School, my Maths teacher told me that they had no more graph paper - and so I was handed an ordinary piece of narrow-ruled paper. I spent the whole lesson with my pencil and ruler drawing small squares on it, so that my paper was the same as everyone else, and so that I could do the work. An hour later, my teacher came to me and asked: ''Patrick, what is your mother going to say when I tell her that you have been drawing squares all lesson?'' I didn't know what my mother would say - I cannot even remember what she DID say. But it is an interesting thing all the same - some aspect of ''Theory of Mind.'' Tony Attwood, a renowned expert in Asperger Syndrome, devoted a whole chapter of his excellent book The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, to this subject - it is well worth a read - although I have personal reservations about the title of the book.
People are confusing. I watch social interactions between two or more people from a distance sometimes, and am altogether perplexed by it. It is another seemingly essential aspect of the human condition in which I fail spectacularly. I watch and listen, and am ''put out.'' They seem to talk about things that I find meaningless, or the conversation is just base, or neither party seems to derive anything (that I see) beneficial or efficacious from the interaction - and yet there is laughter, and some kind of enjoyment in evidence. For example, I have watched the interactions between an impecunious young man that I know from work (in that respect, we have something at least in common!), not very bright - with a gentleman's degree from a not-very-prestigious university - and other people that I may or may not like, (one young man that seems to get on well with him I am very fond of); and am sometimes confused as to why on earth people ''like'' him. He doesn't seem to take life in general very seriously, and he seems to enjoy what I consider to be monotonous and degrading work. But I find his acceptance by other people rather confusing. I can guarantee that if I condescended to say the words that he said, to adopt the bodily postures and inclinations that he adopted, I would look ridiculous. But there seems to be more to ''social interaction'' than adopting body inclinations, and saying words. He seems to ''know'' something instinctively about other people that I don't.
But is this ''instinctive'' knowledge worth it really? As I have said, most social interactions that I have been privy to seem entirely meaningless, and were I capable of it, would render me entirely barren - almost, dare I say it, debauched - people conversing about which TV program they watched the other night, or about which distant relative has had a baby, etc. As an aside, it amused me once sitting on the train listening to an interaction between three women - one of them venturing to say that another was more ''cultured'' than another for watching Britain's Got Talent!!! My dogs are more interesting than that! But in many ways, I think that my two dogs are two of the most important individuals in my life. I talk to them often; we have our own little world together. I tell them things, and unlike people who are for the most part inadvertent, they don't give me bad advice or unwanted consolation - but instead keep an ''understanding'' silence. I have sometimes wished that they could talk - but that would indeed be rather weird! Dogs are very important and intelligent. A dog is not going to whine in Woolworths because you didn't buy it a Mars bar is it? As Audrey Hepburn (one of the 20th century's archetypal women) said of dogs:
''I think an animal, especially a dog, is possibly the purest experience you can have...no person, and few children...are as unpremeditated, as undemanding, really. They only ask to survive. They want to eat. They are totally dependant on you, and therefore completely vulnerable. And this complete vulnerability is what enables you to open your heart completely, which you rarely do to a human being.'' (Pamela Clarke Keogh, Audrey Style, p.108).
Of all people to cite in a post of this nature, Audrey Hepburn seems the least likely! However, she was a very beautiful, very intelligent and very understanding woman, whom I have always held in high esteem - ever since I first saw her when I was 4 or 5 years old in The Nun's Story! Of course, Audrey did not hold people in contempt, or thought more highly of dogs. But the relationship that she had with her dogs (she had several dogs in her life) was exemplary. But returning to the pertinent points I have raised regarding social interaction, I asked whether such ''instinctive'' knowledge of peoples' desires, feelings, thoughts etc is worth the effort. I cannot answer that question at present - for both the ''yes'' and ''no'' options have serious psychological consequences. If I say ''yes,'' then I put myself into a very uncomfortable position. I have to cope with the general chit-chat about The Jeremy Kyle Show with a grin on my face, whilst inside I am screaming for release from this labour. If I say ''no,'' then I suffer the consequences of social isolation. I shall be mute, I shall have no friends, no intellectual discussion (although sometimes I wonder if what I say warrants the label ''intellectual'' at all - I am not very good at verbal dialectic, which is, incidentally, something I have in common with J.R.R Tolkien) and no desire for it. What a bleak existence that would be.
It has often been alleged that people with Asperger Syndrome are typically solitary out of choice or conscious desire. I am not an expert in the complexities of Asperger Syndrome - since it sits uneasily upon the Autism Spectrum of Disorders, naturally the symptoms that present themselves with each individual are going to vary considerably. But I am, however, qualified to speak from a certain personal perspective. I am solitary sometimes out of necessity, sometimes because my ''oddities'' are not accepted or understood fully by neurotypical people. By necessity, I mean that state after work where I have seen enough of the general public to last me a month, and so I retreat to my room to read Tolkien. By choice sometimes for similar reasons. In the case of ''oddities,'' I think I can understand, at least I am able to scrape the periphery, as it were. Naturally, a lot of people (even the most erudite of men) are not going to know about Asperger Syndrome, and how it comes across in the people with this fascinating condition that they are privy to. To some, I may just be the ''slightly odd'' individual, with a lot of knowledge of Tolkien. Some people, however, are quite nasty about it. To some reprobate individuals (are they really that individual? - a cogent point...), this is ample opportunity to start bullying. I expect that some people with Asperger Syndrome are ''blunted'' to social cues and general interaction because of bullying - their general opinions of most people being that they are cruel and stupid (and not without reason I venture to add). Bullying is one of the most heinous affronts against the human person that I can think of, and people with Asperger Syndrome are particularly susceptible. In 1944, Hans Asperger wrote:
''Autistic children are often tormented and rejected by their class-mates simply because they are different and stand out from the crowd. Thus, in the playground or on the way to school one can often seen an autistic child at the centre of a jeering horde of little urchins. The child himself may be hitting out in blind fury or crying helplessly. In either case he is defenceless.'' (Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome, Chapter IV, Teasing and Bullying, p.95).
I narrated these words to a friend of mine once in an Instant Message over the Internet, and then to my surprise, I began to cry. I told him so, and he said to me: ''having often been that boy.'' I think that anyone with any notion of Original Sin, and thus the everlasting weight of human iniquity, cannot be unmoved by these words. I think that the words moved me from personal experience, but there were probably other reasons too. But anyway, I digress, social isolation is in this case not chosen by the individual with Asperger Syndrome, but is inflicted upon him by the jeering horde of urchins. He may, after this (and similar experiences) freely choose to remain isolated from other people. Can you blame him for this?
This post has gone on far beyond the original length that I had intended. To conclude (I am always useless at conclusions) I shall say that people with Asperger Syndrome can have some extraordinary and wonderful abilities and talents. But these always seem to be at a great cost, and people with the condition can have some apparent ineptitudes, or at least have great difficulty, in areas that most people take for granted. Although I am still trying to find out the best way to approach the social interaction side of things; is a ''laboratory-approach'' to social cues (''I have said something nice to that woman,'' or ''I have made an observation about that man, therefore there will be a positive reaction from him'') a good way to proceed? I personally think it can be a waste of time - imagine trying to vent all one's mental effort on appearing pleasant and normal to someone and then being unable to think of anything appropriate to say because one's concentration is entirely focused upon some other aspect. I shall perhaps await comments on this matter...