The Art of Being Boring

If I had a £1 coin for every time I’ve been called boring, I’d have a pretty decent amount not a ludicrous amount, but enough for some new books at least. Admittedly, a fair part of what’s lead to me being called boring (including by some of my closest friends) has been my general preferment of reading over people, but what I didn’t realise for a long time growing up was that a lot of what made me ‘boring’ in the eyes of those neurotypicals around me was actually due to my Asperger’s, and the way in which my Asperger’s was in conflict with how society is set up to promote certain social activities.

Being called boring no longer bothers me, but in this post I thought I’d identify why I used to get called it so often, and how my ‘boring’ behaviour also pertains to my Asperger’s in some unexpected ways. This is really an exercise in exploring just how central my Asperger’s is to my personality. Some people don’t like to think of themselves as defined by their ASD, and that’s perfectly understandable, but I am of the belief that my Asperger’s is absolutely a core part of who I am, and in this list you’ll be able to see some of the many ways it affects me.

Monotone speaking

A lot of people with Asperger’s often speak in monotone. I definitely did this as a child, though it stopped when I was about seven years old. I think speaking in monotone goes hand in hand with more generally how I struggled to express emotion, which often made the people around me think that I was ungrateful or not passionate about anything (I talk more about the difficulty in expressing emotions in my post here). I wasn’t constantly monotone, just like I wasn’t always unable to express emotional reactions. At home, I was far more expressive than I was in public. I think this can be explained with the idea that for those on the spectrum, going out in public places, especially ones which are unfamiliar, involves a great deal of stimulation, and so my brain just couldn’t handle processing all of that information, and still manage to put on a ‘normal’ voice. In a way, it’s like masking — even now, when I’m too overstimulated, the mask slips (see here for more on masking) and I stop making facial expressions. It’s as though facial expressions and intonation are extra add-on computer programs which have to run on top of the main program, but when the main program is struggling to keep up with the basic processing required for ‘surviving’ a social situation, then all of the add-ons are entirely forgotten.

Anxiety and low-self confidence.

Anxiety and my Asperger’s have always gone hand-in-hand. This has definitely contributed to the perception that I’m boring. Low self-confidence has in the past meant that I’m reluctant to try new things, and my anxiety means I prefer the predictable to the point where to other people it borders on mundane. I also need constant reassurance when I’m doing a task to feel comfortable doing it, and a lot of supervised practice before I’m confident doing it alone, so often I prefer to let other people do the things I’m not familiar with. In science lessons at school, I often preferred theory lessons over times when we would do practical experiments, which seemed backwards to everybody else, but I preferred theory because practicals involved group discussions, and everybody moving around, and this disorganisation made me feel anxious. Even now, I still find quite regimented lessons less tiring than those which are more varied — simply because copying from the textbook, even if it’s dull, involves a lot less noise and unregulated commotion.

Repetitive behaviours

A trait which quite a lot of people on the spectrum have is that we can enjoy repetitive behaviours, and that we can therefore sometimes have a much higher tolerance to repetition than neurotypicals when it comes to performing specific tasks. For example, I heard one story of a girl who loved making origami foxes. She made hundreds and hundreds of these tiny paper animals, and where as anyone else might have gotten bored of doing the same task over and over again, she never even found her focus slipping. This can be a real strength for aspies, as it allows us to focus on tasks other people would get bored of. However it does mean that neurotypicals will sometimes find us strange for not sharing their boredom, and be surprised when we say we don’t mind doing a menial task over and over again because it’s interesting to us.

Routine

Routine is essential for a lot of those with ASD, and similar to how we can have a higher tolerance for repetitive activities as mentioned above, some of us just aren’t as sensitive to the need for variety as some neurotypicals are. There are still times when we seek out variety in our lives, and we can certainly be impulsive, but we often prioritise a feeling of security over any potential benefits of changing routine, which neurotypicals can often misinterpret as simply being rigid and static. My friends were always bewildered that I never felt a need to ‘rebel’ — but change was just not something I seemed to crave in the same way they did.

