Asperger’s and Invisibility

 

My main and almost only social memories of school, are of relentless ostracism.

The verb ostracize has its origin in Ancient Greece.

  • It was an act of banishment from a city
  • for 5 or 10 years!
  • decided by a vote!

Banishment describes perfectly how I felt for most of my school life.

There are worse things than dying and there are worse things than banishment.

Ostracism

At school I was ostracized by children who knew me.

  • It was personal and spiteful
  • And it wasn’t just the banishment/exclusion
  • There was the relentless taunting, the name calling
  • It was a deliberate, conscious choice

At least the ostracized ranks of Ancient Greece did not have to face their tormentors every day.

But invisibility takes ostracism to a whole new level.

Invisibility

When meeting new people, after the initial pleasantries and tap dancing around, I generally become……invisible.

This happens in work settings.

  • People may exchange pleasantries with me
  • But beyond that they will take no interest in me
  • I won’t be invited to participate in out of work activities
  • They won’t ask me what my plans are at the weekend

Sometimes this happens immediately.

  • Sometimes it takes a little longer
  • But eventually I find myself in that familiar place, outside, looking in

 

This isn’t just familiarity breeding contempt either.

The same thing happens with people who don’t know me, at social events and parties.

  • Usually the conversation ends up drifting away from me
  • A bit like a tennis match being played on the other side of the net
  • Often times they will physically drift away from me too

The difference here is that these are NOT deliberate acts of unkindness, spitefulness or unpleasantness.

Something else is in play here.

  • They can sense that I am ‘different’
  • This is intuition at work
  • The bringer of invisibility

 

Advocacy

It’s easy to see that my experiences of ostracism and invisibility are a big driver in my Autism Advocacy work.

Advocates help give people a voice, or a louder voice and make sure that no one is treated as invisible.

This was a big part of my inspiration for setting up the World Autism Project

  • That and my love of maps
  • and other cultures

 

The Invisible Man

To see the Invisible Man, was an episode of the Twilight zone, which first aired in 1986.

  • Mitchell Chaplin is sentenced to 1 year of invisibility
  • ‘For the crime of Coldness and not opening up his emotions to his fellow citizens’
  • Testimony had been given by Chaplin’s family of his lack of caring and concern for others

A mark is applied to his forehead, signalling to and requiring others to treat him as invisible.

  • Chaplin makes light of this
  • Initially!

 

To see the Invisible Man (1/3)

 

To see the Invisible Man (2/3)

 

To see the Invisible Man (3/3)

 

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MichaelScott MonjeJr (@MMonjeJr)
    Jan 22, 2013 @ 12:35:00

    Thank you for this. It really succinctly describes a lot of the issues I also faced in school and at work.

    Reply

    • spectrumscribe
      Jan 22, 2013 @ 12:52:56

      Thanks Michael, I’m glad it resonated with you.

      Invisibility is a recent revelation to me, on the back of my – ‘I Exist’ post last year.

      I watched ‘Solitary Man’ at the weekend and Michael Douglas character used the term invisible, in reference to how he felt and it really struck a cord.

      It made perfect sense in relation to my Advocacy mission and certainly provides very good fuel for the anxiety and depression that I have struggled with.

      I’m hoping it will strike a cord with others and encourage them in the knowledge that they are not alone.

      Reply

  2. Ictus75
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 15:45:26

    I have dealt with invisible most if my life and have experienced most of the same things you posted about. Sometimes the invisibility is a way for me to cope with crowds and social situations. I try to be invisible so I can just slip through life without having to explain myself or be social. But there are many times , like as you said, when I’m in a social situation and the people move away from me or my input as if I’m suddenly not there. I used to call myself “the invisible man.”

    Reply

  3. Quiet Contemplation
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 22:08:51

    I, too feel this way, often, as you’ve seen on my blog. I wasn’t really ever teased or picked on on a wide scale, but rather I was just kinda invisible. I still feel that way now as an adult, even though I know I’m not. I think, out of sync might be a better word for it.

    Anyway, you’re not invisible to me. I think about how you’re doing, and hoping you’re depression and such has not returned, but true to my aspie brain I forget to actually ask you, or express any words to you that would let you that you’re in my thoughts.

