For those of you in Colorado, Washington or Oregon “high functioning” is probably just another way of saying “Friday Night.” (sorry I couldn’t resist) But for some of us, it is a whole different thing.
This is Autism Awareness month and I’m since I’m not into Autism Speaks’ down in the blues campaign “Light it up blue” (which sure seems like a game 14 year old boys play on a scouting trip) I decided to do what I can to tell a small part of my story, because Autism isn’t something we just “cure.” In fact, for some of us it is something we wouldn’t want to cure.
I spent my first thirty-<cough, hrumph, cough> years lacking in any sort of self-awareness. I knew I was different, weird even. I’ve been labelled many things: Gifted, Smart, Dorky, Nerdy, Goofy, Awkward, Recluse, Successful, a Leader, a Failure, a Robot, a Genius, a Loser… With so many labels to live up to, both for good and for bad, I never was able to figure out which of them I was supposed to be.
Despite my ignorance, or perhaps because of it, I managed to rise to high levels of “success” in most anything I chose to do. When it came to work I would obsess over knowing everything I could about what I was supposed to do, I could understand things rapidly, make seemingly intuitive leaps to solutions while others worked out the steps, and while I was always socially awkward I was usually able to get along by watching what others were doing and just copying that when forced into a social situation.
The problem with being smart and performing well at work is you get promoted.
I take that back.
The problem isn’t the promotion, which is actually fun since you get new challenges and new things to master (and for me the chance to help mentor others). The problem is the higher you reach in the corporate world the more you are expected to be an “A” type outgoing socialite.
And that I was not.
I found myself constantly rehearsing every potential upcoming human interaction in my head and then evaluating my performance afterwards. The strain of trying to master the social aspects needed to be a “success” lead to an eventual break down, which is a story for another time.
What matters is that I ended up seeing a professional who stitched the bits together to show me all of the square pegs which I had been attempting to cram into round holes. He taught me to understand why the pegs I had were square, and to accept that it is ok to be a square peg guy.
I was formally diagnosed as having Asperger’s, which now is just Autism Spectrum Disorder . I’m on the end of the disorder which contains people able to function in society (whatever that means) so I’m considered a High Functioning Autistic.
Now, I’m sure there are some people out there going “ohhhhhhhh…that explains a lot.” I’m also sure there are some that have been swayed by the media who may now think less of me because Autism/Asperger’s is something often used to scare people on the news.
Regardless of what others may think, it’s time for me to live honestly. Time to embrace who I am and not be ashamed to admit I am different from many of you. So while I’m a little late to the party (my second preference behind not attending a party in the first place) I’m going to Light it up Red Instead.
I’ve had time to come to terms with being autistic, in fact I choose to embrace it. While autism doesn’t define me, it is part of who I am, how I think, how I work.
And you know what?
I’m pretty damn good at what I do.