Author’s Note: This is an article written by me that was featured in the “Saskatoon Star Phoenix” nearly a year ago. You can find the original link to the article here. This article details how I live with my Asperger’s, and how I’m able to work and be successful in spite of it.
My goal was to make something that would both inspire myself, and those who read it. It wasn’t easy discussing my Asperger’s, or having it shared in such a wide capacity. However, the support I got from posting it was truly inspiring to me. As a result, I ended up writing more this year than I had in any year previous!
How can I live with Asperger’s? This is a question I often find difficult to answer.
Asperger’s affects many individuals in different ways, and some it may barely affect at all. Asperger’s is a learning disability, one that can hinder or help a person in many numerous ways. How does it affect an individual?
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to share my experiences with living this disability, and how it has affected me in both good and bad ways.
I’ve had Asperger’s all my life, even as a child. In my younger years, I found it difficult to interact with certain individuals. I didn’t always have a clear understanding of social interaction, so making friends could sometimes be a bit of an undertaking. Luckily for me, I had a good circle of friends who understood my “difficulties” and respected me.
Some of said difficulties included: Not catching onto obvious things right away, a difficulty maintaining proper eye-contact, an extremely short attention span, and rather awkward hand-eye co-ordination. Despite these “shortcomings,” I found I was actually quite skilled at various things.
As I grew older, I developed a knack for menial chores. Repetitive tasks very rarely bored me, which allowed me to become more skilled at certain jobs. Where someone may find a certain job to be a bit too bland, that’s never been too much of a detriment for myself. I also found that having Asperger’s doesn’t affect my work all that much.
It does tend to affect others though, I know of a few people who have difficulties managing their learning disability in work environments. What I think employers can do to better facilitate workers with Asperger’s and similar learning disabilities, is to form an understanding.
It’s best to cut them some slack in certain areas, but not too much to the point where it seems you like favoring this one individual. It’s best to be accommodating to that individual’s faults, while at the same time making use of their best traits. For example, a person with Asperger’s may have difficulty fully grasping the workplace training they are given.
This could be because they have problems with their attention span, or it could be they have difficulty in soaking up certain bits of information. Regardless, it’s best to spend some more time with that person to make sure they fully grasp the training. While in some cases it may seem like a bit more of an undertaking, I think it’s worthwhile to both the employer and employee.
Asperger’s doesn’t just affect how a person may act in the workplace, but also outside of it. This is especially true when it comes to me, or one of my friends. I may have difficulty fully understanding a person, or may be a bit less attentive than I should. Otherwise, my learning disability doesn’t usually get in the way of my accomplishing my given tasks. These “weaknesses” may have affected me a bit more in my early years, though I found I had mostly mastered them within the span of a few years. Over time, I realized that some of the things I felt were weaknesses, were in fact strengths.
For example, I used to think I was too imaginative for my good. I took my imagination for granted, and in many ways tried to ignore it. Years later, I would discover that my over-abundant imagination was very useful. I was able to use this boundless imagination to help with my writing, both the writing of business correspondence and that of the free-form writing I tend to do.
Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t alone with how I felt. I met and befriended many people with learning disabilities similar to my own, and learned how they dealt with their problems as well. One particular friend appeared to talk to himself a whole lot, to the point where I would occasionally show concern towards him.
However, he wasn’t talking to himself in a way that would alarm people, rather he was just practicing voice-work. He had a passion for voice-acting and the cartoon medium as a whole, and was extremely good at impressions. I’ve seen him do some amazing voice-work in YouTube videos here or there, and he has really shown talent in that department.
It was meeting this person that I realized something: That the quirks that come with Asperger’s and autism aren’t terrible things, they have their upsides and downsides. People without learning disabilities are the same way, possessing traits that are both positive and negative in nature.
It is not just the two of us that had this though, every person with a learning disability I met had some special talent that sprung out from a quirk they had. Another example is from one friend who I’ve had since I’ve moved to this city. He has a passion for videos, and watches a ton of them. This what got him interested in video editing, wanting to both improve his craft and get paid employment out of it.
People like my friends have helped me realize that every roadblock in life comes with a detour, and that every negative has a positive. I never grew up with people who had disabilities like myself, so getting to both know and learn from these individuals allowed me to grow as a person.
By understanding my friends and their own struggles with learning disabilities and mental illnesses, I was able to better cope with the issues I had. After a while, I realized what my strengths and talents were. I realized I was skilled with writing, dancing, being imaginative, being a hard-worker, and being a good friend. I finally realized that having Asperger’s was more of a gift than a curse.
The thing about have Asperger’s is that it may make interactions with other people somewhat awkward. I think the best way to interact with someone with Asperger’s is to understand where they are coming from. Things like lack of eye-contact and awkward hand-gestures aren’t a sign of disrespect, they are more akin to a nervous reaction.
The thing is, most people are nervous when talking to someone they don’t know. People with learning disabilities are most likely to show this physically with awkward tendencies. It’s best to be respectful and patient with people who have learning disabilities, as they usually mean no offence with what they do.
That brings us back to the original question: What is it like having Asperger’s? To me, there is no distinct definition of how it feels to have it. My brain is wired a bit differently, I sometimes misunderstand what’s being asked of me, or don’t clue in to certain things right away. That doesn’t make me any less of a person, it just means that I deal with difficulties like any other person.
While having Asperger’s does apply a few more trials and tribulations to my life, they are never too overwhelming. I have to deal with a few obsessive compulsive behaviours, and the occasional bout of forgetfulness. Asperger’s used to affect me a lot, to the point where I was a lot more forgetful and had much less control over how I acted.
I feel that both my friends and I have come a long way since we were first diagnosed with Asperger’s. In many ways, I feel like I’ve overcome several issues associated with my disability. While I still have struggles here or there, I definitely feel like I have a handle on my learning disability now.
I want to continue to grow as a person, while learning more about myself in the process. The biggest thing I’ve come to learn is that having Asperger’s does not make me any less of a person. In fact, I’ve found that its really helped improve me as an individual. I can understand and respect the differences of other people a lot better now, as well as respect my own shortcomings and strengths.
I feel that my Asperger’s defines me, but in a positive light. I’m an individual who has grown and understands how the world works, and how to integrate into society better. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for my friends, family, and everyone around me. It doesn’t make me any less of a person, nor does it make me superior. Like anything else, it’s just another part of who I am.