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Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker

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14 Jan 2011, 11:31 am

I am a diagnosed, 30 y/o, Aspergian male. My wife, on numerous occasions, has pointed out to me that it appears to her that I sometimes do things in order to get a reaction out of people, or as she puts it, "to get a rise out of someone," including herself. I've thought about this a lot and would like some insight/input from others about this topic.

An example: On the rare occasion that I notice subtle differences in my wife's behavior and I conclude that she must be bothered about something, I will poke and prod her even though she tells me everything's fine until the point where she blows up at me and if she wasn't bothered to begin with, she certainly is then. Perhaps, sometimes she doesn't want to talk about whatever the issue is, and I can understand that, but even if she tells me so, I still feel the urge to inquire about it until it's plainly obvious that I am not helping the matter. She sees this as me being antagonistic and wanting to get a reaction but I don't think that's the case, because after I have upset her I feel really bad about it. slightly confused over the whole situation, and have no sense of satisfaction out of the ordeal.

There are more instances involving my interaction with the general public, but my mind is drawing a blank for specific examples. Basically, I think the issue there is that I get overwhelmed or confused in whatever social setting I may be in, and I act out in defiance/retaliation of whatever it is that is bothering me. If someone is insistent on talking to me about something that I find boring or unbearable, I lash out with statements that cause them embarrassment, awkwardness, or confusion without realizing the ramifications of what it is I've done to them or how I've made them feel. I don't think I do this to incite a specific reaction out of someone with that being my goal, but rather, I think perhaps that it is a defense mechanism on my part.

I wish that I could think of more specific examples, and I definitely will post them if they come to mind, but I was wondering if anyone else here can relate to any of this or see if anyone had some thoughtful words to lend. In my younger years, I have been told the same thing by acquaintances. In high school, an abnormal psychology class that one of my friends was in did a class study on me and they concluded that I displayed classic signs of a sociopath. After my friend told me this I was deeply offended... both at the hack diagnosis done by my peers and at the fact that the teacher used me as an example in her class without my permission nor knowledge of it. I assume that they reached their conclusion based on my perceived attempts at evoking reactions out of my fellow classmates but I have no recollection of ever doing this type of thing intentionally. I first learned of AS through my marriage counselor a year ago, who had a son diagnosed with it and six months later, I got my diagnosis. I am certain I am neither a sociopath nor a psychopath, but what am I doing wrong to give people, including my wife, the impression that I "get off" on evoking a reaction out of them?


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14 Jan 2011, 12:29 pm

It doesn't sound like you're trying to get a reaction from her, more like you don't understand and are trying your best to cope.

I find with me I mistake all sorts of things for anger, and the thought of someone being angry makes me really anxious, so I tend to obsessively ask my loved ones if they're angry. It's basically a thing when they need to be patient and calmly explain exactly how they're feeling, reassuring me that it's not my fault and they're not going to lash out at me.

It's basically a way of compensating for poor emotion recognition when anxiety makes knowing their emotion extremely important to me.


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14 Jan 2011, 1:11 pm

Digby Tantam
Malice and Asperger Syndrome Paper

Doris Lessing, in her novel, The Fifth Child (Lessing, 1989), describes the impact on a family, previously loving and stable, of having a fifth child. This child in his intransigence and his propensity for outrageous and hurtful behaviour, challenged all their liberal pre-conceptions and brought the family to the brink of dissolution. This kind of maliciousness is not something that is normally associated with Asperger Syndrome: too many sufferers seem too innocent, too law abiding, and too unaware of their own self interest to be described as malicious. Yet this is the best translation of the word that Asperger used for several of the children that he described in his classic paper of 1944 (Asperger, 1944), see (Frith, 1991) for translation. In this paper I shall consider whether children and adults with pervasive developmental disorder can sometimes be rightly described as being malicious; how can this be recognised; and some ideas about management.

A young man with Asperger syndrome rang his favourite Aunt to say that her husband had been killed in a road traffic accident on
his way home from work. The report was a complete fabrication as became apparent an hour later when his Uncle arrived home.

The Aunt was disgusted at her nephew's action because she did not feel it was explicable. It challenged her sense of what could
be expected in the world. Moreover, she had always thought that she was close to the young man and had, indeed, recently helped
him out. The action was therefore inexplicable in a narrower sense, in being undeserved. It challenged another belief that she
had always taken for granted that people got their just desserts. It seemed to other family members that the young man's only
motive was to cause mischief and mental suffering, and they wanted to distance themselves from him to protect themselves.

