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  • I'm different from other people.

  • But in spite of that, I've adapted well. I'm one of those aspies who've

  • learned how to socialize, make friends, and blend in.

  • I still can't socialize as much as I'd like to,

  • and I miss out on a lot. I have take it easy

  • to preserve my energy, and I can't even go out in public sometimes

  • because I'm very vulnerable to sensory overload.

  • I often have a hard time understanding other people

  • because how I experience the world is different.

  • I may still be human, but sometimes I feel like I'm from another planet.

  • It's been agreed that a lot of the main

  • features of Asperger's would include sensory issues

  • social deficits, obsessive interests,

  • and repetitive behaviors.

  • With the sensory issues,

  • our senses tend to be heightened, so things like lights,

  • sounds, textures a food, certain

  • fabric on clothing can be overwhelming to us.

  • As for the social issues,

  • because of the sensory problems it makes it hard for us to

  • read nonverbal cues and body language. It's just hard to pay attention to that when

  • you're already so overwhelmed with other things.

  • As for obsessive interests, a lot of aspies tend to be very focused while

  • engaging with what we're interested in.

  • And repetitive behaviors might appear as

  • doing things over and over, or fidgeting a lot,

  • and a lot of these seem to come about as a way to cope with the outside world.

  • I actually know a lot of people on the autism spectrum,

  • many of them are very good friends of mine. You know, I thought because I know

  • all these people you know maybe

  • maybe I should ask them about their lives and

  • and see how they all differ from one another and how

  • we all can relate as well as aspies.

  • The first aspie I talked to was my friend Katie.

  • I had met Katie through my 4-H Club when we were both

  • home-schooled, and she's been one of my best friends ever since.

  • Before I knew what I was dealing with,

  • that I had Aspergers,

  • I thought I was the modern equivalent

  • of the village idiot. I thought it was me, I thought

  • I was something wrong with the world. Once I found out that

  • I had Aspergers as well a few other learning disabilities,

  • it made me realize maybe I wasn't screwed up!

  • Maybe it was just the fact that my brain was wired a little differently and people

  • just had to deal with it.

  • Most of my Asperger's symptoms are sensory related, so I'm really sensitive to

  • fluorescent lights,

  • bass from speakers,

  • certain types of voices and tones of voices.

  • One of Katie's Aspergers symptoms that was the most noticeable to me was her sensitivity to sound.

  • Sound. That was pretty big.

  • That was a pretty bad one, that's probably why I don't remember most of it.

  • It drove me crazy quite a lot.

  • I couldn't ignore anything. Everything was right there, right in front of me.

  • I could not tell my brain to shut off anything.

  • I would hear clocks,

  • I'd hear flies,

  • I'd hear people screeching little pencils on paper, and

  • things clattering on the floor. That's just my experience from a classroom

  • which is why I was so,

  • so happy to be home-schooled.

  • In some ways I could say literally saved my life.

  • There are many things I've worked on to the point that

  • I don't notice them half the time, or majority the time,

  • and thank God that's one of them.

  • I've always had a hard time fitting into church communities,

  • but it was mainly because of my sensory issues.

  • Because I was so overwhelmed with just being there,

  • it made it even harder for me to attempt to connect with people.

  • As for my friend Katie, she even had a harder time.

  • I asked her about it and

  • it made me realize that a lot of us aspies deal with

  • the same kind of thing when we go to places like

  • even church, where it's supposed to feel safe and welcoming.

  • I very much enjoy

  • going to church, hearing the sermons,

  • praise, I love it.

  • Only problem was... well, I said I liked praise,

  • but that's where my major problem came in.

  • it doesn't necessarily have to be loud, it doesn't have to have a lot of bass.

  • It's hard to describe what it is,

  • but it somehow just gets into your head

  • and won't let up.

  • To any churches out there; I know you are doing your

  • best to give wonderful praise experience but

  • if the person is in pain from the fact that they're listening to your praise music,

  • please stop! Turn it down! you don't have to have it level 11 all the time!

