An Open Invitation to Infodump

It’s rare these days that the thread of comments on a post isn’t two or three or five times as long as the post itself. This makes me happy. Happy that so many of you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts here. Happy that each post becomes a jumping off point for discussions that wind in all sorts of interesting directions. Happy that we can learn from each other.

I enjoy reading your comments–and I do read every single one of them. I especially enjoy the longer ones where a subject catches someone’s interest and they go off on an enthusiastic tangent. This happens a lot.

You know what else happens a lot? Apologizing. No sooner does someone finish writing their long detailed informative comment than they’re apologizing for it. A recent exchange with Ischemgeek made me realize how often we apologize for simply talking. I do it in the comments too and this is my blog!

And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve started to write a comment on someone else’s blog, then deleted it for fear that it was too long or irrelevant. I bail on comments more often than I finish them. The ones I do leave, I often end up wishing I’d said less or came across sounding more chatty and less. . . . fact-y.

No one likes a smarty-pants right? I learned that lesson early and well.


Does Infodumping Have a Place?

We’re autistic–we have deep knowledge of certain subjects, we’re passionate about our knowledge and we want to share. This should be a good thing, but so often it’s something that we’re made to feel bad about and have been since childhood.

In that exchange I mentioned above, Ischemgeek said:

I like hearing others monologue at me (love learning & reading stuff), but I’m used to having to apologize for it when I do it, yeah. When I was a kid, I’d be told I was being domineering or rude and then made to apologize… which didn’t have the effect of teaching me not to monologue because I’m usually 5-10 minutes in before I realize I’ve been talking a while, it just taught me to apologize when I realize I’ve monologued.

Monologuing or infodumping is part of our nature. I understand why it’s discouraged in children. Monopolizing the conversation is rude. So is talking about a subject the other person isn’t interested in.

If you’re told enough times that talking about what interests you is rude, it’s easy to start thinking that talking itself is rude. Because what would we talk about, if not what interests us? We’re black and white thinkers–we come to conclusions like this as a matter of course, especially when we’re younger.

But like Ischemgeek points out, that doesn’t necessarily teach us not to infodump. It teaches us to reflexively apologize every time we say more than three sentences.

Is that necessary as adults? What if the other person expresses interest in the subject? Like Ischemgeek, I will happily listen to someone infodump on a wide range of subjects. Not only that, I’ll often prolong their monologuing by asking lots of questions. I love learning new things and am fascinated by details. When someone has an expert level of knowledge on a subject, their enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. At least I think it is.

I’ve learned about fascinating subjects I never would have pursued on my own thanks to someone else’s passion for them. Ancient Egypt. Aboriginal camp dogs. Unknown unknowns. Primate social behavior. Poaching in Africa. The epidemiology of cancer in Hispanic populations in the US. Given enough time to think about it, I could fill a page at least with topics of memorable conversations like those.

The Scientist and I are both monologuers at times. We indulge each others’ topics of interest. I know far more than the average person about a whole bunch of subjects thanks to his passionate interest in them and the same is true of him. That’s not to say all or even most of our conversations are one-sided monologues. Simply that we both enjoy learning new things and not every conversation we have has to be a typical back and forth, each person talking for equal amounts of time type of conversation.

Making Our Own Rules

I think, because we’re adults and because we can, we should put a moratorium on apologizing for sharing information that we find interesting. Starting here, in the comments. The asynchronous nature of blog comments makes this a low risk place to infodump.  We can each choose to read or skip over comments as we see fit. No one has to read what you wrote (well, except probably me).

If you have something to say that you think is interesting and adds to the conversation, say it. Don’t apologize for being passionate about what interests you or for sharing it.

99 thoughts on “An Open Invitation to Infodump”

  1. What a great post. The only people who should apologize for cluttering the comment area are the spammers-and that will never happen.
    I love the way that you are welcoming and accepting passionate responses inspired by your posts.

    1. WordPress is good at keeping the spammers from getting through. Sometimes it even keeps the real comments from getting through!

      I love all of the comments and getting to know folks a bit through the stories and ideas that they share down here. Also, lots of people mention how helpful they find the comments, so that’s an added bonus. 🙂

  2. I use to talk alot, and jump from a subject to another if I’m happy. If not, I turn on mute and nobody can makes me talk. It happend to me some weeks ago visiting Masada, Israel. I was so excited that I didn’t realize I’m talking since 2 hours, anoying my friends. Only when my friend told me to keep my mouth shut and enjoy what I see, I realized I was talking for hours. But I see everything, and enjoy the moment, and I’m so happy, I said! All those subject were conected in my mind, and were very interesting for me. After that I realized I forgot to drink water, and I was sick dehydrated. And I appologised for my endless talking, of course!

    1. Oh, when I get excited, I get really rambley, so I know exactly what you mean. I wonder if part of it is also the overstimulation of being in a new place and talking becomes a kind of stim to deal with all of the sensory input?

      Have you seen this post on Tumblr: It reminds of what you mentioned about everything being connected in your head, even if others can’t see the connection.

  3. I like you. Really. I like your honesty. I like how you just put out there in a straightforward way what a lot of us are thinking. And the monologues and the apologizing, oh my, I understand. And as I was reading this post I thought of my daughter’s english class this past year and how she had to memorize a Hamlet’s soliloquy. As I sat with her and listened to the words of Shakespeare as she practiced aloud, I knew exactly what the teacher was thinking with this assignment. Monologues are a deliberate literary device. They are how the meat of the message is served. We all should be more like the english teacher that emphasizes the monologue, we should recognize and appreciate the meaty parts of someone’s communication. My apologies to the vegetarians amongst us for the carnivorous metaphor. Oops, there I go making an apology. 🙂

    1. Yes, the meaty parts of the conversation are the best parts! I used to have a neighbor who was very quiet but get him started on anything to do with his love of Africa (he lived there part of every year, working as a guide) and he was one of the most knowledgeable, fascinating people I’ve ever met. And probably 90% of people who meet him would have no idea because he just doesn’t do small talk.

  4. Cool post, I agree and often find myself caught in the same cycle too. The thing I find funny is how I never realise I’ve been doing it until someone reminds me.

    I think there’s an important distinction here too though between a spoken conversation and the great threads that spin from a well placed blog post. When I started my blog I did it because I just figured it would be my own place to ramble on about things that interested me. While it only write in that place to express things that I like and want to talk about, I do try to make sure that when I post something has some structure and progresses nicely from idea to idea. In the comments I’m hoping folks post what they think and what they feel and all of it without editing and I’m flattered by the way these comments extend the post in a somewhat communal nature. That’s online, however, in conversation it’s that interplay between participants where the challenge seems to appear. It appears that a “typical” conversation is kept moving with well timed pieces of “small talk” like adding the right log to the fire at the right time to keep it burning at the right rate. Not too much that the listener becomes the presenter but not too little that the speaker or presenter feels that the audience has lost interest. Since I’m already not too great at expressing, non-verbally, how I’m listening it’s trying to negotiate that spoken kindling that becomes the game.

    Fascinating post. I’m looking forward to how it evolves.

    1. I actually wrote a qualifier into this about spoken conversation being much trickier and then edited it out because the whole post started veering off course.

      Personally, I’m content to let the other person talk a lot because it’s easier for me. Generally with strangers or acquaintances, I need the other person to carry the conversation or it will die a quick and awkward death. This, of course, isn’t true of most people so I assume most people will be put off by someone else infodumping. I just wanted people to know that I’m fine with it and actually enjoy it most of the time.

      And of course I had to go check out what you blog about and now I’m curious what GO Transit is. I’m guessing a brand of model railroad . . . something? I had a very small model railroad set as a kid and spent many many hours assembling it and playing with it and as I’m typing this I can still smell it (which probably sounds weird, but a lot of my memories are olfactory based for some reason).

      1. Placing things into context is a habit of mine that I’d like to break out of. It’s one I do in conversation and did in my comment too.

        I really appreciate the people in my life that understand how happy I am to be a part of the conversation. Those that understand that sometimes my silence is saving them from the info-storm that’s headed their way once I launch into my moment. I’m so fascinated with the art of conversation and maybe too often I’m so happy to indulge in watching one in progress instead of trying to balance that observation with participation.

