An oldie, but a goodie–in honor of my boy-man hybrid of a brother becoming one year closer to becoming less boy and more man next week.
While growing up, it seemed every book, television show, song, and any other form of popular culture attempted to convey the same message: be yourself. Oh, and don’t be afraid to do so because everyone will without a doubt like you for you. Because if you love yourself and are brave enough to show your true colors, those around you will be more than accepting. At least that’s what happens by the end of those aforementioned books and TV shows. The problem is popular culture isn’t real life; not even close.
I’ve always felt like one of the outsiders in society. Granted, I’ve never been known for doing anything drastically outside of what society deems normal, but I’ve felt the various quirks and unique qualities that make me who I am place me a part from the rest—and not in a good way. I like in-person conversations and physical copies of paperback books. I don’t think leggings are a practical item of clothing and the idea of spending weekend nights out partying seems vastly irresponsible. Basically I’m a 40-year-old woman stuck in the body of a 20-something college student. When I tell people this, they just laugh or shake their head and assure me this self-evaluation isn’t true. That is until I actually disclose information similar to the items listed above. Then my observation doesn’t seem quite so unbelievable. As a result, it can be difficult to connect with my peers sometimes. Or all of the time. On the plus side, growing up this way has given me skills to figure out who truly accepts me for me. I guess you could say I am myself (though not the self society finds universally likable), but I find it difficult to feel comfortable doing so.
There is someone in my life, however, who, though also does not always exhibit socially acceptable persona, is completely comfortable with all of his quirks no matter the amount of grief he receives for executing them: my younger brother, Max. Why is he so comfortable? Is there some sort of secret mantra he chants to himself every morning while getting ready for the day? Does he a carefree attitude and simply doesn’t worry about what others think of him? Nope. No secret mantra, no special attitude, he just has Asperger’s syndrome.
Max wasn’t diagnosed until he was six. Up until that point, my parents and I thought he was simply a troubled, spoiled toddler, for he was an aggressive and disobedient little kid. This label was like an answer to my family’s problems. Or, at least an explanation. Some families might deny the possibility anything could be wrong with their children, but mine was more than willing to accept my brother’s disability. Honestly, the biggest issue my parents and I have run into in uncovering Max having Asperger’s is trying to understand what it is exactly. I still cannot explain all it entails (and I’ve lived in the same household with someone who has it for over almost a decade), but I’ll do my best.
When my mother first tried to tell me about Max’s diagnosis (I would’ve been 11 or 12), she explained him as being “socially and behaviorally behind,” meaning though my brother was technically six, he had the social and behavioral skills of a four-year-old. Hey, kind of like me! Although I tend to act older than I am rather than younger… No, I don’t have Asperger’s. That I know of… Anyway, though this made sense to me at the time, I didn’t think much of my brother’s disability. Until he got older. When he was an eight-year-old acting like he was six. Which, when you’re out in public with your family, may as well be any age five and under, and there are dozens of eyes glued to your spectacle of a sibling. Absolutely mortifying. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother, but during the first few years after learning of Max’s diagnosis, I wished for him to be more normal. Talk about hypocrisy.
In the time since, my family has learned how to live with Max; understand him, cope with his outbursts, give him the attention he needs, and for me personally, admire his ability to fearlessly express his quirks. Though his confidence is actually an effect of his Asperger’s rather than a personal choice (individuals with the disability are not influenced by their peers—they actually consider themselves to be what I like to call the starring role in a movie all about them where the other people in their lives are merely supporting characters), I still, to this day, envy Max’s ability to appear so sure of himself and his quirks—even if they’re what society would consider abnormal.
He wears a standard uniform of a plain blue t-shirt and denim carpenter jeans every day. Every. Day. He typically only eats one of the same four meals. He’s fond of initiating and maintaining conversations pertaining to whatever subject he’s most interested in at the time (right now, it’s LEGOs). Each of these quirks and more, though are undoubtedly effects of his having Asperger’s syndrome and though are perceivably abnormal to the rest of the world, are easily and innately executed, and consequently accepted by his peers. All because Max is so sure of himself—so caught up in playing the lead role in his movie of a life—and unafraid to be himself.
Anyone in the world feeling limited in how openly they can express themselves (like me) can learn something from my brother—or anyone with Asperger’s syndrome. These individuals are so busy living their lives and being themselves they don’t seem to notice the society surrounding them that judges others based on how well they fit the social standard of normal. They don’t allow the fear of rejection or the fear of being perceived a certain way to affect the way they portray themselves. It really gives the “be yourself” mantra an entirely new meaning. Life certainly isn’t like the all-accepting popular culture, but when your confidence is that of what an individual with Asperger’s appears to be, it may as well be.