How a TV show helped me realize I had Asperger's syndrome
I went almost my entire life just thinking I was weird. I got through high school with very minimal bullying and I kept my head down in college and basically dominated. I never really had a super close group of friends, I never wore makeup (and still don’t), I hated getting dressed up, and overall, I wanted to be left alone.
I thought I was just an introvert. Turns out, there’s more to it than that. When I was 22, and after already being virtually obsessed with the NBC show “Parenthood,” I started realizing how very similar to the character Max Braverman I was. Max Braverman, for those of you who were too busy watching over Thursday night shows, was a lot like me. He didn’t talk a lot, had very intense interests, and had a hard time understanding other people. Max had Asperger’s syndrome.
And so do I.
If you don’t know what Asperger’s is, it’s a mild form of autism that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, along with obsessive and repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. Here are some things that led me to the discovery that I, too, have Asperger’s.
The first thing I noticed is that Max ignores when people are talking to him. I didn’t realize this was what I do until I took a step back from myself. In the pilot episode, Max’s dad, Adam, takes Max to school and when another student says hi to Max, Max doesn’t respond. Adam asks Max if he heard the kid say hi and Max replied, “Yes.”
I find myself doing this a lot. I am very good at listening. Almost too good at it. People will direct questions, statements, and ideas at me and I will (without fully realizing it), not respond. Of course I heard what they said but there are two reasons why I say nothing. Either I don’t know what to say or I don’t want to say anything. That sounds so stupid, but I’d rather say nothing than say the wrong thing (I do that a lot). I am definitely not a social butterfly. I like to keep to myself. I enjoy reading and writing and watching baseball games. Being around groups of people makes me nervous and I have a hard time empathizing with people. It’s something that I’ve been working to be better at and thanks to therapy, I can definitely see an improvement.
Max is also an absolute stickler for the rules, Back in season 2, there is a very memorable scene where Max is shopping with Adam. They are standing in the checkout line for 20 items or less and Max notices that the gentleman in front of him has more than 20 items. Max starts to pull things off of the conveyor belt, obviously making the man in front of him mad. Long story short, Adam gets in a fight with this guy.
Now, I’ve never been in a fight, but that doesn’t mean I never wanted to. I follow the rules and I want other people to follow the rules. It causes me a lot of anxiety and anger when people know what they should be doing, or how they should be acting and they clearly don’t do it. For example, at work, students aren’t allowed to enter one of the doorways to our multipurpose room, but they do it anyway. I seem to be the only authority figure to put the policy into practice so I had to give up that fight. Just seeing someone walk in that door infuriates me to no end.
Throughout elementary school and middle school and especially in high school, I had one, maybe 2 friends (and one of them was always my twin sister). Max has the same problem in season 3 when he tells his mom, Kristina, that he has new friends. Kristina watches Max interact with them one day while she’s waiting to pick him up but finds that they are actually making fun of him. They ask him hard math questions and laugh at Max when he goes through his serious of leg taps and claps to figure it out. Needless to say Kristina made sure Max didn’t hang out with those kids.
My “friends” in middle school made fun of my sister and I relentlessly and even started putting threatening notes in our lockers. It got to the point where I begged my mom to let me stay home from school. Max does that too, after in season 5 he is bullied by his classmates on the class trip causing him to leave the trip early. On the way home, he cries (which is weird because he’s usually so unemotional), and he asks why everyone hates him. I felt like that a lot growing up. And I cried a lot too.
Most of the time, anyway, I felt that having friends was exhausting. I didn’t want to do what they wanted to do and making sure other people were having a good time was not high on my priority list.
Now, I am 25. I’m thankful that Parenthood gives such great insight into being someone who has Asperger’s because without that show, I never would have talked to my doctor about how I was feeling. Now that I have an explanation about why I am the way I am, I feel a lot more comfortable with myself and I can look inwards and try to change some of the things that I have trouble with (like talking to people). This show made such an impact on my life, I’ll be grateful for it always.
[Image via NBC]