Women with Aspergers’ syndrome — a strange and wonderful phenomenon

I have Aspergers’ syndrome. I’m perfectly fine, thank you for asking. And please don’t be shocked or offended if I haven’t told you. It’s not the first thing I would usually blurt out to people upon meeting them for the first time (unless I felt that I was behaving really weird that day — now you know, guys). At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s something to be very hush-hush about. It’s not something I can change with a quick trip to the hospital. Then again, it’s not something that I want to drop into every single conversation that I have with every single living being on this planet — who wants to be solely known as ‘the girl with autism’ anyway? It’s a mass of contradictions, I know.

Here is a list of common reactions of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. when I inform them that I have Aspergers’:

a) ‘Really? Oh, OK’

b) ‘We didn’t know!’

c) ‘I thought you were just quirky’

d) ‘Oh no you don’t, don’t be silly’

Up until recently, women didn’t fit the bill of what is generally considered to be AS (I have problems myself describing it. I guess a good way of breaking down what it actually comprises, or mostly even, is here). I’m not saying that women and girls don’t share all of those characteristics, but they are generally less noticeable than they are in men and boys. For example, those special interests. Some of them are pretty baffling. Luke Jackson talks about his obsession with string and batteries as a child in his book Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome — of course, he outgrew that, but all the same, these special interests remain rather specialist. An article in Newsweek put it better than I ever could:

‘… the things most boys get obsessed with are difficult to shrug off as quirky. Imagine, for example, a 7-year-old boy with encyclopedic knowledge of vacuum cleaners or oscillating fans but almost no friends or playmates’ (Said article is here, and well worth a read).

It has only been in recent years that there has been research conducted on women and girls, and so, for a long time, the template for diagnosing AS usually lay in the characteristics manifesting themselves in men and boys. Which can be hardly be helpful. In the case of special interests, in girls they are said to usually extend to cute animals and classic literature. Which I suppose is really no surprise to anyone. But in this climate of Cute Overload, lolcats, and people generally going to college to get a degree and stuff, this is not classified as ‘weird’ — unless you have sat near me while I have rifled through pictures of cute puppies or kittens on Google (and for that, I profusely apologise). Also, there is a book called All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome and I can tell you right now that it is possibly the best book EVER.

alas, to prove my point, I have to include some photographic evidence. OH SWEET JESUS THE CUTENESS. Look at him. Seriously!

In the case of classic literature, I’ve had to read tons of it over the past four years! I guess that it is here that going into academia has its benefits. Getting paid to obsess over that kind of thing, when you consider it, is really a nerd’s dream.

But there’s one thing that I find lacking in anything I read about women with Aspergers’, or indeed in writings about anyone with autism at all. Intervention is a big help, especially at an early age and if it is very, very severe (I can speak from experience), but I don’t think that there is much written about acceptance, or pride — and that’s just as important too (there are exceptions — Temple Grandin has made massive successes for herself). For that, I refer you back to that list from earlier. Have a look at the answer under d). It is possibly the most insulting response that I can think of. Not to get on my soap box or anything, but it just implies that AS is worse than it actually is.  In saying that, I don’t want to dismiss others who may have had problems and of course the problems I myself have had, but if I must sound corny, Aspergers’ has played a part in who I am. If that was taken away from me, I don’t know what person I would be as a result, and to be honest, I don’t want to know. To quote a friend of mine (whose reaction, I guess, falls under the a) category), ‘that’s not a disability’.

I didn’t want this to be an exercise in self-pity. That’s not the way forward. Besides, I can think of one advantage of having Aspergers’ syndrome. Sherlock Holmes is largely disputed to have had it. Ergo, by that logic, I must clearly be Sherlock Holmes.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

In which our heroine finishes her undergraduate degree, discovers the beauty of Sherlock, and reflects on Seth Cohen.

As of eleven o’clock on Monday 14th May, I handed up my last pile of written work, and thus completed my undergraduate degree.

Woo, I’m a graduand, funtimes, c’est fini, etc. It’s a strange feeling to get used to, one I’ve tried to explain in terms of one having a cup of tea. Usually, one has a cup of peppermint in the midst of a study break with a friend amid the woes of an essay due this week, an essay due the week after, and oh wait, haven’t you forgot that presentation in between all of that? (Trust me, there have been PLENTY of that. And tea, to alleviate said woes). Now, the great thing about being finished is Not Just All The Tea, but You Can Have The Tea If You Like, When You Like, And As Long As You Want (basically, not having to scurry back to the library afterwards). If you’re not a final year student, you’ll see what I mean by at least… the middle of October. And sleep. Cherished, long-sought for, long neglected, beautiful sleep. Oh my, the sleep is not to be sniffed at. And then there is the Reading For Pleasure:

this is what I’m currently reading. Yer man’s mode of seduction is… ‘interesting’ to say the least

So now I’ve talked about undergraduate freedom in terms of tea, books, and sleep. But also, this has been after four years knocking about the same town with the same people (I don’t mean this in a derogative sense), and of course it’s hard to encapsulate those years into one brief sentence. And after these four years, whether they are staying in Galway, moving to somewhere else in Ireland or indeed abroad, everyone is going their separate ways very, very soon. That hasn’t sunk in just yet.

