But, all joking aside, I'm writing this because I believe that if I had gone to a psychologist as a child, I almost definitely would have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Don't believe me yet? Oh, you will. And it's pronounced AZ-perger's, by the way, but I'll call it AS for short.
I have a sweet, funny, unique, and brilliant nephew named Noah who has been diagnosed with AS. As you can imagine, it makes life a little harder on his parents, but you know what? I think it makes him more lovable and not a bit less cute. When I go to his house, he shows me his geode collection, his perfectly folded origami art, his medical textbooks, and anything else that excites his interest. About a year ago, I decided to read this Wikipedia article on Asperger syndrome. I thought maybe it would help me understand Noah a little better. Instead, it was like opening a window into my own mind.
I found myself saying "YES!" out loud and nodding my head in agreement as I read the article. It made me smile and laugh, and it even made me cry. I started reading my favorite parts to Jared and he laughed harder with every sentence. He asked, "Are you sure that's not just an article about you?" Not all the traits applied, and some disappeared as I grew up, but there are a whole lot that accurately described me. Let me share with you some excerpts that I can especially relate to (but beware, it's a long post):
- "Characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction."
When I was in elementary and middle school, I never seemed to know the right thing to say, how to say it, or how to fit in like everybody else.
- "It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Children with AS may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called "little professors."
Although I struggled socially, I was always very advanced in academics and language and I thought I knew everything about everything. I was always the kid who raised my hand to say, "Teacher, you spelled that wrong!"
- "Physical clumsiness [is] typical of the condition. . . . They may be poorly coordinated."
Maybe that's why I could never kick a ball straight . . . or hit a baseball . . . or learn a dance move. Only with a lot of practice can I become decent at any sport. Rock climbing is the only exception; I'm a born climber.
- "Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject."
My goodness, yes. When I develop an interest in a subject, it can get intense. Even now, if I care about something, I research it to death. Even if it's something as narrow as learning how to reupholster a wingback chair, for example. As a child, I took this intense preoccupation to a whole 'nother level . . .
- "Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of AS. Individuals with AS may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic."
How about the notebook I kept in fourth and fifth grade completely full of Latin animal names? I memorized the scientific names of animals obsessively. Once, I even got up in a talent show and had the audience ask me the scientific names of animals . . . one of my finer moments, I must say.
- "Although these special interests may change from time to time, they typically become more unusual and narrowly focused, and often dominate social interaction so much that the entire family may become immersed."
Yes. My whole family probably still remembers the scientific name of a cheetah, my favorite animal for several years. I honestly thought I had the monopoly on cheetah-loving. One of the questions I used to get most when I ran into people who knew me in elementary school was, "Do you still think you're a cheetah?"
- "Speech may be unusually fast, jerky or loud."
I can't tell you how many times I've been told I talk too fast. And too loud.
- "Fails to suppress internal thoughts."
Yep. My in-laws think I'm crazy. And inappropriate. And just plain weird. I think they secretly enjoy the element of surprise when I'm around.
- "People with AS may not be as withdrawn around others as those with other, more debilitating, forms of autism; they approach others, even if awkwardly."
Awkwardnes is my trademark. I'm not afraid to approach people, but I get the feeling they're afraid of me.
- "A person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic."
My husband could have told you that.
- "Failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others."
Now this is where my heart breaks for children with AS.
- "Childhood desire for companionship can become numbed through a history of failed social encounters."
It did. In third grade, I was in a new group of kids and I tried so hard to make friends. Then I gave up after being hurt one too many times and spent every recess alone in the very back of the field composing songs and peeing in the grass.
- "Depression is often the result of chronic frustration from repeated failure to engage others socially."
In sixth to eighth grade, I decided to really try again to make friends and to be normal. I subjected myself to conversations about makeup, shoes, gossip, meanness, and even shopping all for the sake of trying to be liked. But it made things worse. As soon as I tried to stop being strange, I become more depressed than I've ever been.
- "Many children with AS are initially misdiagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)."
I wasn't actually diagnosed with this since I never went to a psychologist, but I remember my mom telling people that she wondered if I had ADD.
- "Treatment attempts to manage distressing symptoms and to teach age-appropriate social, communication and vocational skills. Despite the popularity of social skills training, its effectiveness is not firmly established."
This brings back a terrible memory. One day, in fifth grade, my mom decided to send me to a short social skills workshop at my school. They gave us a quiz about what was socially acceptable or unacceptable. I correctly answered all the questions except "Is it good manners to leave a penny for a tip at a restaurant?" I said yes, but HOLY COW, I was 10 years old! At least I learned proper tipping etiquette, but the rest of the class was useless.
- "The 'different-ness' adolescents experience can be traumatic."
True. Sometimes I wish I didn't have such a good recollection of my childhood, because I have a lot of bad memories.
- "Adolescents with AS may exhibit ongoing difficulty with self care or organization, and disturbances in social and romantic relationships."
I skipped breakfast every day in high school, had a perpetually messy room, and dated the scum of the earth. Wait . . . that's everyone's high school experience, right?
- "There is a predilection for adults to self-diagnose it."
Now for the good news:
- "Individuals with AS often have excellent auditory and visual perception."
I do have quite an eye for detail and Jared has told me several times that I have super hearing.
- "Talent in language."
I may not be able to sound cool or street smart, but I can memorize vocabulary and learn languages like it's nobody's business.
- "Most children improve as they mature to adulthood. . . . Up to 20% of children may no longer meet the diagnostic criteria as adults."
If I weren't so content with my life now, I might head to a psychologist to find out.
- "Some researchers have argued that AS can be viewed as a different cognitive style, not a disorder or a disability."
In many cases, I think this may be true.
- "There is a contrast between the attitude of adults with self-identified AS, who typically do not want to be cured and are proud of their identity, and parents of children with AS, who typically seek assistance and a cure for their children."
I am happy now, but I still remember the stress I caused my mother.
- "Simon Baron-Cohen wrote of those with AS, 'In the social world, there is no great benefit to a precise eye for detail, but in the worlds of maths, computing, cataloguing, music, linguistics, engineering, and science, such an eye for detail can lead to success rather than failure.'"
I majored in linguistics and it was perfect for me. My declared major before that was biology. I was also a math tutor in college. My nephew Noah wants to be a doctor, and I don't doubt that he can.
- "It has been argued that the genes for Asperger's combination of abilities have operated throughout recent human evolution and have made remarkable contributions to human history."
In short, we're awesome.
- "Capable of exceptional achievement and original thought later in life."
I hope so.
This is why I believe I have AS. And this is why I'm okay with it.
For the people who know me and were friends with me when I was younger, I'd like to know what oddities you remember. Don't be afraid of offending me. My childhood has made me strong.