Aspergers Syndrome is a form of autism that is generally thought to be mild. Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication.
Why would someone want to claim a “disorder” that hasn’t been professionally diagnosed? It’s simple. Diagnosing myself with Aspergers has allowed me to be less critical of myself and allows others to be more understanding when they interact with me.
I’m weird. And it’s not just in the “I like to wear clothes that don’t match” type of way. I’ve battled with this idea that I was dropped on the wrong planet because I don’t quite understand how to interact with others socially and I never have. I blamed it on being an introvert, but it’s much more than that. Enjoying alone time more than social interactions has nothing to do with the fact that I can’t seem to interact socially in an appropriate way. In my mind there is no such thing as ‘dinner table’ conversation. I say how I feel with no filter completely unaware of how what I am saying will impact the person listening. Because I know I have the tendency to do this, after any (dreaded) social interaction, I mull over what I have said and berate myself for not phrasing my thoughts in a more acceptable manner.
I have agonized over this flaw for years, wondering if I was absent the day they taught social graces in school. Why can’t I talk to people without offending them with my bluntness? Why can’t I understand when someone wants a hug instead of a handshake? Why can’t I read body language properly to understand intent? What is the deal with small talk and idle chatter- I have no clue how to do it.
How have people reacted to me in the past? Well, let’s say I have not been a public favorite. I began to have panic attacks every time I met someone new, knowing that they would not be able to understand or receive my quirks. To make myself feel better I placed myself on a pedestal and blamed all miscommunication on the fact that I am hyper focused on my goals and no one understands how important they are to me. My projects are all I talk about, all I think about and what I live and breathe. Outside of my work, I can’t really think of much else to discuss. What happened on Scandal last night? I have no idea.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for nearly 2 years and I have met literally thousands of people through my work as a waitress, blogger and journalist but I have not made a single friend. I gave up on developing personal relationships because I didn’t expect anyone to understand how my mind works. I don’t particularly feel sad about not connecting with anyone on a personal level but I wonder if there could be a chance for me to meet someone who wouldn’t be put off by my direct nature, extremely high strung and passionate personality and super focused business interests. So far, everyone wants to play and socialize. I’m not very good at that.
So how does self-diagnosing with Aspergers bring peace into my life? It wasn’t really my idea. I’ve been a vlogger on Youtube since 2007 and after watching my videos for a while one of my followers reached out to me and suggested that I might be an “Aspie”. I had heard about Aspergers Syndrome before but had not studied it extensively so I decided to read more about it.
Learning about people who have been professionally diagnosed and those who choose to self diagnose was extremely helpful to me. Reading the words that would describe what I considered to be a unique and debilitating flaw helped me to release the shame I was carrying about my personality.
The best thing I have ever done was announce that I have Aspergers. I used my email signature to write a note that reads:
The sender of this email is affected by mild autism, commonly known as Aspergers Syndrome and your interaction with her may not align with common social expectations. These personality quirks do not override her ability to offer guidance, wisdom and professionalism through her work as a journalist and counselor. If you would like to learn more about her personal experience please read this article. Thank you for understanding.
Since attaching this note to my email signature, I am not sure if anyone has made a judgement about me but I have made a judgement about myself. I feel more confident when I encounter someone new because I know that they are aware that I am not ‘normal’ and my communication style isn’t like everyone else’s. I hope that they will be more patient with me instead of thinking I am rude and ignorant.
On one occasion, after sending out an email with my new signature, I had a woman interact with me as though I have limited intelligence but I didn’t become upset; it made me laugh instead. At least it showed that she was trying to be considerate of who I am and that meant so much to me.
Do I need a professional diagnosis for Aspergers? I don’t think so. I have never been too keen on allowing someone else to define who I am. The truth is, we all self diagnose when a doctor decides to offer a label defining who we are. We have to choose to accept her label as our truth or deny her opinion and seek another. That decision is a self diagnosis.
Self diagnosing with Aspergers has provided me with the understanding I need to have the confidence to interact more with others although I still worry heavily that my communication will be misinterpreted. I worry about offending others a lot because I do care even if my direct tone doesn’t indicate it.
I don’t need treatment. I don’t need medical attention. I don’t need a disability check. All I needed was to understand myself better and to finally accept that I wasn’t some tragically flawed creature. I’m not. I’m Te-Erika. I’m a bit autistic. I have Aspergers and I hope you can look past that.
This post originally appeared on My Savvy Sisters, the leading empowerment blog for women.