I knew almost from the moment I was dropped on this planet that I was Different. Different as in bizarre Different. Not just awkward and ugly, but truly out of place. The Challenge, as I have come to understand it, is to learn to work the wiring I’ve been given and make the most of it. I just wish I’d not gotten beaten with the Ugly Stick on top of everything else.
There are those who might consider my circumstances and wiring to be enviable, and some aspects of them are, such as speed-reading, detailed visual memory, and being able to recall completely useless technical information. But what most people don’t take into consideration is that for every strength there is a parallel weakness, and the more pronounced the strength is, the more pronounced the weakness is also.
Imagine a teeter-totter. When the teeter-totter is completely raised on one end, the other end is on the ground. So for every extreme ability a person has, there is also an extreme deficit.
Thankfully I am not in the same category (similar concept, but not as severe) as the so-called idiot savants. I can’t play Mozart concertos on the piano from memory (I did learn music theory, and I could play chords and notes on a keyboard, but I did much better with voice and bass guitar) nor can I produce amazing sculptures from memory in minutes or anything extraordinary like that. My strengths aren’t that pronounced, nor are my weaknesses as debilitating as those of the idiot savants. I can function reasonably well in the neurotypical world. Most of those skills were acquired out of necessity- and learned in the furnace of the School of the Burned Hand.
Even so, it was frustrating that everyone I encountered in my childhood had no explanation and offered precious little help for someone wired like me. Learning how to function and to use the wiring I’ve been given was as if I were trying to figure out how to work a very complicated piece of machinery without having any kind of instruction manual. Theories of child development and their accompanying processes didn’t usually work well for me. What can a school do with a six year old who reads on the same level as a college freshman but is afraid of her own shadow, gets beaten when left alone with other kids, and is horribly physically awkward? Where do you place a kid who reads the dictionary for fun, but is often paralyzed by fear and has virtually nothing in the way of relational skills? No one could understand the disconnect and the loneliness brought on by the disparity between my physical and social awkwardness and stunted emotional development and advanced intellectual development. I was the Kid With No Friends, and the Kid Nobody Wanted In Their Class. I don’t blame the teachers one bit.
Sometimes my own parents (who generally meant well) didn’t know better and used me as a sort of party game. “Oh, show Mrs. So and So how you can read the encyclopedia!” Yes I could read anything (and being hyperlexic, I was almost compelled to do so) and yes that’s downright unusual, especially when my older sisters were struggling to learn to read like other “normal” first and second grade kids.
No, nobody did anything unusual with me as an infant, unless you count that I was born with pneumonia, and the first thing my oldest sister tried to do when my parents brought me home was to smother me with a pillow. I have always been rather claustrophobic, and one of my greatest fears is of smothering or choking to death. I certainly don’t think I had any kind of superlative enrichment activities going on in my early development, unless “enrichment” can be defined as being locked outside with my sadistic older sister to have the holy bejeezus beat out of me.
Hindsight being 20/20 it’s easy to see the pattern. I was always physically awkward, even more socially awkward, withdrawn, fearful, and obsessed with narrow and obscure subject matter and minutae. I am also hyperlexic, which can come in quite handy, especially later in life, but try explaining to the librarian when you’re six that you’ve read everything in the children’s library, you’re tired of the various Dick and Jane remixes, and you’d like to start reading something a little more meaty.
For most of my life, my dealings with other people were largely driven by fear, and tempered by the knowledge that I don’t empathize well. Mom constantly reprimanded me for being crass or rude when I truly couldn’t see it. It took me a long time to learn that sharing the facts and broadcasting my observations isn’t always kind- or necessary, though there can be some potential in that for humor. It took me even longer to learn to get comfortable and to act appropriately in social situations. Social situations are still a challenge, and I pick and choose which ones I want to participate in very carefully. Choosing the amount and frequency of one’s interaction with other humans is one of the advantages of age, as well as eccentricity is better tolerated from the geezer/cougar set.
Asperger’s is easier to cope with the older one gets. I know I have become more adept at working the wiring over time. I have to take different routes to get to the same place as everyone else, and some of those routes are scenic in nature. I don’t necessarily get to take the Interstate everywhere I need to go. The challenge is to make the wiring I have do what I need it to do. Some things are remarkably easier for me than most neurotypical people, but other things that are very simple for the neurotypical are things I have to take the scenic route to accomplish- like being nurturing, or having empathy, or anything involving gross motor coordination.
I have to say that being an eccentric weirdo is not the worst thing in the world. It means I can actually wear all the funky clothes I buy off the clearance rack, that I am free to enjoy dying my hair black, and that I really don’t need to give a rat’s ass about too many people’s opinions. I am pleasantly surprised at just how normal I can appear if I really want to- but do I really want to? Not really, with the rare exception of the times where appearing normal might get me somewhere.