TIPS FOR PARENTS FROM
AN ADULT ASPIE
My name is Guillermo Gomez. I live a life of
solitude, in an upstairs apartment, living on Social Security, paying
$140 per month in rent. I work part-time at a video editing suite
-- a very easy-going job. Some would call me lucky in that sense,
but all my life I have felt far from lucky, for I have been diagnosed
with Asperger syndrome.
I can't guarantee that everything here will be
of use to you, but it's a start.
Making friends has never been easy for me -- mainly
because I'm not good at starting friendships. It feels like so much
of an effort for me to walk up to a person, introduce myself, think
of a hundred conversation topics, and make that person like me.
The thought of doing so leaves me exhausted, and makes me feel more
like being alone. The fact that I live alone is both a blessing
and a curse. On one hand, I can stay home as much as I want, watch
TV, surf the net, talk on the phone, create animation, or anything
else I feel like. I have so much freedom that I often have trouble
deciding what to do next. Although I am 24, my emotional maturity
is at least 4 years behind my physical maturity. I'm higher-functioning
than most people with AS, but no matter who you are, a diagnosis
of anything will damage your psyche and your self-esteem for the
rest of your life.
How I learned I was different
In 1988, my parents took me to a diagnostic school.
I didn't ask them why, because I was only five, and I thought they
knew everything. I don't remember a whole lot about the experience,
except staying in a hotel bedroom with my parents and reading a
book about cats. At that point I felt just like a normal kid my
age, with normal interests, normal curiosity, and normal behavioral
problems. I didn't know that I was being diagnosed, because my parents
never told me why they were taking me to the school. What made the
diagnosis even more difficult was that Asperger syndrome wasn't
recognized until 1994.
My observations were heightened when I entered
the second grade at age eight. I was one year older than most of
the kids in my class. But I didn't really mind much about it at
the time, since I was pretty much learning at the same pace as my
Then, in 1993, an incident happened in this extracurricular
course I was taking over the summer. I don't remember all of it,
but I do know it involved the other students goading me into going
along with some troublesome activity, resulting in the teacher getting
very upset with me. After class on that day, my mom told me that
I had autism. I had heard the word before, but I didn't know what
it meant. Now I knew that it referred to my habits I couldn't control.
I learned that in preschool, I used to poke other kids' arms with
push pins, which to this day I have no memory of whatsoever. I also
learned that, in kindergarten, I used to nonchalantly wander out
of class and go outside whenever I lost interest in something. I
can sort of remember that.
Sooner or later, a kid with AS is going to know
that he has it. He's also going to learn whether it's a good thing
or a bad thing. When you tell your kid about what he has, make sure
you say it doesn't mean you love him any less. You're just curious
about why he behaves unusually, especially if he is unable to give
a good answer. Emphasize his good qualities, but don't be too hard
on him for his bad ones.
I've noticed that I don't function well in large
groups. There are so many people in them that I don't know what
to say unless I'm spoken to, and I have trouble following everyone's
lead if I disagree with it - which I usually do.
I find I'm more comfortable introducing myself
to females than I am towards males. In grade school, the lunch tables
were separated between a boys' table and a girls' table, and since
all the boys picked on me, I always sought refuge at the girls'
table, knowing they wouldn't hurt me. Like most women, I'm sensitive,
caring, and honest about my feelings, while most of the men I've
met choose to hide theirs. Many of the men I've met who are around
my age are either more mature than me, and thus condescending upon
my self-esteem, or just plain stupid. The only men I talk to are
older than me by several years, so I know they won't judge me. Another
factor that prevents me from introducing myself to other men my
age is, I don't want to come off as gay.
I have a tendency to be tactile towards women,
but only if I know them well enough to know that they accept me
for who I am. This doesn't always make them feel comfortable around
me, however, and it's that kind of communication I find hard to
read, unless they tell me explicitly how they feel. I think there
is no greater sensation than a hug from a woman, and not in a carnal
context: it's a sign of mutual respect between us, and it brings
me one step closer to understanding the way her mind works - which
can be a challenge for anyone.
I'm also not very good at making eye contact,
which puts some people off. Eye contact embarrasses me because it
brings back torrid memories of confrontation that will haunt me
for the rest of my life. It is also impossible for most men to admire
a woman's body and listen to what she is saying at the same time.
