This month’s guest story is from Paul M. He writes a blog called Asperger’s From The Inside, where he talks about his life and experiences. You can check out his blog here. Paul shares with us a little about life since he was diagnosed and about his involvement in this amazing program called the I Can Network, read all about the wonderful things the I Can Network does for kids on the spectrum, here. You can also view a wonderful video that he did to answer the question, what is Aspergers? View it on his Youtube here. Thanks so much Paul for sharing with me and all my readers!
A good kind of different…
By all accounts 31 is an amazing age. When I turned 31 some months ago a lot of people predicted, quite accurately in hindsight, that it would be a really good year for me. It would be a time to really come into my own. My twenties are over. My year of mourning that my twenties are over is over… time to put my foot down and accelerate into life again.
A little over a year ago I discovered I have Aspergers. What a crazy year it has been since then! I blogged about what it meant to me at the time… but how has that perspective changed a year later?
I’ve definitely come a long way since those early days. At first I was excited about finally putting a name to all the things in my life I’d been struggling to explain. At the time my disclosure strategy was to tell anyone and everyone right away. I was so excited about this monumental self-discovery that I would talk the ears off absolutely anyone who would listen. Fortunately many others found it interesting too so this wasn’t a big problem. Well, at least they were interested in the sense of trying to understand how someone could be so happy about receiving an Autism diagnosis.
Now, one year on, things have calmed down a bit. My Aspergers is public knowledge thanks to my blog and work with the I CAN Network, but this doesn’t mean that the issue of disclosure has gone away. It actually raises a new problem since I can’t possibly remember who I’ve told and who I haven’t told. When I meet new people I’m hardly going to introduce myself like… “Hi my name is Paul and I have Aspergers”. So how then will they eventually find out? How can I be open and honest about who I am without overemphasising this aspect of my identity?
These days my strategy in this regard is quite indirect. If Aspergers is part of my identity, then by being authentically myself, anyone coming to know me will be exposed to this side of me from day one – even if they don’t have a name for it. Then one day they will learn about this label of Aspergers just like I did, and suddenly it will all make sense.
In practice this is actually much easier than it sounds. My hoodie (which I wear virtually everywhere) has ‘A Rethink on Autism’ written on the back in big letters, so this often sparks the Autism conversation (especially with strangers). Failing that, social convention dictates that sooner or later someone is going to ask me ‘what I do’ (for work), and they’ll get the spiel about my involvement with the I CAN Network. It’s actually kinda fun to slowly give people information, and watch to see how long it takes them to put two and two together.
Let’s see… he works for an organisation that mentors young people on the Autism Spectrum. He said most of the mentors are on the spectrum themselves. He’s definitely one of those mentors but he doesn’t look anything like my idea of Autism… could he be on the spectrum too?
Lol… Contrary to the Aspergian stereotype, I’m actually quite sensitive to body language, subtle facial expressions, and emotional reactions. This means that I can often see the question on their faces long before they have the courage to put it into words…
Just the other week I had a conversation with one of my classmates after she saw my story posted on Humans on the Autism Spectrum (a project run over the month of April with a different profile every day). She had no idea I was on the Spectrum and wanted to talk to be about it. While she was initially surprised, it made sense at the same time as if it resolved some question, some tension in her mind. Without labelling it, she had noticed something “different” in me. Specifically how my input brought a new perspective to classroom discussions. She previously saw me as “different”, she said, “but a good kind of different”.
I’m very happy for my Aspergers to be seen as difference. Without getting too political I think there is a tendency in today’s world to try and say that everyone is the same… but from my point of view it is our differences that make the world beautiful. Differences between individuals, differences between cultures, or religions, or genders… they are different, but just like Aspergers, it’s “a good kind of different”.