Asperger Syndrome Introduction
By Tara Kimberley Torme
© 2004 All Rights Reserve

            Hello there, my name is Tara Kimberley Torme. Iím 26 years old and I have Asperger Syndrome. I have been invited here today to talk about Asperger Syndrome-what it is all about and how Iíve lived with Asperger Syndrome my entire life. You are probably wondering what Asperger Syndrome is. To put it simply Asperger Syndrome is part of the autistic spectrum. Sounds so simple, doesnít it? Well, there is more to Asperger Syndrome than meets the eye and Iíll tell you a bit more later in this talk. First thought I would like to tell you a bit about myself-who I really am and how Iíve lived with Asperger Syndrome my entire life.

             Currently I am single. I have a soul mate and boyfriend named Timothy Samuel Pylypiuk who is also autistic like me. We get along great as we are very similar to each other-almost like clones. My whole life Iíve always known I was different from others. I am currently living with my mother and my 3 cats, Phantom, Opera and Spot. To be brief, I never had many friends and I had trouble fitting in with other people. I still do have trouble fitting in and I guess I always will never really fit in with the so-called ďnormalĒ world.

             I was born on Monday June 27, 1977 @ 10:27pm in Montreal, Quebec. From the time I was born I was odd. I was told when I first learned to walk I would feel the floor before taking my next step. I was diagnosed with Brown Syndrome which is an eye problem that cleared up as I got older. I have always known it took me longer to learn certain things but that was the end of that for the longest time. By the age of 2 or 3 I was already reading the billboards off the roads, thanks to good old Sesame Street. I started to read novels by the age of 6 and since then Iíve been a voracious reader having read over 5000 books in my lifetime.

             By the time I went into grade 1 at Academie Michelle Provost, the cards were already stacked up against me by teachers. My grade 1 teacher Mme. Taza had said that I would never make it far in life based on my handwriting. I had a lot of trouble with math in school and this was a constant struggle for me up until I left high school. I didnít have many friends then either but I did have 1 best friend whom I did see occasionally and another good friend, both whom Iíve known since either birth or from 3 years old and who I still communicate with. Life was hard at that school but academically I enjoyed it, especially in my 2nd grade when I boarded there (as this was a boarding school, all French and Catholic).

             I boarded at that school in my grade 2 year where I learned all about life away from the comfort of home. Every week we would see a movie and there were nightly routines which I quite enjoyed but I still kept to myself most of the time. I didnít make friends all that easily. The homework load was tremendous with us having at least 3 hours of it each night-unlike what the public school has for children these days. I guess you can say the strict homework policies helped me to become disciplined in completing my studies.

             Anyway, after grade 3, I left the school in order to go to Roslyn School. At first I was put into the French Immersion program. Still, I didnít fit in. Since I failed grade 3, I took it over in Roslyn Elementary which is about the best thing I ever done. I had a very nice teacher that year and her name was Mrs. Vineberg. She was very kind and I enjoyed her stores when she read. As for friends, I didnít really make any that year as I couldnít connect with any of my peers. I was always a reader and I would spend most of my time reading. At recess I would be by myself and read as that kept me the happiest. As I entered quite late into the school year I didnít join many activities at first though I did join the junior school choir which I loved. I was teased a lot and a conflict with one of the students almost got me suspended from school that year. One of my classmates had been teasing me one rainy day and I was so upset that I aimed my umbrella at the wall of the school. However I didnít see one of the girls walk in front of me and the umbrella hit her head which sent her to the hospital to get stitches.

             Grade 4 at that school had to be one of the worst years ever. I had a HORRIBLE French teacher whom I DESPISED with a vengeance. Her name was Mme. Edith Feldman and she had red hair. In that class I made a friend with a really nice person whose name was Genevieve. I liked her very much and so we would spend quite a bit of time with each other. Mme. Feldman went out of the way to try to ruin the only friendship I ever made so far in that school by making sure I wasnít invited to her birthday parting she was having. Mme. Feldman told her mother that I was a bad influence on her and therefore I shouldnít be allowed to go to her party. Genevieve was inviting the whole class except for me and I remember being very, very upset over this. I remember one time Mme. Feldman sent me to the principalís office for drawing pink bunnies and insisted that there was no such thing as pink bunnies. That class was a nightmare for me and thus I nearly lost Genevieve as a friend because of her. I joined the senior choir that year as music has always been one of my loves and I took violin lessons up until I was in gr. 7.

