I've been diagnosed with a high-functioning form of Asperger's. I'm 36 and I was diagnosed about the 9th of February 2014 (age 33). I don’t live with anybody. I've got a mum and dad down in Victoria, one grandparent left and a few cousins and uncles and aunties. I've got a sister as well. I reckon my dad and my grandfather was Asperger's, but they're undiagnosed.
Seeking a diagnosis
I was in a relationship with a girl and she thought some of my quirks were a bit odd. I just said that I was autistic because about ten years earlier, a girl that I was seeing said that I was. My girlfriend asked me why I thought that, and I said because of this, this and this. She did some research and came back to me with a book, and I read a few passages and felt as though it was written about me. I went and saw the GP, and was referred to a psychiatrist. He interviewed me and said, ‘look you're high-functioning Asperger's, but it's not anything to worry about’.
I felt relieved by the diagnosis. For a long time, I'd known I'd been different to other people, had different interests and I just thought I didn’t belong, like an imposter in the world. I was relieved to have a label for who I am, if that makes any sense.
I saw a psychologist and eventually the relationship with the girl that suggested I had some quirks broke down, and I needed some help dealing with that. For me there was some assistance in seeing things differently, but I think it was just a matter of needing to understand myself rather than somebody telling me how to do things in life.
Some of the traits that I related to when I received that information from my former girlfriend included: that I was very untidy but I was happy in my untidiness, I knew where everything was and had to have things in a particular way. I liked dressing in a certain way for comfort, like I am today in my khaki sort of stuff. People make fun of me because of that, I used to care, but now I don’t because it's comfortable and that’s who I am.
I felt a bit different growing up. I think even when I was young, in kindergarten; I had different interests to other people. I was more interested in looking for lizards than playing with other kids. Then as I grew a bit older I got into clay target shooting and had an interest in firearms and hunting and all that sort of stuff, other people are just generally are more interested in football or other sports. If they didn't want to have a conversation with me about the things that I was interested in, then I chose not to have a conversation at all. I'd go and do things on my own. I remember seeing a child psychologist when I was younger, but I can't quite remember what the outcome of that was.
I didn't see a point to school work and learning about things that I didn't particularly care about. If there was no purpose, what's the point? So, things like learning a musical instrument that I wasn’t interested in, I didn’t see the value in it, instead I'd go off and get in trouble because I'd be doing my own thing and then I’d be sent to principal's office. That was a regular thing.
I was often in trouble at school and it was just because I was not interested in what we were learning. If we could have related it back to my interests, then I probably would've had more of a reason to learn what I was supposed to. I was never good at maths and I just put it to the side because in my mind at the time, it didn’t have anything to do with firearms or hunting. But now I realise as I've gotten an interest in metalwork, to produce products that are related to firearms, you've got to know maths because it's all very precise. I'm just learning it now, I'm applying the maths, like the algebra that I thought I'd never have a purpose for.
I'm sensitive to loud noises. If I'm trying to concentrate on something it's very difficult if there's: a loud noise like clanging and banging or doors shutting or other conversations going on. It sort of pollutes my mind when I'm trying to concentrate. I don’t mind a bit of music when I'm working, its white noise. The other day I was doing some metalwork and a guy was trying to have a general conversation with me and I just couldn't concentrate on both, it's challenging. I'm sensitive to light as well. I wear blue-tinted glasses when I'm reading, which helps me to read a bit better. And as for sunlight, I hate it. I wear sunglasses and a hat and I'll stay inside if I can. I will also stay out of the heat, I hate heat as well. To deal with the noise, it's just a matter of trying to drown it out, I am aware of it but I'll say “right, it's not going to be there forever, just get through this little bit here and then it'll pass.”
Mum sort of understood that I was a bit different. She's a teacher so she'd pick up on it and got me extra tutorage and she helped me out. I don’t think dad quite understood what it was all about, but I think he's on the spectrum anyway.
Mum is aware of my diagnosis but doesn’t think I'm on the spectrum. I think maybe because it wasn’t until '92, '93 when Aspergers came on the map as being recognised. I haven't really spoken to dad about it. They knew I was different, but they couldn't place a label on it.
Sometimes I like to socialise, but it can be challenging. I find other people on the spectrum good to chat with, we're upfront, we can say what we think and there's no real drama. But it is challenging to socialise with other people, especially when we have different opinions.
I've learnt that my opinion isn't absolute; I used to think it was, but I now know that it isn't. I find it challenging to have conversations with people where they'll have an opinion based on an emotion rather than an actual fact. Everybody can have their own opinions, but you can't have your own facts, facts are absolute. When they're saying something that's completely wrong it is very hard to entertain a conversation without saying I think you're wrong because of this, this and this. I mean they get to a point where they're shocked or stunned that they're actually wrong. They'll either accept it or they'll just come out and say you're a bigot or you're a racist or you're a this or you're a that. Without having any facts, they just come out with it, that's a bit rough and I've had to learn to accept it.
I know one or two people personally that are on the spectrum, but I do come across people on the spectrum every day and some people look at me funny when I say ‘hey, have you ever been assessed for being on the spectrum?’ Some people are interested, other people are offended, but that's what happens.
