About 1% of individuals have Asperger’s Sydrome or Autism. A generation or so ago, that would have been about 1 in 2000 people, and those people would often have been put into institutions because of their lack of communication with the world around them. Nowadays, psychologists recognise there is a spectrum from those affected with classic autism to those clever and quirky people who just seem a little bit different. They’ve always been around, though. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are both suspected of having Asperger’s Syndrome.Films and TV shows have portrayed characters with these traits from time to time (the earliest I can remember is Duffin Hoffman in ‘Rain Man’ playing an autistic man with a savant gift in mathematics). There’s also been ‘Adam’, a film about a young man with Asperger’s and his difficulty with relationships. Some TV shows have an Asperger’s character now too, and the most popular of these is probably Sheldon Cooper in ‘The Big Bang Theory’.The problem with the media representations of people with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome is that viewers may assume that all people with Asperger’s or Autism are like these film or TV characters. But that simply isn’t the case. And, while there is some fiction featuring characters with Asperger’s or Autism, there isn’t much. There are also characters who seem like they have Asperger’s Syndrome (Sherlock Holmes and Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but it’s not stated, and they actually seem more real to me.
There are a lot of myths about Asperger’s Syndrome. For instance, some people believe that people with Asperger’s have no empathy. However, they generally have very strong feelings and emotions, but they tend not to be as demonstrable as neuro-typical people. Also, it’s much harder for them to identify someone else’s emotions by reading their facial expressions and body language. However, once they know what the other person’s emotions are, they can empathise perfectly well.
Those people with Asperger’s experience things in a different way to everyone else. Senses are heightened, and can easily become overloaded. Imagine a shopping mall. Imagine how you would feel if the voices and footsteps of the people around you were much louder, the way they smelt was amplified, the colours of everything surrounding you much more vivid. And then being unable to understand the non-verbal communication directed at you by other people. It can be a confusing and frightening world. Our children with Asperger’s experience this every day. When they can’t cope with it any longer, they need quiet time to process it all. If they become unruly or have a meltdown, they are not ‘naughty’ – it is that they have been expected to be brave for too long.Though ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder, this is a misnomer. It ought to stand for Autism Spectrum Difference. Most (if not all) people with Asperger’s (and parents with kids who have Asperger’s) would not want to be rid of it. They do not want a cure. They want acceptance.
I wanted to write books with characters who seemed and acted real, rather than like stereotypes that you might see on TV. That way, readers would get a fairer idea of what it would be like to experience life like someone with Asperger’s really does. And that is what I think I’ve achieved with Stim and Kaleidoscope.
Author Kevin Berry shares with us his thoughts on writing about Asperger’s Sydrome or Autism, and how he chose to deal with these subjects in two of his books…