Aspergers and the "Approach Personality" Type

In a previous post (click here), we looked at Aspergers (high functioning autism) and the "avoidant personality." In this post, we will discuss the somewhat opposite personality type: the "approach personality."

This type usual occurs in the "Aspie" who also has ADHD, although this is not always the case.

The two primary characteristics of the “approach personality” are (a) excessive talking about one’s special (or obsessive) interest, and (b) significant violations of other’s personal space.

Excessive Talking About Special Interests—

Excessive talking in the Aspie can present a number of problems. No one particularly likes to be referred to as a "motor-mouth," but they can be exactly that. While some people have much to say of value, excessive talkers usually do not. They talk either because they can't help it due to “mind-blindness” (i.e., they are unaware that the listener is both bored and annoyed with the one-sided conversation), or because they simply love to tell others about their favorite hobby/activity out of a huge sense of passion about that particular hobby/activity.

Aspies who talk excessively can sometimes get along well with one another, probably because neither is paying much attention to what the other is saying. For those with normal speaking habits however, excessive talking often borders on being socially unacceptable. We are brought up to be attentive to what others are saying, to speak mainly when spoken to, while at the same time hoping that when we do talk, we sound intelligent and say the right things in as few words as possible.

Excessive talking in the Aspie often translates into an inability to understand or follow instructions. The very act of learning can be seriously impeded, and the chattering Aspie may be unable to concentrate on those things where concentration is vital to success.

Those Aspies who persist in excessive talking about their obsessive interest are more apt to be victims of another type of disorder, the Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Not all of those with OCPD are excessive talkers – it is just one of the symptoms. You can usually spot those with OCPD, because they tend to be preoccupied with perfectionism and orderliness, pay excessive attention to detail, and are most comfortable in an environment where there are rules to follow, schedules to meet, and an organizational structure in which they know their place.

The drive for perfectionism often results in such individuals being unable to complete certain assigned tasks, or being unable to follow rules which don't conform to their own strict standards. Some OCPD Aspies are extremely introverted (living in their own carefully regulated and orderly world) while others can be quite extroverted (these are the attention seekers, the ones who violate your personal space, and who often over-dramatize any and every situation). It is from among this group that excessive talking is apt to be one of the more noticeable symptoms.

Tips for the excessive (obsessive) talker:

1. Appreciate what others have to say. Listening to other person’s viewpoint allows you to permit him or her to express an opinion.

2. Be a good listener. People like to be listened to.

3. Be more conscious of your behavior patterns. Acknowledge that you speak too much and behave accordingly.

4. Do not talk for the sake of talking. Restraint is good.

5. One can take up courses in being a good conversationalist.

6. Seek professional help if excessive talking is a compulsive behavior. Often people speak due to some psychological disorder or problem. A person with a nervous disposition will speak more.

7. One need not express everything on one’s mind. Certain things you must keep to yourself.

8. One should always have something important to contribute. Whatever you say should have an impact on others. They should want to listen to you. Conversation should be interesting.

9. One should avoid being pushy or aggressive while conversing. Try to convey things in fewer words. Be brief in what you say.

10. Think before you speak. It may be difficult if you are nervous. But it is better to be aware of what you are saying. You need not regret later.

11. Try not interrupting another person’s conversation as far as possible.

12. Try to allow the other person to say something. It may be difficult, but one needs to practice self-control. A good conversation is a two-way process. All of those taking part in the conversation have much to contribute. Each person must get a chance to say something.

Violating Personal Space—

Interpersonal space refers to the psychological "bubble" that exists psychologically when one person stands too close to another. There are four different zones of interpersonal space:

1. Intimate distance: ranges from touching to about 18 inches (46 cm) apart, reserve for lovers, children, close family members and friends, and pets.

2. Personal distance: begins about an arm's length away starting around 18 inches (46 cm) from the person and ending about 4 feet (122 cm) away. This space is used in conversations with friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions.

3. Social distance: ranges from 4 to 8 feet (1.2 m - 2.4 m) away from the person and is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances.

4. Public distance: includes anything more than 8 feet (2.4 m) away, and is used for speeches, lectures, and theater. Public distance is essentially that range reserved for larger audiences.

Aspies with approach personality traits tend to be mostly in the “intimate distant” mode (i.e., they will stand within arm’s reach – even with strangers). It goes without saying that most people are taken aback by such behavior.

The absence of strong emotional responses to personal space violation is, again, the result of the Aspie’s “mind-blindness” (i.e., an inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of the other person). If you, as a neurotypical, did an experiment in which you purposely stood excessively close to a stranger to read his/her reaction, you would readily notice a pained expression on the other person’s face, sending you a very clear non-verbal message that he/she is alarmed. The mind-blind Aspie with approach personality traits does not receive this non-verbal cue – even though the cue was indeed sent.

Tips for the personal space violator:

1. Understand that (a) people have certain expectations about verbal and nonverbal communication behavior from other people, and (b) violations of these expectations cause arousal and distraction in them.

2. Only stand or sit within arm’s reach of close family members and romantic partners.

3. With your friends, stand or sit no closer than arm’s length.

4. With all others, stay at least 4 feet away.

5. Pay attention to the facial expressions of those you stand or sit close to. Are they grimacing, for example? If so, then you may be too close.

6. Pay attention to whether or not the other person moves away, creating addition distance between the two of you. Does he/she seem to be taking steps backwards during the conversation? If so, you may be too close.

7. If you are uncertain, ask the other person “Am I violating your personal space?” Most people will respect that question and answer honestly.

Some of the behaviors exhibited in the “approach personality” have a good side to them when these behaviors can be correctly channeled. There are many activities in which paying greater than normal attention to detail can be a definite plus, and those with a short attention span often find a place in activities demanding creativity and thinking outside the box.

As far as excessive talking is concerned, it is best that it be treated with counseling (usually in the form of “social skills training”), although there are occasional openings for stand up comics and radio talk show hosts. As far as personal space violations are concerned, it is best to reserve close proximity for those who enjoy being close to you (e.g., your mother, girlfriend, cat, etc.).

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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