In two weeks, my son will be graduating from high school. I don’t know that he will read this, but if he chooses to I would like to take this opportunity to pester him—and his fellow Aspies who are moving into perhaps the biggest transition of their lives to date—the following “words of wisdom.” And Michael, if you cannot bring yourself to heed your mother’s well-intended advice, perhaps you could pretend that it is coming from someone else! That always works for me, because like my son, I truly do not do well in many situations where I feel as though others do not think I am capable of making wise decisions without outside input. On the flip side, I feel compelled to offer such advice, especially to my children and students, on any number of occasions, so bear with me.
First, the fact that you are on the brink of being considered, legally and otherwise, an adult does not mean that you should expect yourself to make well-thought out adult choices all the time. Being a grown up does NOT mean that your days of making mistakes are over. As a matter of fact, welcome to the world of a whole new realm of mistakes you can—and will—make. This is expected, and making mistakes is the only way we learn. When you stop making mistakes, it means you’re dead! As long as you take those mistakes and use the lessons learned to your advantage, then it’s all good. No one expects perfection even though you are all grown up. Expecting perfection of yourself will bring nothing but heartache, frustration and despair. You will certainly experience enough of that with what the adult world will throw at you without bringing it on yourself.
Next, on the flip side, there may very well be times when it is tempting to use your “disability” as an excuse for not stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone. Those will be times when honest self-reflection and perhaps the guidance of others (yes, that means help!) could serve you well. You cannot allow yourself to fear failure to the point where it leaves you afraid to try in the first place. After my diagnosis, I definitely went through a period of time where I “let myself off the hook,” so to speak, when it came to trying new things—or revisiting old things—that were too hard, or too stressful, because I finally understood the reasons behind my fears. Ultimately, that way of living is not really living, though. While we all need to let ourselves off the hook once in a while, do not fall into the trap of using Asperger’s as a reason for not leaving your comfort zone. Knowing the young man you are today, I do not see you doing that, but one never knows what the future can bring, and there will be times where that would be the easiest thing to do—so don’t do it!
And finally, perhaps the most important lesson I have come to recognize may be the key to all success … please, please do not be afraid to recognize that you need help, and to reach out for that help when you need it. If your Asperger’s plays out the way mine did for so many years, it will be the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself that you are completely self-sufficient, you don’t need other people and involving other people just leads to confusion, pain and fear. There is something in the way we are wired that brings us to that default line of reasoning, I am convinced of it. I am equally convinced that we can change that wiring when we choose to—I watched you from the time you were not quite 3 years old as you became a fully engaged partner in the therapeutic interventions that enabled you to grow into the young man you are today—the young man you were meant to be. Trusting others is perhaps the downright scariest thing you will ever be asked to do, and reaching out for help means trusting others. But the payoff, my son, will be worth the risk. You can trust me, I promise!