I have found a way to do both, but everyone agrees that the eye
contact could be better.
In California, it's very hard to meet other people,
unless you're a social drinker, an anime fan, or a swinger. I've
tried to be two of the three, and none have worked - I have no desire
to consume alcohol.
My bad habits are numerous, and I can't remember
all of them, although I'd like to. Since I hate making mistakes,
I have a bad habit punching myself in the head when I get really
frustrated (though I haven't done that in awhile). I also like drawing
on the walls of my apartment, as well as on classroom tables. Some
people think of this as vandalism, but I enjoy it because there
is something different about drawing on wood as opposed to drawing
Tell your kid it's perfectly okay to have certain
habits, but first you yourself must weigh them on a scale to balance
out which habits should and shouldn't be controlled. Also tell him
to ask others if anything he does bothers them. It might also help
if you inform others about his condition in advance, so they'll
know enough beforehand to ask him nicely to behave.
Getting in trouble
I have never been comfortable with getting in
trouble. In school, I always tried as hard as I could to follow
the rules, but somehow I have always ended up getting caught for
doing wrong. And even when I didn't get caught or punished, the
guilt still ate away at my conscience. Even though I strived to
be a good kid (and the teachers knew that), I always got punished
harshly whenever I violated school policy. I remember one particular
day in second grade when I was to sit in detention with some other
kids, for a rule I didn't remember breaking. During our time in
detention, we were supervised by an assistant principal, who gave
us a stern lecture on how bad we were, and how we could end up in
juvenile hall if we didn't shape up. I couldn't believe I was hearing
this, because I didn't think I deserved to be talked to in that
way. But slowly I accepted the impression that I was a bad kid,
and that impression comes back to haunt me to this day.
Whenever your kid gets in trouble, let him know
that he did a bad thing, but always make it clear that he is still
good people and that you respect him. "Love the sinner, hate
Besides my grammar and typing skills, which are
evident from this article, there are a few other things I'm good
Living on my own
For the past few years I've been living by myself
in an apartment. I do everything I can to take care of myself, which
includes cooking, shopping, managing money, and cleaning house (though
the last one isn't my favorite). Many think it's amazing that I
can be that functional, but I don't think it's anything to make
a big deal about. Sometimes it feels like I'm getting complimented
for doing something anyone could do, which doesn't seem fair.
Expressing my feelings
I'm straight-forward when it comes to the way
I feel around someone. (And yet, I come from a family that usually
keeps their feelings hidden in favor of not spoiling the party.
More on them later.) Yet, I am still unsure whether this fits in
the category of strength or weakness, because saying how I feel
can be helpful to others, but at the same time it can also be a
My junior/high school life
From sixth grade onward, I lost my innocence.
Everything I had learned about life so far had been proven to be
wrong. The things I went through made me feel bitter, more repressed,
and less eager to get to know people.
I went to high school in Aptos, which is located
in Santa Cruz County. The population consists of surfers, skateboarders,
wannabe models, real estate developers, pot smokers, spoiled rich
kids, musicians, drama queens, environmentalists, and other degenerates.
Everyone knew each other since they were little, but I didn't know
as many of them, so throughout the entire period I always felt like
"the new kid," and was treated as such. I always made
an effort to be nice, especially towards the girls, but I was so
nice that many of my peers had a tendency to walk all over me. The
boys would often call me "gay" because of my nickname,
Guille (GEE-ay), and I never understood why they got more dates
than me. (Another one of the nicknames they gave me, though not
out of hatred, was "Mullet" because of my hair, which
was long, but was not a mullet.) On the plus side, I effectively
grew more skeptical towards many of the "advances" made
If you can, home-school your kids, or put them
in a private school. Don't force them to want friends. If they want
friends, put them in a situation where they might be able to find
some, and they'll learn the ropes on their own.
Students from all walks of life would tease me, from the dumbest
punk rockers to the occasional honor students. Even several students
whom I thought were my friends would be hard on me. And when I objected,
they laughed at me further and accused me of not being able to take
a joke. It was so bad that I became used to not defending myself,
knowing that talking to them wouldn't make them harass me any less.