Acts of malice like this include creating unnecessary uproar which stops a social activity from taking place, calling a person names
or revealing embarrassing information about them, being spiteful to them in other ways for example damaging their property, or
hurting others. These hurts can range from surreptitious pinching through to serious violence. Fortunately, serious violence is rare
and may not be more commonly exhibited by people with AS than by members of the general population (Ghaziuddin, Tsai
and Ghaziuddin, 1991). However, when serious violence, arson, anlawful killing or grievious bodily harm may seem undeserved, it
is often directed at someone who is vulnerable, and it seems inexplicable because there is little or no apparent benefit to the
person with AS who commits the harm. These three characteristics, undeserved, lack of compunction, and gratuitous,
are linked to an observer's perception of an act being malicious. They are each factors which make it hard to identify with the
perpetrator. Rather than thinking that 'there but for the grace of God', an observer is likely to feel horrified and to want to cut off
contact with the perpetrator.

Alice's parents had split up when she was in her early teens, and her father had remarried a younger woman. Her father and his
new wife had a daughter, and Alice was very interested in her. The parents were pleased and several times left the baby with
Alice. Alice on two of these occasions mixed ground glass into the baby's food before feeding the baby with it. Alice knew that this
could cause the baby serious harm, even kill the baby. Alice explained her actions by saying that she wanted to see what
would happen. She also said that she did not want the baby to die, but did feel excitement after she had fed the baby the

Several features of Alice's actions often recur in malicious actions by other people with AS. Younger children may be targets, quite
often siblings. There is often an experimental explanation given and, afterwards, there is a lack of remorse or fear. The 'real'
explanation is elusive. Wing (personal communication) has suggested that the person with AS may harm others in the
furtherance of a special interest.

Roger was fascinated by archaeology. Once he had turned 18, his parents thought that they could safely leave him at home whilst
they went on a well-deserved holiday. When they came back, they found that Roger had dug up the back garden and re-shaped it into the appearance of a typical archaeological dig.

Roger's explanation, that he thought his parents would get as much pleasure out of his landscape redesign as he did, rings
true. Of course, he got that wrong, but his lack of understanding of his parents' perspective may explain that. There is no sense
that Roger was seeking to harm his parents, and his actions do not have the malicious quality that Alice's do. His pursuit of his
special interest was at the expense of his parents but he was not primarily interested in harming them. Alice had no prior interest
in poisoning, but her intention was to cause harm or at least to test out her power to cause it.

Richard, for no apparent reason, seemed to target one particular teacher at school. He made slighting remarks about her at first,
and then became increasingly crude in his language until she became so distressed that she said to the head-teacher that
either he went, or she did. He was barred from her class and when this behaviour was repeated with another teacher, also
female, he was suspended from school.

Richard was at first considered to be seeking the attention of the teacher, but his behaviour got worse when she tried to ignore his
provocative remarks and to attend to him when he was being more appropriate in his behaviour. Newson has suggested that
behaviour like Richard's is motivated by 'pathological demand avoidance'. That it disrupts a social situation in which
expectations are made of a person, for example the classroom, before the person's inability to meet those expectations is
manifest. Like the attention-seeking explanation, pathological demand avoidance runs up against the problem that the
behaviour leads to other kinds of social demand. Richard was, for example, quizzed by many people about why he had behaved as
he did and was as much at a loss to answer as he would have been in the classroom.

Elizabeth Newson's description of pathological demand avoidance syndrome has drawn attention to the existence of people with a
pervasive developmental disorder who meet criteria for Asperger syndrome, but who are not currently recognized by professionals.
They tend to be amongst the children diagnosed with conduct disorders or adults with antisocial or borderline personality
disorders. They present problems because of their apparently malicious behaviour, but they do not strike others as having
deficits in non-verbal communication or unusual patterns of interest. The reaction of other people may be very much like the
reaction described in Doris Lessing's book.

