Monday, August 22, 2011

Chapter 2: Good Things (Part 0)

I've had a quote stuck in my head for a while now, from a source I never thought I'd find a good quote. It's from the most recent season of Bachelorette. One of the final two guys proposed to the girl, but she turned him down. He didn't take it well and began to storm off. She followed him, saying she didn't want it to end this way, when he stopped her and asked her how she thought it could end well. "Good things don't end," he said, "unless they end badly."

My final year of high school - of grade school - began last week. I wish I had a word with which to describe the emotions that accompany this thought; the best I can manage is bittersweet, but that doesn't quite do it justice. Bittersweet is a word that implies some kind of oxymoronic conflict, but also comes with some form of consistency. To me, it evokes the taste of grapefruit. It's touching on what I'm feeling, but it's not there yet.

I think that the best way to describe how I feel is to take bittersweet and extend it to the far end of the spectrum, both ways. Devastatelating. Mournjoyful. Terrixcited. All to try and demonstrate the extreme dissonance within my soul as my years of grade school draw to a close.

But why should there be a dissonance? Doesn't everyone love to finally leave school? To get out of that miserable, repetitive existence and finally move on to do what you want to do? We've spoken all our lives about what we'll do when we grow up. After this year, we can stop speaking and start doing. All of this is true for me; it will be a relief to leave the negative aspects of school behind, and I feel ready to start accomplishing things. This is the excited part of my terrixciting feeling - I'm finally ready to say I'm grown up.

But growing up is more than going out and seizing the day. There comes a point where one must accept that things come to an end - that to move on means to leave things behind. This is the difficult, scary part about senior year for me, because it means the end of many good things, and the fading away of others. I pray that the person on the Bachelorette was wrong - that good things can end well.

Many famous physicists and mathematicians have had what is called a "miracle year" where they make their most significant accomplishments. I'm proud to say that I have had three miracle years at high school so far, for I have done things I never thought myself capable of - and they're not things people would expect from a mathematician with Asperger's. The things I have accomplished include: 1) Writing stories and editing for a magazine, 2) Trying out for a school play (and getting in!), 3) Kept myself organized enough to pass all my classes with an A, 4) Survived 10 days in the Dominican Republic, 5) Joined a chorus (and sung solo in front of that chorus (not a public audience, though)), 7) Asked someone to prom, and much more. I could not have done any of these things without the help of very good friends who I am indebted to.

And at the end of this year, I will be leaving them.

They say a friendship never ends, but the truth is that they fade. When I go off to college, our paths will diverge, and we'll see each other less and less often, and soon not at all. It's the natural order of things.

And it terrifies me.

Despite the sadness of the occasion, however, I must say this one thing (and this is the main point of this post): I would not trade my miracle years for Newton's or Einstein's, or anyone else's. In all my intellectual dreams I never once imagined that I would find joy in the things I now find joy in. If it is true that when a mind has been stretched, it can never shrink back to its original state, then I will never see the world in the same light again.

Kids with Asperger's - step outside of your comfort zone. Try to make friends; be willing to conform to social norms, even if they don't make sense; take up some kind of hobby outside of your main interests. I used to want to just be a physicist or a mathematician. I'm still aiming for something like that, but now I'm also an amateur in writing, acting, and music. I have more friends than I thought I could have. Take it from me, I've tried loneliness; it doesn't compare to the immense joy of friendship. (Keep boundaries of course; don't do bad things just to make friends. Those aren't the friends you want.)

You may have noticed that this is post is labeled Part 0. I want, at some point, to go through the many new experiences I've had, giving significant attention to certain ones - if not just to elaborate, I can have the joy of sharing my Aspergian views of the social world. I hope it will also function as a first step in expressing my undying gratitude for the friends who have supported me all these years. Jesus once said that only God is good. John said that God is love. And the love between my friends and me are the best "good things" I've experienced in my short life. I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chapter 1: Not a Destination

Let me tell you a story about a young brother and sister.

There once were two young children, a brother and a sister, who hardly ever tried new foods. Their parents brought them to a seafood restaurant, and while there, the father offered a bowl of circular French Fries to his children. The siblings, loving all forms of fries, began to devour the delicious appetizer at great speed. At some point the sister, though enjoying the meal, noticed a strange texture to the fries, calling them "squishy." The brother noticed this too, but his hunger outpaced his curiosity and he continued to eat. The sister decided to ask her father, "Why are these French Fries so squishy?" Her father victoriously replied, "They're actually squid!" The sister immediately recoiled from the bowl, repulsed at the thought of having eaten something so gross as squid. Her brother, while intrigued by this revelation, continued to eat.

