From Autistic to Autastic

Autism is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

Hi. My name is Joseph Meldrum. I have a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. For those unfamiliar with Asperger’s, think of it as being a part-time autistic. All it means is that I stand out. I’m still a perfectly normal-ish human being. Consider me an artist who happens to be an autist.

Humor is necessary to understand reality as it stands. Every joke you’ve laughed at relates to the human experience in some way. Recognizing the absurd can grant us insight into what it means to be human.

You might feel it is offensive to make fun of autism and anything related to it. I choose not to view this as a black and white issue. It’s not even in the gray area. More like a dark brown region. In other words, humor is neither good nor evil. Comedian Erik Charles Nielsen described it best when on June 1 of this year he tweeted:

“Why can’t people with Asperger’s play pool? Because they’re overwhelmed by the social context of the pool table. Also they don’t get cues?”

We need to look at the funny side of having a behavioral diagnosis if we want to bring to light all the nonsense surrounding it. Nobody ever asks me about my experience with getting diagnosed. This isn’t because people are trying to be sensitive. It’s because people don’t expect to find my story interesting.

Making things funny allows us to explore human experiences unabashedly. Why should a relevant subject that affects everyone become too taboo for comedy? I was in high school when my family first told me I had a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder. Apparently I was considered to have delayed development as a child. It finally explained why in Kindergarten I was sent to the “special education” class to be with the weird kids. I remember being required to make regular visits to the school guidance counsellor for help in understanding social situations. They could have saved a lot of time if they simply told me what the visits were for; lessons in not looking too stupid in public.

The ADD diagnosis didn’t last long after I graduated from school. I upgraded to Asperger syndrome a few years later. My mother felt I needed a more hip and happening diagnosis. I can remember on the test they gave me I was asked whether I prefer being with a group of friends or sitting alone reading a book. Apparently I chose the wrong answer. I should have gone with the book. Now I’m diagnosed with Asperger syndrome thanks to a bubble sheet I filled out in 2006. It would have been cool to be labeled instead with “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” because I could then say, “What’s wrong with me hasn’t been specified. I just know it’s pervasive.” In 2013 the scientific community redefined Asperger syndrome as being part of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It seems the doctors can’t make up their minds about my mind.

I recognize making jokes about my diagnosis can offend some people. I just feel sharing my experience through humor is more constructive than complaining, venting, blaming, or ignoring the whole thing. And why should anyone get offended? It’s not like I have autistic pride to uphold. I didn’t come from a long line of autistic people who crossed the plains to settle in Seattle. You don’t see me bragging about my autistic accomplishments and how I’m the best Asperger boy in the world. Rather, I would change the perspective people have of autism through humor. I’m not worried about crossing a line because I’m too busy pushing the boundaries. Besides, the humor exists whether we create it or not. Better to be the one telling the jokes than the butt of the joke.

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