I went to mainstream school, and I didn’t find out that I had Aspergers until the age of 30. Growing up, I always had a feeling that I was a bit different to everyone else, but I could never quite understand why. I managed to survive school and went to Monash University, where I studied mechanical engineering and aerospace technology. After 5 years of university, I went to work for Boeing, where I designed parts for the new 787 dreamliner. I recently quit my job in search of a more meaningful life and I went travelling in Europe for a year and a half. Since returning I have realised that I want to teach emotional intelligence to engineers.
My special interest is emotional intelligence. I am hyper-aware of other people’s reactions toward me. I notice very little changes in how others behave. Often I will notice an emotion in someone before they do. The stereotype that Aspergers is always some kind of emotional deficit is clearly wrong in my case.
The natural human tendency is to imagine that other people are just like us. As humans, we ostracise people when they don’t conform to the norms that we expect of them. Our society does this subconsciously: it’s not intentional, and they’re not mean people. But because I experience this every day, I spend a lot of my energy trying to not seem too different to other people. Trying not to evoke a negative reaction from people around me.
If you show a group of people a painting, some people will see the texture. Some will see the colours. Some will see the river. Everyone notices different things, and remembers them in a different way. Speaking positively about Autism is really important, because when you see someone who does something differently, it shouldn’t be seen as strange, or scary, or dangerous. It’s just a different way that someone else does things. If we learn to appreciate difference and diversity, then Autism is ‘normal’ again, instead of something that’s ‘wrong’.
We all notice things around us that are of interest to us. Some things we will notice and remember, some things we won’t notice and won’t remember. We notice the things that we’re looking for, but not necessarily the things that we aren’t looking for. With Autism, the kind of things that are noticed and remembered in our society are often negative. If we only pay attention to the negatives of the Autism Spectrum, we are missing out on a whole lot of opportunity.