Written by: Austin Braddock
April is also Autism Awareness month. In this article I’ll be writing about my life, why I am considered on the spectrum, even though I was never diagnosed, and some advantages to being on the spectrum that people should take advantage of but don’t.
To start with, why am I on the spectrum of autism disorder, yet haven’t even been diagnosed?
Let’s start from the beginning. Yes. Literally the beginning of life. When my biological mom was still pregnant with me, she was taking a drug called acutaine. Acutaine is a drug for acne, and it is highly recommended for women to refrain from taking it because of the danger it is to the fetus. Acutaine exposure can cause eye, ear, face, head abnormalities, and intellectual disabilities in the baby.
I was exposed to acutaine for several weeks, going undetected for some unknown reason. Here there is good news and bad news: The good news is once she found out she was pregnant, she got off the medicine. The bad news is, later in the pregnancy, she was walking across the street and got hit by a truck. We both survived, but the doctors gave me very little chance of survival. I was born on October 3, 1995, surprisingly looking healthy and normal. However, the first six months of my life, I was in and out of the hospital, fighting for my life. My parents were referred to a chaplain a couple of times even. As time grew on, though, I became healthier and stronger through prayer.
During the first ten years of my life, I had severe autistic tendencies, but slowly through self-discipline and close coaching by my parents I grew out of it. My parents never had me diagnosed with autism, even though I had a lot of the symptoms, because they didn’t want that to be part of my identity. My parents believe that Jesus made order and reality, but he didn’t make disorder. To me, labeling people with a disorder is a direct violation of who we are–made in God’s image. Not having a label actually has caused me to excel knowing that God is on my side and knowing with God all things are possible.
From age eleven to my current age, I have just struggled with social situations. Normally this is called Asperger’s syndrome, but I refuse to go around with a label around my neck. Some of the situations I’ve dealt with are found in Autism Awareness Part 2. It basically describes what autism is like and even goes on to put people through an exercise so they can experience what it’s like to be on the spectrum.
We’ve looked at some of the disadvantages to autism, like social difficulties. Now the positive thing to having Asperger’s syndrome is the ability to be focused and dialed into one task at a time. It’s an ability to block out any distractions and pour everything one has into doing work. However, ability to focus on this level physically and mentally takes self-discipline, and it is developed and perfected over time. Look at some of the smartest people in history who made great scientific discoveries like Einstein. He had Asperger’s syndrome, but it allowed him to be focused on his work. This allowed him to make discoveries that we all know and love today.
Each case of autism is unique, and we all have our callings, destinies, and gifts. The trouble for people with autism is finding their gold nugget of uniqueness, the knowledge that they have in the midst of being abnormal or unique in culture or even overshadowed in culture.
A Bible verse that comes to mind is Psalms 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Read more about my social difficulties and an interesting social experiment in Autism Awareness Part 2
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Autism Awareness (Part 2)
When I was in high school, our family had a long-term guest named Jimmy. He had lived with us for a year when something happened that would illuminate how I view the world. It was a late night, about 2 a.m., and Jimmy was skyping on his computer with his girlfriend, Sara. He had headphones on and was chatting away when I approached, intrigued by their conversation. I went up to him and asked, “Can I have another set of headphones so we can both talk to her?” It never occurred to me that this was a private conversation that did not include me. This experience was also a sign of a bigger issue: I was unable to read the social situation. This happened when I was 10. Nowadays, I usually can read social situations better, but don’t know how to react to said situations.
Being unaware of context is quite common for me. This is a symptom of Asperger’s syndrome. I suspect, and so do my loved ones, that I have Asperger’s. Although never officially diagnosed, I do have some slight symptoms. Asperger’s syndrome is on the spectrum of autism; however, it is less severe than other forms.
Asperger’s syndrome affects people differently. Some are affected socially; for others, the symptoms aren’t evident unless you get to know them well. For those like myself, we may not be aware of some social nuances of life. Here’s what I mean: Talk with a friend for a few minutes and write down all the nuances or nonverbal communication that happens. Think about how much meaning is in those nuances, and how your interpretation of the message depends on your friend’s tone of voice, eye contact, and facial expression. Now imagine a world with no nonverbal communication. This is the life of a person with Asperger’s syndrome.
Now for me, I can read nonverbal communication to an extent, but there are limits. For instance, I don’t understand how to properly react to people who are sarcastic. The hard part is trying to decipher if a speaker is being serious or not. However, the times I do get it, I don’t know “my part” in the humor and sarcasm. This is also a common trait for people with Asperger’s syndrome.
So how can you interact with people with Asperger’s syndrome? Because of such diversity of symptoms, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how to respond in each case; it depends on how severe the case is or what the social issue is. But here’s my best advice: Just be yourself. Second, if it seems like there’s a communication barrier, just ask the individual, “What is the best way for me to communicate this?” Or, try repeating yourself. For instance, if I don’t get a joke, and give a serious response, don’t give up. Tell another joke, and I will probably understand that you are joking and respond to it the second time.
A quote that summarizes my experience with Asperger’s syndrome comes from Temple Grandin, a person with autism who is known for revolutionizing the livestock industry: “The thing about being autistic is that you gradually get less and less autistic, because you keep learning, you keep learning how to behave. It’s like being in a play; I’m always in a play.”