April is Autism Awareness Month, but what about other people on the spectrum?

I wrote this two years ago, and my message remains the same. Just wanted to add some other things as well. 

Normally I use this blog to rant about the events going on in the worlds of sports and politics. But this issue is really important to me.

As you all may be aware, the month of April is dedicated to the awareness and acceptance of children and people with autism, a neural disorder that affects the development of a child’s social and communication skills. In 2012, about 20 kids per populations of 1,000 were diagnosed with autism in the United States.

Autism is one of THREE major disorders recognized in a range of behavioral and development disorders forming the autism spectrum. The other two are: Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s is a high functioning form of autism that specifically affects social interaction skills and some behavioral patterns that would be considered eccentric. Another major symptom includes the development of intense and sometimes obsessive interests in things, and a refusal to try other things.

Some people may not notice that a person has asperger’s because they seem to be totally normal as they mature, but early on they have trouble fitting in with peers and society. But eventually many of them go on to become very successful in adult life. In a way, I think this is why I feel that asperger’s isn’t recognized by the general population the way autism is.

I have Asperger’s syndrome. I was diagnosed when I was about two years old, when I couldn’t really speak yet. My mother told me she was very scared that I would never be able to overcome it or be successful as an adult. Throughout my childhood, I struggled to fit in because my social skills developed very slowly. I developed intense interests in sports, video games, and music, and I’m still obsessive about them every day in a way.

During my early years of school (pre-school, kindergarden, 1st grade) I was sectioned off from regular students based on my IEP, and forced to attending special classes with other kids with autism spectrum disorders. I didn’t really feel comfortable there because many of those kids had real autism and had it worse than me.

Even up until high school, I had to attend group “speech” sessions. There, I often met other kids with asperger’s and kids with autism. But as I grew older and more mature, I began to wonder why I needed them so I stopped in my sophomore year, since by then I was a top A/B student taking Advanced Placement and Honors classes.

But even though I had no trouble doing well in more difficult classes in school, Asperger’s syndrome still seriously affected my social skills and it still does today. I used to have trouble forseeing the consequences of my actions and often did things that were viewed as eccentric by my peers. In middle school, I had random outbursts in the middle of class when I got either angry or distraught.

Of course, none of them knew what was wrong with me and thought I was just crazy, so I didn’t really have any friends until high school. I finally started to mature by then and finally found my circle of friends on my high school’s baseball team, as I became an assistant to the coaches. I left New Jersey after graduating high school, and I split my time between going to college in New York City and spending summers and breaks in South Carolina. It’s still been difficult trying to find new friends.

Even as a young adult nearing 21 years old in May, I still am affected by Asperger’s. I have always had trouble adjusting to new things and have fear of meeting new people, speaking in front of groups of people. I sometimes have random, compulsive thoughts when meeting people that I have learned to control, but it makes me appear and feel socially awkward. Even though I am doing very well in college, I still have had trouble making new friends at college.

Many people with asperger’s have been able to overcome the disorder and go on to become very successful. Famous people who may have had the disorder include Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Mark Zuckerberg, several of the Founding Fathers of our country, Alfred Hitchcock, Bill Gates, and comedian actors Michael Palin and Robin Williams. Indeed, the disorder mostly affects social skills rather than intelligence.

However, many people believe that the disorder’s effect on social interaction development can lead some people to impulsive, and explosive behavior. Some people have gone out and blamed recent mass shootings on Aspergers. I assure you that even if they did have the disorder, they are so few and the stigma is cruel and unfair. We’re not like that. At all.

I think people need to be aware of our struggles with Asperger’s and should embrace us. We are normal. We are intelligent. We are inventive. We are strong. We are just like everyone else. We just have trouble fitting in and we need help to find our way from our peers.

I really hope to one day go into more and more detail of my childhood and life growing up with Asperger’s and eventually write a book about it. I want to help promote the awareness and acceptance of my disorder so my generation’s children will not be alone and misunderstood by their peers like I once was in middle school.

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