How a man on the Spectrum learns to live

Posts tagged ‘TV’

“Am I Supposed to Feel Warm & Fuzzy Now?”

You may be wondering what the title means.  Well, it’s a quote that’s been said in one form or another by characters I’ve seen on TV.  Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I feel like there is a pretty strong representation on TV of characters on the Autism Spectrum; more so than there was fifteen years ago.  I have also heard several names of a derogatory nature being used to describe them.  One of the most widely used insults in name-calling is “asshole”.  That’s because it’s an angry word used to point out someone’s perceived idiotic, rude, selfish, and/or ignorant behavior.  I have learned of instances where it’s been used on people who have committed a very simple social blunder.  Some of them stay in my mind because it’s possible that the offender was a person on the Spectrum who may or may not know what they’ve done wrong.

It’s a feeling that’s all too familiar to me.  Although I was never called “asshole” to my face, I was called all of the names you can think of: “stupid”, “retard”, “weirdo”, “gay”, the list goes on.  These felt like a never-ending stream of insults and prejudice in my younger Aspie mind.  In retrospect, I felt like my mind was pulled in two different directions.  On one hand, I was desperate to raise my voice above the bullying and find a way for people to like me.  On the other hand, there was a seething desire to use my intelligence and observation to come up with crushing insults or put-downs while not caring about other people’s feelings.

After several years I was able to channel my emotions into self-confidence by growing my authentic self.  During this time, I felt more vindicated that people on the Autism Spectrum were on TV; however, I did notice a somewhat disturbing pattern.  Some characters did not, in my mind, portray people on the Spectrum in a positive light.  Their personalities were condescending, arrogant, and they seemed to enjoy rubbing people the wrong way.

At first I thought I was merely offended by the behavior, but then I realized something else.  My revulsion was born out of the negative behavior I would express growing up; those fictional characters were a magnified reflection of the forced sarcasm I expressed to put up a front of not caring.  Of course it didn’t last long because it’s not in my nature to be so rude and shallow, and by admitting that to my parents, they’ve been able to help me grow.

With what I’ve learned, I believe I’ve found a new archetype of person.  It’s the one who constantly behaves like an asshole and also expresses some traits that may hint at an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  They may or may not have Autism, but one thing’s for sure: I call this person an “Aspie-Hole”.

Crazy, isn’t it?  I used to act this way before I was more secure in myself.  I was trying to be an “Aspie-Hole” out of desperation.  I tried to keep down my emotions and hide my need to feel accepted, but I was only denying what I knew to be true.  Since I’ve admitted my faults and begun working on them, I feel more at secure and at peace.

The first “Aspie-Hole” I ever took notice of was the title character of the TV show “House”.  Here is a man with a full medical education and he’s supposed to have bedside manners, right?  Wrong.  Dr. Gregory House became quite popular for his brazenly insensitive words and unwillingness to listen to input from the other doctors on his team.

Having only watched a few episodes of this show before it went off the air earlier this year, I thought I sensed a possible Spectrum diagnosis behind House’s incorrigible behavior.  It certainly would explain his very antisocial manners, although I don’t know if it was ever mentioned that he was on the Spectrum.  Well, even if he wasn’t, I can still speculate.

The newest “Aspie-Hole” I’ve discovered is the latest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes in the new crime drama “Elementary”.  Here, Sherlock is a modern British expatriate living in New York City.  He has struggled with addictions and is going through rehab.  Joan Watson is a former surgeon who is hired by Sherlock’s father to be his sober living companion; she quickly finds out that sharing a living space with him will not be easy.

Sherlock is an expert at criminology and forensics, which is why he’s consulted often by the New York Police Department.  This talent does nothing to hide the fact that he says what he thinks and has seemingly no tact and/or filters when it comes to talking with other people.  It is because of Sherlock’s brilliance as well as his bizarre compunction to pick apart the details of people’s lives that I find him fascinating.  The difference between him and me is that he has very little tact and I have developed a bit more.  If things had been different, I could have been more like him, including the addiction problems.

I guess the reason why these characters, these “Aspie-Holes”, fascinate me is because they can use their intellect to override their social and moral filters and say what they want, when they want.  They may have earned a grudging respect from others, but their behavior begs the question: with my own intellect and insight earning me respect, do I want to be right or be happy?  My answer: I need to be happy.  I could have all the success that House and Holmes have earned, but there’s a part of me that wants to feel like I’ve made a positive difference.  It’s just not in my nature to deliberately offend people; if I commit a social blunder on accident, I apologize for it.

Discovering the existence of the “Aspie-Hole” has increased my self-awareness.  This person, both fictional and non-fictional, has taught me a lot about what not to do when engaging in human interaction.  Since I’ve embraced the Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis I’ve done better with people on and off the Spectrum.  What helps to separate me from the “Aspie-Hole” label is my willingness to listen to other people and offer them polite, honest conversation in return.  Have you ever encountered a know-it-all in your life?  Is it possible that they may be an “Aspie-Hole”?  Ask yourself these questions the next time you encounter this kind of person.  Who knows?  Maybe all they need is someone to take what they can dish out and break down their walls of stubbornness.  It may not happen right away, but patience and persistence can lead to a new understanding.

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Extreme Makeover: Autism Edition

A little over a week ago, I was watching one of my all time favorite tv shows: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  I was looking foward to this episode because the chosen family was a married couple with three sons, and two of them had autism.  The facts about the episode were known to me, but I had no idea how emotionally touched I would be until I watched it.

Here’s my question: Were you born “different”, and the world was not yet ready to accept who you really were?  I was…I knew from around kindergarten that I was different from other kids.  Unfortunately, it was not in a kind way.  That time was my first experience with bullying, and being made aware that something unique about me was putting a target on my back.

As you are aware, growing up on the autism spectrum was not easy for me.  Even when I was diagnosed and had answers, I was still no closer to feeling any more “normal” than I did before.  Fortunately, as I got older, I began to understand that that particular word has such different meanings to different people.  Even today, I may not fit into some people’s definitions of “normal”, but why should I even try?  I would only be denying who I really am to please others!

Anyway, what I’ve noticed in the past eleven years is that awareness about Autism and the long list of complexities of the Autism Spectrum has grown exponentially.  As I read magazines and books, attended conferences, met people on the spectrum and/or those who knew people on the spectrum, I found that there were leaps and bounds made from the time I was a little kid.  There were still problems with those who had little or no knowledge about how to handle being around a child with autism, but it was good to know that there were options for people to know better, and consequentially, do better.

When I saw that episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I found myself in the middle of a wave of happy tears; looking at them now, they were the kind of tears a man sheds only after one of his heart’s greatest desires has been granted.  I saw the team do so many incredible things for the family, that I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion.

The greatest thing about all that was done, was that not only did they have guidance from several specialists in autism research, but the team also enlisted the help of one of Autism research’s greatest pioneers: Dr. Temple Grandin.  Dr. Grandin is a woman who was born with autism, and has used her talents with animals to become one of the most sought-after consultants for the cattle industry.  Ever since speaking up about her struggles with autism and finding her way in the world, she has become an outstanding advocate for research and understanding.

I was so happy that Dr. Grandin was helping out on the home makeover; I couldn’t believe it!  For the past eleven years, I have slowly begun to see changes in attitudes and levels of acceptance regarding people with autism.  This episode was just the latest, and best reminder that the world has come a long way in accepting that people like me live in it.

Seeing all that the family received for their dedication in raising their children was a sign of hope that stories like mine are quickly becoming more common.  Times have a way of changing quickly, and I, for one, am glad that this new era is a better one of tolerance and acceptance for all people affected by autism.