Reader Benoni left the following questions:
I hope you don’t a mind a very personal question about autism, but could you give some advice about coping with the negative aspects of asperger’s syndrome? I’m a very recent diagnosis, was told by my psychologist two weeks ago. From most of what I’ve read about asperger’s syndrome, aspies in general object to the idea of an “autism cure” because they feel autism is part of what makes them who they are. But I feel like if I had the option of “curing” my autism, I’d go for it.
I’ve had people difficulties my entire life, and I know I feel isolated socially but can’t open new social boundaries because I cope those kinds of situations at all, which utterly ruins my confidence. I feel trapped by it. Now that I have a name for my problems, I feel especially anxious to get rid of them. Is this normal for newly diagnosed aspies? Will I naturally learn to accept it, or is it something I’ll have to work towards? I hope none of this offends you, but I’m kinda desperate for advice.
First of all, I wanted to address the issue of the diagnosis. I believe that the diagnosis only makes sense if you feel that it enhances your life in a positive way. I know several people who were diagnosed with autism but they decided to forget they ever were because they didn’t feel it helped them to refer to their way of being with this term. I support them completely because it’s their business how to refer to their way of being. For me, the diagnosis was a very happy event because it came quite late in life (I was 30) and I’d been convinced for all those years that something was deeply wrong with me and I had to conceal what I was really like from everybody. The realization that there were many people who experienced reality in a similar way, people who I could talk to and share my experiences, and that there was a scientifically recognized term for who I am was an enormous relief.
I’m one of those people who’d never want to be “cured”, but I completely understand those who do. We only have one life, and it’s nobody’s business what we find helpful or unhelpful in that one life. People are different and if you perceive this as something negative, something you want to get rid of, that’s completely normal and there is no reason to beat yourself up about this.
Now, the really good news about Asperger’s is that it gets better with time. When you are in your teens, it’s a curse. When you are in your twenties, it’s a burden. But as you get older, it becomes something that starts to work to your advantage.
The not so good news is that you will have to find a way to manage the negative aspects of Asperger’s and then continue to manage them constantly. This is not as bad as it sounds because once you get into the habit, it gets easier. I suggest making a list of the negative aspects (don’t you dig making lists?) and then look at them and see how you can manage them. Everybody manifests differently, so I won’t try to guess what your negative aspects are. I’ll just provide my own list and how I managed the points on it.
Since this isn’t necessarily of interest to everybody, I will place the rest of the post under the break.
1. Being around people is exhausting. – Chose a career that gives me a lot of alone time.
2. Feel bothered by the neurological side of Asperger’s (poor balance, low muscle tone, clumsiness, being accident prone). – Developed a hobby (cooking) and found a physical activity (walking) that gently help me to correct these issues at least to some extent.
3. Can’t drive. – Still haven’t figured this one out.
4. Am incapable of interpreting body language and facial expressions. – Decided to stop stressing about that. If people are incapable of expressing themselves verbally in a way that would make them understood, that’s their problem rather than mine. Decided to proceed from the assumption that everybody likes me and only has positive feelings towards me. If that isn’t true, who cares? In my world, it is.
5. Find it extremely hard to make friends. – Spend time talking to people I like online. Some of the relationships I developed online are a lot more profound than many people have in RL.
6. Suffer during parties and social occasions. – Avoid them. Who said that everybody needs to be a social butterfly? If socializing is unavoidable prepare for it. A planned social activity is much more bearable than an unplanned one. Make a detail plan for what you will do at the party to avoid suffering alone in the corner. Identify people you will be able to talk to. Provide opportunities for taking breaks during parties. I usually a) explore the host’s library (this also offers a chance to ask the host about his/ her books, so there is a conversation topic right there) b) pretend I have an important call from my sister and go outside to “talk to her.” Sometimes my sister has very huge imaginary issues. “We are very close,” I say apologetically and go outside several times to “talk to her.” If that gets old, I have a ton of cousins who can all suddenly become hugely problematic, as well.
7. Feel completely different from everybody else and misunderstood. – Hang out with other autistics. They speak the same language and process information in a similar ways.
If you have some items on your list and don’t know how to manage them, why not share them here, and we can discuss them collectively. Maybe even work out a strategy of handling specific situations.
And remember: it totally gets better.