Asperger’s in action: owning my condition

Michelle Varinata

Susan Boyle, singer and reality star from “Britain’s Got Talent,” recently revealed that she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. “Ghostbusters” actor and writer Dan Aykroyd stated that he also lives with this condition. And underneath all my fashionable togs, nobody knows that I actually have Asperger’s.

Defined as a developmental disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of mild autism which one has a normal intellectual capacity, but has low social skills. Despite these celebrities owning their Asperger’s, there is still a stigma surrounding it. Recently, the media has attempted to increase awareness about Asperger’s Syndrome, but it does so by typecasting them as nerdy savants whose social awkwardness accompany their extreme obsession with one interest.

Unlike the typical portrayal of someone with Asperger’s, I am fashionable, loud and outgoing. Since these said characteristics don’t match up with the perception, it’s hard for people to notice. However, this is after years of fighting through an awkward adolescence.

When I was a child, my mom sent me to a therapist, wondering why I couldn’t talk or point at objects. It was then that the therapist diagnosed me with Asperger’s. Before taking me to therapy, my mom was worried that I wouldn’t function properly for the rest of my life. From there, she sent me to a string of therapists who specialized in childhood developmental disorders. One therapist coached me on social skills, while the other helped me improve my interactions with peers by making me play games with other socially challenged kids. Although these treatments singled me out, being together with the said peer group made me feel united with the outcasts.

But once I got out of that group, I felt different – for instance, the kids at school gave me quizzical stares whenever I constantly smiled while daydreaming or times when I threw a tantrums. While I learned the social skills necessary to survive, applying them in real-life situations was tricky. For instance, when I talked with an ordinary child my age, I was oblivious to their perception of me. I couldn’t tell when someone was bored talking to me, or worse, when they made a comment that I didn’t know was a joke. Even when it came to idiomatic phrases, I used to take every single word literally. But for me, the worst part of having Asperger’s was going to school.

Navigating my social life was hardest during middle school. The majority of boys and girls teased me for my high-fashion inspired outfits, non-conformist attitude and social awkwardness. When a crowd of boys swarming around, I felt like the quintessential nerd in teen movies. They picked on me because I was the only girl who wore a pair of cowboy boots with a star on the leg, when all the other girls wore three striped Adidas. But it didn’t stop there. The worst part was dealing with the malicious gossip about my behavior.

Dealing with the rumors and the bullies was a burden since I felt like my presence was an untreatable disease – not only to myself, but to those around me. As a result, I didn’t have many friends. It got to the point where I didn’t want to tell my parents that I was bullied, wanting them to think that at least my school life was OK.

To react against my already damaged reputation, I saw fashion as the only solution. Magazines furthered my childhood interest in fun, quirky style. By wearing the clothes that made me feel in control of my situation, I felt shielded from facing another day of being bullied. Clothes made me feel invincible. Reinventing myself as a fashionista made everyone forget that I was the most socially awkward kid lurking around the cafeteria. I realized that I did not have to change myself to fit in.

Now that I’m in college, I feel that I have more respect for who I am, even though I tend to behave in the most unconventional of ways. While I may wear my hair in my signature mini ponytail, rock smeared red lipstick and sport body-con dresses with my beaten-up pair of vintage floral Docs, I have no qualms with the occasional quizzical stare. The fact that the campus is my runway makes me feel proud of who I am.

Despite being diagnosed with Asperger’s, living with that label doesn’t keep me from being more than that.

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