How do I brake my Asperger s
"I solve problems with logic"
At first glance, Elias is a youth like any other, maybe a little more eloquent. Elias is 16 years old and attends the scientific high school. In his spare time he likes to read, listen to Ö1 or play video games like Minecraft. However, certain everyday situations can become a challenge for him, because Elias is Asperger's autist. In a Skype interview with BARFUSS he talks about his life with Asperger's and about misconceptions about people with autism. His mother Brigitte (who is actually called differently like Elias) reports on the situation of autistic people in South Tyrol and the importance of early diagnosis and therapy.
When were you diagnosed with “autism”?
Elias: The diagnosis was made in the second grade of elementary school, but I didn't find out about it until later, in the fifth grade.
Did that have a special reason?
Brigitte: The psychologist who confirmed the diagnosis on our suspicion said that the tests were borderline and that one should therefore wait before telling the child. I've read a lot and found that regardless of age - with a few exceptions - it's better if everyone involved knows. But then I relied on the advice of the specialist. It was only afterwards that I realized that there were no real autism specialists in the service and that there were no offers for children like Elias either.
How did you take the diagnosis when you found out about it, Elias?
Elias: Not much has changed for me in the beginning. I didn't really understand what Asperger's meant until later, in middle school. It was only then that I started doing therapy and learning to cope with certain problems that arise in everyday life with autism.
Where do such problems arise?
Elias: Most Asperger's autistic people don't recognize irony and sarcasm. Reading their body language and facial expressions is also a mystery to them. As a result, they often live socially withdrawn. I also have problems with noisy places, because then my hearing is flooded by the stimuli and the chaos is very annoying for me, and generally with new, unfamiliar situations for which I am not prepared. Crowds are also difficult for me to cope with. I prefer to talk about facts and things that interest me and that I know about, I can hardly be stopped. That's when I learned that it can be of no interest to others or that it becomes boring. That's why I have to learn dialogues and small talk right now.
Which concrete everyday situations can be stressful for you?
Elias: It sometimes gets too loud on public transport, but also in class when we're doing a test in the laboratory or when I'm out and about in town. I also have problems with sports and certain activities, for example estimating distances. There is a lack of body awareness. If routines or plans are changed without preparation, it is very stressful for me and can even overwhelm me.
Does it happen in your everyday life that you have to explain to people that you are Asperger's?
Elias: So far, that wasn't necessary. My teachers at school know about it, I also explained it to the class once in first high school - and after that there was silence.
Brigitte: In certain situations such as a blood test, the dentist or in situations new to Elias, it is sometimes helpful if those involved know. Often we parents do that.
Do you like going to school?
Elias: Yes, I like going to school.
How do you get along with your classmates?
Elias: Actually, I get along pretty well with my classmates. But I know from other autistic people that they often had problems with bullying. A friend of mine who is also Asperger's Autist was bullied throughout elementary school through high school. Fortunately, I've never experienced that myself.
What do you think determines whether bullying occurs?
Elias: In elementary school I was in a class in which bullying never happened, and in middle school it was said: Anyone who bully is thrown out of school. At secondary school, too, I have the support of the teachers, whom I can turn to in the event of bullying and who then take action.
Brigitte: It was the case with Elias Freund that he was only diagnosed in second high school. If parents, teachers, and peers see that an adolescent is somehow different, but don't know exactly what's going on, then they don't know how to and should deal with it. Then it comes to misjudgments and many behaviors are branded as laziness, impudence, naughtiness, bad upbringing, etc. If you explain to classmates what autism is and where their autistic classmate is different, they can deal with it much better. The risk of being bullied is so much lower. Many autistic adults describe school as their worst time because they were bullied by classmates and not understood by teachers.
So early diagnosis is crucial?
Brigitte: The earlier, the better and with immediate training for everyone and the start of therapy for the child. Otherwise a lot will be missed. In South Tyrol and elsewhere there are still many Asperger's people - especially adults - who were not recognized as such. Instead, they were parked in other diagnoses, such as depression or anxiety disorders. These can be added to autism, especially if it is not recognized and the peculiarities of the autistic are not addressed.
The autism cliché is probably the so-called island talents: someone is a genius in one subject and below average in other areas. What's it all about?
Elias: Autistic people often have a subject that interests them particularly, and that's why they're particularly good at it. For example, a friend of mine who is also autistic is particularly interested in math. I'm excellent at history, simply because history interests me a lot. There are also autistic people who are gifted, but that is a minority. Most of them have a special interest and are very familiar with it. This special interest can later become a profession. For example, many autistic people work as successful programmers.
Autistic people are particularly well represented in professions in which targeted problem solving is important.
Elias: I always proceed very logically when solving problems. I simply don't know any other way, even if I see that others sometimes do it differently. Incidentally, it is now assumed that many people who used to be considered gifted and invented new things were actually autistic.(Such suspected cases are, for example, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Mozart, Charles Darwin, James Joyce or Stanley Kubrick, editor's note)
Are there things that people misconceive autism?
Elias: You usually have to give a thorough explanation of what autism is all about. For most people this is something completely new. A common misconception is that autism can be treated like an illness. Thats not OK. Instead, you can learn to deal with your own peculiarities and to cope better with difficulties in everyday life, but you never get away with that.
Do you have the feeling in your environment that you are perceived as a person with individual character traits? Or is autism sometimes in the foreground?
Elias: In my environment, diagnosis is not in the foreground. But that also has to do with the fact that most of my friends are autistic themselves.
Are people with autism in South Tyrol well connected?
Elias: No, as far as I know, that is not the case at all. In my case, these contacts were initially made at the endeavors of my mother.
Brigitte: As a result of the lockdown, an important networking initiative unfortunately fell through for the time being. We made up for it online in November, but the personal exchange between the parents unfortunately failed. We want to network all affected families across South Tyrol, promote the implementation of the laws and sensitize society.
How should that be done specifically?
Brigitte: Italy has had a very good law since 2015 that provides for uniform treatment and offers for autistic people. In July 2019, the implementation of this law was finally initiated in South Tyrol with a resolution by the state government. So far it has failed because of the staff who have to be trained specifically for autism. Until recently, support services and diagnoses were much rarer in the Bressanone and Bruneck area than in Bolzano and Merano. But even where there are good therapeutic options, many families are on the waiting list.
Is the issue politically neglected?
Brigitte: We parents would like to spend our time and energy on everyday life with our children and not have to invest in frustrating bureaucratic hurdles to demand things that our children have been legally entitled to for a long time. It would be important that the laws are also applied in the social area now - and not just after the implementation in the sanitary area has been completed, as planned: leisure activities, independent living, work integration, relief for families, training of everyday skills. There are doctors who try to do this. So far, unfortunately, they have hardly received any response from the administration.
Are there things that can improve the way society deals with autism?
Brigitte: I would like more public education - like with this article. In my generation you can still often find the idea: Autism = Rain Man (Film drama from 1988, editor's note). Autistic people are fairly present in popular culture, but often as stereotypes, for example Sheldon in Big Bang Theory. But you always have to keep in mind: If you know someone with autism, you know exactly one person and not all of them.
Elias: It's like with other people: everyone is different. Autism brings certain peculiarities and problems with it, but each person deals with it in his own way.
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