I learned that I had Aspergers’ syndrome when I was fourteen years of age. I have been consciously living with it for eight years now. No, scratch that – ‘living with it’ makes it sound like a disease, a living condition, a debilitation. And you know what? It really isn’t that. Of course, I’m not going to deny that it doesn’t present its own difficulties and problems. But if I were to lay all my problems and difficulties in life at the feet of my AS, would that be helpful? No. If I do badly in an essay or exam, is it because of my Aspergers’? No. If I fall out with someone, is it necessarily always my Aspergers’ fault? No, no, and no.
This perhaps pre-empts what I want to talk about here (which is almost a follow-up post to what I wrote last year on the topic) – what do you do when you are diagnosed with Aspergers’? How do you deal with what perhaps could be termed as another ‘label’? I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve been dealing with AS through trial and error over the past number of years – learning what to avoid, learning what to embrace about it, and generally learning more about myself, how I interact with other people, and how I live my life. This was, and still is, with the help of supportive and patient family members, friends, and other loved ones who have recognised the problems I have had and helped me to rise above them. But in saying ‘problems’, that is failing to recognise the positives of having AS. It’s not the end of the world if you get a diagnosis. It’s more so gaining a profound aspect of who you are, one that should never be dominant and yet one that should never be suppressed.
I’m learning more and more about Aspergers’ as each day passes. I talk to other people on the spectrum about our similar actions, our similar traits – and whereas before I would assume that the stranger things about me were somewhat unique to me, it’s really quite heartening to hear that others have the same quirks and the same habits as I do. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with such a visual memory, who gets stressed or very focused about particular things, and who absolutely can’t bear loud pubs at a certain time of night. Conversations like these are incredibly helpful to share survival tactics. That’s why it’s so important to talk to others. It can be easy to be lonely and to have your own thoughts for company, but that can be dangerous. (I’ve still yet to master that. Give me a few more years…)
But in general, talking about your Aspergers’ helps. Not just to others on the spectrum, but your friends, your family, people you know and care about. It’s not something that has to be talked about in hushed tones. That’s not to say that you should drop it into EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION THAT YOU HAVE WITH EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THIS PLANET. That leads me onto another thing: don’t let your AS define you who you are, and what you do. Not every person with Aspergers’ shares the exact same traits – recent research has shown how differently it manifests in men and women, and not everyone occupies the same spot on the autistic spectrum. Most importantly, don’t let AS become a crutch, and don’t let it become an excuse for who you are. Never, ever, let it get in the way of what you want to achieve. And never ever let it get in the way of establishing meaningful relationships with those who would be considered ‘neurotypical’ (NT). Around the internet, I’ve seen a cultivation of the AS vs NT attitude, which could be comparable to Us vs Them. It really isn’t healthy, and it’s quite judgemental. The majority of my neurotypical friends and family have been supportive, wonderful, and mindful – can I really sweep them under the NT brush? Of course, you’ll have days where you just want to be ‘normal’, but everyone, regardless if they are autistic or not, has their own problems.
Here is a final note. Just because you have discovered you have AS does not mean that the people in your life will stop loving you or treat you differently. They may take into account certain things that cause you difficulty or stress, and they will more than likely be really curious about the ins and outs of AS, but taking an interest is a much more positive action than ‘Oh no, you really don’t have it…’ Be proud. It makes you special. It’s part of who you are. Embrace it.