The column for which I won second place for best personal experience story from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in 2007. A fact I am proud of. The Advocate was the first weekly column in a campus newspaper, The Daily Titan, describing life with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Love is perhaps the most commonly discussed, pondered and philosophized subject in the world. For those involved with
the treatment of Asperger’s, as well as those who have it, love is still a topic for discussion and thought.
The city on a hill is the perfect metaphor to describe the Daily Titan newsroom. With its location on the sixth floor of College
Park, it is like that city ona hill where students, through hard work, can enjoy the fruits of their labor and all the academic and personal
successes. Yet it can definitely be lonely at the top. Success, in my estimation, is meaningless when there’s no one to appreciate it.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, love is on the minds of everyone.With Asperger’s, the discussion is less philosophical in nature. The conversation is more about “can we love?” as opposed to the very nature of love itself.
The question is irrelevant.
Can you breathe?
We are capable of love like any other human being. The ability to love by both Aspie, (adiminutive name for someone with Asperger’s) and non-autistic alike is what makes us human. Aspies such as myself choose to express love in a way that does not fit the ordinary definitions of love. Even those who are not autistic differ in the ways they express love and show affection, but it does not make the feelings less real or less wonderful and beautiful. Love created the universe, which is reflected in the eyes of those we love. Being a male student on a campus that is 64 percent female does have its advantages – to which the remaining 36 percent can attest – but on the other hand it has its disadvantages.
Let’s face it, most autistics are men and most men never really understand women, least of all autistics. I choose to express myself through words and actions, and I have found saying “I love you” is much more powerful than giving out candied hearts on Valentine’s. Words are more powerful than any gesture. Yet love is something that anyone wants and deserves. People assume that whenever a disabled person mentions the things they deserve, they often mistakenly assume that we deserve those things because we are disabled.
In contrast, it is not because we are disabled but because we are human.
As I spend my time in this city on a hill, the world seems that much bigger and just that much more isolated. Perhaps being such an extreme man has had a part in that. But that discussion will have to wait.
This blog title was chosen for a reason. There is often repeated phrase that occurs among people with Asperger’s is that we feel like we are from a different planet. A good example of this is the website WrongPlanet.net which was created by Alex Plank. The site itself is meant to be a community site for people with Asperger’s. The title of the website itself is representative of the idea that I mentioned about Aspie’s sometimes viewing themselves as being from a different planet. The idea has become widespread among Aspies, so much so in fact that a culture has developed based on this widespread view that we are not like people who don’t have autism. We have even developed a term for non-autistic people: neurotypical. Many members of the autistic community believe in neurodiversity.
There are two groups of thought in the autistic world. Those who want to cure autism and those who believe in neurodiversity. Mike Stanton in “What is Neurodiversity?“describes it this way:
“The idea of Neurodiversity was developed by autistic people in opposition to the pathologizing model. According to them autistic people are not disordered. They have a different sort of order. Their brains are differently wired. They think differently. They do not want to be cured. They want to be understood.”
Up until the 1980s mothers were blamed for the autistic behavior of their children. Autism was often called Refrigerator Mom Syndrome. The focus eventually shifted to a more genetic component. It was from there that people began looking for a cure for autism. However, many people who have autism began to feel that they should celebrate their differences especially the differences in our brain functions from people who did not have autism. As with any group in order to differentiate from the group they are separating from by labelling them. The name neurotypical basically refers to someone who does not have autism. The autism community chose that word because the word normal had too many negative implications. Neurotypical as a term rejects the idea of a normal brain because that would mean that anyone who has autism has an abnormal brain. Also what would constitute a normal brain remains to be determined because brain functions depend on factors that are relevant and different for every person.
I belong to the neurodiversity movement because I am proud of what I have accomplished and I am proud of the unique way in which I look at the world. I don’t refer to myself as being neurodiverse as an individual. As part of a community I am neurodiverse. I can no more be cured of autism more than cows can fly upside down. I am not certain I want to be cured. Too much of the discussion of autism revolves around finding a cure as if I and all other autistics have a diseased brain.
Having Asperger’s makes life difficult. It makes for frustration due to an inability to properly communicate your emotions which can cause problems in your relationships with other people. This is a common problem for many people with Asperger’s. If you can’t communicate your feelings how can you develop relationships with other people?
It may be difficult but finding ways to communicate are not impossible. Communication is not always direct. It can often times be sideways and ambiguous. Miscommunication can be a problem in any relationship but with Asperger’s avoiding miscommunication can be especially tricky.
