Daniel Wendler is the author of www.ImproveYourSocialSkills.com, a comprehensive online guide to social skills. After receiving his Asperger’s diagnosis, he embarked on a journey of social skills improvement. Today, he works as a social skills coach to share what he learned with others. Connect with him at www.DanielWendler.com, and check out his TEDx talk on his life with Asperger’s!
“Part of the problem with the word 'disabilities' is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can't feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren't able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”
- Mr. Rogers
I have Asperger’s.
And I wouldn’t trade it away if I could.
Asperger’s is part of who I am, in the same way that the sound of my laughter is part of me. Nobody laughs quite like I do, but it’s a sound that brings joy to the people who love me. And my Asperger’s makes me different from many others, but that just means I have something unique to share with the people I love.
Don’t get me wrong -- Asperger’s has brought me a lot of pain. I remember that when I was a child, I used to think that school was a battleground, and every other person was on the opposite army. I was bullied, taunted -- sometimes even physically attacked -- all because I didn’t understand how to “fit in”
But that painful experience is part of my unique gift, too.
The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said, “"The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.” Because I have been in the desert of pain, loneliness and depression, I can better care for others who are suffering.
When I see someone who is sitting alone, I know to sit down next to them, because I remember eating my lunch alone day after day. When a friend is terrified it will never get better, I can comfort them, because I remember being in that hopeless place -- and I remember it getting better. When I’m working as a social skills coach, I can take what I’ve learned about social interaction and share it with others, to help them find community and close friends.
In short, having a diagnosis like Asperger’s often means that you need to spend some time in the desert. But it also means that you will be able to offer something that nobody else could.
In many cases, your gift to the world is just the opposite of what your “disability” would predict. Just look at the eloquence of a man with Down Syndrome or the creativity of a blind painter. Or consider the story of Adam -- a nonverbal paralytic who became one of Henri Nouwen’s greatest teachers.
As Mr. Rogers said, the truly disabled are not those with a physical or mental handicap, but those that wall themselves off from love, joy and the beauty of being alive. And all of us have the ability to break down those walls.
No matter if you are Autistic or Neurotypical, you are not defined by your challenges or shortcomings. Rather, you are defined by the unique gifts that your life offers to the world -- the love you give and receive, the art you create, the sound of your laughter. The deserts you must walk through are small compared to the oases that you will create.