If the neurotypical (NT) mind is a boat, my mind is a bicycle. NTs don’t get that. They assess and judge me in terms of boats and when I’m not boat-like, they assume there’s something wrong with my boat. If they could be made to understand that I’m a bike, they would then see that all of my behaviour — steering with a handle bar, using pedal power — is logical for a bicycle rider. Then I could teach them about bicycles, and they could teach me about boats.
- An adult with Asperger’s Syndrome
The paradox of Asperger’s Syndrome:
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a lifelong neurological condition that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. It is a Pervasive Development Disorder and is classified as part of Autism Spectrum Disorder (read ParentEdge’s article* for more information). Children with Asperger’s syndrome differ from those with high functioning autism; they have near-normal cognitive and speech development, though they may have problems in communication as they grow older.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a hidden disability; most people who have AS, if not all, appear to be almost entirely ‘normal’ in physical appearance and intelligence. Clinical Psychologist Harjyot Malhotra, Head–Department for Learning Support and Counselling at Oberoi International School and EduBridge International School, Mumbai, says that Asperger’s Syndrome is diagnosed typically when a child enters school as the markers take time to become noticeable:
Difficulty in making friends and keeping them:
A struggle to maintain friendships is a common hardship faced by people with AS. They seem uninterested, aloof, rude, eccentric or standoffish. They do not understand unwritten social rules; they may stand too close to people or use inappropriate mannerisms. They also have difficulty deciphering facial expressions, tone of speech, body language in others.
Difficulty with empathy:
People with AS have difficulty putting themselves in other’s shoes-trying to figure out what another person is thinking or feeling.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty initiating and maintaining conversation. They may use a whole load of technical jargon without understanding the meaning. They lack understanding of figurative language; they tend to take the literal meaning of words. People with AS do not understand why certain conversations make people uncomfortable or angry.
Intense, obsessive interest:
Individuals with Aspergers’s have one or two specific, narrow areas in which they show deep interest – such as sports schedules, weather, or maps.
Most people with Asperger’s syndrome are highly skilled in a particular area, such as music or math.
Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are known to possess an extraordinary ability to remember details, to memorise vast chunks of information and perform complex calculations. The paradox of AS is that while the intellect is intact, or even better than average, every day functioning is impaired, whether at school or work or in relationships.
In the film ‘My name is Khan,’ actor Shah Rukh Khan plays Rizwan Khan, a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, who is overwhelmed by cacophony of sounds, has an aversion to the colour yellow, yet is a genius at mechanics.