On August 8th, Amherst Community Connections had an incubator workshop on the topic of Asperger's syndrome with Christopher Stony. We started off with an icebreaker, asking everyone if they had something nice or beautiful that happened to them that morning. One person talked about sitting on the porch, and seeing a beautiful cardinal. I happen to have a bird feeder at home and my mom and I will name the different birds that go by. Another person said that they saw a chipmunk and were trying to decide whether it was alvin, simon or theodore. Being surprised with breakfast by a grand daughter was also something that was very nice this morning. It also made me think that you can always remember good things even if you think nothing good is happening to you. I thought I just rolled out of bed that morning, but I remembered the nice calming, morning walk I had on my way to ACC.
Stony gave us a very in depth and personalized story of his life growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome At a young age he was pointed out as different from everyone else and was sent to very unproductive sessions of psychotherapy. He had an interesting note that him riding bikes with his friend taught him more than all of the psychotherapy appointments combined. In addition, he explained how he has a hard time around large crowds and too much sensory overload. He needed a carved out time to be alone with himself in order to be happy. I have found that at times I cannot deal with too much sensory overload. Being at a party or a concert at times can be quite overwhelming if you are not in the right mood. In addition, he would be so overwhelmed that he would start screaming, so people thought that he was acting out to get attention. In reality, attention was the opposite of what he wanted, and he needed to get somewhere he would be completely alone.
Stony went to college where he excelled academically but could not deal with many other aspects of campus and dorm life. When amplified music was brought into his campus it was something that his senses really could not handle. Moreover, I can see how campus life would be hard for him as a college student myself. Being in a dorm is fun, but puts a lot of strain on the senses. Dormates can be very loud, there’s people everywhere, roommate issues and other things all factor in. This combined with Asperger's syndrome would be an extreme amount of things to process. After he dropped out of college he got 100 acres of rural farmland in New Hampshire, where he could finally live in the solitude of nature.
Stony found certain outlets like music (singing in choirs) and dancing to be something he could be happy with. He said he is not very good at communicating with people so music was something that he could do without having to use people skills like talking. As a musician myself I find this very important, because I have also seen how music can bring all different types of people together. When everyone is solely focused on making beautiful music, all the other social worries can go out the window. Dancing was also something that did not involve social skills. All you had to know was the dance moves themselves and just go out there and do it.
Surprisingly, Stony did not know that he had Asperger's syndrome until the 1990s, because it wasn’t a thing before then. When he found out he said it was like he had escaped the wilderness and obtained a map of his issues. I cannot imagine not being able to diagnose your mental issue until you are well into your adult years. The things this man has had to go through are things that no one should have to deal with. He also told us about the way his brain works, saying that he is very good at creative thinking but the opposite with strategic thinking. At a young age he could think up grand visions of Architecture, but could not play a game of chess for the life of him. He made a good point, that the inner workings of individuals minds are very unique and different, and that we have to be more understanding of different types of thought processes. Just in my circle of friends or family I have many different types of minds. Some of my friends are more organized, others looser, some are creative while others are more logical.
Stony also said that he has two goals in life: to enjoy life and be kind to others. I think these are two things that every human being should live by. Moreover, Stony seems to be doing just that, as he is representative for people with Asperger's syndrome and a very kind person. He really personalized the experience of Asperger’s so all of could understand.
ACC hosts free incubator workshop on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11:30 am. Free lunch for all. For a list of the weekly incubator workshops, go to ACC's website, http://www.amherstcommunityconnections.net/new-events/