A child lacks the ability to create a sense of self. Who they are is literally the product of what their parents, teachers, and peers say they are. As a result, there are plenty of young people and even adults walking around soulless – without a semblance of self-esteem. I try to give presentations to groups of young people with AS and give them the knowledge that was often denied to me as a child. No matter who you are or what you accomplish, there will always be individuals that want nothing to do with you. It still happens to me once in a while even as a local celebrity with a plethora of personal and professional accomplishments.
Sometimes the rejections will be a consequence of the inappropriate behavior associated with AS. Other times it will be because the other guy is a complete moron incapable of appreciating such uniqueness. My father has this expression, “You can never reason or win an argument with someone who is a moron.” As you get older, it will hopefully be easier to understand the difference. In order to assuage some of my own bitterness, I remind myself that my much younger peers have more of a fighting chance. They are not marinating in the lies that robbed me of confidence. “What are you doing to bring this on yourself?” “Maybe if you stopped acting so weird people would actually like you.” “It is your own fault you do not have many friends.” I’m now getting used to traveling to New York City and seeing total strangers holding out their books for me to autograph. I am the extremely rare individual with high-functioning autism who has had the experience of being judged a celebrity as opposed to the usual sociopath. But hopefully the young people I mentor will not have to write a book in order to gain a fraction of the respect that my life has been blessed with these days. And it is not just individuals with autism who battle such strife.
I recently had the privilege of giving a presentation at a local middle school for students and faculty. One of the female teachers was a strikingly beautiful thirty or forty-something year old woman. (I would later remark that it was the most awkward presentation of my career so far. It was imperative to deliver the presentation while pretending a beautiful woman was not sitting a few feet away. A few years ago I probably would have said something obnoxious or stared.)
Fortunately, she paid for my book with a check that contained her home address. I sent her a letter knowing there would be a slight chance she would find the gesture intensely creepy as others have in the past. It took nearly thirty years before I realized that many of the people who would come to that conclusion would also find something else wrong. Then I would try to placate them by struggling to get to point D. Then they would be unhappy that I was not at point G. And so forth. Ultimately, I would drive myself crazy and please absolutely nobody in the process. “Back off until you have backed off the face of the earth. And let go of everything that makes you incredible until there is nothing left to hold onto.”
I recently had the privilege of having lunch with this particular woman and she even opened up about her personal life. Like individuals with AS…her self-esteem had also been marred by romantic rejection and frustration. I’m still wondering how the long-lost older sister of Jennifer Love Hewitt does not understand just how incredible she truly is. It just seemed like many of my genuine compliments replenished a void that should not have existed in the first place. I think one of the reasons my book has struck such a chord with the mainstream population is because regular individuals can relate to its themes. There are so many beautiful and talented people walking around who are quasi-blind to how incredible they are as well as what they have contributed to others. It does not matter if it is a real-life doppelganger from Desperate Housewives or a middle school child with Asperger’s syndrome. Our failures and rejections will turn into psychological machetes amputating the reality that we have something to offer. We start to become dead inside unless we seek out those elusive people who can see our beauty. Regardless of whether I see this incredible woman again…I hope I reminded her how beautiful she truly is and succeeded in repaying the favor. But during those droughts of time when such feedback is obsolete, it is more critical to look into the mirror and give to ourselves what is not going to always come from someone else. With or without a social disability…