        Thanks for checking out Prince Street. GO Transit ( is Toronto, Ontario (Canada) commuter trains and buses. In the world of railways, I’m the most interested in these commuter trains the most. I enjoy the role the play in our daily lives. I always felt that GO itself is just such a tremendous Canadian success story on just so many levels. It was created when Toronto realised it was just growing too fast to keep up with itself and that hoping they could pave roads as fast as the rate of cars coming into the city just wasn’t a practical approach. Almost from the first day of operations their ridership has exceeded expectations. Somehow they also managed to develop their own unique equipment and those designs were so well received that they’ve been adopted by other commuter train agencies across Canada and the United States. I’m as passionate about commuter trains as I am Canadian design (architecture, industrial design, print, etc.) and the GO logo is another of those Canadian design icons like the CBC logo.

        The “smell” of model trains. I get that too. Something about the way companies like Lionel, American Flyer and Tri-ang built their models they all did emit a unique scent. I understand this memory just the way you describe it.

        1. Ah, so GO is like the M or the T or BART. Got it. The logo is catchy. It’s cool that you have such a passion for commuter trains. I think most of us tend to see them as utilitarian and take for granted how much easier they make life in the city. Random aside: I live across the street from train tracks. Light rail and freight trains now, but last year I lived on a line that had commuter and freight trains side by side. Trains have unexpectedly become a part of my daily life.

          Lionel! That was what I had. I think it was this one:

          I think putting things into context is human nature? I think about that a lot when I write, because it’s easy for people to take something out of context and make it seem like something it’s not, especially in a long piece. Context feels important.

          1. Exactly, that’s GO. You mentioned the T in Boston. It’s a very, very similar role and in fact during the T has actually used or leased equipment from Toronto’s GO Transit over the years including streetcars for use on Boston’s Green LIne and commuter train cars too.

            We tend to think of railways in romantic ways like steam whistles in the night or as some part of a great Johnny Cash song. Sometimes too it’s long freight trains powering American industry and we overlook the more intimate role that these communter trains play in our own lives. GO has always had these marketing campaigns to promote their service to major events around the city that always start with “GO to…” Their service, like any other commuter train or transit company becomes the service that we used to get to work, to get downtown to meet up with friends and marking the beginning of another adventure. In many ways these trains are also the great social common denominator that keeps us all together in our community and relates us all to each other in times when it’s so easy to be alone. Andy Warhol had a great quote about Coke and his comments about Coke were the same as the way I view transit.

            More than feeling important, I feel like context is a function of comfort. During the exchanges that we’ve been discussing in this thread we’re all sharing our experiences in trying to manage our own infodumps. We’re sometimes uncomfortable because we didn’t realise when we should have stopped or even sometimes started. It’s that comfort we lacked because, sometimes, we couldn’t discern the context. Sometimes, I hate this personal obsession with context I bear as I feel like I’m always injecting a caveat into the conversation or email.

            1. I’ve ridden the Green line a few times, most recently to go see Bruce Springsteen at Fenway. 🙂

              Ah, I see what you mean about context–especially the part about caveats. That can get problematic, especially if we’re seeing the details at the expense of the bigger picture. There was a great post a while back by outrunningthestorm, talking about how she wanted to teach her son social rules but kept running into the exception to the exception to the exception. Maybe we’re so sensitive to context because we use it to learn those rules and need to be constantly on the lookout for the exceptional exceptions. Kind of like a survival mechanism that can turn around and bite us at times.

  5. I really like this post. The takeaway seems to be similar to what I was telling myself last week, that it’s time to stop trying to be someone else just to please people, because it’s too much work, and what we are, isn’t so God-awful that we need to be ashamed of it. In any case, if anyone doesn’t like our conversational styles, they can always just stop interacting with us – it’s not like there’s a gun to their head. So just being oneself leads to two positive outcomes: more fun/less bad feelings for us in the short term, and also, it weeds out the sort of people who don’t suit us in the long term. Personally, I have discovered that the more neurotypical I try to be, the more distressingly homogenous & close-minded people I find myself surrounded by, which leads to even more work on my part, to keep them all happy and comfortable (having to make small talk, having to limit my words when I get excited about one of my special interests, having to worry about what I am wearing and what I look like all the time, having to go to all their horrible “social engagements” where people just stand around getting drunk and the music is way too loud…the list goes on and on)! And for what? So that I can point at all my hard-won “friends” and say “Look Ma, I’m a normal girl!” Lol it’s crazy that this is how I spent so many years of my life :). Hurrah for infodumping, and hurrah for being oneself!!

    1. That’s a really good point about attracting people who are drawn to a certain “version” of yourself. If you make friends by pretending to be someone you’re not, they’re going to be really shocked when you run out energy for pretending. 🙂 I’ve always friends who were a little (and sometimes a lot) odd, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I think that made it easier to be my own weird self.

      1. “…when you run out of energy for pretending.” I think that’s been the hardest part for me. Not that I ever thought I was fooling myself trying to be a version of myself that didn’t “have” Asperger’s but I spent a lot of time trying to pretend I was. I think one of the most amazing things I ever did was to stop with that game. I wasn’t fooling anyone and I sure wasn’t happy. Funny how long it took for me to meet myself for the first time during the period after I stopped. I can say I’m one heck of a lot happier now than i ever was before. Nice observation.

          1. Yes @Chris I think I ran out of that energy many years ago; I was just too scared to lose what respect I thought I had gained from my family & friends to stop, so it was just pretend, pretend, pretend, then crash and feel like a failure again, only to start the cycle all over again as soon as I had recovered. A lot of it was just not knowing I had Asperger’s – I was taught my “quirks” were character flaws as a child (and if I was a good girl, then I’d stop embarrassing everyone and behave myself!), so it wasn’t until I self-diagnosed a couple years ago that I realized no amount of willpower was going to “fix” me. And reading this great blog and others like it make me realize I don’t need to be fixed, either. It is really heartening and encouraging to find people like you and Cynthia online and know that we can share experiences 🙂 Thank you!

            1. Thanks for sharing your story Desi. Your’s tells much the same as my own. Growing up you only get to know that you’re different from the other kids around and enough so that you just wish you could figure out what it is that makes you different and stop being that so you could just fit in. It took one heck of a lot of time and even more self confidence to learn to like myself and I’m happy to say that I really do (like myself). I now realise that all these things about me that I’m really proud of simply couldn’t have been the product of any other formula.

              As for sharing experiences, I’ll be honest, this thread is the first time I’ve really openly joined in on a discussion. I’ve lurked long enough and thought it was time to join in. I’m really glad I did.

  6. Oh yay!!! I often feel guilty and my family mocks me for my long email updates every four months and my comments… Even my blog posts. It has taken great self control to keep my posts shorter than usual.;)
    This is nice to hear. And you are right! I love to hear monologues!!! The rare times I don’t – I still listen politely and know the person is still worthy 😉
    Your right- on Internet we have a choice to engage. Often it’s worth it!
    Thanks for easing my self esteem issues;)

    1. Your family mocks you for long email updates that you only send every few months? That’s kinda mean. :-/

      My blog posts are always on the longish side. I’m impressed by people who can consistently write the recommended 300-500 words per post because I can’t. 300 words is an introduction for me.

      I wonder if aspies are more likely to listen to other people monologue because we’re prone to doing it ourselves and understand the impulse? In addition to being interested in the subject matter, I mean.

  7. I love this post and I am so with you on finding people’s passion contagious. I could listen to someone talk about anything when they have a passion for it. You take me back to my first date with my partner where she spent the whole time telling me detailed factual information about all the various things around us. I assumed she was not the least bit interested in me because she never asked me a single thing about myself and I was only accustomed to the back and forth of nt conversation. But at the same time there was something very refreshing and intriguing to me about it. It worked out pretty well in the end for us. 😉

    1. If she wasn’t totally into you, why would she have spent all that time sharing valuable facts with you?! That’s such a funny, awesome first date memory and I’m glad you didn’t take your assumption of her disinterest too seriously.

      Funny confession: my husband recently said, “so when we first met and I noticed you staring at me all the time, you probably had no idea you were doing it, right?” He now knows that I have a tendency to stare at people/things without really seeing them – which he completely mistook for intense flirting/romantic interest. But it worked out for us in the end too! 😀

      1. My partner found me intimidating when he first met me! Due to having a special interest in words/vocabulary, I speak very technically in meatspace. I’m the sort of person who would refer to a whirlpool as a “vortex,” say that I had “cephalalgia” instead of saying I had a headache, or call table salt sodium chloride casually. He mistook that for being an elitist and looking down on those who didn’t understand what I meant… after he got to know me, he realized no, it’s not that I judged those who didn’t understand the words I was using, it was that at the time I mistakenly assumed that being precise and technical would prevent misunderstandings (why I got into word meanings and vocabulary in the first place, and why I used to read the dictionary so much).