Like many stories, this one has many levels. On the surface, it's actually a true story, I being the brother and my sister being the... well, you can guess. On yet another level, it's funny because it's a real-life occurrence of a situation often played out in sitcoms. On a further level still, it is an allegory meant to highlight a fear that I imagine many parents have over telling their children that they have Asperger's.

The food represents life, and the siblings are two people who have received a similar lot: Asperger's (squid, as opposed to fries). One child grows up knowing that something is different, and is concerned by it. Upon realizing that they have Asperger's, they take it as a horrible revelation. They may feel more isolated than before, become withdrawn, and actually succumb to the symptoms of Asperger's more easily.

The other child, however, grows up knowing something is different, and while they may be concerned, they go on with life. Upon realizing they have Asperger's, they accept it as an explanation for the differences and continue on as before. They will work to not succumb to the negative sides of Asperger's, and they will enjoy all the positive sides. They'll still do what they can to socialize, when they want to socialize, and they'll find time to be alone when they want to be alone. It's never easy to have Asperger's, but I don't think life is easy for anyone, regardless of disorders. You just take what life gives you and make the best.

Obviously, every parent wants their child to be the second kind when it comes to telling them they have Asperger's. They may feel, however, that they have no control over that and so they'll wait as long as they can to tell their child. This is a grave mistake. The fact is, parents do have a small amount of control over how their child reacts, and they should utilize it to the fullest extent.

The biggest difference between the siblings in the story above, I think, is age. One child was old enough to have some kind of stigma against squid. The other was young enough to think of squid as squid, and if he had a little stigma, that was wiped away by experience. Parents, don't treat your child's Asperger's like a secret. Let them know while they're still young enough to form their own opinions on what Asperger's means. If you wait until they're older, then their reaction to hearing they have Asperger's will be based on everything they'd heard in school, on TV, and everywhere else about it. And I can almost guarantee you that what they hear is not reassuring. The best way to help your child cope with Asperger's, and really any Autism, is to let them form their own opinion on it before someone forms it for them.

I can't remember the time I first learned I have Asperger's, but I remember that it was a new word for me when I heard it. It explained a lot, and my parents helped to make it clear that Asperger's wasn't a destination, but a direction. It doesn't tell me who I have to be, but it changes the course I'll have to take to get where I want to be. It may not always be easy - but then again, no one has it easy. And knowing all that is why I'm perfectly comfortable saying that I have Asperger's.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Foreward

Hello. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Sam, and I have Asperger's.

I don't know what those three words mean to you. For me, they can be a sight for sore eyes - giving me the feeling that I can connect with this charming guy who's talking. But that's my (somewhat biased) perspective, and one thing I've had to learn in my life is that other people will not see things the way I see them.

Our pasts define how we view everything, allowing us to compartmentalize the meanings and implications of names, phrases, and looks. It's a possibly evolutionary feature that allows us to survive in the real world - but survival, unfortunately, is often cares little for the survival of others. The sins of the first impressions are visited upon the second, third and fourth impressions, and without conscious intervention our minds will show no mercy in judging those we meet.

So I'm going to ask one thing of you - to make a conscious intervention. No matter what your reaction was to those three words, I want you to set it aside and give me my chance to tell you what those three words mean to me (obviously, my opinion is not the final word, and I'd love to hear what those three words mean to you). I can't guarantee that I speak for all with Asperger's - in fact, I can guarantee that I do not - but I hope that my experiences in high-functioning autism can apply to people affected by all levels of Asperger's and autism.

In this blog, I plan to explain my understanding of Asperger's through example. After all, it is something that impacts my everyday life, and I can think of no better way to help others see all the fine points of Asperger's than to explain my experiences. I hope you will not find my experiences dull; my adventures are rather low-key in nature. I don't sneak out, I don't go to many parties, I've never done drugs, etc. During the school year I essentially go to school at around 7 in the morning, get home around 3 in the afternoon (unless I'm involved in a play), and procrastinate. If you only read exciting things like Harry Potter, I might not recommend this to you. If you read things like Twilight, however, then this blog may be slightly less boring.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoy reading my blog, and can learn from it. I'll try to update it on a quasi-regular basis, but no promises. I tend to procrastinate on these kinds of things. After all, I have Asperger's.