• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”

Through My Eyes Only; Asperger’s in the First Person

“Having Asperger’s is like writing in the First Person—I only see what I can see through my own eyes, and I have no knowledge what is in other people’s heads.” ~ Aspie Writer

Asperger's mind blindness theory of mind
I am told that writing from the first person point of view (POV) is challenging—that many writers have difficulty not describing what their character cannot see.  For example, if someone is sneaking up behind your character with a knife, you cannot write about it.  The character does not have eyes behind her head; therefore, she cannot see who or what is sneaking up behind her.
If you are writing in the first person, you can only write what your character sees with her own eyes.  It sounds simple, but it is not.
Personally, I find it to be the easiest POV to write.  I’m told that is odd.  I think that many writers run into difficulty because they tend to describe what their characters would not notice.
If my character walked into her own bedroom, she is not thinking the russet bedspread draped perfectly over the end of the bed. If there is nothing out of place, she is not thinking anything about her bedspread.  It is just there as it always has been.
She doesn’t describe her coppery locks because that is just what has always sat on her head.  She will only notice (and she is the one telling the story after all) what is different, wrong, or out of place.
Now if she walked into her bedroom and the bed is in disarray and the pillows tossed on the floor (not at all the way she left it), then she will tell us about the condition of that bed.  It is different, wrong, out of place—otherwise, there is never an occasion to mention it.
Luckily when you read a book, you can get insight to what other character’s think and feel by what they do—their actions, their mannerisms, the described facial expressions. Those are the things I “miss” in real life.

“Other people do not see, feel, and experience the world like I do.”

There are many things I am now learning about myself that are different than other people.  I am only now discovering, most of the time by accident that other people do not see, feel, and experience the world like I do.
The other day I was trying to explain to my doctor how I taught myself to learn.  When I was in college (the first time over 20 years ago) I practiced remembering the lectures.  I used all of my senses to do it.
I recorded the professor’s lecture in order to replay it, using my sense of hearing to commit the material to memory. Then I read the text, using my sense of sight to brand the information into my mind.
If it was important I hand wrote the notes in order to move with the words, and use my sense of motion and touch in order to learn the information. Believe me—when I am done learning something I want to know (Aspie Keyword: want), it is branded on my brain.  I am notgoing to forget!
Lastly, I read the notes aloud—again, using my ears to hear, but mostly reading aloud was to feel the words.  It was this last thing that raised the doctor’s eyebrows. (Look at me, I noticed!)
Ok—you got me, no, I did not notice. I continued to ramble on, but he stopped me.
“Wait, go back,” he said. “What do you mean you feel the words?”
He did not understand what I was talking about. Apparently, I am the only person that has ever told him I can feel words.
I can feel my words like a rhythm in my head, and I can commit the rhythm to memory, not the sound of them but the feel of the words. Their unique vibration…
Doesn’t everyone feel the words they speak? What about other people’s words? Can’t you feel the vibrations they make?
 “Great, I’m the weird one again.” I sighed.
“No, you are not weird,” he replied, “I am limited. I cannot hear or feel as much as you can.”
An awesome answer by the way—now you see why this particular doctor is a keeper.
I was completely stunned. I never considered that other people did not feel the words. Even though I knew that others did not hear the humming of the fluorescent lights, or taste the smells they come in contact with, it never occurred to me that they didn’t feel vibrations from words and sounds.
I never mentioned feeling the words before because it is normal for me; it is just the way it has always been.  I didn’t consider it; I didn’t see it sneaking up behind me.

What else do I not see?

A new refrigerator was delivered the other day. When I opened it, I realized that one of the metal brackets that spans across the shelves on the door (the ones that would hold your milk in place) was missing.
My husband promptly called the store, who verified that the part was still sitting there, and went to pick it up after work yesterday.  Last night I immediately noticed that he had not yet put the bracket in the refrigerator even though I knew he went to pick it up.
Today I have been in that refridgeratior a hundred times.  I noticed nothing.  When hubby came home from work tonight, he said, “You didn’t even notice that I put the bar in the refrigerator.” He was fishing for compliments.
“I must have noticed it,” I said.
 He frowned.
That door shelf never caught my attention today.  Even after grocery shopping, and spending a lot of time opening and closing the refrigerator door, nothing stood out at me.  To me, this means he fixed it.  Why?
My eyes are automatically draw only to what is wrong, different, or out of place—so like my fictional character nothing caught my attention, and so there was nothing to mention.  The bad part is sometimes it makes it easy to only point out the flaws in things, and people’s mistakes—but that is a topic for another day.

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Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert , contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, three of which are on the autism spectrum.
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