Divergent interests

Aspies have a tendency to develop special interests, or hyper-fixations, which we devote hours and hours of attention to, and we often have a desire to talk exclusively about that topic for hours on end. (Note: hyper-fixations are sometimes also called ‘obsessions’, however there are a lot of negative connotations to this word, and so a lot of aspies prefer to use ‘special interests’ when talking about their fascinations, and reserve the term ‘obsession’ for when a hyper-fixation becomes problematic, i.e. it develops to the point where it hampers daily functioning.) In general, hyper-fixations are not a bad thing — they can provide intense fulfilment for the aspie engaging in them, and if you have the patience to listen to an aspie info-dumping, it can often be a very rewarding experience, both for you and the aspie. However, our tendency to want to talk exclusively about our interests can sometimes mean we are repetitive to other people, and, due to our lack of innate social awareness, we often don’t pick up on how a topic that is so fascinating to us is not at all interesting to the person we’re talking to, who’s probably already heard this information a dozen times already. In my case, the topic of my special interest as a child was dinosaurs, and although I eventually grew out of that long-term fixation and since then have entered into a number of intense but more short-lived special interests, I am well aware I must have been extremely tiresome at times. I’ve always been grateful to my parents for having the patience to nonetheless engage with me and to encourage my passions.

Hypersensitivity to noise

This is a trait of a lot of people with ASD, and it usually leads one to seek out very quiet places, like libraries. This often means you’re not hanging out with your loud friends, or going to parties, because these places are inaccessible to you because they are simply not worth the overstimulation, or are physically painful to be in. Hence you become the stay-at-home one, the boring one, who doesn’t go out as often. For me, most of my friends prefer to hang out and study in the noisy Sixth-Form Centre during free periods, but because it’s so busy I can rarely be in there for more than an hour a day or I will find myself massively overstimulated and tired by the end of the school day. This has meant that some of my friends complain that they never see me in school, but I’m lucky enough that most of them appreciate that it’s not a choice to avoid them, the Sixth-Form Centre is just not somewhere I can comfortably stay for prolonged times. Even with noise cancelling headphones which allows us to enter those noisy spaces, an aspie may often still feel somewhat excluded, because in order to most efficiently block out the noise, we also have to block out conversation, which is why I generally prefer to use regular headphones and just have music to ground me (I’m a big fan of the one-ear-in, one-ear-out method), rather than full noise-cancelling headphones which mean I can’t properly hear my friends when I’m with them, and which subsequently makes me less talkative and engaged.

Feeling alienated from your peers

All of the above can contribute to feelings of isolation from people my age, which can just reinforce a cycle. If you don’t have many friends, it can be hard to make friends, and so this labels you as the loner, who is quiet and reserved, and again: boring. In my case, this hasn’t happened so much. I have a close group of friends. But nonetheless, occasionally my lack of innate social skills due to my Asperger’s means I can still sometimes find it difficult to relate to my peers, and so I don’t always want to do all the things that they do, which makes me seem ‘boring’ when the reality is it’s just difficult for me to navigate conversation with them, so I’d rather avoid it.

In conclusion, there are a lot of ways in which my Asperger’s shapes my personality. My Asperger’s is me — it’s the way my brain is wired. And sometimes, I know that I am boring. But I think what matters is that because of my diagnosis, I know that sometimes when people claim I’m boring, or that there’s something wrong with me, I know that it isn’t me that they’re taking issue with, it’s my Asperger’s. My Asperger’s is an explanation for why I don’t like noisy parties, and why people sometimes find me boring. And it’s made my life much easier to have that — not as an excuse, and I certainly don’t use my Asperger’s like a scapegoat — but it’s an explanation to satisfy my own mind; context which I can use to make sense of my world and people’s reactions to me.

Thanks for reading, I hope this was a helpful insight into some aspie behaviours. If this has been in any way informative to you, please like, comment, or share on social media, and follow this blog for more similar content.

Asperger’s and COVID-19.

The pandemic has been a turbulent time for all of us, so I wanted to talk a little bit about my experience of being on the spectrum during lockdown and how COVID has affected me as an aspie. 

Before the first lockdown, I was in quite a bit of denial about what the pandemic was going to entail. I don’t follow the news, so the first I heard about COVID was from school gossip. When my peers expressed the sentiment that the school would close due to the pandemic, I dismissed it out of hand. The school, close? That was unthinkable. School was foundational to my routines. In my mind, it was impossible that it should close…

And then we all know what happened. 

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The transition from Primary School to Secondary School – it’s not all that bad!

