Trust me: Asperger’s is no gift

By THOMAS F. JOHNSON 

I’ve dealt with Asperger’s syndrome for all my life, unable to find a proper medication until the end of high school.

For years, I struggled with fits. I still have problems interacting with others on a daily basis.

The educational help I received served only to keep me in school, not to deal with my disability-related issues.

Both “life skills” classes I was assigned to in high school eventually devolved into study periods — a testament to the incompetence of TUSD special education.

I woefully wonder if I am ever going to have a relationship or even a one-night stand. It’s hard enough for seemingly normal guys to get dates. My various blathering and rudeness-based infractions are as lady-repellent as Axe Body spray or truck nuts.

Beyond fearing that I’ll fail to achieve my dream job as a writer, I worry that I’ll find any job at all unless I sell my orifices to strangers to buy food.

I’ve never had a paying job, and am afraid my behavioral problems may get me fired from any work I do obtain.

That possibility is hammered into me repeatedly by my stepmother over the basic social and cleanliness-related faux pas I commit at home on a nigh hourly basis.

The fear is even more warranted since I was kicked out of my volunteer position with the Humane Society for requiring “too much supervision.” I’ve come close to alienating another organization, too, which I will not name because I don’t want to create drama.

It winds me like a watch when other people, both in and out of the autism spectrum, say that Asperger’s syndrome is a gift. There is a phrase for empathizing with a tormentor like this. It happens to be known as Stockholm syndrome.

It’s true that I’m more high-functioning than some autistics. Those souls are the only ones free to call me a lucky schmuck.

Science has proven that autistic individuals are just as intelligent as most people, but can’t vocalize their thoughts. They are forced into insane, repetitive behavioral patterns because of their disability.

Are these mental shackles a gift?

This is why I find the concept of neurodiversity laughable. Only people without disabilities formulate hippy-dippy ideas such as keeping the genes that cause children to be born with stunted flipper-limbs in the gene pool to preserve diversity.

All forms of autism sap a person’s self-identity like a tick.

I have no idea about how much of me is truly me and how much is the disorder talking. Feeling that my free will isn’t truly free is the most existentially terrifying aspect of my life.

I try, God knows I try, but I feel a crippling doubt when I fail. Am I really the master of my own fate, or am I a puppet of neurological cross-wiring?

If there ever is a cure developed for Asperger’s, I’d be afraid to take it. I simply don’t know what would remain after the disease is stripped away.

It might take my one notable skill (writing) away, leaving only a pink, quivering lump of worthlessness on the ground, my true self naked to the world.

But, despite all my griping, things have gotten better. My chances of accomplishing my dreams have gone from impossible to merely infinitesimal, and I do try to improve every day.

All I ask is that you try to understand my problem. It’s not something invented by the Internet as a cheap ploy to get sympathy, nor can it be instantly wiped away in an ‘80s-style movie montage.

I don’t need your pity, just your help.

 

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  1. Thomas F. Johnson says:

    Huh. I’m surprised that people actually read this. Usually these things online get zilch in the way of comments.

    But I do think this may have been a bit misleading in my own portrayal of myself. Because, despite the whining and whinging, I don’t use my Aspergers as an excuse to give up the ghost.

    I’m afraid of it and its accompanying baggage defeating me, but I still try. And I think I improperly represented that at the end of the article with a throwaway line.

    I was actually in a pretty dour mood when I wrote that article for a few reasons too personal and petty to get into here, and it shows. But I do want to bring up my successes.

    I’ve actually done volunteer work for the Democratic Party this election cycle, without getting out. I play tabletop RPGs in my spare time, not only out of a love of speculative fiction and high weirdness, but also to meet friends and new people.

    I’ve been working at the Press for 2 semesters, and despite a few hiccups here and there (Specifically one around the time of that article’s writing that put me in the fell mood I was in that shaped the content) I think I’ve done decently for myself.

    I try to improve my social behavior with every mistake, though more slowly than I’m satisfied with now, and I hope that I can improve myself more over the course of my College education (2 years at Pima for a general degree, 2 for a Direct Employment degree in Filmmaking/Technical Skills, and 2 for a degree from U of A)

    Hell, I’m writing a novel right now, and I’ve had a short story published in the Pima Literary magazine SandScript. I am still afraid of failure, but I still try, because not doing so would be a failure in itself.