             Grade 5 for me was one of my best years ever as I had a very nice teacher. Mr. Barta helped me to fit in as best as possible. I didnít make any good friends again as I preferred to read but I did go to some parties that were held by my classmates. However, I always felt uncomfortable (and still do) as I never knew what to say so I stayed in the furthest corner as possible. I was still teased, but not as much and I liked my new classmates but at a distance. Mr. Barta had introduced me to the world of poetry which has given me my current love for the subject. Academically I did somewhat well during this year. For the first and only time I managed to get on the honor roll for math as he had helped me get through this tortured subject.

             In grade 6, my last year at Roslyn before going off to high school I kept to myself a lot and I read during my spare time and even during class. I did join in sometimes with some of the jump rope games at recess and lunch but most of my happiest hours were spent with my books and alone. Roslyn for me was filled with bittersweet memories.

             By this time most of my peers were starting to be interested in the opposite gender, dating, make-up, clothes and shopping. I felt quite out of place since I could have cared less about any of this stuff. At the time I was only interested in my books, Dracula and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Like many of my other peers I was also into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and New Kids on the Block craze as this was the only thing that gave me some sort of connection to the rest of my classmates.

             P.E. in elementary school was not very fun. I was always the last to be picked for a team and I hated any sports that had to do with balls and ball throwing. I could never run as fast or do any of the other stuff my other classmates did. I was always excluded because I would make the team lose and nobody wanted to lost-they all wanted to win. I was slow and I made the rest of my teammates lose if I was to be on their team. I could not run at all nor could I do any sort of gymnastics or any type of physical education that involved my gross motor skills. Also, I ran very awkwardly so people would look at me funny if I did run. So I would do as little as possible and keep to myself a lot. I endured this class with great restraint and I was always happy when the class was over and I could once again return to my desk and to my studies. That class to me was PURE TORTURE!

             When I entered high school at Westmount High, I had a harder time fitting in as I didnít like most of the students there.  I was still into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and was teased about it when I came to class in jeans with the picture of one of the characters on it. After that incident I never wore those jeans again but I still watched the show privately until I came to BC in 1992. My peers taunted me quite a bit by stealing money from me, taking some of my books and agenda and writing nasty names in them. There was a camp for the grade sevens in which I went for a couple of days. I had brought my diary with me in which I wrote about my trip. Unfortunately that diary had a couple of other personal and very private entries I had written as a child and one of my peers had snatched my diary from me and started to read it to the other members of my cabin. It was a very humiliating experience for me and they wouldnít let me forget it the next year when I went for winter camp. My favorite class was English and I always did well in that class. One of my English Teachers Mrs. Macaulay never liked me very much and so I had a hard time in her class. Still, liked the school and I enjoyed the learning process and I made sure to get good grades. I remember studying a lot. I also joined activities such as choir, band, and drama which I eventually dropped out of. I stayed at that school until March 1992 when I left for Vancouver with my mother.

             Here at Westmount High School I had a very hard time fitting in with my peers. I didnít really make very many friends though I had one person whom I did become friends with. Mostly I found it easier to make friends with the Down Syndrome students than with the regular students as they were much nicer and were not prone to making fun of other people. I did not find P.E. very enjoyable as I hated team sports with a vengeance. I much preferred being by myself somewhere in a corner reading. We were supposed to go into the cafeteria and eat our lunches at lunchtime but I couldnít stand all of the people and noise so I always wandered off by myself to eat my lunch in peace and quiet. The cafeteria was too chaotic for me and I preferred the nice, peace and calm of the hallways and classrooms than to the busy and noisy hallways during lunchtime.

             Upon arrival in BC, I entered a new school where I graduated in 1996. I didnít make any friends there though I tried to be as friendly as I could to my fellow classmates. I joined the library club, choir (which I quit shortly before the music program died), Amulet club, Student Council and referee club. As part of the Student Council I would have to go to dances which I HATED as I did not like the LOUD music they played. I spent most of my time talking with the principal and the teachers than with my peers. I felt very uncomfortable at dances and never really had a good time. Some of the students there didnít really like me as I was ďweirdĒ to them. By then I had fully developed my idiosyncrasies and I hated to work in groups.  I could never really relate to my fellow peers who were into dating, alcohol, skipping school and going to parties. I was not a popular person by their standards so I was never invited to any of their parties that they had. Itís just as well I never went to any of them because most likely some of them had drugs and alcohol at the parties and that is something I could never ever tolerate. I found them inefficient and I found I could never get the work done properly as if I would have on my own. So I preferred to work alone whenever I could and my classmates were also happy with that arrangement. I did well in English and Math was my worst subject as I struggled through it. Still, nobody could understand me what I was trying to say with both my idiosyncrasies and the way I talked. I was misunderstood by many people and got into trouble for that many a time. When I finally graduated in 1996 I was happy to leave my peers behind. Even when they had the seating arrangements for the dinner, nobody would want to sit by me as I was too weird for them. So I sat at the table with the other outcasts. Still I had some fun at my Grad and I came home late.

