I am a therapist almost thirty years. A few years back, a newspaper called asking to interview me. How can a man with Asperger’s possibly help others? As if having Asperger’s makes me an inhuman freak.
On Friday mornings, I see several people with Asperger’s. One, whom I’ll call “K,” wrote the following recently. When he showed it to me, I cried; for him, for me, and for every person the world has ever given a label to.
It’s autism awareness month in 4 hours. I usually just post “don’t support autism speaks.”(Please do not comment on this post asking why. Either message me or google it.) But I’ve decided this year that I’m gonna talk instead. Feel free to share and stuff because this is important, at least to me it is.
Why am I so open about being autistic? Because it affects me and my interactions every single day, in ways not visible to most people. More often than not people can’t tell because I pass as allistic (not autistic). People just think I’m weird (which I am, but I digress), that I’m being rude (I am sarcastic as hell though, guilty as charged), that I’m stuck up, and that I don’t want to go to parties.
The thing is, I just process things differently. And I’d rather people know this than assume things.
This being said, feeling like I have to explain myself all of the time does get exhausting.
Since I pass as allistic so well, people tend to assume that my case is very mild. But guess what: it’s not. When I was diagnosed (at 15) with Asperger Syndrome in 2008, my case was actually considered moderate to severe. Yet I get a lot of people telling me they never would have guessed.
How is this possible, you ask? I received a rare type of early intervention that did not try to make me “normal.” Instead, I was made aware of how I interact with others, how others would react to the same situation, and how others react to my bluntness. So I learned how to interact with people in a way that teaches me basic social skills such as watching what I say to avoid hurting feelings or boring people with monologues and understanding that people usually expect eye contact.
My family and I learned how to meet each other halfway. My quirks, however, (i.e. stimming, special interests, not making as much eye contact when people know I don’t feel comfortable) were left intact and even encouraged. So I was able to still be myself. This was key, as I needed to feel like I wasn’t a freak and that these traits of mine are not hurting anyone. My friends and coworkers accept me and find my quirks endearing. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Not everyone is as lucky as me. So many autistic people are bullied, were subject to traumatic, ignorant, early intervention programs such as ABA, have been told that the way they are is not okay, and have parents that act like having an autistic child is the worst thing that could happen to them. Newsflash people: the doctor that said vaccines cause autism lied, and he lost his license because of it. But people still believe this shit.
My point? What does it say that parents would rather risk their child dying of an easily preventable disease than being autistic? This happens because people just don’t understand or care to understand. Autistic people don’t just need awareness; people are pretty damn aware of our existence.
We need acceptance.
Recently, I took on an intern, and for a number of Fridays now, she has sat in with “K” and me. After seeing him for the past 8 years, “K” is now a year away from getting his MSW. Another person with Asperger’s who will spend his life helping people.
Yesterday, after he left, I asked my intern what it’s like for her to hear two “R2D2’s” interact. Her answer made me cry. Rather than respond with what would pass for kind personal thoughts about us poor Aspies, she paused for a long time. Know that personality wise, she’s the furthest thing from a person with Asperger’s. Yet she said she wished all people spoke so clearly and precisely.
Why must everything human beings say, feel, think, and do be put under the cruel microscope of medical measurement? Why must we act as if statistically normal personalities are the measure for health in people? And why do so many people with Asperger’s feel the need to explain and apologize for who and what they are.
In truth, we are human beings who act strange largely because we have been forced to imitate some imaginary normal, rather than encouraged to be ourselves. Or to use a saying my soon-to-be colleague “K” often uses, newsflash people. What person would not act weird if they were, for their whole lives, constantly told they cannot be themselves.
Asperger’s is not the problem.
Being forced to imitate normal is.
(originally posted on Quora.com)