Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Asperger’s—Disease or Difference?

by Ken Kellam

Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend from high school and said, “I know everyone thought I was weird back in school.” He replied, “Ken, I never thought you were weird. I think we all knew you were different. We just didn’t know why.”

That sums up the “Aspie” in a nutshell. Everyone knows he’s different, including him. But they don’t know why. He may be seen as slow, undisciplined, maybe even retarded. The reality is, his brain is simply wired differently than that of most people. Because of this, he may struggle with things others take for granted, and may take longer to learn things than others. However, this also means he can probably do things others couldn't do to save their lives.

A classic example of this would be Temple Grandin. While watching “The Temple Grandin Story,” it occurred to me why her differences were both a blessing and a curse: Because nobody had a brain that worked like hers, nobody else could understand her, and so oftentimes, she was dismissed as an eccentric or kook. But by the same token, because no one’s brain worked like hers, nobody could do the things she did. Similarly, I struggled with a lot of things that came easy to my classmates in school. But I could also do things they could never do, such as figuring math problems in my head.

At one point in my life, I thought my entire way of looking at things was off-balance, out-of-whack, and just plain wrong. I struggled to think like others. But eventually, I came to realize my perspective on things wasn't wrong, it was simply different. Too often, the Aspie doesn't understand how others think, and others certainly don’t understand how he thinks. As a result, he gets ridiculed, possibly harassed, bullied, maybe even dismissed and not taken seriously.

But just because the Aspie is different, that doesn't mean he isn't intelligent. In fact, he may just be smarter than you. He’s simply trying to adjust to life in a world that wasn't made for him. And trust me—if most of the people in this world were Aspies, the world would be a much different place. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Suppose you were built like a mesomorph. That is, you were short, but stocky, with rather short limbs. Now, suppose you found yourself trapped on a planet where almost everyone was tall and thin, and into running. Because you were not built like everyone else, people might assume you’re an overeater, undisciplined, etc. But because of the way you’re built, you’d have an edge on most other people when it came to strength, and you’d be able to do things most of the tall-and-thin crowd couldn't.

The Aspie is a mesomorph in a world of tall-and-thins. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way his brain is built—it’s simply not built with this world in mind. That’s why I refer to Asperger’s Syndrome as a difference-not a defect, disease, or flaw. Having Asperger’s sometimes makes it harder for me to live in this world, but it also has its good points.

Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger's in his late 30's. He recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at ATC, where he works as Administrative Assistant to Dr. Carolyn Garver. He has been married for two years, and his wife also works at ATC as a Teaching Assistant.

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