I am constantly aware of autism. I am autistic. It is a part of me but it is not all of me. I am cognizant of how different I am from the time I get up in the morning to the time that I go to bed. I know I am weird and I like it. I am not ashamed of who or what I am. In fact I am proud of what I have accomplished in this life. Autism Awareness month is of great importance to me not because of all the Autism walks but for the fact that many of us become more vocal and share more of ourselves and are noticed more.
If we don’t share what it’s like to be human for each of us, how are we to know, understand and accept each other, as well as ourselves? So much of what makes us human is our desire to connect with other people. Autistics are no different in that sense. We all want to connect with others. To varying degrees we try connect with each other. If we cannot speak we find other ways to communicate whether it is through sign language or music or art. All things we do communicate or express an idea or an emotion. We just have to listen to understand what is being conveyed. In it’s most basic form autism is a disorder that alters the way that we communicate. Some of us like Carly Fleischman use writing. Fleischman writes the blog Carlys Voice and was featured on 20/20 several years ago. Others communicate through body language and facial expression. All humans communicate and I am human.
I know that I am weird. I don’t always say hello when I should. I often will get so focused on what I am doing that that I may forget there is anyone else in the room. Yet, I take great pains to remember the little things in life because details matter. And those details often include things that most people don’t realize like making eye contact. For the longest time I did not make contact. It took several years for me to learn how important it was to do it. If I didn’t make eye contact with people they thought I was insecure. I was neither. Eye contact and handshakes are things that most people take for granted but for a person with Asperger’s just being able to make eye contact it is a pretty big deal. Through years of training and mimicking the actions of reporters from both KABC the Los Angeles affiliate and from ABC News I learned to mimic the proper motion of a handshake.
Living with Asperger’s Syndrome is difficult. It can be frustrating not knowing if people like you because they use body language to convey their thoughts instead of just saying what they feel. dare to be your friends are special because they are brave. They are brave enough to be different. They are brave enough to accept our differences despite what people will say. People with Asperger’s have to adjust to a world that refuses to adjust to us. It is how we deal with this selfish injustice that defines who we are. I would rather have Asperger’s than not have it.
It has not been an easy to deal with being autistic, but I never let it stop me even when was told I would never amount to much. I guess I proved the nay-sayers wrong.
I never let being diagnosed with keratoconus a degenerative eye disease in both eyes when I was 15 stop me either. I never learned to drive as a result and rode the bus most places, which is no small feat in Southern California. It made things more difficult especially when I was attending school and reporting for the campus TV station because I would have to carry my camera, and other associated equipment such as tripods and occasionally boom mics with me on the bus. Often the trip would involve changing buses two or three times each way and would take up to 2 or 3 hours each way per trip.
Despite all of the things that I have accomplished I still know that I am weird. One of my biggest eccentricities is that I am always wearing a hat except for when I am at church or when I go to sleep at night. It is my uniform. Like Temple Grandin who always wears western wear like a cowgirl, I always wear a hat. It gives me a sense of comfort and stability to wear it.
I know that I am weird because I stim. Stim is short for self-stimulation. Many autistics I know do it. It is pretty much how we deal with emotions. Most people including those that are not autistic stim in some form or another. When people are nervous or anxious some people tap their pencil and sometimes women play with their hair. What we do is not much different except we do it differently. When I am excited I rub my eyes. When I am nervous I rub my hair. The sensation we feel temporarily distracts us from the emotions we are feeling. Autistics often feel those emotions in a manner that is much stronger than a person who does not have autism. That is because we lack the ability, or in many cases it is just severely impaired, to censor ourselves. This often has an impact on our relationships. So much of our interaction depends on the little white lies we tell each other so that we won’t hurt each other’s feelings. Normally it is done as an act of sympathy, but to some autistics it is just logical to tell the truth. That does not mean that autistics are incapable of feeling sympathy or empathy.. We do. We are not robots. We feel as much if not more than other people. Some of us even understand sarcasm.
That being said, I am still weird. Autistic humor often takes some thought and might not make sense to most people. Autistics do have humor. Even Data, the android character from Star Trek: The Next Generation told a few jokes. Like Data I often don’t understand why they are funny. I just know that they are funny.
I am weird because no two autistics are alike. I am human. Humans were not built in factories to exact specifications so that we are all carbon copies of each other. Honestly that would boring if we all looked alike. Many of us are non-verbal. Some of us are. I can’t do math like Jerry Newport, the basis of the movie of Mozart and the Whale, or Vernon L. Smith who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. I cannot write music like Travis Meeks, the lead singer and songwriter for the Band Days of the New. I can only write. I wrote my first short story when I was 9-years-old. In fact, it was my writing skills that led to my career in journalism.
I am weird because I look at the world through a different lens than most people. I am weird because I often say the wrong things and always dress the same way and do almost everything in the same way. I am weird because I like routines. They give me a sense of order and structure. I am weird because I am different. I am weird and that is fine with me.