Patrick’s eighth grade Christmas present was quite different then most gifts. For Patrick and his parents, they received the diagnosis from doctors they had longed for, yet dreaded; Patrick, had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The one thing the diagnosis provided was an explanation for Patrick’s difficulty in speaking up for himself and socializing. To say, “Patrick was a social cripple”, is a gross understatement. Patrick was locked away in a world, which was limited to his immediate family and himself. To allow anyone else to enter was a catastrophic event and to Patrick, it was emotionally and physically painful. Patrick’s senses were, and are, so heightened that he continues to experience physical pain to the most minor human contact, a handshake, a brush against the shoulder, and a congratulatory kiss on the check would send his senses into a whirlwind of pain and emotions.
Patrick has overcome some incredible odds. For those who do not know about AS is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interest, however it differs from other ASD’s as it seems to allow for preservation of linguistic and cognitive development (although atypical use of language and clumsiness are often associated with AS).
This past weekend I attended Patrick’s college graduation party. Patrick and I were former classmates in college. We had several classes together before I graduated – a semester before Patrick. When I first encountered Patrick, I sat beside him in class. Right away, I could tell he was the quiet shy type, but I really did not know how quite or how shy he was until I got to know him better. Patrick is a very tall lanky boy, about what I would expect Nathanial Hawthorn envisioned in his protagonist when he wrote Young Goodman Brown, or perhaps what Washington Irving pictured in his mind when creating, Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Patrick, although quiet and reserved, writes with eloquence and strings words together in such a way, anyone would most certainly agree, Patrick has a unique gift – the gift of composing beautifully scribed literature. Patrick enjoys writing, and he is very good at it, but his interest is in History.
So here I am, looking around a room full of college kids all complaining and competing with one another over who the cutest boy or girl in class is, and where to “partay” on Friday evening. Patrick is sitting off in the corner of the room reading a novel. I sit beside him and begin a conversation.
“Hi.” Patrick folds his book semi-closed and turns to face the wall.
“So, dude. What book are you reading?” I think he hears me. He looks at me, but disregards my question. At that moment, the professor walks in the room. A few minutes later, after the professor has everyone introduce himself or herself, I realize, Patrick does not speak very loud – he barely whispers when he talks. A few classes go by. I sit beside Patrick and continue my cordial greetings. The professor asks me if I know if something is up with Patrick, since I sit next to him and I know him, “Why won’t he talk or participate? You do know his grade will suffer if he remains a wallflower. Maybe you can talk to him, mention it to him. Take him under your wing”
I walk around for days harboring anger over why I must say something to Patrick. Why is it my responsibility? When I do finally talk to Patrick, I feel I have offended him and I have overstepped my bounds, but as time progresses, my relationship with Patrick grows. By the next class all is forgotten – or is it? I would never get the opportunity to know, because as far as I know, Patrick has never spoken a terse word about another person or complained about anyone, or about anything – that is just the way Patrick is. They say that is the way all people with Asperger’s are, it’s a side effect of Asperger’s – they have an accepting and forgiving disposition – it makes me wonder if perhaps that “side effect” is a benefit and not a hindrance, one the rest of civilization could benefit from.
Patrick and I seem to be in classes together up until my graduation. After I graduated, Patrick organized an outing for the “band of misfits” from our class, Carly, Dani, Patrick, Louise, and myself, who all seemed to click, we were the mavericks of our class, the oddballs. For one reason or another, each one of us did not fit the atypical mold of what a preppy college frat kid should be, and we were all very cool with that. I was “the old guy”, who walked with a limp and deaf in one ear and in my fifties. Carly, a farm girl, she stands about five foot tall and like me, she wears (two) hearing aids. Dani, well she stands six feet tall and although she will not admit it, but she is the brainiac. Louise is a bit eccentric and she might reach four feet tall on her tippy toes (an exaggeration) and she is the happiest kid in town – never will she frown, never will she not greet you with a smile. And you know about the uber-cool Patrick. Yep, the mavericks of a Central Midwestern upper-middle class private college.
Admittedly, this was Patrick’s first attempt at organizing a social event – ever; he rarely even went out of his room let alone to a public café with a group of peers. Everyone in the group was blown away by Patrick’s gesture. We were so in awe that we decided to hold a monthly get together, thanks to Patrick.
Patrick confronting his social fears, organizing our monthly café excursions, and at twenty-two years-old Patrick graduated college; all while daily facing and coping with Asperger’s Syndrome, is truly an inspiration to all humanity. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to sit beside Patrick in class, to witness his development along the way, and to have a friendship with him. In a selfish uncaring world, a selfless and caring Patrick is a fresh breath of hope and inspiration. Perhaps… this universe can stand for a little more Asperger’s and a few more Patrick’s!
This has been a… View From My Loft!