A nice woman named Marissa Au was a hippy dippy kind of person, who also happened to have Asperger’s Syndrome. She tired of making up reasons and excuses for her differences, so one day she jumped out of the closet and confessed. Gone were the days of saying she was tired or busy; she simply said she didn’t want to leave the house. She became more comfortable navigating the long way around the classroom so that she wouldn’t come upon a classmate and not know if they would step aside, run directly into her, or just stand there forever.
When she left the house to walk the dog, she needed to figure a way to avoid seeing anybody. The dog, was a buffer, though, just in case. People could fuss over the dog; that would be okay.
Certain of her well meaning friends, had remarked,“You would never know you have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s hard to believe you have it.”
Lissa always replied, “I hope you never see a melt down or a shut down. I work very hard to avoid it.” She understood that sensory overload and the panic that ensued was hard for people to understand.
Inevitably the discussion would get around to her friends listing stereotypes, such as poor social skills and a lack of empathy.
“Well, it’s a Spectrum disorder” She always said
“When you think about it, we’re really all on the Spectrum, aren’t we?” Joanna said.
“I have an idea. Would you like to see what it’s like?” Alissa asked.
“You can do that?”
“Yes, Joanna, but you have to mean it.”
“I mean it.”
“Close your eyes, I will put my hand on your shoulder. It will take about five minutes, then I will tell you to open your eyes,” Alissa said. “Open your eyes Joanna .How do you feel? Did it take?”
“I swear,” Joanna said, “there are more colors than before.”
“There are, your visual sense is heightened.”
“My clothes are scratchy”
“Heightened senses, but you will also feel how nicely a fine pencil glides on paper. Try it.”
“That is so nice! So really, it’s a gift. Damnit why did I buy scratchy clothes? What is that whirr, the tap tap tap, the pat pat pat?”
“The refrigerator, the kid down the street with the basketball, the dog walking on the bed. Walk on the carpet, you will hear every step. What is happening is your brain no longer can separate out the important sounds from background noise, so you hear it all. I would strongly advise that you avoid public restrooms … they are echo chambers with the added bonus of air hand dryers. Your heart will beat so fast, and you know you can’t leave the stall until all the other people are gone. They will know you are afraid, and you will get ‘that look’ ”
“Let’s go outside, Joanna, I can give you a sense of what it’s like out on the sidewalk.”
“No. Is there more upside? Why are these clothes so scratchy? What was that sound?”
“There is. Your memories will be movies that you can recall; virtually an eidetic memory, and you will probably be able to draw. Most of us can. Do you want to go outside?”
“No, we don’t want go outside and run into people and make smalltalk.”
“What is smalltalk?”
“You used to know Joanna … I looked it up. ‘It’s polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.’ ”
“What? How do you do that?”
“I don’t know, but it is an important social skill, and a big giveaway when we talk at the wrong time, or engage earnestly, then realize that we are not having the same conversation as they are. We call them neurotypicals, NT’s for short.”
“I don’t know how to make smalltalk.”
“You used to, Joanna.”
“The worst part is that we need literal conversation; we misunderstand what someone was trying to tell us or ask us to do, and then they get mad. They ask us to put something there. What the hell is ‘something’, and where is ‘there’ ? They talk in code, then get angry when we haven’t pleased them. If we carry in a casserole and ask them where to put it, invariably they respond ‘anywhere’. Where the hell is ‘anywhere’?
“I get it, Lissa. You make it look easy. It’s exhausting, observing and adapting second by second. All the things they do naturally, you have to work at.”
“I work at it constantly when I am in public. There is not a single moment other than when I am having a conversation with a good friend that I am not studying and working on my skills to pass for one of them.”
“I’m ready for you to change me back, Lissa.”
“I can’t. It’s okay, though, because ‘we’re all on the Spectrum really’, remember?”