Hugo is fifteen. He has been barred from school, and is enrolled in college although he rarely goes. His parents are separated and
he has a distant relationship with his father, who has been in only intermittent and unsupportive contact with the family in the ten
years since he left. His mother works, and is unsure what Hugo does during the day. Sometimes she comes home to find things
broken. Hugo will not tell her what has happened. Hugo has acquaintances, but no real friends. She thinks that he is used by
some of his older and more street-wise acquaintances to run errands, and that he may be involved in crime. Hugo is often
threatening to his mother, and she is quite frightened of him. He is particularly disturbed if there is any alteration in the
arrangements at home, and insists that his mother tells him of when she will leave the house, when she will return, and when the
evening meal will be ready. His older brother avoids Hugo because Hugo has deliberately broken belongings of the brother
in the past. He urges his mother to put Hugo out, but she is reluctant to do so because she is sure that Hugo will be exploited
by others who are more on qui vive than Hugo himself is. She is aware that Hugo's self-care needs constant monitoring. He has
trouble with change and avoids shopping; he cannot cook without getting mixed up; he cannot keep track of money; and he needs
to be prompted about shaving and bathing.

This is a composite account, and the difficulties of a particular person with this type of Asperger presentation will vary. However,
there are some important common features. Firstly, the person with this form of Asperger syndrome (which I shall call TFAS for
short) lacks the obvious eccentricity and clumsiness of many of the people who would be instantly recognizable as having
Asperger syndrome. Secondly, the person with TFAS often seems immature and, at first sight, incapable of the actions attributed to
them. The appearance of immaturity is partly due to a lack of lines or shadows on the face, as if the person has not lived as
fully as most people. This may be true, in the sense that living life involves reacting strongly to it. The appearance of immaturity
is also due to the person with TFAS's lack of social awareness. He or she is often curious and asks personal questions of another
person at first meeting, or wants to handle something that the other person has with them. This often seems innocent, almost
disarming, but there is something of an edge to it. One is not quite sure whether the person with TFAS is really innocent or is
testing the limits of one's tolerance. Thirdly, the level of the person with TFAS' disability is concealed. The account that the
person gives of their life avoids or explains away problems of all sorts, including problems in everyday living such as the self-care
problems that Hugo had.

The concealment often extends to the characteristic symptoms of Asperger syndrome. A person with TFAS rarely has a special
interest but, if anything, they have a lack of interests in the world. Although they may express an interest in football, their
interest is not the passionate one of the fan or of the amateur player. It is more as if the person with TFAS knows that some
interest is expected of them. In fact a person with this form of Asperger syndrome may spend long periods in inactivity.
Repetitive activity is concealed, too. Parents may report that their son or daughter with TFAS has stereotyped activities which
become very intrusive at home, but are usually concealed when the person is with a stranger. Repetitive questioning may be one,
but others may be rocking, smoothing the hair, repeating words, or vocalizations. Sometimes these stereotypes are quite similar
to those of people who have Tourette syndrome but they are not confined to sniffing or swearing. As in some people with Tourette
syndrome and indeed some young people with obsessional disorder, people with TFAS are more likely than other people with
AS to fly into a rage. This explosive anger is frightening can lead to hitting or breaking things. However, it may also have a
detached quality as if the person does not feel their anger, only shows it.

It is my impression that the proportion of girls with TFAS is higher than the proportion of girls with other expressions of Asperger
syndrome. Girls have a greater range of provocative behaviour at their disposal than boys, and girls with TFAS may create particular
outrage because of this.

Tricia who was 12 horrified the school librarian by asking for as many books as possible on the Yorkshire Ripper or, failing that,
on other serial killers. Amanda lived in a small town close to a large Army base. Whenever she saw a soldier she would walk up
to him and make a Nazi salute, shouting "Sieg Heil!". Some months after this, Amanda caused further worry to her parents by
disappearing for long periods. She was eventually spotted by a family friend on a motor-bike many miles away from home. It
came out that Amanda would go to a particular café frequented by young motor-bikers and would approach one of them, usually
a stranger, asking to be taken for a ride. Felicity used to go to one of the shopping malls near her home, stand in the centre of
one of the long, glass-lined isles, and scream as loudly and for as long as she could.

