Some Things You Need to Know: Cognitive Learning

Since I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, I’ve been able to understand myself better and progress at a much easier rate for me. Yet I am perfectly aware that other people don’t understand Asperger’s or the traits that come with them. Because of this, some people are confused about how I have Asperger’s or how the traits are evident in me.

My mother usually says: “Well, we always knew she was socially inept.” People laugh and say it’s true, but this goes far past that. There are more to people with Asperger’s than being socially inept, and even if it was, there are tiny traits that lead to that. It isn’t something that can easily be tucked into a box and left, to assume they are only one thing or another.

So hopefully, this will lead to a small line of posts that cover a range of traits and how you can recognise them in me. As you can see from the heading, this is a post about the cognitive learning traits evident in those who have the disorder.

One of the first traits of cognitive learning for people with Asperger’s is for them to have excellent memories in specific topics. Well, I know about 76 musicals off by heart and to be honest, for those who know me, is it really that much of a shock? I can tell you the whole cast of Waterloo Road, particularly in season order. I also remember nearly every book I’ve ever read, which is a lot. So, yeah, I guess I do have excellent memory. Before I got diagnosed, it wasn’t a secret that I was interested in these kind of things and that I knew a lot about it, but a part of me was always embarrassed. I was perfectly aware that I had a talent for remembering facts about my interests rather than school subjects, no matter how hard I wanted it the other way. It was also embarrassing to me that I did know those things, even though they made me happy. But now, I just don’t care. It’s a talent. Different to other people’s maybe, but still a talent.

Secondly, there is the issue of unregulated fears. This is usually caused because Aspie’s have problems with judging situations, causing them to be fearful and perhaps less fearful in dangerous situations. For example, talking to someone I’ve never spoken to before. What will I say? Shall I start the conversation or should I wait for them to? Do I answer with a short answer or long, and if long, would it be relevant? If short then what if it leads to an awkward silence? Can I appear upbeat and happy? Am I coming across as uninterested, bitchy or abrupt? Am I standing in the right way? Do I look awkward, intimidating, relaxed? How should I stand? How are the rest of them standing? Should I get a drink? If I get a drink, how will I leave the conversation or will I invite them with me to be polite? So, as you can see, the list is never ending and I can think of a hundred more questions. This happens every single day, even with people I am completely familiar with.

I guess you can say people feel this way frequently and are common questions that people wonder about, even if they haven’t got Asperger’s. The difference is you get the anxiety with it. Always. My autistic tendencies always come out more when I’m anxious. I get the usual symptoms, such as chest aches, migraines, tremors, heart palpitations, muscle aches, and sickness. Every time I wake up in the morning, I get that and every time I even do anything, I get that. In fact, there aren’t many times in my life when I’m not anxious and this comes from my fear of social situations. Not even that, just feeding myself, when I’m going to shower, when I should check my emails, etc… When I get these fears, some of my autistic tendencies tend to come out too. I hum to myself, I can cover my ears sometimes, rock a lot, pinch and scratch myself. You can imagine how that looks. I don’t tend to do it unless I’m alone. I am very conscious that it isn’t something you should do in public so I usually just scratch myself lightly.

Another thing is that people with Asperger’s are very detail-orientated. This can apply in two ways: having difficulty seeing the overall picture or situation or applying the same level of detail to a situation whether appropriate or not. Now, when this comes to work, it gets a bit of a nightmare. I have no idea what constitutes as appropriate detail or not. I don’t think I’ll ever know. I don’t know when to start or stop and everything else in-between. Usually everything I do is too detailed. I am a sucker for accuracy. This can apply to anything and everything, such as representation in the media, what I write, what other people write, and cooking. If it isn’t the right detail for me then it will continue to bother me.

Another example of this is when I go out for a meal or a party. I never know what to wear. I either underdress or overdress. It’s never clear to me what is appropriate or not. I either get it right or I don’t and I can never tell until I get there. Sometimes I’ve turned up in a dress and heels when they’ve been wearing jeans and flats. Sometimes I’ve dressed as casually as possible and found that they’ve been dressed up. I just have no idea.

People with Asperger’s also have exceptionally high skills in various areas but low in others. My best example is always my GCSE results. I loved English and Music. I didn’t revise either and still left with an A* and an A. Then I revised Science and Maths for two months beforehand and practised past test papers and still came out with just about a B and a C. If I love it, I will know pretty much everything about it. If I don’t, well, then I’ll never know because it never seems to stick. This can be a little frustrating, especially as I did work hard and I didn’t get the result I was expected to. I guess it’s going to be one of those things in life that I’m always going to struggle with.

So these are under the cognitive traits of Asperger’s. I hope it makes at least a little sense and helps you understand it a bit better. I know some of these may apply to people who do not have Asperger’s, but it all comes together to create only a few of the traits that are evident in this developmental disorder.

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