Aspie Strengths and Superpowers

The blog will be on hiatus through the holidays. Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing these past few months. I hope you all have a safe, happy and peaceful holiday and I’ll see you in 2013!

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I was going to start this out by saying that being an aspie has certain challenges. I was going to acknowledge how those challenges can be quite severe and then talk about the positive traits of Asperger’s in a measured, careful way.

But you know what? Screw that. Today I’m going to celebrate being an aspie.

I’m going to celebrate myself.

My Aspie Strengths (or How Asperger’s Has Made Me Awesome)

Many of my Asperger’s traits are double-edge swords, gifting me simultaneously with challenges and strengths. Impaired perspective taking? It makes it harder for me to work out people’s intentions but it also makes me nonjudgmental. Trouble with generalizing? That means I have to learn a similar lesson many times over, but gifts me with a dogged optimism and unconventional problem solving skills.

Curiously, some of my aspie strengths are a direct result of my funky wiring but many are coping mechanisms that I’ve developed to survive in a neurotypical world. Asperger’s has made me a survivor–forced me to adapt, by choice and necessity. The result is a unique set of strengths. Here they are, in no particular order:

I’m nonjudgmental. I take people at face value and will give someone the benefit of the doubt until they prove me wrong. A lifetime of being judged on appearance and first impressions will do that to you, I suppose.

I have a strong attachment to the truth. Telling it. Seeking it. Hearing it. If you ask me a question, you’ll get an honest answer. Perhaps more honest than you’d like. If you lie to me, I won’t forget it. I value honesty above many other traits–probably because I’m so bad at detecting dishonesty.

I’m curious. Insatiably so. I love learning, discovering, knowing. If you’re passionate about something and you want to share it with me, I’ll listen with genuine enthusiasm. My interests are wide-ranging and ever-evolving. My need for knowledge feels limitless, exciting and empowering. Give me an answer and I’ll have a handful of questions in reply.

I’m loyal. My attachments to people are few, but when I do form a bond with someone it’s a strong one. I will stand up for the people I care about in the face of a great deal of opposition. When Temple Grandin said that an autistic child will run into a burning building to save a person they love, she wasn’t kidding. That’s me in a nutshell.

I’m sincere. Perhaps naively so. I don’t have the patience or energy to be manipulative. I’m generally good-intentioned. When I do something for another person, I do it wholeheartedly. People often seem puzzled by my sincerity, disbelieving, as if being sincere is in itself some elaborate form of manipulation.

I haveΒ well-defined values. The black and white thinking of Asperger’s means that I’ve developed an elaborate and clearly delimited value system. This can be a blessing and a curse. There is a thin line between being principled and being stubbornly dogmatic. At most times, though, my values are my compass and my rudder, helping me navigate the ambiguities of a neurotypical world.

I’m an unconventional problem solver. I’m not afraid to ask wild questions or examine solutions that appear to have little hope of working. My instincts can get way ahead of my ability to verbalize them. Often, I’m told that things won’t work or don’t make sense–right up until I go ahead and do what I have in mind and it works. Or doesn’t. It’s a crapshoot, but that does little to dent my confidence and willingness to try.

I’m an optimist. I live in the here and now. I have few regrets. I view situations starting from zero. Aspies aren’t very good at generalizing from one occurrence to another similar occurrence, which I think leads to an irrational level of optimism. Sure something went wrong in the past, but (my brain always seems to say) this time will be different. Sometimes it is. Either way, I’ve found that taking the optimistic view of life makes me happy.

These are my strengths. What are yours?
These are my strengths and superpowers. What are yours?

My Aspie Superpowers (or How Asperger’s Has Made Me Who I Am)

One of the myths of Asperger’s is that all aspies are savants–that we’re born with some profound skill, like the ability to name the day of the week for any date in history, draw the New York subway system from memory, or do complex mathematical calculations in our heads.

Some aspies are savants, but sadly, I have no savant skills. I’ve always been fascinated by people who do. I think it would be amazing to have a photographic memory or to instinctively understand a system like mathematics.

Like a lot of aspies, I do have a few overly developed traits. They aren’t at the level of a savant skill, but I’ve started to think of them as my aspie superpowers. They’re the things about me that people comment on as being out of the ordinary or above average. They’re a significant part of my self-identity:

I’m perceptive and detail oriented. I notice everything: changes and irregularities, patterns and habits. I can analyze the hell out of things. I see patterns where most people don’t. My affinity for details began as a coping mechanism, I think–a way to identify patterns in social situations that I couldn’t work out instinctively. Now it’s become my default mode for making sense of the world around me.

