When I first discovered that I had Asperger’s, I was sitting on the couch with my laptop. I knew about the disorder because my nephew was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome four years ago and I read up in order to understand him better. For several years, there was always this nagging thought in the back of my mind that did not make it to the forefront of my consciousness. I am the type of person who doesn’t realize she is cold until she’s driven in the car for 45 minutes in the wintertime, with the heat off. So the little details that explain the challenges of my life stayed dormant and didn’t shoot forth until they came (and still come) in little bursts of clarity at 3:00 in the morning or at other unusual times. But there was this crystallizing moment where something sharp stirred in my brain, spurring me to actually search for Asperger’s in Women instead of just Asperger’s.
I remember that i was shocked. I felt like the joke had been on me; I was the one who educated people about autism and especially Asperger’s because I wanted people like my nephew to be given a break. Regular people, please don’t always assume the kid in the grocery store acting like a brat is actually a brat. Autistic people have different brain wiring and they can’t change their brain apparatus any more than neurotypical people can change theirs. So give them a break, Neurotypical People! That was my message.
In my earlier life, which I now find ironic, I used this phrase to describe people: “socially retarded.” Now before you get all worked up about the phrase I just used, please let me defend myself a little. I took French for two years in high school and for two years in college. The French word, “tard” means late. I have identified with that French word my entire life because with the exception of learning to read, I have been late in just about everything. When I think of the word, “retarded,” I picture someone who is perpetually late. In that regard, there should be no objection to my use of the word. And now that I realize that I am the one who is socially retarded, I feel like my use of the phrase is even more justified. Socially, people like me can understand other people and we can have empathy for them. It just takes us some time and, for me at least, it almost never happens on the fly but later, in the middle of the night or after a month.
After some of the shock wore off, I had some moments of relief. Now I could explain the struggles of my life: the spotty resume, the realization that most of my jobs had been part-time and short-lasting, that it took me seven years to get a bachelor’s degree, why even now teen-aged girls make me nervous, my need for home and security, why I couldn’t figure out exactly which question a person was asking so I answered questions not even asked and ended up seeming dishonest, why I have a larger than usual personal zone, why my skin actually crawls if people get too close to me, why I don’t like shopping or large crowds, why I look at people’s mouths during a conversation, why the path of my life is always from point A to point B and I often walk right over anything in between, why I can talk to a thousand people at once but have more trouble when talking to one or two, why people think I’m rude when I’m trying very hard to be the opposite. And, if you know anything about Asperger’s, you know some of the many other things on the list.
After the relief came a much longer period of depression. Then came acceptance. I know there are five official steps of grief and now that I have been through all five, I realize that there’s also a sixth one. Humor. When the knowledge of having Asperger’s was still pretty new to me (I’ve known for a about four months), I called my sister, laughing hysterically. Quirky gallows humor to be sure. That day I had gone to a public restroom and the only stall available was a Handicap stall and I used it without guilt.. “Before I had Asperger’s,” I recounted to her, “I would never have used a Handicap stall. But now that I have it, I do!”