You’ve come across people like me before, I guarantee it. It was always the kid in your class who couldn’t find a partner, the one who could never hit a ball in Rounders and wrote like a two-year-old whilst you had mastered cursive aged seven. Most of the time that was just the ‘weird’ kid, and to avoid the hellish social suicide that can occur in Year 6 where you have nobody to share a Bunsen burner with, you’d leave them to it.
Or, in rare cases such as mine wherein, there is so much autism in the family that ‘neurotypicals’ are the outcasts, the girl would’ve been diagnosed. The girl would prefer the company of books, and would always have hair slightly more tangled than most, keeping her head down with her back to you. A quick glance may have led you to the assumption that it was just your average kid, but there was something about her: the way her eyes moved away, her monotonous voice and wooden body language which gave you the small inkling that there was something ‘different’. At this point, a freshly-trained teacher in a Next top reeking of coffee would’ve maybe pulled you aside, so very discreetly. At this point, will most likely hear the immortal line: “She suffers from ASP-ergers”.
Well, first of all, you’ve pronounced it wrong and secondly, last time I checked I was not in a position of inherent suffering. Obviously, being the brash drama queen I am I would definitely say I have suffered, and as for anybody, life has not always been easy. But I have always wanted to assert that I am NOT a victim or a leper, I’m just a human being. There are many diseases, illnesses and disabilities in the world that one can ‘suffer’ from Asperger’s Syndrome is not one of them. The way I explained it to my boyfriend this morning was like this: Neurotypicals go through a simple process of A to B in their brain, but my brain is more like A to Z to F to Y to 47 and finally to B. All my life, I have preferred going the scenic route in terms of friendships, confidence and development in general. Yes, it was probably a bit weird that at 12 I still had a penchant for dollies, and it was not until I was fourteen that I grew accustomed to regular faces that weren’t on a Jacqueline Wilson book during breaks at school. But I got there, didn’t I? And so have many other people like me, and so will many others in the future, whom I am sure are still off on a roundabout somewhere whilst their peers are nearing the next motorway.
So, I very much wish that this preceding term of ‘suffering’ before Asperger’s remained in the environment of well-meaning teachers, but it has also become an epidemic in everyday life. For a long time, I was scared to tell people about it, as their face would soften to that condescending grin you would give a play-school child and you would be constantly be asked if you are ‘alright’, since because I do not have a conventional mind, how can I possibly be content, knowing I will never truly conform? How devastating. Even with medical professionals, one of the many paediatricians I saw were blown away that I could get a half-hour bus every weekend to work, have friends as well as getting my A-Levels. At one point she even exclaimed ‘WOW!’ so I refrained from telling her I was in a relationship at the time as I’m sure that further proof I could function in society would make her spontaneously combust, and that would be pretty grim to witness.
As you have guessed by roughly 600 words in, what I am getting at is the misconceptions that come with the ‘Autist’ label. And there sure are a lot of them. First of all, why am I at university at 19? Somebody with such a condition should have either graduated with a PhD at 11 from MIT or something, or they are doomed to a life of disability benefit and sheltered housing without a qualification to their name. Or, if you’re super lucky, you’ll become a reclusive serial killer. But there is so much about people with Asperger’s that go beyond these narrow stereotypes. No doubt, there are people in the world who fit all those categories who happen to also have Aspergers’, but as stuck-up as I am about my grades, I am not the smartest in the world, certainly not the stupidest either and I have never been driven to kill people.
People can tell me something three times without me registering it, as in my head a scenario or thought process is played out in my peripheral and my social skills at that time are just somewhere else completely. I live part of my life in a ‘bubble’ away from the world, and being in that bubble so much of the time means I might miss out on key lessons and skills that come naturally to most. What I’m trying to get at is that people like me are not stupid, deficient or intentionally (most of the time) rude.
If you have someone in your life with Asperger’s, the best thing to do is just accept that they are going to do really weird stuff, as in their mind it is a completely logical and normal thing to do. A real driving point I have had towards self-acceptance is having others accept that I’m not exactly conventional, but that’s just Charlotte. So don’t pity others like me or see them as inferior: just see them as human beings.
By far, the biggest objection that I have towards the autism archetype is the view that people with my condition cannot feel emotions. This cannot be any further from the truth. I may not be as skilled as others at falsifying enthusiasm when my nan once again gives me beige slippers as a combined Christmas and birthday gift (I’m a New Year baby); but just because you can’t see what I feel on my face, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Quite the opposite, in fact. As someone who has been constantly fighting with every ounce of my energy against my anxiety, depression and OCD, I would love nothing more than to be a robotic Vulcan. If anything, I feel too much. One way Asperger’s is diagnosed with young children is through what is termed as a ‘meltdown’. This is something that happens when someone like me gets over-sensitized as all the noises and confrontation in the outside world feel like they are attacking the overflux of feelings that start pouring out from every inch of your body. You start shaking, close your eyes and your ears in order to escape the prison of your own body and existence. I can’t find the words most of the time to express how I feel, and that is a primary motivator for me to write. So if you combine this inability to communicate with the destructive and painful mindset that is an intrinsic part of my mental health problems, I’m sure you would be able to understand why this misconception is the most insulting of all.
The whole point of Asperger’s is that we exist outside conventional categories of human thought and behaviour, knowing only that we are ‘different’. We don’t need to be told this by professionals, we are well aware of it. And sometimes, it can be hard being different. I spent most of my life, especially in my teenage years where boys and popularity alluded me, wishing I was like ‘other girls’. But, I think that all changed when I decided to go full Holden Caulfield in Year 12 and just do my own thing regardless of what people think. I learnt that you don’t need to be validated by being ‘normal’ and ‘cured’ by what you are, you just need to learn to validate yourself for you. If you had asked me 5 years ago if I could get rid of my Asperger’s I would not hesitate to. But these days I am so grateful for the way my life has panned out regardless of these struggles; I’ve learnt to accept myself for all my weirdness which has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Now that I’ve embraced my identity in full I have never been happier, and I would encourage everyone, autism or not, to do the same.