Ever 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…