Monday, June 3, 2013

Getting Caught With Your Hand in the Cookie Jar

Been a couple months since my last post. Whoops! Sorry about that! Now for today's blog post:

One common complaint by people with Asperger's Syndrome is how they seem to get chewed out for their little infringements while others get away with outlandish things. I experienced that all the time as a kid. For example, in the summer of 1998, when I was a CIT at Camp Negev, I wasn't given campers until second session, and I didn't get hired as a counselor. They thought I was "inappropriate." For example, if I slipped and fell and reflexively said, "Oh shit!" while a camper was within earshot, everybody would know within a couple hours and the universe would collapse on itself. People who knew me well were aware that I was trying very hard to prove myself worthy of being a counselor. People who didn't? Forget it. They said I wasn't trying hard enough, or even at all. Really, they had no clue how hard I was trying.

The catch is that these same people who branded me as inappropriate were guilty of infractions that were much worse. Many of them left their kids alone in the cabin while they went off to smoke weed. A couple counselors were mean to their kids. One of them trash-talked a kid with severe ADHD, saying that he was "hopeless" (the kid was 11!) Overall, that particular year there seemed to be a huge lack of caring for the kids by the counselors. Meanwhile, when I finally was allowed to work with kids second session, I spent a lot of my free time with them. The kids loved me and knew they could trust me to be there for them. Once, a kid was left alone in a cabin, crying. Her counselors and her peers were off in the rec center watching a PG-13 movie. This girl, at age 11, was honest and told her counselors that her parents didn't let her watch PG-13 movies. So instead of finding something else for her to do, her counselors just left her there. I spent the next couple hours playing cards with this girl. 

So why was I chewed out for my infringements while other counselors got away with murder? Why is my situation so common among people with Asperger's Syndrome? Over the years, I've realized that it's not that our infractions are worse, but the way we handle being called on our infractions makes them appear worse. 

Let's use the metaphor of being caught with one's hand in the cookie jar. An Aspie gets caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She reacts in a number of the following ways: She cries and begs forgiveness, swearing she didn't mean any harm; she tries to nonchalantly pull her hand out as if what she did was no big deal, but her body language indicates that it WAS a big deal; she tries to lie and say that she was adding cookies to the cookie jar, but she is so bad at lying that nobody believes her.

Meanwhile, here's how a neurotypical person handles getting caught with her hand in the cookie jar: she apologizes nonchalantly... "Yeah, you got me... Sorry," laughs or shrugs it off, conveying to her peers that what she did was no big deal, and they immediately get that signal and feel the same way; or she lies and says that she was adding cookies to the cookie jar and because she can lie so well, people believe her.

It doesn't matter if the neurotypical person was stealing 10 cookies while the person with Asperger's was taking 1 cookie, thinking she was allowed to have one: what clearly matters is how these people handle being caught.

On the second anniversary of the death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, someone who I strongly believed had Asperger's Syndrome, let's look at how Dr. Kevorkian reacted when he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. Actually, no, he didn't get caught with his hand in the cookie jar (in this case, assisting in suicides), but instead told people that his hand was in the cookie jar and dared people to stop him from taking more cookies. He projected unbelievable self-confidence, but was also not the most socially adept person, even according to some of his friends. People acted like he was the only person assisting suicides whereas many doctors do it every day, quietly. They silently slide their hands into the cookie jar and slide them out. But because people KNEW about Dr. Kevorkian's cookie-grabbing habits, they judged him as much worse than those silent thieves. Perhaps someone with more "mainstream" social skills could have announced that his hand was in the cookie jar without so many people thinking that he was a horrible person who liked to watch people die. 

Hell, I think in some ways Dr. Jack Kevorkian serves as an object lesson as the unfairness that Aspies experience in the neurotypical world.

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