Educating the public about Asperger’s

Award-winning speaker

Terri Robson says living with Asperger syndrome is like being a martian on earth.

Robson, who has Asperger’s, said picking up on social cues is impossible with the developmental disorder that causes behaviour and nonverbal communication difficulties.

“Communication is about 95 per cent non-verbal. We don’t read non-verbals. So we’re a bunch of martians trying to figure out what you people are all trying to say,” said Robson, 54, of Red Deer.

But Robson has been working to bridge the understanding between society and ‘aspies’ one speech at a time since 2009 by making presentations about Asperger’s as a consultant with Awkward Spirit, her educational enterprise.

On Dec. 5, Robson received an Award of Excellence in Public Awareness as part of the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities Awards.

“I go out and talk to people — parents, professionals, teachers, caregivers — anybody who is involved in the life of person with Asperger’s and high functioning autism. I talk to them about what it was like growing up with Asperger syndrome without a diagnosis. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 33 years old.”

She said it was nobody’s fault because Asperger’s didn’t hit the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Psychological Disorders until 1994. She was diagnosed in 1995.

With improvements to diagnostic tools, it’s estimated one in 165 people have Asperger’s. The ratio for boys is higher than girls at eight to one, she said.

“Some people are still getting diagnosed at an older age. But we’re also able to catch the kids at a younger age so we can teach them those skills that we don’t inherently learn.”

Robson had to figure out how to cope on her own.

“I’ve learned to look people in the eye. A lot of people with Asperger’s will not look at you mostly because we can’t attend to two senses at once. We can’t pay attention to message you’re trying to tell us if we’re looking at you. Our brains just don’t work that way.”

Robson currently receives AISH. She was working towards a designation as a professional accountant, but despite being very, very good at numbers, accounting requires a lot of interpretation that made it difficult for her.

“Our lives are very, very black and white. We can learn to understand some shades of grey. But in this crazy world of ours, most of it’s shades of grey. So it’s hard to work in a world that is so different from what we understand.”

For more information about Robson and Awkward Spirit go to http://www.askmeaspi.com/

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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