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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The upside of living with Asperger's

The upside of living with Asperger's

Those, like me, who have Asperger's syndrome may struggle with daily interactions – but we find solace in our passions

By Yousif Nur, Guardian - Comment is free, Sunday 16 January 2011 12.00 GMT

'Music is my passion/obsession/vice. I find solace in the words of Morrissey'. Photograph: Louise Wilson/Getty Images

At a very early age I knew I was somehow different from the others. An unexplainable difference in behaviour, idiosyncrasies and just having bags more energy than other toddlers. Couple that with numerous trips to different psychiatrists asking why I had frequent tantrums and crying fits, and was very antisocial with other schoolkids. Something was mostly definitely wrong with me. My parents were unnerved by it. It was not so much that I had a problem with myself but, rather, a question mark tattooed on my forehead. I was lost in a limbo of myself. And so it went on for a number of years.

Then an epiphany. It was around 14 or 15 that I read about the symptoms of an autism-related condition called Asperger's syndrome – and suddenly I understood. It affects about one in 300 people (mostly but not exclusively male) in the UK, according to the NHS. Some of the traits include difficulty in maintaining eye contact, unusual patterns of speech in conversation, an inability to interact with other people and often failing to read body language. There's no "cure", but training to cope with the outside world is required. Finally, I had some clarity on just why I felt as though I lived in a bubble throughout my adolescence. Now it made sense why I needed the extra learning support, being often taken out of lessons and into one-on-one tutoring.

But I was also at a crossroads. Should I accept my condition, though relatively untreatable and incurable? Or should I spend the rest of my teens and most of my adult life locked away in isolation listening ad nauseam to The Smiths' Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now? Well, I did a little of both ... OK, maybe most of the latter.

Then there's the small matter of rules of engagement with the opposite sex. Confidence is a stumbling block that for many, including myself, is an obstacle that is often too difficult to jump over. Of course, most teenagers go through a stage like that, but for me it was abnormally intense. I recall an incident as a 17-year-old at a bus stop with a friend, being checked out by a couple of girls, to which they turned a corner and said audibly "I don't like his face". Most people would get over that pretty quickly, but I don't think I left my room for four days straight, save for showers. My confidence had been shot.

This isn't to say that we're completely incapable of being intimately involved or being in relationships. Though admittedly, it's more difficult for us than most. Our social interaction skills aren't perhaps as strong as anyone else's, though that's not to say that we're cripplingly uncaring, po-faced or even indifferent, but to put it simply, it's the thought of intimacy and sharing that intimidates. In contrast, as far as love goes, many of those diagnosed can go on to have happy and sustainable relationships.

There has been talk among researchers that Asperger's syndrome, in terms medical approaches, can perhaps be seen as a different cognitive style rather than as a disability – much in the same way that homosexuality was once regarded as an illness but then demedicalised. Personally I'm a little dubious. Homosexuality is widely accepted tacitly and people are much more accepting of it than Asperger's, because they have so little experience or knowledge of the latter.

Employers could also go a long way in acknowledging Asperger's. Many temp jobs that I've had in the recent past have been terminated in a short space of time owing to my looking as though I'd rather be elsewhere than at my desk. On the flipside, we are perhaps not as able as others at reading body language or certain facial expressions.

But this isn't to say we should be spoken to in a condescending or pitying manner. Maybe we ought to develop a thicker skin if we are to swim gracefully in the workplace rather than sink without the support we need. That's easier said than done for us, though: criticism, however constructive, is often taken to heart. Much more awareness is needed by everyone. We're not asking for pity, just understanding and acknowledgment.

For all the talk of Asperger's being an albatross hanging around our necks, it's not all bad. Why do I say that? Because of our tendency to care passionately, even obsessively, about the things we love dearly. Not wanting to be bound by the rules of society, we may be seen as unique and original.

We can use our talents in an environment where we often achieve, if not excel, in certain fields. Music is my passion/obsession/vice. I find solace in the words of Morrissey and Jeff Buckley and, if anything, it confirms that people with Asperger's can prosper. And then some.

Related content...

What I'm really thinking: The person with Asperger's syndrome

'I feel more lonely than ever. Diagnosis has brought increased self-knowledge, but it doesn't make things easier'


Charles Cowling said...

This also in yesterday's Guardian:

jailhouselawyer said...

Charles: Thanks. I have now updated the post to include the link you provided.

Lee said...

Another link which just about explains everything:

Anonymous said...

Forgive my bluntness, I too am AS.
First, you have had a tough life, civilised society brings rules and regulation expectations and systems that are very hard to live with for some people. And when those people fail to comply with the social norms they are punished, and little consideration is given to the fact it is much harder if not impossible for them to abide by those rules.
I recognise your stubborn support of principles. But now I want to ask you to think deeper about principles. I think there are only a few principles that deserve such commitment.
Please turn your attention, your drive for justice, to legally challenging those that fail the young children of our country. Some of these neglected or abused kids will be prison inmates of the next generation.
I met you whilst waiting to take an exam at Hull uni. I didn't know about your conviction, but it wouldn't have mattered. I think you are proving that the abusers of power can't always get away with it. Jolly good! But now, have a think about where you can make the most difference for the most amount of people.
I suggest that's the neglected/abused kids. And also care and counselling for current prisoners. Don't really think the right to vote is going to make any difference to an election outcome, or to prisoners in a real way, just that it wins an irrelevant small battle. John, pick some battles now that will make BIG differences! Good luck