I guess they didn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome in the 1930’s, when the label could have benefited my dad. They didn’t even have it in the 1970’s, when my little brother was the cause of much confusion-at least no one ever diagnosed him with it. Apparently, they don’t even have it now. The entire syndrome has been swallowed back into the Autism Spectrum Disorder-over on the high-functioning side of things.
I always knew my little brother was unusual as a kid. He didn’t speak intelligibly until he was seven and he was more interested in disassembling everything in sight than in interacting with his peers.
I wanted a label for him, but there just wasn’t one. He was tested for everything. He wasn’t deaf or tongue-tied and his intelligence wasn’t in question. He was just…sweet and dreamy and in his own world most of the time. We knew he was somehow like Dad, who was also clearly different from most people, but Dad wasn’t exactly easy to label, either.
Looking back, it’s difficult to believe there was ever a time we didn’t know my dad and brother had Asperger’s. It’s obvious to us now, but it took having my older brother’s son diagnosed with it for us to all have a collective epiphany. “That explains it!” we said when discussing it with each other. Anything we had ever found different about their interactions with people or their failure to grasp things the rest of us understood about human behavior now had a reason.
The main thing I learned about Asperger’s is that it doesn’t affect any two people in exactly the same way and that many assumptions made about people with this disorder are wrong. Not all people with Asperger’s are anti-social or even socially inept, for example. Also, not all people with Aspergers are indifferent to the feelings of others. Many may not grasp what the feelings mean or what brought them on, but they might care deeply about not intentionally hurting anyone.
The funny thing is that, when I was a child and was learning about the severely-autistic boy who lived across the street, I used to ask if my brother was also autistic. I was told he wasn’t because people with autism couldn’t communicate and were trapped in their own heads, like our neighbor. We didn’t know there was a spectrum.
Finding out he was “on The Spectrum” has been an interesting experience for my dad, who is now eighty. He enjoys reading up on it and finding himself in various scenarios. Just knowing what has always made him so different from other people seems to have given him comfort.