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Living with Asperger's Syndrome

An "Ability," Not a Disability for this Gifted Teen

By Elsa Cremer

Matt is a 17-year-old senior at Perpich Center for the Arts High School. After several mis-diagnoses Matt was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (AS), a high functioning form of autism, when he was three-years-old.

I sat down with Matt, a tall, good-looking young man, in order to get a better idea of the effects that Asperger's and Autistic disorders have on individuals. I met him for lunch-- his choice was sushi, not surprisingly since he is intensely interested in Japanese culture and art. Matt is like all teenage boys, he likes video games, his favorite band is the Gorillaz, a popular techno/hip-hop group, and he loves the show Family Guy. He cracks hilarious jokes, some a tinge inappropriate but nothing out of the ordinary coming from a teenage boy. On the outside this seemingly, ordinary guy is just that, however, inside his head lies a sea of imagination, brilliance and creativity that spills out on to his canvas of choice; his sketch pad.

Matt's sketch pad, which rarely leaves his side, is a collection of intricately detailed science-fiction themed worlds, characters and ideas. Ask him to explain one of his pieces, and you will be pulled into an amazing scene that you can't help but fall and get lost in. Matt has such an extensive vocabulary, I find myself searching to connect and identify certain words and a few times I embarrassingly stop to ask for a definition.

When I ask Matt what his interests and hobbies are he rattles off a list. On the top of his list; drawing, painting and studying Japanese culture. Like many individuals with AS, Matt has a "splinter skill"; an area of extreme giftedness. His gift is in visual arts and creative writing in which he excels and focuses most of his energy. At the age of two, most toddlers are learning to grasp a pencil and scribble on paper. Matt however was holding the pencil like an adult and forming shapes. This ability continued to evolve and expand, and now Matt, an accomplished artist has displayed his work in several local galleries, won scholastic awards, studied art and culture in Japan and has recently traveled to California to meet a famous illustrator. "In five years, I think I'll be in Japan, living in my studio, working for a Japanese comic, a ‘Manga'." When I asked him if he thinks he will live on his own he replies, "Yeah, I'll probably want a roommate, you know, to socialize with." It is obvious that Matt is not afraid to conquer the world on his own, and although his parents are hesitant in regards to him living alone, the idea seems right on target in his mind.

Matt and I discussed the challenges that he has overcome in dealing with AS. He first clarifies that having AS is an ability, not a disability, that gives him a creative and unique edge. He says "Having to focus on a task and keep my mind from wandering has been a challenge that I have improved on and continue to work on…It is hard to start a conversation with my peers sometimes, and keep my mind from wandering on to other subjects…Like, ‘how ‘bout the weather', that's so boring, who wants to talk about that?" Instead, Matt wants to talk about his strong political opinions, his interests in current events, Japanese culture and art, or a funny clip he saw on You Tube. Although he admits it is sometimes difficult to relate to his peers, he is constantly working on ways to relate and interact with people his own age.

I asked Matt what the best part of having Aspergers is. He replied; "Being a unique, artistic, rare-breed, that is ineligible for the draft." Eloquently stated indeed.

Note: People who have AS are most often able to live normal lives. They most often have above average IQ's, are able to maintain relationships with others, live on their own and have successful careers. As with all people, those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders are all unique as are their talents and troubles.

For more information on on local resources, visit Autism Society of Minnesota.

Categories: Children's Health, Feature Stories, Health & Wellness,

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