Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate – Cynthia Kim

Excerpt

Nonautistic people often talk about special interests as if they’re simply really intense hobbies that we pick up by choice. Among the reasons I’ve seen suggested for autistic individuals’ pursuit of special interests are:

›a need for organization or sameness
›a need to focus on something
›a way to take up all that time left over from not socializing
›a compulsion
›a way to escape reality
›a way to gain emotional satisfaction that we don’t get from people.

None of these feels like a complete answer to me. Special interests can certainly be an escape, a compulsion, or a way to fill up time, but there is an element of serendipity to special interests that makes the experience of finding a new passion much like falling in love. Special interests tend to find us, rather than the other way around. (p.79)

Review

The closest thing I’ve read to a love letter to autism. I have a lot in common with the author and could relate to her struggles quite a bit, and it’s lovely to see the amount of self-acceptance that she has. Also, despite being like, the 6th book on autism that I’ve read, still had enough novel insights to keep me very engaged, likely because the female phenotype is divergent from the male in many respects, and only one other book specifically focused on women and girls.

It does share a flaw with a lot of other books about autism that I read, in that it would sometimes say something along the lines of “Without a diagnosis, it’s normal for others to wrongfully see you as rude, callous, and controlling,” when in fact you are doing things that are rude, callous, or controlling. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that a diagnosis frees you from the responsibility of being considerate to others. Neurodivergence shouldn’t be able to excuse that.

Personally Useful Concepts

  • Autistic girls may spend more time organizing and categorizing their toys instead of playing with them (my childhood in a nutshell!!!!), which is a thing that’s hard to spot if you’re not playing very close attention.

  • An interesting explanation for why girls are socialized better: Unlike boys’ games, where there tend to be winners and losers, girls’ games are often based on how well a girl cooperates with the group to create an enjoyable role-playing scenario. For a boy, a specialized skill that’s valued by peers may allow him to get by without learning the nuances of building and maintaining friendships. (p.19) As a girl, this seems fairly accurate.

  • An important insight: Particularly if you were a girl and you were smart, people seemed to expect you to be weird. “Normal” girls weren’t smart and smart girls were quirky. (p.25) Possibly interesting to explore in an SJ light.

  • Flat/Blunted affect – also talked about in the Hendrickx women and girls book. The technical term for when your face (or tone of voice, or gesturing) is less animated than you might feel like it is from the inside. 

  • There are a number of other positive nonverbal cues that can be used as part of an “I’m listening” repertoire to counter blunted affect during one-on one conversations, including:

    • intermittent eye contact
    • leaning closer to the speaker
    • smiling and nodding
    • open arm posture (rather than crossed arms)
    • an occasional light touch on the hand, arm, or shoulder.

  • At first, intentionally employing body language can feel stilted or fake, but with practice it can be a quick, easy way to put strangers at ease. The same is true of making eye contact. Quick eye signalling primer:

    • Sustain eye contact for 4–5 seconds at a time. More than that can indicate that you are trying to intimidate the other person or that you’re romantically interested in them.

    • Beware of prolonged eye contact. If someone is making prolonged eye contact with you, this may be a signal that the interaction has become more intense than you intended. You can signal disinterest by looking off to the side.

    • While you’re talking, look to the side or slightly upward when you break eye contact. This indicates thinking. Looking down signals that you’re done talking.

    • When the other person is talking, break eye contact by shifting your gaze to their mouth rather than looking away. Looking away signals boredom.

    • If the other person is talking about something emotional and looks away, you should continue to look at them to show that you care.

    • Make eye contact when you are first introduced to someone. Not doing so is interpreted as disrespectful.

    • If eye contact feels impossible, try looking at the person’s forehead, just above their eyes. This simulates eye contact. (p.32-33)

  • Secret thing (approximate page range p.157 – 165)