Getting Down to Detail

In his book, “Language: the Cultural Tool” Daniel Everett writes,

We can understand information [as] … all the things there are to talk about. It is perhaps infinite. But culture and circumstance will severely restrict what might be said in a particular exchange between two people … human cultures narrow the things there are to talk about and keep the flow of information manageable.

Is this what we autistic people don’t see, or don’t need? This restriction on conversation topics? It’s what costs us friendships (albeit with the wrong kinds of people – those who never really liked us in the first place), and stops us making social connections; because we talk “too much”, and/or about the “wrong” things. We obviously don’t have this cultural “information filter”. But is that really such a bad thing?

I have my own interests, those “hobbies” psychologists so patronisingly like to call “special interests”, but I’m generally interested in a much wider range of topics than other people, and can be interested in almost anything… but only as long as it contains detail. For example, I’m quite happy talking about the weather, but if the conversation doesn’t quickly move on from nice-for-the-time-of-year-isn’t-it to dew points and adiabatic lapse-rates (or whatever), I’ll get bored. Skirting about on the surface of a topic is so dull! I could listen all day to a meteorologist, or a rare-breeds sheep farmer, or an art historian – anyone passionate about their subject, and willing to talk about it – to discuss the detail… to provide that “restricted information”. But find someone like this at a party – the chap who “only talks about honey badgers” – and he’s called THE BORE? Not fair! I’d go to more parties if only they were full of people willing to talk dirty detail with me.

I love other people’s passion in their subjects; but although asking newly-met people what they do for a living is a socially acceptable question (resulting in a socially acceptable response), asking them what their job actually entails, on a day-to-day basis, elicits raised eyebrows and awkward foot-shifting. Why is that? People are said to be at their happiest when talking about themselves, but asking them about what they actually do is considered too personal – that is, unless you’ve known them for a while (a “while” being hours, days, or weeks – and somehow you’re supposed to know which). Ask someone about the details of their job, and they blush and bluster, and say, “it’s all a bit boring really.” But it rarely is.

In some ways, autistic people are more socially adept: we don’t spend our lives as slaves to social etiquette, trawling through the standard (acceptable) “levels” of conversation; instead we get down to detail – the place where people make connections and build real friendships.

©2015 Life on the Spectrum


2 thoughts on “Getting Down to Detail”

  1. I’m 43, a mother, and a lawyer. I have an 11-year-old boy that is healthy and thriving in this world. I am very creative. I feel that being on the higher end of the spectrum (Aspie) makes me a great lawyer. I am a problem solver, and as a lawyer, I get paid to either avoid or fix problems or both.

    I am successful in my chosen profession because of the nature of how my brain is wire. I get to the facts and analysis without difficulty. I am straight-forward saving client’s time and money. I am innovative and logical with the arguments that I present to the court. I get praised often by judges because of my concise and straight forward arguments. Many times, opposing counsel has gotten out of their way to appreciate the way I conducted a direct examination on a particular case/trial.

    But I cannot socialize. I avoid socializing because it is confusing and exhausting. I am rigid with the values I uphold, and when I see something unfair or wrong, I voice my opinion almost immediately (like thinking out loud) to later learn that people don’t care about my opinion or if something is right or wrong. Funny because we are in an era where the government asks its citizens “if you see something say something” right? Wrong.

    A lot of the NT adults seem to have hidden agendas, and it feels like that the vast majority are hypocrites and would do anything to accomplish their plans even if it means hurting and dismissing people along the way to their goals.

    All my life I have been called crazy. I never understood why but this affected my self-worth and self-esteem hence I entered every relationship in my life as if the person was doing me a favor and, with that mentality, I tolerated a lot of unacceptable behaviors like physical, sexual, and emotional abused.

    I have meltdowns, at least once a month, in the office but no one sees it except for my paralegal. She knows of my diagnosis, and she has been great to me, she knows what to do when this happens, and she never makes me feel inadequate or ashamed. She has been working with me for five years now. When we get tired of the office politics, we applied at the same time for the same law firms, in the hopes of continuing working together; We joke that tell ourselves that we are a combo. She has become a close friend too.

    Therapist and psychiatrists misdiagnosed with depression, hypersensitivity, and anti-social behavior which I was prescribed medication for it. Former romantic peers and friends labeled me as self-absorbed. When I finally got the Asperger’s diagnosis, it felt like all the events (positive and negative) of my life came together and made sense, like the pieces in a puzzle.

    My family doesn’t understand the disorder. They asked me to keep the diagnosis to myself. This situation has made me even more isolated, feeling I was better off dead. I have suicidal thoughts more often than I wish. Mainly due to my inability to connect with people and the rejection by my “snobbish” family. The only thing that keeps me going and pushing through life difficulties is my son, which he knows of my diagnosis and I provided him with the tools to effectively get my attention and communicate with me. (FYI, my son officially knows about my diagnosis when he turned 11, he knew that I was different before then.)

    Today, my focus is on raising my son to be a good and decent human being and lawyering. I stop apologizing for who I am, and I have learned to keep quiet at work to avoid being mock. I allowed my son to humor me and that has helped us bond. Because he is a child, when he does, it does not come across as demeaning or degrading, quite the opposite to when an adult co-worker, for example, mocks me.

    Every day is challenging, but I have to take it one day at a time.

  2. Thank you so much
    Yes I to find “small talk” so very frustrating and I often feel like yelling
    Just flipping tell me give me some details
    Stephen Harrison

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