I don’t think I’ve ever come across an Autistic character who is considered to be on the part of the spectrum commonly referred to as “Asperger’s” who doesn’t embody this trope.
That’s a problem.
The problem with tropes is that they can sometimes be true.
Look, I’m usually “smarter” (depending on meaning because, seriously, we do not have a uniform meaning) than the other people in any given room.
I never learned methods in maths. I never had to. I could figure out the method and solve the problem within the limits of the exams. (At least until A-level…)
I have rarely met a problem that I couldn’t solve. I can boil most things down to maths and figure them out.
I fixed a sewing machine with a chop stick last week. I’ve boiled fiction writing (actually, any kind of writing, or language-based work) down to formulas that don’t often steer me wrong.
I can memorise whole paragraphs within seconds. Give me script and I’m off it by the end of rehearsal.
I am frequently given praise for what I think is the bare minimum of talent.
But put me in front of a person and I have no idea what I’m doing.
I can’t keep track of how often I should be making eye contact and how often I’m allowed to make the same agreement noise before it sounds like I’m not listening and how to inflect so that the person knows I’m joking and when not to mimic their tone.
That’s too much. My brain can’t keep up and it’s all too tempting to give up. Or just be a jackass. Especially when no one will listen because you’re not making the right amount of eye contact.
And it’s all too easy for me to over or under estimate someone’s knowledge in an area, which means I can often go over their heads or sound condescending.
So yes, there’s a reason for the trope.
It still annoys the hell out of me for a couple of reasons.
Smart or Worthless
I was good at school until I wasn’t. I was the kid who got full marks and read under the table.
Until my A-Levels. Then I was the wtf?! kid. The kid whose tutors didn’t understand why she needed one, but still couldn’t do the exams. The kid who scored high in lab practicals and the hardest questions on the tests, but fumbled with the 1 mark questions (which can knock you from an A to a C).
I’m happier than I would have been if I had taken the chemistry place I was offered in clearing. I have no doubt about that. I was always good at maths and science, but it was never a passion in the same way that sociology is. And I’m better with coursework than exams. I always have been.
But it’s often a struggle to remind myself of that.
When the only positive Autistic characters you see are the exceptional minds in STEM fields, what happens when you don’t fit the bill?
This is why I love Abed from Community. It was the first time I didn’t feel completely worthless for abandoning STEM fields.
We’re All Arseholes And Never Learn
Here’s the deal, I’m sure my whole “Look at me, I know maths” thing at the beginning came off as egotistical. I struggle with that. The fake humility thing. Lying about my abilities never sat well with me.
Of course, I do it compulsively now irl because other children taught me to with emotional trauma.
Maybe it’s different for the white, cishet, male Autistics of the world, but I quickly learned to just never speak for fear of being branded a bitch.
I corrected someone’s spelling once in a group project and she reduced me to tears, saying that I was a bully who picked on kids for not being as smart.
All I said was that “meter” was slightly misspelled, though it was understandable as it was an Americanisation. (I still feel like that was the right way to word that…)
Here’s the thing, in fiction, this creates conflict. Writers like conflict. So the characters remain friends, though they will sometimes question why.
Yeah, irl, people just leave.
Or you learn.
You learn never to open your mouth and, when you do, you still slip up. But you don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over while people just put up with it time after time.
At the end of the day, this part of autism has been done to death. We don’t need to see another example.
And I am saying this as an Actual Insufferable Genius.
Originally posted to myautisticpov.com on 22/8/15.