Dance Like Everybody is Listening

Hey, I’m talking to you!

Of course, you don’t need to listen to me. In fact, we don’t really need to talk at all. And yet, we will.

People communicate with each other for the purpose of sharing ideas and information as well as influencing each others’ opinions. I find the motivation behind the majority of all communication to be purely in its enjoyment. This enjoyment is often exhibited by the all familiar form of communication known as the conversation.

Conversation is the ultimate form of communication. Every good thing starts with one. A friendship begins with discussing common interests and a life changing realization is triggered by a serious conversation with oneself. Mastering this causes autism to be nothing more than a diagnosis on a piece of paper.

Asperger syndrome affects behavior. Our behavior is how we communicate with the rest of the world. If our behavior and choices are hindered, then our communication won’t effectively express our thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, we all have the ability to modify our behavior in degrees.

A failure in communication is not any one person’s fault. Communication is always a two-way street. It takes one person to express himself and another person to listen. A performer is nothing without his audience.

Let us compare conversation to a dance. It takes two to tango, doesn’t it? Other people may cut in, but a dance ultimately has two players; one talking and one listening. Dancing is meant to be enjoyed and can only be accomplished if both dancers are communicating effectively.

You don’t have to be incredibly skilled at dancing to enjoy it. Just enjoy having someone to dance with.

Mind Your Surroundings

Conversation is circumstantial. It can only take place if conditions allow it to blossom. First, you need people to talk to. Second, you need a location and enough time to spare being in that location. Third, you need to be free from interruptions.

1. People: Seven billion people populate this planet. It’s very likely you will meet a few of them in the course of your life. Specific circumstances, controlled or uncontrolled, will determine the people you will meet. The different types are broken into intentional and unintentional groups. You can choose to take a bus to visit the friend you want to see, but you can’t choose who will be riding with you along the way. Your family and your co-workers talk with you whether you like it or not. Friends become friends because you intend to talk with them.

2. Setting: Your voice needs to physically reach a person in real-time for an actual conversation to exist. Both people must be planted in the same moment in time whether they are sitting down or walking beside one another. Everyone has restrictions to how long they can stay in one spot together. We all need to sleep and eat eventually. The nature of a conversation changes according to how much time you think you have with someone. Sometimes a simple hello is all you can fit in before you have to say goodbye.

3. Environment: Not every place you go will be conversation friendly. Your attention is constantly being lured away by every moving object and noise you pick up. Also, the type of conversation you have changes whether you are in public or private. You may not be able to control the world around you completely, but you have the ability to choose your surroundings. Look for locations offering you the greatest amount of freedom.

Much Ado about Something

A conversation is a living thing. It’s born, it lives, and then it dies. They can be good or bad, mediocre or meaningful. It’s up to you to decide what kind of contribution you wish to make in your conversations.

1. The “I”, the “You”, and the “Me Too”: You can’t talk with someone unless you have something to talk about. What should you talk about? Someone has to take the lead in a dance. Any conversation can only truly be about two things. It’s either about you or about them. Think back on your previous conversations. Did you say the word “I” more than you said “you?” Conversations are about our relation with ideas and people. How can we relate to others if we are so focused on ourselves? Try speaking to other people as if they are more interesting than you once in a while. And be careful not to add in a “me too” in the mix. If someone wants to talk about themselves, then let them. Butting in with a “me too” makes it look like you only care about things if they relate to you on some level.

2. Flow: The type of dance is determined by the music playing. Conversation has its own rhythm and you must learn to run with it. Fighting to control it makes the dance chaotic and less than pleasant. Each step needs to make sense and lead somewhere. Going off on a tangent is welcome, but it has to make sense. You don’t stop a tango mid step and break into square dancing. Get a feel for where the conversation is naturally heading and move with the beat. You’ll lose your dance partner if each of you is dancing to a different tune.

3. Knowledge: What should your topic be on? It doesn’t matter. Talk about something you know. You can’t waltz if you haven’t learned the steps. A conversation keeps flowing as long as you continue to contribute to it. It also has to be interesting. Your dance will fail if you run out of moves or if your moves are stale. Charge into your conversations fully equipped. Know things. Have opinions. Ask questions.

Not every person you will speak to is going to be special to you, but you can always strive to make your communications meaningful. We participate in chitchat because we want to enjoy each others’ company. We long to hear more than our echo. All people need to connect with others on some level. Good luck finding a suitable dance partner.

All Good Things

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Life is like a fairy tale. It needs a happy ending to be a good one.

Each of us has our own dragon to slay, a villain to defeat, or some treacherous expanse to cross. A happy resolution comes to the hero who conquers the opposition.

What if the opposition comes not as an external force? What do we do when the conflict we face is of our own creation? How do you fight the enemy within?

