Asperger Syndrome Experiences from a Teenage Perspective
I would like to extend a welcome to all readers of this post. I will begin with a description of how Asperger Syndrome has affected my life, which I hope will be of help to both those with and without AS (abbreviation for Asperger Syndrome), and then broaden out to a more general view of the condition. If you find the personal section of this to be boring :-), everything is in order, so the end contains the more general view. I welcome all comments to the following e-mail address: AS4891@netscape.net
I am an adolescent male who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of twelve, when I was enrolled in the seventh grade. Throughout grade school, junior high, and into high school, I could easily tell that I didn’t quite fit in. 6th grade, the first year of junior high, was the toughest of the years. The first year of high school was also a considerable challenge, so I believe that each step up on the social ladder brought a few more complicating variables into play. I began seeing a child psychologist after my behaviors were observed around the time of 3rd or 4th grade. After briefly taking part in a peer group run by that psychologist and having my interactions observed, I was referred to a second doctor, whom I saw for approximately a year, and was then referred to a third doctor who specialized in the specific area of concern that was thought to be relevant to my situation. Shortly after the referral to this doctor, a diagnosis was made.
I can still vividly remember the day I was told that I have Asperger Syndrome.
Before going on, I think it is necessary to clarify the meaning of another abbreviation I will use frequently. That abbreviation is “NT” and stands for “neurotypical.” It will be loosely used to describe anyone without AS, although I am aware that many with other disorders may not be classified as neurotypical. If I were to get philosophical, I could also make a case that “no one is neurotypical”, but in this post, I am using the abbreviation “NT” in the same ways it is used by professionals.
I can still vividly remember the day I was told that I have Asperger Syndrome. The realization was somewhat of a fascination and somewhat of a troubling thing, as many people with AS can likely attest to. However, although nothing in the way of a cure exists, a diagnosis often does establish a sense of direction that may have previously been lacking. The difficult thing is to figure out where to go in this direction, because in a sense, the roads may go out farther and farther, but all still do circle back to their origin (i.e.—AS is permanent).
To avoid redundancy, I will assume that readers know about the basic conditions and characteristics of AS, as they are described fully on the OASIS homepage at O.A.S.I.S. www.aspergersyndrome.org and in numerous links. On with the post—
My personality speaks of many of the traditional attributes of someone with AS. I am a naturally quiet and introverted person, with the normal social skills deficiency and awkwardness of someone with AS. I can be and am relatively outgoing in situations in which I am very comfortable. Examples of these situations include small group situations and situations where I am among well-known friends. In new or formal situations, my social awkwardness usually manifests itself the most, and the same is true for large-scale situations, especially parties, dances, etc. Of course, it is true that very few if any people always feel completely sure of themselves socially. Everyone experiences awkwardness to a point. However, AS involves a lack of inborn social skills, and the difference is often hard to explain, but paradoxically is still very clear-cut.
With time, I have been able to learn a lot of social skills, mostly by copying those of others. To continue the theme of the last paragraph, many people “copy” behavior of their friends to some extent or another, but a difference still exists between how this is sometimes done by people with AS and similar disorders and how it is done by others.
Trying to fit in socially...is draining, discouraging, angering, and depressing.
The skills I learned were mostly by “rote” and I would memorize many expressions and “cool and timely sayings” for future use, because they did not and do not come naturally. Sometimes, I would consequently find myself using the wrong social inputs in the wrong situation. As time has progressed more, this has begun to happen less often. I have found myself in the middle of a great group of friends over the course of the past year; however, I still find myself feeling awkward at times, and often cannot keep up with group joking and laughter, although sometimes I really do surprise myself with how well I am able to do so. Frequently, if I am not able to keep up with the group, I will find myself wandering off into my own internal world. Although I often realize that I am doing this, I do not always do anything to stop it because I feel like I would not know where to go from there. In many ways, trying to fit in socially may be somewhat successful, but is draining, discouraging, angering, and depressing.
On the subject of depression, I was seeing my second doctor at the time when I began to experience feelings of sadness (this would have been while I was in 5th grade, prior to diagnosis) that were likely related to social problems but also seemed to be somewhat irrational and which affected me quite strongly. I told my doctor about them and was soon placed onto medication that I remained on for 4 years, until some time during the end of my freshman year of high school/beginning of sophomore year. As many know, people with AS, like people who have various other challenges, are at increased risk for depression. I went through the first of those times during that period in 5th grade, and I remained on the medication for those 4 years of time from 5th to 9th grade largely as a preventative measure. I have faced other instances of emotional difficulty as well, and these have had a wide range of severity.
I also have the classic AS characteristic of obsessive and repetitive thought patterns and interests. As a clarification, many people with AS are interested in parts of a whole or in extremely unusual things. My obsessive special interests have varied over time from 1—geographical jigsaw puzzles at the age of 2 (yes, 2) to 2—taking apart doorknobs to 3—designing houses and buildings on plain paper to 4—attempting to compose handwritten characters out of many very small dots just like printers do (work of which I was very proud) to 5—astronomy to 6—the Dewey Decimal System to 7—ant farms to 8—carbon paper to 9—magic tricks (a very frequently recurring interest) to 10—trains to 11—opening and closing elevator doors and elevator shafts and more. Some of those are more “normal” than others, but they all have the potential to be of interest to someone with AS. To an NT reading this, this all probably sounds extremely strange, but all I can say is that that was what interested me at any specific time, and this tendency towards unusual or obsessive interest is related to the neurological differences present in people with AS.
