Life on the spectrum: I’m just like you

I have heard that Autism is considered a  hidden disability. I would like to first mention that it is not a “disability” but a different set of abilities.  Few people would guess that that as a kid, making friends, building relationships, and being “social” was something I struggled with. I no longer struggle with this to the same extent, thanks to the services I received for my high functioning Aspergers.

My brain thinks differently than “neurotypical” people. There are many mistaken assumptions  about this and other classifications like gender, ethnicity, or religion. Often people who are “high functioning“ get placed in normal classes and are taught to assimilate their surroundings. This is a practice I am familiar with and weary of. My concern is some don’t receive the same quality of support that I did. As a result, the “normal” classes do not help them, but rather overwhelm and hinder their progress.  Being someone on the spectrum, I think it is my duty to be an advocate for those who didn’t receive the same amount of help as I did. Writing this blog post is one way I wish to contribute to that goal.

Those on the spectrum think differently, and I mention that because it will give clarity to who I was as a kid, and how I am now. Often, those on the spectrum think very literally.  Life is seen in a more “black and white” lens, whereas, typically, non-aspie people understand the greyer shades of life. This has to do with the way the Asperger mind understands things; how it is “wired” so to speak. 

Dr. Temple Grandin explains this concept in her book, Thinking in Pictures.  All human brains have connections that are made for all facets of life.  Some of those connections are very strong, while others, not so much. The Aspie brain is a more extreme example of that. Our brains have extremely strong wiring in some areas, like art, or engineering, or technology, while our “social” circuits are very weak.  The “social circuits” are often the gray shades in life.  Things that are more abstract.  We aspies struggle in that area, and so we need support to help us strengthen those circuits.  I have received that support and so now, my “social circuits” are stronger. My mind is more flexible now.  

Ten years ago, I would not have understood Nonviolent Communication at the level I do today. That’s thanks to all the support I’ve received over the years, and my determination to understand what non-aspie people seem to easily understand. 

How did I do it? I copied what I saw in my peers who seem to just ‘get it.’ In time, I began to understand how it all connected and then it became a part of my brain wiring. As time went on, the circuits in my brain that were once “socially different” became less so and now people wouldn’t think for a second that I in fact have an Aspie brain.  The brain has the ability to change based on what we feed it so to speak, and the circuits strengthen depending on what we give it. Social skills are no different, because if this weren’t so, progress wouldn’t exist.

This doesn’t mean I am no longer someone who has Aspergers. I am. The tests just no longer show that because of my ‘progress’. This means there is hope for others to learn from all that life has to give. I don’t ever mean to suggest that we as a society should “fix” those who are on the spectrum.  That would be tantamount to proclaiming that our differences make us bad, and that’s a direction I never want to go in.

People on the spectrum have gifts and abilities that those who are not on the spectrum could learn from and benefit from. Some of the most innovative people in human history have reportedly been on the spectrum. Without them, we wouldn’t have many of the amazing things we have now such as tech companies that change the world, or electric cars that have changed how our society understands the effects of electricity on transportation of the masses. Temple Grandin’s contributions to the livestock industry would go unnoticed and that would be too devastating for words. Because of our “differences” in our social skills, we can contribute gifts that help all of us, no matter who we are because we are “different, not less than”. 

Darya Jones

I dedicate this blog to Deaconess Sharon David McCart, a pioneeress in activism and ministry for those who are differently abled. I remember you suggested I write a blog and thus this was born. Religious as this sounds, thank you for being the hands and feet of God, who’s good works you carry out with such sincerity. Those who are in most need are graced by your work, and our world is better for it.