I would retaliate sometimes, but in retrospect, that probably wasn't
the best idea.
Make sure your kid is able to distinguish between
what is teasing and what is not. Don't describe it in black-and-white
Another thing that made me unpopular was that I got a kick out of
getting other kids in trouble, whether or not the conflicts had
to do with me. I wasn't trying to be mean -- I was just making sure
everything was right. (It seemed that everyone else had a different
definition of "right.") Moreover, I was so concerned about
getting in trouble myself, that I did the best I could to uphold
the rules. Thus, in a very small way, the school system was responsible
for my pushover disposition, because they always told me to report
anything to them that went wrong. They knew that since I was disabled,
they didn't want to look bad for letting mistreatment of me slip
by. Along with my parents, they made such an emphasis on my education
that they didn't give me enough advice on how to defend myself.
They didn't tell me to say things like, "I'm a person too,
and you have no right to harass me."
If your kid gets harrassed, teach them how to
deal with it. Show them how to be peaceful and nonviolent, and make
sure they can determine when it is necessary to ask for help.
Eventually, I too became more focused on my education to the extent
that I took summer school, so I would have the chance to graduate
a semester early and get the hell out of school -- especially since
I was at least a year older than most of my peers, which was ironic
to me, because I was older, but not wiser, than them.
To this day, I still have a bitter attitude towards
people in general, with the impression that everyone thinks they're
better than me. I am reluctant to set foot in Santa Cruz County,
but whenever I do, it's usually to see my parents or my small group
-- which I will discuss in another chapter.
Once puberty hit, the girls became so attractive
and beautiful that I was at a loss for words. The most I could do
was say things like "You look pretty today."
From the end of 7th grade onward and throughout
all of high school, I had a huge crush on a girl named Meghan. She
was the most beautiful thing I had ever set eyes on at the time,
and she was also nice to me. I would become smitten when she greeted
me with that smile, and asked me how I was doing. She would even
defend me against harassment, albeit lightly, by telling others
to "be nice." But the more I tried to get to know her,
the more I stumbled, and a budding friendship that could have grown
into a bigger one ended up being pushed further back. It started
when I called her on the phone and talked to her regularly, since
I thought that was what friends do. Then one time when I called,
her mom answered the phone and told me she didn't want me calling
her daughter anymore. I couldn't figure out why. I tried talking
to Meghan in person whenever I could, but she was always talking
to someone else (usually one of my dominant-type male enemies),
and I didn't want to impolitely interrupt, so I almost never got
my word in edgewise unless I approached her when she was alone.
(One time I even had to arrange a time with a counselor for the
both of us to talk.)
One night, my mom had the perfect opportunity
to meet Meghan's mom. It was a ceremonial reception for the California
Junior Scholarship Federation. My name was to be called, and I was
to be given a medal (or certificate, or some other prize). But somehow,
my name wasn't called. This angered my mom so much that, during
the intermission, she decided to approach the principal and assistant
principal to talk to them about it. I tried to tell her that Meghan's
mom was also here, but she didn't seem to care. She was more focused
on my educational achievements than on my love life.
If your kid develops a love interest in someone,
talk to him regularly about it, for yours and his sake. Ask him
questions about how he shows love, what he thinks will happen, and
what usually does happen, before you give your own input. Talk to
the parents of the girl, if you can, to clear things up.
Everyone seemed to know that I had a crush on Meghan, and had a
tendency to accuse me of stalking her. It felt so unfair not getting
a chance to learn about this intriguing girl. But I tried my best
to show how I felt through ways like cards and dumb poetry. Finally
in junior year, I told her I loved her. She said I could talk to
her any time, which at the time I thought was great to hear. However,
even though she seemed eager to keep in touch with me after high
school, I have had little luck doing so. And since I gave more kindness
than I received, I now begin to question whether she really liked
me. To this day, unless she and I get a chance to talk things over
about what all happened, the respect I once had for her continues
Teach your kid that true love doesn't come easy,
especially at this age. If he is accused of sexual harassment or
stalking, listen to both sides of the story. Try to arrange a meeting
for all involved and resolve the conflict maturely.
