By Elliott DeLine (see full bio below)
I have never been quite like most people. I was aware of my difference from a very early age. It was as though I viewed the world in an entirely different way from the people around me.
Things that they took seriously seemed inconsequential to me. Things that I took seriously seemed inconsequential to them. I felt perpetually misunderstood. Adults were always telling me I was “gifted” because I knew so much about animals, was a very fast learner, and could write and draw very well for my age. And yet, at the same time, it seemed as though I couldn’t do anything right. I was always tripping over my own feet. I had trouble staying seated in school — literally. My body would slide out of the chair, and I would find myself on the floor. I couldn’t stop daydreaming and looking out the window, no matter how hard I tried.
“Little” things were big deals to me: my apple juice had to be just the right temperature, or I couldn’t drink it. My blanket had to be cool to the touch for me to use it — but not too cool, either. I couldn’t wear certain colors, such as yellow socks, because they were “itchy.” I described many scenarios in everyday life as “uncomfortable.” Shoes were uncomfortable. Going anywhere without a stuffed animal was uncomfortable. My parents were mostly amused by what they seemed to see as finickiness and bossiness. I would state my needs very clearly and not understand that they sounded bizarre to other people.
Adults also thought I was a liar because I often had extreme reactions to things, only to be fine the next moment. In school, I would report I had the worst headache and nausea of my life, only to find that it had suddenly disappeared when the teacher announced it was story time. These situations made me look dishonest, but I wasn’t lying. Ailments would come with intensity and go away unexpectedly.
I also had a strong sense of justice and became overwhelmed with indignation and confusion when other people behaved cruelly. I remember doing so as early as my toddler years. I didn’t understand other people at all. I didn’t relate to girls, boys, or anyone, except animals.
Other quirks: I flapped my hands and arms when excited. I had trouble making eye contact. I became fixated on one subject for long periods of time, to the point of obsession. And socializing was very difficult. I much preferred to live in my own world. These quirks carried on into adulthood.
It wasn’t until last year, at the age of 24, that everything started making sense to me. I was a college grad, working a minimum-wage, part-time job at a coffee shop. And much like many other times in my life, I just wasn’t getting it somehow. I accidentally burned myself regularly. I couldn’t recall people’s orders and would have to ask them to repeat them two, sometimes three times in a row. I couldn’t count change and froze when someone gave me cash. People would ask me questions about the drinks and food, and I would be clueless. This wasn’t the first time I’d struggled with a job. And yet, I knew I was intelligent. The amount of incompetence I felt was really bothering me.
One night after work, I talked to some of my newer friends about it. I expressed that I was afraid I was going to be fired. Not only was I unable to perform “simple” tasks, but I also couldn’t seem to get the other workers to warm up to me. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. One of my friends, Joey — who is now my partner — said, “Well, it’s hard when you’re an Aspie.” I had no idea what he was talking about. He then told me that he had Asperger’s and that several people in our group of friends did. He was surprised I didn’t realize I had it, too.