I had been at my Primary School for 7 years and was accustomed to the buildings, staff and everyone around me. I‘d had the same teacher for 4 years and had all the support I needed. But when the time came to decide on a Secondary school, things were actually ok. I was taken to have a look at the 2 secondary schools in my area whilst I was in Year5 and then again in Year6 so it wasn’t all too much to take in and I was quite relaxed. Although I like doing things in a traditional way and in a routine, I also like new, fresh starts and a chance to make myself better, so the thought of what a new school could offer me made me feel positive.

We went to the Open Evenings which were really busy and although I was excited and fascinated it was difficult to relax. I spent a lot of time smiling, but still avoiding looking at anyone. Then we went for a private tour which was better and then we met with the head of SENCO at one of the schools. I was included in all of the meetings and although I felt a bit awkward I could tell that the teacher we met knew so much about Aspergers that I felt like I trusted her right away.

Making the decision between the 2 schools was difficult so we sat down as a family and the tactic I used was to list all the pros and cons of each school. Once the decision was made, my primary school and my parents made appointments for me to visit the school – just for half hour at a time. I sat and ate lunch with a teacher so I could see the dining room at its full capacity. I visited and watched the classroom change-overs so I could hear the bell ringing. I saw a break time and got the chance to walk round the school when it was quiet. After every visit I wrote down any questions or requests I had that I hadn’t been brave enough to ask in person.  My mum could email the SENCO and find the answer, or we would arrange another visit. I was given a map and shown the contact book that we would be using. I liked this because I was able to analyse my surroundings, and when given an opportunity to find where I was I was thrilled because using what I’d learnt made me feel confident, even if I was in a new place.

My primary school was especially helpful: towards the end of the year I became part of a small group and we would talk about our worries and feelings with a teaching assistant. She gave us a little book which contained advice and tips on what to expect and importantly, how to respond! My best friend was also going to the same school and our parents both asked if we could be kept together in our Tutor Group. I think that thanks to both schools working together, this was made possible.

Over the summer holiday my new school emailed me my timetable. This was great because I was able to colour code it and put copies on my wall. I was also sent my profile. This is a piece of paper that all my teachers would have before I got there which explained my likes and dislikes. This was brilliant because I knew then that I would not be put in any awful situations – like the teachers telling me to “look at me when I’m speaking to you”. Something which I am just unable to do.

On my first day we had arranged that I would go in with my friend from her house so we didn’t have to worry about meeting somewhere and we could go in together. I was given a timetable and map along with everyone else but I felt confident because I had already seen these before.

I was given a locker and lots of books but it was all very exciting.

So far everything is going really well. There are of course some issues, mainly with not knowing how to respond to other children, there are so many personalities and it can get very busy. What helps me is talking it over with my family as soon as I get out of school and being given a resolution – so for example, the lunch time queue for food can be very busy and jostling so my mum suggested asking the school to put my plate to one side for me to collect. Once I knew I had this option I was able to deal with the queues, knowing that I had a way out but so far I have not needed it.

The SENCO are also very pro active in my school. I find it almost impossible to ask for help, especially when I am upset but the school has teachers specifically to look out for us and one of those teachers was coming to find me every week to make sure I was ok. Now I go to see her every other week. I keep a list in my head of anything that is bothering me and she will go through the types of things I can say to people to help me resolve things.

Everything is really positive. The only negative thing that I can really think of at the moment is that sometimes when someone knows you have Aspergers and they have read about what Aspergers is, they think a “one size fits all”, when it doesn’t. I don’t mind too much because it is really good that they have tried to understand it but sometimes I feel a bit awkward when they are trying to help me but it’s really over the top. It just shows that as Aspie Kids, we are all different and until you get to know us as individuals you won’t know how our needs differ. Because of my communication problems I can’t tell you if you are off track but it’s nice that you’ve tried!

Actually my communication has improved massively since starting secondary school. I know that I only have to be with a teacher for a single lesson, so they are only looking at me for an hour – not like in primary school when it was 6 hours! So I feel like I have a break in the intensity, even if I will be seeing them the next day.

Having Aspergers matters to me but it doesn’t bother me, if that makes sense? I don’t feel I need to tell people if I don’t want to because I think people judge me for me, not because I have Aspergers. My Aspergers is just who I am, it’s not a separate thing. People can’t like me but not like my Aspergers, because it’s the whole of me. If you like me, you like that I’m an Aspiekid, and so far that’s working just fine!