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"Just like everyone else": Pretending to be Normal Sheds Light on Life with Asperger’s
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Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger's Syndrome by Liane Holliday Willey
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999
ISBN 1 85302 749 9
Softcover, 141 ppg.

Recently, I posted the following status update on Facebook:

“Quote in a book I'm reading: "I wish people could understand that I can soak up all I need from most friends in just a few minutes, then walk away happy and content, knowing I have just spent time with a friend." This is SO ME!”

That particular book was Pretending to be Normal by Liane Holliday Willey. I found this book in my neighborhood’s Little Free Library and thought I’d read it. I only know one person who has Asperger’s Syndrome so I was curious about it. This book was a great introduction in understanding a person with Asperger's Syndrome. The stuff at the back of the book like how to explain AS to other people and how to survive in certain social settings would be good reading for anyone with Asperger's. I thought it was a great book and a very honest sharing of what life is like with Asperger's. I didn't even know that the AS community refer to others with AS as "Aspies."

As I started to read this book, I began to grow concerned. Some of the things the author described from her childhood resembled my own son’s habits, such as easily losing his temper and flying into a rage, how he sees things differently from other people, how he has his own “way” of doing things and anyone trying to change or stop it causes him to shut down, and his poor social/communication skills.

But those above habits that my son has are also things that I have, too. I am like that, as well.

And as I read this book, I discovered that the author’s description of life with Asperger’s was similar to the way I am, too, in my own life.

Her taking her husband's comment of "you're so weird" as a compliment is something I relate to. I consider that a great thing to be told! I LIKE being weird. I LIKE being different. Sure, it bugs me that a lot of people just don’t “get” me, but I cherish the ones who do. They are the ones worth holding on to!

I, too, use landmarks and oddities to help me guide my way. And if a landmark is shut down or if it moves, then I have no idea which way to go. This happened once when I was driving to an appointment. The landmark I used telling me to turn left here was gone and it took me a while to reorient myself to try familiarize myself with the other surroundings in order to figure out which way to go.

I, too, don't need to spend hours or all day with people to be happy. Like the quote above, I am perfectly content to just spend 5 minutes with a friend and consider it time well-spent. I can go months without seeing a friend, and if I see her or him again for just a few minutes, I can walk away from that meeting just as happy that I touched base with a friend.

I, too, have my own sense of personal space. I don't let people who I don't know and don't trust get too close to me, let alone touch me. This is why I don't automatically hug someone who I just met. I need to know them first, trust them first and feel comfortable being close to them first before I can hug them. If I hug them, it means I trust them enough to get close to me.

I, too, can be awkward in social settings. The Halloween party scene in the book is a good example. I also end up saying the wrong things and taking things people say the wrong way. I misunderstand what someone said A LOT of times, take things the wrong way and perceive ideas and emotions incorrectly then end up royally screwing things up because the other person thinks I meant to be rude or hurt them or just be mean. Most of the time, I think it’s okay to say something and then a person comes along with their own ideas about what’s ok to say and what’s not, and if I don’t speak or act like they do, they act like there's something wrong with me and take off. Or they tell me off and shut me out. It happens quite a lot, actually.

My husband is one of the people who understands my communication style and he, too, gets me. He knows my quirks and pitfalls. So does my daughter, and she’s not afraid to tell me things like “Mom, you’re bluffing again” or to let me know that I misunderstood her. Fortunately, despite these problems, they haven’t dropped me yet! (See what I mean about cherishing the people who get you?)

I am also not very social and I don't like large crowds. I’m an introvert and prefer to be alone most of the time. Being in a large crowd drains me if I stick around for too long.

The author doesn't like pastels and I don't like stripes. The author talks to herself and so do I. I even talk to technology! Like, if the computer is acting up, I’ll scream at it, “Stop being a dickhead!” Or I’ll get caught up in a TV show and yell things at characters. As it is, the other day, I even yelled at my phone. A person texted me, I immediately texted back, and when she didn’t respond after 10 minutes, I looked down at my phone as if it was her and demanded, “What, did you suddenly DIE?!” And, oh yes, the author has a raging temper. Guess what, so do I! I get angry and I get Incredible Hulk Angry. My family could tell you horror stories about my temper.

And, like my son, I get caught up in things I am working on. I tend to zone out everything else when I work on something because I am only focused on That One Thing. I can only handle one project at a time and one task at a time. And because I may need time to take care of something else before I answer an email, I will put on hold answering ALL other emails because chances are I’ll answer the email that needs me to check on something first and if I answer it, my brain checks that item off as “done” and I’ll move onto other things without realizing the person needed more information from me. So I tend to save that task – answering emails – for when I’ve done everything I need to do for ONE email because I’d rather get it all done in one sitting. This has been frustrating for some people who do not understand this quirk of mine. One girl got so mad at me for taking so long to reply to her email, for example, that she told me off and cut off communication. Well, sorry about that, but I am not like everybody else and I have my own way of doing things! I do things in a way that works best for me – warts and all!

But do all these similarities that I share with the author mean that I also have Asperger's Syndrome? Or my son? I doubt it. For one thing, I don't have sensory overload. (I have people overload! That’s what happens when you are sensitive to the energy vibes coming from people AND also being deaf and trying to stay caught up on what everyone is saying.) I do not become confused or disoriented when in large crowds or from my senses being attacked all at once by lights, noises, smells or textures – I just get uncomfortable because, as a deaf person, there are too many things and people to pay attention to all at once. And I am also introverted. I don't like being in crowds! But I don't have Asperger's and neither does my son. We are just different. We are not what society considers to be "normal." And for that reason, we are, unfortunately, shunned. But we have our own people – the people who GET US – and for us, that is enough. Heck, one of my friends doesn’t get offended if I walk right past her somewhere because she knows I tend to get distracted by things, caught up in my own thoughts or lost in a moment. (I often have to tell my family not to rush me when we have to leave, because if they rush me, then I’ll get so hurried up and move so fast that I’ll forget things!)

Which is why this last paragraph in the book resonated with me: "I do not wish for a cure for Asperger's Syndrome. What I wish for, is a cure for the common ill that pervades too many lives; the ill that makes people compare themselves to a normal that is measured in terms of perfect and absolute standards, most of which are impossible for anyone to reach. I think it would be far more productive and so much more satisfying to live according to a new set of ideals that are anchored in far more subjective criteria, the fluid and the affective domains of life, the stuff of wonder...curiosity...creativity...invention...originality. Perhaps then, we will all find peace and joy in one another." (pg. 96)

I take solace in the fact that my own family, my tribe, my “people,” do find peace and joy in one another. Despite our quirks and imperfections, we all love each other. More people in this world should understand that we are not all the same. Everybody has their own quirks, their own habits, and their own issues. We do not all think alike, act alike or feel alike. Pretending to be Normal is a book that steps outside of the strict definition of what is considered to be “normal” and tries to remind society that we may not all be the same but we are trying very hard to work with our quirks and be something of at least a little bit “acceptable” as we are.


Five stars.

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