In yesterday's blog I let my words from the past give a glimpse into the hopelessness and dark world I lived in. As I've said many times, part of the reason I got into such a dark place was my introduction that those with Asperger's will, "never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." Okay, so that wasn't a good introduction but there was more to it than that; for the first time in my life I questioned normal and whether or not I was.
The reason I wrote so many bleak entries in my journal was the fact that I didn't feel normal and quickly normal became everything I wasn't. Society, and the media, bombards us with images of normality. Now, whether or not those images are true is irrelevant, it was the perceived notion, and the belief, that what everyone else had I would never experience.
In 2005, on the television show The Apprentice, Autism Speaks was featured. One of the semi-finalists had to set up a fundraiser for them and this was the first thing I had ever seen on television that had anything to do with autism that wasn't just a report on statistics or potential causes. This was the first time I ever thought that, maybe, I wasn't alone in my struggles.
My abyss of despair was also fueled by this feeling of supreme isolation. I knew that no one understood me and if anyone used the line of, "Oh Aaron, I understand what you're feeling," I would tune out every single word that person would say thereafter because I would think, "You understand? Really? How could you? How could you possibly understand how I feel and think since no one else has these struggles I have?"
Since I have been blogging, I have written on so many occasions that, "understanding is the foundation for hope." What does this mean? In the previous paragraph there were two things going on; one was the fact that I would jerk back from anyone who said they understood me and secondly, because of my perception of normal, I didn't understand myself. If I always saw what I wasn't, and if I always compared myself to this illusion known as normal, then how on earth could I ever measure up? I set a standard for myself that was destined to fail. Then, as I mentioned, by seeing Autism Sepaks featured in 2005 I, for the first time, thought someone outside my family cared. This too was a problem; I knew my family cared but what good would that do outside the walls of home? Just the thought of someone out there wanting to increase awareness and understanding planted a seed that would sprout become the person I have am today.
Understanding is a two way street, though. As I saw more and more stories about autism and Asperger's, I began to feel, and maybe not feel but rather believe, that I wasn't alone. This changed my belief about normal and I no longer chased the illusion of it. So here's what happened, as I felt society was trying to understand me I in turn began to understand myself.
If a person doesn't understand who they are then there is no room for one to be content. I'm sure this is broader than the autism spectrum but for us on the autism spectrum we seem to be in that state rather often. I've seen it though; I've seen the changes in students with Asperger's at presentations I give to entire student bodies. It's amazing to see the spark in their eyes when my story sounds like their story and the feeling of being alone on an island in the midst of an infinite ocean vanishes. On top of that their peers are learning about it and are engaged so, what was misunderstood, is now something that is being talked about, out in the open, as if it were something "normal."
There are many other reasons as to why understanding is the foundation of hope such as society needing to know about the potential to take things literally, the possibility of sensory issues, and the fact that we may talk about our favorite topic to the exclusion of everything else. However, understanding is much more than that because, with the understanding of those around me I will begin to understand myself and feel as if I'm not so alone. I think we still have a long way to go to achieve maximum understanding, but from where we were 9 years ago I think we're off to a good start building the foundation for understanding that leads to hope.