Monday, January 19, 2009

coming out, in a sense

i have always known i was weird. how could i not know? not only have i been told that i was weird since i was a child, but i've always felt oddly out of place in social situations.

my weird has a name. it is asperger's syndrome. at present, i have a self-diagnosis of mild asperger's. this was not something i came to lightly or without significant struggle and a fair amount of irony. i worked with the regional autism program from 1991-1993, and my first wife was autism society of america teacher of the year for 1993. a co-worker during that time would often comment on how well i was able to relate to our clients. my (only half-joking) response was always that it was because i was so much like them.

the tipping point came last february, at a conference for the south carolina human service providers. the speaker for the closing session was dr. nan negri, co-author with kate mcginnity of walk awhile in my autism. during the session, she used passages from the book, exercises designed to allow neuro-typicals to experience the world of autism. my epiphany, if you will, came during the visit to the planet autism guided imagery exercise. as dr. negri described what the listeners were to imagine, i was awash in memories of my early childhood. it was intense and frightening. i was sitting on the front row (providing tech support for the conference) fighting back tears, remembering things i had long suppressed.

as dr. negri mentioned how happy we felt having things lined-up, i remembered playing with my first wooden abc blocks, stacking them up high and lining them across the floor, making sure the same sides of the blocks were visible. i also remember throwing a tantrum when dad would try to show me how to build something. i didn't want to build anything, i wanted them lined-up.

as the exercise progressed, i remembered tensing up when i was hugged, turning my tricycle and wagon on their sides and spinning the wheels repeatedly, standing on the playground watching children play and not knowing how to join them. i don't like crowds or noise. i remember my parents taking me to the county fair, placing me on the rides and eagerly watching me for signs of enjoyment. (they never saw any hint that i was actually enjoying myself, though i truly was.)

by the time dr. negri's session was over, i was a wreck. i had spent most of my life attributing my weirdness to a variety of things. i was a severe stutterer as a child (a skill i have maintained over the years despite therapy). i have always been overly anxious, despite working to portray a relaxed and laid-back demeanor. i have most of the characteristics of attention-deficit disorder. i had inklings that i might have asperger's syndrome, and had researched the symptoms in an on-again, off-again manner.

it is difficult to think objectively of oneself while reading the deficit-laden descriptions of the dsm-iv, though with a little reflection, i can see myself described in the asperger's syndrome description. an item i found helpful was an article by carol gray and tony attwood, "the discovery of aspie criteria," particularly the section where they described asperger's syndrome in terms of strengths rather than weaknesses. it was as if the authors were descibing what they saw when they looked at me.

so there it is. i am weird, and weird has a name. that's all for now.

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