Funny word. Sounds smelly. That’s the first thing that came to mind when my dad told me I had it. I was 16. We were at an udon shop in Santa Monica that’s closed forever now. I can’t remember the name of it. I just remember the overwhelming feelings of finally understanding why I was so different all my life. Why everyone treated me so different.
And I was relieved, happy even, that I finally knew. But I was scared. I still am, a bit, to talk about this stuff. I’ve been keeping it secret for a long time.
When I was in elementary school, I did many things that were very abnormal. I’d draw for hours instead of playing sports. I’d give vastly different answers than my friends on my feelings. When they were happy, I was annoyed. When they were scared, I was excited. And when they cried, I was intrigued. My emotions were all over the place. But for a while, the other kids liked that.
I was a creative little world builder. I’d write stories about far off worlds and superpowered mice and they’d always listen. I’d play pretend with them at recess and keep track of every molecule of our imaginary worlds like I was seeing it instead of reality. I wanted to be a children’s book writer since I was 6, and this was nothing but encouraged by those who saw the real me.
But there were some who couldn’t stand me.
I was controlling. Obnoxious. Because of how my brain is wired, I couldn’t see what others were feeling at all, and didn’t care. I got better at it, but back then, I was a tiny, easily angered robot. Some adults, and their children by extension, were afraid of me. Disgusted by me. They told my mom straight out that I was damaged and they didn’t want me near their kids. My mom always fought for me. The world was always wrong. She sees the good in me to this day. My mom sacrificed so much to give me a normal life. Or at least one that was normal to me.
As time went on, this mentality of hating what was different gestated and grew. It came to a head in middle school. I couldn’t see that everyone was sick of me, and that my lack of understanding on how making relationships worked would lead to their patience running out. Some events that I’d rather not go into detail about traumatized me and robbed me of things I will never get back. I’ll just say that it’s the reason I can’t produce tears easily anymore, and why I wear glasses now. It’s to keep my eyes from hurting too much.
I was an outcast at school. I sat alone every day because no one wanted to sit with me. I turned to the internet. I created my stories and put them there. It was an escape from the reality I had made for myself. But I hadn’t learned. I was blind to the criticism still, and only focused on the good. It was all I knew how to do to keep me from feeling this new pain, but it was no excuse. In my stubbornness, I did things that pissed off people, and I ignored them when they told me justly. A campaign was launched against me and there are still remnants of it on YouTube to this day. It devastated me. Both reality and my escape were gone. I fell into a very deep depression.
As a small aside, I’d like to say that as time went on and we all matured, I made amends with most of the people from these days and I’m even good friends with some of them now. I realized that how they responded to my conduct had forced me to take a hard look at myself and do something that I should’ve done from the start: Watch, learn, replicate, alter, apply.
My depression had spiralled into the bad stuff. I don’t need to say what I did, but your guess is probably right. All I’ll say is, of course, absolutely none of it helped - it made it worse. I never did drugs or drank though, I wanted to stay me. Maybe that was respect clinging on. I’m glad it did.
Out of concern, my parents took me out of public school as a high school freshman and transferred me to an online school. I thought this was the end of my problems. Finally, I didn’t have to interact with people anymore. I could be myself by myself, and all of the people in my room would accept me. And for a while, that was enough. I was content in the safety of my chosen isolation.
But that didn’t last.
As time grew on, I stopped caring about my body. Why should I have, right? I didn’t have to keep up appearances for anyone anymore. And I took that as an excuse to never leave my room. My mom, bless her, she was so worried about me. She would force me to leave the house so that I at least got fresh air. We had screaming matches that I regret now. My grades started slipping because my depression paired up with my apathy. Nothing mattered, in the worst way.
And then, I started missing human interaction. The online classrooms didn’t let me meet anyone. I would chat nonstop with friends I had made in the past, desperate for the attention. I would go to the mall or the park or the pier and people-watch for hours to feel like I was part of society again. This lonely tactic may seem sad, but it was actually one of the best things I ever did. In watching people, I saw how people did things, and by some miracle, I learned. I never knew that you were supposed to make eye contact. I never knew that smiling was so important. I relearned how people walked, talked, conducted themselves, and most of all, how people lived.
I was such a fool. People had been trying to help me for years. They told me all of this and I never listened because I thought they were implying I was wrong. It took me seeing it all in action to realize it and finally accept that I could be wrong. And it was one of the greatest realizations I could’ve ever made.
I worked harder than I ever had to raise all of my F’s to B’s and A’s so I could transfer to the high school where all my friends had gone. That dream was realized when I was a high school junior. I was so nervous, but tear-jerkingly happy to be back. Everyone, to my surprise, was supportive. The new way I conducted myself was working. It was still me, just finally mature. I was accepted by the Drama kids, the sports kids, everyone. All because I realized the world isn’t here to make me happy. I’m here to make the world happy. And you know what? When they were happy, I was happiest.
From then on, my philosophies and ways about going through life only expanded. I had grown to think I had conquered my autism. I could be normal despite it, and everyone would treat me in kind. And because of that, I resented my disability and chose to hide it. I thought that if I told no one, nobody would know, and if nobody knew, no one would treat me different. Be afraid of me, treat me with kid gloves. Everyone would like me for me.
But I slowly realized in my 20s that it was no solution to bury it. If you like me, you like the syndrome as well. Because it’s a part of me. It’s probably what enables me to be ok at what I do. Every character I create, I use the same methods as I used when I was playing pretend on the playground. I’m better than I was too. I can understand and see a lot of emotions now. Not all, but more than I could.
I’ll say that I thought that admitting this publically would lead to me losing jobs. I sure hope it doesn’t, but you never know what people will do. Voice acting is about acting. Conveying emotion under imaginary circumstances. But could I convey emotion like someone without Asperger’s? I doubted it for a long time, and now I know that I should’ve never. Time and experience proved me wrong. I’ve been called an amazing actor, words I thought I’d never hear with sincerity.
All I’ve ever wanted was for people to treat me like any other. To look past what’s “wrong” with me and see the person. But I realized, it’s still me. I’ve always Kellen, the guy that 21,000 or more people have chosen to give a chance. This doesn’t change anything.
So you know what? I have high-functioning Asperger’s. I’m not dangerous. I’m not less. I’m not more. I’m just me. Treat me however you want. I don’t care - I’ve had worse. But if you treat me like a human, you’ll find one treating you the same. Same as I always have, no matter how you’re born, because it doesn’t matter. Acceptance is the key to peace.
And if you have autism too and you think it defines you? Limits you? I know you’ll hate to hear this deep down, but you’re wrong. You can do anything they can. Let them underestimate you. The impact will only be that much deeper when you prove. Them. Wrong.