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Thursday, December 22, 2005

 
Asperger's as a Cultural Gap
In the book I'm reading right now, I came across the statement that people with Asperger's Syndrome typically seem insensitive to age or culture gaps when dealing with people. The age gap thing is pretty easily explicable, since it seems the only thing that really drives people of a similar age together is a corresponding feeling of similarity in experiences, and people with Asperger's experience the world differently from everybody, peers or otherwise. So what does it matter to them if the other person they're talking to is 10 years older or younger, so long as they're actually decently talking to them?

The culture gap idea was more intriguing to me, because it puts some things in perspective for neurotypicals. People with Asperger's have frequently been reported as feeling actually more comfortable surrounded by people of a different culture, because their difference is frequently ignored, put down to being foreign. It's a situation where they're not expected to know the proper social response to everything for once. I suspect it could probably be a lot easier for the person with Asperger's to figure out how to behave and understand social rules in a foreign culture as an adult, because people would be more likely to explain those rules explicitly to the funny foreigner who has such different customs.

The truth is, of course, that the funny foreigner with Asperger's doesn't have funny foreign customs, but instead in essence has no customs. They never absorbed the social rules of their home culture, either. They are essentially walking around as a foreigner in their own land, their own house, with no one even dreaming they need to explain the rules. It's where the Oliver Sacks/Temple Grandin description of a person with autism being like an "anthropologist on Mars" comes in.

I think the idea of the Asperger's lack of social awareness being akin to being in a foreign country could help some neurotypical people understand. I was talking to a guy who's been spending a lot of time in Taiwan recently, doing art shows, who talked about several other artists who will never be invited back to Taiwan, because they behaved so rudely. They probably have no idea they were perceived that way; they probably thought they were behaving just the way they would at home, without ever giving it a thought. This seems very, very similar to the way people with Asperger's are in their home countries: behaving in a way that makes complete and utter sense to them, and completely unaware of the social standards of this alien society around them. But if you've ever been to a foreign country with substantially different customs, you might be able to imagine the confusion, frustration, and fear of screwing up a lot of people with Asperger's feel when faced with social situations.

Just some work thoughts.

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