The Blessing and Curse of Autism
What is Autism? Autism is a life-long disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and relate to the world around them. Some people with Autism have learning disabilities, and some have a normal or even very high intelligence. No two Autistic people are the same. This is what makes Autism a very wide-ranging and interesting condition. The type of Autism I have is called Asperger’s Syndrome. One major difference between Asperger’s and Non-Asperger’s is that there is no speech delay in Asperger’s.
For as long as I can recall I knew I was not like other children my age. I remember as they played with toys, I was more interested in discovering how the toy worked. I would spend hours trying to work out why the wheels on a toy car go around. I would be fixed on this one topic until I worked it out. Apart from being a very inquisitive child and very sensitive to bright lights and loud noises I developed normally in most areas. I had a relatively happy childhood. I went to a mainstream school and I enjoyed my school years. Although I did not excel academically, due to the fact that I could not see the point in learning what I was expected to, school for me was a time I look back on with fondness and a little regret. I say regret because I wish I applied myself a little better than I did. I believe my education suffered due to my autism going undetected throughout my schooling. I was not officially diagnosed until I was 18 years old.
Growing up with autism was difficult and at times a battle. I believe this to be the case because I would become upset at what most people would consider minor things. Things outside of my control upset me the most, for example, if I was meeting a friend and the friend was late, even by a few minutes, this would cause great fear and an unsettling feeling to begin in the centre on my body. I would try to understand why? Maybe they forget, maybe they have been involved in a serious accident? My thoughts would range from reasonable to the unreasonable. On some occasions, I would break out in a cold sweat and worry about the situation, as most people would wait a few more minutes before trying to call their friend I would just ponder all sorts of possible reasons in my mind.
This brings me to the subject of how I think. As a child, I was not interested in what the teachers were teaching me, not because I thought I was above that, but I just found the content of my schooling dull. This is the case in many people with autism if the subject in question is not interesting to them they will just switch off and go into their own world. Now as an adult I am a very academic person, some might say relentless. I read, write and study most of my waking hours. I find more pleasure in reading and looking things up more than socialising with friends or watching TV. I would like to learn more about the workings of the autistic mind as I find I can learn faster, remember more and focus far longer than non-autistic people. When reading a book for example I can remember vast sections of the material, even years after I read the book. I also find that my attention span is above average. Often my mother must inform me that I have been doing something for several hours, and now would be a good time to stop.
Most people with Autism will find a passion for one subject and devote their whole life to that subject. Therefore, most people with autism will be very knowledgeable about the subject. For me, I have an interest in history, art, classical music, and theology among others. I would say that I have a good general knowledge, but excel in theological studies, writing and remembering the worlds national flags and the history behind them. Writing does not always come naturally to me; it depends on my mind-set and how I am feeling on that day. One of my stumbling blocks in writing is explaining things. This is true with many autistic people. We have a hard time in exampling what we mean and why things are so. If you were to ask some of the world’s most well-known autistic people that are known for great discoveries how they came up with such a thought the most likely answer they would give would be something to the effect of, “I just worked it out” or “I just imagined myself at the moment.”
Most of my good ideas don’t come to me when I am sitting at my desk waiting for something to happen. Rather, my best thoughts come to me when I am doing everyday things, such as going shopping or just taking an afternoon walk. The most frequent time is in the evenings when I am trying to sleep a line for a poem will pop in my head, or an idea for an article. They will come to me in a split second and devolve over a period. Hence why I always have a notebook with me and some writing tool.
I would now like to dedicate a few lines to talk about social situation and encounters. I am a loner, not lonely. I enjoy my own company and keep social situations to certain times in the week. This part of my autism journey has changed from when I was a child. I remember when my younger brother was born, I was very protective of him. I would not let people look at him as a baby and would often try to stop them from coming near him whether we knew the person or not was not important. This protective nature of my family is still very important to me, but not as much as when I was a child.
Social situations for me as a child was my worst nightmare. I hated having to deal with people be it school or the wider public. After school each day I would go to my room and watch TV, read books or play games until it was time to go to bed. I would very rarely do what most teenagers do, such as meet with their friends and try to spend as much time away from mum and dad and possible. This suited me very well as I kept to a routine, which is very important to autistic people. I avoided crowds of people which made me feel very uncomfortable. To this day I am not a fan of large crowds and avoid large towns and cities when alone. I also find it hard to make eye contact and read other facial expressions and understand how another person may be thinking or feeling.
This paragraph is the one I dreaded writing the most. My attitude to the world and my behaviour. I see the world in a very black and white way. There are occasions when I can understand that there are some grey areas but most of the time, I commit myself to one thing or the other. As a child, I did display episodes of meltdowns and rage as a way of coping with changes and responding to things outside of my control. As I grew these got less frequent, but the ugly meltdowns would still happen on occasions.
I also have an INTJ personality type. Which stands are Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgment. This personality type is the rarest, making up just 0.8% of the population. This personality type is sometimes called “The Mastermind”. Some of the characteristics of INTJ’s is a value for knowledge and competence, a focus on generating ideas and spending a lot of time inside their minds. Some well-known people with this personality type are Jane Austen, Karl Marx, Isaac Newton, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther, Ludwig van Beethoven and Albert Einstein. People with this personality type are often very gifted and high achievers. During my teenage years I sat an online intelligence test. The results showed that I was in the top 100 in my age group in the U.K. For more information on this personality type click here. You can also take a test to discover your personality type on the same website. Here is also another good website dealing with this topic.
Throughout my teenage years, I struggled with anxiety and depression. There are traits of being autistic that I don’t like. These among other reasons was the root of my depression. On serval occasion, I self-harmed and was admitted to the hospital for minor treatment. Not so long ago I entered my darkness period of depression and decided to take what I call “the coward’s way out.” Thankful by the grace of God my selfish attempt to end my earthly existence failed, but the course I took could well have ended my life. With the help and love of family and dear friends, my depression and anxiety are now under control. I am eternally grateful for the people that God has placed in my life and the gift of the medical professionals that are a great blessing and inspiration.
You may be wondering why I have called this article, “The Blessing and Curse of Autism.” In many ways’ autism is a gift. I am thankful for my passion for learning and my ability to write material that others find helpful. I believe that having autism is one of many reasons why I can do what I do. On the other hand, autism gets in the way of daily tasks. Autism can cause embarrassment and I can feel like I am in a war zone. However, having said all this I would not want to change a single thing about my autism because this is what makes me unique and what makes me who I am.
Another well known public figure that has Aspergers is the English naturalist, nature photographer, and television presenter,Chris Packham. He is most famous for his work on BBC television programmes. Below is a documentary by Chris Packham where he talks about his Aspergers. Please do watch the video as it will give you more insight into people who live with Aspergers.