Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Distressing

This afternoon I spent some time on the phone while three “experts” from Spark (my telephone & Internet provider) tried to “help” me solve a “problem” with my Internet connection.

I usually enjoy these “sessions” and try to string along those providing the “assistance” for as long as possible. My aim it to make their “support call” stretch out to more than an hour, but today I only achieved 43 minutes. My reasoning is that while they’re trying to scam me, they can’t scam someone else.

Today I chose to put the phone onto speaker so that I would could have both hands free to undertake other activities while frustrating the hell out of the callers. This was the first time I’ve done that. And it was my undoing.

The wife, who is much less tolerant or sensitive towards people who she believes is in the wrong, today showed a more sensitive streak.

In most interactions with others, I tend to be as courteous and polite as possible, and the wife frequently chastises me for not being more aggressive or confrontational in cases of disagreement. Usually she has little regard to the sensitivity of others when it comes to achieving her goals. She can be ruthless. I know. I have witnessed her in action for nearly 50 years. My ways are much more gentle and yet I’m not convinced she’s any more successful than I am.

I must admit that I find it difficult to read emotion at the best of times no matter how hard I try, but when it comes to dealing with people such as this “help desk” trio, I honestly have absolutely no interest whatsoever. And when it comes to dealing with scammers such as these, I’m grateful for having this autism characteristic.

I had switched the phone to speaker at about fifteen minutes into the call and the wife was able to listen in on the conversation. At first she seemed amused, but when I glanced up at about the 30 minute mark, her grin had gone and something which I have learnt to be associated with concern was showing. Concern for what or who I couldn’t decipher.

However, at about 40 minutes I could tell that the wife was clearly upset and I assumed it was because I was wasting time and hadn’t completed a task for her that I had started moments before the phone rang. At that point I let the the trio know that I knew they were scammers. Of course they tried to bluster their way out and threatened to suspend Spark’s services to me. On my suggestion that they do so, they hung up.

It was only then that I discovered why the wife was upset and distressed, and that was because of how I was winding up the trio According to the wife, they were very frustrated and the woman caller was almost in tears. This was a surprise to me as I’ve seldom witnessed her being sensitive to the feelings of others in times of conflict, and never when she considers the other to be in the wrong.

She’s brought up the subject of how upset the woman was on several occasions over the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, and I can only assume that she was sensitive to their emotions because she was not directly involved – she was an observer and not a participant. Whatever the reason, it is a new and surprising revelation to me. Even after all this time she can still surprise me.

Lesson learnt. Next time (and that’s bound to happen again before the year is out), I won’t enable the speakerphone.


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Birthday anniversary

Today would have been my mother’s 100th birthday if she had not passed away in February 2017.

I’m reminded of the occasion because the wife showed me a Facebook posting by my sister (the wife has a Facebook account, I don’t, but that’s a story for another day). Otherwise the occasion would have gone unnoticed by me.

The wife mentions that she misses Mum, but it’s not a feeling I share. Not because I have any negative thoughts towards her, in fact I can’t think of anything negative to say about my mother, and I’m still very fond of her. But that’s where it ends. I feel the same about her now as I did four years ago, when she was a 96 year old bundle of energy. Her passing hasn’t changed that.

I have been told that it’s unhealthy not to have a sense of loss when losing someone close, but I have no idea what a sense of loss is supposed to feel like, but then I find it difficult to identify most emotions within myself. I’m more empathetic to emotions in others than in myself if they are emotions related to sadness or distress or joy, but otherwise I’m virtually blind to emotions in others as well as myself.

