Disturbing, and not

Someone passed along a link stating that girls manifest Asperger’s syndrome differently than boys do. This may in part account for the ten to one ratio of boys to girls who are diagnosed with it.

I’m interested because I have a girl among the testosterone-ridden throng in my house, so I went over to the article, and instead I found myself.

It’s really disturbing. I’ve been thinking for a while I probably do fall a bit on the spectrum side of things, that my character traits are less “geeky” than “problematic.” It makes a lot of sense, and yet at the same time, I didn’t want it to be true.

In my own personal fashion, I reacted to it by thinking to my guardian angel, “See, you really did get a substandard human.”

But overall, that’s not fair. First off, haven’t I been the one telling my son all along that he’s not defective or disabled because of his Asperger’s? That it’s simply a bundle of skills and difficulties which is common enough to have picked up its own name?

Secondly, I’ve self-diagnosed, and considering some of the other things I’ve self-diagnosed with over the years, that’s about as reliable as tossing dice. I get it.

I’ve had my obsessions, of course, just like Kiddo#1 has.

“Girls tend to get obsessed with things that are a little less strange,” says Elizabeth Roberts, a neuropsychologist at the Asperger Institute at the New York University Child Study Center. “That makes it harder to distinguish normal from abnormal.”

The article mentioned horses, and horses was one. But maybe that’s also at the root of a two-decade-long fascination with angels?

So here I am, suddenly questioning my own identity, and it’s uncomfortable.

In addition to more socially acceptable obsessions, Roberts says, the Aspie girls she sees are more adept at copying the behaviors, mannerisms and dress codes of those around them, than Aspie boys tend to be. 

Again, me. 

This comes on the heels of a conversation with my mother about how some of Kiddo#1’s behaviors resemble some of mine (although about ten times stronger than mine) when I was a kid. So I wonder.

But I’ve also been asking myself, does that make me any different than before? I’ve already got so many labels slapped onto my life: “Mother” and “Writer” and “Christian” and on and on and on. What’s one more or less? The application of the label doesn’t really change the contents of the jar, only how we understand what’s inside.

Assuming the label fits.


  1. Memphis Aggie

    Those two traits you describe are absolutely normal. Girls loving horses is perfectly normal and reminds of those 1950’s Elizabeth Taylor films. Copying clothing and mannerisms is also normal in adolescents, especially for girls. Instead of worrying about being normal you should be more disturbed by the psychologists desires to fit perfectly healthy people into a syndrome. Psychology is a very weak science. Except for a few good cognitive therapies and a handful of poorly understood drugs, it hasn’t done much good. Occasionally psychologists do tremendous damage. Treat any expansion of a trendy diagnosis with skepticism. Yes there are fashions in science and Autism is currently in fashion, as bizarre as that may sound.

    Your faith should tell you not to place too much emphasis on the opinion of men. Your gifts for story telling and your fascination with Angels is a blessing, don’t doubt it. Your stories on the side bar are really good and “Damage” was exceptional. Further I’ve been inspired by your posts – especially the one about the Subway Angel. The idea dovetails nicely with St Faustina’s writings and I found myself acknowledging the Angel of the institution where I work (its’ a children’s hospital) and things have gone more smoothly since. In fact, yesterday I unexpectedly got promoted.

  2. Will Duquette

    Well, and suppose you *did* have Asperger’s? The Asperger’s kids I know have all had difficulty relating to others during childhood; and that’s the problem. It’s hard for them to learn how to cope with others. If it so happens that you have Asperger’s, you’ve evidently weathered that storm: you got through childhood, have gotten married, and have a family.

    In short, it doesn’t appear to be a problem, so why worry about it?

  3. Julie D.

    the Aspie girls she sees are more adept at copying the behaviors, mannerisms and dress codes of those around them, than Aspie boys tend to be.

    Yeah, unlike “normal” girls and boys who would NEVER act that way … pfft!

  4. Ivy

    You have to remember that psychological disorders fall along a spectrum of behavior. It’s something normal taken to an extreme. Look at daydreaming. A healthy person can pretend to be someone else, to imagine being in someone else’s shoes, or to just make up stories. In the middle range that’s healthy. If someone had none of that, they’d be called psychotic, incapable of empathy. If someone had too much of that, they’d be diagnosed with some form of dissociative disorder.

    You will find yourself in every classification precisely because the traits that, in excess, form a disorder, in moderation are present in every human, except those where their absence is the mark of a disorder.

    It’s exactly as Will said, it’s considered a disorder when it impedes your ability to function. If you thought you were just fine before, you are.

  5. philangelus

    I’ve always suspected I wasn’t just fine, of course. But maybe everyone feels like an alien from another planet?

    Julie, do “normal” girls and boys copy one another’s behavior, or does it just come naturally to them? I never watched other girls having to study one another in the bathroom to learn how to put on makeup, or to know how to use a pretty scarf to make their clothes look right. They all seemed to “get it,” whereas I felt I was enrolled in “remedial life.”

    Memphis Aggie: congrats on your promotion!

    The big thing I keep thinking is that if this is how God made me, on the spectrum or not, and I suspect God doesn’t make mistakes, then it’s no biggie. My Patient Husband already said as much.

    Thanks for letting me ramble, guys. 🙂

  6. philangelus

    I forgot to reply to you, Will. I guess the reason it would matter would be going forward, how I would weather the inevitable changes in growing older, becoming someone’s horrible mother-in-law, possible grandmotherhood, and so on.

    But on the other hand, I already have a five-inch-thick book on Asperger’s to read for my son, so I’ll just keep those techniques in my back pocket and use them on myself too if necessary.

