Sometimes in life there are situations, people, or times that at first seem like they are worthless or in some cases detrimental, but in time you find out how they come to change your life so much for the good. This is my story.
I have Asperger’s or high functioning autism. I was diagnosed when I was a kid. This does not mean I am what most people think of when they think of a person who has a disability – someone who lives such a different life than you do. That is not me. I am able to function on a level like everyone else. Even people who work with Asperger’s have a hard time seeing how I have it now.
As a young kid it would have stood out a little more because I wasn’t as good with social skills as I am now. Less developed social skills is one of the biggest characterizations of autism. Some examples for me were that I used to not smile much (as opposed to now when I almost always have a smile on), I wasn’t as good at conversations, I didn’t have the best eye contact, and I didn’t understand friendship as well as I do now. I was always in regular classes, and was able to interact with my peers. Asperger’s wasn’t so much a part of my life because it didn’t negatively affect my life. That was until I went to college.
In college I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, but wasn’t having much luck figuring out what I wanted to do. I looked at a lot of careers, but none of them fit my interests, skills, and that I would be able to do the course work. A lot of people suggested that I try accounting because I would avoid social situations, and my stutter wouldn’t be a problem. I tried it, but I could tell that it was not for me because being secluded to a desk didn’t feel right for me.
I also looked at Speech Pathology as I had gotten my diaphragm to start working (through deep breathing meditation that a friend of mine got me into) and was getting rid of my stutter by myself. I liked the idea that I could help improve other people’s lives. But I later found out the cost of graduate school – and the fact that I didn’t focus so much on my secular classes – were going to stop me in that path.
After I graduated from college I went back home to try to figure out what I wanted to do. I found out about the human services field where you help other individuals out, and looked at working with disabled individuals. I got a total of 7 interviews, but didn’t get anything. Then while in New York I was put into contact with someone I knew back from Kansas who worked at one of the agencies for disabled people. She helped me get several part time jobs that added up to be full time work. My jobs involved helping other people gain skills to help them do better in life. It turned out that most of the clients I received had Asperger’s like me (but lower functioning than I ever was).
I was able to prove myself in helping my clients in meeting the goals set for them. I could see that both my supervisors and the parents were amazed at the work I was doing. My biggest advantages came from me having Asperger’s, as I had more knowledge than most people on what Asperger’s is and that I could get fixated on my work. What I mean by that is that some people with Asperger’s have one or a few narrow interests that they get really into. They can be extremely interested or focused on that item enough that they are able to become very knowledgeable in that area very easily. With my work I was always looking to see how I could challenge my clients to grow, and I got myself more educated on dealing with individuals with Asperger’s. I provided good enough work that in less than 6 months that I got all 4 of the agencies I worked with to give me letters of recommendation.
I also talked to some of the people I knew from Yeshiva University who I realized have Asperger’s (we can tell other people a lot easier than the average person), most of them EXTREMELY intelligent (one of the possible effects of this disability), to see if I could also help the extremely high functioning population like myself. I realized that even though I could see that they had the skills needed to have a successful relationship they were not sure about dating with their social skills, or were having very bad luck. One guy told me how because the shadchanim (matchmakers) looked at Asperger’s like any other disability (which is a very wrong view of Asperger’s in some cases) he wasn’t getting many girls suggested to him (although some may not be able to have a successful relationship because of lack of social skills, or a variety of other issues).
Now I am starting to take my experience to work privately to coach, in person and through skype, individuals with Asperger’s, to help them better function and reach their goals in life. I’m also helping people better understand Aspergers by educating people about Aspergers and how other people with disabilities can be encouraged to reach their potential. I now realize despite the fact that I can be awkward, Asperger’s for me is an advantage and is something I can use to help better other people’s lives.