My name is Robert. At the age of 14 I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of Autism (I might have been diagnosed at a younger age if the person brought in to see me hasn't said that I was just going through a phase that I would grow out of - I showed them).
When I got this diagnosis it was a relief in many ways. I had always been an outcast of sorts at school and often got picked on (fortunately it was only ever verbal for me, not physical) for being different. My diagnosis changed everything. Once I knew of my diagnosis and all my teachers and fellow students were informed of it things improved for the better in my school life. I was no longer picked on by other pupils and teachers were far more understanding when I had difficulty coping with the work load (although less so the work itself - I was always fairly bright). In this regard being diagnosed with Aspergers is undoubtedly one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It has my life a whole lot easier in quite a few ways.
However, while my life is hardly what many would consider to be difficult, my condition still creates a huge amount of difficulties in my life. Of course awareness of it makes these issues considerably less difficult but it doesn't eliminate them. One of the biggest problems is one shared by many people with Austism Spectrum Disorders. The general expectation of society tends to be that everyone is responsible to get a job and pull their weight in the world. For Neurotypicals this is as easily done as it said, as many people perform jobs in shops, restaurants, offices, etc. day by day without too much difficulty. They just take such jobs for granted and perhaps even enjoy their work. For someone with Autism, however, doing such jobs is more easily said than done. The intense pressures that come with such common jobs as these are often too much for the Autistic mind to handle. We have major difficulties dealing with social situations, something that many of these jobs involve on a day to day basis, and we tend to mentally burn out at a much faster pace than people who aren't Autistic. Add into this, the sensory sensitivities that often come with Autism and it makes some jobs virtually impossible to do. Nonetheless, though, I do have a job, working at a cinema - a perfect fit considering how much I love film. For someone like me simply working at a place like this is quite a feat. Unfortunately, the difficulties created by my Autism mean that I can currently only handle one shift a week, after which I am usually so drained of energy and morale that it can take me ages to fully recover - although as I am also currently a student doing a Masters the stress created by my university work cannot be ruled out as a factor in this. It's not that I am work shy. In fact, once I have finished at university I would very much like to get a job. It's just that, like with many Autistic individuals, I can't perform the kind of work to the level of ability that others do. What I intend to do though is use the gifts that come with Autism to my advantage.
Autism isn't all bad. It comes with many positive aspects. For example, some Autistic people, referred to as savants, have incredible abilities involving things such as mathematics or art, abilities that make them true talents. Such abilities can very well by utilized by those who possess them as a means of making a living by doing something that they truly love doing. I, sadly, am not a savant, but even non savants can still possess impressive skills and abilities, often revolving around incredible memories relating to the favourite interest(s) of the individual. This is very much the case with me. The interest that I pursue obsessively (everyone with Autism seems to have one) is films. I watch films all the time and I have developed an extensive knowledge relating to the subject. While I often have difficulty remembering simple day to day films, I can remember considerable amounts of information about movies - release dates, production budgets, box office grosses, cast lists, that kind of stuff - and I am also very good at writing movie reviews and articles, something that I do on a weekly basis, publishing them on an online blog.
This is certainly something that I could pursue as a career. What's more though, like numerous other Autistic individuals, I have a very creative mind. Frequently, new ideas for films just pop into my head and while I am certainly not an expert scriptwriter I am getting very good at translating these ideas from my mind onto paper. This is something that I am actively pursuing as part of my university work. I have already done a Bachelors degree in Creative Studies for which I received a 2.1 Honours and now I am doing a Masters degree in Media Practice, the ultimate culmination of my work being a film about Aspergers Syndrome that I am currently working on. My university work is not without its share of challenges - recently, the pressure of my Masters has been getting to me quite a bit - but it nonetheless allows me to explore fields in which I am both gifted at and am extremely interested in, and will hopefully open doors for me to explore these fields when it comes to pursuing a career. I love writing film reviews. I love writing film scripts. I love making films. And I am good at all these things (not to mention also being quite good at photography and songwriting, among several other things) and hopefully one day I can put these abilities to use and become a success story of my own.
While my (extremely ambitious) long term goals do seem very much in reach, however, in the short term I continue to struggle with many of the difficulties that many Autistic people experience. Since starting university I may have become considerably more independent (before, apart from walking to school, I couldn't even leave the house on my own but now I can go many places on my own) but I am still not confident enough to live on my own - I still live with my parents - and I am finding myself more and more overwhelmed by the many responsibilities that adults face on a day to day basis. In fact, I frequently don't feel like I am an adult at all. I am 22 years old yet I often feel like I am only half that, like I am a child stuck in an adults body, or stuck in limbo somewhere between childhood and adulthood. When I am fully awake and everything is going right I can act and seem completely mature and you would be hard pressed to even realize that I am Autistic. When I am like this I am capable of so many things and my taste in things like films and music definitely reflects my mental state. You see, I probably have one of the most varied DVD collections you'd likely come across. I appreciate film as an art form with adult films such as 'Kill Bill', 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and 'The Bucket List' yet I also love popcorn blockbusters like 'Transformers', romantic comedies like '13 Going On 30' and kids stuff like 'Hannah Montana'.
This brings me to how I become when I am tired or stressed, which is quite frequently given the amount of daunting situations I face - even little things can make me anxious, such as something in my room not being in quite the right position or a slight disruption in my routine. I am currently experiencing some pretty big things that create stress and anxiety as well although I won't discuss these due to them being of a very personal nature. When I am tired or stressed I often find solace in embracing my more child like side. I collect soft toy pigs and cuddling them both calms me and makes me feel happier at times when I feel very depressed and, while many would consider me weird for doing such things, this is as much a part of me as my love for more serious cinema or my varied abilities. It gives me something to help me avoid feeling low due to the constant feelings of loneliness that I, and others like me, endure.
I am not very good at making friends, desiring social interaction more than anything but being completely clueless at it, part of the reason for this being the fact that most social interaction seems to involve going out at night to venues that are loud and crowded and getting drunk, all things that I loathe - I would rather stay at home and watch a film, I can't stand loud noise, I hate crowds and even though I do occasionally (and I mean occasionally) drink alcohol I despise the feeling of being drunk. What's more, all my life the only thing I have really wanted is a girlfriend, but I am even more clueless when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. Every time I have ever liked has turned me into a nervous wreck and eventually has rejected me, something which has damaged my confidence considerably. Some people say that you should try being friends with a girl first but I find this just makes things much more difficult - after I've known a girl for a while I almost become too intimidated to show any interest, let alone consider making a move. And with the various quirks that come with my Autism I often wonder if there even is a girl who would ever be compatible with me in any way. For the time being I have simply stopped looking, putting my efforts into my studies, and hoping that I might meet that someone special when I least expect it.
This brings me to the purpose of this blog. Not long ago I came across an inspirational story about an Autistic couple who had found love and found a way to make their relationship work for them. The article gave me a sense of hope and joy and since then I have been scouring the internet, devouring any and every story of hope and inspiration about individuals on the Autistic Spectrum that I could find. And now I am going to bring these stories together in one place, so that other people who, like me, often feel lost in a world that frequently fails to understand us can experience the sense of hope that I now feel thanks to reading these inspirational stories. My hope is that just reading these may make others feel a bit better about themselves as they did me.
Robert Mann BA (Hons)