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Characteristics common with highly sensitive children & later in adulthood are [applicable to others
on the autistic spectrum to usually higher degrees]:

- as children, we are often lonesome - mostly through choice and disinterest in social structures or
sometimes inflicted on us because of our eccentric, non-conformist behavior

- Poor or over-prolonged or piercing eye contact

- Lack of empathy .e.g. lack knowledge of other's feelings. Most HSP's can be overwhelmed when
dealing with others especially when dealing with strangers or someone talking about their problems.
HSP's are profoundly affected by other people's problems and they ironically look like they don't
care. In fact, they care so much that they feel the hurt of the other person to the extent that it
overwhelms them. Detatching is a struggle to achieve in life for HSP's.

- Better affinity with adults than other children.

- Fixations on subjects of interest to themselves; deep involvement in fields of interest is one of our
hallmarks. We have to understand fully the topic of interest. mastery requires dedication. However,
this sometimes comes at the expense of other obvious areas, which reflects badly on our social

- Difficulty coping with change and love of rules and regulations - until we understand them!
(expansion on this later)

- Language difficulties may happen or we may speak in a flat tone.

- Their gross motor movements may be poor .e.g. clumsiness, poor catching skills and balance
problems when riding a bike or later driving.

- Often over-interpret otherwise meaningless clues; this is so important to realise. When someone
says something hurtful or insensitive always ask, is this about me or is this about the person who said
it. more often than not it is about the person who said it.

- A characteristic that many HSPs have is what is called an "extended adolescence" through
adulthood. In my case, I was not able to understand why a couple in their late 20s would get together
to marry and start a family. It defies logic for some people with the condition,  

- Can be intolerant to other people’s ignorance or inability to follow. We have to remember that in
our topics of interest we are light years ahead of everyone else. It is intimidating to the average
neurotypical person which makes them sluggish ad incoherent. When Che guevara was appointed
minister of agriculture in Cuba. He wanted to work every cuban citizen 18 hour days, by the same
intensity and efficiency he works with. They had to let him go as a consequence!

- Another hallmark of HSP involves the lack of ability to use and understand unspoken body
language. The ability to interpret eye contact may be there, yet the person with Asperger's might not
be giving the right message or signals. In order for the recipient to get the correct message, the person
with Asperger's often has to state the message directly, and the recipient has to give a direct response.

- Lack neurotypical people’s common imagination. That by no means implies we have no
imagination. Our imagination is more concrete, comletely different from a neurotypical person's

- Higher proportion of self-assumed or assumed by others homosexuality than general population. At
least being sensitive is perceived in society to be equal to being gay!

- Regardless of sexual orientation, HSP's usually require & seek a much smaller number of partners
(1-3) throughout life. We tend to work on our relationship problems many folds more than the
average insensitive person does. We like to maintain the emotional bonds we form with our partners
and we like not to lose these bonds. Moreover, it is very hard to start over and form new bonds with
a new person.

- When we are in a relationship or a rare friendship, we form powerful emotional bonds very difficult
to break, since the partner is our center of attention (accentuated central vision, diminished peripheral
vision if the analogy applies)

- We have great empathy for suffering far detached, but can not get ourselves to tune in to the agony
of the person sitting next to us; it is a protection mechanism probably to prevent sensory overload
and consequently feeling overwhelmed.

- hate dress codes (shackles) and look for comfort in attire at the expense of looks; often completely
oblivious of the appropriate attire for the setting

- We are commonly accused of acting superior to neurotypicals; this is however, part of the oblivion
to other people’s feelings. In processes we are proficient at, we move a few steps ahead of the
person we are conversing with and may become intolerant to the delay in comprehension someone
else shows.

- In social situations however, when we are overwhelmed and overstimulated, we are the slowest in a
group to follow a conversation progress. It becomes very difficult for us to keep up with the
conversation regardless of the topic. This could be part of a learned technique to completely tune out
in order to lessen the stimulation levels.


- Inability to read body language of others and/or transmit the appropriate body language

- Running parallel conversations since unable to notice when the other has lost interest in their side of
the story

- One sided lecturing like conversations (always teaching)

- Narrow focus of interests, often less than 5 major; many interests can be overwhelming since
asperger can not stay on the surface. They have to dwell deep into their interest and gain profound
knowledge of it.

- people with asperger often possess deep and encyclopedic knowledge about certain topics since
they need to figure out every aspect of their interest or hobby in order to prevent becoming
overwhelmed. Ignorance of a topic that is on their radar screen is simply too overwhelming and
unsettling to accept.

- this deep dwelling on subjects of interest is usually associated with the formulation of a rich
vocabulary, that the average neurotypical person might easily miss whole sentences or the point of the
whole conversation.

