Everyone needs a Seeing-Eye Person

I’m a pretty independent person, as people who know me will attest.

Stubborn as an Aspergian.

I think it comes of having a Scottish heritage, being Aspergian, and of having been more or less abandoned by my parents, who simply weren’t interested in children. (This of course begs the question of why they adopted at all, but that’s a subject for another day.)

In other words, I am not only biologically inclined towards independence, but was driven to it by circumstance. I am not alone in this: one of my heroes, John Elder Robison, is another excellent example of a self-raised Aspergian.

Anyway, sometimes this is a really good thing: it means I’m organized (and how), and that when there’s a job to be done, whether it’s cleaning house or getting a book edited on deadline, I do it. It’s enabled me to complete a postsecondary education, be employed, and have a roof over my head, a car in the driveway, money in the bank, and food in the fridge. Nothing fancy, mind you, but I do manage to keep the wolf from the door.

However, there are also some serious down-sides to being so independent, and those usually occur where my need to get ‘er done, now, on my terms, meets the crushing naïveté of Asperger Syndrome.

I’m the one that should be on the leash sometimes. ;)

As I’ve explained before, Asperger’s has made me fact-smart and people-stupid, meaning I’m great with setting up a study schedule or invoicing system for myself, but really bad with decisions involving social interactions. If life came with report cards, I’d be acing out in all the geek subjects, but flunking dismally in office life, friendships, and romance.

And this is where the folks I like to call my Seeing-Eye People come in. Just as people who are blind often have guide dogs that keep them from crashing into trees and falling down flights of stairs, I have acquired, in the last few years, a small, trustworthy group of people who help to keep me from stepping on too many land-mines in my dealings with other Humanoid Life Forms.

My decision to acquire Seeing-Eye People was motivated by some of the looking-back I did, with an Asperger’s specialist, after I was diagnosed in April 2009. He praised my accomplishments, but also gently pointed out the gaping craters of destruction where Asperger’s (and my unwillingness to ever ask for help or advice) had made its mark on my life — failed romances, poor choices of friends and partners, money lost to unscrupulous people, unhealthy career decisions….

Eventually, slowly, I began to understand not only that maybe some of these craters could have been avoided if I’d been able/willing to ask for advice, but also that asking for help is something we all — NT and Aspergian alike — need to do from time to time.

In fact, one of my Seeing-Eye People, my friend K., said to me recently that over the course of our friendship she has often worried terribly about me, as I’m so easily taken advantage of.  However, since I wasn’t the ask-for-help type, she had to be content with watching uneasily as I slipped on banana peel after banana peel, socially speaking.

Getting rid of sharky “friends” is a must.

K., of course, was and is a keeper. But step one in the process of selecting the rest of my Seeing-Eye People was jettisoning some bad apples — drama queens, for example, or people who were only hanging around me for money or sex (or both), or sponges who were only nice to me when they needed a favour.

This left me with fewer friends, but better-quality ones. It’s a hard thing to do, and makes for a bit of loneliness, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Step two was recognizing when I was in a bind, or didn’t know what “social protocols” were expected. For most of my life I’ve just bashed my way through whatever decision needed to be made, and damn the torpedoes. Now I have to do a bit of sorting: “Is this something I normally do successfully on my own, or does this require a Social Skill I don’t possess?” or “Am I getting that uneasy, weirded-out feeling that tells me I might need help?” If it’s the latter, then I know I need to make a phone call or send a text or email to one of my Seeing-Eye People and ask for assistance.

Two instances spring to mind. One was last year when an acquaintance from my gym asked to borrow my car. I don’t know her very well, and she had just had an accident with her own vehicle, and because I badly wanted her to be my friend, I initially said Yes.

However, I got that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that told me that was a poor decision. I went for a walk (I think best on my feet) and eventually it occurred to me that I should phone K. pronto. I also emailed my friend T. and asked for her thoughts. Over the sound of their eyebrows rocketing up into their hairlines, I got the message loud and clear that I must NOT be going about lending my vehicle to virtual strangers!

As K. put it, even her own sister has never asked to borrow her car, nor has she (K.) in our 28 years of friendship, ever asked to borrow mine.

Lesson learned.

Who you gonna call? Your Seeing-Eye Person!

The other instance was a matter of protocol: a few months ago, a friend’s baby was stillborn. She lives in another city and notified me (and a few others) by email, as she was understandably crushed & in mourning. I emailed her back my heartfelt condolences, but felt I should do more. However, being an Aspergian, I had no idea what was required.

So I phoned my friend A. (Seeing-Eye Person No. 3) and explained the situation, and asked what the protocol would be in such a situation. A. explained that often people want to talk about these things, and although I hate talking on the phone, I understood that it would be good to make an exception here and phoned my friend. She did, indeed, badly need to talk, and so we talked for about an hour together, and I came away feeling that I’d absolutely done the right thing, and helped her to feel better.

