I have spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about what others think of my oldest son. There are days that I want to yell at passers-by “He has Asperger’s. He’s not avoiding you on purpose. Please accept him.” There are other days I want to use his disorder as an excuse. “He has Asperger’s. He can’t help telling you about the symbolism in all of Martin Scorcese’s movies even though all you did was ask if he’s seen ‘Hugo’ yet. Please, understand.”
My son tries hard to be accepted by his peers; to live his life as if Asperger’s is simply a nagging cough. It bugs you once in a while but never enough to make you lose sleep or miss school or go to the doctor. But it’s with him all the time. It affects everything he does; everything he thinks about; everything he will be.
When it came time to write his college application essay he decided from the beginning that he would write about his Asperger’s. I think his college counselor was a bit surprised. She assumed it would be something he would mention in the “Other things to know about me” section. His reasoning was valid.
“If a college can’t accept me for who I am inside, then it’s not where I want to study for the next four years.”
In 500 words, he told the Admissions Directors exactly who he is and, now, he has given me permission to share it with you.
I don’t know why I worried so much. The kid gets it.
As I stepped out of my mother’sYukon, I only felt apprehension and a desire to turn back and forget all about auditioning. I was probably going to walk in, put on my “normal” face, stay away from everyone, and be picked up. I had no idea that I had just made a life changing decision.
I was born with Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a form of high-functioning autism that manifests in poor social skills and hyper-fixation on a certain thing. For example, when I was younger, car washes fascinated me. My parents would always take me along with them to get the car washed and I would watch the soap being lathered on the windshield in amazement. As I got older, different interests caught my attention but I didn’t have what one would call a “hobby.” Instead, I’d just go to school and simply return home, with almost no social interaction. Thoughts circled through my head; thoughts of people thinking I was weird, and thoughts of me as an outcast, not fitting into the group.
That changed the day I walked into Benson Theater at Bellarmine College Preparatory. There, I found what I would consider to be the most open, tolerable, and fun group of people I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with. Ironically, for someone with Asperger’s, I found myself most comfortable on stage, in front of a live audience with a spotlight glaring on my face. I found it easy because it wasn’t me up there. Instead, what was once DJ was now Francis Flute, the bellows-mender, or Augustus Sonders, a love struck Venetian waiting for his rich aunt in Brussels to pass away, or Martin Kidd, a scheming old man willing to give up his daughter’s inheritance to save his reputation. The audience did not know, or even care, about my Asperger’s.
Theater kids are by nature quirky. I suppose it comes from playing a plethora of different characters. Nonetheless, I fit right in with their traditions and customs, such as the “energy circle”, a chant we make before each show or the warning to never say the name “Macbeth” while inside the theater. Theater also widened my horizons which enabled me to express myself with more confidence. Of course, the reality of theater is that one will not make every play. But even if I was rejected as an actor, I could still participate in the production through the technical aspect. Eventually, I wanted something more. Instead of acting out or building someone else’s fantasy, I wanted to create my own. That led to my involvement with creative writing; which I hope to explore further.
The boy who would just go home each day took a risk and now rarely goes home immediately after school due to his extracurricular activities. No doubt, the social challenges in college will be different, yet, after looking back on my high school years, I feel I am ready to meet those challenges head on.