- Published on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 15:32 17 June 2014
- Written by ZOE CHOY ZOE CHOY
How a man with Asperger Syndrome sees the world
Growing up, Mitchell Roberts always knew he was different.
He had a particular way of interacting with others, and a colourful way of thinking.
"I never really considered myself that normal. You just know when you're kind of different, like cognitively, you really do. It's a prevalent thing, it affects every facet of your life, so you know," the 25-year-old University of Calgary student says.
Roberts was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS) a type of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) most commonly affecting social functions.
Hans Asperger, a Viennese child psychologist, discovered the syndrome in 1944.
Roberts has no cognitive issues, however he still believes his perspective of the world is different than most.
"I kind of define (Asperger's) as a filter that I see the world through," Roberts says.
"It shares a lot of the mental traits with autism. You're a bit more involved in the world but there's definitely just a different kind of brain wiring almost. Autistics see the world in a very different way, I think, than a neurotypical would."
The term "neurotypical" refers to someone not on the spectrum, or as Roberts puts it, "everyday people."
"I can definitely tell that I'm on the autistic spectrum. I have very different thoughts sometimes than other people," says Roberts.
"The people who are really close to me have always known that there was kind of a difference."
This contrasting outlook awarded Roberts with bullies throughout his school years, and despite being 25; he says he still experiences bullying today.
He credits this to the "very weighted word" of autism.
"It's a word mired in a lot of misunderstandings. People just instantly think of a person removed from the world, or selfishness, or tantrums, or just really bad stereotypes like that," Roberts says.
"They'll just honestly compartmentalize you into something and say that you have a disorder and you're weird and that's it."
Alexandra Prefasi, executive director of the Asperger's Society of Ontario, agrees with Roberts.
"Individuals with Asperger Syndrome can be greatly misunderstood." As a result, Prefasi says, "There can be barriers to education, employment, and community and social inclusion.
Produced by Zoe Choy
"A lack of understanding of the diagnosis and of the strategies that can be implemented to support individuals with AS can lead to a negative perception of the disorder."
Roberts says it is "still a very unkind world for people on the spectrum in a lot of ways."
He believes there are three main reactions from people when it comes to autism.
"One of them is — the best one — they kind of just accept you for who you are.
"The other one is they're going to kind of treat you almost in a different way — they're still, not necessarily aggressive towards you or anything but they'll treat you almost with special terms or something.
|Green and Blue: A poem by Mitchell Roberts
The majority see the world in green.
In reality, it's all kinds of colours, but the base is green.
You grow up in a green world with green parents, green friends, green schools and green speech.
It's so prevalent that the greenness becomes a part of you, a very deep basic part.
Naturally, it's the easiest thing in the world to forget that you see the world as green, and think everyone else does too.
But there are also those who see the world in blue.
Like the greens, since before they can remember, it's been blue.
It's fundamentally a part of who they are, like the greens, and it's the most natural thing in the world that they think others see the world in blue too.
But this changes for the blue over time.
They see that mostly the world is green, that they're different, they're blue.
Because of this the blues often decide to put on green tinged sunglasses from which to view the world.
For some greens, I'm sure these seem like enough of a solution, for they see the world as green.
It isn't though, and in their minds they are still blue, alone they are still blue, and when contemplating life in all its forms it is still in blue.
The glasses stay on the face though, because the blue know that the others see green.
So just remember, when you're so sure the world is green, there are the blue ones out there too.
"And the third way is just outright ostracization and aggressiveness, like, 'You're not one of us' kind of mentality and that's the one I unfortunately notice in a lot of people."
Prefasi believes this reaction is more out of ignorance than hostility towards those on the spectrum.
"Limited experience with individuals who have Asperger Syndrome, and a lack of understanding of the related challenges means that some of the behavioural expressions of people with Asperger Syndrome are misinterpreted," Prefasi says.
Despite this, Roberts has managed to maintain a positive outlook, but credits it to a "certain amount of fatalism."
"It's kind of the idea of knowing that certain things about me aren't going to change. You can improve to a certain extent, but I mean, it's a pervasive disorder so it's always going to be around," he says.
"There's really two options, I can just give up or you know, you can improve. Like ever so slightly, and over time you do get better with it."
Still, some days Roberts struggles.
"On these days you do get down on yourself. Failures, and other things, and a lot of undealt-with emotions kind of pile up and it becomes difficult. It's a paralyzing kind of thing," he says.
"It's almost even hard to get out of bed, it's very much like a depression."
He says although being labelled as autistic bothered him initially, he has since come to terms with it.
"There's a big movement for neurodiversity as opposed to just trying to fit in and be normal, so it doesn't bother me and I think I've come to be a little more proud of it."
Asperger's Syndrome in Mass Media
Television characters seen as having traits of Asperger Syndrome such as Sheldon Cooper
from The Big Bang Theory and Max Braverman from Parenthood, could have potential to help educate and bring awareness to the public.
However, both Roberts and Prefasi are wary of these depictions; saying while it does help provide greater awareness of Asperger's, Prefasi cautions it can also lead to a "skewed vision of the syndrome."
She believes these shows portray "the character's social and communication challenges in a lighthearted, quirky, endearing way — when in reality, the impact of some of these struggles on individuals with AS, and their loved ones on a day-to-day basis can be monumental."
Roberts agrees and says many media representations are "romanticized," only focusing on one aspect of a person's character and ignoring how diverse humans — including those on the spectrum — really are.
Referring to Sheldon, Roberts says, "They almost portray him like he is just emotionless and I have to say that's completely untrue.
"It sometimes appears that people on the spectrum have no empathy, but internally they have a lot.
"That's one aspect I think people don't know about people with Asperger's is that they are often very emotional people," Roberts says.
"It's not that they don't have the emotions, they just can't bring them out."
Roberts hopes the public will be able to see past the word autism, and be open to learning about ASD.
"There's all sorts of people on the autistic spectrum," Roberts says.
"I'm still Mitch, my own person, but there's just kind of a filter before that that I see the world through."