    Reply

  4. spectrumscribe
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 08:00:55

    Thanks for your comments. This was the first time I had examined and analysed the dynamics of a lifetime of being shunned, but t didn’t take me very long to write the post!

    I’m not sure which is worse, the High school version of plain ostracism or invisibility in the the wider world?

    I’ve grown accustomed to invisibility and of course it’s avoidable, unlike ostracism in the inescapable pressure cooker of High school.

    I suppose the acid test is would I choose to be back in High school, instead of being a fully grown invisible man?

    No way!

    I’ll stick with the very occasionally punctuated invisibility.

    High school was a living hell.

    Invisibility is more like a low level of underlying melancholy, that comes and goes.

    Reply

  5. joeklemmer
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 10:33:17

    I grew up in the 60’s & 70’s. My grade school experiences weren’t of being invisible. Up until I was a junior in high school I got the stuffing kicked out if me on a daily basis. And it wasn’t just my peers, either. Mind you, I’m not trivializing being invisible. Being a nonentity is very painful, especially for those of us who are, by nature, social creatures. But having to walk all the way around the outside of school because kids were waiting behind the hallway doors & corners to punch and kick you then have teachers reprimand you for being late to class is, well, let’s just say invisibility might have come in handy sometimes.

    Reply

  6. jemima101
    Feb 05, 2013 @ 19:55:35

    Thank you, my son is aspie and so much of what I see in his experience of school is described here.

    Reply

  7. nikki
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 18:32:41

    i must say that without being on the spectrum myself, this invisibility and unconscious moving away, is something I experience as a parent of a child who, right after starting school went into a spiral of non-coping, not age approriate behaviour with tantrums, running away from class, hiding etc. Initially I managed to mingle at school run times (and this made me actually happy, as am also foreign and didn’t know any of the parents, I thought this will also bring frinends for my boy) but then I started to encounter the more or less subtle “oh, your son is Nemo?..mmmh..” *nods, conversation dies out, moves away* on a regular basis. Things have immensely improved for my boy in class, but he still has his moments and the now older children obviously relate to it at home. From the side of the teachers, everything is done to include him, and he has now actually a group he calls friends (this is a total breakthrough and was my biggest Christmas present) . I also have a few and am on friendly term with others, many are actually not even parents of my son’s class. I would never compare this to the sheer hell school must be for any child that is bullied, ostracized or made invisible by his peers.
    But the way parents of children with a difference behave is certainly a contributing factor to how the whole experience is going down for everyone.

    Reply

    • spectrumscribe
      Feb 09, 2013 @ 21:30:56

      Thanks for sharing about your experiences of this from a parent’s perspective. I suspect that if you had to spend a full day with those parents, you would get a very good sense of the ostracism and invisibility. Separately, the pain of seeing one’s child without friends, never invited for sleepovers or birthday parties etc, can be devastating to a parent. Happy for both of you, to hear your son is making friends.

      Reply

  8. Mados
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 03:47:27

    A bit like a tennis match being played on the other side of the net

    Excellent picture… I know the feeling.

    Reply

  9. Chris
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 08:41:20

    I am 55 and only got my AS diagnosis last year. What you have written echoes many of my experiences. I haven’t worked for 20 years as I was bullied so badly in several work places that I have suffered extreme anxiety and depression to such an extent ever since that I can’t cope with even the idea of going back to any work place. In social settings I am also invisible and, like you, have found that people are friendly at first, but then they drift away and I am invisible to them. It is so painful and so lonely and I often wonder why I have lived.

    Reply

    • spectrumscribe
      Jun 29, 2013 @ 09:24:21

      Hi Chris and thanks for sharing. If you’re on Twitter I’d be happy to connect; I have made friends with some terrific people on Twitter.

      You might like to check out the following posts too:

      – Aspergers and the Social Minefield
      – Working lunches
      – Aspergers Unmasked
      – I Exist

      Reply

  10. Tara
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 20:20:08

    Hello. Thank you for sharing that. I had a late prof diagnosis of Asperger syndrome recently and your above post basically summarized the story of my life in social situations. I’d personally prefer a type-written script for socializing. It’s a damn hard job, especially when I had to grow up not knowing about the condition and thinking that all the social issues were my own fault. I had the whole cocktail of bulling too, right from infancy to late adolescence – it sadly puts default settings in place that still cause me to withdraw to this day. Thanks again, take care.

    Reply

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