Opinion: We all have our strengths and weaknesses

David Derbyshire, Coproduction Group Member and Personal Development Coach at Asperger’s Heroes CIC reflects on our ‘Valuable AND Vulnerable’ project and how we can all be both vulnerable and valuable.

___________________________________________________________

It can feel hollow when the motivational speaker never seems to have had any problems to overcome themselves. It’s like they are frightened of losing credibility. Yet it’s exactly the moment they begin to share their struggles that in my eyes they begin to gain credibility. Of course, no one is there just to hear about their difficulties and feel sorry for them but seeing their journey actually helps the listener realise that if the speaker can get over these problems they might be able to as well.

I had never really thought of myself as vulnerable in the sense of having a weakness and needing to take special care. Nevertheless, a number of years ago I began to suspect I was on the autistic spectrum and eventually received “a very late diagnosis” of Asperger’s syndrome a condition on the autistic spectrum. I was in my 50s and since autism is a lifelong condition had been autistic all along. This is growing phenomena. As awareness of autism grows, more and more people are beginning to realise that they were missed in childhood.

My diagnosis gave me, at last, the massive insight into my life that I needed.

I began to understand why I had always struggled with making conversation in group settings. I remember being encouraged to go up to people and introduce myself. Yes, I could do that – but it was exhausting. It never occurred to me that the noise and the bright lights were probably taking their toll on me as well as trying to navigate all that non-verbal communication that a lot of people manage without even thinking about it. This was just one way that being autistic made me vulnerable.

My diagnosis also helped me to become more aware of some of my strengths. As I learnt more about autism I realised that it explained my ability to sit on my own for long periods getting lost in a task and seeing the details that no-one could see. It explained my tendency to persevere with tasks and ideas while others by comparison quickly gave up or forgot such things. It also helped me to realise why I often arrived at my own unique approach to situations as well as explaining my loyalty and honesty. These were just some of ways that my autism made me valuable.

During the pandemic I am one of those who some might think are overly cautious. Perhaps because for me, being autistic means that I am hypersensitive to, and find it harder to ignore, the dangers. But I’ve also been able to help many other autistic adults in similar positions to myself by running a group on Zoom and through chatting one-to-one on video-calls.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses and though you may think of yourself as vulnerable this doesn’t mean that you are not valuable. In fact, I would say that an important part of your value to others may well come out of that vulnerability.