Each of these girls, and indeed each of the people with TFAS that I have mentioned, prompted other people to say, "Why are they
doing this?" I do not think that the answer to this question is that these young people are evil or even, as Doris Lessing suggests in
the Fifth Child, that they of a different race to humanity. I do think that they are baffled by the world around them, but they
are also desperate to conceal that inadequacy. I think that Elizabeth Newson is right in supposing that there is an element of
avoidance in the uproar that people with TFAS cause. However, avoidance is not always the motive as some socially distressing
actions by people with TFAS are initiated by them out of an apparently clear blue sky. The common theme is, I think, a
sense of powerlessness which a person with TFAS tries to circumvent by using their power to shock or to disrupt. But this
raises a further question. Why should a person with TFAS be powerless? The reason is, I think, because they are very poor at
non-verbal communication. However, their difficulties are not the problems of non-verbal expression that other people with
Asperger syndrome have, but problems of non-verbal interpretation. They have difficulty reading other people's faces,
and probably their gestures and tones of voice, too. Being outrageous helps to overcome this problem because other
people, when they are very emotionally aroused, emit more and more obvious cues about what they are feeling. And the fact that
you have predictably elicited strong feeling in someone else may be more rewarding than the fact that the feeling is hostile or
distressing. People with TFAS may seem uncannily good at winding others up, but they have had plenty of opportunity to
learn how to do this. What they cannot so easily do is to participate emotionally themselves in the social encounter. They
learn about social situations, rather than learning in them.

This problem may be associated with other difficulties, like an impaired ability to tell yourself the story of how another person
will look at a behaviour, and like the tendency to lump everyone together in the same group of people who are against you. More
research needs to be done to find out what the difficulties are precisely. However, I do know that I now regularly ask people who
I suspect of having TFAS to match faces (taken from a widely used set of test faces) by emotional expression and they make
many more errors than would be expected given their intelligence. Sometimes parents will confirm that they have
noticed the difficulties in this area that their son or daughter has. More often, it has not been noticed before. This is not surprising.
It is very hard to spot that someone, say, thinks that you are angry whenever you look disgusted or that you are surprised
whenever you look frightened. However, a consequence of the fact that other people do not notice the problem is that the
person with TFAS is more likely to conceal their difficulties too. That, or so it seems to me, is the beginning of their real
problems. For, in not being able to call on other people's assistance or support, the person with TFAS finds themselves
failing to find friends or to gain influence in social settings. The fact that people with TFAS then resort to coercive means would
surprise us less than it does if we were aware of their handicap. I hope that this article may be a small contribution to this greater

I dont want anyone to take offense here at this. But there may be of something applicable here, at least in principle.
I identified with Roger.


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14 Jan 2011, 1:41 pm

mikey1138 wrote:
My wife, on numerous occasions, has pointed out to me that it appears to her that I sometimes do things in order to get a reaction out of people ...

In high school, an abnormal psychology class that one of my friends was in did a class study on me and they concluded that I displayed classic signs of a sociopath ...

I am certain I am neither a sociopath nor a psychopath, but what am I doing wrong to give people, including my wife, the impression that I "get off" on evoking a reaction out of them?

In my own case, that occasional "smile" (almost a smirk) can give me away. Nevertheless, my intentions are almost always good.

I do not know what the actual problem might be here, but one friend once remarked that I say things other people only think about, and another friend once clearly pointed out some of my specific actions clearly intended to cause others to take a look at themselves right alongside my own introspection.

I began looking for someone like me when I was five ...
My search ended at 59 ... right here on WrongPlanet.

Yellow-bellied Woodpecker
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14 Jan 2011, 1:43 pm

I'm also 30 and diagnosed with aspergers.
I could relate every single aspect you said with my own reality.

Though I have the same problems, I still didn't manage to fix the one while I'm socially interacting. It's precisely what you have described, instead of trying to make people angry at me ( which I would really hate to ), I'm just kind of spontaneously acting in defense of my nerves.

With my wife, it's sooo the same with me! I look at her and I cannot really tell if she is mad, thoughtful, tired or whatever, so I ask her: "are you mad at me?". she replies with a "no honey". I don't seem to get convinced and ask once or twice more within a minute or two, she gets mad. Then I say: "I told you, you were mad at me!". She goes nuts, and says: "nope, you just made me mad!".

I honestly can't help it! So now, we are trying a different approach. But I think it won't help at all, since it has to come from her. She told me: "let's make a deal, whenever I'm mad at something, I'll just tell you, ok?". I agreed, but I'm just confused about how I'm supposed to act when I think she is mad at me, and didn't say anything. Logic should tell me that everything is fine, since she still didn't say anything. So I just ask, and we are back to the same old same old routine.

I think I'm gonna try to figure out a different approach.

Pileated woodpecker
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14 Jan 2011, 4:03 pm

Thank you so very much everyone for the responses.

