What’s so odd about autism?

Odd. Strange. Different. Difficult. Clueless.

Just a few of the words spoken in my direction over the course of my lifetime by others, including parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, former girlfriends, etc. describing their social experience with me. No doubt, there is some truth to such descriptions. The problem is what counts as truth when so much is unknown by you and them about your person?

Frustration. Disappointment. Overwhelmed. Confusion. Hopeless.

Just a few of the emotions I have experienced throughout my life as I waded, unknowingly, into a dangerous swamp antiseptically referred to as human social relations. Confusion is the emotional and psychological state I most often experienced as one failed attempt after another to forge a relationship – any relationship – with another human piled up. A sense of hopelessness sets in as one contemplates the social. What’s the point? Why try to be social when experience illuminates your social ineptitude? The problem is what counts as failure when so much is unknown by you and other humans about your person?

Epiphany. Understanding. Knowledge. Reflection. Autism.

Just a few months ago in, February 2017, I received an official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder / Asperger’s Syndrome. I wish I could say that this diagnosis was radically life-changing. It wasn’t. The diagnosis did bring some clarity, relieved some burdens, and gave answer to my oddity. It did not change my oddity. My hope is that with an early diagnosis and therapies for my son, he will have vastly improved social experiences than his Odd Dad.

Autism. Asperger’s. Aspie. Neuro-Atypical. Odd.

Just a few years ago, in 2013, the DSM-5, expanded Autism to include Asperger’s Syndrome. People with Asperger’s or Aspies, as they like to refer to themselves, manifest poor social communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors. They may be referred to as “high functioning” autistics. Of course, high functioning is a rather unfair label as it refers specifically to the capacity of an Aspie to communicate, and Aspies tend to have exceptional verbal skill – when the topic corresponds to a restricted or repetitive behavior. Beyond that, good luck making chit chat with an Aspie, let alone a full on free wheeling conversation.

Worse, so much of social communication is non-verbal, Aspies are incapable of recognizing non-verbal communication ques. I can’t tell you how many times a buddy had to tell me a girl was interested because I simply did not pick up the signals, no matter how obvious or overt. Not that it would matter if I had, as an Aspie, engaging in a conversation with a girl initially interested was hazardous to my dating life – if I ever had one.

To this day, I am convinced that had my graduate school roommate not befriended my future wife, giving her and me two-years to get to know each other as she hung out with Corey, before she and I began dating, I’d still be single. (Not that there is anything wrong with that status). The irony is I’d have remained an Odd Duck, likely not discovering the source of my oddity, for I would not have become an Odd Dad, passing on my Aspie genes to my beautiful, energetic, and happy boy. My little Aspie. A chip off the old block, as they say. Literally.

Aspie. Brain. Literally. Wired. Differently.

Aspie brains are not wired to engage in such social communication. We might be high functioning in some areas, low functioning in others, especially in ones that matter to love, life, and career. To the extent that one’s career requires social networking as part of advancement. The old notion that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know logic. Anyone think of a career that does not require social networking? Thought not.

Being an Aspie is a lot like perpetually visiting a foreign country for the first time where you don’t know the language, culture, or social conventions.  Try developing a social network, for the purposes of career advancement, hobbled by that. I fear I may be characterizing social network too instrumentally. Not my intent. Just trying to communicate what it is like being a neuro-atypical to a neuro-typical. A lot may be lost in translation.

Which is why I suggest you do what I did, upon learning of my son’s condition. I did what any of us do these days: I googled. I found through that web search a useful introduction to Apserger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders at Autism Speaks.

As I read, I began to discover myself, after forty-four years of trying to discover myself. No longer need I feel burdened, overwhelmed, or confused by social situations. No longer need I wonder why I could not stop doing some stupid little thing repetitively. No longer need I fear being Odd Dad.

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