Health

Tuesday 2 September 2014

I don't allow label 'Aspie' to define me

Imagine you were to be put on a spaceship and sent several galaxies away. Your destination is likely to feel very strange and uncomfortable. Not knowing the "rules of engagement" around socialising, you are likely to struggle and fear befriending the local population, no matter how much of a party animal you are back on Planet Earth.

This is how it feels trying to interact as a person living with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition on the Autistic Spectrum where people are generally of average or above average intelligence but struggle with many day-to-day activities and in interacting with others. When I was a small child, I never had that natural inclination to seek out the company of my peers. I was terrified of many day-to-day social realities such as loud noises at birthday parties or strong food smells in people's houses or in restaurants.

Yet many of us desire to go and have fun as much as the "neurotypical" person – but it is simply a struggle to keep up with the expectation of our peers, and social anxiety isolates far too many of my fellow "Aspies".

I have been fortunate to benefit from early intervention, while I started mainstream education in second class it took me a long time to come to terms with my condition, to feel comfortable with people my own age and to exit this self-imposed isolation.

I can recall the terror of receiving an invitation to go out with friends, on the one hand there was the delight that I must have been doing something right but on the other, my mind would instantly start considering all the things that could go wrong.

Over time though, with the support of many people, I began to push myself to overcome this anxiety, or at least to control it. Today I "go out" more than I stay in and have a very close group of friends who I feel totally at ease with and who are very important in my life.

I am proud to be an Aspie, I live with the challenges it presents and appreciate the personality it gives me. But I no longer allow the label to define me as I had for so long. To my fellow Aspies, be proud of who you are and never be anybody but yourself. If people don't like that, it's likely them not you.

Adam Harris is founder of AspergersAdvice.org, a website for those with Asperger's Syndrome. His new Autism support website and charity, AsIAm.ie, will launch soon Email: AspergersAdvice@gmail.com Twitter: @AdamPHarris / @AspergersAdvice

Sunday Independent

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