I’m 24 years old. In 1994, when Asperger Syndrome was first defined, I fit the description perfectly. Since then, I’ve learned a lot of things: How to make small talk (I memorized the appropriate phrases); how to take regular showers (I incorporated the shower into my nightly routine); how to deal with sensory overload (cotton clothing is wonderful; so are sunglasses); how not to have temper tantrums (I finally mastered that at about age 17, but I still cry very easily, especially when something unexpected happens).
I’ve been trying to get through college since I was 16. According to my IQ, this should be very easy; but as is typical for autistic people, there’s more to it than raw intelligence, and that “more to it” (in my case, the special interests, bad time-management, and lack of flexibility) resulted in my failing in school around the age of 19, which triggered an episode of major depression, the worst yet, and put me in the hospital. (It took over two years to recover properly.)
The solution for a typical person my age, who failed in college, would be to find a job instead; but I’ve had a lot of trouble doing that. For me, the “easy” jobs that everyone else seems to do so naturally are more complex than calculus. I haven’t kept a job more than about three months. Sometimes, the sensory input at a work site (for example, a factory where I lasted only two days) is so overwhelming that I temporarily lose the ability to communicate properly because I’ve had to withdraw mentally.
Ideally, I would get a college degree which allowed me to have a job which let me use my strengths. I love science, and I’m quite good at solving puzzles and creating new ways to do things. I think I’d be a good engineer. This doesn’t seem possible, though; I can’t get any more money for college loans, even though now I have learned enough to pass the classes.
I am unfortunately also socially isolated. I have one friend who is also autistic; but he is only starting out as an engineer and cannot afford to help me. Generally one would go to one’s family during such times; but this also seems impossible to me because I had an abusive childhood and have no wish to return home.
What I need is a way to provide for myself; or a way to do so indirectly by obtaining a college degree that can allow me entrance into a job which utilizes my strengths. Ironically, with my love of puzzle-solving, this is a puzzle I haven’t solved yet. My dream is to be a rehabilitation engineer; to design devices that allow disabled people to better interface with the world.
However, I am seriously considering suicide. If I do end up without a place to live and without any prospects in life, it seems a logical response to die before I lose my home and the downward spiral becomes too steep to reverse. But until it comes to that last extremity, I plan to enjoy every second I have left and to explore every possible avenue of escape. Asking this question is one of those possible escape routes.
A: Dear Aspie-girl.
I understand that you are discouraged. I can see why you sometimes get depressed. But suicide is a drastic and sad solution. There are avenues yet to explore.
The first thing I want you to do is read John Robison’s autobiography, Look Me in the Eye. I think his story will give you some comfort and perhaps also some ideas about how to go forward. Like you, he has Aspergers. And, like you, his particular gift is mechanical aptitude.
There are many companies that attract and value people with Aspergers. Computer firms, engineering firms, research labs, places that design video games, etc. are logical places for people with Aspergers and an interest in mechanical things or science to work. Some such places have so many people with Aspergers working for them that they become known as “Aspie-friendly.”
You’ve been very conscientious about looking for jobs. What you didn’t know how to do was look for work that fits your special talents in a place that will accomodate your special needs. For example: You say you would like to get involved in engineering equipment for people with disabilities. Have you thought about finding a company that does that? You might be able to convince such a place to try you out as an assistant or an apprentice. If you have trouble knowing what steps to take to identify possible job sites or how to approach them with this idea, it might be very helpful for you to find a counselor or an advocate to help you figure it out.
There are now many counselors who are experienced with helping people with Aspergers negotiate the NT (neurotypical) world. I encourage you to do a web search for counselors in your state who can help you. (I tried it out by searching “your state, Aspergers, counselors” and found several counselors who specialize in the issues you raised in your letter.) In addition, I found several web communities where people with Aspergers are helping each other. There is no reason for you to go it alone. Once you have the right help, I think you will find a way to make a living that you will enjoy.
In the meantime, if you get discouraged along the way and start to again think about suicide as your only way out, please do contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800 273 TALK. There are people available 24/7 who can talk to you and give you some support during those difficult times.
I wish you well.
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Aspergers issues.. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 4, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/02/27/aspergers-issues/