Recently a friend steered me to a Facebook page with the title ASPERGER SYNDROME AWARENESS. Of course I was already aware of Asperger Syndrome, but this site spelled out many things very clearly. I found it fascinating.
It’s a place where Aspies and their friends and relatives can ask questions, find answers and other information, or simply post comments. New material is added every day. Along with the posts are “posters” that are informative and in many cases inspirational.
The posters offer such messages as: Awareness leads to understanding Understanding leads to acceptance Keep moving forward. That was by Stuart Duncan.
Another was a quotation from Dr. Temple Grandin: “Different . . . not less.” She should know.
And from Autism Spectrum Disorder: “I thought I would have to teach my child about the world. It turns out I have to teach the world about my child.” How true.
Another poster reads: “Autism: Don’t assume you know what it is because it probably isn’t what you think.”
Yet another enumerates “10 Amazing Life Lessons You Can Learn from Albert Einstein.” I won’t list them here but one of them had to do with Focus. It is well known that Aspies have an extraordinary ability to focus on details that aren’t apparent to other people. This makes them especially valuable for handling certain types of endeavor.
According to this site, the best Asperger book ever is THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO ASPERGER SYNDROME by Tony Atwood. He is perhaps the world’s most renowned expert on Asperger’s.
Another highly recommended read is RAISING MARTIANS FROM CRASH-LANDING TO LEAVING HOME: HOW TO HELP A CHILD WITH ASPERGER’S SYNDROME OR HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISM by John Muggleton.
If the title seems cute and fanciful, it is an honest reflection of how truly different Aspies are from “regular” persons, or NTs (neurotypicals). Many people have trouble grasping the depth of that difference. Since Aspies look like everyone else, people expect them to be like everyone else and to understand how the rest of us think. That’s too much to ask. An Aspie can’t put himself in your shoes any more than you can put yourself in his.
The second time I looked at that site, someone had posted a video that tried to show the difference between Aspies and others. The first half of it was a walk down the sidewalk by a neurotypical. With buildings on one side and parked cars on the other, the scenery was so ordinary that one didn’t even think about it.
Then suddenly we transition to how an Aspie would experience the same walk. The first thing you notice is the intense brightness. That’s because many Aspies are sensitive to light. It’s part of their sensory overload. That overload goes for other senses as well, such as smells and loud noises. The video gives us a jumble of sounds all mushed together. An Aspie has trouble filtering out what’s relevant, and can be quite overwhelmed by the cacophony.
And don’t forget fluorescent lights. Most neurotypicals aren’t even aware that they flicker. For many Aspies, that flickering can be painful. Another thing the video points out is all the little details, such as a discarded cigarette butt, that can prove distracting to an Aspie, but which an NT wouldn’t notice.
Some of the posts ask for, or offer, help with frequent Aspie problems, especially the social ones. A parent wrote about what a joy her two daughters are, adding, “But like many Aspies [they] struggle with friendships.”
Another reads: “I have Asperger’s and it’s tough . . . I have trouble picking up on social cues and I take things very personally, whenever I go to parties. I feel like I don’t belong. If I didn’t have Asperger’s I wouldn’t be the great drummer that I am, but I could pick up social cues and start actually getting a girlfriend. With Asperger’s I’m a great musician but lousy at parties.”
And yet another: “I love this page and support it wholeheartedly. I have a brother with autism and the ignorance surrounding autism is astounding.”
That ignorance can cause huge problems. Aspies simply aren’t what other people expect them to be. As I began this blog, I referred to several Aspies who were fired from their jobs because they made other people “uncomfortable.” They’re just different. Those differences can often cause them to be bullied. In my novel TWENTY MINUTES LATE and its sequels, the Aspie hero, Ben Canfield, still bears scars on his arm from when he was pushed off his bike by bullies at the age of 11. Although fiction, that is not far-fetched.
In past posts I’ve mentioned Jesse Saperstein, the author of ATYPICAL: LIFE WITH ASPERGER’S IN 20⅓ CHAPTERS. Jesse says that, growing up, he was bullied all the time. Along with being told he would never amount to anything, would never have a girlfriend or be accepted and respected, he was informed that whatever abuse he suffered was self-inflicted.
According to statistics, 94% of children with a diagnosis of Asperger’s have, at one time or another, or in some cases all the time, faced bullying. Jesse talks about that in a video he made in which he discusses his own experience of being different from the norm. “People were scared of me,” he says. Indeed, people tend to be afraid of those who are different from what they’re used to. That reaction is known as xenophobia.
The video Jesse made is titled FREE-FALLING TO END BULLYING IN 2012. It’s on YouTube. While it probably didn’t end bullying completely—people do enjoy the sense of power they get from tormenting others—it’s a masterful film. Several autistic people are interviewed about their experience with bullies. One of them is Dr. Temple Grandin who asserts that “high school was absolutely the worst part of my life.”
Jesse contrasts the powerlessness of being bullied with the freedom of flying that comes from skydiving. He and several others jump out of a plane and float to earth. That freedom is symbolic of how life could and should be lived if only other people would cease their persecution.