Unfortunately, people with AS are frequently subjected to bullying and teasing because they appear different and ” out of the loop.”
Many AS people are talented in certain unusual areas. I have found over time that I have a special skill, like many people with AS, in rote memorization and numerical applications. I can memorize dates, formulas, data, and phone numbers in unusually accurate detail and thus prefer math-related studies that utilize these skills. Speculation has been made that some people such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few, had AS, and although the vast majority of those of us with AS today, myself included, are not of that status, it is still an interesting statistic related to having unusual talents. However, I think it is safe to say that each of their unusual skills advanced just a little beyond the ability to memorize phone numbers 🙂
I am well aware that I have AS in a milder form than many. Unfortunately, people with AS are frequently subjected to bullying and teasing because they appear different and ” out of the loop.” I admit that I was forced to deal with a sizable share of that during school, with the junior high years being the worst. In addition, the first three years in general, but especially the first two, of high school brought some of the same treatment from older students. All in all, however, it could have been worse and unfortunately is for many. To speak from my own experience, examples of this treatment included teasing about social awkwardness itself, (e.g.—a junior high peer asks “You play baseball? What position? Left out”) teasing about introverted behaviors, (e.g.–“There he goes again, doing his homework during recess”) and general teasing and joking aimed at exploiting the recipient’s vulnerability. Before I describe examples of that, I think it is necessary to mention that as many who have read about AS know, gullibility is a frequent characteristic of those with AS. Possibly because of a tendency to think in an extremely ordered way, (which leads many to be talented in areas such as Mathematics) many people with AS will take everything at face value and either not understand a joke or understand it much later. People with AS seem to have little common sense at times, and often will misinterpret not only jokes but typical things people say that are not “black and white.” Most NTs do not even realize that some of the things they say are not “black and white.” So, teasing in general, such as being made fun of in a way that takes time to understand, was not uncommon in my own experience for many years. A very simple example of something close to this would entail the following: Suppose a chess player with AS is told a cruel joke involving something having to do with chess. The person or persons who tell the joke immediately burst out laughing, and an upset and confused look prevails on thace of the person with AS. When and if the joke is understood, little relief comes, because the AS person’s facial expressions usually indicate that the joke has been understood, and often the laughter on the other end only worsens as a result. In this case, the person or persons doing the teasing most likely did not think to do it specifically because “that kid is gullible,” but instead most people with AS just create a general impression of being easy targets, as shown by an example like this. It is a difficult task to create a completely friendly school environment, but an effort that is very necessary.
Asperger Syndrome is not a sentence.
It is more like a “description.”
Like everyone, people with AS truly do have their own internal worlds and lives. These worlds are extremely rich and unusual, but fascinating to the people with AS. Many genuinely and sorely want for others to come into these worlds, but do not know how to go about making that happen or are afraid to take the risk.
A resulting frustration is not at all uncommon and a negative view of AS as a whole often follows. In addition, it is very easy to think of past failures and consider them an emotional obstacle in the present. No “cure” for AS exists. It is a neurological condition and regardless of the progress made and the skills learned, the same basic differences will exist.
What follows is directed in part to people with AS and in part to those without it, so I encourage ALL readers of this post to read it.
Asperger Syndrome is not a sentence. It is more like a “description.” AS is not present in its recipients without reason. Although the reason is not totally known to anyone, it does exist. It is important for people with AS to enjoy the experience of themselves. People with AS need to find support from those who are able to give it best. Whether this includes family, friends, teachers, or others with AS, support is a huge help. Every person in this world has a unique role that needs to be found and that can be found. My AS is somehow necessary for my role to be carried to completion, as is every other part of my personality and every part of everyone else’s personality, AS or NT. Regardless of demands for conformity, everyone needs to be his or her own person. We were established to fill a role by being like OURSELVES. People are largely intended to interact with, support, and enrich one another, including those with and without AS. AS needs to be here. Down Syndrome needs to be here, blindness needs to be here, deafness needs to be here, and EVERYTHING needs to be here. Without meaning to sound like a teenage preacher, I do feel very strongly that the above is true.
AS is not as much a “syndrome” as it is an irremovable part of a person. Imagine placing a layer of peanut butter on top of a piece of bread, and then a layer of jelly on top of that, and then another layer of peanut butter. The layer of jelly is analogous to a person’s Asperger Syndrome. An attempt to remove the layer of jelly smoothly would prove to be impossible, and if the jelly were removed, the piece of bread would be left looking completely different afterwards because a great amount, possibly all, of the peanut butter would have to removed as well. The sandwich may be more traditional without the jelly, and on some days, its eater may not be in the mood for the jelly, but acceptance of the jelly’s presence can go a long way.