Our increased knowledge about autism has profound implication. So in addition to discussing problems that specifically affect autistic individuals, we should explore what the mere existence of the autism spectrum can teach us about a wide range of social, cultural, political, and even philosophical issues.
Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend from high school and said, “I know everyone thought I was weird back in school.” He replied, “Ken, I never thought you were weird. I think we all knew you were different. We just didn’t know why.”
That sums up the “Aspie” in a nutshell. Everyone knows he’s different, including him. But they don’t know why. He may be seen as slow, undisciplined, maybe even retarded. The reality is, his brain is simply wired differently than that of most people. Because of this, he may struggle with things others take for granted, and may take longer than others to learn some things.
However, this also means he can probably do things others couldn’t do to save their lives.
First day of school. College interviews. Job interviews.
- One girl I had just met told me that she thought my body language was condescending.
- My rationalization: First off what does condescending body language even look like? I googled it because I was so perplexed and turns out condescending can only apply to language. I think she was trying to say defensive or standoffish.
- A man who had just met and conversed with me briefly once told me that my use of vocabulary words like “tantalizing” and “perturbed” in everyday conversation makes him think I am keeping people at a distance.
- My rationalization: I am always happy to explain things in a different way in order to clarify what I’m talking about but in this case, they did not give me the chance to clarify my idea. He just made an assumption on my intentions of using “big words” and technical terms when in actuality that is how I talk.
I want to address the difference between “in spite of” and “because of”. One of the greatest equalizers that spans across all barriers of humanity is that we individually cannot choose when we are born and when we die. I was born a sensitive and socially honest soul into a superficial and insincere social environment.
If I was born in a world where people constantly strive for self-improvement, valued relationships rather than objects, and looked for acceptance over status, I think I would have been just fine. The kind who prefers the former bullied me to think I’m crazy but I don’t think I am. So if I take this perspective, I did succeed in spite of these kinds of environments.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to help people.
For much of my life, I have had a hard time understanding not only the non-verbal communication of others, but how my own non-verbal communication affected others. Sometimes, if I was irritated at someone, I would simply keep my mouth shut, the rationale being “They can’t hold me accountable for something I didn’t say.”
What I failed to realize was that sometimes silence speaks louder than anything you could say, or that you could say one thing, but your facial expressions, actions, and certainly body language tell the real story.
Some of the greatest struggles I had before I went to treatment at 11 are sensory integration problems. My sensitivities to food, certain fabrics in clothes, and the feel of water on my skin created a huge struggle to be a fully functional human being. Growing up, I would throw tantrums whenever I would shower (gross right?), and I think at one point I went 3 months without a shower because whenever I did, it heightened my sensitivity to stimuli, and all inferno would break loose. I would scream for hours.
I would barely eat anything and what I did eat, I would eat over and over and over again. I loved mashed potatoes and yogurt for a time, and I think my mom let me eat it for breakfast when I was little. She was just grateful I would eat something so I didn’t starve to death.
Autism is real and like many others with the diagnosis, my son, Alex Hale, is succeeding in life on the Spectrum. His two songs “Into the Light” and “Walk a Mile” share his thoughts and emotions on the journey of an Autistic Individual, and assert that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a long journey since his official diagnosis at the age of 6 years old.
There were signs of awkward behaviors, however his pediatrician initially suggested that we didn’t look for “trouble”. Once diagnosed we were in a state of awe rather than shock. We had assumed he would be diagnosed with ADHD or something of that nature. Immediately Alex’s dad and I started asking questions, reading up on Autism/Aspergers and looking for answers and methods to keep Alex mainstream.
Alex is high – functioning and as he says in his advocacy speaking engagements, you may not guess by looking at him, or meeting him initially, but spend a little bit of time with him and you will see that his social skills are a little different.
He was born in Austria in 1906. As a child, making friends didn’t come easily and he was considered lonely and remote, but he was talented in language. In particular he had an interest in poetry.
He was known to quote his favorite Austrian poet to classmates—not that they were interested. He also quoted himself, and sometimes referred to himself in the third-person. He displayed characteristics of the condition that would one day bear his name.
I had a lot of problems growing up because I felt socially awkward and did not fit in with my peers. My challenges mainly were with social issues. Getting along with people, reading facial expressions, and body language all seemed completely foreign to me.
I was finally diagnosed with High Functioning Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome when I was 17 years old. Most people in Texas didn’t know what Asperger’s Syndrome was at that time. I’ll be 32 in December so over ½ my life I didn’t even know I had Asperger’s. Since then I have learned how to function in a world with people.
When I started school, I noticed that I did not like certain things around me. For example, the fire alarm for the monthly fire drills unnerved me to no end. The feeling that it could happen at anytime almost drove me insane.
Some other problems I would have would be certain smells in the cafeteria would make me ill or the loud noises in the hallways would make me cover my ears because it was too loud. This is called a sensory overload, where certain everyday aspects of life can be uncomfortable for a child with Aspergers. Now, the main question is “What can I do for my child?”.
Well, my mother got involved with the school. She talked to the school staff about my Aspergers and how some sounds or smells can cause a sensory overload. By doing this, they were able to accommodate me i.e. taking me out before the fire alarm went off.
The first thing you can do is do what my mother did:
Talk to the school staff that knows your child and tell them about Aspergers and sensory. Don’t be afraid to tell them the details! Then, see if they can accommodate your child like they did with me.
by Samuel Allen