  7. Ivy

    I know you directed your question at Julie, but the reason we have magazines like Self is precisely because girls and women need to learn things like make up tips from other girls and women. Also why we have makeup consultants and beauty books. It’s not instinct. Everyone who has the skill, learned it somewhere.

  8. Kit

    Jane, I read the article you’re speaking about, too, and while I didn’t suspect myself, I certainly recognized some of the universal themes that apply. As an Aspie girl’s mom, it was spot on and reflected so much of what we deal with – for those who responded, all I can say is you have to see it in action to understand what the Aspie version of “imitating” is like.


    My daughter had a great epiphany that “being funny” (like a few of the naturally entertaining boys in her class) equates with “being popular” at school. So she bought and checked out all the corny 4th grade joke books she could get her hands on, memorized HUNDREDS of horrible jokes, and was crushed when it didn’t work out, and her peers did not revere her…they thought she was even odder/nerdier for having an encyclopaedic knowledge of knock-knock jokes and riddles.

    The clothes matching and accessorizing – holy cow. The return trips to her dresser that kid makes…you can lay something out the night before, but if it is not the right combo for her, forget it.


    Mom-selected outfit (night prior) with kid approval:

    Dark magenta yoga pants, matching hoodie and coordinating dark pink and black-logo t-shirt. Nikes with black and dark pink trim. Gym socks. Black headband.

    Morning presentation by kid at breakfast table:

    Dark magenta yoga pants, lime geen fleece pullover, orange and yellow long-sleeve shirt, last year’s too-small sparkly blue metallic gym shoes, and thick yarn-knit pastel blue, pink, and white “toe socks” crammed into the too-small shoes. Navy fleece headband. Perfect for “crazy outfit day” perhaps, but not your typical run of the mill gym day.

    Me: “WHOA! What’s going on with the outfit there, sweetie…where’s the stuff we picked out last night?”

    Her: “Well, my alarm went off and I turned on the radio. It’s 25 degrees out, so I decided to wear warmer clothes, and I thought you’d like it that my socks and shoes match.”

    So the kid hears “cold,” gets all her favorite, perfectly sensible, individual cold-weather pieces on with no idea of the cumulative effect…and NO CLUE what torment she will face at the hands of the other 11-13 y/o girls at middle school if she shows up so garbed.

    That’s an Aspie girl in action.

  9. Kit

    PS Forgot the morning pants: Red fleece sweatpants!

  10. knit_tgz

    Hm. I am 31 (these last few days I seem t think I am 32) and finally learning how to manage hair and do makeup. About how to behave socially in various situations, I have discovered that two things work well: keep quiet and observing others until you see what is expected, and, when with people you trust, actually explaining that you don’t know how to act in this or that situation, could they please explain you?

    And about being popular: no idea. I’ve always just been myself, and mostly did not get very popular unless you wished to copy my homework. Being that my degree is in Physics and I’ve got an amazing love for Maths, Theology, Linguistics, and most things geek, I do not think I am very much normal (center of the gaussian normal), but I believe I cope well, and that’s the most important thing.

    I will go read that article now, but I will not get worried. And neither should you. The important thing is to know yourself and learn to work with the particular set of characteristics you’ve been given.

  11. Cricket

    You’re reaction is similar to mine, after reading Hallowell’s Delivered from Distraction. (I’m not self-diagnosed, just self-suspecting.) Loved his first book, but this one had exactly the opposite effect to what he intended. He tried to inspire confidence and realistic expecations by showing people with ADHD, and how they benefited from parts, and compensated for or accepted the rest, but I heard, “You’ll never be able to get to a meeting on time, so don’t even bother trying to get the habit.” I should re-read it; it had some really good ideas for how I relate to my son, but that message stuck.

    It’s good to know my reaction to that sort of thing isn’t unusual.

    I never understood teenage fashion. Dress clean, neat, comfortable and like you can afford clothes with no rips. As engineer, lower heels and more casual. I only started worrying about what my peers think when I changed school Mom groups two years ago, when we moved.

    (And I think I insulted the school secretary today, just by telling an early story about me not making coffee as a young engineer, and am now rethinking all sorts of opinions I held 15 years ago.)

    Aspergers and ADHD aren’t spectrums, they’re multi-dimensional webs. Too many subtypes to count. Complicate that by upbringing — if your parent uses lists well, you won’t think they’re useless annoying things. They also change with time and environment. (I took one test imagining three times in my life. 40/100 in high school, 60/100 during lost years, 50/100 now, but much lower in October.)

    It’s always good to know yourself, so you can use and enhance your strengths, and minimize and compensate for your weaknesses. Books like that help you explore the idea. They might alert you to a trait you hadn’t realized could have an up/down side. They might give you ways to use strengths in a new way, or work around a weakness. But the don’t define you.

    From what I’ve seen, you’ve done a good job of identifying your strengths and enhancing them, identifying your weaknesses and fixing and/or compensating for them, and getting on with your life.

  12. cathrl

    I too remember distinctly everyone but me being perfectly competent at putting on makeup as a teen. And yet now, as a mum of a competition skater, I’d say that only 40% or so of the mums are competent, and the rest of us cheerfully fake it to the best of our abilities, occasionally grovelling for assistance to the more skilled ones (man, was I glad that my daughter skated to Barnum this year. Clown makeup doesn’t need subtlety.)

    So did the other 60% forget? Or were they all along studying others and feeling like they were the ones who didn’t get it – and people like you and me never noticed that we weren’t the only ones hanging back to see what other people did first?

    Teens always feel like they are unique – and they are, of course, everyone is. But they’re not unique in being unique.

    I think what’s often forgotten is that half of all people are below average at any given skill. That’s the definition of average. You can be below average at something without having a problem.