Autism creates a challenge for those living with it. Its very definition describes an inability to function, focus, or communicate effectively. Simply living becomes a struggle. However, something is only a struggle if a chance for victory exists.

No all-encompassing treatment can be prescribed for each person with a developmental disorder. Doctors can’t even determine the cause for it. No one has a clear answer for why some people are born to be hyper, dyslexic, or autistic. The mind may have the final say on how we think, but what if you disagree with your brain?

Can autism be overcome? It’s not a dragon to be slain for this foe cannot be vanquished. It is a trial. All great heroes face one.

What kind of trial is it? Hercules performed twelve arduous labors to achieve peace of mind. However, finishing his tasks meant he was done. Autism doesn’t go away. The brain cannot simply rewire itself into the “correct” settings. Perhaps it is more like Sisyphus who was given the everlasting task of pushing a boulder up a hill. It never ends. This isn’t much better since it offers little hope for a resolution.

The hope is not to eliminate autism. Instead, one must become its conqueror. Happiness is not in the removal of conflict but in the strength gained by facing it. The key word is self-improvement. It’s the only treatment for autism that matters.

I offer three I’s of improvement: intelligence, interest, and identity.

1. Intelligence

Knowledge is power. It puts a person in a position to make his or her own choices. It is advisable to gain as much knowledge as possible. However, high intelligence does not refer to the amount of knowledge one possesses. Rather, it is an ability to comprehend things on a deep level. What good is information if you cannot understand its meaning?

Those with autism may struggle to learn certain concepts. They may have all the information, but at the same time they may fail to see how the different points of data relate to one another. Learning is hampered when one cannot simplify all the details and make connections between them.

On the bright side, learning never ceases. Who’s to say those with autism have a limit to what they can learn? If learning continues, then more power is given to an individual to make a positive change in his or her life. People with autism can learn to understand their own situation and make an intelligent decision on how to improve it.

2. Interest

Life was meant to be enjoyed. Those diagnosed with Asperger’s are often described as having a limited set of interests. It’s hard to enjoy life when you only experience a small percentage of it.

Variety is the spice of life. How much fun can a story be if there aren’t a few twists in it? Numerous wholesome activities need to be sought and seized to achieve that needed sense of fulfillment. More importantly, they need to be shared.

Social interaction provides a unique experience. It’s unpredictable and requires a lot of time and effort. This is just what those with autism need. Life isn’t about finding a single niche that works and remaining loyal to that same pattern till the day you die. Life is made rich by taking what it throws at you and making it work for your good. We are surrounded by billions of unique individuals for a reason. We need them to spice our lives up. Everyone needs supporting characters in their story.

3. Identity

Do you like yourself? Improvement won’t take place if you’re not a fan of your own story. You need to root for yourself. Don’t you want the main character in your story to receive a happy ending?

We choose who we are. How we are born doesn’t determine if we are the hero or the villain. Success is a choice we make. And change needs to be our own choice or it has no meaning.

A hero must have faith in his cause. That faith gives him the strength to face all challenges in the hope of one day attaining victory. He believes in the path he treads. He believes in himself.

A happy ending is our right and responsibility to pursue. No opposition is strong enough to deny us our right. The effects of autism may be a difficult trial to overcome, but it is not the final word of the story. The tale should end like all good stories; riding off into the sunset. Moving forward.

A Laughing Matter

What makes anyone laugh? A good joke has some twist at the end. Something you weren’t expecting. Something to shock you. If everything stayed normal, then we wouldn’t see humor in anything. Something has to be out of the ordinary. Something has to go wrong.

Asperger’s syndrome is like this. If you have it, then you are different. Weird. Awkward. You are the butt of the joke.

“Normal” people don’t become diagnosed with behavioral disorders. Do you take someone to the doctor when they have nothing wrong with them? A parent will notice something funny about their kid and bring him or her in to get checked out. The doctor either has to say the kid is perfectly normal or has a behavioral disorder. No other diagnosis exists for acting funny.

The only way to identify autism is by observing behavior. No blood tests or brain scans. Just an interview and some written exams. The interviewer talks to you trying to discover what is wrong with you. Your faults are brought up. Things you struggle with. Anything that makes you out of the ordinary is discussed.

You can’t look at Asperger’s in a positive light at all times. No one wants to have it. You receive the diagnosis after a negative experience occurs. First, your family worries about you. Next, they look for patterns of irregularity. Finally, they seek a solution to fix the problem resulting in a diagnosis. Does this sound positive to you?

People do not consider Asperger’s a good thing. At the same time, your loved ones don’t want to think you are bad. And so, everyone chooses to view it as being in between good and bad. They see it as a funny thing. Something to smile at. A good joke.