I have a high IQ. This may not seem related to Asperger’s until you think about what an IQ test is: logic, problem solving, pattern recognition. Especially pattern recognition. The question about what number comes next in the sequence? Pattern recognition. Which shape is missing in the grid? Pattern recognition. Is the sum of the odd numbers between 1 and 12 an even number? Yep, that one is pattern recognition, too. Or it is if your brain works like mine.

I’m calm in a crisis. If something goes wrong, I have an almost superhuman ability to separate myself from the situation and think clearly. Poor executive function combined with impaired perspective taking lets me focus on the facts at hand when others get overwhelmed by panic or “worst case scenario” thinking.

I’m dependable and disciplined. Both of these have roots in my Aspergarian need for routine. Once I get a routine in place, I can do the same thing day after day without tiring of it. I can keep the books, walk the dog, sort the mail–day after day, like clockwork–as long as it’s part of my daily schedule. I’m the kind of person people rely on. I get things done.

I’m determined. Perseveration has a huge upside. If a problem or task catches my attention, I’ll go at it like a doberman with a ragdoll. I’ll work at something long past the time when a more rational person would throw in the towel. A big part of success for me is simply not giving up too soon.

Okay, looking back on that list, it looks rather boring. There’s a reason The Scientist jokingly calls me “Data” at times. But Data saved the Enterprise as often as Picard, right? I like my boring superpowers. They’re useful. They’ve served me well.

Asperger’s or Personality?

The line between my aspie traits and my other more typical personality traits can be a fuzzy one. In the absence of Asperger’s would I still have the strengths that I do? Doubtful. I’d be a different person. Look at my list of strengths. Do you see compassionate, caring, or intuitive on it? How about spontaneous, sympathetic or a team player? I am all of things in varying degrees, but they aren’t my strong points.

My strengths are typically Aspergarian. Without Asperger’s I might be a less extreme form of myself–a blend of my current traits with neurotypical traits. I fear that I’d lose most of my superpowers, though I might gain other superpowers in place of them.

Do NTs have superpowers? Surely they must. I think The Scientist has social superpowers. He’s remarkably charming, persuasive, likeable, confident and intuitive. It’s as hard for me to imagine what he would be like with an aspie brain as it is for me to imagine myself as an NT.

Not that I ever really do. I like being an aspie. Sure it’s a pain in the ass sometimes, but take away Asperger’s and I’m no longer me.

I like me! Have I said that? Are you tired of hearing it yet? Because this is important. I’m autistic and I like myself. There are people who would find that hard or even impossible to believe.

I like being a little different. I like my aspie strengths and superpowers far more than I dislike my aspie weaknesses. Let’s face it, everyone has weaknesses. Everyone faces challenges. The perfect person, the perfect life–that doesn’t exist.

What Are Your Strengths and Superpowers?

The idea of a distinct set of aspie strengths has its roots in Tony Attwood and Carol Gray’s “The Discovery of Aspie Criteria.” They proposed seeing Asperger’s as a set of strengths and talents rather than a syndrome of deficits. If you’ve never seen the list, you can find it in that article–scroll down a few screens until you see the numbered lists. If you haven’t yet identified your aspie strengths and superpowers, it’s a great place to start.

42 thoughts on “Aspie Strengths and Superpowers”

  1. Thank You!! I love the Discovery of Aspie article. I came across it a few months ago and used it to explain Asperger’s to Aspie Teen. I want him to look at his own Asperger’s as strengths not as a disabilitiy.

    I have been writing about difficulties for what feels like forever now, and I promise I am approaching a portion in the book planned specifically for the GOOD STUFF! It just feels like it is taking sooo long to get there, and I still have some pretty painful adulthood issues to address before I see the light so to speak.

    Your post is just want I needed to read today…refreshing. Thank you, and have a wonderful holiday…I’ll miss you while your on hiatus. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you! I’m looking forward to your celebration of your aspie self when the time comes. I know what you mean about devoting scads of words to writing about our difficulties. I was getting tired of it and I have the advantage of writing out order. πŸ™‚

      Have wonderful holiday too! I need to catch up on your last few book posts, which I’m planning to do tomorrow.

    1. Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed it. I hope you’ll share your strengths or whatever positive aspects of yourself you choose to. It would be great to read more celebrations of ourselves. πŸ™‚

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  3. Great positive post! I’ve got a bad habit of concentrating on my limitations – it’s like sculpting something by taking away whatever isn’t part of it… and then focusing on those bits instead of seeing the work itself. Reading this helped me shift my perspective: thank you.