Alexithymia is characterized by difficulties in identifying, describing, and processing one’s own feelings, often marked by a lack of understanding of the feelings of others, and difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal. It’s more common than most people realise

Around 10% of men and 2% of women have alexithymia to some degree. It’s also often associated with PTSD. Research indicates that between 50% and 85% of autistics have alexithymia. Whether it a characteristic of autism or a comorbid condition is open to debate, but it’s definitely a condition that many of us on the autism spectrum share.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m devoid of emotion. I suspect I’m just as emotional at the next person, but I’m not able to differentiate one emotion from another, especially when it comes to feelings. On the other hand I have come to recognise the physical manifestations associated with some emotions. For example, I recognise that I clench my fists and clench my jaws in situations where unfairness or injustice arises. I presume these are physical responses of anger?

Do I miss Mum? Not that I’m aware of.
Should I? I Haven’t a clue, And for me it does not matter.


Edit: For anyone who knows the actual date of my mother’s passing, and wondering why it’s being published on the wrong day, all I’ll say is I’m a slow writer.


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To speak or not to speak, that is the question

That dear readers, is a question I’m unable to answer. At (almost) 68 years of age, I still don’t have a clue when it’s my turn to speak. And it’s not for the want of trying.

I often get it wrong even in one on one conversations, but if I’m in a group of two or more other people I’m like a fish out of water when it come to practising  conversational turn taking.

It appears to me that conversations consist of one person leading and others following, adding variable length interjections from time to time  (the nature and frequency of which varies from culture to culture), and then by some mysterious mechanism the lead is transferred to another member of the group.

To a person like me, the ability of others to smoothly navigate a conversation is more than an art or skill. It has the appearance of the participants having some sort of ESP or supernatural ability that is used to negotiate who says what, and when. In fact there was a period in my childhood when I was convinced this was true, which goes a long way to explain my brief fascination of the paranormal at that time.

I’m sure there’s a discipline of science that studies the mechanism by which people negotiate  conversations, but the average person seems to have no idea how they do it. Believe me, I’ve asked. Typical responses are “I’ve never thought about it” (so I gather), “It comes naturally” (no it doesn’t), “It’s instinctive” (no it’s not), “what a stupid question!” (why?), “everyone can do it” (really? I can’t)), “just take your turn” (when is it my turn?), “just observe and you’ll learn” (I’ve been observing for more than 60 years, so how about a hint or clue?).

It was only eight years ago that I learnt there is an explanation for the reason I find conversation so difficult: I discovered I am on the autism spectrum. However being armed with the knowledge why I fail to recognise non-verbal clues (a skill most people don’t realise they possess), does little to help me. If I concentrate exclusively on another’s body movements or tone of voice, I can maybe recognise something that possibly might be non-verbal clues. However, it’s a moot point as the concentration required means the words spoken have gone in one ear and out the other and I’m unable to relate what might have been expressed non-verbally with what the person has said.

When I first learnt I was on the spectrum, my only “knowledge” of autism was through the film Rain Man. I wanted to prove I wasn’t autistic, and tried many online tests in an attempt to prove the experts wrong. I failed totally. One test I tried (on many occasions) is the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. This test measures one’s ability to identify emotions in others by looking at an area around the eyes and without any other input.

The test consists of looking at a total of 36 pairs of eyes and choosing one of four emotions to match the image. The mean score is roughly 27/36 for women, 25/36 for men and 22/36 for people who have been identified as having Asperger Syndrome or “High Functioning” Autism. I’ve tried this test on numerous occasions, and the very best I have achieved is 16/36. However most of my results have been close been between 10 and 13, which is only marginally better than one would expect from a tossing a dice to choose an emotion.

So the next time someone appears to be rude by interrupting inappropriately, just consider the possibility that they might struggling, almost to the point of exhaustion, of trying to fit in and having no idea why they don’t. They struggle to fit into your world almost every moment they are awake. It won’t hurt you to try to fit into their world sometimes.

For those who would like to try the test for themselves, there are online versions at http://socialintelligence.labinthewild.org/mite/ and https://www.questionwritertracker.com/quiz/61/Z4MK3TKB.html. The latter requires Adobe Flash, and provides the answers, both of which are good reasons for me to avoid it.