For those of you with Asperger's or autism, do you remember what it was like when you first got your diagnosis? For parents, have you wondered what was going on in your autism spectrum child's head? Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg's new book "The Uncharted Path" explores these questions and more. Cohen-Rottenberg was 50 years old when she was first diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Her book is a wonderful and insightful exploration into a childhood living with undiagnosed Asperger's, and what it means and feels like to be an adult woman living with autism.
Cohen-Rottenberg always felt the odd one out at school, never able to make friends like all her peers seemed to be able to. The behavior of other kids was confusing and frightening to her. Nothing made sense. High school was an even more difficult and overwhelming place to be. Cohen-Rottenberg tried to mask her social deficits by copying the behavior of other girls, and to an extent, it worked. The many problems she had with the social world, however, persisted. College was an overwhelming place where she felt like an alien and no idea how to interact with others. So Cohen-Rottenberg escaped to Berkely, California, where she found a more accepting culture and group of people. Eventually, she found a successful career as a technical writer and got married. And then, at age 50, came the diagnosis. And that changed everything.
Cohen-Rottenberg's strength in this book is being able to let you get into the head of someone with Asperger's, and show you exactly what they think and feel. Others with Asperger's will gasp in recognition at so many descriptions that so well parallel their lives. Friends and family will gain much needed insight into their loved one. Cohen-Rottenberg is emotionally honest and skilled at relaying the stories from her childhood and adulthood that made her the person she is today. She aptly conveys what it is like to discover at age 50 why you have felt different from your peers all your life, and engages the reader fully as she describes how she had to learn to accept that her life was actually going to be a lot different than she planned it. She leaves no holds barred as she talks about the puzzling conundrums that come with an Asperger life.
"Unless someone tells me so explicitly, I cannot tell whether a group has accepted me. And even if someone tells me outright, how will I know that tomorrow that acceptance will remain? Certainly, I can look back and see that yesterday people liked me. They smiled at me. They joked with me. They gave me compliments. I felt reassured. But what about today? It’s a whole new day. What if today is the day that I screw up and have no idea that it’s happened? What if today I make a mistake, and I’m cast out?"
"Okay, smile. Make eye contact…No! No! Not that much! Pause. Say something helpful, but don’t jump in too fast…Wait…Wait…Now! Say something clever…Very good.People laughed…Now, make more eye contact…Okay, good. Act like you’re following the conversation…What? It’s winding down already? How do I exit gracefully? Help!Help!…Um…er…Time to walk away? Okay. I’m walking away now…Why do I always feel like such an idiot?"
Ultimately, though, Cohen-Rottenberg's book, "The Uncharted Path," is about coming to terms with a life that you never expected would happen. It's about learning to reframe who you are, and reframe your sense of self. It's the fine art of learning to change your expectations of how much you will be able to do at any given time, and not hate yourself for your limitations. It's the struggle of looking at your peers, and trying with all of your heart not to compare yourself to them. To accept and love yourself for your own unique gifts and strengths, instead of always wanting what everyone else has. This is a theme that will resonate with people far and wide - How do I accept myself? How do I come to terms with who I am? You don't need to be disabled or autistic to realize that Cohen-Rottenberg's words speak to the human condition that we all find ourselves in. A highly recommended read.
"I’d never wanted to be famous, but I once was full of promise. Could I have done the work my former classmates are doing? No, I couldn’t have—and yet, I can’t quite grasp why not. Intellectually, I know all the reasons: I know that raw intelligence isn’t everything; I know that I don’t understand or respect social politics; I know that I get overloaded in groups of more than two people. I know all of these things, but I still can’t quite understand what’s happened. The gulf between who I was supposed to be and who I am is so deep and so wide that mymind still can’t take it in and make any sense of it."
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg writes about her life on her blog "Journeys with Autism," which can be found at http://www.journeyswithautism.com. To purchase this book, you can email her at Rachel@journeyswithautism.com
If you like this, please be sure to visit my other website, Accepting Asperger's. A lot of my older writing is stored here, including an editorial I once wrote for the Baltimore Sun. Click here to see it: Accepting Asperger's.
What's it really like to be a 20 something with Asperger's? On this blog, I hope to explore that question. But this blog is not just limited to an audience of people in their 20s - this is for anyone who ever wanted to know anything about autism. I plan to delve into the nature and experience of autism, and examine it from as many angles as possible. I would like to start a conversation between people with Asperger's or autism, parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who just wants to know more. Let's explore what autism means, together.
My goal is to start a discussion on and build a community of people affected by autism - parents and adults with ASD - so feel free to leave your two cents in the comments section of any post. If you're too shy for that, however, or want to speak to me personally, you may feel free to email me at KGoldfie@gmail.com.
Asperger's Book for Sale
Common Scents: Adventures with Autism and Chemical Sensitivity" is the story of a young woman's search for physical and emotional safety as she journeys through the mountains of the Cascades, small coastal towns on the Oregon coast, and out-of the-way towns in upstate New York. Along the way, she experiences things she would never have dreamed possible had she stayed in her Maine hometown, and begins to learn the power of human connection.
Common Scents is the story of the last three years of my life. It gives a gripping view of what it is like to experience the world as someone on the autistic spectrum, and some would say, is an entertaining travel story as well. Because of chemical sensitivities, I engaged on a three year journey for a place I could call home.
Comments from readers:
"The Asperger's element is remarkable. I feel that I understand my son better, so much better. I laughed at this part.... because I've stared at my son in the same way for the same thing." - mother of an Asperger's kid
"Your writing style is SO engaging and interesting. It brings me right into the subject and I always experience a little emotional punch towards the end. In other words, this is the third time I've teared-up reading your work. Kate, you've highlighted ALL the problems with how social skills are usually taught." - mother of ASD kid
"I stayed up entirely too late reading the first 14 pages. I can relate to so much of what you write. I really think you are expressing the true experience with MCS and autism in words that convey the experience." person with chemical sensitivity (MCS)
"Absolutely interesting, insightful and witty. You've blended together your three themes beautifully (Asperger's, MCS and travelling). It seems seamless."