Ettina: I relate to the anxiety induced by a fear of not spotting anger. Early on in my marriage, I was very oblivious to my wife's emotions (even if she told them to me outright) and it became such a problem that it almost ended our relationship. She would say I was living in my own little bubble and had no care for anyone else... which wasn't true. I love my family very much. But I didn't see how bad things had become due to my inattentiveness to her emotions, so now I could possibly be overcompensating for my past shortcomings for fear of missing her cues.

Mdyar: Wow! Thank you so very much for bringing this paper to my attention!! ! It was very eye-opening and a lot of what's written in it rings very true to me. The example of Tricia brought another personal high school example to mind. I was in an afterschool program called International Club (I've often had special interests in various foreign cultures) and our school was hosting some foreign exchange teachers from Denmark. I immediately volunteered to help serve refreshments and snacks for these teachers after a conference in our school cafeteria because I thought I might glean some interesting information about their country by this. The day came for me to do my waiter duties and for some reason, earlier in the day, I decided it would be a great idea for me to make an armband akin to the ones worn by the Nazi party... so there I was, the "international club geek" who was nice enough to volunteer for this, serving kool-aid and finger sandwiches to these Danish teachers with a huge swastika around my shirt sleeve. Needless to say, but this caused quite the little controversy in our small town school and I'm sure I received more than a reprimand for my little stunt. But, in retrospect, I have no idea now what was going through my mind then. I probably didn't even have a very firm grasp on the "why's" whilst I did it. I guess it's still kind of that way with me now. Oftentimes, my wife will ask me why I did something (presumably inappropriate for the situation) and I honestly don't have an answer for her. Over this past year, having discovered a name for my awkwardness and working through my issues with a professional who is well versed in Autism, has truly been a blessing. It's saved my marriage, at least for the time being, and it is helping me to gain a greater understanding of who I am. Btw, what does the "TF" in "TFAS" stand for in Tantam's paper? I've reread it looking for a clue as to this acronym but I don't think it's stated in the quote you posted.

leejosepho - Don't even get me started on "that smile"! That's an entirely different thread for me. lol I've gotten into serious trouble with my inappropriate smilings, and by that I mean, I have no control over it and I think it might be a defense mechanism of sorts where it's intent is to mask my lack of knowing what the appropriate facial expression is to use. I believe I learned early on that if I smiled, people would smile back and be on their way and not bother me with questions asking "what's wrong" and "why are you sad?". So, in time, I became "Mr. Smiley". Seemingly, the happiest person on the planet. But I have little control over my smile and it usually causes the most problems when I'm nervous, scared, confused, or sad... and before my diagnosis, my smile was one of the things that had my wife convinced I was a soulless, cold-hearted, S.O.B. I'm glad she accepts that that is not the case now! :D My seemingly inappropriate facial expression has probably contributed to people thinking I'm out to get a rise out of them. Hmmm... I never thought about that before.

Galwacco - I totally understand the "same old, same old routine" thing! Also, in my formative school years, while I was trying to learn the secrets of making friends and keeping them, I developed a rhyming thingy to help me discern what emotion the person I was conversing with was feeling. It went something like, "Are you mad? Are you glad? Are you sad? Are you rad? etc..." and ran the whole gambit of human emotions that ended in -ad. I don't think this was particularly helpful and probably creeped people out, but I can relate to you trying different approaches and being frustrated when they don't work.

Again, the responses, insight, references, and thoughtfulness are very much appreciated everyone and I feel I'm already making some significant headway in understanding possible answers to the question(s) posted in my initial message.


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14 Jan 2011, 11:27 pm

I think I have some ODD tendencies. Sometimes I 'get off' on annoying people or even when they're upset I will enjoy it. Even if I wasn't the cause of them being upset. Usually I can't take feeling their emotions that instead of mirroring their emotion I will just become incredibly arrogant.
But during these times I don't feel like myself. I feel like I've taken a mind altering drug.
Other ODD traits I have is my constant arguing and disagreeing with people. I never want to be in agreement with someone.

I always confuse my mother's facial expressions too. I always think she is angry when she says she's not.

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Pileated woodpecker
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15 Jan 2011, 1:47 am

I wonder what the prevalence of ODD is in internet trolls... I can't really relate to much of the criteria for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (that's a cool acronym btw). I hope people don't perceive me to be a troll in real life (not the Norse kind)... but perhaps that's a good comparison? Like, seemingly, I do and say things to cause a raucous and get a reaction out of others. I hope that's not the case.