One of the best articles this editor has ever read about how it feels to go through life with Asperger’s Syndrome.
To paraphrase something I read: I cannot walk around with a sign on my shirt that states, “I have Asperger’s. Please be nice to me.”
But maybe that is not true. Maybe some additional thought is merited.
I am 65 years old and at age 64 was first diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. That revelation, made by two psychologists, was quite unexpected. It did not provoke an immediate set of revelations. No door to the truth of life opened up for me to walk through. Rather the concept has been slowly seeping into my conscious and, I presume, my unconscious mind. My childhood was extremely lonely without any close friends. This fits the concept of Asperger’s. That loneliness has continued throughout my life and remains painful. I don’t like being alone, but am not accepted as a friend by those that I meet.
Most of my personal problems can be, in my opinion, traced to my own behaviors. The worst of those times were when those around me would not forgive me my errors. They took offence at some of my actions. I give them the benefit of any possible doubt and presume that I did behave badly. However, they were not aware, and probably could not have been aware, that I perceived their behaviors through the faulty window of Asperger’s Syndrome. I behaved in what I perceived to be a rational manner. To them, and to most observers, my behavior was not rational and did not fit the required norms. The result was bad times for all of us, and mostly for me.
The question to be considered is: What would it mean for me, or anyone with Asperger’s, to wear a sign advising or warning people of this?
The answer is not simple.
Is it right for me to initiate a conversation with a complete stranger by saying: I have a mental illness and need you to accommodate my deficiencies? I might add: In spite of being aware of this condition, I am not capable of fully compensating for it. So I need you to be a bit extra tolerant of my behaviors.
As I see things, through my distorted perceptions, this is essentially what I need. That is a lot to impose on a new friend. That is a lot to impose upon you. But if I do not ask that, then please consider: How can we possibly become friends? I cannot completely suppress my impulses and irrational behavior. Sometimes what is rational to me is not to you.
Do I have the right to ask people to treat me differently from neuro-typical people? If I were to ask you to do just that, what would you think? Presume you said yes, you will do what you can. Then there is the question: Even with best intent, can you really do that?
That question is not intended in the pejorative sense, but in simple reality. When I misbehave, will you really be able to recognize there is a known and logical cause, and respond appropriately? Will you be able to recognize that I misperceived you and reacted with good intent, but on a misperception? Will you be able to stop the conversation and tell me that I got something wrong? That is a significant burden to put on you.
On the other side, that is a burden I have carried all my life. It is one I cannot put down and cannot avoid. My behavior has improved over the past sixty plus years, but I cannot be cured or fixed. Despite my best efforts, there will be times where I misbehave. The result is that you do not like me and do not like being around me. You can walk off, join others that are neuro-typical, and simply avoid me.
I cannot avoid me. And I really cannot avoid you. You are everyone. When I interact with other Aspies, I am just as likely to misinterpret their behaviors as I am yours.
People in a wheelchair, with crutches, and other support implements are unavoidably carrying signs that advertise their difficulties. Why can I not do just that?
I need your friendship, your tolerance, your patience, and, yes, your indulgence. Is there any way I can get there?