Growing up, I felt like a puzzle piece that cannot fit in anywhere. Social interactions almost always start or end up awkwardly, and in a span of 28 years I collected sets of acquaintances. Friends seem hard to come by, and if they do, most of them have ended the friendship. I have low maintenance friends, sure, and I am grateful for it. However, most of the time, I am confused with the intricacies of social interaction, mainly arousing a sense of anxiety if it happens to threat my perceived area of personal space. Sometimes I succeed to reach someone on a personal level, but to be on the safe side, I prefer a transactional-type of communication to avoid any discomfort in my part.
For reasons I didn’t understand, people find me a little peculiar. I have a different view about the world and I like to analyze the things most people are bored with. I like solving puzzles, and going into details. They find me smart and stupid at the same time, and I may be a little too nerdy for a normal person’s taste.
I also have of meltdowns; and the unexplained source of irritation, confusion, and anxiety caused me bouts of depression at a very young age. The earliest age I realized I was having depression was in 6th grade. I could not reach out to my peers and I felt isolated all the time. I played with other children but they end up avoiding or bullying me.
I excelled in class, though. I have a close affinity with words and it gives me “feelings” to vocabularies I like. I remember liking the letter L and A because I think they are friendly, and the letter V and C because they are elegant. I had once a notebook dedicated to words that I like. I was also drawn to the rhythm of words, and in order to make me feel good, I escaped through writing poetry and prose. Unlike other people with Aspergers, I hated numbers and forced myself to math. In grade school, it was a struggle learning arithmetic, and this persisted until I reached college.
While words are my means of escape, I use art to mainly express myself and my ideas. Like letters, colors also trigger certain feelings. I remember looking at the colors orange and green together and feel nauseated. It still gives me the same feeling but not as intense when I was a child. Small stripes give me migraines that I try to avoid looking at that pattern as much as possible. I sometimes view pictures as “noisy’, depending on my mood.
They said, “no man is an island”. But some Aspies may disagree because they prefer to be alone all the time. Conversations tire them, but if the topic is within the area they are interested in, they can talk about it for hours nonstop.
I hate loud noises because it gives me discomfort; however, I can listen to a sound or a music repetitively as a way of escape from a stressful situation. When total silence is a little unnerving for some, I thrive in it.
The problem with us Aspies is we tend to overestimate a situation out of over confidence because we knew we are smart. But when coupled with social interactions, we get overwhelmed and eventually suffer a meltdown. Just last year, it took me a month or so to overcome my anxiety which was brought by a social situation that I underestimated. Everything was planned out, so I thought, only to find out that dealing with 150 people in a party was too much to take in a 4 hour event. I have no issues being in a large crowd, as long as I’m not required to interact. But that party was a disaster for me.
The second major meltdown I had on the same year was caused by continuous attendance to social events that I was obligated to deal with. I was so upset because I could not keep up with my friends in socialization. Meeting different kinds of personalities sapped my energy. I was also attacked with all sorts of negative thoughts about myself – due to deep insecurity I have hidden for a long time. I was mentally exhausted because I needed to rehearse my dialogues and my actions to properly communicate without ending up in awkward situations as to not replicate my childhood experiences that ended up disastrously. This one was worse than the first because my personal space was invaded and I really went out of my comfort zone. For a person with Asperger’s, this is pretty extreme.
So how did I know I have an Aspergers Syndrome, or now renamed as High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder?
I found out about it 5 years ago when I stumbled upon an article that discusses people with autism. In college, my thesis was about mentally challenged children, mostly with Trisomy 21 and Autism in general. I learned later on that most people with neurological disorders do not know they have it because it is their way of life. It is logical, though, because I was so interested in psychology and in autism in college, but I had no idea I exhibit the signs and symptoms of having one. I thought I was just depressed.
I took the test online out of curiosity and scored quite high with 37 points. It was a long assessment, and knowing google, I tried to take another assessment test from another source. After about several months, I took the test again and I still scored the same on the evaluations. I did not seek for a professional assessment because I didn’t think it was necessary. But I remember feeling a great relief and sadness at the same time because I finally had the answer as to why I felt different my whole life. A few years have passed and I tried taking the tests again – with the same results and score. However, I was already feeling a lot better because God lead me to a support group and to a recovery program which I took for two consecutive years. This time, I am determined to go to a Psychiatrist for a formal neurological assessment.