But in the face of such… things, there is SHERLOCK. Huzzah for Sherlock. Laugh at my inability to keep up with television trends all you want (I have never watched The Wire nor Boardwalk Empire, have never watched an episode of The West Wing and only one or two of Mad Men and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the many memes and references to Game of Thrones that are EVERYWHERE on Facebook go over my head. It seems the only commitment I make is to a man in a flying blue box), but watching the first and second episodes over the past two weeks has me converted.

yes, Sherlock warrants a paragraph. look, he even plays the violin for flip’s sake

Speaking of television, does anyone remember The OC? I look back on it now as a pretty formative element of my generation’s teenage years, back when we had all the boxsets, the numerous compilation albums (it was a Big Deal that a band got onto the show), the endless ‘Ryan-Seth-isn’t Luke a bit horseyfaced’ debates. As far as I remember, the first two seasons were fantastic before dipping in quality (WHY DID THEY KILL JOHNNY HARPER etc. I’m sorry, that was more devastating than when they killed off Marissa. Maybe it was because I had switched off by then). Now that I think of it, rather than lusting after Seth Cohen, I more so wanted to be him. The fellow was in high school, listened to decent music, read comics, and was considered a ‘nerd’ by everyone around him — and he still got all the ladies. Lucky sod. That is, when he and his friends weren’t all emoting to Coldplay or Phantom Planet or Bell x1 or impassively swaying to The Killers who have somehow been booked to play in their local nightspot.

Some have all the luck, or if you’re Seth’s dad, have all the amazing eyebrows.

Five things to do, or not to do, when you’re a final year student.

Last week I sat my final undergraduate exam ever. It was a Wednesday morning one, at 9.30am. The knowledge (and of course, the wonderful feeling that that knowledge provides) that I will never have to get up at 6am to be at an exam centre for 7am (yes, and?) is quite liberating, even more so when you realise that your workload is slowly trickling down, little by little, until the last essay is handed up or the last exam is completed. A day after that exam was finished, someone reminded me that I was ‘nearly a graduand’. A graduand! That’s mad Ted. Anyway, that thought is quite hard to shake, especially more so since (as of next year anyway) I won’t be remaining in Galway for postgraduate study. So it’s caused me to look back at this year a bit (not the entire four years, we’d be here all night), and the dos and don’ts. Final year is demanding at best, but we’re all still here… well, what’s left of us anyway. I’m missing a limb somewhere.

1. Accept the fact that you may not have a life this year, or the life you had in previous years at college. Rehearse the following: ‘I can’t, I’ve got work / reading to do for English / two History essays to write for Monday / etc’. Yes, your friends from the years below may have some degree of freedom and you may envy them, but suck it up, go to the library, and finish reading your copy of Belinda. Which is very long and which you need to read for next Tuesday. It is a good book, I promise.

2. Pretty ‘duhnoduh’, but actually go to your lectures and tutorials. I’m serious. I mean, where else are you going to learn about demonic lesbians or Mick Jagger in drag?

well, actually you can learn about it RIGHT HERE. This is a very educational website, everyone

3. Sort out your postgrad stuff early. I mean start-in-September early. Don’t be like the rest of us and leave it till later. If you want to do a MA in Kyle MacLachlan Studies at the University of PAC-MAN next year, get your personal statements, transcripts, references, etc. in gear as soon as you can. Talk to the lecturers Who Actually Like You (would you believe it, they are actually human beings. No shit!) as they will actually try to help you across the myriad path.  It helps if one of your references is Kyle MacLachlan himself, so I hear.

‘you know, this is… excuse me… a damn fine personal statement’

4. At some stage in the year, you will have to do some form of a thesis or dissertation for one or two of your subjects. Sometimes it’s obligatory, sometimes it’s not. And of course, you will wonder whether your topic is very limited in terms of interest. You will enter into a phase of wondering whether people really want to hear about the implications of Mark Rylance playing two characters at the same time on the Globe stage in 2001. Not so — headless corpses and gods descending down on golden eagles always seem to hold some appeal with people. When you can explain the plot of Cymbeline (albeit with many digressions) to a LSE graduate student on a plane from Newark to Heathrow without once referring to the diagram you drew up for yourself at the start of the semester because you yourself couldn’t remember all of it, you may be on to something. The lesson is: believe in yourself?

5. Above all things, keep your head. This year is going to be one of the most busiest and stressful years of your life, but you will get through it. Just put in the work, and at least get through first semester (trust me, that’s the hardest part). Besides, Smokey’s is always there just in case you need the damn fine coffee.

Anything I’ve possibly missed out? (in before the ubiquitous ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, that is.)