Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Coming To Grips With The Fact That I've Got Some Fundamental Problems Because I'm Autistic

In 2007, at the age of 45, I was first diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a diagnosis since confirmed by several other diagnosticians. Since 2007 I have begun to learn a little bit about this condition, and I have taken to referring to myself as autistic, not Asperger, because I believe that Asperger's is autism. Some people agree, some do not. Almost all would agree that Asperger's is on what is called the autistic spectrum.

Back in 2007 I did not really yet know how autism is generally perceived. To give you an example of how out of touch I was with the popular images of autism, after 2007 I actually applied for a few jobs by telling the hirers that I was autistic, assuming that they would take that to mean that I was quirky, but also an awesome genius who could do great things for their company or organization. And I don't think I was wrong in seeing myself as a quirky genius. But I know now that many people don't define "autistic" anywhere near that way. The job applications turned out to be extremely awkward and embarrassing, as I got a glimpse the huge difference between how I saw myself and how other people typically saw me if I wasn't trying hard to hide how I really am and blend in.

But just a glimpse, I think, because the difficulty in understanding goes both ways. In some basic ways, I can't understand most people. Never have been able to. I've guessed my way through encounters with other people, and I continue to do so.

I saw my neurological condition, and I still do, as a difference, a mutation away from the usual homo sapien neurology, resulting in some unusual abilities and some weaknesses compared to the average human mind, but that some of these weaknesses are just a matter of the two groups, neurologically typical people and autistic people, not understanding each other, and that greater understanding will lead to great improvements in the relationships between the groups.

But whether I'm right or wrong to be optimistic about great improvements coming due to neurologically-typical people understanding autistic people better and vice-versa, I can't deny that many great misunderstandings remain.

So whether you choose to look at autism as a disability or a disease (I don't), or as a difference from the typical brain which is not necessarily bad in and of itself (that's how I see it), the fact remains that, at least at the present time, it is often very difficult for autistic people to understand and deal with the majority of people, and it is often very difficult for that majority to understand and deal with us.

So. I hope I didn't offend any autistic people or relatives or friends of autistic people with the headline of this post. I'm not saying that there's necessarily anything wrong with me, I'm not saying I'm disabled in every sense of that term. I definitely do not want to be "cured." I definitely DO want the extraordinary abilities of autistic people to be more broadly recognized and appreciated. I think that some things have improved in the lives of autistic people in the past few decades, because of greater understanding on both sides, and I think that future improvements may well be immense.

But in the meantime, just the fact that I have this one big difference, a big difference and still poorly-understood, in the way my brain is put together, from 99% of the general population -- that is, at least for the present, a disability, in the sense that it presents me with obstacles, and presents others with obstacles if they have to deal with me. It's hard for us to understand each other. That's a big obstacle. Huge.

It's hard for me to admit that I constantly face these obstacles. I've really spent my whole life denying it. But I just can't deny it any more. And I'm sorry if it offends some other people, because they think I'm presenting a negative image of autism. But I have to, as Zimmy says, try my best to be just like I am.

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