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"Active but odd."
These are some of the things that describe those who suffer from Asperger's Syndrome, named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger, who in 1944, studied and described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy.
The cause of Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is currently unknown. Some believe it is due to genetics, but there is no known genetic cause. Characteristics include limitations in social interaction, motor and sensory perception, and repetitive interests and behavior. There is no treatment, although therapy can help improve social skills, physical clumsiness, and repetitive behaviors.
How are they limited socially? Well, the lack of empathy is a start. Not showing care or understanding for others is one of the fastest ways to distance yourself from your peers, which explains their failure to develop friendships or share enjoyments or achievements. They are also limited non-verbally, struggling with eye-contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, as well as the general give and take of conversation. Sometimes, they can be withdrawn around others. Other times, they only talk to those they know, trust, and/or like. Some say that they are pre-disposed for criminal activity and violence, but the evidence suggests that they are actually the victims.
How are they limited in their motor and sensory skills? They have deficits in spatial reasoning and visual memory. They may also be sensitive (or insensitive) to light, sound, and other stimuli. John Elder Robinson, a New York Times bestselling author, who suffered from Asperger's, spoke about his extreme sensitivity to the tags in his clothes. His son, who also suffered from AS, was sensitive to close/intimate contact.
Where are they repetitive in their behavior? They may stick to inflexible routines, move in repetitive ways, and collect information on a specific topic, possibly not even grasping the broader topic. While this usually occurs at a young age, it can go on into adulthood and dominate their lives. Because narrow topics capture the interest of small children, this almost always goes unrecognized.
How many are affected by this rarely discussed, yet drastically influential condition? The numbers vary. Some say it is as little as 4.84/1000, others say its as high as to 1/100. Despite it being a form of autism, it gets overlooked by the medical institution and the media time and time again, so we may never truly know just how many are being affected.
However, all is not lost for those who bear this burden. Simon Baron-Cohen, a Professor of Developmental psychopathology, argues in a 2002 paper that the genes for Asperger's combination of abilities have operated throughout recent human evolution and have made remarkable contributions to mankind. Al Gore has it. Charles Dickens had it. Bill Gates has it. Maybe Baron-Cohen is right.
However, you may ask "If it is truly so prevalent, how does it go unnoticed?"
Asperger's goes unnoticed for more reasons than just the medical institution not talking about it. The lack of diagnosis starts at home, and at school. Because of their behaviors, those who suffer from AS get immediately written off and ridiculed as "rude", "standoffish", "mean", "unaware", "anti-social", "crazy", "problematic", "troublesome", "unfriendly", and "uncaring". Nobody is going to take the ''rude'' child to the doctor, but we all fail to ask "why is the child rude?". Instead of being quick to punish and scorn, we must instead seek to understand. Sadly, these ignorant and inconsiderate labels go with the child wherever he/she goes, and because they receive little support, from peers and adults alike, it makes them sadder and more withdrawn, thus increasing their habits, whether they intend to or not. Children cannot diagnose themselves, but if nobody else will, what can they do? Many live their entire lives with Asperger's and never find out the cause for all their struggles. Asperger's also goes undiagnosed because those who live with it may not want to talk about their condition, in fear of ridicule and mockery. Unfortunately, people in this world make up their minds about a person long before they even learn about the person. A child won't talk about his condition if he feels like his peers will make of fun of him. Even adults can be shy about talking about their condition, because other adults are children themselves and would think less of the person suffering from this condition.
So, what can we do do combat this condition? How do we help those who suffer and make their lives more pleasant?
Firstly, we must learn and accept the truth. Aspergers is not curable. It is not something that can be removed, like a cancer. The person will live with it for their entire lives, whether they're aware of it or not. Then, we must seek to find better and earlier diagnosis. Discovering Asperger's at 3 rather than 13 could help many children have better lives, and make them more acceptable to those around them. We must also take better care in what we say, what we call them, and how we treat them. Just because you don't look someone in the eye doesn't mean you're a liar, and just because you love nothing but cars doesn't mean you're "limited" or "in need more exposure". Name-calling is not appropriate, and shouldn't be tolerated. Instead of calling them a name, ask them why they are, and why they do things in a certain way. Maybe you will find understanding, and appreciation, of their differences.
Better than name-calling and inappropriate labeling, we must finally learn how to identify, and that goes for the Aspergian as well as the onlooker. For the Aspergian, realize that your condition won't go away, but that doesn't make your pen-clicking habit acceptable. For the onlooker, instead of turning your back to the Aspergian, talk to him/her. If the habit bothers you (which some of their habits can be quite annoying), kindly ask them to stop. If you want, you can even talk to them about it. You would be surprised how, with a kind voice and manner, how an Aspergian may open up to you, which helps everyone involved. Again, conversation and understanding one another is the biggest key in understanding this condition, and it is the lack of this that makes Aspergers such a difficult condition to spot. If everyone could get past their beliefs, misconceptions, and while it may sound crazy, fear, of the Aspergian (humans fear the unknown), they would be happier, and their peers would find them more relatable and more fun to be around.
Because I don't know any Aspgerians as friends, you may find it odd that I know so much about this misunderstood and little researched condition. It wasn't reading, it wasn't the Internet. It was the fact that I have to live with an Aspergian.
Every single day of my life. Some great, some awesome, others good. Many are tear-filled, with internal bouts anger, rage, disappointment, and frustration. Feelings of hopelessness, wandering, confusion, emptiness. Searching. A hope. A desire. A dream. A friend?
Who's that Aspergian?