A few days ago, you or someone like you googled, “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”. I have thought about you ever since. Wondering what is happening in your life to cause you so much distress over something that is simply a part of who you are. For I know there must be something, and it is obviously hard. No, I don’t know your name. I don’t know where you live. I don’t know how the world has treated you.
But I have seen the pain in the eyes of my students on the spectrum. As a teacher, I have witnessed the aftermath of your peers’ indifference, amusement at your social missteps, and even cruelty. I have watched you try so hard to fit in to a world that doesn’t understand you any more than you struggle to understand them.
You try to make small talk, but it isn’t received as you intended. You share your opinion in class, and are bewildered by their laughter. Even some of the teachers and other adult staff sometimes seem annoyed. There are all kinds of unwritten rules about what to say, what to do, how to look — and no matter how hard you try to get it right, you always seem to get it wrong. The thing that people don’t seem to realize is that – inside – you are just a person who wants the same things everyone else does. Friendship. Respect. Fun. To share your interests and experiences with others. Perhaps to meet someone special.
But right now I’m guessing you don’t have many of those things. And you’re probably wondering if life is always going to be this hard. If there will ever be a place you belong. If you will ever be able to sit among a group of people without a running dialogue of worry, embarrassment, and checklists of those unspoken rules running through your head.
Clearly, you want to be “normal”.
Well, I just so happen to be someone you would consider “normal”. (Whatever that is. I’m here to tell you that I’ve known a lot of “normal” people. Quite frankly, we’re all us strange – this mixed bag of humanity.) But I make friends easily. I understand those confusing social cues that seem to elude you. And I have never lived in daily fear of being bullied and antagonized. So, no, I have not lived your life, and I don’t know what it is like to be you.
But being what those in the autism world call neurotypical, I have made my own observations of the differences between people on the spectrum and people like myself. One of the things autistic people are characterized by is having an affinity for detail. Many of you notice so many things that neurotypicals never will. It’s a really cool ability. We NTs, on the other hand, aren’t as observant. We tend to be blind to those who are different. And, even when they are pointed out, many of us still fail to really see them. A kind of emotional blindness, if you will. And, it really is not intentional. It’s just that it sometimes takes an extraordinary experience – such as parenting, loving, knowing, teaching, or working with someone on the spectrum for our eyes to be opened. But without that experience, far too many of us remain blind to those right in front of them – their differences, what they share in common, what they need to navigate the world just a bit easier, and what they have to contribute to our world.
Yet some of us have had that extraordinary experience. Some of us now have a new set of glasses with which to see the world. As one who counts herself among them, I am so very grateful for that.
I’m so sorry that so many of us still have not had our eyes opened. I’m sorry for the frustration and hurt that we have caused you – that would make you wish you were somebody other than who you are. Yes, you do stand out. But you know what? So do some stars. Some are just brighter, more colorful, and more interesting than all the other not-so-remarkable stars in the universe. When I think of you, of others I have known like you — and my precious amazing boy, also autistic – I see stars. And to me, and other NTs like me – whose vision has been strengthened – you are beautiful.
Right now, you may be looking around you and wondering where the heck we all are. Are there people who will accept and appreciate you? And are there others like you who have gone on to happy and fulfilling lives, having survived the very difficult years you are enduring right now?
The answer, I am so very pleased to tell you, is yes. We are all over. We are in this country and others. We are in large cities and small towns. We are universities and the workplace. Churches and advocacy organizations. And you may be too young to have an opportunity to break away from your small corner of the world to meet us all. But we are here. And we have our hearts, minds, and arms open and waiting for you. As the saying goes, “It gets better.” You just need to hang in a bit longer, learn as much as you can, and then step out into the world and begin bridging those connections.
In the meantime, you may be surprised to know that there is an entire online community and autism/Aspergers blogosphere already available to you. Autistic/Aspie youth and adults, sympathetic NTs, and experts. Websites, blogs, chat rooms, forums, support groups, Twitter, Facebook pages, and much more. You would be surprised at the warmth, friendship, and understanding available right now — today — if you will just log on and seek it out.
It’s a big world out there. And you haven’t even seen 1% of it. There are happy and successful people just like you who are all too happy to tell you that there is a lot to look forward to in life. Seek them out. Connect to them. Follow their advice. And, hopefully, one day you will be in their shoes — proving to a young person just like yourself that there really is a place for him/her in the world.
For it is there — waiting for you to claim it.
If you would like to read more messages of hope from people in the autism community, please visit the Autism Positivity 2012 Flash Blog.