What it's like living at the center of the autistic spectrum
I’m a 15-year-old girl and I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’ve had my fair share of struggles with Asperger’s, and I’ve only recently been able to start accepting myself for who I am and not let my Asperger’s define me.
When I say that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, chances are the first thing that comes to mind is the outsider — an outcast, maybe, or somebody who can’t put their thoughts into the right sentences. Maybe somebody who makes little eye contact or doesn’t understand social situations. These stereotypes exist for a good reason; I have experienced all of the above. Yes, these are common traits of Asperger’s Syndrome, but common doesn’t mean always.
I experienced these common traits of Asperger’s before I was diagnosed, nearly six years ago. When I was younger, I always had the best of intentions; all I wanted was to be friends with people, but I had a funny way of showing it. I wasn’t shy. I was confident, but that didn’t help me at all when it came to making friends. Like everyone else, I just wanted to be liked and accepted — unfortunately, I didn’t come across like that at all. After several school changes, my family realized that change of scenery wasn’t going to make any difference. Moving schools wasn’t going to help me convey the things in my head to other people in the way I intended or help me understand how being social worked. I found myself spiraling into a pit of loneliness and sadness, and I didn’t understand why.
Looking back on it now, it was clearly my fault. Not my conscious fault, but still my fault. When I moved up to high school, months after my diagnosis, things changed for me. People didn’t know what I was like and I was able to keep a façade up long enough for people to get to know me and like me before I was able to be myself around other people. I’m not saying I haven’t made mistakes (it’s safe to say that I’ve made more of my fair share), but I was able to relax and enjoy what were going to be the best few years of my life so far. The hurdles got smaller and I was able to learn through watching what people expected from a friend and how social circles worked. Because I’ve had to learn, I’ve always been careful, like in a long exam. This exam is called LIFE.
When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I was told it was a very mild case. Learning about my condition was great, and shortly after my diagnosis, I stopped having many of the problems I had faced for so long. I still struggle with eye contact in awkward situations (who doesn’t though?), and I don’t always say things the way they’re intended, but I probably struggle with it more than other people. In general though, things are pretty good right now, and I’m thankful for that.
You see, autism is like a long line, known as the autism spectrum. We are all on this spectrum; people without autism are just at one end of it. The coolest, most sassy girl at school is on this line and so is your current cursh. There is a zone on this line where autistic people fall and another zone where the people with Asperger’s Syndrome are, and I’ve just made it on there. Here is a very simplified illustration:
Autism comes in many forms, from mild learning disabilities to the kind Einstein had (really — mega-genius Einstein very likely had a form of autism). Another thing about autism is that nobody’s case of autism is the same. Stereotypes can be way off: Everybody with autism has a unique combination of traits, because everybody’s brain is wired slightly differently. Autism can present in many different ways and it’s not always what you would expect.
I always worry when I tell people that know me well that I have autism. It’s always a weight lifted off my shoulders and often offers some explanation for my friends, but it’s not something I tell people until I’ve known them for a while. I worry because I’m scared that knowing will change their opinion of me, even though I can happily say that that hasn’t happened yet and it never bothers them in the slightest. I’m always concerned that they’ll think, “so that’s why she sometimes acts strange; it’s because she is strange.” I try to explain to people that if I act “strange” or sometimes a little too quirky, it’s almost definitely not my Asperger’s. I’d be a quirky, confident barrel of laughs whether I was autistic or not, and expressing this normally helps people to realize that I’m perfectly normal, in spite of my condition. There is nothing “wrong” with me; my brain is just wired up a bit differently to yours, and that’s totally OK.
I often think that my autism is totally gone and when I tell people, I tell them that if I was assessed for autism again, they wouldn’t diagnose me. Maybe this is the case and maybe it isn’t: I don’t have a clue, but I don’t care either. I’m not 75% me and 25% Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m 100% me, Asperger’s or not and no piece of paper can define me as a person or my ambitions, goals and opinions. I used to think that I could never “fit in” as long as there was that piece of text on my medical record, but I’m a human being and I change and grow with every week that passes. I learn new things all the time and with every step I take, I am learning about the world and about myself. I think about the same things as anyone else my age: Hair, acne, gender relations, exams the meaning of life, new episodes of New Girl. Living with Asperger’s doesn’t stop me from being a normal teenager.
If anything, autism has made me more understanding of other people who face rejection from their peers. Although it’s hard to take a stand and make people realize that they’re no more important than the person they’re rejecting, it needs to be done, and I like to think that I can explain to people what rejection can be like, as well as being living proof that it’s possible to change and adapt and still be yourself, no matter how lost you think you are. There are people who have it a lot worse than I do and maybe it will be harder to get by for them, but to the 9-year-olds who went through what I went through, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — you just haven’t seen it yet.
I am not a girl with autism. I am a girl who likes playing double bass, exploring the unknown and making a stand for inequality. I just also happen to have Asperger’s Syndrome.
Antonia lives in the british countryside and plays flute, piano and double bass. She occasionally composes music and writes songs but her greatest achievement is only seeing “Frozen” once. She can also rap the whole of “Superbass” on request.