In the years since the phrase became a cliché, I have received any number of compliments for my supposed ability to "think outside the box." Actually, it has been a struggle for me to perceive just what these "boxes" were—why they were there, why other people regarded them as important, where their borderlines might be, how to live safety within and without them. My efforts have been only partly successful: after fifty-two years, I am left with the melancholy sensation that my life has been spent in a perpetual state of parallel play, alongside, but distinctly apart from, the rest of humanity.That is how Tim Page, a journalist, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic and author describes his life growing up with Asperger's before the term was commonly known, in a passage from his moving essay titled "Parallel Play" in the August 20 issue of The New Yorker. The magazine recently beefed up its website, but it doesn't include every article online; if you have someone in your life with Asperger's, it would be good to get a copy of this issue.
Page, who is 52, was diagnosed in 2000. He spoke with "All Things Considered" host Robert Siegel on August 13 (find the six-minute-long interview here). In their conversation, Page says he was very young, three or four years old, when his family understood something was different about his development. "It was a question of what that difference was," he says, adding that he had some strengths along with many weaknesses.
Growing up, Page says he did poorly in school, and educated himself on details that interested him. Later, he found a copy of Emily Post's book "Etiquette" and found that by poring over it, he learned to understand some of the nuances of people's behavior which he otherwise could not comprehend. "It explained to me why people behaved the way they did. I got the gist of it. I got the idea of why people didn't talk on and on about things," he says.
Page says that his diagnosis helped him make better sense of his life, and he wished to help some others like him by writing about his experience.
"I'm much more drawn into the human race. I'm happier, more in control," Page says. Asperger's "is not something that goes away. There is no cure for it, but there is living with it. It's a different way of processing information. It can be quite difficult when you are young."