5 questions with Mike – autism awareness month

A few weeks ago, Nancy and I had lunch with Sue and Greg.
That’s no big deal, I suppose, except for the fact that they live in Ottawa and were traveling fourteen hours to Indianapolis and stopping for lunch.
In the course of lunch, I asked them what they knew about autism. After the odd look, I explained that I was trying to learn about autism for Autism Awareness month. They answered what they knew and then said, “You need to talk with Mike.”
Sue introduced us. And I’m very grateful she did.
This is my “5 questions” interview with Sue and Greg’s friend Mike:

1. When you describe yourself, are you someone who is ____ or someone who has ______? Or is that a distinction that matters?
I describe myself as someone who “has Asperger’s”, and I think the distinction is very important.  When I was first diagnosed, I became very depressed.  I had always felt apart from the rest of the world, as if I was stranded in a different culture and though I couldn’t understand what was really going on, my only choice was to smile and try to fake it as best I could.  Being diagnosed seemed like a sentence of sorts.  “Don’t bother trying.  You’ll be this way forever, anyway.”
I talked to a friend of mine about it, and he pointed out that while Asperger’s most certainly accounts fro some of my personality quirks, so do my parents, my interests, and even my friends.  Saying ‘I am Autistic’ rather than ‘I have Autism’ implies that Autism is the whole of myself, the only thing worth knowing about me.  I have far more to offer someone than a condition.
2. Susan said that you were diagnosed as an adult. Does having a diagnosis feel like it created a barrier “Oh, you have ____.” or that it provided an open door “Finally, I understand what’s going on.”
A little of both.  Being diagnosed explained much of the problems I’ve had my entire life.  My awkwardness, my tendency to forget about people if I don’t see them regularly, and the like.  It was a bit of a load off at the time.  Most people’s first reaction to someone who does these things isn’t “He must be Autistic”.  It’s usually more along the lines of “He’s a jerk”.  Being diagnosed helped people, myself included, realize that it’s not always in my hands.  That said, I still have it, and it’s a struggle everyday to fit in.  I oftentimes have to mentally plan social situations to a level Batman would be proud of, and it can be exhausting.
3. Do you ever wish that you had known sooner? How would that have made your life different?
I wish that every day.  It would have definitely helped with many relationships, especially with girlfriends.  That, and jobs.  Turning the crazy level of focus I can muster in different directions than what I tended to focus on could have really helped in my early years.
4. Do you want to be an expert on Asperger’s or do you want to be an expert on you living your life doing lots of things, with Asperger’s being one of the things that is part of your life?
I want to be an expert on lots of things.  I want to be fluent in another language.  I want to know everything there is to know about quantum mechanics.  I want to get a black belt in a martial art.  I could really care less about the ins and outs of Asperger’s.  Knowing more about the condition doesn’t help me deal with it any more than being an oncologist helps you deal with having cancer.  Knowing that this is a condition, something that must be accepted and worked around, rather than something that can just be ‘trained’ out of me, is all the information that I really need.  The rest is just knowing what I have to do to mitigate my problems.  My wife is more into the different aspects of Autism, mainly in hopes of finding a cure.  I’ll stick with just being an expert on living my life.
5. As you look at other people living their lives, thinking themselves normal, complaining about not accomplishing anything, sitting watching TV all the time, is Asperger’s in any way an asset for you? (A very odd question, I know.)
Asperger’s can be a tremendous asset at times.  I like to think of it as being ‘min-maxed’.  For those who have never played a RPG, let me explain:  Say, you’re designing a car.  You have to take several factors into account, including comfort, speed, traction, and reliability.  You can balance those things, or you can build the worlds fastest car.  It might not be as comfortable, or a tight in the turns, but it’s the fastest thing on four wheels.  Normal street driving is out of the question, but that car can be very effective in a drag race.  That’s how I’m built.  I may not be the life of a party, but if you need something figured out, I can fix it faster than most in my position can.  I can muster a level of focus most can’t.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m rarely happy that I have this condition.  It’s just that, thankfully, it can be rather useful in certain situations.
Thank you, Mike.

10 responses to “5 questions with Mike – autism awareness month

  1. Thanks for sharing, Mike. I grew up with a friend with Aspergers and he wasn’t diagnosed until he was 40. It was a relief for him, for finally he had a “name” to share with people and with it, came a little more awareness and understanding.

  2. As the mother of a delightful 17 yr old young man with autism, I appreciate all information shared on the subject. My son is a gifted visual artist, exhibits the extreme focus Mike describes, and has taught me scads about communication. The more we are aware of the strengths and challenges of all those in our lives, the better understanding we will have. Thank you very much for sharing.

  3. Sally Lepley

    I found this post most enlightening and interesting. I appreciate Mike’s explanation and his honesty. And thanks for asking the questions, Jon. If we don’t ask, we won’t know.

  4. One more thought, Jon. If you really want to be aware of autism, come and visit us for a morning. Talking and reading and research are all good things, but sometimes to get to the heart of the matter, you need to dive in. I would love to share our world with you even for a short time. It is a little bit of everything and you can meet (again) a very cool 6 year old.

  5. Aubs, thanks for stopping by and for understanding a bit yourself.

  6. Donna – thank you. The awareness of strengths and challenges of all of us, that’s a significant insight.

    Sally – Thanks. I agree about Mike’s honesty. It was huge for me.

    Becky – Actually for everyone but Becky -she’s right, we’re going to get together. And pray for her. Her grandmother just died.

  7. Mike Fortley

    It doesn’t sound like this guy has Asperger’s.

  8. I think that the diagnosis of Asperger’s is thrown around too easily.It seems nowadays that anyone that is socially awkward can just say they have it to explain their behavior and actions and absolve themselves of any responsibility.People claiming to have Asperger’s when they don’t cheapens the syndrome.

  9. Mike – I’m curious, what would it sound like to have Asberger’s? And Eric, how is Mike absolving himself of any responsibility for anything?

    When talking about Autism and Asperger’s, professionals talk about a spectrum. People who have been diagnosed along that spectrum exhibit a wide array of behaviors. And people along that spectrum can, with a mixture of therapy and medication and behavioral strategies, not sound like whatever they are supposed to sound like.

    But to challenge a diagnosis based on how someone has learned to live with and adjust to that diagnosis is risky. It’s a bad metaphor, I know, but to suggest that Scott Hamilton or Lance Armstrong weren’t sick because they have performed better than most of us in their fields is not what anyone would do.

    What people do using what a diagnosis teaches them about how to adjust is often the point of a diagnosis. It’s not an excuse, it’s clarity.

  10. Jon,

    I tend to agree with what Mike and Eric are saying. Maybe they are not conveying it correctly, so let me try.

    In your own response you say how professionals use a wide array of behaviors to diagnose and a wide array of treatments. Isn’t that in a way saying, hey all of you that do not fit into this mold come on over and we’ll give you an excuse to say why you don’t fit in this mold.

    I have a brother who is going through this right now and he doesn’t know what to do. He is in his 20’s and he has always been a little off the wall. He has not settled on a career and he does not do well in general in long term relationships. He has been reading about aspergers and is thinking he may have it. Now I, like you, am not a doctor, but I’ve always been with my brother through his issues and know that he makes bad decisions because he does not care and says so.

    I’m not sure if he has Aspergers, but I do know he is the type that will claim something like this to do less work and get off eaiser. I believe that is all Mike and Eric are trying to say. The testing/diagnosis is still way to vague on this subject.