Thursday, December 20, 2012

What's Your Prognosis?

As a kid, I was diagnosed with dislexia and ADHD. Well at least that's what they'd have called them today. Back then they called them not-so-bright (NSB) and annoying, respectively. My capacity to annoy was enhanced by what would now be called Asperger's Syndrome or high-functioning autism. In addition to bouncing all over the place, I seemed to be completely clueless when it came to social cues and conventional modes of interpersonal communication.

Nowadays they have more clinical names for these diagnoses and protocols to address them. Yet, when you get past all the rhetoric, in the back of the minds of many you still end up with not-so-bright and annoying.

Kids with combinations of the first two diagnoses have a tough time in school.  Kids with Asperger's-only often do quite well academically, but may struggle socially. Generally speaking, kids with any combination of these diagnoses earn the designation of "special." Usually, "special" doesn't translate to "genius-in-residence" or "gifted", but instead to "needs extra help."

In-and-of-itself there's nothing wrong with being someone who needs extra help. It's just that you start to notice how people change when they interact with you.  Although many are good at masking or even avoiding the "annoying" part, their manner, their word selection,  their facial expressions, their expectations all shout, "not-so-bright". So despite best intentions, you come to buy into the belief that you're not so bright.

You might be thinking, "Hey, I thought that people with Asperger's don't pick up on social cues like facial expressions."

That would be misleadingly correct. I used to think it was just me, but I've lately come to realize that the following is a common experience among people with Asperger's. It's not that you don't notice facial expression or change of gaze or gestures. It's that you notice so many little things in a person's manner it's impossible to determine which ones are meaningful and/or significant. Although you don't pick up on them, you may actually take in and process more nonverbal cues than others would.

Anyway, it didn't take me long to figure out that teachers and other adults saw me as not-so-bright. After all, not-so-bright was the formal diagnosis. For me the greatest challenge lay in the fact that I've always had a particularly strong capacity to annoy, specially when I'm excited about something I want to do or I've begun to obsess on something that I just can't let go of until resolved.

For younger kids the annoying part isn't too much of a problem due to a phenomenon I've deemed "survival of the cutest." I imagine that the homicide rate among victims with ADHD would increase significantly if it weren't for the fact that little kids are so cute. That said, from a Darwinian perspective it's amazing that I reached puberty. I never scored well on cuteness.

When I think about first, second and third grade, I have memories of adults getting annoyed with me and me trying to figure what I'd done to get them annoyed. My strongest memories come from times when I'd decided to get to the bottom of it by asking what I'd done. I'd obsess on getting a satisfactory answer. Of course, this only served to exacerbate the level of annoyance.

As an adult I still have strong powers of annoyance. However, I learned to control them, at least a bit. My control typically isn't as good as I think it is, but it's way better than it was. I've also overcome the not-so-bright stigma. That's not to say that people think I am bright; it's just that I think I'm bright. The crazy thing is that I still have dislexia, ADHD and Asperger's. It's just that I've learned to route around them or garner their power.

For example, I still often misinterpret what I've read because of having rearranged words or letters on their way in. Dyslexia still makes reading challenging, even reading musical notes. However, because reading has been challenging I've developed other modes of knowledge acquisition and transfer. Although I'd be hard-pressed to play from a sheet of piano music, it's no problem at all to play something I've heard. Similarly, I'd have a hard time reading a musical score; but to write one isn't at all challenging.

A side-effect of my dislexia is being able to translate anything in my head into a medium like music or prose or software. Wait... I hadn't thought about that one before. That's how it works! For me, writing software is just like playing music by ear. If I can see it in my minds eye, I can write the code to do it without really thinking about it. Hmm... that's pretty cool for someone who's "special."

Still working on the annoying part. Fortunately, I'm a much cuter adult than I was a kid. I know, that's not saying much, but to some people I'm even earned the designation of "cute."

Happy Thursday,

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