January 16, 2009

Unshared Social Cues

I was chatting with, oh, let's call him an old friend of mine the other day. The subject of Asperger's came up, and he suggested he might have an undiagnosed case. I laughed at him. I told him he was far too adept at picking up social cues for this to be the case.

He said, "With you, I'm perceptive. With everyone else, not so much."

Aaah, got it. "You grew up in geek culture. Were your parents science fiction fans?"

"Science fiction, no. Geek culture, definitely."

I pointed him to this piece on the differences between geek/fannish communication behavior and "mundane" behavior.

We also speak in larger word groupings between breaths. This does not necessarily mean that we speak faster; we just pause for a shorter time between words -- except where there is punctuation. She pointed out that when Teresa Nielsen Hayden said she came from Mesa, Arizona, Teresa actually pronounced the comma by putting a slightly longer pause there, while most mundanes would simply run the words together. Mundanes slur a lot of consonents that we pronounce individually. We use punctuation in our spoken utterances. Sometimes we even footnote.

What we say in those large word groupings is also different. We tend to use complete sentences, and complex sentence structure. When we pause, or say "uh", it tends to be towards the beginning of a statement, as we formulate the complete thought. The "idea" or "information" portion of a statement is paramount; emotional reassurance, the little social noises (mm-hmm) are reduced or omitted. We get to the heart of what we want to say -- if someone asks us how to do something we tell them, not leading up to it gently with "have you tried doing it this way?"

This leads us to body language. Our body language is also different from mundanes. We tend to not use eye contact nearly as often; when we do, it often signifies that it's the other person's turn to speak now. This is opposite of everyone else. In mundania, it's *breaking* eye contact that signals turn-taking, not *making* eye contact. She demonstrated this on DDB; breaking eye contact and turning slightly away, and he felt insulted. On the other hand, his sudden staring at her eyes made her feel like a professor had just said "justify yourself NOW". Mutual "rudeness"; mixed signals.

Oh, yeah, he recognized himself.

There's just one bit from the report that I have to quibble with.

She didn't get much into why this is all the case (I think she was surprised at the laughter when she suggested diffidently that we might be a bit under socialized. No, really?? ), and turned away questions about possible pathology.

It doesn't require any kind of pathology or even under-socialization to produce this kind of behavior pattern. Sure, fandom is very accepting of social disorders like Asperger's and its ranks were once stocked with people who had it.

However, fandom has become its own culture, isolated to a certain extent from the pressures to conform to "normal" society. The label, "mundane," for people outside of fandom indicates just how isolated it is comfortable being. We're into a second generation of people who are being raised almost entirely within fandom. Kids are being socialized to this behavior, just as my friend was. This is their normal.

So, given that my friend and others like him are perfectly well socialized to a standard that mundane society says is pathological, what does this mean for diagnosis (lay or formal) of things like Asperger's?


JLK said...

I'm not sure of the answer to your question, because Asperger's and autism aren't in my area and therefore I have the same working knowledge as you do.

But I am about to start reading "Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger's" by John Elder Robison (Augusten Burroughs' older brother)

Anonymous said...

What you describe about speaking extemporaneously in a very written-type mode--complete complex sentences and paragraphs--is very common in academia. It is also very common for academics to speak in a mode that denies the relevance of the hearer's emotional response to the speech.

Anonymous said...

That's a very cool article on fanspeak - although I'd prefer geekspeak since I can't really claim to be in any fandom but still recognise a lot of the behaviours mentioned from myself and friends.

As for Asperger's and the rest of the ASDs, the diagnosis is or at least should be a bit deeper than these fairly superficial behaviours. That someone seems rude and socially inept is not something I personally (as a normal person with extensive personal experience of Asperger's) would base a lay diagnosis on, although it might start me wondering. I'd say a lot of people misunderstand the idea that Aspies are "socially inept". As I understand that phrase, it doesn't necessarily mean that someone is clumsy or rude (many intelligent Aspies learn, robot-like, how they're supposed to behave in all situations, and may pass for "normal" people), but that they fail to pick up on feelings, and don't understand WHY people might feel the way they do. So from this perspective it would certainly be nice if people would stop pathologising odd behaviours, as they're often simply a matter of culture clash.

Maybe if geeks had a different skin colour...

Stephanie Zvan said...

JLK, I have a friend whose child has autism and a cousin with Asperger's, but I'm not any kind of expert. You'll do another book review, yes?

CPP, any thoughts on how much the speaking is shaped by going into academia as opposed to academia selecting for geeks?

Felicia, fandom has definitely interacted with and influenced other areas of geekery. This just happened to take place at a local SF convention, so the reference to fanspeak is inevitable if not quite accurate. As for everything else you said--yes, exactly.

Anonymous said...

Stephanie: I was watching some R. dawkins this morning, and I was given pause to contemplate the word "mundane".
Its latin root is mundus or s/th, and Dawkins noted that the real meaning of the word is actually not at all how we use it, because the world cannot be described in static superstition-imbued spiritual terms ( the rock has a spirit, as opposed to scientific properties ' the rock weighs five pounds').

So he said that mundane in common parlance has negative, even boring and static connotastions, when in reality--scientific reality--the mundane is actually in constant motion, and can be in essence re-described

In rethinking the difference between science being the actual poetic language, rather than 'spirituality' and superstition infused gobbleygook ("the norm" of much prose--even Whitman et al) it is interesting to note that the Aspergers ppl exhibit "mundane" behavior....

So, here is a story that uses another word 'fanatic' and transcribes all kinds of negative social context onto a relatively harmless person. It's a pattern with the Judeo's and the Christo-joes and their sycophants...


Anonymous said...

wasn't trying to be "even more" anonymous in that last comment, forgot to add name....here is the Wiki page for Darius


Stephanie Zvan said...

Wow, C, that's a hell of a story. Imagine how little it would take to give him even a basic, menial job that put him within reach of his obsession without him having to transgress to be there.

One of the fun things about the fan community and their hyper-literacy is that most of them are aware that "fan" is derived from "fanatic." Very few of them argue. It's also the only place I can think of where "mundane" means not connected to science.

Anonymous said...

That's what I thought when I first heard about him. How easy it would be to give him a job! Yet somehow, the social inscription of "male" and then "black male", and then "fanatic" leads to the conclusion that incarceration is the way to go for guys like him.

Interestingly, he had a singlemom girlfriend for awhile who virtually milked him of everything he had, and if I remember the story right, he ended up in trouble because of her actions--a 'domestic' or s/th. lending further credibility to the label of deviant rather than savant...

Stephanie Zvan said...

Well, I do sympathize with being concerned about giving him a job once he's just taken off with the first train, but there's no reason it should have gotten that far (that I know of, of course). It's frustrating to see kids labeled uncooperative or "difficult" in school over something like this when it's actually sometimes easier to lead a kid with an obsessive interest--if you can cater to the obsession. But schools just aren't set up to do that.