Labels. We use them all the time to describe ourselves. Sometimes they are family related: Mom. Dad. Sister. Brother. Aunt. Uncle. Sometimes they are career related: Musician. Fry cook. Cashier. Teacher. Lawyer. Nurse. Others we use to associate with a group: Deadhead. Geek. Goth. Trekkie. Cancer Survivor. Some labels are racial or cultural. Some are religious. We even use labels to describe how we look: Blonde. Towhead. Ginger. We use labels not only to describe ourselves but to belong to something bigger than ourselves.
When I label myself as a “Mom”, it signifies I have children and that I am part of the mom club. I understand stinky diapers. I can relate to eye-rolling tweens. I am proud to be a Mom. No one disapproves if I call myself a mom.
I can also label myself as “Wife.” I can relate to other wives when they talk about the give and take of marriage. I can associate with other wives as we joke about the ways our wonderful husbands drive us crazy. I am proud to be a wife. No one disapproves if I call myself a wife.
Another label: Registered Nurse. I understand the joy and grief of patient care, I know how empathy, compassion, and a sometimes slightly morbid sense of humor are a vital part of being a nurse. I am proud to be a nurse. No one disapproves if I call myself a nurse.
I could continue labeling myself with countless labels: Aunt, Sister, Friend, Hearing-Impaired, Bibliophile, Pet-Owner, Introvert, Christian, Liberal, Geek, Knitter, Writer, and so on. Even though these labels may not relate to each other, they all define me. The picture of me becomes clearer when more labels are applied. My niece might describe me as: My brunette, geeky, knitting Aunt who is a liberal and a Trekkie when she’s not buried in her books (bibliophile). 🙂
Labels are just another part of the way we describe ourselves to the world and the way the world describes us.
Aspie. That is another label I can – and DO use – to describe myself. I am an Aspie. I have Asperger’s. I know all too well how it feels to be socially awkward. I know the anxiety of being in a crowd around people I don’t know. I can relate to other individuals with Asperger’s as we share our experiences about life on the spectrum. I am proud to be an Aspie. I wish I could say no one disapproves when I call myself an Aspie, but that would not be true.
Learning I had Asperger’s was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I realized for the very first time in my life that there WERE other like-minded people out there. I had spent so many years trying to figure out why I wasn’t like ‘everybody else’. I had wasted so much energy trying to change myself so I would fit in. My Asperger’s diagnosis set me free. I finally realized that the traits that I thought made me so different were the same traits that were perfectly normal for a person with Asperger’s. I was normal. For an Aspie, I am completely normal.
When I told friends and family about my diagnosis, some said things like:
- “Don’t label yourself.”
- “Labels are for soup cans.”
- “Don’t let this define you.”
- “It’s probably best if you don’t tell other people about it”
They said it as if “Asperger’s” was something to be avoided. They said it as if being an Aspie was a negative thing.
That is so disheartening to me.
I have Asperger’s. I AM an Aspie. Medical science states that my brain is wired differently than those who do not have Asperger’s. Like my brown eyes and my light brown hair – it is in my DNA. Because Asperger’s is a neurological difference in my brain, it affects how I process information. Unlike being a nurse or a knitter, it isn’t a choice. Choosing not to use the label “Aspie” to describe myself does not make my Asperger’s disappear. Denying my brown eyes does not make them less brown.
No one would ever say to a person with Down’s Syndrome “Could you NOT label yourself with Down’s?” No one would ever tell a person who has survived cancer NOT to say they were a “Cancer Survivor”. I cannot understand why people ask us NOT to identify with Asperger’s.
To me, having Asperger’s is an important part of who I am in the same ways that being a mom, a wife, and a nurse are. “Aspie” isn’t just another label. It’s the casual term for Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome is a stiff white button down shirt. Aspie is a soft, well-worn cotton tee that you’ve kept for years. I can use the casual term because I am 100% comfortable with being an Aspie. Like that old cotton tee, I don’t care if other people think it isn’t perfect. It’s mine and I love it. I don’t want to change. I’m done trying to fit into the cookie-cutter Abercrombie mold that I tried to belong to for years. I’ll keep my soft, comfy tee even if it isn’t in style. It’s my style.
Being an Aspie means I am part of the larger community of people living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is a community where I am accepted exactly as I am, encouraged, supported, and loved. In here we share our weaknesses and celebrate our unique strengths. Many in our community have been bullied, belittled, and excluded by their peers, their friends and even their families. This community does not share the same social standards as the secular world. Superficial things such as hair, clothing, make-up, name-brands, socioeconomic status, and popularity which are so important to the outside world mean nothing here. Kindness, compassion, empathy, and encouragement are the traits that are embraced. I am in awe of my fellow Aspies. Even with all of the hurt and rejection they have endured, they keep reaching to others with compassion. There is an amazing amount of reception and love here. It is a community I am PROUD to be a part of.
I will not deny my awesome Aspie-ness because others are not comfortable with it. I will not deny it because I remember how lost and isolated I felt before my diagnosis. I know there are others on the spectrum who feel alone because they have been told to feel ashamed of their ASD. I have found that the more I talk out loud about being an Aspie, the more OTHERS talk to me about their children, their friends, or their spouses having ASD. These conversations might have never happened if I had followed the advice of friends and family who begged me not to “label” myself. I talk openly about having Asperger’s so people can talk openly with me.
I AM an Aspie and I am proud. If you have Asperger’s or if you are on the spectrum, you are not alone. Let’s talk.