Primary Decomposition

Life in intersections

Papercuts: The self-help section

The other day I was at the bookstore, looking for a specific book. It’s called “Managing Asperger Syndrome at College and University”. I’ve been looking for it on-and-off for ages now, since it was very highly recommended to me by the Disability Resource Centre and I am therefore quite hopeful it will have some tips and tricks to better manage things like, oh, not missing one out of every three lectures.

So I am wandering through the store and have finally narrowed it down to two sections where it could be. One is “Self help”, the other is “Psychology”. Which one is it in?

As it happens, neither (the bookstore did not stock this book), but all the books about autistic spectrum disorders were in the “Psychology” section.

It only occurred to me today how this is one of those thousand little cuts, one of the tiny unremarkable things that combine to tell me that I am not normal, my problems are not normal and I should not expect normal people to accept that they exist. Because even the books I would classify as obviously self-help (in part the one I linked but also things like this book) get whisked onto the Psychology shelves as soon as they’re by/for autistic people, to sit next to Baron-Cohen’s book about the autistic spectrum from the academic perspective, a book on sociopaths and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. The genre of self-help, you understand, is the exclusive province of neurotypicals.

And, as such, a province I’m best off avoiding. Having a quick flip through some of the books in that section taught me that much. Even if they sound as if they will be very helpful, chances are they will assume a neurotypical mindset. “The Body Language Bible”, for instance, was of some interest to me – you could say I am something of an involuntary expert in explicitly learning nonverbal communication – but I wound up giving up on that book because it started off waxing eloquent about how lyrical and beautiful and wonderful body language is and how it forms the majority of the information conveyed in conversation, which is why it is so great that we all pick up an intuitive understanding of it almost immediately-

Wait, hold the train, I think that word “all” is slightly misplaced there. You picked up an intuitive understanding when you were just a toddler or even younger. I didn’t. I only realised body language existed when I was fifteen and have spent the time ever since frantically trying to catch up. I’ve got a lot better, but it’s more along the lines of “hey, now I can tell most of the time when people really want me to stop talking about a subject!” and nowhere near the level this guy claims I am supposed to be pretty much born at. I’m still lucky if I can pick up *anything* other than “this person does not appear to be incredibly bored with what I am saying or very upset with me” via body language in a given conversation (and even that much is dubious). If I manage to figure out anything relatively complicated – where “relatively complicated” means things like “realised a character in a movie was supposed to be nervous because his eyes were moving very quickly” – this is a moment of intense pride and I will hug the memory to myself for years. Majority of the information in conversation? Are you kidding me?

(To be honest, I still can’t quite believe that. How do you even measure that anyway? Are you really telling me that the way my eyebrow twitches conveys more information than me saying “The primes belonging to the elements of the primary decomposition of an ideal I are precisely the associated primes of A/I”? Er, assume the person hearing this is an algebraist.)

Considering it started that way, I am not optimistic about how helpful this book about body language will be to me and mine. This is quite frustrating, given that I’d think such books would be especially *useful* for us poor auties and Aspies trying to navigate an NT world. C’mon, do you lot really need to get even more absurdly good at picking up that kind of stuff? Give us a chance to catch up!

Lots of them are like that. I’m afraid to even look into most of the books. As soon as procrastination comes up, for instance, it is liable to contain a mixture of helpful advice and advice that is the exact opposite of what I need to do, and trying to figure out which is which is a rather poisonous activity. I learned *that* lesson from the leaflets on procrastination at the counselling service; a couple of things that might possibly be useful and then wham – “try to phrase things as ‘won’t’ rather than ‘can’t’.” When I’d spent the last eight or nine months trying to get away from the “won’t” and accept that there was a “can’t” in there somewhere! Given how difficult I am finding it to figure out what the ADD-like symptoms associated with Asperger’s I have mean in a culture where the only framework I am given for thinking about it is that of laziness, hearing that kind of thing can be nothing short of toxic.

Who knows, maybe I’ll publish a book on it someday – something on the lines of “‘Ten Easy Steps to Success’ – How to Navigate the World of Self-Help with Executive Dysfunction”.

You’ll find it in the Psychology section.


May 27, 2009 - Posted by | disability | ,

1 Comment »

  1. This is a good point that I hadn’t thought of before. Is it the self-help authors who are mainly at fault, or the people who decide the bookstore shelving (publishers or bookshop owners)? Obviously both could do something to improve it.

    Comment by Cesy | May 28, 2009 | Reply

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