People with Asperger's Syndrome are good statisticians
Your image of people with Asperger's Syndrome is wrong
Cover photo: The author, on the left in the picture, makes a socially competent impression.
"You don't look like you have Asperger's at all."
I hear this sentence often. And that actually nips any understanding in the bud. It's the moment a friend, a one-night stand, or even a partner finds out that I have Asperger's and says they know better about my condition than the people who diagnosed me.
Often it is simply meant in solidarity: "Hey, you can easily pass what we call normal here. Well done!" Nevertheless, it shows that you don't really know anything about the disorder.
Now that the general public is aware of the existence of Asperger's, the syndrome is actually completely dominated by this cliché of social incompetence. When someone says I don't look like I have Asperger's, I read between the lines, "All people with Asperger's Syndrome are interpersonal, solitary, obsessive, and damn good at math, aren't they?"
I'm not going to go into detail here about what Asperger's is, because VICE has already done it pretty well. Instead, I'm going to talk about all of the misunderstandings and prejudices people have about this disorder at this point. The article linked above is from 2012, but one thing has changed since then: Asperger's Syndrome is now classified according to ICD 10 - the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems - alongside other diagnoses such as early childhood autism, atypical autism or Rett syndrome the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This very general term encompasses everything that has in any way to do with autism. For a better understanding we leave it with the original name.
I'm terrible at math and I love to socialize, even if it's incredibly exhausting for me. I spend most of the day after such a social event compulsively thinking about the 10,000 things I was guaranteed to have done wrong that everyone now hates me for. However, while I'm there, I have a pretty good time — as long as I don't think about doing something that other people might find me weird for. People with Asperger's Syndrome are affected differently by the disorder, but in general we are all considered highly functional.
That is one of our advantages. Because having Asperger's means being a great actor. People with the syndrome develop different personalities that adapt them to different situations. After enough practice, none of us look like we have Asperger's. Much like how depressed people try to make people feel happier, some people with Asperger's develop personalities that will help them make friends and fit in easily.
Even if we make new friends through it, it unfortunately doesn't even begin to serve our need for community, which brings serious risks. Maybe I'm just an asshole, but I've always found that the really bad thing about living with Asperger's Syndrome isn't the clumsiness of people, it's that devastating sense of "otherness." This means that you can stand in a room full of people who all say how much they love you around them, but still feel lonely. There's not much talk about it, but depression and Asperger's often go hand in hand. And that's exactly what led me to my first suicide attempt.
I am not alone in this, however. Depending on which study you look at, 7 to 15 percent of people who are hospitalized for suicide attempts are also diagnosed with autism. That's quite a lot, considering that only 1 percent of the people in the UK where I live are autistic.
It's just incredibly disturbing when you see friends, family, and co-workers distancing themselves from you for breaking some social rule — maybe you insulted someone without realizing it. You're starting to feel less and less welcome in some places, but you can't ask what went wrong because people just don't want to tell you. Because you cannot read interpersonal or social signals, you often carry this strange gut feeling with you that there is a problem, but you don't have the tools to analyze it.
This uncomfortable feeling makes people with Asperger's Syndrome plagued with self-doubt. If Asperger's taught me one thing, it is that my gut feeling is often wrong. If you ask people that they are somehow cool about you, it will only drive them away from you if they weren't cool about you at all. The worst part of it all is that even if I have the social skills of a toddler, I often enough find that I am being misunderstood. At the same time, however, I am unable to resolve the situation or express myself. I'm always at a loss as to why friends don't want to hang out or talk to me anymore. This applies to different people in different ways, but many friends with Asperger's Syndrome have already told me something similar.
In fact, a friend told me that the only way to cope with the invisible and unspoken pressures of society is if she "just stops caring about what anyone thinks of her". Better said than done.
But even if people with Asperger's slowly struggle to understand these unwritten rules of interpersonal togetherness, it is figures from pop culture like Sheldon Cooper from the uncomfortable Big Bang Theory or Ryan Gosling's super cool and super brutal role in Drivewho spread these stereotypes. Living with Asperger's Syndrome is much more than that, but so far that's all we experience as a representation.
It would be nice if the popular culture portrayal of Asperger's focused less on picking up cheap laughs and more on the other side of the syndrome: the increased risk of mental illness, debilitating self-doubt, and also the uncomfortable topic of increased suicide risk. The most important thing to keep in mind with all of this is that we are all different - and that goes for portrayal in films and series as well as for friendship with we strange and mythical Asperger's creatures. And we all do our best to get by in this life.
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