Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism will never be fully understood. We will never know what causes it. I highly doubt there will be a cure, and I most certainly do not believe there will be a need for one. However, I do believe writing about ones experiences and emotions will make people become more aware about my diagnosis. I am absolutely through with therapists trying to “fix” me, and trying to “fit in” and be “like everybody else”. I’ve written blogs in the past about stereotypes, which are common beliefs about groups of people or certain types of individuals.
Stereotypes are the reason people don’t give us Aspies the respect and understanding we deserve. I am going to cover some of the most common misconceptions about Asperger’s Syndrome.
1.) “Teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome prefer to be alone”
There is a movie out that I haven’t had the opportunity to see yet, but it’s called “If You Could Say It In Words”. I recently viewed an Autism Talk TV interview with Alex plank (founder of Wrong Planet) Nicholas Gray (director), Alvin Keith (actor) and Marin Ireland (actress). The movie is a love story about two undiagnosed Aspies. Alex made a comment during this interview that completely explains why Asperger’s is not understood. He explained that in many movies about people with Asperger’s, they look up a list of symptoms and only talk about how to portray them to show they have Asperger’s. They developed the relationships between the two characters instead of only focusing on the symptoms.
People can’t get the idea that we Aspies want social interaction with people just as much as anyone else does. We want friends who are understanding, loyal and trustworthy of us. I recently viewed a film named “Billy The Kid”, a documentary about Billy, a teenage boy with Asperger’s. The only thing this documentary really focused on was the fact that he has trouble interacting with people. It didn’t focus on the positive sides of Asperger’s Syndrome. There was one scene at the beginning of the documentary that showed Billy waking to the school cafeteria, constantly scanning the hallway for trouble. He was scared somebody might try to harass him. This scene brought back my memories of being a student at the Freeport Area Senior High School. I desperately wanted friends, but people were too rude and judgmental to even let me sit at their lunch table. Everybody had their own clique of friends, and they had no room for anyone new. I couldn’t bare to watch the rest of the documentary because it seemed to me the film directors would drag Billy into social situations. I was fed up with this documentary because it focused on all of the things we Aspies have so much trouble with in life. With that being said, Billy did seem like a very intelligent person. This documentary showed the painful aspects of having Asperger’s Syndrome, as a result I was offended. I am not going to go into detail about the whole film, but there was one scene that made me go back to the bad memories of my high school years. He described how he dated a girl, then she dumped him in front of a bunch of people in school. When I heard about this, I immediately flashed back to my memories of freshman and sophomore year at Freeport. It brought back memories of people setting me up, convincing me into believing they were trying to be my friend, then turning around and behaving in a way that completely humiliated me. Because of this, I would probably give “Billy The Kid” two out of five stars. The film director should have focused on the benefits of having Asperger’s Syndrome instead of the fact that he has trouble connecting with people and dealing with change.
2.) “Children and teens with Asperger’s are rebellious”
We can thank the morning news and society in general for this stereotype. When you get the chance, I encourage you to watch this YouTube video. It’s talks about Indiana State teacher Kristen Woodward who called five year old student Gabriel Ross “pathetic” in class. The student brought a tape recorder into the classroom, and recorded his verbal beating in front of the whole class. Her comments went as follows.
Ten people in this building you have tormented and tortured for 149 days, I’m done! You’ve been ignorant, selfish, self absorbed, the whole thing! I’m done!
The teacher then went as far as addressing the entire class,
He has made every wrong choice possible, and he has had more help to make the right choices and he has chose not to. So, you guys think, is that somebody in class you want to be with?
See, your friends don’t even want to be with you now.
Woodward was suspended with pay. While I don’t know the entire story, it seemed to me the teacher did not communicate with the parents about Gabriel’s “talking problem” in class. After all, the mother said it kept happening for 149 days. The teacher should have either called or sat down with the parents to talk possible ways to handle the “talking problem”. Instead, she wrote negative comments on his behavior log. Some of them read “talked non stop interrupting the teachers”, “terrible day” and “talked non stop today”.
Since the very first summer I started at the Computing Workshop, I’ve heard many reports from parents about teachers treating their children like this. The coordinator told me about a bad encounter with teachers and administrators at an I.E.P meeting. This student wanted to attend our summer program a few years back, and they had to attend the meeting to decide whether or not the school was going to pay for his tuition in the program. The entire meeting, the teachers and administrators at this school kept berating him about how “annoying” he was. They were trying to threaten him and make him feel like he was a “terrible child”. This child obviously didn’t seem like a major trouble maker. Again, the teachers should have communicated with the parents in private if they thought his “annoying” behavior was such a problem.