The Perception

The joke is quite hilarious: you are prone to failure. You are expected to do something wrong eventually; talk wrong, act wrong, or think wrong. Why would you be labeled autistic if you did everything right? People who hear you have autism will suspect you of making mistakes on a frequent basis. Any mistakes you make will become a part of their impression of you and will be used to define you from then on. Slow, clumsy, or socially awkward; they’ll think it’s just the way you are.

It’s not expected for someone with autism to simply snap out of it one day. It’s supposed to be part of their genetic makeup. Never to part till the day they die. Can one cease to be autistic? If one changed his behavior and improved to the point where he never struggled to accomplish anything, then would he be rid of Asperger’s? Who can say? However, jokes can cease to be funny over time.

The Situation

Everyone makes mistakes. Asperger’s doesn’t make any one person exceptionally bad at anything. We all could use a little self-improvement. It doesn’t matter if you do things right or wrong. What matters is you do what works.
Other people decide if your behavior is good or bad. This is based on personal preference. You won’t be accused of rambling if people like what you have to say. You won’t be considered an emotional wreck if people are compassionate and understanding. Neither will people feel your thinking is messed up if they happen to agree with you. Your behavior is considered autistic only if it is undesirable.

Whether the joke is clever or vulgar is not as important as how funny it is. You could be a perfect human being or the vilest wretch. All that matters is that you’re amusing. People will forgive your failures if they like you. Asperger’s will be forgiven as long as people get the joke. They’re not allowed to praise it or despise it, but they can laugh at it and call it funny or weird. A person with Asperger’s is seen as neither an equal nor an enemy; just a joke.

The Solution

Take yourself seriously. No one will stop laughing if you go along with the joke. Failure is not your defining feature. No rule exists saying autistic people will have to struggle with everything for the rest of their lives. You can exceed expectations and surpass your own limitations. Invite people to believe in you by first believing in yourself.

Your opinions and feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. Their value is not diminished by having autism. People have to acknowledge you as they would any other person. You can be as right or wrong as the next man. Any mistake you make does not give people permission to stop taking you seriously. You’re not a joke to be laughed at and then forgotten.

Asperger’s may not be a good thing or a bad thing, but it is something. Having it means you’re different and out of the ordinary. Of course, no one would choose to have it. Then again, who would choose to be ordinary?

The Social Game

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Being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome doesn’t necessarily mean you are bad at making friends. On the other hand, having a behavioral disorder isn’t exactly going to help you in that department.

Starting any kind of relationship presents a unique challenge to each human being. Asperger’s syndrome won’t put you at a disadvantage, but it does need to be factored in if you want to play the game seriously.

All of us need to interact with other people at some point in our lives. The social game is about what you want in return. It’s not wrong to want friendship or companionship with someone. Just keep in mind there is a right way to go about getting it.

Winning Isn’t Everything

You can’t always get what you want. Your success in this game depends on the other players. Each of them has their own views and prejudices. Forces beyond your control will dictate the course of your social life and there is little you can do to change it.

It’s a roll of the dice that determines the people you will meet. You may get lucky and meet someone with an accommodating personality. You may hit a losing streak and encounter only unsavory characters for an extended period of time. Life sometimes deals you a lousy hand. Be brave enough to work with what you got.

Play to Win

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. You won’t be able to convince everyone to like you, but it’s not a waste of effort to be a friend to anyone. You can play this game by your own rules and be the one to determine what victory looks like.

Other people need you to be a player in the game. Nobody wins unless somebody tries. No rule exists that says we can’t all make the first move together.

Nice Guys Finish Last?

No one is cursed to be friendless. The universe hasn’t singled anyone out. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are diagnosed with. No category of human being has drawn the short straw; nice guys, mean guys, or otherwise.

It is a mistake to think if you were different, people would come to respect you. People who put conditions on showing respect don’t deserve to receive it. Aspiring to the lofty expectations of strangers requires sacrifice of the fundamental components of your individuality. If you changed to please each and every person on the planet, then there wouldn’t be anything left of the true you. The world needs you to be you. You’re the only you we’ve got.

This game has no finish line; it’s a part of life. As long as you have something to gain (or to lose) you will be playing the game. You might as well have fun in the process.

The blind leading the blind

Everyone has advice to give. Everyone has an opinion to express. Everyone has a solution to share. If only they would keep it to themselves.

Asperger’s syndrome isn’t a disease so much as it is a state of being. You either have it or you don’t. It isn’t something one is infected with, maliciously spreading throughout the brain over time.

However, many people mistakenly view Asperger’s as being threatening. They see it as the bane of human development. A problem needing to be fixed. A plague to be stamped out.

I’ll say it loudly so you can remember it: PEOPLE WITH ASPERGER’S DON’T NEED TO BE FIXED!

The most helpful thing you can do to assist with Asperger’s is to convince people to stop trying to help. Helping someone may be well meant, but it needs to be done for the right reasons. You wouldn’t help someone if you felt they didn’t have anything wrong with them. And you wouldn’t try to assist someone you felt was fully capable of taking care of their own selves.

