I’m Sorry… Is My Aspie Showing Again…?
Being What I Am…
First and foremost I’m going to say this isn’t a curse. It is not an “illness” or a “disease”. It’s a different way of understanding and processing the world we live in, and the other (non-ASD) people within it. Like everything there are bad bits and good bits. I have many other conditions – but this is the only one I would never gladly give up in a nanosecond. Despite the difficulties it can bring.
But lots of things brings difficulties, so this does not make having an ASD brain “wrong”. Just “different”.
I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 33 years old. I struggled without assistance for my entire childhood and nearly all my adult life so far – getting a diagnosis early in life, so everyone can all understand what you are up against, is so very important. As someone who spent three decades wondering why everything was so difficult, I can say it is definitely better to know, than to not know!
The worst part was the struggle with trying to “fit in”. If I had known I didn’t have to, that I could just be myself, that I didn’t have to hide what I feel inside, my life would have been amazingly different. I know that because the relief I’ve felt ever since knowing has been amazing. I read magazines from a young age, giving up my precious learning weekly magazines for the god-awful teen ones, graduating to Red, Marie Claire, Glamour, etc, when I got older. I read them all front-to-back, like a textbook. They were so boring, but I felt I had to do so to “fit in” and “blend in” with others. It worked, but it was exhausting. I wished I knew I didn’t have to do it. Because I really didn’t.
As someone with Asperger’s, I can be a little of the opposite of many people with ASD – I can be quite hyperactively verbal, have always been highly intelligent, and above average in most things academic from the beginning. It made my abilities beyond my peers and so I was ostracised for it, but I didn’t mind too much because I liked my own company. I just didn’t want anyone to be confusing, mean, or spiteful towards me (and unfortunately I got quite a lot of it over the years). This was the reason for using modern media sources as my research, so these people would no longer be confusing to me. I got the rules of the “game” [of social interaction] and I played it to the best of my ability instead.
What I couldn’t do was speak to people, and frankly I didn’t want to. Despite my hard work of studying these magazines, I do quite often find it far too difficult to understand others, and that intimidates, confuses and frightens me. I see other “normal/neurotical” people and their way of thinking and behaviours at odds with my own. Understanding things from their point of view is very important to me, having things explained (even silly things to other people are huge and confusing to me) in a fashion I can understand is important to me.
I can make connections with special people – those that I am able to communicate with on my own level, where they are open and friendly without being intimidating, are people I can speak to, get along with, and even like. I have no time for those who don’t accept me (this blipped a little when I was a teenager, but righted itself quickly!), and I just prefer to ignore them.
When I make a connection, it’s with few people, but that affection is absolute. I have a handful of best friends who I would do anything for, and I love my parents, grandparents, and my sister and her partner (and I will love their child, my niece, when she is born). The assumption of “those with ASD cannot make connections” is BS – oh, it very surely is. They absolutely do, it’s just different to how “normal” people think of it. But it doens’t make it any less. Just different.
How I personally think and see the world is very similar to a computer – I see or hear things, process them, then give what I see is a logical output. If what I experience confuses me, the output will also be confusion. When those things are explained to me, then they make sense and I can go ahead and process them, and I’m OK with it. I find feelings that happen inside me horribly confusing because I never have and I never will understand them (that was a hard one to come to terms with), so people explain them to me in a way I understand and then I feel my equilibrium coming back. It’s the reason I love computers themselves, they make sense, they’re understandable and consistent!
I do not know how to deal with emotions, so when people experience them I get confused and usually guess (wrongly!) what’s going on. I deal only with facts, and generally see the world in a “black-and-white” fashion. Many idioms still go over my head, as do metaphors, tone of voice, and (to me) facial expressions pretty much don’t exist. Yes, I can understand that everybody else will see this as a strange world to live in – but to me that is my own happy normal and I prefer it like that, because that is what I know.
I also like patterns, routines, things done in a certain order, and get easily fixated on things that then take up my whole brain and life – and all this is what “normal” people would term “my happy place”. These are some things not to be questioned, as long as it doesn’t interfere with daily routines or commitments (which cannot be broken), because this is how I relax, away from the hectic and scary world outside of it that I’m forced to interact with. It was why I made one of my fixations my job, so I could do it all the time and earn a living at the same time!
Patience is key when interacting with someone with ASD, and with it (as well as understanding each person’s particular processing abilities and ways) you can achieve a lot of understanding, making their world a better, safer, and easier place to live. We find the “normal” world very difficult to live in and understand. It has things that confuses and frightens us – what “normal” people take for granted, we cannot understand, or it hurts us. Sensory overload is horrific and can be caused by the smallest of things and can cause a catastrophic break inside us that we cannot control – from the touch of a fabric, to a sound, a scare, or bright lights (it can be almost anything, depending on the person).
My way of dealing with these is to have specific noise-cancelling earphones for noises I don’t like, sunglasses for bright lights (from fluorescent lights to bright sunlight, or even flashlights in the dark), I have an eye mask, blackout curtains, and even a tent-bed for sleeping, I avoid certain things or places I know I cannot deal with, and the people around me are now very understanding and know how to help keep me calm and in some control during difficult episodes or panic attacks. I still even now get meltdowns – but at least I know what they are now, and how best to avoid them.
I did not have as much trouble when I was younger as I do now, not since I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, and started learning how to emulate how “normal” people behave, speak and live. I once had a good life in London, working as an IT consultant for a prominent hospital, with a partner and dog, and lived independently. It was only when I had my illness and had to take medication that affects your brain a little, that the severity of what I was unknowingly controlling subconsciously really came to light.
It was only when the severity of it was so clear that I was finally given an answer to everything and my formal diagnosis (which I literally had to yell at people to get, unfortunately). I therefore say there is no reason, with the right long-term support that people with ASD are perfectly able to intergrate into the “neurotypical” world, particularly if those around them are patient and willing to meet them halfway and learn about the ASD world too.
I like my ASD. It’s about the only thing I like about myself right now, to be honest. It has helped me with my life a lot. My Aspergers got me my favourite job and made me good at working with computers – which also thusly allows me to help those who aren’t tech-savvy learn about them, and I can also fix them.
It helps me see the world differently.
It helped me be a singer, a songwriter, a performer, a dancer. It’s helped me be an artist in music, in songwriting, in painting when I ways younger, in writing, even playing games. It’s helped me assist my partner in a serious work issue, where I became an advocate and letter-writer and prevented the employer in doing something terrible for no reason. It’s helped me assist others in being able to navigate complex and difficult things I had no difficulty understanding.
I might not be able to look people in the eye or speak to a checkout clerk, but I can fix complex issues for others, which they in turn cannot do. It’s a yin-yang balance, where I focus on my own abilities and don’t worry too much about the things I cannot do.
As someone once said, it’s not “broken” to be Austistic, it’s just a different operating system. And just as you can’t put Apple Mac or iPad things on a Windows computer or an Android phone, those who are Autistic work in a different way to “neurotypicals”. It’s not “wrong”. Just different.
And I, personally, am very proud to be an “Aspie” and “Autie” (they sound cuter than the full names!).
Now, I do apologise that this is rather a long reply, and of course you do not have to approve it!
However, if for any reason you would care to ask any questions or clarify anything in my ramblings, I would be very happy to answer them. 🙂