             Even at Tupper in Vancouver I was still taunted somewhat and on several occasions Iíve had my bike messed up with and vandalized. My locker was broken into when I first arrived in Vancouver and some personal items were stolen from there. In the summer of 1992-my first summer here in Vancouver BC I was beaten up by one of the friends of one of my classmates. Because I was in the pool and rolling my eyes the gang of girls decided to beat me up because they thought I was mocking them. I had done nothing at all while my friend Grace who had in fact started the argument was mocking them.

             I entered Langara College in 1996 for a transfer program in order to get into UBC. My original plan was to go to UBC and try to get into the Education system. At Langara I enjoyed the academic part, studying and also spending as much of my free time in the library (which is my home away from home). I never  really fully interacted with my classmates. Again, I couldnít understand or related to them. Thatís the way I preferred it. I liked my classmates but at a distance where it was safe. I kept to my studies mostly and didnít really have much of a social life. I took 4 courses in the first semester and 5 courses the rest of the time I was there so I could get all of my credits completed in time. The workload was not that difficult for me as I had been used to studying in high school. However this was a different environment for me altogether. I found in college I could make up the times and days I wanted to go to my classes and then have free time around that for studying compared to high school all my classes were together and I didnít have that free time. You also tend to take fewer courses in college because the classes are more concentrated and there is much more homework in each of the classes than there is in high school.

             In 1998 I entered UBC as an English Major.  I took mostly English courses as well as a few other courses I needed in order to graduate. In order to graduate in time I took 5 courses in each semester and my grade averages for most of my classes were Bís. I joined the English Students Society which I enjoyed very much but apart from that I stayed away from the parties and alcohol and didnít do much other socializing. Even with the English Students Society I didnít fit in as my interests were too odd for them. I couldnít really make the connection. In class I wouldnít socialize with my classmates as I was there to learn and not to make friends. I loved my classes very much and I thought them to be very interesting. By the spring of 2000 I realized I needed a few more courses in order to graduated by the fall of 2000 so I took the remaining 3 in the summer time. This was a huge mistake for me as the workload in the summer is condensed and twice as much as it is during the winter time. I suffered by failing one of my summer courses and so I had to take my last prerequisite the following spring. I graduated from UBC in May 2001 with my B.A.

             Anyway, in the summer of 2000 I wandered into the counseling suite at UBC to talk about some past issues. I was feeling quite depressed and slightly suicidal and I wanted to talk to someone about it. Since I was not a student at the time, I had to wait until school started again to get another assessment from a counselor. So come December 2000 I saw another counselor which I saw until April 30, 2001. she gave me a form for a psychological assessment for a totally different matter and a medical assessment for my weight problem. I got involved with a disorded eating group and the leader there noticed me making comments that were inappropriate and doing inappropriate behaviours. So she told the counselor and my counselor thought it might be Asperger Syndrome and then I finally got my psychological assessment from the psychological department at UBC. On Friday March 2, 2001 I was FINALLY diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.

             My psychiatrist referred me to the Burnaby Day Program to help me with my social interaction skills. Every week I would attend the program where I would meet with one or more of the occupational therapists and I would learn certain skills to survive in the community. The program was helpful as it helped with some of my anger and also helped with my eye contact and people skills. Still though I didnít really make any friends at the program as I kept to myself a lot of the time. I didnít mind talking with the other mental health patients but I still preferred my own company. I ended the Program in January 2003 confident that I will be able to make it in the world with my newfound skills.

             I was also referred to Gastown Vocational Services a place where people with mental health issues are able to train for jobs of their choice or even to back to school for more training. This program is a two part program where you get psychological tests on your strengths and weaknesses and you learn about the work environment. The second part is more work oriented and you start to consider the type of work practicum you wish to complete before going into the workforce. They also run support group meetings every second Tuesday for those who have finished the actual program can come and attend. I gained may skills here and am no longer associated with Gastown Vocational Services.

             I havenít told you much of my friends or of my interests. As I have already said, I have had very few friends in the past and the ones I have are either long distance, busy, or on the rocks trying to mend. As for my interests I have many of them. These include writing poetry and stories, reading, embroidery, music, Theatre, Opera, Musicals (I am a HUGE Andrew Lloyd Webber fan), walking, and I love the violin. I have a good ear for music as I can play a tune pretty much note for note with only hearing the song once, depending on the difficulty of the piece. However I cannot read music as when I learned to play the violin it was via the Suzuki method which is based on playing by ear. I also love to collect antiques since my early childhood-anything that is extremely old fascinates me. I collect teddy bears as I have loved them since birth. I also have a passion for antiques and old books and secret passages.

