The questions below came from a teenager with Asperger’s at Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative. She gave me a paper with these questions after I spoke to the students this past Monday. The questions were interesting enough that I decided to share them here:
Did you teach yourself social skills or did you have help along the way?
First, I learned social skills from my family. My mother and my grandmother taught me how to get dressed, how to hold a knife and fork, how to say please and thank you, and how to behave. None of that teaching had anything to do with Asperger’s – most any kid should and indeed must learn those things.
It was actually those basic skills that allowed me to go out and become self sufficient. If you learn anything at all as a kid . . . learn basic manners and behavior! You can get a job without math skill. You can even get work if you can’t read. But you can’t get any kind of job without the basic skills of manners and behavior.
These basic skills are really important for all of us.
Later on, when I learned about Asperger’s, I made a concerted effort to teach myself the kind of skills I lack because I’m Aspergian. I did this through reading, study of other people, and I did it with the assistance of my observant neurotypical friends.
What do you think people without Asperger’s can learn from us?
Have you heard the expression, “not seeing the forest for the trees?” Smart people without Asperger’s tend to see whole forests. They are very good at seeing “big pictures,” and imagining such concepts.
People with Asperger’s, on the other hand, are often “tree people.” We often have an extraordinary ability to focus in, By focusing all our intelligence to such a sharp point, we often make the technical breakthroughs that drive our world forward in science and technology and other fields.
I hope the above explanation helps show the difference in our two minds, and why human society needs both – working together – to achieve maximum success.
If there were ever a cure would you take it, or would you think it was like taking a piece away?
At age 50, I am comfortable the way I am and I would not want to take any pieces away. As a teenager, though, life was a lot harder and I’d have had a different answer if you asked me this at age 15. I guess we become more comfortable with ourselves as we get older and hopefully wiser.
I have Asperger’s and so do some of my friends. We are each good at different things. What kind of things do you specialize in besides electronics?
I love photography, motorcycles, cars, boats, ships, trains, and other specialized machinery. I like technical puzzles of all sorts. I like any technical challenge.
Why do you think Asperger’s makes people smart?
I don’t think Asperger’s makes people smart. There are many different ways to measure mental power. Often people with Asperger’s have powerful logical reasoning abilities, and the public tends to see people like that as “smart.” But you can be smart in other ways too. For example, someone with great social skills might not seem smart to some observers but the actual brainpower might be the same. You could also look at a great athlete . . . the fine control of his body all comes from the brain, and that’s yet another kind of “smart.”
So people with Asperger’s are just one example of smart. There are many others.
How do you get Asperger’s?
There’s a lot of controversy about this. I believe my own Asperger’s is inherited. You can see traces of how I am in both my son and my father.
Can Asperger’s be changed from a disadvantage to an advantage?
Yes. Read Look Me in the Eye and you’ll see how I did it. As we get older, the special interests that are annoying and troubling when we are kids turn into wonderful gifts as we move into the workforce and use our special interests. For example, as a kid, you can seem nerdy when you love dinosaurs and talk about them all day. But a grownup scientist who loves dinosaurs and goes out and makes great discoveries about them . . . he’s hailed as a genius and a brilliant scientist. That’s a good example of how life can change as we get older.
Causes John Robison Supports
I support Asperger and autism advocacy groups. I also support the University of Massachusetts