Obsessions and Patterns

It’s no secret that I read a ton of silly books. If I spend most of my week reading twitter and academic-y articles, then I need mindless stuff in the evenings and weekends.

Over this past weekend, I read the Kiss Quotient. The main character in this romance novel has autism. She’s an econometrician with no social skills, so she hires an escort to teach her about relationships. They fall in love and yadda yadda reversed Pretty Woman and all that. The actual story is typical romance fare, but the author, who also has Aspergers, does such a fantastic job describing the autistic brain that I’m looking at my own son differently.

There is a growing consensus that autism isn’t really one thing. It is primarily a social and communicative disorder, but it impacts everyone differently. Some people have bigger language problems. Others have bigger issues with anxiety. Some have cognitive problems along with the language issues.

Also, it is really a collection of various mild disabilities or issues that many of us have, but in a person with autism, it adds up to bigger problems. Families that have a lot of these little issues are more likely to create autistic children.

Some of my family members have issues with loud noises or can’t talk while a radio is going on in the background. Others get very shy in social situations. I actually have very few of those issues. I eat everything. I don’t mind loud concerts. I like parties. I think my autistic-y issue is obsession and pattern recognition. I sort through twitter conversations and newspaper articles and conversations at the supermarket and put them all into little boxes and files in my brain.

Noticing patterns and trends has served me really well professionally. I’m leaning into that skill very heavily at the moment. But at the same time, the project that I’m developing is pushing out my ability to think about everything else. It’s a temporary thing, because I’m not actually autistic and obsessions are always short lived. But it’s fun to throw myself into things this Monday morning.

Pattern recognition is Ian’s primary autistic strength. He constantly decodes information and images. That’s why he learned to read so early and is gifted at computers and music. We spent hours yesterday at a marching band competition shivering the stands of a local college, watching him pound on his snare drum while wearing ear plugs. Balancing his autistic strengths and his weaknesses (he yelled at some kids on the bus for singing Christmas carols out of tune) is a continuing challenge.

What quirks do you have? Are they a bug or a feature?

5 thoughts on “Obsessions and Patterns

  1. I don’t like to deal with people unless I’m being paid or drinking. I’m not sure that counts as a quirk.


  2. I have often thought that, just as the dividing line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart, the dividing line between neurotypical and atypical runs down the middle of every human brain.


  3. I also have a serious obsession with looking for and finding patterns (I tend towards the more quantitative approach). When, I first saw the list of families in my kiddos class, I noticed there were a lot of moms with names that started with C and a lot of kids with names that started with A. I immediately did an analysis of the distribution and whether one might expect the distribution by chance. Both were statistically significant, I think). Doing the analysis for fun is quirky, but it’s probably really quirky to then post it to the listserv introducing myself (well, now, I can’t find evidence that I did that, so maybe I kept the analysis to myself :-).

    I also have a number of other quirks, but, I don’t see a point of trying to find a label for them. I don’t think the line dividing neurotypical and atypical runs down the middle of the human brain (that would be the corpus callosum, and I guess, that line is across the middle of the human brain), but I do think that there is a distribution of neural variability, and I am only inclined to define atypicality as being sufficiently distant from the middle.

    I think that I am quirky enough that I understand a lot of others quirks. But, that doesn’t mean that I’m always willing to accommodate them, but, I am very comfortable with the idea that there is only a negotiated median (that tries to balance the needs of all).


  4. Re The Kiss Quotient: I’m looking at representations in romance fiction of women with autism for a paper. Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series is surprisingly brilliant on the topic. Thomas has talked about being influenced by Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock, but his presents Sherlock as a high-functioning sociopath. Thomas’s Holmes is possibly a psychopath ( think she’s going for that in some scenes/aspects), but the language she uses is from autism.

    Hans Asperger believed that mothers of autistic sons had autistic qualities in common with their sons.

    My autistic trait is that I don’t like to be touched. I can deal with it. I can even initiate it in service of “passing” as neurotypical. But I do not like it. Except from my husband.

    I also don’t make eye contact easily. I can fake it pretty well, though (duh, I’m a teacher). And the more tired I am, the less I make eye contact. It’s exhausting to me.

    Btw, I was thisclose today to being put on the jury for this case: https://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2018/lr24062.htm But I got tired and babbly in sidebar and/or they found out I was a professor and said Nope, not her. I was prepared to do my civic duty, but I’m kind of glad I was dismissed because the drive was a beast. Thanks to an accident, it took me 2.5 hours to get to Boston this morning. And an hour and 45 minutes to get home. Ugh. If I’m going to be in a car for 4+ hours, I at least want to end up in New York.


  5. “What quirks do you have? Are they a bug or a feature?”

    Sports. I’m a middle-aged heterosexual man who likes to think that nothing human is alien to him, but if you start talking to me about sports, my mind goes into screensaver mode, and you may as well be speaking Swahili. It’s not that I dislike sports; its more that I lack the biochemical ability to enjoy them, or to understand the enjoyment of them. Over the years I’ve had to develop a repertoire of vague responses: “I don’t know, man, I’m not sure it’s their year”; “it’s lookin’ good; we just have to keep our fingers crossed”; “eh, they never know what they’re talking about.” I always manage to “pass,” because the type of person who strikes up an unsolicited conversation about sports can’t conceive of a man who doesn’t have at least a passing interest in the subject.

    Bug or feature? Not sure. Sometimes I think life would be better, or at least easier, if I could care about sports. On the other hand, I have extra time and mental energy for other interests and obsessions, And my girlfriend tells me she loves that I don’t disappear into sports fandom every weekend, so that’s a plus.


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