Aspies, You Are Not Alone

You remember how difficult it was to be one of the boys. Others were on the pitch playing football. You were somewhat clumsy and that made you avoid sports. In any case, you preferred to read by yourself. You joined the Boy Scouts. That ended disastrously when you had to overnight in a tent with three others. The close proximity gave you the creeps and constipation. Your nights went sleepless.

You found it hard to join in conversations. It always seemed you were rudely butting in. The few times you succeeded, you did not know when to stop. You could not understand why the others didn’t find the origins of the Pythagorean Theorem interesting.

You cannot comprehend how others can have close friends. It was not for the lack of trying on your part. You struggled to make friends and the few times you succeeded, you could not maintain the friendships. You felt more at ease all alone lining up 350 toy soldiers under the bed. Repeatedly.

Because you had high scores (especially in mathematics and science), you attracted the teacher’s attention. Your greatest nightmare came when she appointed you class monitor. You knew you were going to botch the job. It would be painful to lead and interact with your classmates. Your mother had to dissuade the teacher from bestowing upon you that coveted (by others at least) position because she was fairly sure you had Asperger Syndrome and could not cope with being class monitor.

It would have distressed you psychologically to be always part of a “team.” How would teamwork have enriched your life? You were what you were. Not making you class monitor was like telling your teacher not to subject you to strenuous exercise because of a heart condition. Was it so difficult for them to understand?

Your mother spent hours with your teachers and principal explaining to them that your difficulties in social communication, social interaction and social imagination were likely rooted in your genes. You were not being difficult, unsociable or uncooperative.

When asked what your ambition was, you said you wanted to be a doctor. How could that be possible? As a doctor, you have to be a people person and have empathy. You retorted by saying you would become a forensic pathologist.

You went to university and coped the best you could. You graduated cum laude. You now have a good research job. That suits you fine. Your work environment (fewer humans, more computers) is not so intimidating. You have an understanding and insightful partner. You have learned what makes you happy. You don’t need the approval of the chattering classes. You would not be comfortable with 20 blokes and gals guzzling beer from dusk to dawn. You would prefer a glass of wine by yourself doing crosswords and Sudoku.

With more reading and insight, you have stopped trying to change. You accept yourself for what you are.

I will seek you out and I will comfort you. I will give you an alternative view. I will tell you, you don’t have a disease that must be cured. I reject the notion that there is an ideal brain configuration and that any deviation from the norm is pathological. I will tell you about the Bell Curve. It is just that some of us lie to one side of it; we are all still under the same curve. I advocate the tolerance of neurodiversity as much as the promotion of cultural diversity. I will talk to you about autistic rights and autistic pride movements. You may want to join but if not, I can understand that too.

Almost 40 years ago, homosexuality was removed from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Some researchers believe that Asperger Syndrome should similarly be removed from the manual. Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, wrote of those with Asperger Syndrome: “In the social world there is no great benefit to a precise eye for detail, but in the worlds of maths, computing, cataloguing, music, linguistics, engineering and science, such an eye for detail can lead to success rather than failure.”

You are different and you are special. Beethoven, Mozart, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain possibly had Asperger Syndrome. So had my intellectual ancestor, Charles Darwin. Woody Allen and Bill Gates probably have it. So did Michael Jackson, a source of great inspiration to me and others. Call it genetic, call it developmental, it does not matter. Many proud Aspies and I stand with you.

You are not alone.

By Dr. Albert Lim Kok Hooi, an oncologist.

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