    If you subtract all my self pitying and whining from the article, then the point I would like those readers with Aspergers to take away is the difficulty of dealing with the disorder.

    That it’s not just a thing you can Willpower yourself out like in some 80s sports film, and it’s not something that was invented by people online as a sympathy grab.

    That it can be overcome, but it still hurts deeply. But, one must not forget that that it is no reason not to try and work through the pain.

    But now I’m rambling and becoming overly schmaltzy, so I’ll just cap this off with an adieu and a thanks for reading this depressing little scrap.

    Be sure to read my horoscope from this issue as well, because I’m kinda proud of getting an apocalyptic horror story in the paper.

  2. Alex says:

    Hi Thomas, I mostly agree. Asperger’s as a whole isn’t a gift. It’s a lot of pain, disappointment, and being disconnected from people. For me, I’m not sure which is worse, the pain from sensory sensitivities, or the social and emotional disconnect from people I’d like to care about.

    But I would say there are gifts within Asperger’s. The different way I think and perceive the world is a treasure to me. The world holds more beauty for me than it does for normal people, when that world isn’t attacking my senses.

    And over time, the ratio improves. In my college years, I was much more socially impaired than I am now. We may not get it, but we eventually learn to compensate. It’s still a problem now, in my 30s, but some of the drawbacks tend to fade while the positive remains.

    So yes, it’s certainly not a gift, but since we have it anyway it doesn’t hurt to accept the good that comes with all the bad. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my earplugs. The lawncare guys are using the leaf blowers again…

    Alex

  3. John Williams says:

    Thomas, I can’t claim to even begin to understand… but articles like this certainly go a long way to helping. It’s a fascinating insight, and you write beautifully. I wish you all the very best.

  4. RandomShiz2 says:

    Sounds like me… about 12 years ago. The future isn’t easy, but possible, and it really is up to you.

    You will never be given a straight answer on how to deal with anything socially, you must take charge and go figure it out yourself for your own personal development. No one will hand this to you, not your parents, not a girlfriend, not a boss, not a friend, no one. Part of AS is being a naturally solitary person, leverage this to focus on your own personal development and learn how to make YOU work with everyone else. Not even another person with AS can give this to you, each individual is unique.

    The social bits are not a gift, but the ability to focus intensely and do things that many people struggle to figure out, is totally worth it. I’d say take your best features, and use your intelligence and focus to develop personally, a career, hobbies, etc, and the rest will come easier.

    You may find more satisfaction out of challenging yourself rather than trying to compete with others. I’ve been through a lot, all I can do is say what everyone else says, in that it gets better. If you can learn to diversify your interests (try to get past nerdy ones that turn people off), and learn new things, you will have knowledge you can leverage for conversation starters to enlarge your social circles. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but you do have to communicate with them from time to time.

    Just a little background, I have AS (mid-high functioning), I’m 32, and married happily, with a decent job. The relationship isn’t always easy, communication is a high priority (given the lack of social cues I have) and you will both have to learn to work with each other. This advice is so far out though, you should worry about getting a job and on your feet first. If you can’t impress a girl with your social skills, you do need to make up with a career/car/house/hobby and trust me, things will be much easier. It’s difficult to imagine a future (ie: relationship) with someone with no job who lives at home. It’s not even all about being materialistic, it is really tough to have a relationship with someone who is not independent, it puts a lot of strain on the person who is independent to pay for dates and drive the other person around during the earlier parts of a relationship, add the strain of AS and I can’t see winning. You need to be in a condition to start a solid relationship, and get the other person to really know and care about you (commitment), before you can really start opening up communication and learning how to work with each other. I spent years completely alone moping and whining (uselessly), and about the time I gave that up, met my future wife. I don’t think the casual dating scene is for people like us, some girls you just won’t be able to get anywhere with, as they won’t want to commit enough to get past the AS quirks, as I call them.

    If you don’t leave the house, you’ll never learn, don’t live through a computer (it’s easy to do fall into this hole these days), that’s the best advice I can give. If you limit your social group, you will limit your chances of finding a relationship, the chances are so much smaller. You don’t get into relationships out of convenience (well, good ones anyway), but by compatibility, you can increase those chances of meeting someone compatible by getting out there. Work, hobbies, whatever works for you.

