Earlier while reading some comments on an article on Asperger's (yes, I should be revising for my exams, but I found this interesting) a lot of Aspies and self-diagnosed Aspies claim that they can feel empathy as adults. That they can feel deeply for other people, including family, friends and partners. Yet they claimed that this wasn't natural to them, that this was something that they had to learn as they grew up.
This is something that I wholly identify with. I do empathise with people, and I do care deeply. The truth is, though, I have had to learn this. I remember being frustrated when I was younger that I couldn't 'click', and confused that other children knew how to interact even though there wasn't an instruction manual on what to say and how to act in different situations. To the other children who accused me of staring: I was trying to see what you were doing, and hear which words you used, so that I could use them too. Even now I sometimes pay extra attention to the words and expression someone uses, so that I know what's appropriate and what's not (I hope that I'm not making this too obvious, though!).
Imagine that you're in a play. You're given a character and some scripts to learn. After a while you can repeat the words back flawlessly, but you're told that your character needs to stop sounding like they're just reciting the script. You need to 'become' the character, and eventually after much practice you can accurately show the character's emotions, so much that you can even imagine what they'll say or how they'll act if you're given a different script to learn.
Now imagine that you're given this character, but you're not given a script. All of the other cast members have scripts, yet nobody has a spare to lend you. You watch the other actors, unsure when it's your turn to act or speak, and you keep coming in in the wrong places, saying the wrong things. When people prompt you, you improvise, which sometimes doesn't work and just leaves everyone feeling embarrassed. On occassion you're told that the words you've come up with don't match up with how your character's meant to act and feel, but the behaviour that you feel fits the character doesn't fit in with the rest of the play. Sometimes you find someone's script and can see a few lines of what your character's supposed to say: when you use these words, however, you're told that your character needs to stop sounding like they're just reciting the script. Eventually you start getting to grips with things, and even though you don't always know what the script says you should do, you learn what's appropriate for the character to say and do.
Now imagine that life is this play, that the people around you are actors, and that you are the one without a script. This is how I often feel: even though I often talk and behave 'correctly' (or so I like to think!), social interaction and behaviour still don't come naturally to me, and sometimes there are moments when I take a few seconds to think about what I'm meant to do, or how I'm meant to act.
Another way of looking at it is to imagine social interaction as a biology test: I'm not naturally good at biology, but after a lot of revision, I do as well as people who are naturally gifted at this. It just takes more effort. Sometimes in exams I'm tempted to write an answer from a different standpoint, but that would lose me marks. Similarly, I'm sometimes tempted to give in to my traits (e.g. flapping, rocking, freezing), but I don't since I know it's not generally acceptable in a social context.
I sometimes think that in my case, 'overcoming' Asperger's is just acting: how much of what I do is 'me', and how much is just a script that I've pieced together? Are the two different in my case?