Families of those with Asperger’s will have their own worries and fears about the condition. They’ll try to express sympathy and encourage their loved one with helpful tips for coping with their condition. They mean well, I’m sure.

You can’t help someone to live. Asperger’s syndrome has not kept anyone from enjoying a good hamburger or the company of true friends. People with autism know what they like. They don’t need someone to remind them of what they already know.

I have received dating advice from single guys. I’ve been the recipient of sympathy from people I have a great deal of pity for. I don’t think anyone is in a position to pull me out of any pit.

If someone wants to help a person diagnosed with Asperger’s, then they can do so by treating them as a human being. No one can fix Asperger’s. Neither should anyone try to fix each other. What people can do is recognize a person’s individual needs. People with autism don’t need help. They help others just as much as anyone else.

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I’m sure all of us wonder how we are seen by our fellowmen. Image is very important in society. We spend our lives trying to stage a convincing performance to guarantee others will see us the way we want to be seen. Well, you only get the part when you look the part.

Being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome may affect how you see yourself and it can affect the way others see you. It’s fair to say a behavioral disorder influences the way a person interacts with others. Does a person with Asperger’s have a choice in how others view him? Does he have a choice in how he sees himself?

The Truth

Having Asperger’s does not mean there is something wrong with you. It doesn’t automatically mean you struggle with anything whether it is schoolwork or relationships. All it means is you have a diagnosis. It is nothing more than a label invented for the sake of other people. It has no meaning to you because the label cannot predict who you are and how you will grow.

Other people have their own expectations and predictions about those diagnosed with Asperger’s. A man once asked me if having Asperger’s meant I was really good at math. I said, “Yes. I can also read minds.” The image most people carry with them of those with autism is of a sad person who doesn’t understand the world and the people in it. Many people try to ascribe value to me by looking at my talents and telling themselves Asperger’s gives me mental powers so that makes me an adequate human being.

Everyone struggles with something. A person with Asperger’s is just a man like anyone else. He has his own journey with its assortment of trials and triumphs. Each trial and triumph is his and is not to be credited to some label society has given him.

The Choice

How do you want to be seen? The image we have of ourselves helps us to feel valued. A specific image conjures an emotional reaction out of people. If you see yourself as a person with a disability, then you put yourself at a lower value than others. If you see yourself as a human being with talents and ideas, then you rate yourself a little higher.

We can help other people to see us the way we want to be seen. A person with Asperger’s can strive to represent himself well despite any personal struggles he faces. Most people want to see value in us and it begins by us being confident in the value we already see inside.

The power is in each of us to change the way people view Asperger’s. It may be a struggle, but I can safely say it isn’t Asperger’s that makes it difficult.

Taking the “Hell” Out of Hello.

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Making a good first impression can be a frustrating experience. One misstep can cause one to stand out in the worst of ways. So when is the best time to mention having a behavioral disorder?

Discussing with others the nature of your diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome does not have to be an awkward situation. A little preparation beforehand combined with tact is all it takes to keep the conversation in your favor.

This lesson is usually learned the hard way. I was once at a social gathering with fellow members of my church. The women were asking the men the usual questions of where they work and where they served their two-year missions. I was honorably excused from serving a mission due to being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. The woman who was asking me the usual questions followed my explanation of missing out on a mission with, “Asperger’s? What’s that?” I didn’t know how to explain it properly so I simply stated it as being a form of autism. The conversation ended right there and then.

I’ve learned from my experiences and worked hard to prevent the past from repeating itself. My hope is you will take my tips to heart.

1. Silence is golden.

You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. In fact, most of the time you can get away with not mentioning mental conditions in conversation. It is rare to hear people specifically requesting to know whether you’ve been diagnosed with a behavioral disorder. Most people don’t want to know about things like that. It is up to you to decide whether they need to know.

2. Be honest.

Let’s say you choose to tell someone about being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. The nature of the circumstances will determine the amount of detail you should go into. If you’re discussing this with a potential love interest, then you’ll want to describe how Asperger’s affects you personally. If you’re in a room of casual acquaintances, then you can simply use the textbook definition to satisfy any curiosity. People usually won’t probe for more information, but you are welcome to respond with humor if you don’t feel like carrying the conversation any longer than necessary. A woman once asked me if I considered Asperger’s a major struggle in my life. I said, “Not really. It’s mostly everyone else’s problem.”

The next time your diagnosis comes up in conversation, it helps to see it as an opportunity instead of a trial. A lot of good is accomplished by being open about your condition. It helps other people to understand you better and shows you are confident in who you are. And you may just find yourself on the other end of the conversation one day, listening to someone explain to you their diagnosis. You should make it easy on them. Good first impressions are hard to pull off.