             Even though I keep to myself, I have been active in the community in the past since my early childhood. I have been part of plays in my community in Montreal. I have enjoyed volunteering and have volunteered in various areas and currently I volunteer every year for the Word on the Street Festival which is a literary festival in Vancouver which promotes Literacy.

             Jobs is something I havenít said anything about yet. I have always had trouble, finding and keeping a job. I have done some babysitting and my longest position lasted almost 2 years when the family moved to Salt Spring Island. I love to baby-sit. Itís so much fun to be around children. My shortest job lasted 3 hours. Itís really hard for me to keep a job as my behaviours and comments make people not want me around them. I get frustrated and very depressed as I want to prove to the world that I can do the work just like anybody else if they would only give me a chance. In December 2000 I got a job as a telephone interviewer doing surveys over the phone. Itís unionized so that makes it very hard to be fired. The company got closed down on June 2003 so I am no longer working for the time being.

             Growing up I would go to sleepover camps every summer until 1991. I loved the outdoors and the activities but whenever the chance came up I would wander off to be by myself where I was very happy. I liked to talk to my campmates but I never really formed any deep relationships with them. I had always wanted to be a camp counselor since I was qualified in many ways. The opportunity came up to take a leadership course to be come a camp counselor and I jumped at the chance. However, I was frustrated that I couldnít find work in that particular field as I lacked the social skills to interact with my peers. I did volunteer work in that area but never a payed position, something that I am very bitter about.

             In 2003 I got accepted into the Publishing Program at Langara College where I am currently training to become an editor for a magazine. As well one of my goals through the program is to eventually start up my very own magazine for and about people with Asperger Syndrome. The program is one year but I am taking it in two years because the workload is very stressful for me. I will be ending the program in August 2005 and after that I will be looking for work in the magazine publishing industry.

             Right now I am very happy with my life. I started my own social and support group for adults with Asperger Syndrome (A.S.S.- Asperger Social and Support group @ http://members.shaw.ca/aspiesocial/) because I believe in networking with other autistics to form friendships and bonds. My soul mate supports me in what I do with my life.

             You are now asking me how have I found a way to live? Certainly someone with an autistic spectrum disorder is unable to lead a normal life. You are probably thinking people with autism are not able to hold jobs, live on their own or balance their own cheque books. This view you have is totally wrong. Currently I am unemployed because my company shut down in June 2003. I am planning to live on my own within the next few years and yes I can successfully balance my own cheque book.

             Now that Iíve told you a bit about who I am and a bit about my life I can finally tell you what Asperger Syndrome is. To put it briefly Asperger Syndrome an autism spectrum disorder that affects the social behaviour, language, interests and routine, motor clumsiness, cognition and sensory sensitivity of the person. But that still doesnít really tell you what it is, does it? So, Iíll just give you an ďimagine ifÖĒ scenario.

          Imagine you were 11 years old with Asperger Syndrome. You are in school and you see students all around you. You wish to talk to your classmates but you are unable to because every time you attempt conversation with them you end up being scorned and made fun of. You have different interests from the rest of your classmates. You have a great interest in famous medieval thespians and a great love for Chaucer the author of The Cantebury Tales. Your classmates, however are into cars and modern TV shows. They like rock and roll from the
20th and 21st century while you prefer medieval torture methods. Whenever anyone is within earshot of you will happily talk about your interests to both teachers and students alike. Your classmates call you ďweirdĒ because you are not like them at all. Your teachers might call you a little professor because you have great encyclopedic knowledge on your subjects of passion/interest. No matter what you do you just cannot seem to make any friends of your own. You prefer being by yourself because you can get some peace and quiet and you can thus pursue your interests to your great leisure.

          You take things literally such as certain jokes or puns. You do not understand what other people are trying to say by certain forms of expression such as ďdonít have a cowĒ and ďdonít cry over spilled milk.Ē In class if there is any sort of misbehaving from any of the other students whatsoever you will tell the teacher who was the culprit. This will get you scorn and rejection from your fellow classmates because you do not understand the unwritten rule of
the code of silence: never snitch on your fellow classmates.

          You have trouble with your emotions. You are happy and you laugh at times
there is supposed to be great sadness. None of your emotions come out the way you want it to come out and thus you get in trouble for expressing the wrong type of emotion at the wrong time. You see other people laughing and crying but you donít know why they are expressing such emotion. You canít understand the other person as you canít read their face. Itís all a big confusion and people get very angry with you because you canít tell whether the person doesnít want to be with you right now. So you struggle with all your might to try to understand what the personís face is trying to say to you.

