Asperger's - through adult eyes

Essential Baby feature member of the month, Cherry.
Essential Baby feature member of the month, Cherry. 

Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, each individual a different 'colour' in the spectrum. There are many commonalities between 'aspies' although the expression can be different. Essential Baby member, mother and wife Cherry shares her experience.

People diagnosed with Asperger's often appear 'normal' (neurotypical) or slightly eccentric, whilst others can appear to be borderline autistic, with additional complications such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other behavioral issues and can often struggle to live alone.

We predominantly show difficulty in social interaction, especially in 'reading' people and understanding non-verbal communication. Asperger syndrome (AS) differs from other Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in that we usually have good language skills, although often used atypically, and a propensity for higher intelligence. Children with Asperger's sometimes come across as precocious 'little professors', correcting adults and being pedantic about minutiae.

We are what I have always termed 'socially dyslexic'. Kind of knowing what to do, but often getting it wrong or being misinterpreted. We struggle to 'fit in' and behave the same as NT's (neurotypicals) because our brains are wired up differently. We're extremely literal and often have limited behaviour and interests. We often feel disconnected from the world as though we are 'in' our bodies, but watching everything through a glass screen, or fuzzy lenses. It's this feeling of separation that can make us seem cold and unemotional, but ask about our current obsession and you'll see a passionate fire light up behind our eyes.

I learned everything early

Nine years into our relationship it was me taking the plunge again, going down on bended knee to abuse his post-operative sedation and ask for his hand in marriage!

When most people hear 'Autistic spectrum' they imagine the more serious cases of children who can't connect with others and have severe behavioral issues. However when I was growing up I was always treated as 'gifted'. (I was the pedant who told everyone what to do and how to do it). I learned everything early; walking, talking, counting etc. I taught myself to read and write via Sesame Street and an old typewriter long before starting school. Mum heard me yelling from another room 'how do I spell my name?' and came in to find me typing it repeatedly.

I was close to my sister, but otherwise tended to be a loner. The friends I had were usually those my parents maintained for me. I was happiest on my own, reading, drawing or making things for hours. Once I could walk I was off on my own, not wanting cuddles or comfort, happy to be independent before I was even one! Mum and Dad have endless stories of how I would go off on some adventure, returning later to frantic, stressed parents!

Being unaware of AS at the time, my parents focused on the advantages it brought me rather than the dwell on my 'negative' social skills. On reflection it's quite clear that my parents unknowingly did many things that are now considered treatment/early intervention for children with AS.

I'm just being honest or making an observation

As a child I didn't make any conscious effort to behave in a way that wasn't 'me', I just did whatever I felt like doing, said what I felt like saying. I have since learnt to tell others that I 'live with my feet in my mouth' because often what comes out is taken the wrong way! I'm just being honest or making an observation about something I have found interesting, but it's inevitably the wrong thing to say, or the wrong time to say it which usually offends without me being aware of it.

This confusion about people's reactions led to an obsession with body language, devouring books and putting it into practice as often as possible. I also became fascinated by anthropology and primatology as an adult, using the great apes as a sounding board for learning how humans behave and why. Discovering that our base emotions and instincts so often rule our behavior makes it far easier to 'read between the lines' of what people are saying to discover their true intentions. Nowadays I'm better at seeing when I've said the wrong thing, though usually it's hours later!

I started feeling different to others as I grew older. My primary school had been great at allowing kids to stay young, so when I went to high school many teenage social concepts were unfamiliar to me. I remember being confused about where a friend was going when a boy 'asked her out'. I often thought people behaved strangely in order to appeal to potential mates, never understood fads or fashion or what was 'in', and didn't succumb to peer-pressure. I tried to be the same as the group, to fit in and say the right things even though I didn't feel or mean them. I tried flirting and being interested in the other person's inanity, but failed abysmally. The problem, of course, is that social interaction does not come naturally to 'aspies'. It's a struggle, requiring concentration in order to socialise 'correctly'.

Envisage having to be in a school play every day, where the whole world is watching, and everyone knows all their lines but you. Everyone else is confident and comfortable, easily walking through their parts except you who is struggling to remember the right line to say and when.

As you can imagine, my teenage years were not the most fun. No dates, no boyfriends (and no, no girlfriends either mum). The one guy who showed an interest I told to stop calling me, as I thought once a night was too often.

Apparently most women actually want that! Eventually I met my husband through a sporting club we both were part of, the shared interest allowing me to converse more comfortably than I was able to previously.