  4. You are an inspiration and I love reading your blog! πŸ™‚ That much being said, I have to let you know that when my daughter was first diagnosed with Aspergers, and she was struggling with coming to terms with being different, and mourning the loss of ummm… being the same as everyone else, myself and my eldest daughter often referred to her differences as superpowers. And we mean it! She has so many, so very cool characteristics that are simply amazing – her perspective can be so astoundingly profound for someone her age. Sometimes I wish I had them too… but then I’d have to give up my allistic superpowers πŸ˜‰ I love reading you say how much you like yourself… maybe because that’s the kind of self esteem I’m trying to build into my amazing Aspie kiddo.

    1. What a lovely comment – thank you! I went through that mourning period as well. I think it’s a normal, necessary stage. It’s great that you see your daughter’s superpowers. I think that one of the best things an autistic kid can have is people in their life who see the upside of AS, especially the power of experiencing the world a bit differently.

      Even if your daughter is still struggling with her self-esteem a bit, she’s way ahead of me (it took me decades to decide that I like myself) and she has you and her sister to keep cheering her on. So, yes, keep at it! You sound like an awesome mom and she’s very lucky to have you in her life. πŸ™‚

  5. I have been reading and reading, and found so much “sure, of course!” in your lines… I’ll be turning forty this year, and was diagnosed about a year ago. I got this far, struggling through school and early adulthood, university, a marriage, two kids… and never knew why it was all so difficult for me, never knew why it hurt so much to try and hide my “oddities” like my ‘stimming teddy’ even from friends, why when others asked “why?!” I asked “why not!?”… and so on and so forth. I don’t know where to begin and what to say, and I am sure I will violate a lot of nettiquette when I plunge right on into the middle:
    Last summer I had an accident with my car. I drove over a piece tyre on the motorway, lost control of the car at 150km/h, swished over three lanes and over the shoulder of the road. The car started spinning, overturned and tumbled on through a copse of trees for 15 metres or so and finally landed on its passenger side wedged onto a tree.
    All the while there was me inside thinking things like “oh dear, this will cost money!”, “you will have to change your plans for the next few days, what a mess!” to “amigad, you’re wrecking the car!”. At that point I closed my eyes because I was out of other useful options. When the car came to rest, not feeling any pain and having made sure the car was not on fire I began to think about whom to call first, police, my husband, or maybe the road service? I began searching for my mobile (still strapped into a car standing on its side) and found my beloved stimming plushies scattered in the dirt where the passenger window had been. The car still not on fire (what was coming from under the hood was steam, not smoke, I had decided) I picked them up, and only when I had found them all (and my wallet, might be useful) did I consider getting out of the wreck. Friendly people who had stopped and were coming to my rescue didn’t quite know what to do with me, especially when I tried to calm them down as they were more upset than I was.
    Looking back, and knowing what is generally “expected” of people after an accident, I dare say that yes, Aspies can be absurdly calm in a crisis, and just as absurdly loyal even to what an outsider would call “inanimate objects” (and I would object!).

    1. Your reaction sounds very familiar. A few years ago I broke my nose (very badly, open fracture, seriously painful and messy) and I was the one giving my husband instructions to bring me ice and a towel, take the dog out to pee in case we’d be at the ER a long time, make sure he brought his wallet and our insurance card, call our workplaces, etc. I was eerily calm for the situation.

      Your story of your stimming plushies lying the road made me sad. I was actually relieved when you said you collected them all up. So yeah, we’re a bit different but that can come in really handy in a crisis.

      Also, hello! It’s always fun to meet a new reader, especially one who has such a delightful sense of humor and outlook on life. πŸ™‚

  6. Hello muser, thank you very much for your friendly welcome. I usually don’t get credited for even having a sense of humour, let alone a delightful one!
    My outlook on life is, one year after diagnosis, still a bit shaken. It changes so much after almost 40 years of just getting by somehow. As you wrote somewhere, it was as if somebody had handed me the function that determines my life, and suddenly all those seemingly random dots connected to one neat graph. I’m not sure yet if it’s a beautiful graph, it does have a lot of minima so far…. But hey, I am still here. I survived. I made it.
    I am still in the process of living with this, trying to figure out who I really am underneath all those rock-hard “one doesn’t do this” and “you mustn’t ever do that”s, as you said, unlearning bit by bit. Understanding the underlying processes when I fail tremendously at a deadline, or get that urge to flee when among a group of people with tensions.
    And above all, what this means for my future. I am not done yet at all.
    And I found a lot of stuff in your posts that read like a clear version of the muddled thoughts I could not se through myself. It helps me a lot these days, helps me put in words for my husband what I knew somehow but couldn’t put in words before. I am grateful to you that you took the time to write it all down and shared it.
    Thank you.