          You may talk a lot to other people which may drive the other person nuts. When conversing with other people you have great difficulty in talking about subjects that are not comfortable to you so you always manage to turn the conversation to your favorite subjects of passion. You might do this because you wish to appear knowledgeable and not stupid in front of your peers. However this may get you even more rejection from your fellow classmates because they are tired of hearing about your topic of interest every time you are with them. You also tend to make comments that seem irrelevant to the conversation because you cannot link your though to the topic at hand. People give you a dirty look because of this but you canít read what their face means and you tend to ignore it making even worse blunders in future conversations. You donít know when to interrupt and when you do it always seems itís at the wrong time in the conversation.

          You may be teased a lot in class-something you hate with a passion. To you when someone jokes you feel it to be cruel and cold on the part of the other person. You wish people would be more direct with you instead of giving hints of stuff you have to dig your way through just to figure out what the other person is trying to say.

          You are probably a stickler for routines. You like to have things done exactly in the same way every day with no variation whatsoever. You will always take the same route to school, brush your teeth the same way, wash the same way and eat your food the same way. Should there be a slight change in your day such as the teacher getting sick and you getting a substitute teacher you will become upset and extremely because this was not planned in your daily routine. You like the familiar and not the unfamiliar. Had someone told you in advance about such changes you would not have been so upset and you could have gone on with your day quietly and calmly.

          You appear like a normal person from the outside but when you walk or attempt stuff with your hands you are unable to do the same things the rest of your peers can do. You appear quite stiff when you walk or run in gum class and your fellow classmates will make fun of you because you canít run like them. You canít catch or throw a ball properly nor are you good at any sort of ball games because you have trouble with this. Thus you get excluded from any social activities that involve ball games because you are a liability to the team. No one wants you for their games because you will make them lose. Thus you become sad and angry because no one wants to play with you.

          You may also have trouble balancing yourself such as standing on one leg with your eyes closed. You also might have trouble tying your shoelaces, dressing yourself or eating with utensils because you canít get your hands around the objects. Tying shoelaces might be murder to you because they always come undone whenever you tie them up. Your handwriting might be a challenge to read for other people because you are unable to form the words properly and neatly like the rest of your classmates. Teachers scorn you for your handwriting and may punish you for lack of neatness because you are never able to make your letter as neat as the rest of your classmates.

          An ambulance is heard outside your classroom. Most of your peers hear the ambulance but think nothing of it. You, on the other hand, hear the same ambulance 10 times louder than the rest of your classmates and you wince in pain. Your classmates look at you funny because they didnít think the ambulance to be THAT loud. But to you it was mere agony, pain just to have heard it gone by. Loud sounds startle you and scare you because you never know when they are to occur if they ever do occur. You have a hard time using the phone in a noisy
environment because of all the people around you talking. You may have normal hearing but you are unable to distinguish the people on the other end of the telephone from the people around you.

          Your tactile senses may also be different to those of your peers. You are probably someone who doesnít like to be touched by other people as you tend to flinch, stiffen and pull away from those who try to hug you. Certain clothes are not worn by you because you just cannot stand the texture of the fabric. You may only wear certain types of clothes for the reason you like the feel of a particular type of fabric.

          With food you may only stick to certain types because you like consistency in what you like to eat. You might prefer bland and uncomplicated food to hot and spicy food. If certain foods were mixed together you would probably feel violently ill to your stomach because those combinations donít exactly agree with your digestive system.

          The way you perceive your world is unique to that of your fellow peers. You might be extremely sensitive to light and prefer a dark room to a bright room. Bright rooms to you might be too chaotic thus making your learning not as effective had they not lowered the lights slightly.

          Certain strong smells to you make you violently ill as they are overpowering thus making you sensitive to them. A splinter might not be painful when you remove it but to others it might be of great pain. You might have your temperatures mixed up with you wearing summer clothes during cold weather and winter clothes during warm weather. You do not show pain when you are supposed to thus sometimes making a medical problem more complicated than it really is.

          Now that you know what Asperger Syndrome is I would like to read a couple of my poems relating to Asperger Syndrome. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have after I finish reading my poems.

© Tara Kimberley Torme 2004

 

 

"We each have our own way of living in the world, together we are like a symphony.
Some are the melody, some are the rhythm, some are the harmony
It all blends together, we are like a symphony, and each part is crucial.
We all contribute to the song of life."
...Sondra Williams

We might not always agree; but TOGETHER we will make a difference.

 

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