- When asked a question within their circle of interest, asperger responds with what they believe is
the need for the questioner. They many times can not restrict their answer to the question asked but
go on far beyond the scope of the question itself that many neurotypicals lose interest and find it either
annoying or superior behavior.

- Taking things literally, can not understand the hidden meaning of words, phrases, and idioms

- need long hours alone to process experiences and overcome recent sensory overload

- do not enjoy social functions because of overstimulation; often the non-screener! Unable to tune out

- these setbacks experienced early in life, expressed as social rejections when the person is
overwhelmed and behaving erratically are built into the inhibitory repertoire in the brain and can
become crippling later in life

- These learned inhibitions may be mistaken for inherent “shyness”


Characteristics common with adults with Asperger's [applicable to others on the autistic spectrum to
usually higher degrees]:

- Most friendships developed over the teens and early twenties are gradually disintegrated in later

- are typically clueless at small talk and how to convert interest into a bond that can bring two
strangers closer


- differential tuning out of distracters in favor of the conversation at hand is a certain challenge when
one is not the center of attention

- When overwhelmed, they become overly consumed with their own needs and often ignore and
frequently misbehave toward anyone in the vicinity regardless of relationship.

- When faced with a situation similar to one they had formed a behavioral inhibition for earlier in life,
they typically regress back to that age where the inhibition was formed and act like the child they
once were at that time!

- Neurotypicals married to asperger’s say that sometimes they feel like their spouse is another child in
the family.

- One part of the inability to tune out irrelevant sensory information, translates into being irritated by
other people’s music. It is so intrusive at their ability to focus.

- Memory lapses: these are common and very important to observe. Commonly one forgets simple
every day things especially when they are newly incorporated into the routine. Sometimes one forgets
things that have been in the routine for a while… the importance of observing memory lapses is that
they are a sign of how depressed the person is at the time. Forgetting casually encountered issues is
the milder form. Forgetting long ingrained things is a more profound degree of depression.

- ignoring the mail for a weeks or forgetting to throw out the garbage or to clean the bathroom is an
even more profound degree of depression.

- Difficulty tuning out distractions is a hallmark and is a major part of the sensory overload that takes
over and forces the person to retract to solitude.

- While alone, so much time so little to do; as long as one learns to economize the time and ration it
one can overcome this; the problem is when the structure is lost the asperger could be lost too, not
knowing what to do next, unable to think of something to do, and therefore not do anything, and
hence so much time with no plan or clarity on what to do.

- so the brief retraction n to solitude to cure the sensory overload could become a habit and could
contribute to the existing low-grade depression and fuel it.

- Autistic people do not like rules. They keep following the rules as long as they can not understand
them. They follow the rules when they are overwhelmed by them usually because the rules being man-
made do not make sense. Once they understand the rules, they usually revolt. they usually are the
smartest at bending them. They are the smartest at changing them and improving them to better
comply with natural laws.

- On feeling emotionally aroused & overwhelmed: when meeting strangers, asperger’s typically feel
overwhelmed by the novelty of it. Therefore, their processing time increases tremendously. This
results in awkward moments of silence when spoken to. It also results in “off the wall” remarks by the
asperger’s person intended to fill the vacuum. These remarks are typically stemming from the
nervousness and anxiety and are more often counterproductive; the other side loses interest here.
Another problem when meeting strangers is that the asperger’s is more logical in their thinking than
the average neurotypical person and therefore spend more time coming with the answer to a
question. This only adds to the processing times and silent delays. This is one of the places where the
word idiot in “idiot savant” comes from!

- one of the reasons for feeling overwhelmed when meeting a stranger, especially a stranger of the
opposite sex, is bad experiences of rejection and ridicule carried over from puberty. These past
experiences develop into inhibitions that block the ability to process the new stranger as a new entity.
Therefore the stranger is faced with the hurt of rejection from a long time back and this result in
bizarre, mostly dead-ended encounters.

- of course any bad or hurtful past experiences can be the hindrance as long as the encounter with the
stranger reminds the asperger’s of that past experience in any way or shape. In fact the past
experience could only be remotely related to the current situation; however, it is assigned (referred) in
the brain to the closest automated path. When this path is one of hurt or fear, then the encounter goes

- The bottomline for productive anonymous social interaction for an asperger’s person is to work on
getting over themselves when talking to a stranger.

- How to correct for a bad past experience:
keep working on the experience and process it until you can extract the positive memories out of the
negative. Every experience has some positive no matter how bad overall it was.

