Question: How many Aspies does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: Did you know that in 1880, Charles F. Brush formed the Brush Electric Company, and installed the first complete electric arc-lighting system in Wabash, Indiana. Wabash was the first American city to be lit entirely by electricity. Wait, what was the question again?
Asperger Syndrome has recently captured public imagination. We are portrayed in popular media as lovable, stiff, and humorously awkward caricatures. This does us a great disservice. While often gifted, we are, in fact, a difficult breed. We tend to upset people, and are typically regarded as selfish, eccentric, and arrogant. Did you see that movie "The Social Network?"
In 1944, Hans Asperger described a group of children sharing similar characteristics, including “a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements." These characteristics may offer intellectual advantages, but they tend to piss people off.
We do not choose to appear insensitive to the feelings of others; we have difficulty understanding and relating to them. Our lack of affective expression may bother you. Trust me, we are just as bothered by your all-consuming, unfathomable emotions.
Are you confused, bored, and annoyed by our lengthy, one-sided discussions of our special interests? Do you believe that we flaunt our intellectual abilities in a deliberate attempt to make you feel inferior? Are you incapable of keeping up with our restricted passions and wealth of factual knowledge? Well, that is precisely how we feel about your emotional expectations. Your ever-shifting feelings, which demand our constant attention and understanding, are baffling, bothersome, and boring. They make us feel uncomfortable and inferior.
We know we are not always easy to get along with. Neither are you. Don't limit us by reducing us to stereotypes. We are individuals. Autism is a bit like the Kennedy assassination—the closer you look the less you know. If you're hip, you will learn to dismiss labels and stereotypes and expect the unexpected. If you're square, you will keep chasing an elusive solution to a problem you can't quite define. Einstein said, "If you cannot explain something simply, you do not understand it well enough." Can you explain autism simply, without resorting to Rain Man comparisons? I didn't think so. Don't try to understand autism, try to understand us.
Autism may be accompanied by wonderful gifts, but we can't all be lovably eccentric savants. We do not mean to appear uncaring or arrogant, any more than you mean to appear flighty and irrational. Please, do not judge our nature. Accept us as we are. We are not malicious sociopaths, incapable of love. We are not hysterical mental infants. We’re just wired differently.
We are autistic. We are not occasionally autistic, we are always autistic. When we seem to be particularly levelheaded, caring, understanding, and socially poised, it is only because we are trying very, very hard. Social adaptation is not exclusively our responsibility. All of us must work together to better understand one another.
In reality, there is no standard autistic or neurotypical mind. There are as many minds as there are individuals. No two human beings are exactly alike—that is the beauty of the human race. We are like snowflakes. People have a natural tendency to classify and categorize, but every snowball is nothing more or less than countless beautifully unique snowflakes, clumsily lumped together for strength and durability. When the snowball fight is over, the warmth of the sun returns all of us to our wonderful, original state of fluid diversity.
Accept our differences ... and we will accept yours.
With deepest, yet oddly and infrequently expressed affection,
John Scott Holman