When I mentioned at my depression group that I had been thinking that, despite being assessed twice and told I don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, that I do have it after all or at least am somewhere on the autistic spectrum, someone suggested that I watch Asperger’s and Me, a recent BBC documentary. I watched it this evening and while I’m wary of posting on my blog for a third time this evening, I want to record a few thoughts I had while watching it and thinking about it afterwards.
- The presenter, Chris Packham, felt that he would not want to ‘cure’ his Asperger’s, because, while it caused him many difficulties, particularly with social interactions, it gave him many benefits, particularly in terms of heightened sensory awareness. I have heard other people on the spectrum speak like this too. I don’t want to get into the question of curing autism per se, which I know is very emotive for people on both sides, but I do feel that I don’t have many of those positives. I don’t feel that I have particularly strong sensory awareness, for example. I probably get irritated by noise, particularly talking, when I’m trying to work more than many people do and by light when trying to sleep, and when I was a child I was sensitive to certain fabrics, but I don’t think I would describe myself as having particularly acute senses the way Packham described his own perceptions. I probably can immerse myself in a problem or train of thought more than some people and I have a good memory for things that matter to me (and a lousy one for things that don’t which, can be an embarrassing way of demonstrating my priorities e.g. not remembering birthdays without my diary), but that’s about as far as it goes. I’m certainly not any kind of savant or technological whizz kid.
- That said, like Packham, I have managed to find a job that plays to my Aspie strengths. He took his passion for wildlife and particularly for monologuing about it, and became a wildlife TV presenter. I found work as a librarian, a job that needs Aspie skills of focus, attention to detail and repetitious adherence to strict rules. The parts of my job that I don’t like and sometimes complain about here are the non-Aspie friendly bits, mostly dealing with people and their problems and moods. I am also hoping to get some money out of one of my main special interests (Doctor Who), if I ever find a publisher for the book I’m writing on it.
- Speaking of special interests, I think Packham’s family sounded quite indulgent of his special interest in nature when he was growing up, inasmuch as he roped his sister into helping him find birds’ nests and his parents allowed him to keep a kestrel, which he had illegally taken from the wild. When I was growing up, I felt that my interests were not always encouraged by those around me. It goes without saying that the kids at school bullied me for being a geek and a Doctor Who fan (nowadays Doctor Who is a major global entertainment franchise, but in the nineties, when I was growing up, there had not been a new series for a couple of years and the programme had been a critical laughingstock for many years before that, being widely perceived as cheap, badly acted, badly made and out of date). But harder to deal with was the attitude of certain adult authority figures in my life who branded me an “intellectual elitist”. They thought that when I tried to talk about Doctor Who or history or any of the other subjects that interested me or even when I used long words, I was trying to show off how clever I was and make everyone else look stupid. This was not my intention. I genuinely didn’t realise that other people did not share my interests or that adults did not always understand the words I had found in my books and wanted to use. But the term “intellectual elitist” has stayed with me my whole life and to this day I am wary of sharing things I know with people and absolutely hate to talk about Doctor Who except with other card-carrying fanboys and fangirls.
- Packham said that while he doesn’t agree with ‘curing’ autism, particularly not the ‘cures’ he investigated, he thinks there is one safe and painless cure: being alone. However, this would not suit me. I am an introvert and a bit of a loner and I do need time by myself. Nevertheless, I could not cope with being completely alone. I long for intimate company with a few good friends as well as being accepted by a religious community. I also want to get married one day and have children. Certainly my depression gets worse when I am forced to spend significant time alone. Even just a day or two by myself can bring me quite far down. I was pleased to see that Packham does have a relationship, albeit with someone he doesn’t live with, as well as having a parental relationship with his step-daughter. His partner said after ten years she still finds the way his mind works fascinating, although I’m sceptical that anyone could ever find me fascinating. I do think I would be more willing to force myself into social situations to please my spouse, though, although maybe that is wishful thinking on my part. (On a related note, my parents were both insistent today that they thought that dating would be beneficial to me, but neither of them has as yet made inquiries about setting me up on a blind date with the daughter of friends of theirs who suffered from OCD. I’m still not convinced that shared mental health issues are necessarily the best way to start a relationship, though.)