A friend of mine in the UK is having a tough time of it because he recently got diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  For those who don’t know, Asperger’s Syndrome is a mental state commonly found on the High-Functioning Autism (or HFA) Spectrum relating to an intense set of interests, but at the cost of physical capabilities or common social interaction.  It is commonly thought to have a genetic basis, and leads to difficulty relating to others on a social level.

As a show of solidarity, I thought I would come clean with something for the first time…by all rights, I could be consider an “Aspie” as well.

Early in my life, I was diagnosed with Hyperlexia, a sister disorder to Asperger’s Syndrome.  You know how people with Dyslexia have difficulty reading, but otherwise are able to lead normal lives and relate to people on a personal level?  Well, Hyperlexia is the opposite of that.  Hyperlexics are able to read really well (I could read by the time I was two years old), but at the cost of their basic social skills.  I was able to read and spell complicated words by an early age (like “gymnasium”), but I couldn’t find the bathroom.  My parents had to fight tooth and nail to keep me out of the special classes when I was getting ready to enter kindergarten, because my interests were so intense and focused that the administrators weren’t sure that I could cope.

To my parents’ credit, they never made Hyperlexia seem like a disadvantage to me.  I was able to read and retain knowledge on a level my classmates couldn’t, and this shouldn’t be looked at as a weakness.  To this day, I can quote passages from a favorite book or a favorite movie to you verbatim.  My mother, to this day, sites my hyperlexia as part of what makes my art so great to her; I can notice little details in a scene or a moment that no one else could, and make that shine in a drawing or painting.

I didn’t really understand the implications of having such a disorder until my early 20’s, when I started to read up and learn more about it.  When I got into college, I started to go through a bit of an identity crisis.  How much of my personality was because of me, and how much because of the disorder?  I started getting paranoid about who I would tell or who I wouldn’t tell.  I was afraid they would judge me ahead of time if they knew what I was.  I even got paranoid enough to think some of them would use it against me.

I won’t lie when I say paranoia and anxiety has always been a part of my life, and I’d partially attribute this to the Hyperlexia.  Certain people on the HFA spectrum often deal with depression because they have difficulty relating to people, and often go on medication.  When I was eight years old, I almost had a panic attack missing school because I was sick and it broke my usual routine.  When I was in college I had a literal panic attack due to my workload and a stressful relationship I was in at the time.  To this day I have trouble missing an appointment I’m scheduled for without worrying myself to death.  I refuse to call in sick to work for anything short of leprosy.  It’s like existing in a permanent state of “Did I leave the gas on?”.

But I tell you this now because, despite my personal insecurities, I realized something years ago: Hyperlexia doesn’t define my life, and neither does Asperger’s Syndrome or anything else on the HFA spectrum.  It may explain my thought patterns to an extent, but it doesn’t define who I am as a person.  I am who I am.  And there’s nothing wrong with me.  My brain is just wired a different way.

If any of you are reading this and want to know more about disorders on the HFA spectrum, I recommend checking out Wrong Planet.  They were a great net of resources and support when I began to learn more about HFA, and still remain a great group of people if I just want to talk about anything.

If nothing else, just remember: you are who you are.  It’s not good or bad, it just is.