        I’m not as bad on the intimidating-speech-pattern front as I used to be, because around when I first started university, my special interest in vocabulary expanded to include idioms, slang, and vernacular, so I will use stuff like, “as the crow flies” appropriately instead of saying “by the theoretical shortest path” like I would’ve when I was 18. But if I’m tired or stressed, I might tell my partner to bring the water to reflux instead of telling him to bring it to a boil. 😛

    2. And I think that’s the really great thing that someone with Asperger’s provides: passion and interest. There’s such a beautiful balance between the renaissance approach that a NT person can provide to really situate the contribution that someone with AS provides. It’s the way that the book isn’t really useful at all until someone starts to read it.

      Cool comment. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. Ahhhhh, this made me cry. In a good way. This is a beautiful wonderful post. Thank you!

  9. I am a mommy of four beautiful children that are different hues on this rainbow that is autism. I stole that from my bestie who has a daughter with Aspberger’s. She recently turned me on to your “musings”, and I find them absolutely intriguing. You give me an insight that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I get so frustrated when people tell my 9-year-old son that “they’re not going to talk about this (stop signs) anymore” then try to shut him down. This is his passion. Instead of trying to shut him down, I have found ways to encourage him to broaden his view of all things “stop sign”. Tommy is now going online to find out what stop signs look like around the world. He utilizes Google Translate to learn how to say “stop” in other languages. Tommy is now drawing maps (they look like an 9-year-old drew them) of different neighborhoods and placing the stop signs where they go. He’s able to tell you any distinguishing characteristics of each sign that makes it unique…and its’ precise location. I know as he grows and becomes older, he will learn more “socially appropriate” ways to express himself. It is my hope that he will never feel like he has to apologize for this, or any other things that spark his interest. After all, if people stopped sharing those things that they’re passionate about, how would we learn anything new? One day, I am certain that not only Tommy, but all of his siblings as well, will go on to do great and wonderful things. Perhaps Tommy will go on to be a topographer!

    Thank you for all that you share, and to those who respond to all you have to say. My children teach me something new every day, and now you do too…when you post… I tell people all the time that each experience we encounter is an opportunity to learn something new. Holy crap…all I can think of right now is that I hope this all makes sense and that it’s okay for me to even be writing this…I hate to say what I’m about to…I’m sorry! I really do that a lot too…saying, “I’m sorry!” Maybe I should just stop writing now…

    1. Oooo, me being a chemist and a person who was passionate about severe weather as a kid about Tommy’s age, an idea for drawing some science and engineering into it comes to mind: How well do stop signs withstand wind? Did they ever change the sign to withstand weather better? What do they do in areas that get high winds or heavy snow a lot to keep the stop signs visible? How do they prevent corrosion of the stop sign (which of course requires “what is corrosion and why is it bad for stop signs?”)? What materials are they made of now? If you want to pull in history with the science and engineering, you can ask what were they made of before and why did they change? Are stop signs made of different materials in different parts of the world? If so, why? Etc.

      The thing that I love about learning about stuff is that pretty much everything has fractal complexity. Those who call such special interests “narrow” have no idea what they’re talking about.

        1. … my brain is still on questions about stop signs. I could keep going:

          Meteorology: What kind of winds are worst for stop signs?
          Physics: What’s the maximum impact force a stop sign can withstand? If knocked out of its mount by a car, where is the the center of gravity about which it would tumble through the air? If a headlight of 10,000 candle-foot intensity were shone on a stop sign with paint of reflectance X, how far would the letters “STOP” be visible?
          Chemistry: alll of the metallurgy for what materials are used why and when (what makes reflective paint reflective, for example?)
          Chemical engineering: What reactions are used to manufacture stop sign materials? What are the hazards and pitfalls of them, and which reactions are least efficient? What kind of equipment is needed and what scale can it be produced on?
          Process engineering: What are the steps involved in manufacturing stop sign materials? Where is this process least efficient? How could this efficiency be improved?
          Mechanical Engineering: What are the engineering constraints for a stop sign? What are recent innovations in stop signs? Think up an innovation and draw out how to make it, and see about building a scale model and then a functional prototype.
          Psychology: Do people instinctively hesitate at red, or was it just chosen for convenience?
          Cultural anthropology: What were the precursors to the stop sign?

          … and so on.

          (anyone else sometimes get stuck on something? I am with questions about stop signs probably because I’ve never thought much about them and I’m realizing how little I know)

          1. Okay, I had to Google the “why are stop signs red?” question and found that it’s because red is the most visible color across a wide variety of weather conditions though some people also say that red is inherently associated with danger/warning. The original stop signs in the early 1900s were either green or yellow depending on which source you believe. 🙂 Red didn’t come into use until midcentury because manufacturing the reflective paint needed for the signs in red was too difficult. Or says the NY Times.

            And yes, stuck.

            1. Realising how little you know about something you see every day! Isn’t that the coolest thing EVER? Thousands, millions of peoples see stop signs every day and they are never aware of that sense of wonder, they only see the sign when it impacts what they can and can’t do (erm, stop). I love the wondering and the looking up information and getting sidetracked. But most of all I love listening to people who can cause your mind to veer off in all those new and interesting directions!

              1. I was thinking that too. Literally every non-naturally occurring thing we encounter has been designed by someone. Someone, somewhere knows a whole lot about stop signs and fence posts and railroad tracks and air conditioner fan blades and on and on. If at least a few people didn’t find each one of those things fascinating, would they exist in the form they do today? Maybe not.

    2. Ooh, stop signs is one that I haven’t heard before. Bonus points to your son for originality. Your method of using his passion to expand into other areas is terrific. I bet he’s happy to spend all day engrossed in learning that revolves around stop signs.

      In 5th and 6th grades, I was in the gifted program and the best part of it was the independent projects we got to do. I swear it was designed with autistic kids in mind, even though AS didn’t even exist at the time. For a couple of months at a time, we got to choose a topic of interest, research it in any way we chose and then produce a “product” of our own design. I made a board game about the stock market and a satirical humor magazine, among other things. Best class in my 22+ years of schooling.

      Whatever Tommy chooses to do as an adult, you’re giving him a really valuable weapon by encouraging him to be passionate about a subject and pursue in great depth. That’s where inventors and artists and engineers and teachers and all sorts of other creative, passionate people begin.

      I’m so glad you delurked and shared your thoughts. Thank you! Hearing from parents who encourage their children the way you do makes me so happy and hopeful. My parents always let me follow my interests and I treasure those memories of childhood.

      1. Oh my goodness! I can’t believe the responses! This is just amazing! I have already posed some weather-related queries to Tommy. He was intrigued, saying, “Mommy! I wonder what would happen to a stop sign in a tornado!!” The wheels are already turning; I could just see them starting up. It didn’t take long for him to switch gears though (how funny…wheels turning…gears…sorry…ADHD moment.). He was looking up new pictures of signs; this time, new and different kinds of signage from Mexico. I’m just excited to have some new directions to lead him in. Tommy is going to learn so much and grow because of all of your help and interest today. The possibilities are limitless!

        No BSC, teacher, therapist, psychiatrist, etc. has ever given me so hope; so many incredible ideas that will only begin to encourage my son and to bring out the very best in him…without squashing his self-esteem. Everyone wants his passion to be squelched. They want to apply a cookie cutter approach to make him fall into line. In an IEP that was just written for Tommy, the teacher said that Tommy only uses “stop sign speech” as an attention seeking behavior and as task avoidance; that was the premise behind significantly decreasing it. When I read that on the REVISED copy, I got out a red pen and wrote, “Sometimes a duck is just a duck. It isn’t a matter of simply seeking attention or task avoidance. It is where his mind and his heart is. You need to approach Tommy and this facet of him with dignity and respect. I want this goal changed…” Yes, Tommy does have to pay attention in school and does need to learn. But to deny that this is a big part of him and deeming it as unacceptable behavior that needs to be “significantly decreased” or completely eradicated by BHRS that we have had, is nothing short of a big load of crap.

        I am taking all that you researched and shared, all of the encouragement that I am going to take from this and will be gladly sharing it with Tommy. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

        1. I don’t know if this is backed up by science or not, but when I was a kid, the #1 surefire way to make both teacher and me miserable in school was to squash what I was interested in and make me work a lot on stuff I hated (especially handwriting – I am not exaggerating when I say I have nightmares about handwriting lessons as an adult and that someone offering to “help” me get “better” handwriting will provoke a meltdown).