    If you don’t have a job, the last thing you need to worry about are girl problems, get on your own two feet first and you will be surprised at what can happen. You might even meet a girl at the job (alright, not always recommended) or through someone there. Social circles are the best way to meet girls, I found my wife via friends and that was all luck. If I didn’t have a job or car, I’m sure dealing with my quirks would have kept any sort of relationship from occurring with her, I had developed enough personally to put all my AS quirks in the background and let her get past that.

    If you’re too afraid to get a job, you’ll never get one. You have to step up, do it, and deal with any repercussions as they come along. You will learn to deal with it, avoid certain issues/people, and probably be just fine. You have to stop being afraid to try in the first place, or you’ll never try and get anywhere. Lose a job? Who cares, learn your lesson and get another one, and don’t make the same mistakes next time. Losing a job is not as big of a deal as most people think it is, at least as you are starting out (once you have a mortgage and debt, yes, it can only be stressful). You have a long life ahead, and relationships and jobs will come and go and sometimes it’s tough to not look back to the past, but you have to look out for yourself and make sure you are doing for YOU what you need to to do move forward with life. No one in the world is responsible for any of this other than you.

  5. Frank says:

    I am endowed with Asperger’s, as are some of my siblings and children.

    SHUT UP!

    It’s the best advice I can give based on the terse glimpse of your life from your blog written in frustration.

    If you have told people where you currently volunteer you have Asperger’s, move on someplace where no one knows you and never mention Asperger’s again.

    SHUT UP!

    You surely know by now about all the anecdotal descriptions of Aspies being bores and boorish. Keep your mouth shut and only open it when you need to communicate to effectively do your job.

    SHUT UP!

    Whining isn’t going to endear you to anybody.

    SHUT UP!

    The name autism was coined from the overriding and obvious fixation with one’s self Quit thinking about self, quit talking about self, and listen to other people, ask other people about themselves, and truly ask about other people, don’t contrive questions designed to lead into your interests.

    I think the author who coined the term “Pretending to be Normal” pretty much nailed it. If you want to be treated like normal, then pretend to be normal. Dress normal. Act normal. Follow commands. Show up exactly on time or maybe even a few minutes early and don’t be in a rush to leave. Do more than you are asked to do.

    You know Asperger’s are famous for obsessing on things. Look at your life. Is there anything you are doing which a normal, average person would not be doing? STOP IT! If you don’t stop it, won’t stop it, don’t go whining in a blog about how miserable your life is; your life is what you make it. You wrote a coherent piece, you are capable of rational thought. Use your intelligence to watch other people and act like them. When you find something which might lead to a career, that’s the time to take an obsessive interest in something, and become an expert in it. I’ve got bad news for you though, it might take WORK! A LOT of WORK! For one project I had to learn a foreign language and learn to type in Cyrillic. It was not magic, it was WORK.

    Go to the library and check out a book on etiquette, and then freakin’ live it. Quit picking your nose, scratching your crotch and forgetting to shower and put on deodorant. Get your hair cut and keep it combed.

    Look people in the eye when you talk to them. If you act like a loser, don’t expect to get dates; you wouldn’t want to date a loser either. Don’t want to be a loser? Then work at success, and when you get there, you won’t look like a loser anymore.

    I consider myself a success, though it has not come without some failures along the way. I managed to work my way up to success. Buying that fist new car with your own money helps with the ego too. I managed to find a wife and have kids. I had to prove I could be faithful, respectful, kind, caring, interested, and oh, carry the etiquette into the bedroom too. When I contrast which of my Aspie siblings and children are successes versus which are failures, attitude and morality seem to be the characteristics most predictive of success or failure. Based on my experiences I honestly doubt anything I write here will make any difference in your life because if you have the wrong attitude you are just going to blow this off, think you are smarter than me and continue in your rut, a rut you take comfort in by nature of its familiarity, its predictability. You want things to change in your life, you want to score, but you wait like it will just drop into your life. Well you can’t win the lottery if you haven’t bought a ticket.

  6. Heidi says:

    I’m sorry that I have no real help to offer. My child was recently diagnosed with Asberger’s, so that is my only qualification for my answer to you. I love her with all of my heart and believe that she is a special and unique individual. I hope that you can believe that about yourself, and at least know that someone, somewhere else believes that about you as well. Go after your dream of writing and believe in yourself, even if no one else does. keep learning, trying, moving forward, even when it feels hopeless. Find something that makes you laugh, or even smile and do it every day.

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