Sunday, December 23, 2007

Setting a goal: Asperger's syndrome awareness

Maybe I should talk about why I chose promoting AS awareness as a goal. Earlier this year, we lost a marvelous columnist, Molly Ivins. She has long been a heroine of mine.

For several years, she fought a valiant battle with breast cancer and, beginning from diagnosis onward, was a tireless advocate for publicizing awareness, particularly for early intervention. "Get the damn mammogram!" she would growl in print.

So when I learned that I have AS, given that I also worked in the media, how could I not also make use of the opportunity I'd been given -- to raise awareness of a condition that was only so recently understood.

Why, 30 years ago, when I was in elementary school, no one had heard of AS. Diagnostic criteria were not officially established until I'd already graduated from school. So I had absolutely no roadmap for navigating those years of bullying by classmates and dreadful dinner-table conflicts because I couldn't eat certain foods without gagging.

My first column came out in the summer and it basically said I'd learned that I have AS. It briefly explained what a difference this made for me, because it gave me an explanation for why I'm the way that I am.

My second column about AS was published in the paper this week. Specifically, the column is about "stimming," those repetitive behaviors that some of us exhibit.

The local school district circulated an e-mail that included methamphetamine abuse warning signs and one of the descriptions sounded identical to stimming: "Fiddling, twitching and other involuntary motions."

Apparently the list came from a book by Jerry Langton, "Iced, Crystal Meth: The Biography of North America's Deadliest New Plague."

I thought it was important to interject a note of caution by pointing out that this type of behavior, repetitive and involuntary, is also part of our condition as people who have AS, and to please look for more that just one sign before concluding that someone abuses meth.

My tendencies with stimming damaged a former teacher's books and I've had to constantly police myself. I consider myself somewhat improved, however, because instead of gouging holes in a page, I merely crease the edges. I can usually make myself become aware that I'm doing it, too, and then I can stop it. Giving myself a mug of tea to hold is a great way to tie up the hands so I can't inflict any damage.

But imagine how devastating it could be to someone's reputation if a person mistook their stimming tendencies for something like meth abuse? It could ruin their reputation, so I thought I should present an alternative point of view about what that behavior could signify. Hopefully it will help.

Originally posted to DailyStrength.org

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