3.) “Children and teenagers with Asperger’s are violent”.
This is another one of the stereotypes that we can thank the media and Hollywood for. Do you remember the kid in my TV production class who told me I looked “just like a serial killer”. This was due to the fact that I didn’t talk to anybody. I ignored him after he made this comment because he was purposely trying to get an angry reaction from me. I remember John Elder Robison’s book “Look Me In The Eye”, the very first chapter described how people would say the same things to him. People threatened him with the military and jail. they often called him a “sociopath” and a “psychopath” One quote from the book said “I’ve read about people like you. They have no expression because they have no feeling. Some of the worst murders in history were sociopaths”.
My sister was a senior when I was a freshman at Freeport. This was the time I worked with that pushy therapist who wanted to “fix” me. She often commented how I would walk around the hallway with a scowl on my face. One of the key characteristics of Autism is awkward facial expressions. My pushy therapist got a kick out of the habit that I couldn’t control. He would imitate my facial expressions and try to get me to laugh about it. As I stated in my last blog “You Need To Laugh More”, he finally gave up on me after year. Hurting somebody was not on my mind, but I was pretty angry because of all the prejudices I received from people. Aspies tend to become aware of their quirks as they grow older. It does not always take somebody demanding them to change in order to fix their habits.
4.) “Teens With Asperger’s Syndrome Can’t Express Empathy”
This is probably the most ridiculous stereotype out of the five I am going to cover today. Scroll back to the quote from John Elder Robison’s book. I have began to realize that kids with Asperger’s Syndrome are far more empathetic than most average high school students. People should not confuse the word empathy with sympathy. If the were to be a death in your friends family, you would feel sorry for them. Therefore, you might send them a card or a gift expressing your sympathy. However, empathy a little bit different. My blogs help me express my empathy towards people on the Autistic Spectrum or people who are different in general because they show they are not alone. I know how it feels to be misconceived and misused.
While I am not a fan of reality TV, I am a fan of the show “World’s Strictest Parents”. The show focuses on changing the lives of rebellious teenagers who’s lives revolve around things like drugs, sex, partying and violence. Two teenagers are sent away to live with another family and experience “strict parenting”. The family has strict rules, but they are used to teach them about responsibilities in life. However, they try their hardest to do it with compassion, love and understanding. This particular clip shows British teenagers Sevda and Andrew. They were sent to San Antonio, Texas. They lived with the Frazee family for a week. Randy is a pastor at a mega church and Rosanne, his wife is a “stay at home” mom. My favorite part of this episode was part four. The second half of the clip showed them going to the local Boys and Girls club. While the group members were hanging out during break, Sevda stayed inside. The classmate Carlton walked over and talked to her. Sevda was drawing on a piece of paper when he walked over. Here is what he said.
Carlton: You like art, you’re very stylish, you have a lot going for you! I wanna ask you something. Do you like to party? A lot?
Carlton: You wanna know where I just got back from? I just got done five months in jail!
Carlton: Yeah, my mom’s an alcoholic, my dad.. I don’t know where he is. I’ve been in every school in this town because of moving. I’ve been through rough times.
Sevda: I just hate doing this.
Carlton: You don’t want to do this?
Sevda: I just don’t like school.
Carlton: I say you go for it.
Even though Carlton’s advice didn’t encourage Sevda to participate with the group, it was a great example of showing empathy to a person. He calmly walker over and tried to start a conversation with her. He encouraged her by explaining he has been through similar experiences in his own life. I didn’t understand myself during my freshman and sophomore years at Freeport. Coming to Lenape has helped me become more open about my differences. Since then, I have received many comments from people thanking me. Therefore, we most certainly can express empathy! There are still many things I don’t know about Asperger’s. It just takes time for us to understand ourselves while we try understand other people at the same time.
I used this entry to go the extra mile. I have tried to prove my “favorites” of the many Asperger’s stereotypes wrong.
Whether or not you are an Aspie or just a person who is not understood, I encourage you to comment and write about misconceptions people have about you. Try your best to prove them wrong!
Thank you for reading!