As part of The West Pacific's month-long recognition of Autism Spectrum Disorder, we present three essays from our friends on the spectrum.
So, I suppose I should start by telling you all about myself. I’m Wymondham, Vizier of CA in Osiris, NSToday PR Director and Court Justice in Lazarus. But, I’m not here to talk about that. I was diagnosed with High Functioning Aspergers at age 13 and that helped explain a lot to me. However, to explain the rest of my story, we need to go back further to when I first started primary school aged 4. I had always found making friends difficult and the same was true at Primary school, I made 2 or 3 friends and was very close to all of them. I quickly found that, although I excelled at the work, I would misinterpret the teachers instructions and was often told off despite not really knowing what I had done wrong. When I got to the older years though I had an excellent teacher who seemed to really understand me and I cannot thank her enough for the ways she helped me. Whether it was from giving me instructions that I could follow and easily understand, to stretching me in terms of work difficulty by moving me up a year, which is an arrangement that I have continued to this day. Moving up to High School was difficult for me. I struggled very much to make friends and was bullied until the summer of last year. Without a diagnosis my teachers refused to make allowances for me. I got into a very heated row with my Head of House when he refused to give me some space to calm down following a fracas with another boy who had been mocking me because of my appearance. I’ve always struggled with expressing my feelings and, as such can often find opening up to people rather difficult. I was diagnosed aged 13 and it helped me understand a lot about myself. Suddenly certain things I didn’t understand why I did suddenly became a lot clearer and it has become a lot easier to develop strategies to control my often explosive anger. Routines are a major part of my day and since getting my diagnosis people have certainly been a lot more accepting off it. For example, when I go on discord, I will always say good morning to servers in a certain order: a friends personal discord server, followed by Osiris, then my two family servers, then Thalassia and finally Karma. Same goes for saying goodnight in PMs, I say goodnight to Rigel first and Altino last. I will have lunch at a certain time every day, go for my walk at precisely 2PM. Therefore, disruptions to my routine such as the Coronavirus can be extremely disorientating, I go to a boarding school which I find extremely useful due to the routine. Going home has required a readjustment to my routine and for the first week I was very very confused until I adjusted to the new normal. The internet and NS have been so useful for me as someone with Aspergers syndrome. It has given me the opportunity to interact with people without having to read facial expressions, which are the bane of my social existence - as a Brit I have grown up around Sarcasm so do not find that as difficult to deal with as other people with Aspergers. It has enabled me to meet people like Altino, Rigel, Halo, Rachael and Sho who have all helped me so much with my other mental health struggles which my tendency to hyperfocus does not exactly aid. So yeah, that’s me and Aspergers. If you’ve got any questions TG me or shoot me a discord PM (Wymondham#3478)
As a kid, I always was a little different. I skipped speaking individual words and went straight to sentences. My teachers told my parents I was far behind on reading, and that I had major learning disorders until all of a sudden, I could read paragraphs and was years ahead of my class. When I was four years old, I was playing with a friend and he teased me mercilessly. Instead of getting angry at the time, I waited a day, and then bit his finger to the bone. My favorite book to read for years was volume A of the encyclopedia. I received my initial diagnosis back when Aspergers was just added to the DSM. My mom had read up about it, and was pretty sure I had it. The psych, however, didn’t believe that it was a real disorder. In the end, I was diagnosed with ADHD, Dysgraphia, and Non-verbal learning disorder. I started therapy at 4 years old. I don’t remember much of my early therapy, but one of the things I do remember was my writing therapist giving up on me. I went to a writing therapist for four years, but by second grade I was using a laptop because the therapist didn’t know how to improve my motor skills. I didn’t have a good experience with therapy until I was 8 years old, and we’d moved to a different city. I got a fresh start with a new therapist that I would end up seeing for the next thirteen years. Through middle school, I went to therapy 2-3 times a week. I lacked very basic social skills and was unable to read people at all. I was very young for my grade (made the cutoff for being in that grade by 2 days), and then skipped 4th grade. My peers were 2-3 years older than me, and I just didn’t know how to interact with them. Therapy was a very important part of my life and helped me learn how to function. I was regularly bullied by some of the kids, and therapy helped me learn coping skills, and how to handle people. I was very lucky to have incredibly supportive parents. Therapy also taught me how to connect with my father. We also conflicted when I was young, because he had issues understanding my actions. I had a tendency to use my “logic” which no one else could understand where I came to the conclusion that something needed to be done. The most common therapy that I did as a kid was “play” therapy. The therapist and I would talk and play games, and he’d indulge all the rules changes I would make to the game. This allowed me to open up more, and really helped me learn how to communicate. Over time, I learned how to read body language better, while also getting really good at the made up version of connect 4 that we used to play. I ended up repeating 8th grade, not for academic reasons but because I would have been going into high school as a 12 year old, and that would have made the bullying worse. When I was 14 or 15, my psych admitted that I most likely had Asperger’s, but it wasn’t worth changing my diagnosis because it would mess with all the educational plans I had at school. I would have been forced into special education classes, and taken out of my honors classes, and it would have really been detrimental to my social life that I’d finally managed to start developing. In middle school and ninth grade, I always had a very small circle of friends but I started blossoming in tenth grade when I joined the school jazz band. Music helped me connect with people, and I was able to form close attachments with friends. I still was the “weird” kid, but all of us were a little bit weird and that taught me it was ok. Making friends was the next important step in development for me. Back in middle school, I thought it was “cool” to sit by myself