Glass Half Empty Glass Half Full: How Asperger's Syndrome has Changed my Life

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Chris Mitchell

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    Foreword

    There is always someone who seems a bit ‘different’ in every school. Someone who is misunderstood, or just does things in his own way, with little or no need to conform to their peers' behaviour. More often than not they become an object of ridicule, bullied and taunted, as if this treatment will somehow make them change and become more acceptable.

    Chris Mitchell was this person who was ostracised and targeted because of his different behaviour. His recounting of these times can be difficult to read because we recognise that we may not have helped people like Chris when we were in school. Yet Chris also shares his insight into why he behaved as he did, or at least examines why he couldn't behave as his peers did, and he does not really lay blame.

    Chris writes with such insight and humour about his life, that despite my NT status, I really found myself empathizing with his wilderness years, awaiting an answer or reason for his differences. Most teenagers experience a difficult adolescence, when everything seems to be flipped upside down and everything that made sense suddenly doesn't seem that important. For Chris, to have to endure living in a world like this throughout his life, with everyone expecting him to act and behave in a certain way but being unable to, must have been extraordinarily difficult. That Chris not only copes but manages to remain in mainstream schooling and be accepted into university, is inspirational.

    The anger that is evident in the first part of this book is also striking. I was worried at times that readers might not be so sympathetic to Chris because of the extent of his anger and frustration, especially when he is looking at his circumstances with the benefit of hindsight. I was also concerned that some people mentioned in the book, especially family members, might be hurt by his comments. I relayed this worry to Chris, who responded:

    I remember that you said when you first read my copy that you felt some of the content might be hurtful to some. None of the content is meant to be hurtful, as the way it is written is about how I felt during certain phases of my life, including what I felt about things around me during particular times.

    Even now, I often talk with my parents and others who played a role in my upbringing about these times, about how I felt about certain aspects of my life (for example, school, playing team sports, university and so on) and they say, ‘Oh gosh, did I really do that to you Chris?’ They never meant hurt me in this way either, because they perhaps didn't understand me like many people who know me now do. Just recently, I received a letter from one of my old primary school teachers who was of great help to me when I was that age. She knows that I give talks about Asperger's syndrome and that I sometimes use extracts from school reports in my material, and she said it is interesting for her to see what someone like myself makes of the way teachers interpreted me.

    Inclusion is such a topical term now, especially as the support for students with special needs is improving and Chris shows that it is possible to survive in mainstream education without formal support. When additional support is given, real progress can be made. He has really made an effort to transform his life.

    I hope that his story will comfort you if you have recently been diagnosed with Asperger's or encourage you if a friend or a family member has been diagnosed. Now that the condition is becoming more understood and recognized, no, one need live in a puzzling haze. There is the chance to be accepted and celebrated for being different.

    Sarah Lynch

    Author's Note

    Being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at nearly 20 years old, I feel I have lived two separate lives. For this purpose, I feel that my life story needs two separate sections. Glass Half-Empty is about my life before diagnosis and Glass Half-Full is about my life after diagnosis. The intention of this book is to show how my life has changed since diagnosis, and above all, to recognize the positive aspects of Asperger's syndrome.

    Dedication

    I would like to dedicate this work to my family for their support since my diagnosis and my friends for all their encouragement.

    Chris with his toy train collection as a child.

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