There are, of course, still a galaxy of things I do on my own and for which I need no advice or input: the day-to-day running of my work, what to make for dinner, how to run my home, when and where to exercise, what to watch on TV.

But slowly, surely, I’m learning that in some matters — particularly the Big Things that give me that uneasy feeling in my stomach, or that could have an enormous impact on my financial or social well-being — I can and should consult with my Seeing-Eye People and utter those words that come so hard to all us Aspergians:

“I’m having trouble with this. What do you think?”

11 thoughts on “Everyone needs a Seeing-Eye Person

  1. We all need advice from each other in this world. You are a brilliant source of advice for me and other NTs so it’s only fair that you have your share of advice back. Everyone has different experience and see things from a different perspective – the great value of neurodiversity and yep – don’t go lending your car – you never know what you will be asked for next!! x

    • Thanks, Rebecca! It’s funny how many NTs can also relate to my Aspergian experience. At first I was baffled by that, but then I realized that I’m not exactly a different *species*, much as I feel it sometimes — so of course some experiences would be similar. :)
      Oh, and thanks for your advice on the wording of “Scottish” — I’ve tweaked it now to avoid further misunderstandings!
      Thanks for following me & reading; I love your input & encouragement.
      A.G. :-D

  2. Thanks for the reminder. I have a tendency to withdraw when stressed rather than asking for help or advice. But now I’m finding that in order to get to the next level I can’t do it alone. The thing is, it worked so well for so long and I’m comfortable in that box so even though I recognize the need, I don’t often remember to reach out until things get dire. But then just when I forget, here you come with a kick in the seat of the pants. Much appreciated.

    • Same thing happens to me — believe me! I often have to learn things the hard way. :-P But now that my Seeing-Eye People know they’re “on duty”, they also keep an eye peeled for me & sometimes help stop disasters before I’ve even had to ask them.
      Cheers,
      A.G. :)

  3. I liked this essay and I appreciate your forthright approach to getting guidance when you need it. The scenario you describe, helping a friend who had a stillborn baby, is extremely demanding and I think you handled it way better than the average person.

    On the topic of empathy, I recently posted several short essays with visual downloads to help kids with ASD to respond to people in distress: http://autismteachingstrategies.com/autism-strategies/empathy-autism-social-skills-training-part-2-teaching-concern-using-photos-22-downloads-for-you-here/

    Looking forward to more posts.

    Joel Shaul
    Autismteachingstrategies.com

    • Thanks Joel — let me just say here that I LOVE your site, as well. Thanks for posting your link b/c I think the tools you’ve made can be a godsend for kids & parents, and for (alleged) grownups like me.
      And thanks for your compliment. Very much appreciated — stuff like that is really hard for me and I’m glad that my peeps helped me handle it well.
      Best,
      A.G.

  4. It really is difficult for Aspergians, or for me anyway. I find it hard to describe/verbalise my feelings.I’ve also struggled with employment as well as social skills. So I think you’ve done amazingly well.

    Btw I love all your Tweets! Very witty. :)

    • Remember the “bad old days” when people believed Aspergians have no feelings? I’ve found that it’s quite the opposite — so many and so intense as to be overwhelming. :-P
      Thanks again for reading my blog — see you in the Twittersphere. :-D
      A.G.

  5. Ouch, this hits close to home! Can you tell by twitter followers and followees! I cannot discern whom to follow and whom not to follow; but at least on twitter I can choose to talk or not. My wife is my sociatal compass.
    I need to find new homes for a lot of fish; and am not good with business. So I find a gentleman who will take the lot from me. (the value of the fish are between 200 and 300 pounds). I was going to invite the man over to retrieve the fish, but asked my wife first. Glad I asked my wife. As the gentleman was just released from jail, and is known for burglarising.

    • It’s scary how vulnerable we Aspergians are to cheaters & creeps. I’ve had my share of run-ins with them over the years, as I said, and I still cringe to think of the close calls & near misses. Also of the huge amount of money I lost to an ex who took me for a ride. :-(
      Glad you have a wife with good judgment, who has your back.
      Cheers,
      A.G.

  6. There is a ‘predatory’ kind of person who can instinctively spot the vulnerable, and preys on them. I’ve been defending myself by developing a grim and ‘thorny’ facade which sends out the message ‘If you touch me, I’ll bite you!’ Unfortunately, it drives away some genuinely nice people, too.

    The other thing is, one is more vulnerable to these attacks if has self-esteem issues. When I was taken advantage of, I can remember that I’ve cooperated with this predatory kind of people even if I had a gut feeling that something’s wrong with them, because I had a compulsion to please them. And this compulsion arised from the fact that I had self-esteem issues, and felt that in order to be accepted and valued, I need to obey them whatever they ask me to do. The predators know that very well, and they’ll try to guilt trip you into obeying them. I’ve learnt to recognize the feelings in myself which are evoked by these manipulative techniques, which help me to detect manipulation.
    Also, one should work on hir self-esteem.

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