For an autistic individual like myself, ‘feelings’ is something of a grey area. We do experience and process emotions but not as you, the neurotypical population, may know it. It’s only quite recently that my feelings and the ability to feel in a way others can understand and empathise with has come to the fore, which is at times, quite intense in nature.
I feel that, in the long term, it will contribute to the greater good of my own personal development and I have started to look upon it in this way. Any of you that know Star Trek will see how the Vulcans, an alien race whose entire society is founded on reason over emotion, might have been inspired by individuals on the autistic spectrum. Every 7 years depart the “lack of emotion” state and become very passionate and emotional and look for a person to mate with and while this is going they are subject to headache style pain and eventually it passes and normal service is resumed. This is how I have felt at times in the last year during this “Pon Farr,” as it is known within the Star Trek universe. Now I am going to relate to you, the reader, how my emotions were placed at the age of 7, 14, 21 and 28 as things stand at the time of writing.
7 years old
Around 1995 and 1996, I was 7 years old, in my own little world and in my primary school life, which dominated a good deal of my life at that time. I was oblivious to any wrong in the world around me and would happily, at play time, wander around the playground by myself and have no interest whatsoever in joining in what my peers were doing. Though I did have some interest from the girls in my class and they would try and befriend me, I even had a girlfriend not that I fully knew what that was then! If you look at any pictures of me for that time you can see from the look on my face that I was in my own little world and nothing was set to bring me out of it anytime soon. Looking back, you have to ask yourself was that person really you? The answer is perfectly clear – yes, it was.
14 years old
When I was 7, life was a whole lot simpler; or so I felt or was led to believe. That said, by the time I’d turned 14 in November 2002, I had already lived in two different cities in England – London and Manchester. Just that summer, I had moved over to Co. Kerry (where I am pleased to say I still am!).
The move was to escape something what I can best describe as a fairly torrid point in my life. If primary school was marked by an ignorance of the educational world around me, my two years attending a mainstream secondary school were my great awakening, so to speak.
I entered secondary school in a new city and a new school in September 2000. At my first lesson, my new P.E. teacher called me over when I didn’t line up with the rest to play rugby and was standing elsewhere on the field with a brusque “Hey spaceman, get over here!”
An apology – albeit more than a little prompted – was issued, but it far from the last time I’d have similar run-ins with teachers in that school. By the end of the year, I was in a state of huge angst, where I was in tears on a near-daily basis and utterly dreaded attending any of my classes.
And so the choice was made to move back to Ireland. We’d a large contingent of cousins living locally in Kerry, with a good many of them in my own age group at that. In a lot of ways they were my first real social outlet, where I could safely interact with kids in and around my age, observe first-hand how they spoke to one another and try to understand their interests.
We arrived in August that year, but rather than enroll in a mainstream national school, I was home-schooled, with my dad taking up the teaching end of the arrangement. It became increasingly apparent to both of us, however, that I needed a lot more special support in areas other than academia. Practical life lessons, as simple as making the right change in the shops to accessing public transport were things I had to understand. My dad, once again, was with me every step of the way here. A huge milestone for both of us was crossing Tralee’s main road; we’d practice looking left and right and one day, I did it all on my own. As I celebrated my 14th birthday in November with my family, it was clear that because of the choices made, things had really turned a corner in all aspect for me.
21 years old
By the time I’d turned 21 in 2009, more progress had been made in the intervening years. I passed my Junior Cert in 2004, scoring a B grade in my favourite subject of history, and two years later I passed my Leaving Cert where I got As. What was especially significant here too was the fact I was able to attend the exams in the school itself, sitting my tests as an external student in Milltown Secondary School.
What was also advancing was my passion for family history, for genealogy, after researching my own tree as part of a school project. After obtaining our census records, I developed something of a business idea: using the travel skills I’d learned from my dad, I could journey to Dublin and research and retrieve individual’s records for them. I’d two good years operating this little venture, whilst beginning to speak publicly about my experiences with Asperger’s Syndrome. The initial talks were conducted on smaller events across Ireland with assorted interest groups. I still do them to this day.
That year also saw me travelling to a holiday in New York – by no means a small feat in terms of hard skills, considering less than a decade ago I couldn’t have cross a main road on my own. Independent living also began for me that year, with my dad travelling back over to England, so all the skills and all the talks of the last decade were put to the test, and I’m pleased to say they’ve stood the test of time.
28 years old
I turned 28 in November 2016, and just the previous month I’d spoken at AsIAm’s Conference in Cork before 300 people – not bad for someone who wasn’t verbal until he was 3½, wouldn’t you think so?
I am now able to partially ‘feel’ – I say partially because it is very much an ongoing process, and I ask myself, how does the other person feel about what I am saying? Is this interesting? Am I talking about myself to much? Should I ask the person about themselves? As I watch the news on T.V., I am able to feel feelings where there were not before in terms of feeling about a certain story which would not have being possible before.
I have noticed prior to my talks or a trip away I have had the odd sleepless night, which may sound bad on the face of it, but it’s more a sign that a wall has been broken down in my brain to let the light in. A few years ago I would have done things with no thoughts of nerves; now though, as I believe that I can feel what others are in situations like that. On a social level, I can now go long periods of time without the need to manufacture a person-to-person interaction or crave such a thing to the determinant of everything else. When watching the television I have even been known to shed a tear at something that gets me emotionally.
I’m eating healthier nowadays and try to make sure I do at least an hour’s worth of gardening a day, sometimes an hour and a half if I’ve the time. As things stand though, I feel that I’ve ‘tuned’ things to the wavelength that suits me and that is accessible to other people too, but I understand this is only one stage of life who knows what the future holds.
Live long and prosper!