A Different Kind of Different
Imagine living in a world where every light shines too bright and all sounds are ten decibels too loud. Imagine if everyone you met talked in a flat monotone, making it impossible to tell if they were happy, sad, or sarcastic. Imagine if you could hear frequencies normally in the realm of dogs but human speech often sounded like a jumbled, garbled mess. Imagine that you had to deal with all of the above but you looked and sounded pretty much normal, so that others were unaware of your disability, or if they were aware sometimes refused to believe you truly were disabled. Now imagine trying to get a job.
My brother has Asperger’s Syndrome. First days on the job terrify him, as does anything involving the unknown. I cannot imagine the courage it must take for him to walk through a door for the first time. He tends to work contract jobs, so he has a lot of first days. There have been a couple of Worst Case Scenarios in his job history. He has had employers who couldn’t understand why he didn’t hear them when they gave instructions, and so accuse him of not listening or disobedience. He is scrupulously honest, and some bosses frankly had an issue with that. I have had to call Human Resources on his behalf, and consequently deal with attitude from HR Directors.
“What I don’t understand,” The last one said to me, “is why Darin isn’t calling me. Why are you calling me?”
“If Darin was capable of calling a hostile person he didn’t know,” I felt like replying, “then he wouldn’t have Asperger’s.”
There have also been some Best Case Scenarios. My brother possesses attributes that would be valuable to any employer, such as a blazing fast typing speed. There is also his ethereal ability with computers. When my Apple Laptop died, burying three of my unpublished novels, my brother took it completely apart until it was in pieces on his bedroom floor. Even though he does not work with Macs and has no training on the, he reassembled my computer and it has worked beautifully ever since. He is blunt to the point of tactlessness, but if you are trying to get at the truth of a matter he will never, ever, lie to you. He is a walking encyclopedia of scientific concepts, and sports a wry sense of humor that can lighten the blackest of moods. He has had employers that fell in love with his stunning technical ability and unusual way of tackling problems, employers that were willing to make slight accommodations (like emailing instructions instead of speaking them) and were rewarded with an invaluable employee.
Darin keeps meticulous records of money owed to others. Because he works sporadically, he pays his rent a month ahead to buffer any dry spells. When I have to cover his share of the rent he takes a precise accounting and invariably pays me back with his first paycheck. The sense of accomplishment and pride on these occasions is palpable. He loves working, and he loves helping others. Since childhood he has often expressed his desire to financially support our family, and he delights in being able to help with family bills. When he portions out his paycheck to various members of our family he always ends with a sigh of happiness.
I do not know if my brother will attain his dream of supporting us all, but I do know he will never give up trying. As he stands he is a triumph of grit and determination over circumstances, proof that anyone can have a satisfying work life, and proof that anyone can make a valuable contribution to society and to their families. I’ve never seen a guy so thrilled to write his sister a check. But I suppose that’s part of being a different kind of different.
Amber writes children's literature under a pen name in Portland, Oregon. She has a sister with Dyslexia and a brother with Asperger's, and together they navigate the joys and trials of life. They are the very best of friends. She was inspired to write her essay after a horrible encounter with HR at her brother's last place of employment. Her brother loved her essay.