I was not just an introvert, because my experiences flow deeper than that. If you have watched Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, you can see how different he is from a normal introvert person. You can also read about Don Tillman in the novel called the Rosie Project or observe Dr. Temperance Brennan in the TV series Bones. To make it more familiar, just imagine Forrest Gump or Lisbeth Salander in the film called the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yup, they have an Asperger’s Syndrome as well.
Autism has no cure and there are a lot of misconceptions around Autism. I hope this article will help you to understand that we are not like broken things. Our neurological system was designed in an unusual way that we view the world differently from others.
Here are the long list of characteristics of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. This may give you a general idea what we are like. However, as we become an adult, the symptoms become less pronounced, not because we grow out of it, but because we were taught with effective coping skills, and mimic normal social behaviors. But understand that not all are good chameleons and they have probably unaware of they things they do.
INTELLECTUAL AND MOTOR:
• Average to above average IQ
• A deep thinker and continuously analyses things. Tends to be too philosophical.
• Absent mindedness and “checks out” (blank stare)
• Mentally escapes regularly through preoccupation on certain things or subjects or mental processing. (eg, plays the same music over and over, stares at a rotating item, with narrow focus on an activity, etc)
• Has a set of collections and can be obsessed in organizing things.
• Good in identifying patterns, picks up details and facts easily.
• Can focus on a subject or activity for a long period of time.
• Misplaces certain things in the house all the time despite having a clear picture where the objects are.
• Always has a written schedule and prepares mentally if there’s a scheduled meeting, outings and/or appointments. (Preparation can take days)
• Poor muscle coordination and trouble following dance steps and/or learning how to drive.
• Inflexible, repetitive
• Lacks eye-contact. This can be less pronounced in adulthood because some train or force themselves to look people in the eye consciously.
• Serious and noted as lacking of sense of humor. Matter-of-fact nature.
• Naive and easily fooled.
• Dislikes being in a crowd. Others may not see this as an issue, unless they are required to socialize.
• Appears awkward; oftenly confused by social behaviors such as eye contact, tone of voice, posture and stance.
• Hates small talks. Often finds to be unable to continue a conversation.
• Mimics others either consciously or unconsciously. eg, echolalia
• Trained self in social interactions through readings and studying of other people
• Conversations are exhausting
• Always questions people’s motives
• Rehearses/visualizes what she/he will say to another or how to act in a social situation.
• Requires a large amount of down time or alone time
• Sense of humor are most of the time odd, quirky, or inappropriate.
• Difficulty recognizing faces and memorizing names
• Speaks frankly and literally most of the time.
• People frequently tell them that what they’ve said is impolite, even though they think it is polite
• May cry or laugh easily or at inappropriate times.
• May try to surround themselves with people, making lots of close acquaintances, but no deep friendships.
• May sound narcissistic and tends to monopolize a conversation.
• Feelings of isolation, being misplaced and constantly questions his/her place in the world.
• Difficulty in saying a lie. When committing this, though, gives them a strong sense of guilt and shame.
• Holds a lot of feelings and thoughts but has a difficulty expressing it.
• Feeling of safety or relief when alone, but at the same time, can feel guilt for not doing what his/her peers are doing normally.
• Feelings on extremes: either too empathic or apathetic, or too sensitive or insensitive
• Takes time in feeling good about himself/herself.
• Longs to be seen, heard, and understood
• Can see the connection of things to himself/herself. eg. can view an item as an extension of oneself.
• Fears others opinions, criticism, and judgment but feels trapped between wanting to be herself and wanting to fit in
• Trouble identifying own’s feelings unless they are extreme
• Sticking to a routine, a change in their routine can rouse a sense of panic
• Selective mutism
• Since puberty has had bouts of depression (may have PMDD)
• Eating disorders or food obsessions
• Abused or taken advantage of as a child but didn’t think to tell anyone
• Easily embarrassed or extremely elated when being given a small compliment.
• Copes up from anxiety through writing, numbers or creating things.
• Has certain “feelings” or emotions towards words and/or numbers
• Generalized Anxiety and sense of pending doom or danger.
PHYSICAL AND SENSORY:
• Sensory Issues, sometimes may experience synesthesia
• Trouble in filtering background noise
• Awkward movements and/or mannerisms (hand flapping, rocking of upper body, swaying, picking nails, chewing of lips, etc)
• Irritable bowel and/or intestinal issues
• May have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and/or Hypotonia and/or POTS syndrome
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