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I have Asperger's; I am just like you

By Michael Ryan, CNN
updated 5:40 AM EST, Thu December 20, 2012
Find a mentor, write and be brave, says one man who has Asperger's syndrome.
Find a mentor, write and be brave, says one man who has Asperger's syndrome.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There is no direct connection between autism and violence, man with Asperger's says
  • Kids with autism or Asperger's are sometimes bullied because of their peculiarities
  • Those with Asperger's can have families, be productive members of society

Editor's note: Michael Ryan is an assignment producer who works on the CNN.com homepage.

(CNN) -- I am not an expert on Asperger's syndrome. But I am an expert on me, and I have Asperger's.

And attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Having all three disorders together is not unusual, my doctor says.

Like you, I get angry sometimes. And, like you, I would never think of channeling that emotion into violence.

There is no direct connection between violence and autism. None. I don't break things. I don't hit my dogs. I keep a small Tupperware container in the house to catch insects so I can transport them safely outside before my cats or wife see them. I don't disparage hunters, but I could never kill another creature. I just don't have it in me.

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For the most part, I am just like you, just a bit quirky. All right, a lot quirky.

I am pedantic. I usually have no expression on my face or in my speech. I cannot look you in the eye. (I've learned to look people in the mouth or nose.) I cannot have a conversation of more than a few words with you, but I can lecture you ad nauseam on U.S. atomic bomb tests, the Cleveland Browns, beagles, Japanese society.

When you speak to me and I look away intently, I am parsing your words and running through scenarios based on your request or statement in an effort to understand you. Please bear with me.

Because I still have a deathly fear of offending someone or talking about something way off-topic, I often hold my hand over my mouth in meetings to keep from speaking. Being called on to speak is sheer terror.

And those are just some of my oddities. Your child/partner/co-worker with Asperger's has some similar peculiarities. That's why kids with Asperger's get bullied.

I was lucky. I didn't get bullied in school because I wasn't diagnosed and therefore not labeled. I wasn't diagnosed until I was 50. And when the doctors asked what course of action I wanted, I said none. I had made it that far, so I'd like to continue working it out on my own.

In fact, until today, most of my co-workers and friends didn't know I had Asperger's. So "Aspies" can grow up to have families and be productive and contributing members of society.

I cannot say this will get you through life, and some of my advice may be wrong for you. But here's what helped me:

Find a "mentor." Targeting someone to pattern my social behavior after changed my life. He was a co-worker and friend who was outgoing, popular and genuinely nice. I mimicked him for years to learn how to approach people and how to act appropriately. I'm not there yet, but I'm not an outcast. I don't think he ever knew. Thanks, Scott.

Become athletic. Yes, I know you're uncoordinated, but you can teach yourself coordination. I spent years throwing a ball against the garage, developing a throwing motion, building the ability to catch a ball and, eventually, hitting that ball. By the fifth grade, I was playing third base in schoolyard pickup games -- and I was no longer picked last. My self-esteem skyrocketed, and the tough kids accepted me.

Write. Take all those thoughts in your head and put them down on paper or a computer screen. Reread them a day, a week, a year later. Show them to someone you trust. I'll bet he or she thinks a lot of the same things. Accept your peculiarities and take advantage of those you can: the ability to focus, above-average intelligence.

Live. Be brave; get out there a bit. Take your obsessive gardening hobby and use it to socialize by checking out a gardening club or volunteer to help spruce up the neighborhood. Learn a bit of self-control, but go ahead and make mistakes. Apologize and have a laugh. "Neurotypical" people can be quite forgiving, given the chance. Bullies are more socially flawed than you are.

If you're a parent of a child with Asperger's, let your child experiment. That's how we all learn. He or she is likely quite intelligent. Let your child know you're pleased when he or she has spoken up to say "Yes, please" or "Thank you" when the situation called for it. We can be quite trying, so please be patient.

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