          But tie it in with my interests, and I’ll have a great time and be a model pupil.

          Here’s the thing I don’t get: Why is it that presumed-NT kids are allowed to follow their interests and their teachers are expected to encourage and develop those interests, but kids who are not presumed-NT aren’t allowed to have any interests at all? No, you can’t read a story about weather, you have to read about baseball. Even though you hate baseball and like weather and both stories are acceptable for the curriculum, I’m going to make you read about baseball to “broaden your horizons”. And then punish you for being honest when I ask how you liked it and you say you thought it was boring because you hate baseball, thus teaching you that your opinions and feelings are invalid and you’re only allowed to have those that please others.

          When a presumed-NT kid gets to read about baseball because they like baseball and are encouraged to do so.

          Why is it wrong to have strong interests? I just don’t get it. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. It makes no sense to me to squash someone’s passion to “broaden their horizons” when you could employ the passion to encourage them to learn more about how other topics interact with the passion.

          Just…. argh. I don’t get it. What are they thinking with that? It makes no sense, and I speak from experience (I had no diagnosis but was very obviously not-NT growing up so I got some of the “we’re going to squash your passions for your own good” treatment) when I say that it makes everyone involved completely miserable. Why force unhappiness, frustration, and anger on a kid when you can work with their natural enthusiasm and passion? Sense, this approach makes none.

          1. And to take your analogy one step further, if a kid spends hours and hours practicing baseball and studying how to be better at baseball and shows any aptitude at all, his parents are often happy to spend all sorts of time and money on private coaching, travel teams, etc. and proudly brag to all the neighbors about how dedicated and disciplined that kid is. But if a kid spends a similar amount of time on building bigger, better weather stations or something less typical, they get branded as having a narrow special interest. Argh is right.

            1. Yes, this. I meant it more as an anecdote because I had that happen to me as a kid morethan a few times, but words are hard today because I overslept and missed breakfast and morning routine and that’s making everything hard and so speaking clearly and speaking in a way that doesn’t upset people are kinda-sorta mutually exclusive today.

              1. Oops! I didn’t mean to turn your anecdote into an analogy. It sucks that people did that to you as a kid. 😦 It’s so counterproductive and damaging because we will happily be good students when we engaged and interested.

                I hope your day improves. Getting thrown off my morning routine pretty much leaves me a mess for the rest of the day so I totally get how that can make everything harder.

          2. This resonates with me so much! It’s that seemingly double standard, one rule for them, one rule for me thing that I (and apparently a lot of other Aspies) get so frustrated with. All kids are encouraged to be curious, but suddenly there’s some invisible limit to how curious you’re allowed to be and when you cross that line you’re a “know-it-all” (in Dutch we even call it “know-it-better” with very distinct overtones of “oh, so you think you know better huh?”). It’s just completely illogical. NTs seem to have a superb radar for behaviour that isn’t “normal enough”, picking up on the slightest deviation from whatever’s standard. But when you ask them what that standard is, they can’t articulate it.

            Knowledge is always a good thing. ALWAYS. Even if it’s a “narrow” subject or “not practical”. Let the kids figure out what to do with their knowledge when the time comes for them to get a job. Don’t squash the desire to know things and the desire to share that knowledge, just because you don’t understand it.

            1. I think maybe it plays into how capricious, unreliable, biased against me, and untrustworthy I always felt adults in my life were, when I was a kid (9th grade English teacher, 2nd grade teacher, and high school VP excepted). I always felt like everyone else was told what standard they were being held to, but I had to guess and it was always changing, and I’d be punished even harder if I ever complained that I didn’t know what the standard was. Then add in that I was often punished for stuff I didn’t (and still don’t) think was wrong.

              Case in point: Why is answering questions honestly rude? If you aren’t prepared to receive an answer you don’t like, don’t ask the question. Don’t ask a kid if they “want” to do a chore you know they hate and then punish them for honesty when they answer no. That teaches your kid to view every question as a trap and again that their wants and preferences are invalid and worthy of punishment unless they please adults. Because if you ask a question and then punish your kid for being honest, the question is a trap.

          3. I’m fascinated with the baseball analogy. Around here it’s hockey but otherwise the same story. It’s expected that you should carry with you a command of the sport with an obsessive knowledge of statistics and history. So, on the surface it would appear that it’s okay to obsess about something and even to be passionate about it – so long as it’s the right thing eh?! I find it frustrating that having passion is only good when it’s something someone tells you it’s okay to be passionate about and wrong when it’s outside that realm.

            Not at all as a means of self-validation, but when I think of the world I want to live in it’s one populated by people who know what they’re interested in and are not afraid of that passion and interest. Imagine the quality of that world? Imagine the enthusiasm. Imagine the pride. Imagine if every cup of coffee you drank was made by someone who only thought about brewing coffee. Imagine the house you’d live in and the cars you’d drive. Imagine if that chair you’re sitting in right now was made by someone who really understood the history of chair design and drew from that breadth of knowledge when they designed your chair. Imagine shopping or even just crossing the street. Imagine that sea of pride. Now wonder for a second at the world we have instead. Personally, I’m still voting for passion.

        2. I was thrilled with all the responses you got. Because so many people look at your son’s love of stop signs and want to “fix it” and then along comes a bunch of autistic adults and we’re all “stop signs! woot!” 😀 If only autistic adults were better represented among the people who work with autistic kids. Some day.

          I want to specifically address this: “the teacher said that Tommy only uses “stop sign speech” as an attention seeking behavior and as task avoidance”. The attention seeking part is so misguided. A special interest is very intrinsically rewarding. My guess is that if there is no one around for Tommy to talk to about stop signs, he will still do stop sign related stuff and enjoy it immensely. Talking to others about it is simply one way of expressing the intense interest he has. Whether the other person is even paying any attention is really secondary and probably not that important. Which is why we often get caught talking about something without realizing the other person has long ago stopped caring or even listening. 🙂

          Special interests can be task avoidance, in a way. Engaging in a special interest is comforting, relaxing, safe and enjoyable. It helps us reset our brains in a way that is hard to explain. If Tommy is retreating into his special interest (for lack of a better way of phrasing it) in school, it may be a coping mechanism, a way of comforting or regulating himself under stress. At times, talking about a special interest can also be a kind of stim or a way to dissipate anxiety. So trying to eradicate his “stop sign speech” (ack!) is going to be like playing whack-a-mole. Smack one thing down and two others will pop up to take its place. I love the idea of redirecting and letting him make his special interest a part of learning as much as possible because it will make learning fun for him and also give him a needed outlet in school, which can be a really stressful place for autistic kids.

          You sound like a great mom – keep wielding that red pen!

          1. Actually, I was talking to a friend of mine today who works at the Autism Center here in Pittsburgh (She has three autistic teenagers of her own.). She was thrilled over what transpired yesterday, saying, “Well, they’re the autism experts!” We were both saying that there should be more of an emphasis on autistic adults working with our autistic kids. No one else “gets” it, as evidenced by yesterday’s thread on a subject that I had never imagined would spark such an interest.

            You’re right: Tommy does find such joy in doing “stop sign related stuff” on his own. So much so, that I have given him his own box with both wooden and plastic coffee stirrers (and even scored a small bundle of fecal specimen sticks from a nurse at his gastroenterologist’s office, and YES, they were clean and unused…). They are the perfect “poles” for the stop signs he makes. There is construction paper (more red and yellow than any other color) and card stock if he feels like creating his own signs (that kid can draw the best octagons I’ve ever seen…and his cutting skills? Precise.). He can earn printouts of different stop signs from either the pictures we take here, there and everywhere or those he takes pictures of off of Google with my iPhone or the iPad (He recently got his own digital camera for his birthday. Now, as a special treat, we go on stop sign hunting trips!). There are of course glue sticks for assembly purposes. He is so happy to just sit there and work on them. He gets the square Lego with four “nubbies” and uses them to anchor his creations. Doing this, along with talks about stop signs is something that I have long believed was a self-regulating/coping skill when he’s feeling overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated, etc. When he isn’t permitted to do this, even for a short period of time, I see a lot of other self-injurious and self-stimulatory behaviors arise.

