Behind this door lies a different world every night. With a turn of the knob, I am diving blind, straight into the unknown. I might find myself in a swirling vortex of activity, or a purposeful current, or a lazy trickle of tedium. It can be unpredictable here. But that’s part of the allure.
Surfacing on the other side, I’ve fastened myself to a collective alive and bubbling. Along for the ride, now I must adapt on the fly. Will I sink? Will I swim? Will I be noticed at all? But I always feel welcome here. I have The Greeter to thank for that.
Some of us have deep roots here, our arrival met with delight, our full names cast aside for affectionate shorthand. Others, yet to make their mark, the rookies, enter to barely a stir. The Greeter welcomes us all, includes us all, as equals.
When you’re new to the group, The Greeter gives you their report. Vancouver? Lancashire? Greece? Connecticut? Here are some other members in your region. Your city has this many gatherings a year. Not as many as New York, but more than Portland.
“You must have all this in a book,” the others say. Nah. No book. The Greeter is the walking encyclopedia of our bunch. I tell them so. “I’m proud to be a geek,” they say.
All of us are oddballs here. Some are non-native English speakers, some still in high school, at least one of us is deaf. Some are loud, outsize personalities. Some are flirty, some snarky, some are playing a character.
The Greeter is low key, without pretense. Amiably aloof. Opinionated, able to hold their own with anyone. The Greeter is one of us, yet stands apart from the rest. Odd among the oddballs.
Sometimes the conversation turns to cacti, or French, or beekeeping. Wait five minutes, and it may shift somewhere else entirely. A keenly interested few dominate, while others hang back, less knowledgable, or pop their head out the door, distracted. The Greeter cares little for where the flow is headed. Without qualms, they will introduce a new topic, whenever, wherever. Snubbing the active participants, they prefer to pose a question to an idle bystander.
“Darren, do you get a lot of rain there?”
“Selena, did you play sports when you were in school?”
“Roxie, do they have good barbeque joints where you are?”
The Greeter likes to ask me about the banks headquartered in Delaware. Are there many robberies? Do I worry about it? How’s the weather today? They find a picture of the city library that I’ve never been to. It’s a nice looking library, we agree.
The others are puzzled by The Greeter. “You ask the strangest questions,” they say. But I like The Greeter’s questions. They are counterpoints to the run-of-the-mill babble. Like a straw in our conversation cocktail, taken and stirred against the tide.
All the while, the scene is abuzz with the comings and goings of guests. Some jump right in. Some take a look around, and are gone without a word. Some pull up a chair, silent spectators. The Greeter, a consistent presence, welcomes all. Nobody asked them to fill this role. It comes naturally.
The Greeter has autism, I learn, one night, in an offhand remark. Just another difference, in this place that accepts all kinds. There was no need to say so. I already knew.
It’s late now, time to take my leave. This gathering will go on into the wee hours, and start up again tomorrow. The Greeter will stay awhile longer, to stir the pot, or to give a report to a newcomer, or to float along with the onlookers, as the mood strikes. I bid goodnight to all. I’ll be back tomorrow, and I know I will be welcomed.
This week, my blog saw its most visitors ever -- about 6,000 in one day! -- after my first post was shared by Autism Speaks. It’s quite a jolt to come home from work, open your email, and find 50 new comments. At first I thought it must be a spam attack, or somebody started a flame war. Of course, as I began to read the comments, I quickly realized it was neither of these.
I heard from parents, adults on the spectrum, autism professionals, and even one 10 year old. Most of you said how much you loved the cartoons. I want to thank you all for your kind words. It means a lot to hear that my cartoons speak to you. As one commenter said, “I wanted to say that I think your site is about to blow up, but after reading your blogs I realize what kind of picture that puts in your head.” Maybe a picture like this?
Many of you said how much you relate to how I describe Asperger’s. Christine said, “I love your description of aspergers, it gives me better perspective on what these kids are going through.” I heard from many, many parents who love their kids just the way they are, like this grandmother of an 11 year old: “During his meltdowns and times of pain when he thinks he should never have been born and he is all alone the cartoons I think will help to see he is just as God designed him and we will continue to search for his special niche in life.”
I heard from other parents who are still looking for answers: “Why is it that Aspergers is so hard to diagnose? One doctor says he has it but the other doctor not so sure. Mean time he struggles in school and no one wants to accept he has it. Where I live there are not any support groups for parents stuck in the middle till the doctors can agree.”
