Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A History of Introversion

The autistic is typically an introvert.  (S)he does not talk to people often, especially at large parties, and waits until the appropriate turn to speak.  The autistic is not known for having large circles of friends and can generally be reclusive.  There is generally a threat that comes from conversation, and when the autistic does become more outgoing, it is a frequent occurrence that it is the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Now that I got that National Geographic study intro over with, I will acknowledge that there's no exception here.  So maybe I can end my blog, or explain.  I am a guy with a lot of "friends" meaning that they are acquaintances I know from my college days, know from my high school days, or met at random or through a mutual friend.  However, there are very few that I call true friends...and even I can be afraid to talk to them from time to time.  That's really because my own introversion keeps me from letting people get close unless I choose the time.

Apparently I didn't speak that much when I was a child, as I preferred to stay inside my cocoon (house) with my parents and little brother, the three people I had a comfort zone with.  Thanks to this, mom would set me up for occasional play dates with the neighbors' kids or kids from the preschool camps.  Those broke me out of my shell, and I was especially encouraged to interact with the other kids in my K-1st classes.  I was in a special education unit those two years, as they were unsure how I would function amongst the other 'mainstream' students.  In the special education class I was free to act like me (for the most part) since other students were the same way.  In first grade, this one kid and I would 'plant a tree' right before the end of the day.  We would go to a different spot in the room and do the whole routine.  Sometimes we students would use words in the wrong context just because the word sounded cool but it didn't sound wrong, and I wasn't aware of the concept of being made fun of by others.  I just thought it was school and didn't know that this was anything odd.  That was, until I hit the second grade and was actively mainstreamed in with other students.

The only problem is that introversion became greater during these years.  Don't get me wrong, I made friends, but I was at my most obnoxiously extroverted during my years at Abraham Lincoln Elementary, where I would confuse the other students with some of my actions, talking about making fake movies and coming up with the most literal explanations for everything.  It was starting to hit me that not everyone cared about the crazy stuff that I talked about, and it caused me to hole up slightly.  I did it more so in middle school, as I wanted to be a 'cool kid' like anyone else, but I also didn't feel like I fit in with any certain crowd.  The 'nerds' were too into Pokemon for me, while I was nerdier than anyone, into obscure sports stats and the weekly movie configurations.

By high school I had drifted from some friends while staying close to others.  The interesting thing about high school was that I was definitely acting much more 'normal' than I did in my initial mainstream schooling but even more introverted.  I became very focused on trying to enhance my transcript for college and recognizing my introversion to the point that I turned this into a persona.  I wanted to be seen as enigmatic since I was a little weird, and fell into my own introversion.  So I was talking to people and making friends, but also letting introversion consume me because I was set on getting into the best college possible and 'shutting up the haters' at any cost.

College was probably the best time for me to break out of the shell.  Living in a dormitory and finding more "like-minded" folks involved in classes and programs essentially enforced connections with others.  Also, some of the stereotypes of classes of people further broke apart in college.  I also happened to view college as a fresh start, where I could

Fast forward to three years after graduation.  Since I live downtown in Philadelphia, I am around more people than I have ever been, which allows for some random interaction.  However, I prefer to keep to myself and blend in with the city most of the time.  That doesn't mean I haven't met people within networks, as I have actually become friends with a couple current and former coworkers, and even a couple of random acquaintances who share my interests.  It's really about making an effort to speak to others when I am comfortable, and other times I would just prefer to keep to myself.  I have comfort in my introversion, as I'm sure most spectrum people do.

How do I deal with my own inability to be outgoing?  I guess that's where things are different.  As mentioned, I still talk to myself a lot, and on occasion someone would hear me do this (particularly sharing an apartment with 4-6 others during my last three years of college).  I think even my neighbor upstairs can hear me from time to time.  My other alternative is to start going on and on concerning a subject when I visit a friend, but that can be an annoying habit...ask my parents, my ex-girlfriend, or any of my closest pals.  It's an easy way to talk to others when you have someone that might be able to answer you, compared to yourself.  However, there are some subjects that I write notes on or just talk to myself about, and I've learned to be okay with that.

Not all of us with AS are introverted at the same level, as some may be better or worse than others.  However, the amount of time we want to spent talking to others can evolve as we learn more about social mores and begin to apply them.  It will never be easy for me to break from my shell of shyness out of the fear of saying something totally off-color, but I'm comfortable enough in my own skin that I know when I can afford to speak.  Such as when I write a blog entry about talking to others!

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