Adrienne Warber writes in her article Asperger Relationships:
A person with Aspergers and his loved ones may find themselves in conflicts that have root in key aspects of the condition. The conflicts are often misunderstandings that stem from differences in emotional responses, communication and social skills problems, routines and obsessive behaviors. The person without Aspergers orneurotypical and the person with Aspergers may have different sets of expectations and ways of relating in a relationship. Learning about Asperger characteristics can help family members and friends better understand their loved one.
While the article is talking about romantic relationships the principle can be applied to any relationship because all relationships rely on communication skills.
As I stated in my previous blog, people with Asperger’s Syndrome struggle from mind blindness. Meaning they have difficulty interpreting people’s behaviors, emotions and body language. This can lead to the person with Asperger’s to misinterpret the other person’s response as being negative or inappropriate. Also the person with Asperger’s, because he or she has has misunderstood the other person’s motivations, may react in a way that is inappropriate or negative.
The way to solve this issue and for the social relationship be it friendly, coworking, amorous or otherwise is for all parties involved to have a clear understanding of the disorder and of the person who has it. Autism is a spectrum disorder so we all exhibit it in different ways and it is important to understand not only what the disorder is, but how it affects us on an individual basis. According to Adrienne Warber, everyone should work together to solve communications problems that may affect any relationships. She is right. Relationships take work to succeed, but when one of the people has autism, it may seem that only the neurotypical person is doing all the work and the person with Asperger’s may not feel anything which is simply not true. People with Asperger’s can have difficulties expressing what they are feeling or what they need. Understanding this can help any relationship.
When I first started writing this blog I wanted it to be a place to showcase my skills as a writer. I have written a lot over the course of my life from works of fiction like Ivory Requiem or poems like Be The Change the words of which have become the basic mantra of my life.
The change is you
Live it like it was tomorrow today and yesterday
Society drags down those who don’t resist
Resist the mediocrity and the hypocrisy
The change is within you
And lives through you
It shields the downtrodden from the fists of society
And builds up the weak to highest points
Be the change
And it will change you
Never look back
Keep your eyes on the future
Like the light that it is
It will guide you to the change you can be
Be the change and it will change you
The future seems bright if you live it
The future will be the change
And the change will be you
Still, as time grew, it became just a place where I should showcase myself. Where I could be honest and candid about life. Yet people have been cautioning me that it I should be mindful of what I post online because people might get the wrong. That is exactly why I write this blog so that people won’t get the wrong impression about me as a person. I may have autism but I am still a person. I feel pain, I laugh. I smile. I cry. I am human. Yet I know that people have misgivings about meeting or working with or being friends with a person that has autism. Out of lack of knowledge they can’t get past the “that has autism” part and often forget the “person” bit. That is what this blog has been about: dispelling that ignorance that still exists.
In my last post Why I Use Social Media, I described my need to express myself and connect with other people and how if I wasn’t on sites like Facebook and Twitter. people would not know anything about me. The same is true for this blog. Yet it is here for more than that. I realized over time that there was a lot of ignorance about autism still in the world. It exists despite all of the bloggers and vloggers who try to spread awareness of the disorder.
Ignorance is perhaps the most infuriating thing anyone has to deal with. It is like a disease that just doesn’t want to leave. I see a lot of ignorance everywhere. I sometimes feel that despite the number of people blogging or vlogging about Asperger’s that we are really just preaching to the choir. Either that or we are shouting really loudly and no one is listening. I am not certain which is more frustrating.
On the other hand the battle for awareness of autism has made great inroads among neurotypical people. There are now two types of neurotypical people I have met. Those who know people who know people with Autism and people who don’t. This blog is primarily for the people who don’t but sometimes it applies to the people who do. Ignorance and prejudice can be a fickle things many people may not be aware they even are prejudiced or ignorant. Others are more blatant about it. Even the nicest and most caring of people can be ignorant at times. Even people who know people who have autism can be ignorant. Even people who have autism can be ignorant. The worst is when people don’t realize that they are ignorant. It is for them that this blog is written to end their blindness. I write it to illuminate what they are not seeing that disability does not mean inability. If that were true, I would not be working where I do.
Also there are the people who want to learn more about the disorder that some call autism and I just call being human. For those people too, I write this blog so that they can learn more about it. I have many neurotypical friends who I want to teach more about autism, its causes and its effects on people lives because only through knowledge can ignorance and fear be brought to an end. And on that day I will stop writing this blog because there will no longer be the need. Until that time, I shall continue writing even if I am old and grey. I will not be silenced by ignorance and fear.