If you're in this situation, I hope you don’t give up searching for answers. Maybe you can find support from others who have been where you are, perhaps in one of the many online communities. As Will said in his comment, when things seem hopeless, they can really get better:
“My boy just turned 11, his autism used to be very pronounced (perseverations, no communication or interest in interaction) but now he's a talkative pianist who reads science and loves math… When he was a little boy I spent a few years in the "crying stage" but now I wouldn't change anything about him, he's such an awesome person, my favorite person in the whole world! Just the other day friends were telling me how far he's come and realized I hardly even ever think of the despair or worries I had for him 9 to 7 years ago! I would advise any parents who are still in the early years to not despair and never give up and get him as much one-on-one interaction with as many different people as possible. He will amaze you and have so many hidden talents you can discover and cultivate and which will bring him success and happiness when he grows up!”
Other comments reminded me of how much misunderstanding you still encounter. Justus said, “I just hope that 'normal' folk can learn to accept differences. Everyone can fit in in their own way, if some would just stop judging others so harshly.” The Pyxie said, “Having friends who have questioned my son's autism diagnosis, I recognize the way you must feel when the previous commenters question your self-identifying as Aspergers.” Again, I think Will said it the best: “Every single one of us is 'weird' from a certain point of view when you get to know them. That's just human uniqueness and its a beautiful thing, collectively it carries our species into new levels of civilization and experience of life.”
Some of you had questions to ask me. Cypher asked, “Do you have problems talking on the telephone as well? I don't seem to carry a conversation on the phone well unless its in one of my areas of interest or I'm following a script.”
Cypher, I find it’s gotten easier for me over time, though there are times when I have a script, at least in my head. One difficulty is the lack of facial expressions over the phone, so sarcasm is especially hard to detect, as the one cartoon shows. Also, it’s that much harder to figure out when it’s your turn to talk. And, one of my biggest pet peeves is voice recognition menus.
Daphne asked, “Do you tell people that you have aspies depending on the situation? I can't figure out if it is something I should do or not.”
Daphne, it depends for me. When I first disclosed, I told the people closest to me, who I knew would be understanding. Outside of that, it really doesn’t come up too often. Some people simply know me as an individual with my own quirks, and that’s good enough. But if asked, I don’t have any problem saying that I have it, and I don’t consider it a secret from anyone.
Deb said, “I wish there were other people that would come forward and let us know their stories so we can see what our children's future looks like. Its hard to see the world through an Aspie's eyes.”
Deb, there are a great many blogs out there by autistic adults, and I encourage all my readers to check them out if you haven’t yet discovered them. Every one of us is different and has our own story to tell. You can find many autistic bloggers at the Autism Blogs Directory.
Lastly, many of you asked whether there will be a kids’ version of “Dude, I’m An Aspie!” I was considering this for a time, but haven’t given it much thought lately. It has been awhile since I was a kid, and I don’t have any of my own, so I’d really like to hear from parents on this. Beyond making the original more kid-friendly, what would you like to see in a kids’ edition? Any topics that weren’t covered in the original?
Once again, thank you to all my readers, old and new! This site may have "blown up," but hopefully I'll continue to keep you entertained and informed for a long time to come.
P.S. - Now, you can appear on this blog in cartoon form when you support me in the Walk for Autism! Details here.
Autism Delaware provides support and advocacy in my home state, including parent mentoring, speakers, a newsletter and listserv to keep people connected, and advocacy for families affected by autism. They run autism-friendly social events, like teen/tween Asperger’s board game night, where I volunteer. And, their adult service program Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation (POW&R) will also benefit from this fundraiser.
Update:For a donation of $10 or more, you can appear on this blog in cartoon form! Your likeness or avatar will get a personal thank you from Fuzzy in a special post following the walk, similar to my super-fun Thanksgiving bash. You may email me your own dialogue and/or a link to the avatar you'd like me to draw.
Welcome to all my new readers who arrived via Autism Speaks. If you like what you see, I hope you'll stick around for more thoughts and illustrations! This blog is all about promoting understanding of what it's like to live with an autism spectrum disorder. I try to strike a balance between honesty and humor, and I welcome your comments and conversation.
Here are a few of my favorite posts you might enjoy: