I remember the day last April when I heard this Professor interviewed on the radio about his diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome (AS) and what it meant. I just sat there open-mouthed. The fact that he was an intellectual, a fully-fledged academic even, who had been diagnosed in his late forties probably helped me. I am a granny of now 62, and I felt the beginning of yet another reckoning, a making peace with myself dawning.
As a social worker dealing with mental health clients since my fifties, I had already had many opportunities to reflect when thinking of individual clients’ issues — Hmm, I am a bit like that… And I tended to think of myself as borderline everything. Yet there remained something unfathomable — and here was something finally falling into place when the professor I was listening to said:
“… it is a gift as well as a disability. For example, if there is an elephant in the room, I will be the one naming it.” That certainly got my attention!
Later the discovery of Sam Craft’s work on AS symptoms in women brought even more fascinating material to read myself against.
My social awkwardness, my love for solitude and sense of meaning, my deep thinking and great difficulty with job applications (why are they asking me what is obvious from my CV?) and trouble to carry through with detailed small steps, a paralysed and dazzled approach to cleaning my home, and being easily overwhelmed if I don’t get enough solitude to balance busy-ness — these are all aspects I have since come to recognise as part of my being on the spectrum. I am as single-minded as I am stubborn, as sensitive as I am resilient and definitely best left to my own devices.
My way of looking at the world with a sense of meaning leaves me bewildered at the culture of commerce and capitalism: I know but still find it difficult to comprehend that others don’t see the absurdity of living without reaching out to and somehow living from a sense of a greater depth.
I love my ability to think of/in systems—since I have overcome the frustration that others don’t often see my point.
And now I can better understand how others often see me as somewhat disengaged and aloof. Peace at last — until I am in a busy city for days, tired and frazzled just as I was as a young woman.
The most difficult decision in my early thirties — to have my son move to live with his dad. This allowed me to be on my own, setting the scene where I could make discoveries and find inspiration beyond my dreams.
It was then, at 31, that I remembered I had had a vision of going out into the world on my own at the age of seven. Our learning-to-read book at school showed a boy who left his mother, walking down the road. Only he returned when she wept. I was then determined not to do that.
At the age of nine I had had an inkling of profound spiritual comfort. And with 25, I had begun suddenly, deep inside, to feel free from a neurotic pattern.
So, living on my own from the age of 31, I was able to explore and slowly develop a frame of living and of spiritual practice that fitted me and what I considered my calling.
At 50, I owned my love for performing on stage and received encouraging feedback about my stage presence.
After a study retreat of five years, somebody else has called a world noviciate, I finally spent several years as a peripatetic social worker in my fifties, towing my little caravan as my home from location to location in England.
For the last 6 years I have pursued a huge project of social justice and, I am not finished yet.
With all the fulfillment and struggle I cherish, intimate personal relationships have long become a no-go area and friendships rare but deep.
I know I am not alone in feeling that autistic traits with our unique gifts have something special to offer in today’s world where the individual is often solitary, perhaps forced to be so by international companies or political upheaval. In my mission statement, at the end of the retreat in 2004, I had already formulated that view from the perspective of the inner freedom gained at rock bottom of life. I can only hope that I have enough life left to explore and explain what some of this may mean to others.
My own being, a witness for and by my research and findings, as far as AS is concerned starts by not aiming to get diagnosed officially (i.e. beyond very strong indicators from several recognised online self-tests). It seems to me that the whole point of being on a spectrum is not to need to identify the precise niche or marker. But I know that others have good reason to feel differently, and that seems just as valid.
About Barbara Schaefer
Barbara was born in Germany has one son, a MA in Social Work, moved to Britain in her forties and spending five years in her North Wales retreat completing independent studies of philosophical theology with an MA. Expert Witness, emerging interests to further use her training in psycho/sociodrama, pursue creative writing, performance and abstract painting. Member of the Poetry Collective – DIY Poets in Nottingham, England.