I always knew I was a little weird.
“She’s just shy,” people said. “She’ll grow out of it.” As a kid, I was waiting for that magical day when I would grow out of it, when I would know what to say when someone spoke to me. In the meantime, I hopped around like a frog, barked like a dog, or talked like a Furby when I was required to communicate.
My weirdness became more obvious as I grew. At some point, adults stop seeing your odd behavior as just a kid being a kid and start expecting you to be polite and social. Suddenly they wanted me to look at them when they spoke to me, to stand still and stop jumping around, to shake their hands and say hello and pay attention.
It became more and more obvious to me that something was not right. The kids at school weren’t nice to me. Some of the teachers weren’t, either. I thought I was going crazy. I was sad all of the time, and I started getting migraines and rashes from stress. I was constantly sick to my stomach.
I was 14 when I learned the term Asperger Syndrome. Of course, Asperger’s technically no longer exists; sometime in the past decade it was rolled into the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, but some people, like myself, still call ourselves Asperger’s.
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger’s is defined by some specific characteristics, such as poor social skills, inability to interpret gestures and body language, poor eye contact, preference for a strict routine, and trouble recognizing sarcasm and humor, among others. Asperger’s individuals often struggle with depression and anxiety. Now, it is more likely to be called High Functioning Autism.
I was officially diagnosed at age 15, and I was so relieved. I wasn’t actually crazy! There was a name for my struggles!
Things weren’t suddenly easy after that. There was a name for it, but what do you do with that information? I struggled through school. I struggled socially. I struggled getting a job. Studies are showing that up to 85% of adults on the spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. I’ve certainly found myself in that number. I’ve tried being who I thought people wanted me to be, who I was taught to be, and that didn’t work.
It’s taken a while; over 15 years after I first heard of Asperger’s, I can finally say I have embraced who I am. Who I am doesn’t always fit into society and what people expect of me, but that is OK.
Perhaps you have a similar story. Perhaps you’re struggling to find your place in this world, or your child is on the spectrum and you don’t know what to do. The world still confuses me, but I can tell you my story and what I’ve learned along the way.