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Jerry – Asperger’s Syndrome - My medical condition is a superpower

Jerry – Asperger’s Syndrome

My medical condition is a superpower - Jerry

My name is Jerry Westaway and I have high-functioning autism, or to be more specific, Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s an invisible disability, it’s not something that is defined physically and people with autism can look like normal people. It’s insulting to think that we are just pretending to have it. My autism allows me to see, hear, think, view, and experience the world differently from the average person, so if you ask me to think differently from that, I can’t help you, I am what I am.

I also study film at a graduate level at the Southern Institute of Technology. I reside in Invercargill for study, but I’m originally from Timaru. Like Greta Thunberg, another person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I see my medical condition as a superpower. It’s also been believed or speculated that people like Albert Einstein and Stanley Kubrick had high-functioning autism, both of whom were underachievers in their early life. If you know me well enough or work with me, I may seem like a normal person for someone with autism a lot of the time, but I still have trouble picking up on some social cues - I can make sarcastic comments and sometimes read the same from others, but other times I can't and tend to take things seriously or personally. I also have trouble joining in a conservation, whenever I try, someone else talks over and I have to wait a while. I have trouble listening while waiting because I don't want to forget what I want to say. I don't bother to interrupt in that situation because when or if I do, no one listens. I also have trouble reading complex emotions from other people.

One of the downsides and upsides to being autistic is that I have sensory issues. Having sensory issues makes me feel, touch, taste, hear, and see the world around me roughly a hundred times more intensely than the average person. Something mundane like a car tooting by or loud crowds can be almost frustrating to process in my mind more so than it would be for an average person and this can lead to a sensory overload, in which I need to go somewhere to avoid these things in order to feel more at peace. This is why I may appear to be anti-social and reclusive, it's not because I don’t like to talk to people and sometimes, I do have difficulty in socialising with people, especially new people, it’s because I feel uncomfortable in that sort of environment. I may also feel cold and warm temperatures much more than other people, the same goes to the taste of food or any type of drink. The upside to having this type of heightened senses allows me to pay more attention to detail when working on stuff.

 I do have my good days and bad days. I have trouble keeping my anxieties under control one day, but I do manage to keep it under control on another day. There have been many times in my life where people have underestimated me based on my creative vision, eccentric personality or optimistic views on the world, but overall, I can’t help but feel as though it’s to do with my medical condition at the end of the day, even if it’s not really the case. To this day, I still feel this way when underestimated. I still manage to triumph nevertheless and if I had listened to the cynical and narrow-minded voices in my life that have underestimated me, I would not be here as a successful film student. I find challenges in my life to be like an action movie. I have to reach a goal with a high chance of failure, but I still somehow make it to the end and reach my goal. I try to stay optimistic and always try to do the right thing because it’s good for my mental health.

Sometimes I like to be alone, but other times I don’t, and I feel lonely, and those are times when I need to talk to people. I prefer calling people over texting people because I tend to communicate better that way, it takes too long for me to text what I want to say, I want to hear the reactions to my words with my own ears, and I get worried that I may have misworded my words. Being an underachiever in primary school and first two years of high school made the teachers believe that I would not amount to anything significant or successful, but I was underachieving because I didn't get the help I deserved, I had no interest in most of the school subjects, and my mind was more interested in filmmaking. What I'm doing now is what I would have liked to do during my childhood. That's another thing about me, the more I'm interested in something, the more likely I'm going to be focused and be successful, which is why I found many successes in my tertiary education. Having an invisible disability like autism, there was bound to be some prejudice related to my autism. The way of thinking was that an average person can't remember things in detail like I could and so the only plausible reason was that I was an attention seeker making things up. Plus, the idea that I don’t look ‘autistic’, people could bully or assault me without any repercussions, and they would unjustly get away with it scot free. It would be a case of their word against mine.

 As a filmmaker, I am meant to communicate emotions and have the audience connect with the characters on screen. This can sometimes be a daunting task to develop characters that seem real and human because I have difficulty expressing emotions or personalities that are not my own and can make it a long process for me when developing a story or screenplay, but sometimes I can manage to create characters from scratch somehow. It’s taken me years to improve on this. What I manage to create passionately and better than characters are stories. I wish there were more people who were more educated and open-minded about autism.

It should be celebrated as something extraordinary, not something that has to be cured like a plague. Not everything is black and white. Most people tend to know about autism, but don’t understand it enough, enough to know what it is like to be unique or different to others. Like the Think Different Apple commercial in the 90’s ‘those who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do’.

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