I was sixteen and growing out a very bad haircut and in need of braces. I knew if I didn't ask him on a date there was no way he was going to ask me, so what did I have to lose by trying? A few movies later we were sharing social circles and geeky hobbies. I suppose it was my relaxed attitude to the early part of the relationship that made it successful. With nothing to lose I was more relaxed, easy going and fun. With similar interest I could talk endlessly without fear of boring him and a similarly warped sense of humour meant I laughed at his jokes.

I enjoyed going and doing things with him as a friend first and foremost and it was this strong friendship that continues to form the basis of our relationship nearly fifteen years later. He is one of the few people I know that actually appreciates my strength of character (ahem, obstinacy) and that I am the annoying know-it-all constantly quoting from New Scientist and interrupting his sentences to go off on another tangent. Nine years into our relationship it was me taking the plunge again, going down on bended knee to abuse his post-operative sedation and ask for his hand in marriage.

Over time the effort of trying so hard took its' toll
With no escape from the world I began having anxiety attacks. I was tired of acting all the time. Not knowing the cause made it harder for my family and me to deal with. Only after throwing a huge tantrum at the doctor who diagnosed my physical symptoms as 'stress' did my husband force me to go see a therapist.

I chose one who specialised in autism spectrum disorders because my father had been diagnosed with AS not long before. It was her telling me that I was aspergic too that gave me relief. I wasn't crazy, there was actually something I could focus on and work at to heal my destabilising mental state. I stopped trying to say and do the 'right' things and 'me' returned. I stopped being so controlling of my behavior and now just run with it. If others get offended or don't understand that's not my problem - I am open and honest about what my needs are and who I am.

In the workplace I make sure to tell people I am very literal and I will do what they have asked verbatim. I write everything down so I don't forget (I don't learn by hearing, I'm a visual learner). I converse through email which allows me to plan and re-read what I want to say without the pressure of time and someone's face in mine and I clarify everything twice so I know I'm doing what they intended to ask, not what they actually said.

My husband loves how different I am to other girls.
For me there has been little to no effect on relationships. My husband loves how different I am to other girls. He doesn't have to worry about me saying one thing and meaning another or secretly hoping that he will do something then getting disappointed when he doesn't. I take what he says at face value, I don't read into it and I don't expect him to read my mind. That said, we've been together so long I have no idea about what it would be like on the dating scene as an 'aspie'! I guess it would be similar to making new friends, at which I've recently improved. I don't have any long term ones, I'm very poor at maintaining contact and asking them about themselves when I often don't really care. People seem to take offence at that - but many feel the same without verbalising it. If I didn't have my husband to keep me on track, I would probably be far more of a hermit. I certainly wouldn't have my son whom I adore.

I never wanted kids. I wanted to be an astronaut and to walk on mars. Life changes though, and I don't want to be on my death bed and regret anything I have or haven't done in life. I knew that if I didn't procreate I would regret not having that experience. So after researching the best methods (apparently you put tab A into slot B), I charted my ovulation online, taking temperatures and elevating hips and going through a roller coaster of hormonal changes until the pee on a stick turned pink. Going off the pill was the single best thing I did for my Asperger's. All those fake hormones were making me crazy and my husband actually feared for what kind of mother I would be. But even though my hormones were higher during pregnancy, because they were mine I was saner than before.

Pregnancy was easy. I took things in my stride, dealing with things as they happened rather than fretting about all the things that might go wrong. After all you cannot plan a pregnancy, no matter how hard you try. Better to focus on what I could do such as making and sewing things like cute nappies. Besides, even on my worst days I could always log onto Essential Baby and see that other women were going through the same thing, but often worse, so I really wasn't dying like 'Dr. Google' said I was.

I don't have that 'cold detachment' that many aspie fathers have, but I do notice my behavior from an outside perspective. I can see when my hormones are making me irrational (such as when we're doing 100kph on the freeway and my son's crying becomes distressed). I either moderate my behavior or at least verbalise to my husband that I cannot control how I'm feeling because it's biological and not rational or logical.

This has been the biggest change in me over the years; learning to relax and 'go with the flow' instead of trying to control the world and force it to do what I want. I am far less stressed and can sit back and enjoy life, and especially my son, when I know everything will still be ok, even if it's not exactly how I would do it. It's taken me fifteen years to learn this though! I still need to relax my grip on the world and be less pedantic, anal and precocious. At least where others are concerned anyway! I can still be that way if it only affects me though, right? Right?

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