because it would impress the girls. I wasn’t any smoother in high school, but navigating social groups and bonds helped set me up for the learning how to become a functional adult. This was also around the time I got into Nationstates. Nationstates was great because on the internet you could be anyone, and no one had to know your struggles if you didn’t want them to. Nationstates taught me a lot about online communication at the same time I was really learning how to interact with people in-person. The next step for me was in college when I got into Improvisational Comedy. One of my long running-struggles was a massive need for “structure”. Without structure, I was unable to operate and basically shut down. Improv taught me how to play around with-in the rules, before later learning how to break them. This was a big improvement over me as a kid, where I once tattled on my cousin for buying me ice cream when my mom told her not to get it for me because I knew I broke the rule and it wasn’t right. I’m now a “slightly weird” adult. I had a conversation with a former co-worker that told me that when I was hired, they thought I was going to be incredibly annoying. I had a tendency to want to talk while they were doing work and wouldn’t understand their body language that they wanted me to back off. This was a really important learning for me, and I’ve told my co-workers to straight up tell me “hey, I need to do stuff.” Therapy helped me learn how to read people, but when I get excited I still run into issues. I hyper-focus on this, and I get really excited about stupid things and then explain it to my poor wife. I got really into smart home technology, and now I own three smart ceiling fans. It’s interesting to think of what I would have been like without years of work. When people think of the spectrum, they think of what they’ve seen in movies. Not everyone needs to live in a group home, but if they do that’s ok. We all cope and learn to do things different ways. My business partner was diagnosed with Autism as an adult, and it made a lot of things in his life “click”. We have discussions because sometimes it feels like we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of our preferences to do things, but because our brains are different that “normal” people we can understand each other better. Normal is a relative concept. Most people have no idea that my friend or I are on the spectrum, and many would be surprised to find out. There is a stigma attached to the spectrum that needs to be cleared up. People on the spectrum can be just as unique from each other as they are to neurotypical brains. If you know someone with autism, just talk to them about it. Ask about their preferences or why they said something. Be gentle, be kind, and be understanding. This doesn’t mean be a pushover. Being on the spectrum is not a license to be an asshole, and I thank my parents, friends, and coworkers for giving me boundaries. Awareness of the spectrum is key for the future. There’s a whole gap between the public perception of “group home” or “rain man”. Awareness is really important, and I’m glad that people are starting to learn more.
I think a lot has been written by people close to Autism, quite a number of articles, studies, notes and even projects that heralded new insight as to what Autism (and the spectrum) is. Not so much (or at least published in great numbers or popular in nature) has been written by the autistic to tell their part. The new found use for Social media and Social networking has shifted the balance here, everyone can get a platform to shed light on the things close to their hearts and to be able to express themselves somewhat. We know what the DSM says about Autism: "Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM 5)*, is a complex developmental disorder associated with symptoms that include "persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts" and "restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities." But, from the point of view of someone in the spectrum, what does that really mean? To me, being on what used to be called Asperger’s and now is just a part of the ASD, it means that certain things are FAR more important or worthy of attention than others. That I’ll settle in and be comfortable with certain tasks and situations, while being absolutely unable to cope with others, and for each one of us, these are different. My son, also on the spectrum will tirelessly research, learn and go on to teach if allowed anything and everything he can about video editing, cinema and movies. He’s dedicated dozens of hours to analyzing the differences in DVD (or BluRay) menu options between different versions of a movie, and will gladly share everything he knows about it if you just sit down “for a minute”. Some of us are very prone to bouts of “self isolation”, alone playtime, going into closets, under beds, or dark places. Others are hyper and love moving about and doing all sorts of physical activity, but one major thing we have in common is that social “awkwardness” that prevails over most of our interactions; be it that we miss social cues, we take things at face value, or simply, miss absolutely anything relating to sarcasm or innuendo because we only really register the words, not the nuances. Overall it makes daily things hard. People may take advantage of it (we trust a lot) or be afraid of our aloofness or possibly even they fear that we may become irate “over nothing”; quick hint here, very rarely it’s over nothing. We on the spectrum obsess easily, that’s a great gift for learning, but we also don’t let things go as fast as others. Someone making fun of you stays, sometimes even for years, which lends itself for some really hard times when forgiving a slight. Eating is another “fun” time. Some of us have issues with textures, some foods that are absolutely enjoyable by most, are actually retch producing and we need to work around that daily. It all is variable, and some people seem very far removed from “neurotypical” while others are far more functional, but sometimes none of us get a chance to show how or why. I’ve taken my son out of more schools than I care to admit, we’ve tried different systems, education patterns, teachers and methods, and only some work, and not all the time. We’ve had parents force our kid out of the classroom because they are afraid that their children may miss classes, have a hard time, or, in the worst cases “catch something”. It’s been 11 years of schooling, Jr has moved to seventh grade now, he’s moved out of the city and into a more rural environment, people are somehow more open there, teachers try to explore different ways, and the fact that there is more space and nature, has brought anxiety levels down on all of us. Not everyone is this lucky, we had a choice, we were able to move him to a place where people were willing to not just shy away, but reach out; in times like this, don’t we need a bit more of reaching out, albeit metaphorically if not actually?