  • I also do deal with some of the social issues. I do have a hard time

  • reading people,

  • I cannot stand small talk because I really want to get to know people,

  • and I do not really have a lot of practice with getting past

  • the small talk stage.

  • Though my social skills haven't always been the greatest, I've worked to improve

  • them enough to seem "normal."

  • The way I act in public and

  • even in this film is the result of a lot of practice, because that does not come naturally.

  • Even for this documentary, I still had to interact with people.

  • If I wanted to take this journey and to do it well,

  • I had put myself out there and get to know more people. One person I decided to meet

  • with was Patti Boheme, the executive vice president of

  • Little Friends Center for Autism. She explained a lot about the Aspergers

  • symptoms, including social issues.

  • When you get into social communications some of is--we have issues where

  • people are very concrete in their thinking, so they take things really literally.

  • And it's hard for them to think about

  • another person's perspective, so a lot of times it's difficult for them to understand

  • things socially because it's so hard to understand

  • what somebody else might be thinking.

  • My Asperger's would include

  • inability to discern facial expressions, situations,

  • see when someone is clearly annoyed with me or

  • clearly wanting help me, but I'm not helping.

  • After I learned that Katie had Aspergers I felt like I could relate to her

  • even more than I already did.

  • It's nice knowing that someone else deals with the same uncommon struggles that I do.

  • Aside from Katie, I had aspie friends in other places too.

  • Like my friend Matt, who I met on an aspie support group on Facebook.

  • Rock, paper, scissors!

  • Rock.

  • Darn!

  • Matt lived only a few states away, so we decided to meet up in person so I could

  • get to know him better

  • and to also ask him about his experiences with Aspergers.

  • I was pretty happy about my diagnosis, really.

  • For me it was kind of

  • this realization that

  • yes, I'm different, but there's a reason

  • for me being different.

  • For me, Aspergers has always been mostly the social issue.

  • I never fit in as a kid, got made fun of a lot,

  • got picked on. When I grew up I didn't know anybody else with Aspergers,

  • so I kinda felt like an outcast.

  • So I learned to mimic

  • neurotypical people so I can at least blend in.

  • So I wouldn't stick out as much.

  • For a lot of people with Aspergers Syndrome,

  • empathy tends to be sort of an issue.

  • And I guess for me it was,

  • but basically, like other aspies I've had to use my

  • detective skills in order to watch

  • neurotypical people, see ho w they interact with the world

  • so that way I can appear to be a little more normal. I've read a lot of guides on body

  • language to help fill in the blanks in social situations.

  • And I found out that apparently sitting

  • with your arms crossed like this, it's to close off

  • like close yourself off from people, show that you're not interested.

  • And I think back on it, and this is probably my

  • favorite way to sit, it's most comfortable and

  • I had this realization: That's why I don't have a blossoming social life.

  • My aspie friends both in person

  • and on the Internet weren't the only ones who helped me deal with my Aspergers.

  • I'd have to say that my biggest support would be my mom.

  • She went back to school to study psychology so she could help people like

  • me and their families.

  • Through her, I've met other psychologists like Dr. Wahlberg,

  • an expert on autism spectrum disorders. I decided to pay a visit to his clinic to

  • ask a more about his perspective on Aspergers.

  • One of the things that I've learned in in what I do is

  • personality comes first. With all the kids that I see.

  • whether they're on the spectrum or not. Personality comes first,

  • diagnosis comes second. I tell people it's like saying

  • everybody with diabetes is "this." They behave this way, they think this way,

  • their personality's this way--that's not true.

  • It's the same for those on the spectrum. Personality comes first.

  • So I have plenty of kids that I see

  • on the spectrum that are introverted, which is I think is some of the stereotypical--

  • you know, wants to sit in his room or her room and play on the computer.

  • You know, doesn't want to interact with people.

