Are people on the autism spectrum self-centered? A personal story from an adult with Aspergers syndrome.


I've just finished babysitting my two nephews. Three days of babysitting. Three days that left me so thankful that I don't have kids. Don't get me wrong, they are great kids. But by the third day I’d started cataloguing all their annoying tendencies. They interrupt continually. Whether on the phone or talking with a friend who dropped in, Joel just barges in with his own problem (“Paul's ice cream is bigger than mine!”).


two egos with fries on the side

Neither of them could really appreciate my own problems. By the last day, I needed a nap desperately and begged them not to wake me up. Within five minutes, they barge in wanting to know if they could have more ice cream. Taking them out in public can be a nightmare, as Joel is obsessed with death at the moment and keeps asking any adults nearby if they are going to die soon. And Joel can’t be trusted with money as I gave him a 20 dollar note to buy some french fries. Instead of change he came back with no change and a stuffed animal he lost interest in by the time we got home. They were like pure ego on two legs, draining my patience and love faster than I thought possible!
So here I am on my last day, tired, irritable and compiling a list of how my nephews may be dearly loved, but how they are also self-centered, embarrassing in public, impulsive, rude and continually fail to realize that everyone else is not revolving around the throne they have perched themselves on.


Who cast the first stone?

Then it hits me. I am compiling the same list that Chris did before she left me. After some relational fumbling, I finally thought I'd got things right with Chris because she was so easy going. But after six months she got increasingly annoyed at what she saw as my ignoring of her emotional state, seeming disregard for her interests and obsession with various topics she found boring. It bumped along for a few more months but she finally dumped me after a few disastrous parties where I kept interrupting her in conversations with others, saying and doing some highly inappropriate things, and not supporting her through some tough family problems. She knew a fair bit about Asperger's syndrome but she said she'd had enough and I was the one who needed to change, not her. It's not as if I didn't have any warning from previous relationships, or my hassles with holding down work because I seem to always get fellow workers off side.

So back to the baby sitting - I suddenly saw things through her eyes (something that is meant to be pretty hard when you've got Asperger's syndrome). The list of complaints I had about my nephews was almost the same as the one Chris had made about me! It wasn't a pleasant moment, coming face to face with my blatant hypocrisy.

This babysitting escapade is yet another self-revelation I've had over the past few years. Bit by bit I seem to be slowly getting the hang of social skills that most people learned in their teenage years and just take for granted now. So I'm trying to learn the give and take of conversations, by listening to others at least half the time and trying to take an interest in their interests. I'm trying to learn this whole bizarre emotional language that goes on behind the spoken words, and try to tune into that and leave logical rational thought behind when I should.

I know Paul and Joel will grow out of their natural self-centeredness, impulses and tantrums on the road to adulthood, as they realize they need to balance their needs, obsessions and interests with those of the people they live with. I wonder if I can start a similar journey in my late-twenties.


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