Aspergers in Year 56 and Counting
There is a series of children's books that, many years ago, I read to my young daughter about a woman named Amelia Bedelia. The central theme is the hilarious way in which Amelia constantly misunderstands the instructions given to her by her employers. She takes everything so literally that when she is told for example to “dust the furniture” she actually sprinkles dusting powder around the house. When she is told to “dress the chicken” she proceeds to put clothes on it. This quirky characteristic is a subtle sign that she may be autistic. It makes you laugh even though Amelia often gets fired. She is so good natured about everything that you don’t let yourselves feel too sorry for her. In real life situations a slightly autistic person like Amelia may not be so easy to sympathize with. I recently discovered, at fifty-three years old, that I too live with a mild form of autism called “Asperger’s Syndrome.”My first impulse to search cyberspace for some information about Asperger’s Syndrome came around my 53rd birthday during the summer of 2010. Jesse Saperstein was promoting his book, “Atypical: My life with Asperger’s in 22 1/3 chapters.” As he described events in his life and how autism played into his inability to cope with the world in the way that "neuro-typicals" do, I recognized that his story did not sound unusual to me at all. In fact he sounded like one of the few normal people that I had ever heard speak about how hard it is to “fit in” with the strange beings that populate this planet. When I searched the terms “Asperger’s in adults” I found page after page that described my life experiences in astounding detail. Everything from my intense interest in astronomy as a child through my love of photography and videography as an adult might be attributed to my being a “visual thinker.” I began to wonder. Was I was a wiz at geometry as a teenager for the same reason that I had such difficulty with algebra? Strong "visual thinking" is one characteristic of one type of mild autism and it seemed to apply to me. Angles and shapes can be “pictured” in my mind but numbers and variables outside of any concrete context make no sense to me.
Next I considered my super-literal way of thinking. I had been suffering through the worst year of my life that summer and I was having real trouble communicating with absolutely everyone in my world. I was sick and alone, without family or friend except for the brief company of strangers who walked their dogs past my apartment door. Upon reading the briefest of descriptions about the problems associated with "too literal" thinking, it dawned on me: "Holy crap! Maybe I'm Amelia Bedelia!" A huge part of my inability to successfully interact with the people in my life had been directly related to my insistence that everything that anyone had ever said to me was to be taken literally. I considered the possibility that all communication between myself and the world around me had broken down because we had not been literally speaking the same language!
I read on down the list of Asperger's characteristics:
~...narrowly focused special interests....check!
~...extreme social anxiety that interferes with normal interactions....check!
~...difficulty understanding how to have friends or be part of a group....check!
~...inability to maintain eye-contact in close conversation....check!
~...poor fine motor skills and sloppy hand-writing....check!
~...inability to read the unspoken part of a conversation...what the hell is that?
It became clear that I was on to something. After a couple of months of soul-searching and researching, I went to a local psychotherapist for counseling. I received her diagnosis of "right in the middle of the range that is considered to be Asperger's" on my seventh visit to her office. For the first time in my fifty-four years I began to understand why I have always felt that there is something wrong with everybody in this crazy world and why they must perceive that there is something wrong with me. I am beginning to understand why so many seemingly simple things in life have been so difficult for me. Understanding my autism has given me the confidence that I needed to communicate to the outside world about what goes on inside my head. It’s also given me the freedom to be myself without worrying about how others might try to define me. For those who care to know who I really am, this blog is my attempt to tell you.