Have you ever felt tired when you know you have a job to do? What about wanting a little break, like being taken out of a ballgame for a short period of time to collect your thoughts and catch your breath? How about feeling weighed down and stuck replaying memories of various ages that make you feel ashamed of yourself? This sounds a lot like how we used to understand PTSD. If you mention this topic in everyday conversation, you’d associate it with combat veterans and abuse victims. Not to make light of them, but I’m wondering if autistic kids can have early-onset PTSD that hasn’t been acknowledged. After all, I’m convinced that you can either try to nudge a child in a more helpful, productive direction, or lead them to believe they stink at basic tasks such as politeness. It’s a vicious cycle and I don’t see much of a middle ground.
I first wondered about this when I watched Patton. There is an important scene in this WW2 general’s biopic that shows him touring a military hospital and interacting with wounded/maimed soldiers. They were in slings and casts. Some of them even had amputated limbs. General Patton takes the time to talk to these war heroes before he approaches a crying infantryman in uniform without any noticeable injuries. This scene below is the best one I could find online that shows how it unfolds.
We now know that people who replay awful memories in their heads to the point that it interferes with their daily responsibilities have PTSD. What I learned watching Patton was that it used to mean “you’re not really hurt, you just needed to catch your breath. Now pull yourself together and get back out there.” On my first podcast, Richard Kaplan made a point about the meaning of PTSD that I should have asked him to elaborate on, and now I understand what he talked about.
I told myself I will have to revisit uncomfortable memories for a very long time. But if that’s what it takes to get to the heart of what Asperger’s is, so be it. Ever since I first went public with my childhood obstacles, I’ve heard from several concerned mothers, who aren’t sure about the next step to take with their Asperger’s-and-similarly-diagnosed kids. They want to make sure their offspring have as many opportunities as other kids, but are unsure of how to deal with their kids even though they can retain as much information as a Broadway actor. What a confused genius sees is different from his parents and others he regularly shares space with. It’s like a cashier or any other employee seeing things different from her bosses or customers. I don’t have all the answers, but my life has been an experiment about which kind of positive or negative people and culture to put around any child, whether or not they project autistic traits.
A year and a half ago, a concerned mother of a three-year-old boy just diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome asked me “What do you remember from being that age?” This question stunned me for a little bit as I prepared my answer. I was new to consulting people, and that worked against me also, especially when they’re meeting me for the first time. I’ve pieced some of it together from pictures and recollections from my mom and trusted family friends who knew me when I was little. There’s a few things I remember, mostly playing with matchbox cars, visiting my great-aunt’s duplex, and the CNBC stock ticker as my dad followed everyday stock market news. It should be noted that my memory has occasionally blown away people I’ve known dating back to my childhood when I’ve run into them at random places.
“I try not to,” I answered, like a reflex. Her quizzical reaction made me think I sounded flippant. Truth is, I could have talked this nice woman’s ear off and blabbered in many different directions. Imagine a fork in the road. Except instead of two possible routes, there’s closer to a dozen options here, and it’s not apparent which one offers the path of least resistance. Her little boy was the same age as I when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, and I had to let her know that because it was detected early, he’ll be more open to the therapies and guidance geared towards helping him with his obstacles. And if I am to pull my own weight, I don’t recommend chasing old memories I’d like to have back where any variable could have been adjusted for a different outcome. I have a feeling I’ll have to talk about lots of stories I’d rather forget.
I’m intrigued by Asperger’s individuals who have embraced the science behind Asperger’s Syndrome. I’ve wondered why on earth anyone would want to show pride when they are constantly relegated to a corner, and made to feel like they are a one-track mind. I always felt like if I went down that path, I’d be a sportswriter bored stiff and unfulfilled. I also felt like I saw more and was capable of more than people seemed to give me credit for. There’s a lot that stays locked away unless I take a first step. Many folks assume these people are emotionless automatons without social skills and it will stay that way unless people like me talk about their stories. I’d like to podcast with other individuals who are diagnosed with Asperger’s/autism/PDD-NOS and other related hidden obstacles (reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org). This way we’ll get more accurate information and hopefully lean on each other to solve some of our problems. I just hope these misunderstood individuals don’t feel fatigued or too ashamed of themselves to share their perspectives.