I've been thinking a lot about my childhood self and how things have changed since then - how I have changed. It made me wonder how I could describe the difference between having aspergers as a child and what it's like to be an aspie adult.
I think I can sum it up in one word - responsibility.
As a child, however your aspie nature presents itself, you have little or no responsibilities. I would say that the big one for most aspie children is the need to go to school. The strain of school, the damage it can do and the way that stress can exaggerate the behaviours of aspergers, is often the reason why a fair number of parents decide to home educate their autistic spectrum children. (I'll go into home education more in a later post, as it is a very good way to look at aspergers and the effects of normal school).
So, to an aspie child, school is enormously important. It comprises a large part of their daily lives, and even if they enjoy it, school is something which has to be done, so it becomes a big responsibility.
As an adult aspie, it can be a whole nightmare of responsibility, depending on the lifestyle you follow.
As I've said before, I have a lot of different responsibilities, but so do other aspie adults. I'm talking about things that, if avoided, can make your life fall apart.
Keeping up the bills, running a car, raising children, looking after other people, holding down a job. Every aspie adult could give you a slightly different list of responsibilities, but if they have a mainstream lifestyle, they are likely to be looking after others, or being responsible for them in some way.
So, as an adult, responsibility is really foremost in the mind. It is the central hub around which your whole life revolves. You can never really forget it, even if things are going well. If you're lucky and have a job you can cope with or you enjoy, the responsibility element of work fades away a little. If you find being a parent a wonderful, life-fulfilling role, the responsibility of that can shrink compared to the benefits.
It never goes away, though. It's always there and you need to keep one eye on it at all times.
Unlike when you were a child, there is no one to pick up the pieces. Even if you have a partner to help you as an adult, or your parents still pitch in, you are still in the middle of life and expected to be a grown person who does things and can cope with things. You may have a moan or a fret and your nearest and dearest probably know more of your stresses than others, but they do still expect you to get up the next day and do it all again.
As a child you can have a meltdown and the worst that can happen is your parents will have a few more grey hairs or be judged, again, by the neighbours. As an adult, if you go for the full meltdown, you're likely to be carted off by the police or ambulance crew. Inside, the same emotions which brought you to tears as a child, they still mill about, washing over you, trying to take over and make you give in to the all-out pandemonium of losing control.
Mostly, as adults, we don't lose control in this way. We can hold it together long enough to at least make it home and hide in the bathroom. Sometimes you need to control this feeling in stages, so you do what you can where you can, perhaps by going into the car and sitting quietly or finding a less busy corner of the department store and pretending to look at things while you take some deep breaths.
The difference as an adult is not just that you know it will cause so much embarrassment and bother to be seen, on the floor, gnashing the carpet and kicking your legs; you are also aware that you can control it a little and don't need to behave this way to cope. You know if you can just make it to point A, then point B is over there, point C is outside in the car park, point D will be within sight at the traffic lights and point E is the blessed sound of you opening the house door. (This is a coping mechanism I'll cover in another post as it works so well for me, most of the time).
So, as an adult, we can persuade ourselves to calm down a little, or, more likely, to hang on for now, you can lose it later when you're alone. The difference here is that by doing this, you don't lose it later. You get past point E, the door closes and life is still there but the meltdown feeling isn't. At best, you're back to where you started - feeling sad or stressed and with your emotions under control but not helping you at all.
One good thing about having a meltdown is that even when you factor in the exhaustion which follows, you got those feelings all stirred up and thrown out of your system at once. The adult response means you don't usually get arrested, but you do have to carry on with the same feelings. It's a bit like the difference between a pan boiling over. The meltdown gets rid of the problem (the steam) all at once but isn't beneficial afterwards; the calmer adult is like lifting the lid to let out just enough steam so you save the peas and they carry on cooking. Better for the peas (the responsibilities), but much less good for getting rid of all that steam you built up.
The pan of peas looks like a bad example at first glance. Isn't it better to use that steam to cook the peas more quickly? Don't we want it to stay in there, not be all over he cooker with little blackened husks cooked to the bottom of the pan? Yes and no. The answer to that lies in how you view responsibilities.
When it comes to living life in a successful way, you need to cope with everything as well as you can. When you're living with aspergers, the responsibilities are always secondary to you, and the way you cope with things. The peas in the pan are important, but to an aspie the steam is always there, cooking or not and must be released or else we go very mad indeed.
This is partly a problem of perspective as well as mental and emotional health. From the outside, other people will see that responsibilities come first and the aspie needs to adapt and get on with it. From the inside, the aspie knows all responsibilities equal stress, so even the small ones, that they can cope with, become bigger than they are and intuitively linked to the bigger ones anyway.
The key, as an adult, without someone always there to pick up the pieces, give you support and tuck you in at night, is to recognise what needs doing when. This is the same approach as points A-E above. Use it for responsibilities too. A simple example would be, do not avoid paying your rent! If you run out of money, do not pay the Sky bill first. Know which needs the most attention from you.
If you're having a bad few days and want to ignore everything, ask for help. Other people can do a lot of things for you and sometimes you need them. Do not pretend it will wait or go away because sometimes it won't.
If you have no one to ask, be kind to yourself. Some things can't wait, but you need to be able to do them without making any big mistakes. If you have a few important things which need your attention, think a little about them and decide which is the most urgent. Stop, go away, come back. Do the most urgent part of the most urgent thing. Stop, go away, come back. When you're ready, repeat the process.
Responsibilities are never going to go away and, really and truly, if you had no stresses at all in life, you'd be SO bored. Honestly, I'm telling the truth here, you know I wouldn't lie to you! I know that things can be hard and stressful and you often wish you were like a child again, with someone else doing all the nasty stuff for you. I can't take away all the stress and I can't do the nasty stuff for you. But if you break it up into pieces, it will get done and by trying different ways of coping, you'll learn new tricks and new methods of doing it better the next time.
So, yes, the main difference between being a child with aspergers or an adult is the simple matter of responsibilities, coupled with the very complicated matter of still being an aspie once you're all grown up. That's the secret, folks. We may walk and talk and can cook you dinner, but on the inside we're still the awkward kid who laughed when nothing was funny in the middle of the school play.
Be patient and remember to ask us how we're getting on. And maybe when the rent is due.
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