I came to the conclusion recently that I’m stupid. Actually this is not a new conclusion, but an old one revisited. I’ve always felt ‘stupid’, and sometimes have even been told I am. I writhed in shame at my stupidity for many years, trying desperately to conceal it, to pretend I ‘knew what was what’, or ‘knew it all along’, or withdrawing from interaction rather than risk revealing the depth of my stupidity. I was so ashamed of it, embarrassed by it, angry at myself for ‘not learning’ and ‘not knowing better’, especially when ‘everyone else’ seemed to ‘just know’ these things.
By ‘stupid’, I mean that socially, I’ve always fumbled, blurted, made glaring errors, tripped over my own feet or put my foot in my fat gob (metaphorically speaking), and generally trampled all over other people’s sensitivities, like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Even now, after all my years of watching, learning, imitating and practising social skills, I still do these things with monotonous regularity. It seems every situation is different, the rules keep changing, and I can’t keep up, or there is some rule I somehow never learnt, and haven’t needed till then, and only find this out when I transgress it. Or I forget ‘old’ rules and blunder across the invisible lines, because I’m tired, overloaded or thinking of something else. Social interaction is full of such traps, and often seems a business of smoke and mirrors, where you never know what’s awaiting you.
I’ve also always been ‘stupid’ when it comes to everyday things, whether it be organising myself and my belongings or just doing ordinary tasks that others take for granted I will know how to do. The order or method of doing things that others, once again, ‘just knew’, never occurred to me, unless I was specifically shown it, and shown how to do it, with what objects, in what order. So I would do household tasks I was set, or organise my school things, for instance, in ways that seemed okay to me, or which I was often just guessing (hoping!) were right, but which would have others bewildered, scornful, laughing at me, or even getting cross. These blunders happen less frequently now, but they do still happen. I’m still stupid.
And yet at the same time as I’m stupid, I know I’m smart. I frequently notice details others miss, am often able to find the lost sunglasses or piece of paper quicker than others, and can keep track of lots of little things, which makes me invaluable in detail-orientated tasks or jobs. Which doesn’t mean I’m incapable of grasping the ‘bigger picture’, just that I usually have to build it up from the small things. And when I do grasp that big picture, I often do so more thoroughly than my NT counterparts. It’s this, plus that attention to detail and lots of studying and research (I always did waaaaay more reading than the standard reading list) that saw me get plenty of A and even A+ grades at university level. Academically, stupid I am not.
I also have a much better memory than many around me, often being able to recall conversations or events that happened months, years or even decades ago, to the astonishment of others. I remember details they’ve forgotten, about holidays or other things that happened when I was a child even. Mostly, it’s a visual memory too, so I can draw or verbally describe the events, usually well enough for others to recognise the place, time, etc, and trigger their memory.
I have a broader general knowledge than most people, often knowing obscure facts about all sorts of things that I’m then amazed others don’t know! Plus I have a fairly in-depth knowledge of my special interests, and could probably pass an exam in some of them without studying. (Just this morning, I was complimented on my almost-encyclopaedic knowledge of one of these areas.) I can often scan new information and grasp it fairly quickly, especially if it can be compared to something I already know, or it’s connected to one of my special interests.
Then there’s how my brain is constantly active, with thoughts, ideas, images, scenes, scripts and dialogue playing themselves out inside my head, some of which end up being written down as blog posts, articles, stories, whatever, or become images I paint or draw. I find it almost impossible to stop thinking, probing, examining ideas, I am constitutionally incapable of just blindly accepting any kind of ‘party line’, and resting there. I always want to go further, probe deeper, know more. It’s a strength of mine, I believe.
I’ve also used my intelligence to compensate as best as possible for my ‘stupidity’. Not only have I painstakingly learnt as many social skills as I can, I’ve also taught myself many things I started out adult life not knowing, from how to use tools or machinery to how to do various things online. Given a little time, I can usually figure out how to use anything new – generally by doing the revolutionary (!!) thing of actually reading the instructions. Sometimes I’m a little slower than others might be to learn new things or routines, especially if it’s a new situation way outside my comfort zone or I’m feeling under stress, but once I do grasp something I generally end up knowing it better than others, and remembering it better too, long term.
So how can I be so stupid, and yet so smart, at the same time?
I’m convinced both are due to my Asperger’s/autism. Socially, I’m ignorant, still, and likely to remain so. I’ve learnt as much as I can, but it seems I can’t improve any further without that mysterious something, an extra sense maybe, that all NTs seem to be born with. So I’ve decided to just accept that I’m stupid, and always will be, in the social-interaction and executive-functioning areas. So be it. There’s actually a certain relief in that, in no longer trying to conceal it or deny it. Because even if I am stupid, I’m still glad to be me, and to also have the kind of smarts that go with being Aspie/autistic, and with simply being me. I wouldn’t be any other way.
How do other aspies/auties feel? Have you ever been called stupid? Do you think you’re stupid? Do you feel stupid? And yet really intelligent about many things, all at the same time? Is this a common thing? I have a feeling that it is, but I’m curious to know about others’ experiences.