Asperger's Syndrome / Autism - Disability or Special Ability?

During the last year I have been involved in a volunteer group for adults with Asperger's Syndrome in Bristol, UK. If you are not familiar with Asperger's Syndrome you can find out more here on the National Autistic Society Website. Essentially it is classed as an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and people with it have great problems in social interaction and communication with the rest of mainstream society. It is a trend identified by Hans Asperger (hence the name) during the 1940s. If it is picked up early in a child's development teaching strategies and support can be put in place. In a lot of cases, though, it is missed and the child may go through life continuing to have difficulties well into adult life.

Currently, they are many adults discovering they have Asperger's traits but have no where to turn. They knew that there was something different about them their whole life. They had very focused interest areas like an interest in astronomy or gardening but found it difficult or impossible to connect with other people who did not share these interests. At school they were looked on as different or 'geeky' and excluded or even bullied. They found social interaction and dynamics very confusing and often got themselves into trouble because of it through no fault of their own. People find it difficult to deal with their straight-up blunt approach to issues and often label them as arrogant or rude when this is not what they meant. Many Aspie traits can be difficult to spot or misunderstood as something else.

As adults 'Aspies' (as they are called) find it difficult to fit in. They have a need for routine and structure and without this they can lead a lot of day in a state of anxiety. To say late diagnoses are like gold dust would be an understatement. In the case of the UK there are probably thousands of adults who have had difficulties all their lives and have not realised that it is because they communicate differently to the rest of society. Support for adult Aspies is almost non-existant and they are left to just fend for themselves. Getting a diagnosis can be frustrating and it usually involves a long waiting list or travelling to another part of the country.

In the job world Aspies can find it very difficult to get jobs and progress in careers. This can be largely due to lack of knowledge on the employers part, however, there are many cases of employers discriminating against people with Asperger's /Autism. As with other discrimination some unscrupulous employers have become very good at covering their backs and it can be often difficult and lengthy process to prove that foul play took place (if this has happened to you fell free to leave a comment below explaining what happened).

The strange thing about Asperger's is it doesn't have to be something that hold someone back with right support. In fact it can be a positive ability rather than in disability with right skills and environment. People with Asperger's are very focused or their special interest areas and very attached to routines. If they were to be able to work in their special interest area (for instance. gardening or IT or setting up a small business) in which they had to follow routines everyday they would be exceptional employees. Currently this is not happening and all to often Aspies find themselves out-of-work. To me this is ludicrous as we are currently in recession and it people like these who will get us out of it. Aspies are some of the most determined, focused and passionate people I have ever seen. They are not given the chance to shine or being held back just for communicating differently to the rest of society. For a little support employers would find that they would get a massive return on investment.

Another interesting point is that in history there have been many famous people including scientists, politicians, journalists, etc who have demostrated Asperger's traits. Examples of them include Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and even William Shakespeare. In recent times many successful business people and entrepreneurs have Aspie traits (Bill Gates or Henry Ford). The wealth of evidence is overwhelming that these people have risen to the top of the field and had an impact on the world. It is these types of people who will lead the way in getting the world out of financial crisis.

If all of this is hitting home for you and it sounds like some one you know - give 'em a break will you? They find the world quite confusing anyway.

If you feel like this is you do not worry. Drop me a comment or click on the National Autistic Society website above for more info. It is a UK website but I am sure they will point people in the right direction if they are not from the UK. Also there are whole wealth of Asperger's adult networks and forums on the net. A google search will bring them up. Remember your special interest is your special ability and don't let anyone take it away from you.