Track and field
One of my most troubled experiences was being
on the cross-country team in 8th grade. I didn't see why my mom
signed me up - I wasn't into sports at all. I only ran for protection
against an assault. But my mom thought that being on the track team
would help me make friends, get exercise, and feel better about
myself. (She later recalled that she wanted to "leave no stone
Instead of happy, the track meets left me exhausted,
looking forward to going home. Plus, the kids were too competitive,
saying they could run faster than me, which didn't feel good to
hear. There is also one event I will never forget. At one track
meet, I was in a race, when I got so tired I had to slow down, or
my heart would burst out of my chest. My mom was nearby as I passed,
and she had an unforgiving look on her face. She desperately wanted
her son to be normal, and I had failed. There was nothing she could
do but give me the finger. Later on that night, she talked to me
about it, and apologized, saying she came to the realization that,
if sports didn't make me happy, they were definitely not for me.
She concluded that drawing is my thing, and said I should stick
If your kid doesn't like something, there's a
good chance he never will, especially if you keep pushing it upon
him. Leave him to find his own interests and he'll be happier about
My experience with the peer counseling staff began
in my freshman year. Robbie, a senior, was to be my counselor. We
talked a few times about stuff I was going through. Since he was
so easy to talk to, I eventually invited him to go see a movie with
me. He declined, saying it would be "out of bounds." That's
when I realized that ... People with AS don't need counselors. They need
friends. A counselor can't be your friend. True friends can't be
Even though I was stepped on, I still had things
to say. And I expressed them in the best way I knew how: a newspaper
comic panel called "Here to There." I described it as
Boy Meets World meets "The Far Side." Much of the humor
was based around the foibles and farces of high school life from
the students' point of view. It was more of a labor of love than
an actual requirement, because my cartoons, while respected by the
student newspaper staff, rarely got published. Whenever they were
seen, they got people talking. Some understood my sense of humor
(adults especially); others didn't. Some of my jokes, including
one about pimping the cheerleaders, offended a few people, but I
didn't care. Through my art, I was becoming recognized as someone
who deserved respect. (In one of my yearbooks someone wrote "Keep
telling it like it is.")
My parents noticed how hard it was for me to make
friends once I entered high school. In grade school it's different:
all the students still have a bit of innocence left in them, so
it's easier to relate to one another. From high school onward, it's
easier to become more vicious and unforgiving towards those who
You might say my diagnosis of AS expanded the
social horizons of my parents more than mine. They got to meet other
parents of kids with AS, and thought it would be good for me to
be with them. I wasn't too comfortable with this idea for the most
part, because most of them were even more severely affected than
I was, so I still felt different in a bad way.
People with AS may not like to be around their
own kind. They want to feel as if they're one with everyone else.
I also participated, for less than a week, in a class of disabled
students during the first part of my sophomore year. I felt like
I wasn't being challenged enough, so i quickly switched over to
a PE class, which wasn't much better, but at least I got it out
of the way.
There were several occasions when my parents would
hire university students to instruct me on how to interact with
people. And that was all very well, but I still felt socially inadequate
compared to them. They weren't treating me as one of them. And at
the same time, I didn't really have much enthusiasm for the activities
they helped me take part in. For these students were from UC Santa
Cruz, haven for environmentalism and open thought - two things which
were not applicable to my narrow psyche at the time.
For the most part, I do not consider the internet
a good place to meet people. The main reason I started posting on
online forums was to expand my media collection, and catch up on
the TV shows I had missed out on (I grew up without cable).
In 2003 I joined a Muppet fan forum called "Tough
Pigs," which is run by Danny, the creator of this and other
fine Wikis. Many of the members there are based on the east coast,
and have known each other for over seven years - some even longer.
Danny refers to them, good-naturedly, as the "StupidFriends"
because many of the people in this group have a tendency to laugh
at anything. The group is so tight-knit that members have made cult
hobbies of joking about anything posted on the forum, playing with
cheap puppets or dolls, and drawing kid-like drawings with crayons.
As hard as I try, I can't make heads or tails of such activities.
And I can't be funny online, except occasionally in AIM. Every time
I try to be funny, I wind up having to apologize for it. Most of
what I post about on that forum has to do with history, or sharing
a hard-to-find artifact, or something in the news. Apart from those
things, there are times when I can't figure out what they like about
me. Compared to them, I feel so boring.
