Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jessica on ASDay

Jessica's original post is here, and it has been reproduced below.

My entire life I have felt out of place. I am Deaf and attended a public school until I was 11 years old. While in the public school, I had no sign language interpreter and could not understand what was being said in the classroom. I felt different amongst my classmates and I knew it was because I am deaf. Kids were not including me in their activities and would tease me that I could not speak "properly". This changed when I attended a school for the deaf. All of the students and teachers could sign. I was more included at that school. However, I still felt different from them. It seemed impossible that I could still feel different and I constantly searched for answers.

I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Light-bulbs went off in my head and I understood why I felt different in my entire life. One of the most important understanding I gained was why I seemed to struggle with some aspects of American Sign Language (ASL). The language required that I understand facial expressions and body language. Since non-verbal communication is not Aspergians' strongest suit, it helped me to understand my frequent frustrations related to ASL.

Badgering self
Whenever someone pointed out the "obvious" signs of an individual's emotion, I would beat myself up how I could have missed that. I am Deaf and should instinctively be able to interpret the appropriate non-verbal signs in ASL. Sometimes during a conversation a friend would bring up a particular non-verbal sign that seemed to be obvious and I would question myself whether I was incompetent in interpreting the invisible signs without assistance?

I was constantly doubting myself whether I had shown the appropriate facial expression or body language to communicate non-verbally. Too often I have questioned myself whether or not that I had presented myself correctly and perhaps should have "known better". I wondered why it seemed to come naturally in others while I had to constantly practice by myself in front of a mirror. Occassionally I would have someone give a perplexed look whenever I was signing and I would wonder was it because I shown something facially or physically wrong?

Over the years, I started to harbour secret resentment towards the non-verbal communication aspects of ASL. It seemed too complicated and stressful to maintain appropriate facial expressions and body language. Thus, I started to intentionally become stoic in order to keep myself "consistent" at all times. It was just easier that way to have one simple facial expression. No more self-analyzing required and I resented the expectation of using proper non-verbal communication in applicaple situations.

Now that I have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, I am slowly letting go my resentment towards non-verbal communication and to embrace ASL more. I am realizing that ASL does give me benefits in many ways. If only I had knew about the neurological difference I had all those years. I would have minimize my self-badgering and self-doubt.

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