Until December 2006 when Dr. Miles Tarter evaluated me, I never knew for sure that I had Asperger Syndrome—but now a lot of things make more sense to me. Many neurotypicals, when discussing Asperger Syndrome, tend to dwell on the negative. As a developmental disability, a form of high functioning autism, AS does have a downside. However, I realize that everything I’ve achieved in my life has largely been because of, not despite, Asperger Syndrome. This is not merely “positive thinking;” it is my reality.
Nobody knew about Asperger’s when I was growing up as an American boy—least of all, my poor troubled mother. Nevertheless, she took a strange pride in my early accomplishments. She never helped me with my homework—but then, she didn’t have to. All through eight years of Catholic grade school, I was the “smartest boy in my class” without much special effort. From the age of five or six, reading books and any printed materials I could lay my hands on became my fondest pastime. The Asperger’s anomaly had nourished my fledgling brain with the ability to assimilate and process enormous amounts of information accessed through the medium of language–culminating in a rare and perhaps enviable talent. My conversational verbal acumen was prodigious too, abnormal in a young child. My cherished games, most often solitary, fed these strange abilities. Repeating alliterative word combinations, endlessly and to the annoyance of any neurotypicals who overheard me, was a method used in my autonomous autistic mind to cement associations that to me, and only to me, had achieved a magical significance. Mundane phrases like “Mexican cowboy” and “bumblebees” were transformed into magical phrases that fostered my memory of an imagined fantasy world of facts and trivia populating the most distant recesses of my Asperger-colored existence.
The problems I’ve had as a child and as an adult came most often when I tried to share what I’d discovered within myself, or when I demonstrated my individuality, if it differed from the norm. I’ve found that Americans, although they supposedly admire someone dancing to the beat of a different drummer, are a rather conforming lot. Some grudging admiration may sometimes be summoned for the odd duck who has honed his/her eccentricities into consistent financial windfall producers (but even there, only to a point). In any case, not every Aspie can be a Temple Grandin. Admittedly, it’s difficult to resonate with universal qualities when most people find you at least vaguely different. Asperger’s also dictates certain non-conforming behaviors by its very nature—even if a person exerts Herculean efforts to “fit in.”
Despite its pitfalls and built-in tribulations, being endowed with Asperger Syndrome can be replete with simple joys. I personally enjoy the tactile comfort of twiddling a writing instrument between my thumb and index fingers as a focusing technique, or when I feel a special happiness or excitement. The alliteration and plays on words—a propensity for word associations and chronic punning—can provide a pleasure even when engaged in while “talking to myself.” Such guilty pleasures used to drive my mother crazy and cause other neurotypicals to express their annoyance in a multitude of ways—but for most of my life I’ve counted on these idiosyncrasies to nourish my entire practice of interacting.
Occasionally, my Asperger’s traits fascinate people and allow me to invite them in to my world. I live for those occasions!
Gode Davis has written feature stories for magazines such as Omni and Popular Science. He has also worked as a scriptwriter and documentary filmmaker. He is often on the prowl for writing assignments and is reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Check out his portfolio website at www.godedavis.net. The site includes a link to information about the documentary feature American Lynching, by Gode Davis and James M. Fortier.