The Stigma of Being Autistic in Africa
By Tony Ogunlowo
I’m a freak: a freak of nature of no fault of my own. I was born this way. People avoid me like the plaque, not that I have anything that is contagious. I’m just slightly different in the same way some people are born blind, deaf or physically disabled and some are not.
But I’m the one who draws all the gossip, the stigma and the alienation. People don’t talk to me and I don’t talk to them. If we talk it’s simply out of courtesy.
I might be a handicap in your world but in my parallel world I’m a superhero with limitless abilities. Nothing is impossible to me. The average human being has about 50,000 thoughts a day: I have that in an hour! And all these thoughts need to be processed by my brain and filed away in the labrinynth of my mind under fancy file names such as; creativity, inventions, home GF, BFF, random, nonsense, WTF, social etc. I have near savant-like abilities and as a polymath I can give any supercomputer a run for its money any day!
Socially I’m very awkward and your jokes, sarcasm and small talk is wasted on me. Your social gatherings overwhelm me because my emphatic abilities go into overdrive. Too many people means too many people to sense and try to understand. I can read your body language, knowing who you are, like it’s second nature. Your loud music and bright lights disorientates me and disrupts my thinking. To me it feels like being a computer out in the middle of an electric storm. It short-circuits me.
My super-concentration is legendary and my high-capacity memory is many times more powerful than the biggest computer storage banks. I remember everything in full pristine digital content.
Logic controls my life and as a result the simpler the better. I live a simple and frugal lifestyle where need is minimal and ostentatiousness is non-existent.
I mostly live off-the-grid with my whereabouts known to only a few. Human companionship for me is not a necessity. There will be a few but not more than a few. Too many people around me causes me to shut down.
I am programmed. Like a cyborg I am programmed to perform specific tasks at specific periods regardless of the day, the season or the circumstances. I think you might say I live a Ground Hog Day, doing the same thing every day. As a result I have no concept of time. I am timeless.
Some people think I’m a mad man – or even a retard! To be quite honest there’s a thin line between what I am and being insane. My ways are erratic, eccentric and sometimes I do things that defy reason. Like a chess grandmaster I think fifty paces ahead and illogical actions or decisions made today may be in response to future circumstances yet to happen. With my mind I have the uncanny ability to out-think other people and most situations. This is how I think. But trust me I’m perfectly normal.
I have a mental disability. I’m autistic and can’t remember asking my mother to be born this way, but I was. It can happen to anyone. I suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome, or Geek Syndrome, which is on the ASD spectrum. Just like anybody else with a disability, mental or physical, I have to live with it modifying my life to accept my limitations. Just as a man with no legs has to modify his life and house so he can get around I have to modify my life to cater only for me. It sounds selfish but I live alone in a world that runs parallel to yours.
If I had a physical disability you would readily accept me – perhaps even cheering me on at the Paralympics. But because I have a mental disability you shun me. Why is that?