In this case, I'm thinking of my future. And I'm thinking of the plaintive little aphorism: "So soon old; so late smart...". The old part is pretty clear. As of 2009 I'm 76 years old, soon to be 77. I don't feel old, and I'm still pretty active. Many people, by my demeanor and appearance, mistake me for fifteen or even sometimes twenty years younger. Yes, you bet, I'm grateful for that.
Stlll, that won't last and I know it. My only concern about it centers on the other half of the aphorism - so late smart. People tell me I'm plenty smart enough, highly educated, and have made a good living using my mind in highly technical fields. So what's the beef?
Simply put, it's that I didn't know about Asperger's Syndrome until a very few years ago. There's a lot about my life that would have transpired very differently I think, had I known decades ago.
This is no one's fault. I was born well before either Dr. Kanner or Dr. Asperger published their conceptions of autism. In Kanner's day nobody would have diagnosed me as autistic: Too smart, too vocal; even too sociable.
It was only in 1991 that Dr. Uta Frith translated Asperger's seminal paper into English. Shortly after this it became evident his and Kanner's cases were more similar than not. Others developed the notion that autistic traits were spread over a rather broad spectrum. Children like me clearly enough fit at one end of the developing model; had anyone back then known enough, and cared enough to observe.
There was a slowly growing awareness that autism wasn't especially rare, and that "deficiencies" in socially-related behavior were the critical hallmark of autism. Before 1991, Kanner's autism was what was known in the United States at least. As I've related elsewhere, There's reason to believe my mother was aware of autism as early as 1946; certainly not much later.
At least as important though: I might have made better use of my obvious talents. While my capabilities were highly prized when I entered the scientific work-force, my social deficiences impeded the collaborations so important in scientific and medical fields. Absolutely I was the archetypical "loner". One person, solo, rarely is granted the opportunities given to teams. I never rose to the potential I knew was mine; rarely rose to the productivity and usefulness others knew was possible. And then, ...retirement.
But now I do know about autism. I've read widely and well: dozens of books and something nearing a thousand articles both lay and scientific. I've good friends and colleagues in the mental-health fields, and I consult with them - even occasionally for them.
I understand my mind, and how to use it for gaining social parity. My wife has learned a lot as well. Together we've turned a very rocky 38-year marriage (now 42 years) into the satisfying partnership it should have been. My marriages, my entire life, together have been one long practicum which I've studied carefully and thought on deeply.
Which finally brings me to the titular point of this essay. I know how autistic/neurotypical relationships turn sour. I know how they can be repaired (when both parties are willing). I know (I believe) why autistic children sometimes turn into the little monsters they're too often made out to be.
And I want to share this knowledge with others. That's why the autism part of this web-site exists. That's why I continue to participate in on-line forums related to adult autism (most often couples); and continue private conversations with troubled people both AS and NT.
By natural inclination I'm still a loner. It's not for me to be publishing books and giving public lectures, though I've done a bit of the latter. The quiet one-on-one is much more my style.
Consequently for whatever time is left me, I'll continue to update this web-site, talk to people and be an example. In this way, like Homer in 'The Cider House Rules', finally I'll believe myself to have been useful.