That moment when someone says something so cringe-worthy about Aspergers, that you feel like dropping off the side of the Earth. And staying there.
I should add a few extra spaces here as we pause to remember moments when people we thought knew us well enough to know better said something so awful or inappropriate, we felt like we may as well have been on our own all this time.
Some of my worst moments have come when those close to me have talked about other people with Aspergers. There is a programme in the UK called The Undateables. Despite it's dreadful title, this is a pretty good show about people with all kinds of 'difficulties' who are looking for love. It deals with a wide range of conditions and problems in a sensitive way and is well worth a watch. Unfortunately, it sometimes makes uncomfortable viewing if you could star in the programme yourself.
So, I'll have watched The Undateables and identified strongly with that week's aspie (yes, they do often feature aspies, for some reason). I'll have watched them suffer with social situations, reading notes from their mother as to how to behave when they meet the date. I'll have seen them methodically offer flowers or compliment the other person on their jumper while fixedly staring at their left ear. I'll have wondered, more than once, if my voice does that when I'm monologuing but not have had the courage to ask IT teen.
Then, someone close to me will start talking about the same show. I'll know which aspie they mean before they've even got started and it won't matter if I say, Yes, I've seen it. Off they'll go, about how well the aspie was doing, how sweet they were, how funny they were and didn't they make a good couple at the end?
There will be anecdotes about how the person coped with things or what they said or how they said it. All the while, readers, I'm just dying off inside because the tone of the whole conversation is How Special They Are. And I don't mean special like people who rescue puppies or donate kidneys. The other kind of special, you know the one.
By the time they've finished speaking I am probably wearing the kind of expression that a) shows every muscle in my face is working well and b) makes me look like I just found half a beetle in my dinner.
Will they notice? Erm, well, sometimes no but mostly - and I kid you not - my expression is taken as doubt that they're telling the truth and I then have to endure, 'Oh no, it's true, they did do-' insert the difficult thing that proves aspies are not all hopeless at Life.
At this point, it's totally obvious that either the person has forgotten I'm an aspie or, much more likely, they count the one on TV as a proper aspie. You know, the kind other people have, the kind that need help with things and need dating behaviours explained to them and need to be told not to monologue with new victims.
Not the kind I am or you are, you understand. Not the ones who live in this world, with people who have known them all their lives and seen them struggle with coping, never seem to have a date and never know when to shut up if they have a new obsession.
No, the proper ones, who are on TV and have their various feelings and behaviours narrated, for the benefit of the audience who may need these things explaining so that they can understand and sympathise with the poor wee aspie on screen.
Sorry! I couldn't help it! I mean, really? They need it narrated and they see them as completely different from me who has, for your information, narrated every blooming difficulty I've had to people who should care enough to listen? Does self-narration not count? Is it not a real problem if I'm the one telling you about it?
If an aspie is able to speak for themselves, does that mean they can now go out into the world and manage without incident?
The aspies on the show do plenty of speaking for themselves, it's part of the programme's charm, but the narrator still steps in and explains things, in case we missed it, or to give the aspie's words authenticity. It's true what they said because the narrator repeated it for us.
If I were to meet any of these aspies in the street, would I need to have the narrator there too? Would we understand one another without the extra dialogue? I think we would and I don't think there would be any real difference between me and them. The main difference when they're on screen is that they open up about themselves and the camera singles out their reactions and expressions in a way real-life encounters can sometimes miss.
Readers, it's fair to say that I don't want people in my life to start talking about me as if I'm Special. When I've been on a puppy rescue mission or am inexplicably missing a kidney, then they can talk about me that way. But as an aspie, I don't want to be special and I don't want to be normal either. I just want to be treated like my awkward self, someone you maybe need to keep an eye on but otherwise just a friend.
I'm not begrudging the positive feelings other people have towards the aspies on shows like The Undateables or similar - let them feel as warm and fuzzy as they like. I would just like some recognition that you don't have to be on the TV to be at all lost in life.
Sometimes, it would be good for your sympathetic friends to turn their gaze on you, instead of people they'll never meet and see you as someone who could do with that extra hand at times.
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