I was not diagnosed with Asperger’s until last year, but I knew I was different long before then. As a child, I knew I was not like the other children. By the time I was in 4th grade, the school told my parents that I had completed all the reading comprehension textbooks that were available, and I was reading beyond high school level. They didn’t know what to do with me. To keep me busy during reading time, I was assigned to the kindergarten class to be a teacher’s aide. While I was proud that I could read so well, I didn’t like being different.
I had difficulty relating to peers. My black and white thinking made it difficult for me to understand the world of grey other children lived in. Other kids seemed to be able to throw caution into the wind and just play. Spontaneity was a foreign concept for me. I wanted structure and predictability. My ideal playground was a thick book filled with delicious facts about my latest obsession. Teachers didn’t help. They made the other children aware that I missed reading because I was different. Almost every day I knew I would hear “Does anyone besides Pensive know the answer to question 4?” even when my hand wasn’t raised. The intellectual gap between me and my classmates was a chasm that was often too wide for me to cross. Their thoughts seemed childish to me. I had difficulty understanding social situations and making friends. Although I was the first person others went to for help with academics, I was the last person anyone picked to play with – if I was picked at all. This is a trend that has continued into my adult life as well. I wanted to play, but I didn’t know how. I wondered if there was anyone else out there like me.
I only had to look as far as my television. There he was. Brilliant. Intelligent. Brave. Logical. Spock.
Star Trek. Boldly going where no man had gone before. In my mind, William Shatner’s dramatic acting style paralleled the way my peers over-dramatized their issues. Every. Thing. Was. Just. So. Darn. IMPORTANT! Captain Kirk’s actions were often guided by intuition and emotions. Like Spock, I often thought his choices were reckless and not well planned. He would get the crew into a dangerous situation and then rely on Spock to help get them out.
Spock, on the other hand, was exactly like me. He reveled in logic and information. Reading and studying a new subject was “fascinating”. He longed for friendship, but he didn’t know how to be a good friend. He never seemed to grasp the hidden social rules that dictate human behavior. With a beanie cap on, he could almost pass for human except that he couldn’t. His behavior and his manner of speaking would give him away every time. No matter how much he tried, people always knew he was different and they treated him differently because of it. Even though he was intelligent and had studied human behavior, he struggled with interpersonal relationships. He often did not understand sarcasm and inside jokes. I would even say he is a bit naive when it comes to human behavior. It annoyed me that Captain Kirk often appeared smug when he understood some human nuance that Spock did not. It felt like he was saying “because I am more human than you, I am better.” Sometimes I just wanted to wipe that smug smile off of his face. Spock was the only person I had “met” that was like me. I was certain Vulcans were real. I was certain I was Vulcan.
**picture description ** Picture of Leonard Nimoy as Spock wearing a beanie cap from Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”
I was also certain that my parents could not be my parents. My mother had an 8th grade education and I surpassed her intellectually before I completed 4th grade. My mother read and wrote at a less than 6th grade level. She relied on me to write letters for her and read road maps for her. A part of me viewed her as inferior because I was smarter. It was another example of how I felt a lack of intimacy and connection to other humans. I asked to see my birth certificate many times. I often thought I was adopted. I was sure I was somehow related to Spock. My parents assured me Vulcans were NOT real, and I was not Vulcan. With confidence, 10 yr old me announced that if I wasn’t related to him, then I would MARRY Spock when I grew up. I don’t think my parents had the heart to tell me that Spock was old enough to be my father’s father and the Star Trek I was watching had been filmed more nearly two decades before I watched it.
As I grew up, I realized that Spock (and Vulcans) weren’t real. Still, I loved Spock. Although Vulcans were not real, SOMEONE (Gene Roddenberry) created him. Maybe, just maybe, he created him after someone he knew. Someone like me. That meant that somewhere out in the big, wide world there could be another person like me. A real-life 100% human Spock. That gave me hope. The idea that there was at least ONE person in the world like me kept me going when I felt isolated and alone. I wanted to know more about the man who played Spock. In true Aspie form, I researched and read everything I could get my hands on.
With all my research I discovered I didn’t just love Spock. I love Leonard Nimoy as well. In real life, Leonard Nimoy is very different from the Spock character he portrayed. Spock focuses on Science and Nimoy is all about the Arts and Philanthropy. He is not only an actor and director, he is also a poet, an artist, a photographer, a women’s rights activist, and a very free-spirit. He is the opposite of Spock in almost every way. In his autobiographies, he discusses how he often had to fight to keep Spock true to his character. Writers and others involved with Star Trek would want to change Spock and make him more “human”, but Nimoy would not allow it. I can imagine it would have been easier for Nimoy to let others turn Spock into someone more like the man he was in real life, but Nimoy was a fierce advocate for Spock. I love him for not letting others change Spock. I love him for recognizing that Spock is perfect – just the way he is.
Every time I get a twitter message across my phone from Leonard Nimoy, I smile and thank the heavens that he is with us for another day. I really love that man. He invites the entire twitterverse to be his family – his honorary sisters, brothers, children, and grandchildren. He is the epitome of acceptance. For me, there is a symbiotic relationship between Spock and Nimoy with Spock representing my Asperger’s and Nimoy representing a person who has complete, unconditional acceptance for those who are different.
Just as the writers tried to make Spock more human, the world tells individuals with Asperger’s that they need to change and be more “human”. Before my diagnosis last year, I didn’t understand why I was different. I felt I was unlikable and unlovable if I tried to be my true self. I spent my life constantly evaluating and re-evaluating my behavior and personality to learn what I could do to make myself more acceptable to others. It felt so unnatural to keep changing my behaviors, but I longed for acceptance. I could not understand why others didn’t see the world the way I did. I could not understand why I didn’t see the world the way did.
I know now that my brain does not process information the way most of the world does. While the world processes everything in color, my brain processes information in black and white. I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully understand the complexities of interpersonal communications. Like my favorite Vulcan, I can study it, but I don’t have the same inborn ability to absorb it by osmosis as the rest of the world does. So at best, I can study it and provide a fairly decent imitation of it. It helps me get by in the world but sometimes I feel that I will always miss that connection that the rest of you have naturally.
Since my diagnosis, I have met many other aspies online and most of us share a common love for the logical Vulcan. We relate to him. We see ourselves in him. We see how the rest of the world loves and accepts him and we hope someday they will love us and accept us as well.
So, thank you Leonard Nimoy for being the free-spirited, kind-hearted person you are.
Thank you for all the times you preached against bullying or mistreating those who are different.
Thank you for portrayal of Spock and for fighting so hard for someone who is so very different.
Thank you for keeping Spock true to Vulcan form.
Thank you for the hope Spock gave me and the feeling that I am not alone.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
May you continue to Live Long and Prosper ❤
With love, from one of your honorary grandchildren,