Imagine you’re Chinese and you immigrate to America. You learn the language, you participate in the customs, and you enjoy the benefits of your new home while still maintaining your roots with trips to Chinatown and discussions in Mandarin with friends. It’s the best of both worlds.
Now imagine you’re Chinese and you immigrate to America, but this time someone wipes your memory and no one tells you that you’re Chinese and that this is America.
You learn the language but are never fully comfortable with it. You learn the customs but feel like you’re missing an important element. You enjoy your world but always feel a distance, as if there’s a handbook that everyone else has and you can’t ever find a copy.
Then, one day, someone tells you that you are Chinese and this is America. They take you to a Chinese-American community center and suddenly it all makes sense. You have been a foreigner in your own home, but now you have the best of both worlds.
This example may seem silly, but it’s how I felt upon getting diagnosed with Asperger’s. Suddenly, things just made sense. But it wasn’t until I really started engaging with AANE (the Asperger/Autism Network) that I found my place.
I know the current standard for describing autism is to call it a spectrum, but that doesn’t quite hit home for me. To me, that means that you’re describing a sliding scale with an inherent ranking system. You are 1% autistic. You are 90% autistic. You are successful, you are not.
In my experience, however, autism is more like a set of languages and dialects. Aspergers and Autism are very closely related languages, but within those languages there are still many dialects that have roots in gender, education, and myriad other variations.
A 40-year old man and I might be speaking the same language, but the young women’s group is home to my dialect. There is no better or worse, just challenges that affect everyone in different ways and to different degrees. I might be skilled at expressing myself verbally, but my stick figures will not be appearing at the Artists’ Collaborative.
It can be frustrating not knowing what makes you different- not knowing why you’re by yourself on a Friday night and not knowing why college is so hard when you breezed through high school. And it can be tough when you get your diagnosis and realize that things might never get any easier. But despite all the roadblocks we may hit on the way to success in the neurotypical world, it’s good to know that with AANE you can always find your way back home.