I think I missed some kind of meeting. Apparently I am supposed to look at the floor, flap my hands, mutter strange nonsensical things, talk in a stilted monotone about trains or volcanoes, be a maths genius and a savant, and possibly have a quick one off the wrist in public or drool over myself or something. When I tell people I have Aspergers Syndrome, generally the reaction is “no way, you can’t have Aspergers.” In other words, gor blimey Charlie, we have a normal person here. My normal reaction is, “you’d notice if you lived with me.” To be fair, if someone very briefly met me, they can’t be expected to know all my quirks and eccentricities and habits which drove my family up the wall. But it does, if I’m honest, annoy me a bit.
When I was in my first year of university, doing a degree in German and Spanish – the latter from scratch as I only knew some rudimentary Spanish from a night class I took in my gap year – I went to the campus doctor to get, I don’t know, a morning after pill or something. I forget what. He was asking me about my degree and he may or may not have had access to my medical records, but the subject of Aspergers came up and he said, “I don’t believe you have Aspergers Syndrome because you’re doing a languages degree. People with Aspergers normally do maths or science degrees.”
WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN.
Yes, some people with Aspergers are indeed maths and science experts. Daniel Tammet, for instance. (He apparently can recite pi to 22,514 numbers, whereas I can only remember three. Jammy git.) But not all of us are. Being surprised that I am actually not that great with figures is one thing, but outright telling me that I can’t have Aspergers because I’m doing an arts subject is, frankly, bollocks. I had been diagnosed with it by at least two different doctors by the time I came to Manchester.
I really do not like being shoved into a box by people who ought to know better and can’t see beyond the stereotypical view they have of people with Aspergers or autism as the number-crunching, statistics-remembering, socially incompetent savant. We are not a hive mind, we are at various different points on the spectrum (if you’re thinking of it as a rainbow, some of us are red, some of us are blue, some of us are green yellow etc.), and we can and do deviate from the stereotype.
“You can’t have Aspergers, you’re outgoing!” No, I’m not. I’m actually quite shy. There are situations where I have to be outgoing, such as when I was at the Freshers’ Fair trying to entice fresh meat into joining the Rock Soc, or at a job interview, but it doesn’t come naturally. It is something I really have to work at. I can schmooze, but it’s a total strain. I’m certainly outgoing when I’m with my friends as I feel I can totally be myself, but around people I don’t know, I’m more reserved and the part of me that I don’t want them to see doesn’t come out. I force it back down and hope it keeps quiet.
“You can’t have Aspergers, you have great eye contact!” Again, it’s something I’ve had to work at and does not come naturally, and when I get nervous, my eye contact falters. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve looked at my supervisor’s table when I’m in his office, or I’ve looked at the floor or the wall when talking to people and not being in a good mood at the time.
Maybe this is my paranoia talking, but sometimes I wonder if I even look like a stereotypical person with Aspergers, whatever they look like. And I’m not just talking about having two X chromosomes. I wash my hair, my posture is no worse than most people’s, I don’t stand a nanometre away from people when talking to them or get all up in their personal space, I don’t smell funny (I hope not, anyway – thanks to my mum kindly pointing out whenever I had BO as a teenager, I’ve had a bit of a thing about not smelling bad), my clothes are generally clean(ish), I don’t flap my hands etc., although I do wear glasses, due to crap eyesight being hereditary in my family and doing a job that involves sitting in front of a a computer. Are people actually thinking, “Heavens to Murgatroyd, she can’t have Aspergers, she washes and stuff”? Probably not, but sometimes I do wonder.
Maybe I’m being a total bitch. After all, I suppose I should take it as a compliment that I seem neurotypical (and yes, I know that word is annoying to some but it really is less of a mouthful than ‘people who have not as yet been diagnosed with a mental disorder’). On the one hand, perhaps they’re saying I cope pretty damn well with my disorder and that I’ve managed to suppress some of my more unsavoury characteristics in order to get ahead in life. On the other hand, it does feel as though a big part of me is being denied. I am not Aspergers and Aspergers is not me, but it has made me who I am.
What really does grind my gears is when people tell me to stop labelling myself, that Aspergers is just a label, that it’s no different from social awkwardness. No I won’t, no it isn’t, and yes it is. It is not a question of sticking a dirty great label on myself to remind whoever is stacking the shelves in the supermarket of life that I am to go in the Aspergers section and not, say, the wheat-free section. I am not a bloody tin of food. Aspergers is not a label; it is a part of me, it is as much a part of me as my mad hair, my wonky eyes or my toenails. And as much as it seems like that part of me doesn’t exist, it does. I’m not asking you to put me on a pedestal; I’m asking that it be acknowledged and accepted as one of the parts that makes up my identity.