My Spectrum of Friends

This post is part of the Autism Positivity Day #AutismPositiity2012 Flash Blog for April 30th, 2012. For more information about the flash blog, and the Autism Positivity Project, and a compilation of many other fantastic posts, please visit autismpositivity.wordpress.com – Thanks!

To “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”

Dear Person Who Has Aspergers,

I don’t know who you are or how old you are or why you wish you didn’t have Aspergers… but I’d like to reassure you that there are people in the world who will love you exactly the way you are– not “in spite of” your Aspergers diagnosis, but because you are who you are, Aspergers included.

Since I don’t know much about you, I’ll tell you a little bit about me, and about the people I know who have the same diagnosis you do.

When I start talking about autism, people ask if I “work with autistic children.” It’s a reasonable assumption– I’m a Psychology student at a major research university, and there are a lot of people here who work in the autism field.

I don’t. I’ve only ever met 2 autistic children, and that’s back when I was a kid myself.

But when I was in the 7th grade, an autistic girl who was 6 years older than me saw that I was alone and scared at my new school, and sat with me at lunch, and introduced me to the field of Theater Tech, and laughed with me about geeky jokes. Now she’s a pediatrician who works with autistic kids, and we’re still really good friends.

When I was a teenager, I met a distant cousin of mine who has Aspergers at a family gathering, and discovered that we both love Star Trek. I also got kinda overwhelmed with how much he talked to me, because I didn’t realize back then that I have some sensory processing issues myself, especially when a lot of people are talking to me at once. I wish I’d known then how to tell him that I really liked him anyway and I wish we’d had a chance to talk more.

When I went to college the first time, my first serious boyfriend was a guy who had Aspergers and also ADHD. It was hard for me to keep up with his amount of energy, but we always had fun.

Now I’m in college again, and there’s a group I hang out with about once a week. We get together, play board games and card games, watch funny youtube videos, generally goof around, whatever. For a moment, I’d like to talk about three friends of mine who regularly attend these gatherings. Well, two good friends and one acquaintance, really. And there’s another good friend who belongs in this conversation, who doesn’t come to these get-togethers, but sometimes joins in if we’re having a quieter night in at my place.

They’re all nice people. All are a bit geeky– nearly all my friends are. But they’ve got something else in common, too. Two are Autistic, one has Asperger’s, and one was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, which is pretty close to being an autism spectrum diagnosis. (There’s actually a fifth good friend I’d like to add, but I don’t know if he has an autism spectrum diagnosis or not– but I’d be willing to bet good money that he’s not neurotypical.)

One speaks quietly, in a somewhat slurred voice, which makes it difficult for me to understand him when there are other conversations going on in the background. But he never seems to mind repeating himself when I ask him to.

Another is boisterously energetic and generally loud enough to be heard from the next room. Sometimes I have to ask him to “turn down the volume” when we’re talking, because otherwise it overwhelms me a bit.

A third is generally quiet in large groups, but has amazing things to say in more intimate conversation with only one or two other people.

The fourth, due to our schedules, I communicate with mainly by email and instant messaging– which she kinda prefers to spoken conversation anyway.

The third mentioned to me recently that speaking is not her favorite way to communicate either– which surprised me, because she’s so extraordinarily eloquent. Talking with her, I forget that I’m talking to a college student (and one a decade younger than myself, at that!) rather than a professor discussing her area of research. Heck, I’ve had professors who couldn’t express themselves as clearly.

All have good senses of humor. All are very caring people. I consider myself lucky to have them as friends.

Two are undergraduates, two grad students. They study computer science, math, oceanography, and cognitive science. At least one also holds a job. At least one teaches classes regularly.

One is restless and listens to low-key music to help himself stay calm. One warned me that her playlists were liable to give me “mental whiplash” from the sheer variety. One wears dark glasses inside to mitigate the effects of the fluorescent lighting that gives her a headache.

One is a passionate performance artist. Two are amazing writers on the subject of disability rights. One always wears long sleeves, and has a fairly limited wardrobe because so many clothes are uncomfortable. Two love trying new foods. Three are avid readers– and at least one even reads more than I do, which is saying something. The fourth prefers audiobooks. I’m pretty sure they all like “Doctor Who.” But then– who doesn’t?

So no, I don’t “work with autistic children.” I share my life with autistic people and people with Aspergers. They are my friends, mentors, lovers, pen-pals, classmates and colleagues. I have laughed with them, stayed up all night talking with them, held them when they cried, and cried on their shoulders in return. I’ve had adventures with them, learned many things from them, and taught them things in return.

And I wouldn’t want any of them to be any different. I love them all just the way they are. And you will meet people who love you just the way you are, too. I promise.

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