It generally starts with a feeling of becoming "out of tune". Sounds, smells, visual information rise up and mix in a suffocating chaos. Something like poison in the blood spreads in the whole body. Tingles make their way through my arms, heavy like lead. And the curtain closes down. If I’m still conscious, I can’t communicate anymore with the outside world. Now the sounds and smells seem to drift very far away, all what lies in the field of my vision happens to be bright and blurred. I’ve been put on stand by mode.

From some minutes to the loss of consciousness, these hyperventilation attacks occur when my brain can’t process the flows of perceptive information anymore.

I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 40. This syndrome belongs to the autism-spectrum disorders and gained international recognition only at the beginning of the 1990’s. On the contrary to low- or high-functioning autism, there is generally no speech delay during early childhood, and social difficulties often start only in the kindergarten.

That’s one of the reasons why it took so long to link its different symptoms with autism. That’s also why so many adults are still not diagnosed, and amongst those who lately are, only a minority seem to have a stable job—for which they are often overqualified.

An invisible disability

The attacks I’ve described, if they often occur, are not the syndrome. Not everyone with Asperger syndrome suffers from them. I could almost say that these short-circuits are not what causes me the highest pain: they are visible and identified by others as something highly uncommon. It’s not the case of most of the difficulties linked to this sort of autism: although they may vary highly from person to person, what is common to all are problems related to social situations.

Socialization is a foreign language to me. Through experience, I’ve learnt to translate social interactions between people, but only if I’m not involved in the situation. I need to be a scientist observing insects. When it’s not the case, I’m overwhelmed very quickly by the dataflow I need to process to draw conclusions. With more than one or two unknown interlocutors, and with additional visual, auditory and olfactory inputs from the surroundings, it becomes simply impossible.

This is an example—amongst a lot of others—of the difficulty to meet people. The distance needed to simply cope with an everyday interaction is mostly misinterpreted. It can be taken for arrogance, self-importance, contempt, falseness, pathological shyness... fill the blanks. As the causes of these malfunctionings are not visible, one is considered as a "normal" person behaving inappropriately. External signs of the Asperger syndrome can be taken for a lot of things—except autism.