I may not be your typical person with Asperger’s, but what is a typical person with Asperger’s anyway? I doubt that there is such a thing, but there are traits that make me different than a person who is neurotypical. By neurotypical I mean someone not on the Autism Spectrum. First off let me get something straight, I’m not crazy or unintelligent, but I do think differently than most of the people reading this. While trying to get some validation of my Asperger’s, I once had a psychiatrist at a Veterans Administration clinic tell me that I had “Bill Gates kind of Asperger’s traits,” so I guess I’m in interesting company.
So how do I think differently than other people? Let me give you an example. From my observation of others I’ve determined that I can usually solve complex real life problems faster than most people. At least problems that are within my skill set. However, explaining how I came to a solution starting from Point A through the conclusion at point Z can be challenging. The daunting part of the task is verbally explaining how I came to that conclusion.
My wife sometime gets impatient with me when I’m trying to explain my process of reasoning to her. I need to slow down my speech in order to verbally explain my process. She by nature wants me to speed up my explanation, but if I did my explanation would make no sense at all and I would appear to sound like a rambling lunatic; here’s why. I really need a little sign on a stick I can hold up that reads “Processing, please wait. Your question is important to me and will be answered after translation.”
When I see a situation, a problem, or an issue in my mind I think about the whole thing in a picture. But in order to explain or execute the solution it must be done in a linear way starting at the first step and following each step to the solution. It’s easy enough to write down these steps, because modern word processing allows for moving words around in order to put them in the order that they need to be performed. When I speak I can’t move my words around to put things into the correct order, so this all has to be done in my head before it comes out of my mouth. In order for a many people to understand what I’m talking about, I must run it through a filter that organizes my thoughts in a linear way so it comes out of my mouth in coherent speech. Sometimes that makes me sound slow, or makes it appear that I’m ignoring what you said as I’m translating my response.
Over the years I have learned to compensate for many things, I use behaviors that I’ve developed in order to seem normal in a world that is different from myself. For instance, I feel more comfortable not looking you in the eyes when I’m talking, but I do it anyway because it’s what’s expected in non-rude communications between people. This may seem very odd but I would much rather ignore people who aren’t talking about something that interests me, and I suppose I still do sometimes if I can get away with it. I need to resist the urge to steer the conversation to something that is interesting to me. Luckily for me I enjoy talking with others, and especially like to help people solve problems. I just need to run social situations I’m presented with through a filter that allows me to react to them in the socially acceptable way. It’s taken a lifetime of trial and error in order to understand the nuances of living in an alien world, constantly tweaking the filters by adding defined rules of conduct and behavior with dealing with other people.
Before I understood that I was a person with Asperger’s I spent most of my life with an impression of myself as being an unrecognized genius and a total failure at the same time. I couldn’t understand how I was sometimes viewed as the most useful tool in the box, and other times I was totally misunderstood. In my life I’ve been my own worst critic, beating myself up for not being able to be more normal. I’ve attributed some of my characteristics to things that have happened in my life instead of Asperger’s.
It really wasn’t until my youngest son was diagnosed with Autism and my wife was in Graduate school in a Special Education program that I finally had the light bulb above my head turn on. I owe a large debt of gratitude to my wife for having her ask me to proof read her papers for school, which led to me reading books that allowed me to have a breakthrough of realization of who I am. I now feel much more comfortable in my own skin, and have been able to give myself a break now and then. Having answers that explain why I felt like I belonged on Misfit Island, or frustrated that others couldn’t see the solution to a problem that was staring them right in the face.
My hope is that many of you reading this will be inspired to understand more about Asperger’s and Autism. Here are some titles I would suggest:
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robinson
Pretending to Be Normal: Living With Asperger’s Syndrome by Liane Holliday Willey
Anything by Temple Grandin
About the Author: Dan LaFollette
I would describe myself as a father first, and married to a wonderfully supportive spouse that works her butt off for the family. I'm also a writer, techno nerd, and humorist. I always have more things to do than I have time to do them, and have many interests. br> View My ProfileAs far as my writing goes I consider myself an observer of human nature, and a lifelong writing student.