I work in an office which is shared between a few small businesses and whilst the people in my company know about my recent diagnosis of ASD the other people in the office do not. So when I overheard a couple of employees in another company talking about ‘that socially awkward person’ they had met who they thought had Asperger’s, I was not offended. I was slightly embarrassed for them as their narrow-minded description showed their lack of understanding more than the enlightenment they thought they had, but I am not embarrassed to have the same diagnosis as the people they had met. I am ‘socially awkward’ and have always known myself to be even before my diagnosis. My presentation of this is probably different to what they described of these other ‘autistic’ people they had met, but then we are all individuals.
As it turned out, my boss had also overheard the conversation and possibly noticed my embarrassment. His comment was interesting: ‘It’s OK, you don’t fit the standard profile.’ I was a bit too overwhelmed to reply at the time but I’ve been mulling his comment over ever since. I have to say I don’t agree with him.
On a practical level, of course I fit the profile; I am diagnosed with ASD. I have a high IQ so when I watch and learn I can quickly implement what I think the social norms are of a given situation, but this only comes with conscious effort. I can’t make small talk, I can’t do things spontaneously, I don’t know how to tell a white lie, I can’t sustain conversations in noisy pubs or when a TV is on, I don’t know when to enter a conversation so either interrupt people or am silent, I don’t call people ‘to catch up’, I forget birthdays, I forget to buy wedding presents, I forget to ask my husband about his day when we get home from work… I could go on and on! I do not operate on the same social plane as the general populous. And, I am OK with that.
On an emotional level, I think he was implying that I shouldn’t be OK with being in the ASD box. That I should be embarrassed that I am in the same box as ‘socially awkward’ people who ‘talked about computers all the time’. I am not. I will not be embarrassed to be in the same box as my husband’s 4 year old cousin who is as yet non-verbal, highly repetitive in his behaviour, solitary in his play, easily overwhelmed by sounds and lights, and yet to be diagnosed. I find him fascinating and beautiful. I understand him. I understand them. I understand how I am similar and how I am different from them.
It strikes me as I write this that whilst one of the biggest problems neutotypical people have in dealing with autistic people is that they won’t accept the differences and move on, another problem seems to be that they don’t want to admit that there might be ways in which they are similar to us. They don’t want to admit that they also might have a fear of meeting new people or large social gatherings, it just gets expressed in a different way. They don’t want to see the inherited love of music in their child that make them similar to the rest of the family, they just see the ‘autism’ that makes them different.