Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Name is Sean and I have Asperger's Syndrome

Sean Kelly from Sean Patrick Kelly's Little Corner of the Web has written this post:

I didn’t really hear of the term Asperger’s Syndrome (or Autism Specturm Disorder) until I was suspected of having it about 5 years ago.

For most of my life growing up, I thought that all I suffered from was extreme shyness.  I didn’t think I was Neurotypical per-se, since I was already diagnosed with a learning disability and ADHD, however I thought my difficulties with social skills were just something I could learn to overcome.

I was officially diagnosed with ASD in February 2008 - two months away from my 26th birthday. It’s tough finding out you have a form of Autism in your mid-20s.  While it helped to explain my bad social choices over the years (especially in High School), it was not news that was easy to cope with.

In the years since I was diagnosed, I mostly kept my ASD secret from everybody, except my close friends and family.  I didn’t want my ASD to overshadow the fact that I was a very intelligent person, who excelled academically and has a lot to say (when I find the means to say it).

I started to slowly come to terms with my ASD earlier this year when I saw John Elder Robison speak at the Royal Ontario Museum about his experiences with the condition.  It inspired me enough to buy his books, as well as any other self-help book about ASD that I could find.
Sadly, it seems recently that ASD/Asperger’s is slowly replacing ADHD as the “it” disorder to be misrepresented by the media.  There are some media representations that get the disorder right to a point (such as the 2009 film Adam).  However, many other media representations either make fun of it or get it totally wrong.
Sometimes, the joke is small and excusable (such as on the show Community, in which a character says he has Asperger’s only to be made fun of because of the pronunciation - “ass burgers”).

However, there was a more recent (and insulting) misrepresentation of the disorder on the television show Glee (which I used to consider myself a fan of).  The third season premiere introduced a villainous character named Sugar Motta, who described herself as having “self-diagnosed Asperger’s,” which “allowed” her to say whatever she wants.  Her gimmick was to say something rude to someone, only to excuse it with the phrase “Sorry, Asperger’s.”

Not only was this depiction insulting to me, it also insinuated that Asperger’s is a fake disorder that bratty kids use as an excuse for their behaviour (which apparently really happens - shame on them).

It was that misrepresentation of ASD on Glee (which I have since stopped watching) that resulted in me to take a stand and write this blog post today.  This is my first public acknowledgement of my ASD, but I felt it was necessary to describe how ASD affects me.

It’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder for a reason.  The symptoms differ from person to person and no two people with ASD are exactly alike.

For me, my ASD hinders my ability to properly communicate with people.  I rarely ever initiate conversations and often have trouble finding the right words to say.  I tend to avoid talking on the phone whenever possible and I prefer written communication to verbal.  I prefer to keep to myself and try to avoid loud and crowded places, which makes me feel uncomfortable.  I have the habit of always expecting the worse out of situations and its hard for me to become optimistic about something.  This is especially true when it comes to my current job search, in which I am constantly frustrated by my lack of success.  I tend to get the most chatty and excited when I talk about my favourite subject, which is movies.

I am still trying to come to terms with my ASD, especially since I was diagnosed as an adult.  I am slowly inching towards acceptance and I believe me talking about my experiences today is just one part of that journey.

P.S. Even though the character Sheldon’s ASD-like behaviours on Big Bang Theory are officially labelled coincidental by the producers, I believe he is the best (and most hilarious) media representation of the disorder out there right now.

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