exploring the awesome in autism



I was diagnosed with Asperger's in May of 2012, after a lifetime of struggle, in what has become a pivotal life event. Perhaps the best way to explain my life prior is in three parts:

I Assumed I Was Normal
I mean, I didn't feel normal, or fit in, or reciprocate my mother's embrace as an infant, or have a single friend until middle school, and I've spent 80% of my adult life since age 16 entirely alone, but for all the doctors and batteries of tests and blood work and wires and at least a dozen different medications across much of my childhood, not a single answer was revealed to indicate I was anything but normal. Well, there was that one doctor who saw me for 10 whole minutes and then rushed out the door for vacation and in passing told my Mom I might be schizophrenic when I was older. Schizophrenia is a common misdiagnosis for Autism.

And Therefore Everyone Else Dealt With What I Dealt With
Visual, auditory, and tactile oversensitivity, literal black and white thinking, cluelessness to social graces, my back against a stone wall on the playground in elementary school with my hands over my eyes because it was so bright, an instant fight or flight anxiety response when a high pitched voice talks over the TV show I'm watching...

And Therefore I Was a Failure Because I Couldn't Cope As Well
I started speaking before my first birthday, was reading a few dozen words and doing basic math by age two, and tested a generous IQ during elementary school. Clearly it was a character defect. Perhaps I was defective. Inferior. Less...

To say the diagnosis was transformative and redemptive and life changing would be to devalue those words. Suddenly, instead of being a complete failure, I was remarkable successful in what I had been able to overcome and achieve. I read through Dr. Tony Attwood's "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome" and highlighted what felt like half the book. I learned about and recognized my own sensory issues for the first time, including auditory, visual, taste, and tactile. I learned about my weaknesses and was able to start learning how to become aware of and compensate for them. And I learned about my strengths and how I could better cater to them.

As I read through many other books and literature on Autism, however, I was discouraged to find so much negativity and fear and despair, use of the medical model, of being broken and needing to be fixed. To use the medical model to describe Autism is wholly incorrect. There is nothing broken. Quite frankly, to even consider fixing (read: curing) Autism seems tantamount to trying to cure being left-handed, or musical talent, or vision. To be clear, we should not dismiss the unique struggles that Autism can present to individuals and their support systems, but as Temple Grandin says, we are "different, not less", and through a better neurological understanding of Autism, a lot of those struggles can be mitigated or lessened very early. The strengths, on the other hand, are extraordinary: high intelligence, intense focus, attention to detail, creative out-of-the-box problem solving skills, honesty, and loyalty; strengths that, given a proper support system and perhaps a little extra help, can far outplay any weakness.

To tie this all together I want to tell you about Albert Einstein. I recently read "Einstein: His Life and Universe" by Walter Isaacson. In it, the author tells of Einstein's move to America and of his work at Princeton University. What the author leaves out is that Einstein used to go for walks and get so lost in thought that he wouldn't be able to find his way home. It was a bit of humor in Princeton that one might have to help Einstein, one of the most highly regarded intellectuals of his time, find his way. Eventually, Princeton University hired an assistant for Professor Einstein to act as a handler of sorts. When Einstein would walk into a store, grab a pad of paper and a writing instrument and mindlessly walk out while jotting notes, his assistant would handle the bill at the register. Ultimately, if Einstein needed a little extra support in order for him to do the monumental work he did, I dare say no one would question giving it to him, and no one would talk of curing him. The same is true for all individuals on the Autism Spectrum.

Through this blog, it is my hope to convey the strengths and hope and possibility and awesomeness that is Autism.