When I was a kid, I did not see anybody on TV, in the movies, or in books that was like me.
Asperger’s did not have that kind of exposure back then. The term “Asperger’s” did not show up in the psychiatric handbooks until 1994 and, for the first few years afterwards, there was very little information and a lot of misinformation. The term “autism” had been around since the 1950s but “Asperger’s” was seen as something completely different despite technically fitting under the autism umbrella. Growing up, in my personal life, I also did not know anyone who had Asperger’s. In my home life, there was a huge emphasis on me becoming “mainstream.” I was not allowed to tell anyone about my condition and I was frequently criticized for not exhibiting “normal” behavior. There were so many times during my childhood where I wanted someone to talk to, preferably someone with Asperger’s, who understood what it was like to be me. I did not feel like anyone understood me and I did not even feel like I understood myself. Whether it was hobbies or treatments for my condition, everything was trial and error to see what stuck and what didn’t.
As a kid, I was an avid reader and entertainment watcher. I still am. Personally, I think that the reason that I love these things, and why I have such an imagination, is because I hated my everyday life, where I was rejected and misunderstood and belittled at school and at home. I needed some kind of escape. In my book reading, TV watching, and movie watching I found myself frequently gravitating towards characters that were off-kilter. I identified with the characters who felt like outcasts and who were trying to fit in and who were trying to find where they belonged. I admired the characters that were always true to themselves, even when they were told that they couldn’t be themselves. I found myself identifying with the characters who were different. None of them had Asperger’s but they were going through the same kind of identity crises as me. And there were characters that I wanted to be because of some character trait that they had that I admired about them. During the down days of my life, it was these characters and their creators that kept me going. Even today, against my father’s words, I still credit fictional characters and their creators for getting me through life and for inspiring me. And I wholeheartedly feel that way. I remember being so inspired and blown away by The Incredibles when I was eleven that I went as one of them for Halloween. As a child, Peter Pan was my favorite fairytale and, when I got to, at seventeen, see a production of Peter Pan as they did in 1904, it was hands down one of the greatest experiences of my life. And, in recent months, Wes Anderson movies have become like a warm hand over my heart. These and more have reminded me of what’s important to me in terms of the person I want to be.
These days, Asperger’s has been pushed front and center in pop culture and in news media. Personally, I feel that the character of Max Braverman, from NBC’s Parenthood, started that movement of increased awareness. At the same time, though, there is still a lot of misinformation. For every Max Braverman, we get an Adam Lanza. And, sadly, the bad news always sells more papers and gets higher ratings. Why can’t we live in a world where the good news gets more attention? I was at a Barnes & Noble the other day and the sign at the front door was advertising a new book about Asperger’s, written by someone with Asperger’s. Ten years ago, those kinds of books weren’t published. I’m glad that those books can get published these days. We in the Asperger’s community are finally starting to find our voices and people are starting to listen to our voices. Someday, I want to publish my own book about Asperger’s. Because I love literature and entertainment so much, I want to give my own input to those worlds. Because of what they did for me growing up in helping to forge my identity. Because I want to send a message to any kids out there who feel like being different is wrong, to tell them that being different is fantastic and that they shouldn’t be afraid to be different. I know what it’s like to feel different and to feel like you’re alone and to feel like your own voice isn’t worth hearing. I want the other Aspie kids in this world to feel good about themselves and to tell the world to not act like it’s a bad thing to have Asperger’s.