When we first figured out that “Asperger’s Syndrom” (what used to be called High Functioning Autism) was the name for the set of behaviors, symptoms, and inconveniences that has been such a big part of my life — my reaction was a deep, long, sigh of relief that started under my feet, and shuddered through me like a reversal in direction of the flow of the Mississippi River.
All at once, I had an explanation for so many questions and strange-nesses in my life, that it seems as though my entire personal history was rewritten and adjusted and footnoted. It took a couple of weeks for this adjusting to shake loose all the misconceptions and misunderstandings I’d had. And another few months to really see the scope of how much is changed just by learning a single truth.
In the last 6 weeks, I’ve met 4 other people — all adults, and who all recently learned the same thing about themselves.
— And every one described the same feeling. That absolute relief. The sudden and overwhelming knowledge of all the mistaken ideas and advice and circumstances that has tripped us up. All the people we wish we could go back to now and say — “Wait — there’s an explanation! I know what’s happening!
It’s not stupidity. Or lack of intelligence. I’m not just socially clumsy or awkward — okay, I am those things, but the awkwarness is not a problem — it’s a symptom! It isn’t that I’m unreasonable or that I don’t care. It isn’t coldness or outrage that needs to be counseled or over-taught. All those are things that need to be addressed and understood in context. And in some cases, those are issues where people need to meet me — and those like me — halfway.
You don’t have to ignore my inabilities — you just have to understand what it is that we’re all working around. I can pretend — for long periods of time — to be like everybody else. Some attempts are more successful than others. But sometimes the illusion doesn’t work. And sometimes I just can’t keep it up.
There’s a whole list of things I didn’t understand during my life. Couldn’t understand. Things I’ve spent a lot of hours/years trying to understand. Trying to make sense of. And I still don’t understand it all. But now I know there are things I just don’t get. And I know why. And I know I need to over-over-over-compensate for those things. And sometimes, I just need to set them aside and accept that they are not part of my world.
But my world is very big. Complex. Brilliant. Beautiful. Fun. Wonderful.
And it’s a relief to live in this world with the streets named and the maps drawn (or being drawn.) It’s nice to know where I am. And that there are so many like me.
And I met another person — a father — a small business owner. I had to call him to get a repair made on my house, and I would bet money on his being Asperger’s, too. There was this moment of recognition in a brief conversation where we both said — not much — but just the important bits — and never made eye contact. And I suddenly realized he was following the high notes of the sentences — just like I tend to do. And he clipped back and forth between 4 different topics. Just like I tend to do. And he was impatient with the extra words — and had a hard time keeping on topic if it strayed too far from what I needed him to do, or wanted him to address.
I wonder how many of us there are?
They talk on news shows about there being a rise in autism and Asperger’s and all the related “syndroms” of the autism spectrum — and it may be true. Maybe. But I’m not so sure. I think in many of these diagnoses, we just didn’t recognize until now what we were looking at. Maybe, that a certain percentage of the population is just wired differently.
In another century or another country — I’d have been institutionalized when I was a child because I was so far from the “norm.” Or I’d have been locked in an attic, or just killed outright. I’d have been drugged or exposed to the elements. Or if I was really precocious or odd (and I was,) I’d have been traded like livestock, and put to work either as a savant, or in some workhouse.
What does it sound like when this many people sigh with relief?