One fateful Saturday evening in April 2009, saw a self conscious, plainly dressed, middle aged woman step into the spotlight in front of the clearly bemused panel of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ judges.
Simon Cowell exchanged a knowing glance with Amanda Holden. Piers Morgan raised his eyes to the ceiling and the camera cut away to the audience, some of whom were starting to snigger.
So what had caused such a negative reaction to someone who had barely spoken a few words?
A bit strange
We’re hard wired to make up our minds about people within a millisecond of meeting them.
We all know the power of non verbal communication.We are sending out and receiving signals all the time. It’s impossible not to communicate. Even if we are not speaking, we are emitting messages by our clothes, stance and facial expression.
Strangely enough, there is a condition which is a barrier to non verbal communication and, as a practising psychotherapist, I recognized a possibility that Susan Boyle may have that condition the moment I saw her on TV.
That condition is know as Aspergers.
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Current research leads us to believe that we are born with a brain that can be anywhere on the systemising/empathising continuum.
The empathising brain, sometimes referred to as the female brain is naturally empathic, a good communicator and can tune in to other people in an instinctive way.
The systemising brain, referred to as the male brain, feels comfortable with systems, something which has a set of rules and follows a logical pattern.
Interestingly, the male/female brain has nothing to do with sexuality in this context, but refers to thinking style. Many people are somewhere in the middle where they have access to empathic understanding and logical thinking.
It may be that some people will be further down one end of the scale and I, for example have an extreme female brain, which in my work as a counsellor is very useful. But that puts me a long way from the systemising end of the spectrum and so, if you give me a map of the underground and tell me to find Marble Arch I will end up asking someone for directions.
However, if you are down the other end of the continuum, you will be further away from the empathising end and may find that you don’t instinctively ‘tune in’ to others and may have difficulty reading their body language or unspoken cues.
29 ways to recognise Asperger Syndrome
These are some of the things you may notice if you are a natural systemiser:
- You may prefer your own company to being with others or being in a crowd
- You may be drawn towards intelligent people or those with which you have a common interest or hobby
- You may really dislike areas of confrontation, especially where there is an authority figure
- You may like routine and react if it has to be changed
- You may have very high principles and dislike it if others seem to break the rules
- You may have a very keen sense of fair play
- You many feel very comfortable with written instructions, preferring them to verbal
- You may sometimes feel overloaded with emotional input and feel like retreating for a while
- You may sometimes avoid doing things that need doing as it can feel overwhelming
- You may have a diagnosis of dyspraxia or dyslexia
- You might feel a bit socially isolated as though you don’t ‘fit in’ somehow
- You may notice difficulty with eye contact…too much or too little
- You may get really angry sometimes and go into ‘melt down’ or system overloadwhen things get too much
- You may have allergies like asthma or eczema that are related to stress
- You may react inappropriately in some situations, perhaps crying instead of laughing
- You may have a quirky sense of humour, perhaps enjoying practical jokes
- You may have exceptional talent in areas like computing, music, art or design
- You may have a very good memory for detail
- You may collect facts or figures
- You may collect and display as part of a hobby or interest
- You may take people literally
- It may be difficult to imagine something or imagine being in someone else’s shoes
- You might think of yourself as a straight line thinker or thinking in binary
- You may have trouble discussing emotions or emotional issues
- You may have a high pain threshold or be oversensitive to noise or touch
- You may have had a feeling of not fitting in at school or felt bullied
- Being in a social setting may feel exhausting
- You may have difficulty on the telephone, not being sure when it is your turn to speak
- You may have a love of music and react strongly to it
Where are you on the spectrum?
The further away you are from the empathising end of the spectrum, the more challenging the world can feel as you may not instinctively tune in to the unspoken messages that are sent by others.
You might be surprised to know that the words that we speak represent only 7% of what we communicate. The rest is made up of intonation and body language.
If you believe you may be a systemiser, whilst being aware of the challenges,concentrate on your strengths.
That sense of fair play will mean you are loyal at work. You may have exceptional talents for computing, art, memorising etc.
You may be regarded by others as an intellectual because of that love of a subject and the ability to really focus and concentrate.
You may get real pleasure from an interest which you find totally absorbing and stimulating.
Learning to ‘tune in’
If tuning in to other people does not come naturally to you, you might be interested to know that this is something you can learn to do, either by the wisdom and experienceof just living in the world and having to find a way which is comfortable for you or by studying body language as a subject.
If there is an Adult Education college near you, you might choose to go on a short counselling course which will cover subjects like empathy and non verbal communication which may be very useful to you.
We are all born different. Empathisers or systemisers, we all have talents and skillsand we all have areas of challenge. I am still trying to understand maps !
Like many people with Asperger Syndrome, Susan is very relieved to finally get a diagnosis and an explanation for what was previously described as ‘brain damage.’
Dubbed, ‘Susan Simple’ at school, Miss Boyle now says she feels more relaxed in her own skin. ‘I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what’s wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself.