Weirdly wonderfulness: Life with the "Geek Disorder"

This essay is part of the 2018 essay series "VOICES: Overcoming Challenges in Learning" from Michigan Nightlight. In this series, we will feature the authentic voices of teachers, parents, students, administrators, counselors, medical practitioners, and others about a challenge to learning they’ve encountered and how they are working to overcome it.
Life with Asperger Syndrome isn't simple an straightforward. It's a collection of colors and experiences, and each person with the Syndrome is unique. In this VOICES essay, sixth grader Nora Standish describes her experience with Asperger's, shattering every stereotype about the Syndrome and inviting you into her world.


Reader, say the word “Asperger’s” out loud. Okay, hopefully you’ve said it. If what you said sounded like “ass-burgers” then you are wrong. See the “p” in Asperger’s? Now say it again but with the “p.” As-PER-gers. Good. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, NOT ass-burgers syndrome, thank you very much. I’m not a burger made out of ass. Now that I’ve cleared up this misconception, I have one more thing to make known. Aspies can have a sense of humor that is equal or superior to that of a neurotypical. Just look at me.

Colors of choir

When you look at an equation, you most likely see it in numbers, like 8+3=11. Well, when I look at that same equation, I see salmon pink, dark grey, forest green, deep violet, light grey, black, and white. Synesthesia is a rare condition that causes two or more senses to interconnect in such a way that one sense stimulates the other, causing automatic associations between the senses in question. I have, like, a million different forms of synesthesia, but the one that turned 8 + 3 = 11 into a modern Picasso is called grapheme-color. I see all written shapes, symbols, numbers, and letters as colors.

I also experience music as a colored taste. This seems like a gift, and it is, until your school’s choir starts to sing off-tune. Then, everything begins to taste like rice rotting in a nuclear waste dump in Springfield from The Simpsons. It’s funny, I know, but this kind of stuff actually makes me sick.

The band kids get the gym, which is spacious, receives lots of natural light, and has wonderful acoustics. Choir is stuck in the cramped music room trying to squeeze in twice the amount of people than can actually fit in the space. It’s hot, cluttered, and—more times than not—dark. And then there’s always that one student who thinks it’s funny to screech whenever we reach a high note.

When that happens, or when the choir sings off-tune, I get sick. Well first, hot. Then I start to see neon blotches cluttering my view and I become nauseous and too exhausted to stand. When I get to the point where I have to sit down, one student—usually the one who screeched on the high note—yells, “Look! She’s turning pale and green!” If being sick isn’t enough, a whole choir of sixth graders gawking at me is the perfect way to ruin my day.

On the flipside, I’ve never forgotten the notes or lyrics to a song. For me, it’s just like remembering colors, so it comes easier. It’s difficult to describe to a neurotypical, or even another synesthete, but I guess the best way to describe how I see music is like a moving painting. Sometimes the paintings are truly beautiful, and other times I just want to get them out of my life.

The shield of introversion

Here’s a common misconception: Introverts and people with autism can’t have friends. Speaking as an introvert with autism, I would like to say that I have friends. Three of them actually, called DERPS UNITED. For the sake of protecting everyone’s identity, I will refer to them with their superhero names: Flaming Pineapple, Stushi Art, and Poison Erasercap. Stushi, Erasercap, and I are all introverts, but we call ourselves Interior Derps. Pineapple is extroverted, so she is an Exterior Derp.

For the record, we all know that “derp” means one who is foolish; of low intellect; stupid. We just prefer our definition: one who is weirdly wonderfulness and will soon be queen of the Smoosh Kitten Apartments and/or Derp Downtown Loser & Co. We also know that most of our classmates make a point of avoiding us when we are together and that they see us with a negative connotation.

Pineapple, Stushi, Erasercap, and I are all used to being viewed as totally different people than we really are. The truth is, we’re okay with this. We are a group, and the outside world doesn’t matter that much in terms of socializing. As an Aspie, I have extreme socializing problems, sometimes with my friends even. The thing is, they’re always there for me, and I’m there for them.

Still, there are those times when none of us wants to socialize, so we just form The Shield of Introversion. It’s just when we all hang in a Loneliness Corner or a Derp Table where we work things out. Together, DERPS UNITED almost always navigates social situations. Anyone can have friends if they welcome them into their lives. And, having friends is vital for everyone, even introverts and people with autism.

Geeks shall rise

Reader, I was asked how I overcame these challenges. In truth, I don’t think there’s too much to overcome. I have friends who accept me for who I am and don’t shy away at the words “autism” or “mental illness.” Synesthesia hasn’t hurt my grades—if anything, it has improved my memory and helped my grades. As for being an introvert, that’s not even a disorder. I have the observation skills commonly associated with introversion. That’s just awesome.

My differences have caused trouble in my life, but they have also made me a work of art. Just because I experience panic attacks and have more trouble with sarcasm doesn’t mean I’m any less of a person. My gifts will lead me to amazing places—inspiring others, accepting all differences, and teaching people to correctly pronounce Asperger’s.

Nora Standish is a 12 year-old synesthete who enjoys writing and visual arts. Nora is a student at the Creative Youth Center, a program that allows students to express themselves through writing. In addition to art and writing, Nora is interested in psychology, physics, astrophysics, anatomy, and engineering. As an adult, she hopes to find a career in either writing or medicine.

As an introvert, Nora spends most of her time working with her interests and sometimes communicating with her small circle of close friends. Nora likes to listen to all different genres of music, and she writes lyrics to classical music pieces in her spare time.

This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.

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