My Struggle with Asperger's Syndrome
Let me be clear: I do NOT have super-powers. I don't have telepathy, or (sadly) telekinesis, or any of the other abilities typically associated with comic book/movie protagonists.
I have a form of high-functioning autism known as Asperger's Syndrome (A.S.). Like all of the other variants of autism, Asperger's Syndrome is a neurological condition (not a 'disorder') that is characterized by having a common cluster of autistic traits rather than a single one. As a consequence of this condition, I sometimes have difficulties in new or unusual social situations that sometimes make me appear unintentionally rude or awkward. I can usually compensate for the situational novelty by adapting from similar situations I have experienced in the past, but it's a lot of work and it takes a significant amount of concentration. As a result, I am often vilified for behaviors that I cannot fully control.
Disadvantages (and Advantages) of My "Pattern"
No person with autism ever has all of the identified traits for their particular autism variant; they may have several of them, but not have a few of the others. Their "collection" of traits and the "intensity" of those traits combine to make up that person's individual autistic "pattern", and no two patterns are ever the same.
Some of the disadvantages of my condition include:
- I have an extreme sensitivity to noise and a difficulty in filtering out extraneous input, especially if that input is generated from multiple sources, so I often wear earplugs to dampen the noise. If you see me wearing earplugs, you don't need to shout in order to talk to me. I still hear almost everything, but wearing earplugs simply keeps the extraneous noise from overwhelming me and allows me to concentrate on both the speaker and the subject at hand.
- I often have difficulties in new or unusual social situations. I fear that I may say "the wrong thing" or may appear rude or awkward, and I will probably miss what would otherwise be a rather obvious social cue such as facial expressions, body language, or vocal intonations. I can sometimes compensate for the novelty by adapting something from my previous experiences, but it takes a lot of work and concentration to do that.
- I tend to become highly focused on a task and often have difficulty abandoning a task once I have started it. Asking me to stop (or change what I am doing) in the middle of a task may cause me to become frustrated or appear angry, but such emotional outbursts are not directed toward the requestor (so don't take it personally) and tend to disperse quickly.
- I prefer routines and sometimes appear upset when I cannot adhere to an established routine. I can often understand why an established routine might need to be altered, but that understanding does not always mitigate the anxiety or frustration that I feel at being required to alter my routine for an ephemeral purpose. One advantage to this preference, however, is that it contributes to my profession as a computer programmer.
There are a few significant advantages to my specific conditional "pattern":
- I excel at organizing things in new and creative ways, and have a propensity for "thinking outside of the box".
- I have a strong work ethic with a particular attention to accuracy and quality of work.
- I have partial eidetic memory and consistently rate in the top 1% of intelligent people worldwide. (Regarding the inevitable questions about being associated with high-IQ societies like MENSA, those are social organizations, and I have very little interest in trying to adapt to new social situations. Besides, have you seen how many idiots are in MENSA?)
- I am in good company. People known to have (or thought to have had) a form of high-functioning autism like Asperger's Syndrome include Ludwig van Beethoven, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Clemens, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Bobby Fischer, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Gates, Anthony Hopkins, Jim Henson, Howard Hughes, Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, W.A. Mozart, Isaac Newton, Charles Schultz, Nikola Tesla, Alan Turing, George Washington, and Robin Williams.
Frequent Comments Autistics Receive
(I have heard each of these comments at least once.)
"You don't look autistic." Really? How is an autistic supposed to look?
This sort of comment is typically spoken by someone who only has a passing idea of what autism is and how it affects those of us who have it. Autism is nearly impossible to identify visually; its traits are primarily behavioral, such as difficulty with social interaction, communication, and lack of eye contact.
"Everyone is a little autistic." No, they aren't, and anyone who might state this is probably discriminatory, intransigent, and consistently tries to make themselves feel better by knocking someone else down.
This is probably one of the most common (and yet highly insensitive) statements made to people with autism. Would it be okay to state "everyone is a little blind" to someone who is visually impaired? How about "everyone is a little Black" because a large portion of the world's population descends from (a few million years ago) distant African ancestors. I think not.
Some people might have a personality trait that may also be common in autistic people, but those people are not even close to being autistic. Having a form of autism influences every part of that person's life, every minute of every day. It's not something that we can simply turn off. For us, statements like this are no different than someone saying "you are a little pregnant" because you have a massive belly and crave weird food combinations.