Then once that is done, if it comes to mind again, try to focus on the positive and ignore the negative.
Repeat that as many times as needed until the positive starts coming to mind naturally. This means
you have gotten over it and changed the meaning of the experience in the brain, so it is no longer
associated with fear.

If that is not possible or if there is simply no resolution or no closure or no positive to extract, then
once it come to mind, don't engage it. Rather distract your mind away and try to block its access to
the established path. This is how you extinguish a facilitated path.

- Screeners vs non-screeners: many asperger’s fall into this trap. A screener is one who walks into a
room, sees a hundred things that could bother her, but realizes that these things can not harm her and
she ignores them and focuses on what is important, a person to meet, a lecture to attend, a task to

- A non-screener is one who walks into a room and finds even one thing that could bother him and
focuses on what bothers him instead of focusing on the purpose of coming to the room, because he
can not help it. In this sense someone else might still focus on what bothers them but can still give
divided attention to the purpose of the visit. Many asperger’s when bothered by something they give
all their focus to it and it quickly puts them in sensory overload. This prevents them from dividing their
attention properly.

- for a non-screener to become a screener, takes a lot of habituation to social scenarios in order for
the non-screener to realize the difference between people who are attempting to hurt him and people
who are just being themselves. Most of what others do or do to us is about them not about us. Of
course there is violence and there is verbal abuse and psychological abuse; however, the trick is to
recognize who is being themselves and ignore them and who is trying to hurt us and defend ourselves.

- In any event, self-assertion cuts on a lot of the seemingly hurtful behavior by others. Self-assertion
allows people to recognize your presence and your space and think many times before stepping on
you. After all a predator smells vulnerability and attacks, or smells confidence and withdraws.

- self-awareness and mindfulness: mindfulness is being actively in the moment, thinking and screening
and assessing the environment and other people’s facial expressions and conversation flow and tastes
of others, and implementing all that in the instant answers you give.

Forgetfulness; this is an ongoing problem that almost defines all sensitive people. Usually it is
forgetting the little things like taking the trash out or buying orange juice. Sometimes it can get worse
like forgetting learned procedures and skills. This could make a sensitive person look like an idiot in a
workplace environment. Sometimes it is forgetting things that are too important for the significant
people in their lives which creates plenty of discourse and the sensitive person appears not to care.

This problem while embarrassing and can drive people around you crazy mad, is more important than
that. It reflects an overwhelmed state. It reflects a state of loss of control over one’s affairs. One
could say forgetfulness is a manifestation of mild ongoing state of depression, which can get better or
worse depending on the level of sensory overload.

I view the sense of forgetfulness as a barometer of one’s mood. The level of mindfulness reflects the
wellness on any given. The deeper the forgetfulness gets, the deeper the depressive state. I consider
forgetting the little things on any day as a reminder that the big one could happen any time. The big
depressive episode that is, which begins one day and may last for years and could be crippling.

This is not doom and gloom but rather a sober reminder for all sensitive people to use their good
days to achieve professionally, to plant plenty of goodwill and yes to save some money. One day,
when the big one hits, you want to have people around who will support you and money around to
pay for rent and food. Of course I am assuming when the big one hits, the person will not be able to
work or be productive in anything. The person would hardly be able to nurse their depression and
look for ways to get back on track.

Ok, so how to avoid this forgetfulness and to push back the big one hopefully for life:
1- Write all important things to do down; write down what to say in an important conversation; write
down your tasks at work; write down the birthdays and anniversaries of the people who matter to
you. Write down even where the keys are and that you need to buy orange juice today. Remember it
is not about training your memory. You have the memory; you just cannot access it when
overwhelmed and depressed.
2- Use habituation to your advantage in order to reduce the number of situations you will feel
overwhelmed. Habituation is exposure in baby steps to situations that have overwhelmed you in the
past. Habituation is a science onto itself. However, practicing habituation is very simple and
individual. Try to notice situations that stress you and try to expose yourself to these situations in
measured steps until you feel comfortable in them. Keep doing it and re-doing it until you get fully
comfortable. Then move on to other overwhelming situations and so on. Remember trying t habituate
to several overwhelming situations at once may get you depressed and retard your efforts by weeks
or months. Do it one step, one situation at a time.
3- Signs of successful habituation include increased mindfulness when in the situation (feeling in the
moment and able to listen and interact intelligently). Signs also include feeling comfortable enough to
run a conversation while in the situation from which other people will not feel bored or withdraw.

stay tuned more to come soon,

This is an excerpt of the upcoming book Psyche-Smart Autism TM
Copyright 2010 Rami J Serhan, MD
Author: Rami Serhan, MD
Medical consultant
Sovereign Research
(206) 659-1ASD (273)
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