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Aspergers Syndrome and Acting

Posted Nov 09 2010 6:29pm
Acting is a gift which seems to come naturally to many people with Asperger's syndrome yet only a select few follow it as a career. Dan Ackroyd and Daryl Hannah are some of the most obvious and vocal examples but there are plenty of others.

Why are Aspies good at acting?
I think that aspies tend to be good at acting because they spend so much of their daily lives acting - and from a very early age.

For example, it's true that aspies often don't get jokes (although you rarely hear us complaining when neurotypicals don't get ours). Young aspies quickly learn that it's easier to "act like you got the joke" than it is to take the brunt and embarrassment of being the only one who didn't. We are quite often called upon to "act amused".

Then there are those sad and solemn occasions where sometimes we feel intense waves of emotion - and sometimes we don't. Again, honesty in these situations leads to ostracisation. Sometimes it's simply better to "act sad" or "act shocked".

There's also all of those early intervention lessons such as speech therapy and social role-play. These lessons teach us how to enunciate, how to add tone to our otherwise "monotone" voices and how to display the various facial expressions that our peers want to see. It's all about helping us to overcome our social obstacles and "fit in" but at the same time, they're great acting lessons.

Finally, there's our perchant for quotations and vocal stimming, We don't all do it but a surprising number of aspies do. We quote from our special interests but we don't tend to copy just the words, we copy the tone - and the background ambiance. We'll quote a phrase from a film, with word-perfect inflection and often with any accompanying beeps, whirs or musical notes.

It's surprisingly common to overhear aspies quoting during unrelated everyday conversation but like our jokes, the quotes are frequently lost on NTs.

For example, I'll be talking to a friend about a project at work and he'll respond with a booming "im-pressive!". Other people around me will gloss over this strange tone, categorising it as a yet another bizarre speech inflection but I know better. I'll instantly recognise the tone and formation as Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker during their battle in Cloud City. Sometimes I'll even respond with; "...and I'm full of surprises too".

My friend and I have whole conversations which are made from quotations and speech patterns from a smattering of films - often to baffled stares from those around us.

We're also usually quite good at vocal sound effects too - not just animals but lightsabres, explosions and even vocalised music. It's all stuff that we use for stimming anyway. It feels good to make those noises.

I've heard people say that in many countries, the aspies speak with an American accent. In my case, since I prefer to watch British rather than American television, I've often been asked if I'm British - even while holidaying in the UK.

Making a life out of acting, not a Career
A lot of aspies are very good actors and some will make a career out of it. Some will act on stage and screen while others will find employment in careers which use their skills but it's not all about employment. Acting is a general skill which will help the aspie throughout their life.

We've already looked at some examples of how "acting normal" can protect the aspie from social issues. It's a skill which should be developed.

If your child's school offers a drama class, a debating team or some other public speaking option, please try to give your child a chance. You may find them willing to go but if not, at least try to encourage (bribe?) them to give it a try. Sometimes they need a gentle push to try something different but it's a skill that will serve them for life.

One last thing to remember
Acting can be very tiring work. You can't expect the aspie to "act normal" all of the time. Aspies who are doing a lot of acting will often find that they need more sensory breaks and alone time than when they're not acting.
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