I learned more about the group when I participated
in a get-together three years ago, which took place in New York.
I thought it would be fun meeting these people whom I knew by words
but not by face. For the most part, it was fun, but I felt like
a stranger at times. For example, one night I wanted to show everyone
the DVDs I had brought with me, but they wanted to play "Muppet
Party Cruise" on the Playstation 2 instead. I played some of
it, but since I don't own a PS2, I felt like a disoriented tourist.
I also didn't have much fun when we went out exploring toy stores,
because I'm not a toy collector. Once again, I was the "new
kid." But I also got to bring my video camera and be a fly
on the wall for some of the duration we stayed in the hotel room,
and that video became a widely-requested item which I was glad to
Last year, I decided to try going to an exotic
dance club, not to look for sex, but just as a way to meet people.
I went with my friend Christian. We both had a good time, and I
was so excited about the experience that I posted about it on the
forum. I got good feedback, but then someone (whom I'll refer to
as D.R.) described his own similar experiences, which condescended
mine, and he ended up getting his own praise, which offended me.
It was supposed to be a thread about my personal growth, and he
turned it into a thread of his own victory. What's more, it made
me realize, to my detriment, that I was trying to be something I
was not: a hipster. His words of "wisdom" made the idea
sound futile and boring to me, which I realized the next two times
Christian and I went. I told him as politely as I could that I didn't
need to hear his story or his advice, and everyone accused me of
overreacting. That's when I decided to stop posting on forums regularly.
It didn't matter to me that he was trying to help - if D.R. wasn't
going to see the wood for this growing tree, he wasn't worthy of
being my friend. To this day I still communicate with some of the
members through other ways, and I still think of Danny as one of
my best friends.
How I've evolved
When I moved to Sunnyvale, my mind was still set
in high school. Now, nearly five years later, I've matured in several
ways. I'm better at solving problems, I'm more assertive, and I
know what to look for in other people. Then again, I'm still silent,
keeping to myself most of the time, just a fly on the wall. But
I call this being "observant" - not necessarily secluding
myself from everyone around me. I consider myself approachable,
but I don't always look that way.
There have been a few things I've done which amaze
even me, and may amaze you.
During my first regular quarter at DeAnza, I met
a girl named Jackie. I would stop and talk with her whenever I met
her on campus, and she seemed like a nice person. Unfortunately,
that's pretty much the most I ever did with her, due to something
I did that changed her life. I walked up to her one day and noticed
she was writing something in a notebook, which turned out to be
a love letter to this boy she noticed nearby. I suggested that she
go introduce herself, but she was giddy and embarrassed, calling
herself a dork. I told her she had her heart set on a good thing,
and that she should ask herself why she deserves to be his friend
in the first place. The next few times I saw her, I learned the
two had hit it off, and were now dating. Because of that, she had
little free time to hang out with me, even though I was somewhat
eager to join her group. I know I did a good thing, but I find it
hard to forgive myself for not being straightforward and doing the
opposite of what I did.
onclusion: How I cope
Like most people, with or without AS, I am embarrassed
by most of the things I did as a kid. In fact, I regret ever having
been the age of 2 through 12. When I think of everything awful about
me that my family had to endure -- not to mention my peers, the
authority figures, and the bureaucracy -- it's enough to make me
wish I didn't exist.
However, there are two major things I did during
those years that I don't regret at all. The first one is watching
Sesame Street. It's one of the best shows I've ever seen (especially
since I didn't grow up with cable), and it's made me a better person
-- even in adulthood. Through the process of "tape trading,"
I have managed to collect many episodes from the show's very beginning
to the early 1990's. By doing this, I've recaptured 99% of my best
childhood memories - and even discovered many that I'd never seen.
It is still an ongoing hobby of mine to collect as many old episodes
as I can find -- it's like going on a treasure hunt.
The second thing I don't regret doing is drawing.
I've been doing it since I was seven, and I know it's the thing
I was meant to do, because I always felt good while doing it. Even
though most of my early age stuff is embarrassing for me to look
at, I figure, hey, all artists have to start somewhere. I love sitting
down at my animation table with a really good pencil, and drawing
something in my own original way.
to go to the home page of this website: www.autism-help.org
This story is under the GNU Free License Agreement and is adapted