Recently I was asked to write a poem describing my own experience of growing up different. Much later in life people started talking about Asperger’s and I recognised myself. Retrospectively I understood why I couldn’t fit in with other children, and currently why I have trouble making friends and am frequently overwhelmed by feelings of alienation and isolation. People, albeit well-meaning, tell you who you should be and what you should want and what you should do and then get irritated when their advice is politely declined. For you must decline it and you must explain to them why you’re declining it. That’s part of Asperger’s. You have to tell the truth as far as you understand it. You can’t play games and just shut up in the face of danger or disagreement. You must speak up despite the overwhelming odds against you in a group dynamic where all the clones agree.
And the most puzzling thing is why “they” can’t see your point of view. Why do they persist in defending a destructive (from your point of view) mindset and course of action. Why are they clones of their parents and their parents and their parents? Is it really tortoises all the way down?
Asperger’s is a strange and challenging way to be. It means heightened awareness, heightened sensitivity to sound, colour and mood, heightened need for truth. Ambiguity and hypocrisy unravel the person with Asperger’s faster than anything else. If someone says they are going to do something they mean it, don’t they? When you say you’re going to do something don’t you move mountains to do it? Don’t you keep your word? Isn’t the truth easier to deal with than a lie or a mountain of lies? Isn’t it easier to say “I have no intention of helping you” rather than “I’ll do everything I can to help”.
People with Asperger’s want to help others reach their goals because people with Asperger’s have goals and heightened passion about, and commitment to, those goals. Mediocrity is impossible for the autistic person to comprehend. It seems so pointless.
We know a lot about our subject, little about anything else. We collect facts like jewels and build glittering pictures of our beloved subject, be it music, horticulture, science, medicine etc. It’s usually art or science that wins our allegiance. We tend to be mono-focused and can bore people stupid as we share those treasured facts. We also long to help others find their passion in life and that’s what I love most about people like me who have Asperger’s. There is no jealousy or spite or small-mindedness in the ranks. There is only boundless curiosity and the willingness to share information. I love people with Asperger’s and have found them easy to work with and completely lacking in duplicity or hypocrisy unlike the golden children who hoard privilege and fit society’s mould. We bespoke individuals will always stand alone and if you look for us we are usually the solitary ones sitting slightly outside the group looking in with a mixture of awe and sorrow.
Dark space, safe place
In here I am voice and echo
The sound of a friend
In the playground on a bench a child sits alone
Seemingly unaware of the chosen ones who play in groups, find safety in numbers
But the child is watching, observing how sunlight turns their hair to gold, nettled haloes
The child is listening to the laughter that warps the fabric of her silence into rhythm
The cat-tailed wind that winds around her as if she were a lamp-post
Arranges her loneliness into music that ignites the tangled wires in her brain
And suddenly marvellous melodies illuminate her dark space, safe place
Become voice and echo
The sound of a friend
And she laughs for joy
The chosen ones stop their game, snigger at the child who laughs at nothing
“You are mad,” hisses Sally of the golden hair when they pass on the stairs
Locked-up mad? Or funny mad like her Uncle Joe who talks to plants?
In the classroom the teacher is hiding sentences inside each other like Matryoshka dolls
Each one less visible than the last
“Sandwiches,” he says mid-tone and the word shimmers
She had heard of Good Witches and Bad Witches and Wicked Witches
But never Sand-witches
Where do they live?
By the sea or in deserts?
She asks the teacher and the chosen ones snigger
“Lunch, dear,” says the teacher patiently
Sally of the golden hair hisses, “You are mad”
And she retreats to her dark space, safe place
Seeking voice and echo
The sound of a friend
That weekend her mother takes her to the countryside for a picnic
And she notices in a field of gold a single purple flower
“Your Uncle Joe would tell that flower it’s OK to be different,” says her mother.
‘Is it mad?” she asks.
‘No, just different.”
A purple flower in a golden field, all alone.
Only by day, says the music, not at night under cover of dark
For who sees differences in that dark space, safe place
Where the moon is voice and echo
The sound of a friend.