Monday, April 28, 2014

Connecting the dots -- diagnosing my dad with Asperger's Syndrome

Today I watched this video about what scientists know and don't know about autism. My first thought was that though you may think her way of communicating is dry, if I could explain things the way she does, then I would totally have a successful career in science. I mean, if given the opportunity, I am fully capable of analyzing the genetics data that she works on, but my problem is that I suck at communication, therefore I cannot convince people to give me such a job.

My second thought was that even though I had heard the fact before -- that children conceived by old dads are more likely to develop autism (My dad was 52 when I was born) -- I never considered myself that I may have autistic tendencies. I went on to a website and took an Aspergers' quiz, and found myself to have mild Asperger tendencies.

Thirdly, one idea that never crossed my mind is that my dad totally has Asperger's! He's extremely socially awkward. If what you are discussing doesn't interest him, he will never join the conversation. If he talks, it'll be on a topic he's interested in (politics and lately his own health), even if the rest of the group has been talking about something else the whole time. He will repeat the few statements he wants to make over and over again. He has no hobbies besides reading the newspaper and books about recent Chinese history and politicians' mistresses. He has impeccable memory. He remembers the name of his elementary school principal (He's over 80). He is amazing with dates, historical and geographical trivia. He is obsessive about his routines and doesn't change them even if his inappropriate insistence during special occasions seriously upsets my mother or I.

This is insane that I've known my dad for 30+ years and had never considered he has a disorder! I always found him to be awkward and weird. He's not capable of talking about his feelings at all. He never interfered with my mother's child rearing policies. It's also weird that my mother very rarely complains about the fact she married someone who's incapable of expressing feelings directly. I always thought he was just suppressing his emotions because of his upbringing (it's common for old Asian men to be brought up to think they should never show emotions), but now it's crystal clear that he is actually incapable of experiencing feelings at a deep level!

When I first started dating my bf I really liked to touch him and hug him, but I always expected him to push my hands away, because that's what my dad always did. I was constantly surprised when he didn't even flinch. My mother always said that my dad actually loves that I hug him but he's just shy. So for decades she always makes me hug my favorite man in the world, who struggles 100% of the time I make the attempt. And it was ingrained in my mind that that's what men do, because they think they should do it. I cannot believe I still did not make the connection when I read the book "The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time", that people with Asperger's do NOT like to be hugged. I mean my dad is not as severe as this boy, and I think he learned to accept the hugs because he knows we like it, but as of today I am convinced the flinch from my hugs is a biological reaction rather than a learned response.

Of course it's not my father's fault that he has Asperger's, but I think that being told by my mother that my dad is the greatest dad in the world (nobody I know has ever suggested to me that he might have some problems) has actually had a negative impact on me. I have poor communication skills because my dad has poor communication skills (I learn a lot from observing people... I interacted with my father a lot growing up). I had no role models on how to behave as a communicative, loving person. I understand that my father does a lot for me, and does love me from the bottom of his heart, but being told by my mother that nobody will ever love me more than my father, who never says he loves me or hugs me on his own, or even expresses any opinions on my upbringing (except that I should get married), is probably why I had so much fear for dating all these years. I was told that the best love I could ever have, is an Asperger type of love.... of course that makes me feel pretty unlovable, that no guy would ever voluntarily want to take me in his arms. Why would a stranger want to do it if my own father had never tried?

So I managed to solve a puzzle today (why I have been single all these years even though I've wanted to have a boyfriend since I was 13 years old). Yay for me I guess. It's extremely painful for me to live in a family in so much denial. I'm not blaming my mother any more. I think she also holds this strong belief that she does not deserve anyone better than my dad. Don't get me wrong, my father is a wonderful person, but as someone who has this obsessive need to understand why things in the world behave the way they do, not putting a logical explanation to my father's way of being has been a source of my trauma, without me even knowing it. I think I would have felt much better if someone, ANYONE had told me when I was younger that my dad has some issues and isn't 100% normal. I would have still loved him just as much as ever, and I would have accepted the fact that because of his disorder, he will never be able to express his feelings the way other people's parents do.

I don't think my (extended) family is the most dysfunctional one in the world, but I gotta say it's still pretty fucking dysfunctional at a subtle level. It's not obvious like alcoholism, drug or gambling addiction, domestic violence, physical/sexual abuse, but it traumatizes the second generation just as much. The worst part is to this day, everyone still pretends nothing is wrong with the family. No one talks about anyone's psychological issues or addiction issues. We just sweep our problems under the rug and allow them to keep piling up, because in our family, the worst thing in the world is to admit we have problems. Trying to fix and/or solve them is just not an option, for some reason still unclear to me.

One day I will recover from all this fucking crap. One day.

Refrence: Growing up in an Asperger Family


  1. Yogini,

    I became interested by psychology in 2010 or 2011 ... When I read your articles, I have some "tilting" happening in my mind as I recognize some patterns.

    I think you'll be delighted to read about "shizoid phenomena" book written by Harry Guntrip. I read it as I wanted to know how the western people regard the ego. You know that eastern and western views on ego are different .. This book has been very great describing how the ego is born (1st contacts with mother) and how it is developed through age. I found it extremely interesting.
    Please note that strangers develop schizoid tendencies as they have to adapt to another country. They are faced with 2 ways of thinking/behaving and their ego reacts to that by some patterns ...

    I think overthinking is a mechanism to boost an ego in order to sustain it ... which may otherwise shrink .... Have a look at the second comment related to this article :

    My family too has been dysfunctional, which is why I'm in spirituality ;-) ... I also spent a lot of time during my teens pondering on the meaning of life :

    have a nice day,

    1. Hi Tony, thanks for your comment. Reading the definition of schizoid personality, I think my dad is just mildly so. He is considered as stereotypical for his age and gender in the Asian culture. I am just greedy and wish he were not typical and could instead be warmer than the average old Asian men.

      I don't think by observing my family people would think it's dysfunctional. It's a very subtle thing.

  2. The schizoid personality and asperger personality are very near but could be distinguishable ... Experts only could be 100% accurate when diagnosing.

    Put yourself at your father's place. The poor man came from India with a set of values and he approaches Canadian life with references to Indian culture ... He must adapt to Canada all the while taking care of his Indian family. Not an easy task.

    But sure, it looks weird when you say that he avoids contact even with his own daughter.

    1. Hi Tony, My family is not Indian. We are Chinese. There are similarities between the two cultures but the Confuscius influences are quite different from Hindu (or other Indian religion) beliefs.