“I Will Change It!”

The stereotype of people with autistic spectrum disorders is that they don’t like change. Whilst this is true for some – including me – it often depends on which kind of change.

The green spaghetti man is from 1979 Doctor Who story City of Death. Scaroth is the last of his species the Jagaroth because unlucky chap accidentally blew himself up and the rest of his race. He only survived by being splintered through time, living multiple lives throughout human history.

The story is driven by Scaroth’s attempts to build a time machine to go back millions of years to change what he did so that his people survive. The twist is that the explosion that killed him started all life on earth, so the human race will perish if the Jagaroth don’t. This is the kind of moral dilemma that makes me love Doctor Who.

Watching it again recently I realized that sometime I feel like Scaroth, and not just in the having autism is like being from another planet way either. Ever since I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome about 14 months ago I have wanted to go back and change myself so that I didn’t have the condition. It may be true that my higher-than-average intelligence; my honesty and my diligent attention to detail are likely to stem from it, but I still felt like I did. I would have traded those traits to spend weekends with friends, to have a girlfriend and to be generally more outgoing. It seemed to me that being clever and thoughtful didn’t amount to much if I was never close enough to anyone to share those qualities with.

However, thanks to some incredible people who have supported me such as my local Autism Advice service, my mentor at uni and my job coach I have learned to be more proud of myself. They have shown me that some people long to have the kind of gifts that I’ve been given, It’s just that because I’ve lived a life that is quite distanced from others I haven’t realized that other people can’t remember that Charles Dickens died in 1870; that Queen Victoria loved curries or what a dactylic trimeter is. Most of all they have show me that there are people out there who find it interesting! I just thought that my family’s disinterest in these things represented the population at large.

But does this mean that I shouldn’t change myself? No it doesn’t. William Blake once wrote that ‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.’ I have always been a firm believer in keeping as open a mind as I can to different possibilities. Therefore if there are things about having Asperger Syndrome that I don’t like, I can’t change my having the condition, but I can change what I do about it. Like Scaroth I had one roll of the dice and won’t get another, but instead of lamenting the snakes (or chutes), I should rejoice at the ladders that will take me to the finish. For example, I have started a social discussion study group at my university. The focus in on our work, but I also had an ulterior motive in putting myself into some social interaction with my peers. All the time I am looking out for possible ways to interact and socialize with others, instead of think of reasons not to as I did before. The benefit we have now is that in the world of social media we can keep connected with others much more easily.

In the end Scaroth was brought back to earth (literally) by a punch from Duggan, the seemingly hapless detective. An incredibly complex plan that has taken many years and millions of Francs to formulate has been scuppered by a firm dose of reality. Whether that reality is that you can’t stand around soliloquising your evil plan and not expect to get punched, or that you can’t change having Asperger Syndrome they are quite similar. Both show that you need to be in touch with the real world, or the real world will get in touch with you when you least expect – and it’ll probably hurt.


Pitchforks (pt. I)

ImageEver since I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) I have kept it a secret from the majority of my family.  For a while I was a little ashamed to have AS as it did initially make me feel like a broken toy, and lesser than regular people.

When I was at school I was the typical social outcast. Whilst I did hang around with other misfits, it was often a lonely experience. I was afraid of girls, especially the pretty, popular girls, as they frequently taunted me and tried to humiliate me in front of their friends. I hated this more than being bullied by the other boys, because I could fight them if they refused to leave me alone. I now realise that what these girls were subjecting me to was social bullying, I could throw a punch in a fight but, because of my AS, I felt powerless to respond to their taunts. I think that if they knew that I had AS they wouldn’t have been as bad to me as I think that most of them wouldn’t bully someone with a disability. To them it was all about having their fun – I don’t think that they genuinely knew how it made me feel.

My reasoning behind my decision to keep my AS a secret was partially based on these experiences. I thought that if people thought I was lesser than them because I’m a bit weird, they would have a definite reason to think so if they knew that I have an abnormal brain. You might be thinking that my family wouldn’t bully me, and you’d be right, however I worry that they would treat me differently. There are quite few old-fashioned types in my family whom would think that having AS means that I’m mentally retarded and may start patronising me like a victim of some unfortunate accident. I’m reasonably sure that they would gossip about it, along the lines of “I always knew there was something not right about him”, or “I’m not surprised, he’s always been an oddball”.

I’m sure that my worries are unfounded, but I find it hard to imagine how other people would react if I did tell them. I recently applied for a job in a corner shop that was less than sixteen hours a week and I was basically told by the manageress that they wouldn’t hire me because I had Asperger’s Syndrome. Luckily I didn’t feel too offended because if she was ignorant and prejudiced as her decision made her seem, I wouldn’t enjoy working for her anyway.

There’s a fine line to tread. Being treated differently is good when it means that those around you are trying to be inclusive, but I hope that they don’t take it too far. I always remember how Asperger’s Syndrome expert Tony Attwood puts it that with AS the brain is wired to be different, not defective, which is something that I will stress to anyone who takes too much pity on me.

I find it difficult to picture social situations, especially what will happen and what I should say. So because telling people I have AS is such a new experience for me I have no protocol or script that can guide me, which makes me feel a bit anxious and quite hesitant. Luckily, in my local town there is an NHS advice service for people with AS, whom I will be seeing tomorrow. It is so good to speak to someone who totally understands the problems that those with AS go through and I always come away with a better perspective on things afterwards.

In the next seven days I will aim to tell at least one person in my family that I have AS. Wish me luck…