Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate – A Book Shout Out
Cynthia Kim, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015.
I found the writings of Cynthia Kim about the time I received my own official™ diagnosis/second opinion. After the shock had worn off, and because it was our own relationship challenges that threw my Aspergers into sharp relief, Sally and I began to wonder whether we might “combine our geniuses” in a new project, and work with Aspergers-Neurotypical couples in some way. She could use her incredible empathic talents, therapeutic skills, and fearlessness in group settings. I could use my well-honed abilities to acutely observe, recognize patterns, tell the truth of my experience, and ask good questions. Maybe we could offer something that would be helpful to others. So I read through Cynthia’s series of blogs on “Lessons from an Aspergers-NT Marriage,” hoping it would help me think about what sort of work Sally and I might do. I was hooked.
It wasn’t long after, while reading some of her posts on diagnosis, that my hand wandered over to the book cover on her sidebar and clicked the link. Without hesitation, I purchased her book. I wanted to read her story in depth. I’m so glad I did.
Cynthia Kim has become an inspiration for me. Her writing is crisp and artful and well organized. She takes me directly into her experience. And she does not hold back, revealing the truth of her life in a way that I can feel, resonate with, and understand. By sharing how it felt to take her life journey, and by not shying away from the hard parts – those aspects of her self that don’t follow the rules of “looking good” – I was able to get more deeply in touch with my own life journey, and find the room I needed to tell myself the truth of my own rough patches. So helpful was her writing that I began to take notes, jotting down ideas for blog posts that I wanted to write, making lists that would help me understand who I was and where I’d come from and what I’d gone through.
Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate is the first “Aspie Book” I’ve read that revealed the syndrome from a female perspective. As such, it served as a revelation. I knew that I did not strongly display some of the more stereotypical Aspie traits: the obvious lack of eye contact, the the wild or angry outbursts, the inability to express or talk about feelings, the “engineering” special interests, the acting out. My versions of these traits are more subtle and well-hidden.
But Kim’s book helped me to see to what extent the “stereotypical traits” more closely describe the male experience, and that – perhaps in part because I had an older brother who helped me understand, at an early age, the less pleasant aspects of “acting out” – I’d tended to take the “female track” through my own life. I dove deeply into the socialization of family and culture, learning to please those around me, hide my confusions and differences, and control the outer expression of my inner thoughts and emotions. My first and foremost special interest, as the “alien anthropologist,” has always been the study of human behavior and psychology.
Over and over, as I read, I thought, yes, that’s how it was for me. Because Cynthia Kim told the truth about her self, I was able to more fully tell the truth of mine. And what a salve to the loneliness that arose when I stepped into a diagnosis, and a label, that set me apart. Confusions on the childhood playground? I remember those. Telephone terror? I know that one. Little need for friendships? Love of routines? Sensory sensitivities? Issues with identity, discrimination of outside emotions, empathy, and perspective taking? Deficits in executive function? Proneness to catastrophize and indulge extreme perfectionism? Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.
Most importantly, to me, Cynthia Kim delves into the deep questions of identity, exploring words and labels and beliefs that come up on the Aspie journey. By sharing her relationship with words such as “Aspergers,” “autism,” “disabled,” and “high functioning” – embracing some, rejecting others – I learned a great deal about how to think of these labels as they applied to myself, and to see and acknowledge the strengths, talents, and superpowers that come with the Aspergers experience, despite the limitations and challenges that Aspie traits might also confer. The issues of identity are nuanced and complex, I find. Cynthia Kim helped me to sort them out. I cannot thank her enough.
In writing my own blog, I’ve tried to be as honest and self-revealing as Kim is, because I know how helpful that has been for me, and trust that my doing so will help others. If Sally and I begin to work together in this field, I will be much more prepared than I would be otherwise. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate will serve, no doubt, as a handbook in such work, one to which I will refer again and again. I’m so glad I clicked that link.