            In Tommy’s IEP, they have listed giving him a fidget toy or a white board to use should either of these behaviors become problematic. I asked them why he isn’t able to just hold one of his stop signs that he brings to school in his backpack daily. When we go out in the community, he will have one to hold in the car, and then there’s one in his pocket (without a stick) just in case he needs it. Nope, it is deemed as “inappropriate”, and goes against what they are trying to accomplish with Tommy: a significant decrease in his perseveration with stop signs. I completely agree with you…ACK!! I just don’t get it either. I find myself constantly asking, not just for Tommy, but his three siblings too: WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO HARD?! It shouldn’t be this difficult to get what Tommy (and the rest of my minions) needs instead of what THEY want. It doesn’t have to be this difficult. I just don’t get it…and I’m certain that Tommy doesn’t either. This, I’m sure is why he cried every morning before getting on the bus…”I don’t want to go to school! I hate school!” I’m certain this is why Tommy has had to see a gastroenterologist and have an endoscopy this last spring. He didn’t have any problems until going into the first grade, and with each break and vacation, his symptoms simply disappear. Go figure. Sorry that this has turned into something so very long-winded…

            With that said, would you all like to come to the next IEP when I open it up in the fall?! 😉

            1. I wish I understood why we find these things so comforting but I agree completely with what you are observing in your son. I’ve only just in the last year really started to notice, in myself, how agitated I feel inside when I haven’t had a chance to indulge in the hobby of model railways. For me, it can be having a few minutes to work on a model or just “run a train”. In recognising this I started to identify model making projects that I could easily fit in to a typical day and built my first model railway in over ten years – it’s not very large at just about two square feet in size but it gets me that fix. I started to work on a thirty minute period for these activities consisting of a five minute set-up, twenty minutes of performing the activity and five minutes to clean up afterward. I’m lucky enough to live close to my office so can even make it home during a work day if I need to escape into this to rebalance myself so I can make it through the rest of the day.

              I just don’t understand what the goal could possibly be to try and curb your son’s interest from a professional perspective and you sound like maybe you don’t see it either. He’s not harming anything and it leaves him content. With that balance in place he’s probably more likely to engage in a new activity or learn something new. It strikes me to be a small price any person would gladly offer to buy the opportunity.

              On a public school level I ask the same questions since I’m a parent too. Is a room filled with ambiguous kids really what they want? What a miserable day that would be. Why not find out what fires these kid’s imaginations and then wrap the day’s lessons around those interests. In this thread alone and using the stop signs, we’ve brought up so many cool things about these signs that there are to learn about and surely most of these could be used as points to hang curriculum on? I’d wager that this interest-based enviornment in the classroom would leave the kids with a sense of their identity and a better sense of who their classmates really are. We build respect from these kinds of relationships and we learn to promote each other when we have this.

              Don’t apologize, you’re asking the right questions.

            2. I went to a school with the same issue (worsened in part by the fact that I didn’t have a diagnosis so legally they didn’t have to do anything for me). The only thing that ever worked for my parents was getting harsh and issuing an ultimatum – and they only did that when the handwriting sheets thing had spiraled so far out of control that I was melting down at the sight of something even remotely resembling a handwriting sheet for homework. And even then, the school end-ran the agreement my parents came to with them by going, “Sure, we won’t give handwriting sheets; we’ll just flunk any assignment she hands in with insufficiently neat handwriting and forbid her to type anything.”

              (until my 9th grade English teacher found me sobbing in the bathroom over yet-another handwriting flunk on an assignment and actually listened to me and said, “Enough of this bullshit” and got it fixed so I could type stuff, anyway. Not sure how she did it, but I’m so grateful she did).

              So, sympathies. School employees can be selfish assholes. I sometimes wonder if they realize their job isn’t to make kids into mindless automatons that are more convenient for other teachers to deal with, but to give kids a love of knowledge and learning and some foundations that hopefully will prepare them for adult living. Some do (my 9th grade English teacher, for example), but most do not in my experience.

            3. Oh, an afterthought: Here’s a good retort if they pull the, “[Kid] needs to learn that in the real world, sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t want to do,” line:

              No, in the “real world,” you don’t. The only time you’re forced to do stuff you don’t want to do, in the real world, is when you’re a child. As an adult, you might do stuff that you find tedious or unenjoyable because the payoff makes it worth it. You don’t do it even though you don’t want to, you do it because you want to because the payoff is good enough. I had a job I hated once; I didn’t work that job because I had to, I worked the job because I got paid to and the pay made it worth it enough that I wanted to work even though I hated the work itself. When pay didn’t make it worth it anymore, I quit. That’s the real world. Only as a kid are you expected to do stuff you hate with no payoff.

              I don’t think that’s really fair or a good way to prepare kids for adulthood. You say you’re trying to prepare [Kid] for the real world, but only as a kid are you expected to do stuff you hate or find extremely difficult with no payoff. As an adult, there’s payoff for every tedious thing you do. Making [Kid] do tedious stuff without any payoff doesn’t teach [Kid] how to function as an adult by weighing pros and cons and deciding to do something tedious because the result is worth it, it teaches [Kid] to shut up and be compliant even in the face of unreasonable demands. That isn’t preparing [Kid], that’s destroying hir ability to set boundaries and advocate for hir needs.

              So if, as you say, you want to prepare [Kid] for adulthood, don’t force [Kid] to do stuff xe finds tedious with no payoff. Give [Kid] a payoff xe finds worth it. That’s how the real world works.

              The above is a rant I’ve wanted to use ever since I reached adulthood and realized that my teachers were lying about all that “in the real world, ________.” bullshit. Also, the statement is senseless because school is the real world. Everything in reality is “real”. “As an adult, ____,” would at least make a sensible statement structure even if the statement itself is wrong, but argh “real world” talk ticks me off because it makes no damn sense and is just a way of dressing up, “Your kid isn’t compliant enough for me and I’m going to shame them for it.”

            4. It would be kind of hysterical if we all showed at that IEP with miniature stop signs. Good lord, it sounds like the school folks are as obsessed with stop signs as your son is! Or at least with eradicating them. And here’s the funny thing. He’s not going to be into stop signs forever. Well, he might but probably not. Our special interests change over time, as we grow. I’m no longer obsessed with baseball cards or old coins or M*A*S*H. My special interests have always been very age/gender inappropriate, but my parents never discouraged me and I’m thankful for that. They took me to baseball card shows and coin shows and let me order all sorts of memorabilia through the mail with my allowance and then when that particular interest faded and I packed everything up, it went into the basement, and no one commented on all that I’d put into it. Which they certainly could have–branded it a waste of time or whatever. I was lucky to have that lack of comment and quiet encouragement, especially in light of what I now see is the alternative.

              I have an idea and I’d like to run it by you first. People from all over the world read this blog and I was thinking it might be fun to ask folks to share a photo of a stop sign from their country or area. If I get a bunch, I can make a post for Tommy (using a pseudonym if you’d prefer, I don’t want to violate your or his privacy) with all of the photos. I think it would be fun but I’ll only go forward if you’re okay with the idea and think Tommy might like it.

            5. Wow. There are SO MANY things about Stop signs. It’s CRAZY AWESOME! I’m so glad you mentioned them because now I know so much more than I did before and it’s SO INTERESTING!

              How had I never thought about them before?

    3. This is really cool. I was reading this comment, this afternoon at work and then the thread the developed from it. I too had never really thought too much about the design of stop signs. I’m not going to lie, I’m thinking a lot about them now. There are just so many parts of the sign’s design that need to be considered. These simple signs must convey data to a driver that is of a life-altering calibre and it must do so in a very short period of time, every time. That they have changed so little over time is testimony to good design and that kind of great design only happens when the designer is obsessive about getting it right so your son is already ahead of the pack. This is great.

      I think it’s cool that your son is actually mapping the location of these signs. Think about the potential for this kind of data as an overlay for tools like Googlemaps. Mapping software already includes layers to show the traffic in an area. When I was first studying traffic patterns in urban areas we look at the roadways to predict how many cars can be handled safely in that space. Factors like signage are used to mediate this flow. If this same data was available more publicly, perhaps it could be used to develop trip planning software that took into account current traffic patterns with the road speeds with these stop sign locations to help a driver determine the most efficient trip through an area.

      Keep encouraging your son. The hard part is over if he’s already found something that fires his imagination. That’s all we ever ask for our kids is to be passionate about something then all we have to do as parents is to nurture that interest and sit back to wait and see all the cool things they’ll do as they grow. It’s how we raise our kids and it makes for a great creative household that’s easy to be proud of.

