I've been thinking a lot of my years growing up as of late. Sometimes this hurts as I think of times that, socially, everything went wrong. Back then I had no idea that there may have been a reason for my oddities and quirkiness. Back then I had no idea that not everyone shared my physical reaction to fire alarms or that not everyone shared my intense interest on whatever it was I was interested in.
Slowly I began to notice that my classmates would socialize about anything. It seemed to be almost as if I were watching a scripted television show because it was so seamless. For me, any conversation outside talking about facts was nothing short of an ordeal as I tried to make every sentence perfect which led to a choppy speech pattern.
As time went I began to wonder what was different, or even wrong with me. Where was the circle of friends like everyone else had? Why could I do difficult math problems with ease but when it came to figuring out why a joke was funny was an impossible task. Why could I name every state and its capitol but not understand why some people got mad if you told them the honest truth of the situation (i.e. "Why don't you know that?" "Why are you wearing that?")
From those few examples to enduring thoughts like that every day I ask you, what conclusions can one draw? I didn't have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Well, for the first half of my schooling years it wasn't even a diagnosis yet. Anyway, what conclusion could I come up with? Maybe it was that all my other classmates were weird? Maybe it was that I was smarter? Or maybe even you would think that I thought that all was normal? All those answers are wrong as each night I thought to myself, "Am I bad? What is different about me?"
It was a silent struggle and I had lots of issues trying to describe this but for the most part I kept quiet about my core feelings. I mean, how could I explain that I felt different? Without understanding that people are different how could I accept that fact? Without knowing about Asperger Syndrome how could I ever forgive myself for my social awkwardness?
I was my own worst enemy and it wasn't until I got my diagnosis and wrote my book, Finding Kansas, that I began to ease up on myself and begin to accept who I am.
Why do I write this today? I've been hearing a trend of stories from younger people who have been fighting the same battle I was when I was their age. Even though we have social media and more ways to communicate than anyone 25 years ago could ever have imagined, when it comes down to it, we humans are still social in a physical presence. Social oddities stick out and the way I felt when I was young was that of being on a island, stranded, but people are always swimming by and as I call out no one hears my words.
Feeling alone is a horrible feeling and even more so when one feels alone and does not know how to describe it. Another thing I've heard in recent months, and I've written about it several times, is whether or not to tell a child that they have Asperger Syndrome. I want to say I wish I knew and I wish my classmates had known. Through understanding comes compassion and while I was never bullied I was also really never included; I was simply there.
Finally, and perhaps the strongest aspect of fighting this silent struggle, is that the feeling of being alone grows and grows. When I get an e-mail, comment on this blog or my Facebook page, or when someone tells me at a presentation that, "I never thought anyone else felt like I do." I must admit I get this feeling of ice flowing through my body because I don't know if there is anything more important I, or any other speaker/writer/advocate can do because, before that point in time when one realizes they aren't alone, the silent struggle will continue. I know because I was there. The void of isolation grows and grows and since, socially, I could never seem to do anything right I figured that I would keep all my feelings and thoughts to myself because those must be bad too considering everything else I did was. And on top of it all my thought cycle was, "even if I spoke no one would understand."
I came out of the silent struggle through my writings. I don't want to imagine what I would be like if I had not found this medium to communicate. Still though there are those with Asperger Syndrome out there that are in the midst of this silent struggle. Perhaps they are diagnosed, and perhaps they haven't yet, or maybe never will, and for them I hope someway somehow these words will find them. First and foremost "you are not alone!" I know those words probably are irrelevant now, I know if someone had told me that when I was a child my reaction would have been, "there's no way you know how I feel" but I was wrong. Also, the world is learning. Sadly, there are bullies out there that like to target those that are different. My hope is that someday, through all this increased awareness, those who aren't bullies will band together and will protect those who are different. As I said, I always asked myself, "What is different about me?" and just thinking that thought alone can create an issue, but to add complex and perhaps awful social situations just makes things worse.
All that I do and all that I am comes from my hope that the lives of those on spectrum can be made better through understanding. I lived without understanding for a long time. While there was an obvious external struggle going on my real fears on being different were always silent. I didn't understand that being different is okay! I didn't understand that everyone is different. And most of all I thought I was the only one in the world that thought the way I did.
The silent struggle is a dark voyage. It was always difficult to see my peers socialize so freely. In my struggle I often lost myself because I would look at them and completely forget who I was. I didn't see who I was, but who I wasn't and, well, I could write on and on about this but my hopes and dreams lies within the fact that I hope we as a world can get to a point where the education about the autism spectrum is such that there is full acceptance and the best inclusion as possible. In that world people, and I mean everyone, won't see what they're not but rather each person will see who they are and I hope no one has to go through the silent struggle I did of wondering "Why am I different?"