This blog is by Robert Louis Milanich, a 21-year-old Senior Musical Theatre Major at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of eight.
After the horrific shooting in Newtown I updated my Facebook status with the following:
"I have Aspergers alright... I never use it as an excuse. I never blame it for anything in my life... I live with it, and I control it, mostly.... Just because other people have it doesn't make them me... Doesn't mean their Aspergers is the same as mine... I'm awkward in social situations yes but I'm getting better, and I am pretty sure I no longer just blend into the background... I am not depressed, and I am not violent. So ignorant people before you start jumping to conclusions… can you please research first before you start pointing fingers and grouping people together. I'm not saying this is going to happen, but I know some people will jump to conclusions it’s human nature. But It's a spectrum… We are not all the same..."
As soon as I posted, I received comments from two different friends, asking me if I was okay, so I added:
"...This post isn't about me being down. This was in response to yesterday when some news reporters had confirmed that the shooter in Connecticut had Aspergers, and they said Aspergers makes people incapable of compassion and people with Aspergers can never be successful in social situations. That made me think, with this misinformation how will people now treat people with Aspergers? Will they judge people when they say they have it? Will they give them a chance to know them, or will they now live in fear? So yeah this isn't about me being upset but in a way I guess it is."
I was really surprised by the number of likes my post received, and I am really grateful for the amount of support I have both past and present.
But I didn't always have that support and I don’t like thinking about, or dwelling on, my past because of how dark it was.
Whether it was the problem I had with sensory awareness and overload, my inability to understand body language, my avoidance of eye contact, or the kind of noises and sounds that I felt were comforting… These things were part of why I struggled through most of the three elementary schools I went to and all of middle school. I think what caused me the most trouble back then was not understanding sarcasm or body language. It was a huge struggle when people were saying things sarcastically to make fun of me and I had no idea. Or when someone was upset with me and wanted me to back off. It wasn’t easy I will say that. There could have been many moments where I couldn’t take it any more, yet that never happened, despite being bullied every day from first grade on… In fact it made me stronger in the long run.
I don’t know what makes me different from other kids who struggle in childhood; maybe it was the help I had. The few friends I had, the great support I got from my parents, or even the start of my love for theatre, but I got through every single moment no matter how difficult or seemingly hopeless. And through all this I know why I am here today, controlling this part of me instead of vice versa. If any of you looked at me 8 years ago. I don’t think anyone would recognize me today, and there have been so many changes that have guided me through life, making me more confident and even more optimistic. And now I can honestly say, I don’t think I would have turned out to be the man I am today without all the trials and tribulations I went through as a kid, and the path I was following without even knowing it.
There was a time though when my family and I didn’t know I had Aspergers and many teachers and administrators just thought I was a troubled kid who did things to get attention. Once they learned what I had, I think their eyes were opened slightly, but they were confused and unsure about what it truly was, since back then Asperger's was only starting to be understood and many people, including my teachers, still didn’t know what it was and how to respond to it. My peers and fellow students didn’t know that I had Aspergers either, because no one informed them or helped them understand it, so the bullying and the sarcasm just continued.
So that is my main worry about the shooting; people are afraid of things they don’t understand. And if people don't know or understand, then spread those wrong views, you get a recipe for disaster.
Since the newscasters made that blunder about Aspergers, many of them have corrected themselves, and explained what Aspergers really is. But people are looking for something to blame for this awful tragedy, whether it is guns, mental illness, etc. And there are always certain people who won’t listen to anything and that is what I am afraid of. Because, we as humans as a whole, need something or someone to blame for this or any incident, to make people feel secure or at least so they can make it seem like they know why it happened
Since kids and teens with Aspergers are already easy targets for bullying already, why do we need something else to make it harder in our lives?
And by something else I meant the judgment that will be forced upon us, because of this horrible and terrible incident. And although we are grieving for the families and victims, maybe we can learn something from this. One, newscasters who are trying to get ratings by being the first to report “Information”, should not report information unless it is known to be true. And secondly, maybe this will cause people to not just label people with disabilities but look past them at the individual underneath.
So, I have to say, even when if feels like you can’t deal with things anymore and just want it to stop, there is always a way… Even when you are struggling trying to make friends and understand the neurotypical way of thinking there is a way. It may not be easy or fun, but there is a way to get through anything. Through all of my dark years I discovered there is a silver lining to everything, and you can and will get through with the right people, help, friend no matter how few they be, and a passion for life or something you love.