The photo shows a girl looking through a camera. The surroundings look desolated. If it weren’t for the gravel road, fence and electricity lines you could think that the girl was all alone in the world. That she had fallen from the sky, alone with the camera and her own shadow. A traveler on Earth.
Glimpses of clear sky are visible inbetween light and dark clouds. The weather seems tranquil, not too warm but not particularly cold either judging by the girl’s clothes. A thick sweater tucked into a pair of jeans. She seems rather careless about her appearance, there’s a stain on the front of her sweater from and she’s pulled back her hair back into an unruly ponytail. Her nails are bitten to the quick and if wasn’t for the camera you would see a squinted expression. She finds it difficult to look into the light. Her hands hold the camera in a careful grasp, as the shutter button is stiff and her fingers weak. The effort from taking a picture sometimes pushes them off center. There is tension in the girls’ body. She is making an effort, doing her best.
It’s good to take pictures. The world is often so strange and hard to understand, she struggles to ‘get’ people and what’s going on. Pictures help.
She doesn’t always need a film to freeze the moment though, as her eyes notice everything and her brain registers every detail. Sometimes surroundings and situations – lines in the pavement, cars’ registrations numbers, the length of steps, knots in a wooden panel that look like eyes. She’s a finder, with a keen eye for patterns she quickly spots anything that stands out.
Sometimes her brain registers actions, her own or others’. Especially when she is upset. When she’s done something she shouldn’t or said something wrong. Strangely, the wrong things she says are usually something correct that she’s not supposed to say. Why not? Isn’t she supposed to tell the truth? Mysteries of this sort seem endless. There’s no way of predicting them, maybe it would be best to say nothing at all. If only that were possible.
Some pictures are words, a text that describes a moment or event. Words form stories. It’s fun to play with words, because words tell the truth. Words on paper are what they pretend to be. That doesn’t seem to apply to spoken words, people often say one thing but mean another. She finds that very hard to understand.
They say she began to talk when she was one year old and hasn’t been quiet since. That’s probably true, as the struggle to stem the flow of words is one of her biggest challenges. To try to keep quiet and not speak all the time, about everything, to everybody, interrupting anyone and everyone.
There’s just such a short distance from her thoughts to her mouth. And her mind is in fast forward. She notices everything, compares, classifies and interprets, in attempts to find logic. Make herself understood. Understand others. There is an endless talk show going on in her head and sometimes she just forgets to turn off the sound. She notices when people stop listening, sees their gaze turn away and is always a little bit hurt although she really can’t stop. She has so much to say.
She also remembers a lot of words that she doesn’t understand. Words in a foreign language for example. Long and complex words that will wait in her brain until she finds their meaning, often by chance, often years later. When that happens, a picture gets attached to the word and both find their correct place in her catalog.
The word ‘Asperger’ isn’t particularly long but it’s meanings are multiple. In fact the word is a name, a surname, as well as being used as a term to describe a syndrome on the autism spectrum.
Asperger didn’t exist in the catalog inside the girls’ brain. She would have known, as the layered significance of the word would have made it complex and as such, unforgettable. A word with a clear meaning, yet variable according to its use as well as depending on the individuals it’s used to describe.
The man Hans Asperger didn’t “have Asperger’s”. He was just one of the first people to link together various attributes of a certain group of people who had difficulties with social interaction while at the same time being rather intelligent.
Aspeger was in fact quite clever himself, but in a different way. He didn’t necessarily memorize the registration plates of all the cars in his neighborhood or store long foreign words in his brain to find their meaning later. And Asperger didn’t necessarily notice the girls, like this one, who were almost the same as everyone else, just not quite. Who learned some things at super-speed while struggling hard with others. Who hid their troubles carefully and pretended that nothing was wrong. Like this girl who did her best to fit in, with the aid of pictures and words and a brain that never stopped looking and categorizing and searching for patterns. Whose head was so full of words that they kept falling out of her mouth.
It took a long time for her to see that the word Asperger didn’t just apply to nerdy boys obsessed with computer games who don’t like the potatoes touching the meat. That it also applies to girls who hold on tight to their cameras like travelers fallen to the Earth and feel as though they’re just learning to speak like the natives. Act like the others. Appear normal.
Half a lifetime
Hans Asperger was around forty when he described the syndrome that bears his name. I was well past forty when I knew for certain that the lens through which I see the world was Asperger’s syndrome
I know a lot about Asperger’s syndrome, as well as many other things, but I definitely still have some revising to do on my ‘users manual’ and need to reevaluate quite a lot in my heart and mind. This blog will be part of that process.
I feel a bit awkward about not having found this out sooner. That I didn’t see how off center my camera often was. How different my point of view was often from that of other people. Systematically and unalterably. Firmly.
Yet I still think that the girl in the picture has done incredibly, incredibly, incredibly well. And I would like to reach back in time to hug the little traveler, pat her on the back and say: It’s going to be alright.