Sunday, October 04, 2009

Connecting the dots

"I had always suspected something about me was different. After 40 years, a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome set me free." Excellently written and explained. More than most articles by and about being an Aspie, this one speaks most acurately about my life as well. I was also diagnosed in 2006, when I was age 48.

On April 13, 2007, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I found my Holy Grail. All my life I had sought answers as to why I had trouble getting along with the rest of the world and why I acted the way I did. But thanks to a stranger’s suggestion, and a neuropsychologist, I finally received a simple, straight answer. I was told, at age 41, that I have a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome.

Most of the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome fit me perfectly: the difficulties with social interaction; my narrow, intense interests; and my need to learn, through clear, logical instruction, what everybody else learns intuitively. This newfound knowledge had me thinking back to the peculiarities of my childhood, when I often felt as if I were living in a different galaxy.

I wanted to be friends with a girl in third grade who reminded me of a gypsy enchantress. The problem was I didn’t recognize that hanging around her beyond a certain amount of time (i.e., following her around) made her uncomfortable. Other kids taunted me at recess and threw dodge balls at my head (and it wasn’t during a game). I would skip down the hallways to my next class and not understand why everyone else thought it was strange. In general, I didn’t know what to do in social situations. In fact, I didn’t even realize that you were supposed to do anything in particular.

While all “Aspies” encounter different situations, many of the difficulties are the same. Today I find it hard (sometimes impossible) to describe a situation in person or to put my thoughts and feelings into the proper words. Thinking back on my life, and armed now with information on Asperger’s, I can understand more of what used to confuse me. My problems can be traced to many different factors, but all of them are consistent with Asperger’s. Take my rigidness, for example. I work in a seafood processing plant, and sometimes it grates on my nerves when I’m stocking shelves in my company’s freezer and I’m suddenly called on to do a different task, such as load food product into the pack room. If you can imagine driving a locomotive, then being ordered to immediately stop and pull every car in your train off the track and go across town to put it all on another track, you might have an idea of what it’s like to have Asperger’s.

Another bugbear that people with Asperger’s struggle with is our “lack of empathy.” By that, I don’t mean that we don’t care about anyone but ourselves. What I’m talking about is the fact that, because of our neurological “mind-blindness,” we’re not always able to sense (in the same manner that most non-autistic, or “neurotypical,” people can) when something we’re doing is upsetting other people.

In 2006, after years of abject struggle through the social landscape, a path was finally cleared. I was at a poetry reading the night before Easter, and a young woman named Ria walked in. At the end of the reading, she asked for my e-mail address. The next day, she sent me a message: “You really come off as if you have Asperger’s syndrome.” Another person might have been offended, but after everything I’d been through, it was a revelation. I did some research and decided her suggestion made sense. A year later, when I was able to get health care, I made an appointment at Beth Israel. After some testing, my doctor confirmed what I’d long suspected: that something about me was different.

I told the doctor that, for my first act as a confirmed Aspie, I “forgive all neurotypicals that ever did me any wrong.” I cannot blame people for not knowing about this kind of disorder. And even if they do know about it, I forgive them if they don’t care. It’s human nature: The only time you really care about somebody’s cross is when you have to carry it yourself.

Now that I can finally put a name to my troubles, I feel reborn. I still have much to learn -- about my condition and about dealing with the outside world. I’m only now beginning this journey of enlightenment. If you can try to understand why I function the way I do, then I will do my best to learn the proper way to do things on the neurotypical side of the fence. In other words, I’ll meet you halfway.

Christopher Wood-Robbins is a writer and poet in Whitman. Send comments to Please click here for my new Boston site!

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1 comment:

Cathy said...

I am SO glad more attention is being brought out about Asperger's so that more folks who have it will feel freer and more understood and I hope others will take this to heart. We all aren't the same, so we need to embrace our differences!! Thank you for sharing this with me!!