This I Believe

Dan - Winston-Salemm, North Carolina
Entered on August 11, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe every person has worth.

Let me use my son, Drew, as an example.

Drew has Asperger Syndrome or “AS.” AS is a neurobiological condition on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum.

Kids with “AS” tend to have trouble picking up social skills and making conversation, but they also tend to be smart.

Let me give you an example of an Asperger Syndrome social interaction misfire.

Waiting for the bus outside his high school, Drew saw a boy light a cigarette. Having heard a news report about smoking, Drew said to the smoker, “Did you know smoking causes impotence?” The boy responded, “I don’t give a (F-word)!”

Drew shot back. “Exactly my point. You won’t be able to.” The other kids at the bus stop laughed and Drew was pleased.

But Drew didn’t realize he was spontaneously criticizing another person. He didn’t understand he was making an enemy of the smoker.

It would be easy for someone unfamiliar with Asperger Syndrome to conclude that Drew was being a bit mean.

Drew is actually a caring person who wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone else. He just didn’t understand the difference between the insulting banter teenage boys often use with friends, and making someone he didn’t know look foolish. People with AS can improve their social skills, but it’s tough, like someone with no aptitude for math studying calculus.

It’s easy to underestimate someone who has AS. When Drew was in grade school, my wife and I thought he had poor writing skills. You could see the frustration in his eyes as he struggled with writing homework. Turned out his awkward handwriting couldn’t keep up with his speeding brain. Once Drew got a computer and learned to type, we found he was a talented writer. He’s now working on a novel.

I wonder sometimes, how many hidden talents stayed hidden because people didn’t look past some odd behavior or other symptoms of a disability?

When Drew was diagnosed, the “autism” connection weighed heavily on his mom and me. Would he ever drive a car, go to college, live independently? Well, he just graduated from college, after living in a dorm a three hour drive away from home.

Among his accomplishments, Drew’s narrated two educational videos about Asperger Syndrome, one of which got great reviews from experts at Yale University and Harvard Medical School.

Knowing Drew has helped me remember not to rely on first impressions, and look for something worthwhile in everyone I meet, even if they appear difficult or odd.

I understand Thomas Jefferson was so socially awkward, he’d write letters so he wouldn’t have to face people in person. He used to greet visitors to the White House wearing frayed clothes and old bedroom slippers, sometimes with his pet mocking bird on his shoulder. Some people even speculate that he might have had Asperger Syndrome.

How would our country be different, if people hadn’t looked past Jefferson’s odd behaviors to see his worth?