Enlightening, But Not The Way You Think

Asperger’s Syndrome is characterized by:

  • Average or above-average intelligence
  • Difficulties with high-level language skills such as verbal reasoning, problem solving, making inferences and predictions
  • Difficulties in empathizing with others
  • Problems with understanding another person’s point of view
  • Difficulties engaging in social routines such as conversations and‘small talk’
  • Problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety
  • A preference for routines and schedules which can result in stress or anxiety if a routine is disrupted
  • Specialised fields of interest or hobbies.
Source: Better Health, Victoria Australia

I have always been skeptical to take a doctor’s opinion on face value without my own assessment based on personal observation and, of course, some digging of my own. I feel that the pharmaceutical industry can be manipulative and greedy, creating “disorders” to sell new “cures” to anyone who might fall into a vague and broad definition of what’s not “normal.”

Anxiety Makes Me Nervous

For years I have lived with the “professional” assessment that I have an anxiety disorder. The causes — and certainly relief from — this problem have remained, for me, elusive; even after I graduated with a BA in psychology I found that there seems to be more opinion than fact to support the origins and treatments. My own long road of therapy has included hypnosis, guided meditation, psychotherapy, a few popular medications, exposure therapy, bad New Age music  and a whole lot o’ reading. The most I could get out of all this was the suggestion that, in combination with some bodily chemicals that weren’t playing nice, there was some early (but now repressed) childhood experience that paved the way for a lifetime of avoidance and, apparently, unnecessary fear of some vague threat.

Somehow, though, this tidy but nebulous explanation just didn’t seem to fill the order. Then I stumbled across Asperger’s.

All in the Family

I was told that anxiety and depression “run in the family,” but in retrospect it seems like most of my older relatives were just regular consumers of various mood-altering medications to essentially deal with what everyone else was dealing with at the time: kids, money, a house, money, caring for their parents, money, marital strife, money and of course buying as much stuff as they possibly could but craving more crap.

I lived with this supposition for most of my life until my daughter was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Like most parents who get some unexpected and potentially disturbing news about their child I, at first, though, “No. Not my child. She was fine. The doctor’s are just covering their asses, diagnosing her so they can say they have an explanation for her behavior.”

But after a lot of consideration and discussion it seemed that, indeed, there was a developmental problem that needed to be addressed. The scary part was not really knowing how things would turn out in time. The doctors had told us she’d be in “special” classes and maybe, in a year or so, she could be sent to public school. We put her in therapy, avoided medication and tried to learn what we could do to help her.

A few weeks ago she finished eighth in her class in kindergarten in a private school — far ahead of the doctors’ prediction. She’s learning how to read, write, use a computer, takes drama and swimming classes and has friends.

Although I still notice she exhibits some of her earlier behavior I see a huge difference from before she received help. While the way her brain processes information may be a little to one side of the bell curve for the rest of her life, she’s a great kid who has, in an unexpected way, shown me that Asperger’s Syndrome may be something I share with her.

Digging in the Dirt

The more I dig, the more it makes sense, particularly the increasingly and marked impairment to socialize. Granted, I have always been a bit of a lone wolf — and thought that was pretty cool — but I see how I was probably less a misfit as someone who, for some as yet unexplained reason, could not mentally process how to mix with others. I feel that this, along with a lifetime of ritualistic and obsessive behavior, preoccupation with one activity to the exclusion of others and (admittedly) a general lack of empathy, is the real cause of my so-called anxiety problem; that I knew, at an early age, how confusing and (let’s face it) difficult it was going to be at school and, later, at work.

At this age I thought I’d be kickin’ it with my high school friends and their young families. I thought I’d be at some higher level of creative management at whatever studio I’d been at, and that my retirement day was a lot closer than my initiation day there.

Instead, my contact with “friends” only takes place on Facebook and I’m unemployed. I’m a geek and a loner — technically with a genius IQ — avoiding interpersonal contact as much as possible because, frankly, I just don’t know how to do it — and really never did.

If there’s a lesson in here somewhere (and God bless ya’ if you’ve read this far) it’s that even if you have to fake it because of whatever’s fucked up in your skull, make and nurture relationships as early as you can. Naturally, the fantasy of growing grey among your friends you knew in kindergarten is just that: a fantasy; but you can, realistically, make and keep at least a few friends — and remain tight with at least a few relatives — while you’re young.

I was the rebel, the outcast, the misfit. But it was just a mask.


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