Friday, 24 January 2014

Exercise in Seeing Differently

I borrowed a book from the library on an impulse. (I wonder how many blog posts I could start with this sentence...) 
What made me pick up a book on Asperger Syndrome? Not sure. It's not a part of my everyday life at the moment - but I'm always interested in real life stories.

Paula Tilli: Toisin. Minun Asperger-elämäni
(Otherwise. My life with Asperger's.)

Paula sees Asperger Syndrome as her greatest strength - even though it also means that she often has trouble communicating with and understanding the "normal" people around her. For example, Paula simply doesn't get nonverbal communication cues. That's like learning a foreign language to her - actually, it's more difficult, because she finds it super easy to learn the grammar of foreign languages. (Grammar is one of her special interests.)

Paula writes really well. Reading the book, it's easy to get her perspective. Why tell white lies? To her, being lied to is a lot more hurtful than hearing the plain truth. What's the point of considering some jobs more prestigious than others? Why is it bad manners to say you really love the clothes you're wearing - if you didn't like them, you wouldn't have chosen to wear them, right?

The parts where Paula described her school years were harrowing, especially Paula's gradual acceptance that it was OK and natural that she was bullied, because she could not interest herself in listening to music and watching TV. And what about the teachers? They could not understand how this child prodigy (a fluent reader at age three, learning new languages instantly) was so bad at crafts, had trouble remembering oral instructions, could not concentrate on films, wasn't able to learn the dates and names in history etc. She was called lazy. "You could if you just tried harder." No one had probably heard of this syndrome back then.

The bullying struck a chord within me. I know the feeling of an outsider, the feeling that others are communicating something I just don't understand, that there are rules that others are following but no one told me about them and now I'm making a fool of myself breaking them. (That memory is a part of what prompted this post.) However, I don't think I'm on the Asperger/autism spectrum - I'm just an introverted only child.

Paula got her diagnosis as an adult, and it was a relief to her: she wasn't lazy or stupid, she just processes information in a different way. Some everyday things are very difficult for her, and after the diagnosis, she was able to get help for those things. Paula now works as a mentor and lecturer onAsperger Syndrome. She has been able to arrange her life to suit her preferences. A helper comes to take care of housework, and Paula can concentrate on using her strengths.

Now, she loves her life. She accepts herself as she is. Being different is not bad. It's just different.

One aspect that I loved in this book was that it was written by a person with Asperger's. Reading it, you are getting a glimpse straight into her mind, her way of thinking, instead of looking at it from the outside. Insight: in-sight. 

I've read books and stories written by parents of special needs children, including Asperger. Of course, the parents' point of view is interesting and valuable, too. I just enjoy getting the viewpoints from both sides.

Paula Tilli emphasizes that people with Asperger's are different from each other, just like 'normal people'. Someone with Asperger diagnosis may well enjoy listening to music or learning all the details of history. So, the reader should not make too many generalizations based on the book. What she hopes is that people will be more accepting of differences.

PS. It feels strange to review a book in English when it's been published only in Finnish and Swedish. If you have any recommendations of similar books on this topic in English, please share in the comments. Thanks!


  1. Tuija, I have a 15-year-old daughter with Asperger's, so this interests me quite a bit!

    Have you ever read the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon? It is written from the viewpoint of a boy with Asperger's/Autism (though I don't think that is ever actually stated), and it's a fascinating glimpse into that inner world.

  2. Thanks for the book tip, Jeannie. I haven't read Haddon's novel, but I'll look out for it.
    I wish all the best for your daughter and you, too!
    Paula Tilli's book would certainly be interesting for you - but I have no clue whether it will ever be published in English. At least, she is a good example of a woman with Asperger's who has a happy, fulfilling life and uses her talents and strengths for the benefit of both herself and others.