  • That's half the kids I see. The other half are extroverted.

  • The other half want to be around other people, want to engage with other people.

  • One of the most important things to realize is that

  • people who have autism--whether it's high functioning autism or severe autism--

  • and if you have in your brain, you know what a person with Aspergers maybe is,

  • I think the most important thing is this is the person.

  • And every person is so different.

  • So at about three years of age kids start to really pay attention to other kids around them,

  • the social environment. I think with with individuals on the spectrum,

  • if they're overwhelmed

  • by the environment, they're trying to tune it out. They're trying to manage it

  • as opposed to taking it in.

  • So I think they kinda head in the opposite direction

  • It's hard for an aspie to read nonverbal cues and body language.

  • Because they're already so busy processing what's around them

  • that it's just hard to pay attention to those things.

  • As a result of that, it might be very hard for them to make friends,

  • conversations can be really awkward-- they wouldn't be sure exactly

  • what to do or say,

  • it's hard for them to articulate what they're thinking sometimes or how they're feeling.

  • Probably the biggest negative effect of Aspergers for me

  • has been pretty severe bouts of depression.

  • I've gotten better at coping with it over time, but

  • every once in a while, there's a particularly bad one

  • and I just kinda of

  • shut down--I guess would be a good term for it.

  • With my emotions, they're all pretty

  • close together I can go from

  • happy to sad very quickly,

  • and for just about anything.

  • Like, I'll be happy and then when I start to

  • think about why I am happy, I realize

  • that stimuli that's making me happy may not always be there,

  • and then I start to feel sad about that.

  • So much of what I see

  • with those in the spectrum, a lot of it's rooted in anxiety.

  • Because of all the changing things that are going on in the world.

  • The older you get, the more you perceive

  • how much you don't have control of, which creates a lot of anger and anxiety

  • and depression in a lot of kids that I see and young adults that I see.

  • I tell people emotions for-- to begin with before therapy--

  • with a lot of kids on the spectrum, it's like a light switch.

  • It's on or off. Where I'm more like a dimmer switch.

  • It takes me awhile to get upset and it also takes me awhile to calm down.

  • Where individuals on the spectrum, sometimes it's just--it's a light switch.

  • Which other people don't understand.

  • And I think what starts to develop then is more of the black-and-white way of seeing things.

  • So that's--a way to control the environment is try to make it consistent.

  • So of the sensory world's not making sense, I want other things in my environment

  • to be the same.

  • So it's really a control thing. The more they

  • are overwhelmed over-stimulated, the more they try to control.

  • So they don't want furniture in the house changing, they don't want different routes to school.

  • That's not fun.

  • So the challenge with the social interaction and the social world is it's always changing.

  • It's always evolving. You never know what's going to happen,

  • what somebody's gonna say, how they're going to react, how they're feeling that day.

  • So a lot of times in therapy, what works really well is getting individuals to

  • understand that with the black-and-white thinking, you can really use that to your advantage,

  • because it's all or none.

  • I can't be extremely anxious about something extremely calm at the same time.

  • The body can't do that. I could be in the middle.

  • So little bit anxious, but not not overly anxious.

  • So I try to get them to see a continuum, to break things down so then there's

  • not such an overreaction to the change.

  • So it doesn't get overwhelming when something doesn't go exactly the way they want it.

  • One of the things that has really helped me cope with my Aspergers

  • is having a routine and sticking to it.

  • When my schedule is predictable, I have a lot less anxiety.

  • Having consistency helps me be able to function better with other things like social situations.

  • I would also reward myself when I have been consistently sticking to the routine.

  • Rewards really help motivate me. Another thing that's really helped me

  • is trying to stay positive-- and I know it sounds

  • kind of cheesy, but I put

  • positivity into my routine so like, I'll have

  • a time to sit down and write all the things that day that were good and awesome.

  • One thing that's really helped has been meeting Alyssa, because up until that