Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Aspie and Autist Guide to Self Defense, Part V: Animal Planet

I've had the pleasure of interviewing self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung on violence and other forms of conflict and AS, and getting a look into his world.

Q: How do you know about AS?

A: I am familiar with Asperger Syndrome both from knowing people who have it (or are raising children with AS) and having dealt with the conflicts that commonly arise from Asperger.

Q: When dealing with a conflict from the perspective of, say, a security person or someone else in charge who has to intervene, how do you assess the possibility that AS is involved?

A: When you're called in to handle a situation where one person said or did something that set the other off, asking "Does anyone here have Aspergers?" can totally change the dynamics. If both parties look at you weird, then it's a non-issue.

If one looks surprised and says "yes," then it's [time to say] "Everybody hold it. Time to start over. He didn't do it on purpose." Then you negotiate a working compromise.

Q: So knowing someone's an Aspie is a game-changer.

A: [Yes.] When that happens you know to change tactics -- basically you become an advocate, a mediator and a referee. The plus side is from that moment on the person with AS is usually trying to help you. If not get what he wants, then at least keep things from blown up.

Q: Even these days, not every Aspie - especially among the older set - knows s/he's an Aspie. How might you be able to pick out an Aspie?

A: Mostly the speech patterns, not reacting to warning cues and obsessing on a part/aspect of the incident.

Overall though, for the lack of a better term, it's the sense of confusion. There's a legitimate sense of "what's happening?" They honestly don't understand why the comment or action they did would cause such a reaction. It's different than someone who made an emotional or prideful decision to say something hurtful and is surprised by the unintended consequences.

Q: Quite interesting, especially about the speech patterns. Do you mean formal and stilted, somewhat condescending-sounding and "Little Professor"-ish?

A: Yes. And...this is a trait shared with geeks. Who may or may not have AS.

Q: Really - so this goes beyond Aspies and autists?

A: [Yes.] Realize that I have a LOT of experience dealing with geeks and nerds. These people are poorly socialized and tend to be obsessive. I would intervene between a [non-nerd] and a nerd and I would just know, this guy "doesn't get it." What I would see is the "geek" giving off the wrong signals and often getting revved up in a totally different direction. And the [non-nerd] was freaking out because his [conflict behavior] wasn't working. And a common reaction to this is to escalate the same behavior.

What I would do was set myself in between the two people as a mediator. I would explain to the nerd that he was upsetting the [other person]. I would explain to the [other person] that the geek just didn't get it. I got it, but that it was going over the nerd's head. That instead of getting upset, he needed to tell me what he wanted and I'd tell the nerd. I told the geek to explain to me what -- for example -- the problem was with the [other person's] 'request' and why it wasn't going to work. That way both parties got what they wanted and didn't have to directly deal with each other.

Back then I ascribed this to him just being a geek and worked from there. When I learned about AS, it was like a light got turned on inside my brain: HOW many of these people had AS?

Q: Why is it very important to be able to spot an Aspie/geek/nerd in situations like that? What do you think leads to misunderstandings as to how to handle a conflict?

A: Unfortunately there are a lot of people who don't have AS, but are basically selfish [aggressors] who display many of the same behaviors. They do this because they've found this strategy "works" (at least in the short term).

So you kind of have to be able to judge on the fly. If [when you ask if he has AS] the guy looks at you and says "what the [he]ck are you talking about [dumbass]?!" odds are good he's one of these, not an [Aspie].

Back before I learned about AS, I'm not sure how many of the incidents that blew up were someone with Aspergers (and me not understanding) vs. the guy was just being an [ass].

Q: If you were talking to an Aspie, how would you advise him or her on self-defense?

A: Well before it gets to the point of self-defense, my first big bit of advice is GET AN ADVOCATE! And most importantly LISTEN to that advocate's advice about dealing with [NTs]. This especially goes for the workplace....I'd recommend to Aspies not to try to fix an escalating problem. Know when it is time to call in outside help.

Q: More broadly, how would you summarize self-defense?

A: 95% of 'self-defense' is non-physical people skills. If it gets to the point where it goes physical, you've lost control of the situation and you're not "fighting to win," you're trying for damage control.

Q: Suppose, heaven forbid, someone actually gets to the point where it goes physical. Not a cop or a bouncer or anyone like that, but a "civilian". What would you advise?

A: Just so you know, I go out and give lectures on personal safety. The number one thing I HAVE to do is "give people permission to run away."

In the same way someone with AS can get fixated on routine, have a hard time adapting to change in his/her environment and easily get overwhelmed by stimuli, "civilians" ([NTs]) can get obsessed with the idea that they have to be able to handle a situation. The "smarter" they are, the more competent in their lives they are...the MORE this is the case.

The simple fact is that when confronted by these kinds of situations people's "monkey brains" take over and they are NOT all those things they believe about themselves anymore. Basically they're a freaking-out monkey. More specifically a monkey that doesn't know what to do. They believe in their hearts of hearts that they can take care of themselves, but they really can't. If there's a motto for a lot of people who get raped, robbed, beaten and killed it would be "But I'm smarter than he is!" This is what their monkey brain is screaming as they are overwhelmed.

This "belief in their mental superiority" over the violent person is what tends to interfere with them successfully countering what is happening. This is a BIG problem. And it is why I have to give them permission to run. Their monkey brain is going to lead them into trouble that they can't handle.

Q: Excellent takeaways! Number one, learn to get along better with people; the best way to win a fight is to avoid one completely. Number two, if you learn to run away, you can live to fight another day.

You really seem to have a great deal of insight as to what Aspies go through, feeling like, maybe, Ben Roethlisberger thrust onto a cricket field. Does this resonate with your personal experience?

A: As a ADHDer I can tell you you guys aren't the only ones who were ditching class when the "rule books" were handed out.

Q: Interesting indeed! Does ADD/ADHD mean that you have difficulty learning the general unwritten rules, difficulty spotting situational cues or both?

A: Actually it's more of a kind of "Why?" problem. When you are surrounded by people who when they come to a hallway intersection -- [NTs] automatically "turn left." When you ask "why" they best answer you can get is something along the lines of "because there is no other way to go." It is a kind of mental blindness. It isn't just that they can't explain why, but they can't see the three other ways you can go.

Whereas a person with ADD sees not only the left turn, but that he can go straight, turn right or go back. But there is no automatic sense of the left turn is the "best" way. (Which incidentally ISN'T what the [NTs] have, they really don't realize there are other ways to go.) So the person with ADD, tends to go down the other hallways to see what's down there.

This tends to get people who believe the left is the only way to go...a wee bit upset with us.

Q: I know the feeling! In fact, many of us get the double whammy, since many Aspies also have ADD/ADHD.

Thank you very much for offering all this insight, Mr. MacYoung. You've done Aspies, autists and lots of NTs a world of good.

What do you think?


Unknown said...

Some excellent advice for anyone who has AS, lives, works with people with Aspergers Syndrome. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

BTW - ADD is a necessary component of in, ADD is one of the things that MUST be present - along with many other things - in order for a valid Aspergers diagnosis....

Jeff Deutsch said...

Hello Xanthippa,

I'm terribly sorry, but you are mistaken.

According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (that is, the DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association, the diagnosis does not require or even involve ADD/ADHD.

I might add that neither the counselor nor the psychiatrist, who jointly diagnosed me, mentioned anything about my having ADD/ADHD.

You're certainly right in that AS is compatble with ADD/ADHD; in fact I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of Aspies had ADD/ADHD. But many, even if not a majority, do not.

Jeff Deutsch

Unknown said...

That's right Jeff. ADD is just one of the colours on the spectrum that may or may not be present.