    1. Perhaps you have an autistic sense of humor and few people get it! I often get odd looks instead of laughs when I think I’m being hilariously funny. πŸ™‚

      It sounds like we’re in much the same place, post-diagnosis and trying to figure things out. I suspect it will be a long process, but I’m enjoying it. It feels like I’m finally at least going in the right direction rather than turning circles around myself trying to get some traction.

      But hey, I am still here. I survived. I made it.

      You did! And congratulations on that score. πŸ™‚ Sometimes it’s easy to forget what an accomplishment that is.

  7. Ooooh, I really like the idea of superpowers! I guess mine would be not self-censoring my ideas and therefore being very creative, thinking in “weird” ways, and freely associating ideas and pictures in my mind. Sometimes it’s so freaky that even I can’t determine the reason for certain connections – where on earth does the idea of a pink jelly octopus come from? And when I’m a little relaxed I can see stories and beautiful concepts like an additional layer covering reality … for example when I’m standing at the lake nearby and and gaze on the trees and the water, suddenly a bunch of bits from books and TV shows comes alive, woven to a beautiful atmospheric story. Sometimes it’s just being fascinated by the corner of an old house or a pile of bricks covered in ivy. To myself I call it “seeing the beauty inbetween”, or “seeing magic”.

  8. Sounds interesting. Someone said that I’m very likely an aspie.

    Cool headed in crisis. When hell freezes over. I can not act in the moment. I am in my head constructing theories.
    Detail oriented. When it is theoretical maybe. Otherwise quite contrary. I am mister messy and I have hard time to remember how old I am. Sequential steps are pain in my butt. Executive functioning…
    Dependaple yes. Disciplined absolutely not. I have my principles. Never drunk alcohol etc but I like to avoid schedules…
    Determined. When someone says it is impossible. Otherwise I would like to live in la la land.

    My personality traits are well described in ENTP profile. It is more likely that personality plays a larger role here.

    1. btw I have been planning to clean my apartment for about 4 months. I’m almoust there. Heck it is easier to write philosophical dissertation about cleaning than actually find motivation to do it.

      1. Reading this article made me cry the happiest of tears. My 4 year old son was recently diagnosed and you have given me a far more positive view. We thought all this time he was gifted and he just wasn’t to speak often. He was reading words at 1 1/2 years old, can memorize detailed facts after only one time hearing them, talented with music, and shows many of your super powers. Then I wanted him evaluated due to echolalia. I researched possible reasons and autism came up more than anything. The doctor then informed us of the possible diagnosis of aspergers. That was 3 days ago. This has been the longest three days of my life. Thanks to you I no longer feel as though my son received a horrible diagnosis. Thank you.

        1. I’m so glad you found this and it’s been helpful! The way that medical professionals talk about Aspergers is often unhelpful in its negativity and scariness. It’s not a horrible diagnosis at all. Yes being on the spectrum can make aspects of life more challenging but I wouldn’t trade in my autistic brain if I had the chance. It’s made me who I am and I’m pretty awesome. πŸ™‚

          Just keep loving your son and supporting him where he needs it and helping him cultivate his strengths. You’ll both be fine.

          1. Actually, my son’s pediatrician was great about it! He told us how it is really not bad at all. Also he spoke of it as though asperger children have super powers ha! He said he will just be selective with who he wants to be around, but he will be highly intelligent in certain areas. My son does have some horrible symptoms that I have to learn to adapt to like he loves to; line up his toy cars perfectly, pushes us away so he can figure things out himself, loves electronics and his learning games, has a great memory, tore down two railroad sets after we spent hours putting them together so he could rebuild them himself perfectly and better, repeats funny things after listening to something, loves to know what I am doing so he can try to do it also, is gifted with various aspects of music, and his first sounds were of a Michael Jackson song that I kept playing while I was pregnant… Oh I guess I will have to live with these “flaws” hehehe! Keep writing and sharing your gifts and experiences please!

  9. Ok yes! I share many of these superpowers strengths:) Intuition being the highest one and honesty…
    One thing I differ on is dependability and schedules…that is where I think personality comes into play for myself…I do have certain routines I need but they are very chaotic even though they make sense to me…I am a tie between INFP and INFJ:
    http://www.keirsey.com/4temps/healer.asp
    http://www.keirsey.com/4temps/counselor.asp
    As far as I know, I am unusual for an Aspie in the areas of empathy and chaos because of this…I have only met one Autistic who scores the same in personality and they also have a chaotic life with high levels of empathy even though they are also clearly autistic in everything else…relationships DO drain me but I am also exceptionally good at healing and counselling them…I’m only disciplined in stuff I strongly believe in…but I do have a very mysterious layer of qualities probably due to the unusual combination.
    I agree. I celebrate Autism…and myself…although I also immensely struggle….Loved this post!

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