Asperger’s Means That
by Dylan Matthews of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
I write about politics and public policy for a living. To do that well, you have to have a fair amount of background knowledge, of everything from how Congressional committees work, to various court precedents, to what it means when a rating agency downgrades Greek debt. And if you don’t know something, you have to be able to dig in and learn it quick if you’re going to write intelligently about it. What you really need is some kind of superpower that lets you dive into a subject and learn everything there is to know about it, and then not forget it.
I got lucky in that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. When parents hear that their kids have Asperger’s, or are otherwise on the autism spectrum, this aspect often gets spun as a negative, that it means your child will be this weird obsessive who memorizes facts about trains. But it turns out that being able to absorb and process information quickly and diligently is a highly marketable skill. Transit companies need people who know a ton about trains. Museums need people who know a ton about art. And some places, like academic departments or, in my case, newspapers and magazines need people who know a ton, full stop.
And the best part is that, at least for me, Asperger’s means that work like that is incredibly fun. I remember, in my first magazine internship, having a slight epiphany one day that people get paid to do this. I had spent the summer reading and writing about politics the same way I had been before the job, just for my own amusement. But here I was, doing what I do anyway, in a context where that’s considered work. It was too good to be true, and without Asperger’s, it would have been utter drudgery.
I don’t mean to make light of the real hardships that being on the spectrum means living with. I got bullied a lot growing up. It took a long time to be comfortable in normal social situations, and they still stress me out from time to time. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Not having Asperger’s would mean not being me.