      1. p.s. To Chris Mears: My 12-year-old, Zachary has such a perseveration for “Thomas and Friends” since he was just 4 years old. Once he was able to talk around the age of 5, his scripting began. He had been watching Thomas videos, and you guessed it…to express emotions, he scripted directly from it. In fact, he still does. A few years ago, I got him interested in the Port Authority Transit here in Pittsburgh. He loves to ride on the trolley and will hop on a PAT bus if one shows up and you’re not paying complete and total attention to him. He proudly dons his Port Authority hat every day. I’m trying to encourage him to start looking at model trains so he can expand his love of creating different track systems. Some of the tracks he builds are nothing less than brilliant. Tracks go up, down, all-around and through this, that and the other.

        When I saw your name was in blue, my curiosity peaked. Why WAS your name in blue? So I tapped on it (Tapped? Is that right? I’m so not technologically savvy…I have to get tutorials in everything that has to do with all of this social media stuff…still can’t figure out Pinterest to save my life!). When I saw your blog, I was nothing less than inspired. I thought, “THIS IS IT!! THIS IS WHERE I NEED TO GO WITH ZACHARY!!” This is so cool. Now, all I have to do is to figure out what to do with Tommy’s identical twin and their little sister…

        1. I read your note first thing this morning. Thanks. What a wonderful thing to read when I was starting my day. Thank you, again.

          I don’t think our kids learn the value of things because we tell them what’s good or bad, they learn it based on those things we do together and that we, as parents, express an interest in. He’s going to continue to learn because you’re expressing that this is a great thing to learn about. He’s going to feel great about it because of the wonderful positive messaging your sending to him. You’re doing it right.

          I know that the T in Boston, the MTA in New York, etc. all have toys available in their company retail stores so maybe something similar could be found for Pittsburgh too? I found a link to a store that sells a bus decorated for the Pittsburgh bus company but not sure if it would be suitable for your son. Here’s the link:

          I think there are some great field trip opportunities here too. Opportunities to explore the real rail routes throughout the city and then use the track at home to try and recreate parts from the day’s adventures. It might not be too hard to think about attempting to recreate some of the schedules by pretending arrivals and departures using the models too. Being a GO Transit (Toronto) fan, I often think about modelling part of their rail network. Obviously a part of that model world would include replicating the train services and scheduling, etc. I’m happy to help with any questions you might have, feel free to drop me a line.

          1. Chris, thank you so much for the link and the suggestions!

            A couple of years ago on our annual trek into Pittsburgh via the “trolley”, we walked over to Penn Station, where we were permitted to look at the tracks there, and a couple of old cars. He was interested, but not quite intrigued…perhaps this year, he will be…if I can talk someone into letting us poke around a little bit.

            You got me thinking though…there is a railroad museum near here, and I think a couple other related places to hit.

            I know I would love to have something from Boston’s T transit system…I used to take the Red Line in from Quincy Station into town, and was quite familiar with getting all around on the Red, Green and Yellow and Blue lines while I was a nanny there many, many, years ago. I still have a few tokens that I refuse to part with. It was all so fascinating to me, as I was fresh out of the Panhandle of Nebraska. Ah, memories. I can see why you love all of this so much…it makes perfect sense to me!

            Is there another way to reach you other than through this thread?

      2. After reading your replies, I’m even more certain you all need to come to Tommy’s IEP in the fall, stop signs in hand and all of your wisdom to back us up!! I honestly do not understand why the public school system consistently drops the ball where students, whether diagnosed or not are concerned.

        I’ve actually asked my kids’ and my psychiatrist and my psychologist if I have Aspberger’s, and they all assure me that I do not, but I sometimes feel like between my kids and I, we’re a great big bowl of alphabet soup…ASD, PDD/NOS, ODD, OCD, ADHD, SID…I share the OCD and ADHD diagnoses and am also bipolar…that adds a lot of fun to the mix; but sometimes, I still wonder…

        With that said, I think one reason I am fighting so diligently for my kids is that I am trying to prevent a lot of the frustration I felt when I struggled throughout most of my time in public school and even into college. Subjects that I had great difficulty with (math and sciences) are the same that my kids do. With Tommy’s twin, Christopher and older brother, Zachary, we see difficulties across the board. The boys are in an approved private school, and they are doing a wonderful job with them. Unlike the public schools Tommy and Kate attend, the boys’ school welcomes my input and works with me to ensure that we are doing absolutely EVERYTHING we can for them. They, by the way have absolutely no problems with incorporating whatever the boys love. Strangely enough, we are seeing results…hmmmm…food for thought.

        Sorry, I digressed. I don’t want Tommy and Kate to feel like they don’t have a voice when they are not able to follow what is being taught. I want so badly for them to be set up for success instead of the failure that inevitably awaits them if things continue as they are. I cannot sit idly by and watch the district push them into becoming “Stepford Students” just so the district can puff themselves up by saying, “Look at our fabulous autism-support classroom! Look how efficiently our students are learning! We have a Smart Board and iPads for them! Look how well they do in a typical classroom situation!” We’ve contracted with “__________” for consultation and for social group. See everything we’re doing? Aren’t we the best thing since sliced bread?!”

        You all have shared so much with me about your experiences with school…and life, how and why you were motivated, and since the district won’t listen to Tommy’s voice…and it looks like Kate’s voice too, they’re sure as hell not going to have much of a choice when it comes to hearing mine. They already cringe when see that they have to deal with me again.

        At the last IEP, they told me things like they could have me removed and would start the IEP without me (in fact, they tried to at least five times), because I wouldn’t start it until the arrogant school psychologist representing the district left (I told the district after receiving each of the two invitations I got that I didn’t want him there.). He was so condescending and rude, etc. at an IEP the year before that I got up and walked out. Well, this year, he didn’t have any kind of testing, etc to report on, so, why did he have to be there? They tried to bully me six ways to Sunday to let me know that I was not going to get what I wanted in his IEP (rubrics and tons of data collection, etc.) and for a host of other reasons…they even said that I would need to bring my lawyer next time if I didn’t back down where having the psychologist removed was concerned. I even had it out with the Superintendent (via the phone…they told me to call him, thinking that I’d never do it…that was fun…) They had to recant their decision that Tommy was not eligible for the Extended School Year, once I pointed out that he had NOT met his speech goal (reduction of perseverative [stop sign] speech) as he couldn’t even carry it over from his speech sessions into the classroom. So, they threatened to take that away too by saying that it was too late to get him into a camp, and all they would give Tommy was one hour a day, in-home speech therapy, for the month of July. I really enjoyed telling them that I had already made one phone call to the Autism Society in Pittsburgh for their summer camp, and they had no problem getting Tommy in after the deadline…That was fun too. Tommy, by the way, is absolutely LOVING camp. He’s there with Zachary and Christopher.

        Sorry, more digressing. I wish there was data in place to support what I’m going to take into his IEP the second the school year begins…I’m taking what you all have written regarding all of this. For some reason, you have to have empirical, indisputable data with all of the numbers, bells and whistles for you to even begin to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, I will be presenting my own data, thanks to all of you…maybe your collective voice will resonate along with mine.

        Now, all I have to do is figure out some killer goals…any ideas?

        1. Oh…I would be more than open to your idea of “stop signs from around the world”!! Perhaps, if people would be willing, a little write up about it and where they live? Thank you for such a fabulous idea!!

          1. Oh, cool, I’ll include the request in my Monday post next week. I have no idea how many people will do it, but it’s worth a shot. I can also ask people to include a little write up about where the sign is, although I know some are hesitant to reveal their location. But perhaps they could include some other fun facts or something to make each photo a bit personalized.

            I’ve already found one stop sign in my photo files – it’s in Korean and located on a railroad platform. 🙂

        2. I’m utterly clueless when it comes to IEPs so hopefully someone else will jump in here. I do want to say that I admire your persistence and firmness in standing up for your children’s best interests. It sounds like a neverending battle. And I’ve seen so many other parents say the same thing. It’s discouraging to hear because on the one hand we have all these autism awareness campaigns and early identification and laws in place that are supposed to be helping kids and yet . . . it feels like a of letter of the law over spirit of the law stuff happens in the trenches.

          Out of curiosity, what sorts of things are used as IEP goals?

  10. I’ve been meaning to tell you a long story for a while now, and this seems like a good place to do it. Thank you for the invitation to infodump — though this isn’t so much an infodump as an anecdote, but it’s one I’ve wanted to share with you because you have a fairly prominent place in it.

    The story begins in two places. One is my best friend’s wedding; the other is this blog. I’ll start with the wedding.

    My best friend had a steam-punk themed wedding. It was awesome. A mutual friend of ours (K) was invited but she didn’t know many of our other friends, and didn’t have a significant other to bring at the time, so she asked her friend (E) to go with her. E was thrilled by the idea of a steam-punk wedding and agreed to come.

    E was awesome, and someone I immediately liked. She was intelligent and verbose, gregarious and really quite lovely. Even though the only person she knew at the event was K, she conversed and partied and had fun, and I knew that night that I’d love to get to know her more.

    It was around the same time (three years ago this October) that I found your blog. I am allistic, but ever since learning about autism, the autism spectrum, and Aspergers, I have been fascinated.
    Truth be told, learning about the things that set people apart seems to be a running theme throughout my life. Every few years I find something I didn’t know about people, or never fully realized, and dedicate myself to learning as much as I can about it. In my early teens, it was homosexuality; in my late teens and early twenties, transgender and alternate gender identities; my interest in the autism spectrum began in my mid twenties; and in my late twenties, asexuality and the places where sexuality and romantic attractions converge and separate.

    After the initial phase of obsession and absorption of any and all information I can find, the interest never disappears — it only wanes into the background of my life. The information I’ve learned is rarely useful, but I’ve been known to infodump on people who are misinformed or willfully ignorant about any of those particular topics.

    So even though, at 27 (three years ago) I was past that initial obsessive rush regarding autism, I was hooked. Reading can only take a person so far, and although there are plenty of people on the internet telling their stories, I had never yet found a place where I had access to one person’s consistent experience with autism. You helped me to understand things, not from the inside (which is probably impossible for an allistic mind) but from a closer perspective than what I’d had before. I found it hugely valuable and I often mentioned your blog whenever the topic of autism came up in conversation.

    This brings me back to E. I didn’t see her very often after the wedding, because our only mutual friend was K and I only hung out with K every few months. I’m a bit of a hermit. But the few times I did hang out with her, someone would inevitably make a comment about E being an Aspie. Sometimes it would be E herself, sometimes K. It was always said lightly, and usually followed by some sort of disclaimer that she wasn’t actually an Aspie, or she didn’t know if she was actually an Aspie, that it was just sort of a joke to explain some of her behaviours, difficulties, and coping mechanisms, things that made it hard for her to make and keep friends, things that made people stare or shout at her.

    I interpreted her disclaimers as her way of saying “I don’t have an actual diagnosis but I’m pretty sure I have Aspergers.” We talked about autism a lot, every time we got together. (I monologued about it a lot and she seemed very interested.) I shared information and anecdotes from your blog, told her about Temple Grandin, basically told her everything I knew. I found it odd that she didn’t seem to know very much about it, despite what I thought was her self-identification, but I didn’t think much of it. People choose not to pursue information for a variety of reasons, and without knowing her life or her reasons, I wasn’t about to infringe. As long as she was interested in what I had to say, though, I decided to keep talking.

    I’m very much not in the business of telling people what they are or are not. It’s none of my business, I’m not a doctor, and most of all, even if it’s true, the person might not be ready to accept it yet. I talked about it as a hypothetical, and even when comparing the affectations of people with autism to the ones she talked about having, it was always “If you were on the autism spectrum, then…”

    At some point, probably our third or fourth conversation about autism, I suggested she should look at your blog. I thought she’d find a lot of common ground and clearly even a non-autistic person can enjoy it, so I thought it would be informative for her whether she was autistic or not.

    I didn’t see her much for a few months after that. Which isn’t strange: turns out she’s as much of a hermit as I am. We talked infrequently through Facebook (mostly about a mutual acquaintance who had become a bit of a problem for both of us) but otherwise weren’t in contact much. When I saw her next, we had a wonderful night with K and K’s boyfriend (who has also been interested in the autism conversations and thinks he might fit on the spectrum as well) and when I dropped E off at her house, she thanked me for my treatment of the topic and for sending her to your blog.

    She said that in the past, her adoption of the Aspie label had been more of an advance guard against people’s anger at some of her behaviours than something she actually identified with. But between the talks we’d had, your blog, and her own research, she had found a language with which she could finally interface with the world.

    And then last night, she called me. She was choked up with emotion (at first I thought she was crying) and she told me she’d received a diagnosis. She expressed her gratitude for the fact that I’d actually listened to her, that I hadn’t written off her mannerisms and behavioural affectations as problems but had seen them as just a part of the way her mind works, that had been instrumental in helping her find a community for support and a voice for the hurts she’d been carrying around for 30 years.

    It was the most life-affirming, wonderful phone call I’ve ever received. That my penchant for obsession and rapid accumulation of information for a particular topic might be of aid to someone, that the traits that had gotten me called a know-it-all or a pedant in the past could actually be useful to someone… I felt awesome.

    And I’m so happy for her. I’m so happy that she doesn’t feel like an outlier now, that she knows she’s not “weird” or “wrong” but simply different. That she knows now that it’s okay if she’s not very good at social situations, because her strengths lie elsewhere. I’d be happy for her whether I was part of that discovery or not, but I’m so thrilled and humbled and excited to have been part of it.

    I might not have been confident enough to talk to her about it at all without your blog. I knew facts and figures, but statistics (especially statistics gathered by people who don’t belong to the group they relate to) can be misleading. Lived experience is invaluable when it comes to really understanding something (at least understanding it to the extent that one logically can if one doesn’t experience it oneself) and I might not have felt like I had much room to speak if I didn’t have someone else’s anecdotes to reference.

    So I want to pass along the thanks. When E called to thank me, the majority of what I felt was gratitude in return. She’s an amazing person, and having been part of her journey for self-actualization was an awesome experience. Without your blog, it might not have happened for either of us. So thank you, for being so candid with your experiences, for sharing your life with the world at large, for helping people like me to help people like E.

    On a last note, I’d like to apologize — not for the length of this message, but for the possibility that anything I’ve said comes off as a kind of allistic “mansplaining.” (It might look like I’m the arrogant allistic person telling her autistic friend all about said friend’s own condition.) I want to make sure that anyone reading this knows that I know my own limitations. I know that, as an allistic person, I don’t fundamentally understand what it’s like to be autistic. No matter how many essays or blog entries I read written by autistic people, I won’t understand what it’s like to be autistic, and I’m aware of that. I would never try to explain someone’s experiences to them. I wasn’t out to “educate” the “ignorant,” but only to share the knowledge I’d gained through this blog and other sources.

    Anyway, I really just wanted to say thanks.

    1. You’re very welcome! Thank you for letting me know you found things here helpful. It’s so great to hear that your friend got diagnosed and it’s been a positive experience for both of you.

      No need to apologize. It sounds like your friend was open to learning more about autism from you and she found it helpful, so what you shared with her was a welcome “infodump” and supportive of her process.

      Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

  11. Wow. Thank you so much for that brilliant post! I never thought about things that way before. My mother always used to scold me for the way that I could talk for so long. Now I am frightened to open my mouth. However when I do start talking, look out world because I feel like it might not stop. Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you for such a great post!

  12. Wow. All of it. Your original post. The comments back and forth. The stories. All. Of. It. So refreshing to read a positive exchange of thoughts/ideas/info without any drama or politics. I learn more from these exchanges than from any book or expert. It feels comfortable and comforting.

    1. It’s all kinds of awesome that the comments on this post are a terrific example of what I talked about in the post. 🙂 Yay for feeling comfortable and comforted! I’ve been smiling since yesterday too.

  13. I’m a bit clueless sometimes with comments…I think because so much is missed without tone and other visual clues and I tend to apologize so not to offend. I guess I’m doing it already…and in my mind…I’m apologizing.

    My 8 year old boy “infodumps” (which I love this term) about Mine Craft. It is difficult for family members and friends that let him clearly know that they are not interested. I used to be very sensitive about trying to manage this and it was exhausting for me and frustrating for him. I am learning to understand more about his interests from him than concentrate on all the others that can’t relate.

    1. Commenting can be tricky, especially since each blogger has their own goals, policies, climate, etc. I try to let everything but the obviously trolling or spammy comments through and I hope people feel comfortable saying whatever they like because of that. And now everyone knows that apologies aren’t necessary here! 🙂

      I wish I knew the origin of infodumping but I can’t even remember where I first saw it. Maybe on Tumblr. It’s great to hear that your view of your son’s infodumping is shifting. I guess for someone who isn’t autistic, there can be some secondhand embarrassment around an autistic family member’s atypical behavior, but for us it just all feels normal until someone says otherwise. Focusing on him rather than on other’s reaction to him sounds like a good thing for his self-esteem and a good way to lower your frustration levels. It’s pretty tough to match the relentless enthusiasm that we have for out special interests.

  14. This post was so awesome. The comments were so awesome. I feel like I fell into a cloud in heaven because of how wonderfully everyone embraced this!! I love how much everyone jumped in to share great ways to further knowledge about stop signs for a sweet little boy who has a great interest in them. I love they way everyone on here was open to getting infodumps because I am a big infodumper myself who has a tendency to bore other people who don’t share an interest in whatever it is that I’m talking about. This post also gives me several ideas to get the school behind me in helping my boys by drawing on their interests more in the classroom. I’m already putting together ideas for updates to their IEPs and suggestions for their teachers for next year in how to get them more engaged in the classroom. 🙂 Thank you so much for this post and I am so grateful that you have such wonderful readers who aren’t afraid to jump in and share.

    I guess I was just wanting to say I just love you guys! You are all absolutely wonderful! 🙂

    1. I know, don’t you want to hug this comment thread forever? I’m excited that you found some ideas to help with your upcoming IEPs too. I’ve never had the pleasure of slogging through one of those, but they sound complicated and rather hellish.

  15. Thank you for the invitation!!! 😉

    I know I have been apologising for some of my (too) long comments…. Despite the invitation I’ll still try to keep myself in check a bit, though… because otherwise my comment may become book-lenght and about too many spin-off topics… when I just let the associations roll freely, there seems to be no limit for their expansion and inclusion of related aspects.

    I would like to learn to convert long comments into posts… That is win-win for all parties, especially if the post links back to the post & comment discussion that inspired it.

    I do love getting long informative comments on my blog.

    Great topic to take up! I love it…

    1. I always enjoy your comments, long or short. 🙂

      I’ve seen a few instances where people turn long comments into posts and think that’s a great idea because long thoughtful rambles deserve more attention that they’d likely get in the comments here.

  16. I will respond to your other comments later. My husband just called to remind me to not get lost in the Internet, and get the day started instead… He knows me too well and what I may be doing at this time sitting with my morning coffee:-)

  17. Hello. I’m that kind of weird person who is somewhere near the middle of being allistic vs. being aspie. I’m a geek (so I’m interested in in-depth conversations on interesting themes and not on small talk) and a woman (so I am educated on the arts of socializing, though not very good at it). I have some sensory issues but not extreme (it has been pointed out to me that I get a bit aggressive when sensorially overwhelmed, and I am noticing that it is true). I am also simply peculiar (because there’s more to a brain than NT/ASD) in the way my brain works: I usually have several lines of thought going on at once (sometimes to the point I cannot really focus, other times it’s actually OK), I jump from subject to subject, I am always explaining my theory about how something works (it’s not for attention, what is important to me is to see if it makes sense as an explanation, not that it is my explanation), I find myself having the need to explain/apologise to closer people when I finally get comfortable enough to say/do something extra-weird (even though I know they accept my weirdnesses).

    I am not proud to say this, but sometimes I wish for a label, a description/diagnosis that would say: look, there are more of me. Other times I remember that everybody is different and it’s just that. I mostly like being weird, especially now that I work surrounded by men and by engineers, so I do not need to behave in a way that hides my weirdnesses. Besides, not hiding my weirdnesses has helped colleagues to give me advice on what may be hindering my progress (like my distraction) and on what I may develop on my strengths.

    Maybe there are others like me, not really on the spectrum but just plain weird. As this is open-microphone comment box, I had to write this 🙂

    1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wishing for a label. I’ve found that the AS label has been very comforting and explained so much that I couldn’t make sense of in the past. There are also “less official” labels like subclinical autism, atypical autism and broader autism phenotype for people who aren’t quite at the level of meeting the clinical diagnostic criteria. So I’m sure you’re not alone at whatever place you are on the spectrum.

      I’m glad you delurked and commented. It’s always good to hear from readers. 🙂

      1. Hello again.

        So I went google searching and found that you had a link to an actual scientific paper on the Broader Autism Phenotype questionnaire here ( So I printed it, read the whole paper, and while I did not find an “informant” to take the test about me as well, I did the best to self-report correctly. I was expecting to be a little bit above cutoff in pragmatic, and near cutoff in rigid, but not near cutoff in aloof as I believe myself to be very social for a geek. I was surprised to see that I am above cutoff for BAP in all three categories (though just barely in aloof), and actually my highest score was on rigid (though I wouldn’t call it rigid, I would call it “difficulty with change”. I am actually not rigid per se. I’m quick to realize there is a better way, and I accept it is better. I just need to spend a lot of energy to make the transition, so I prefer to mentally prepare myself unless it is really necessary to change _now_ (which I can do, at the expense of anxiety and significant loss of mental focus). After the mental transition, it usually takes me only a couple of days to adapt).

        1. The BAP is basically subclinical autistic traits with a heavy focus on social aspects. I think the bar is fairly low for being above the cutoff so it’s not surprising that you’d be above for all three if you see mild to moderate ASD traits in yourself.

          I like “resistant to change” much better than rigid. I can get on board with change given enough time and preparation. It’s the changes that just get sprung on me without warning that I find hard to accept. You make a good point about it being easier to accept change when it’s clear that the new way is better in an objective sense rather than random. I think this is actually the quickest way to get an aspie to make a transition to something new.

          1. This is definitely true for me. It’s fairly easy for me to accept changes when I can clearly see the added value or when they fit in with an idea I already had myself. My ex said that whenever he suggested a fun activity, he always waited a couple of hours after making the suggestion before asking me if I felt like doing it, because asking right away would make me say no. But last Sunday, a friend called me to ask if I wanted to go swimming and I said yes right away.

            Because I’d already planned to go swimming on Sunday with my sister-in-law, but she cancelled. So instead of having to change my own plans, I only had to substitute one person for another. Perfect. 😛

            1. “So instead of having to change my own plans, I only had to substitute one person for another. Perfect. ”

              I’m laughing but I’m also nodding because this reasoning makes perfect sense to me. 😀

  18. Infodumping DOES have a place, to me. A friend of mine has aspergers and is heavily into comic books, anime, and other stereotypically nerdy things. I like them too, but don’t collect knowledge on them the way he does.
    I intentionally set him off infodumping on things sometimes, and let him ramble on for ages about something, so I can figure out how things connect. I saw the Avengers movie with him and another friend, stayed through the credits, and saw the post-credits scene.
    Then we both turned to him and asked ‘who’s that guy?’. Cue an hour or so of info-dumping, on who that guy was and why we should care.

    Personally, my special interests tend towards more physical things. I started off focused on one thing as a child, but intentionally broadened my focus onto anything mechanical or interesting. I can spend hours, or even days happily reading wikipedia in rapt fascination with just how awesome things are.

    1. What a cool friend you are. It’s great that not only do you give your friend a chance to infodump but you see it as interesting and valuable.

      “I can spend hours, or even days happily reading wikipedia in rapt fascination with just how awesome things are.”

      Things are awesome. This is one of my favorite aspects of being autistic, the natural gift for curiosity and fascination with all sorts of topics.

  19. I am in quite of a dillema about this subject latly. I used to have special interestes that most of the time involved things that are considered as interesting, or at least importent like science and biology and feminism and so on (some was less accaptable like sexuality or comic book charactares), but in the last year my obssesion became Lolita fashion (it is a kind of Japanese street fashion, inspired by the vuctorian and rococo fashions, and has no conection to the book Lolita). It is very faminine and detaled and has really neat and “perfect” appearence, and so – I found my self talking about cloths with people, and I felt realy ashamed about it. Clothes alwayes were considered stupid topic to talk about. Somthing not importent, somthing less then other topics.
    And it was hard to talk about other things, because since 2010 I’ve lost all my interests and even the obssesion with Lolita is not as strong as it could gave been.
    But the funny thing is that my spaus lissened to me, and never told me that the topic is stupid. He actually even larned some things from me. He told me that the way I see clothes is something between art and science, and that what makes it interesting.

    So… I guess that if you are passioned about something, some people will find it interesting, even if the topic is considered by the society to be unimportent.

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