My Asperger Adventure started at age 25, when the official diagnosis came. I had never heard of it, so my first reaction was, “Sounds like asparagus, ” which I like more for its shape and colour than its texture—especially when it’s over-cooked. As a plant, asparagus (asparaguses? asparagi?) have a nice gradation of colour from off-white, to light green, to darker green, to a purplish tip. When overcooked, it’s stringy, but mushy, and hard to bite or cut through.
After a childhood of ‘maybes,’ comprised of various possibly-but-not-quite-symptoms of other disorders, it’s actually nice to finally have a title. I don’ t like using the term ‘ label’ as that implies notes on jars (often stocky, glass containers with lids requiring the jaws of life to open them). I’m not a fan of jars, unless we’ re talking of those that contain a certain kind of chocolate-hazelnut spread.
So, to be titled as having Asperger’s Syndrome leaves me feeling pretty damn good. Relieved, even. I’m not some stupid, weird, non-speaking loner. Okay, I am, but through no fault of my own. Nor am I long and thin, with a neat gradation of off-white, to light green, to dark green, to a purplish tip, but even I know when to lay off the kooky vegetable metaphors.
Hans Asperger was an Austrian paediatrician and medical professional who studied mental disorders in children, which later came to be known as a sort of precursor to Autism Spectrum Disorders. Asperger’s Syndrome has since gone through, let’s call it a ‘spectrum’ of its own, from its original resurgence in the 1980s to its removal from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Asperger’s is now included in the general, far too broad term of autism. As far as I know, Dr. Asperger didn’t look like an asparagus, but I can’t help imagining him as one. So, I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a kind of OCD-like focus on specific activities and objects. I was the shy, weird loner girl at school. I felt socially awkward and would go several hours without saying a word.
In fact, as a child, I was diagnosed with selective mutism, which I think only bothered my teachers who didn’t know how to get answers out of me. I never really thought about why I wasn’t speaking, just that I didn’t feel like speaking. School was a trial and a nuisance. I was prone to bullying or being ignored. Frankly, I preferred being ignored to the alternative, but, of course, I never said anything about either. The bullying never went any further than conspicuous whispering and giggling if I happen to walk by. The worst bullying was getting a black eye on two separate occasions, back in a special education class. The kid basically bullied everyone, including the teachers, so whenever the teacher left the room, he would punch me in the face, then feign concern and tell the teacher, “Madame”—because it was a francophone school—“Laurence has something in her eye.” In hindsight, I wish I had responded with something clever, like, “Yeah, your fist, dummy,” but that was my mute phase, so, you know, no interest in speaking, even in my own defence.
The teacher knew sort of instinctively that the boy had just punched me; he tended to be violent with just about everyone. I still think about this boy, if only for the temporary shade of bluish-purple eye makeup he gave me all those years ago. I imagined this is how a young girl feels wearing way too much makeup for the first time, except I was curiously only wearing it on one eye at a time.
A third black eye occurred at about age 13, during a game of murder ball—MURDER BALL—really, the name alone should have been my first warning. (FYI: This game is also known as dodge ball). I remember running away from (or, trying to dodge) the ball and slamming face-first into some guy’s elbow, while the ball hits my shin. I never cared for the game after that.
As an adult, going on the eighteenth anniversary of my official diagnosis, I have to say nothing really has changed, except my age and, mentally, even that’s debatable. I still feel hopelessly awkward in social situations, and I still don’t speak (or speak up) very much. Writing has definitely helped express myself and my fantasy-filled creative imagination. I have a sharp eye for detail and keen observation skills.
And when life as a creative writer (and part-time retail clerk) gets too overwhelming, I compensate the only ways I know how: fidgeting nervously, wringing my hands, gripping my fingers tightly, and biting my nails down to the quick. It’s not terribly effective, frankly, but works wonders if and when my new WIP (work-in-progress) needs a protagonist with ‘mutant hands.’