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.
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?