I don’t like to do much socially. I don’t enjoy going out for meals with people. I guess I might call a friend who's aligned with my belief systems and we can talk for an hour and that's better than catching up with people that I don’t blend with. For me it's about quality, not quantity. I don’t really get out that much, I just go to work and go home. I might do things here or there, but I'm not overly social.
I'm a copper and I joined the police force to help people and catch bad guys. I like to communicate with people. Where I'm working at the moment we’re dealing with a lot of drunk people who sit under trees drinking alcohol. I approach my job with a bit of kindness and heart, and I say, ‘all right, they're a bit different to me, their standard is different to my standard. However, we’ve got to try and reach a mutual ground’. I'll ask them where they're from and what they're up to and all that sort of stuff and I'll build that rapport with them. When it comes down to the crunch and you've got to ask them to move on, I'll ask them politely to tip their grog out and perhaps pick all the rubbish up that they’ve left on the ground and put it in the bin. That way I won't need to give them a ticket. They're happy, I'm happy, everyone's happy, they smile and wave as they walk away, it's good.
Sometimes it causes me a bit of conflict at work when I feel that the approaches that I wish to take are different from workplace policies, even if it is still staying within the rules. It can be very challenging if I am feeling that my concerns and approaches are not being heard or validated. It is similar to when I was going to school. They'll set the rules down, I'll follow the rules, but I'll do it a little bit differently and that can cause issues.
Future career path
I've always had a passion for firearms. Because I struggled early on in the police force when I first started, this copper said to me ‘if you put as much time and energy into policing as what you do firearms, you'd be a really good cop’. I reflect back on that now and it's like well, I should've put all my time and energy into firearms and I'd be probably in a different place now.
I'm aware now that I used to think that policing is what I am, but I've realised now it's what I do, what I am is something totally different. I like to help people, I like to train dogs and to get involved in firearm development. I've just got to work out how I'm going to make that transition and try and have employment or create my own business that'll still pay my bills that I need to pay. That's my biggest concern at the moment. I've invested a lot in property and if I could, I'd just walk away from it because it's turned into too much hassle.
I do hyper focus on things. In the media, these days firearms are looked upon as an evil, menacing sort of thing, but I don’t see them as a source of power; I see them as a source of science. It's just like some people have an interest in cars and making them go faster and perform better, I just have different ideas on firearms. I enjoy the engineering aspect of it. It used to be when I watched action movies I'd see all those people shooting guns and I would think that it would be good to be a policeman, I can go and do that, but it's not quite like that at all.
School was a bit of a chore. Some of it was good, woodwork was good. I did the Rock Eisteddfod, which was a bit of dancing thing, back in the 90s, it was interesting going around to camps. But overall it wasn’t the most positive time.
I had a few friends, but I wasn’t part of a huge social group where we'd all do things together, there were maybe one or two people I'd hang out with at lunchtime and recess. There was another guy on the spectrum, I didn’t know it at the time but we've caught up since and had a chat. I used to hang out with him a lot, we'd talk politics and different things about the world and that was probably the better times. At the time I didn’t realise how good it was, relating like that to another person on the spectrum.
I was bullied at school. I found it frustrating and upsetting, but I guess I was a bully at one time myself and I regret that. I'm remorseful for it. It's not a nice thing, but I think it develops people, it hardens their character and gets them ready for the real world out of school. Some people I find that had been bullied will curl up into a shell and become reserved or they might lash out and be violent. I remember one girl used to make fun of me a lot because I had opinions and ideas that were different to everybody else's, but she was quite alternative herself. One way of me expressing my disappointment in how I was being treated by her, was dressing up like her at a school function. She had short, yellow, spikey hair and a bit of a gap between her teeth and she'd wear alternative clothes like Dr Marten boots with a skirt, tights and a flannel shirt. I dressed the same way to a school function and she got very upset and everybody laughed. One teacher said it was outrageous that I did such a thing and then another teacher said, ‘no, Nathan's quite within his right to do that. She teases him all the time, what comes around goes around’.
What would have been helpful to me as a student
I think it would be good for perhaps someone on the spectrum or a person who understands the spectrum to say ‘hey, Nath, do you ever feel like this, this or this?’ and I'll say ‘yes, I can relate to that’. ‘Right, you're in this group called the autism spectrum and this is how other people will deal with stuff and this is how people like you deal with stuff. So the way to deal with those people over there is you do this, this and this and then you'll get along just lovely in life’.
A book that really helped me was How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was like a manual to life on how to deal with people. I would recommend anybody who is on the spectrum to read that. It will open doorways you never imagined. I finally got that book in 2004, I was told about it in '99 when I was on a student exchange in America, but never got around to buying it until 2004 and it opened great windows of opportunity.
Student exchange in America
My student exchange program was really good. What I enjoyed about it was that I was treated differently for once. I was someone special because I was from a different country and at the time, I don’t know what America's like now, but when I was there they were a very naïve group of people. They didn’t know much about the rest of the world and they wanted to know about Australia. I could tell them and they liked that. People would smile and wave at me in the schoolyard, I felt accepted for once. It was a good time.
I was there for a year. I also learnt that a lot of people who go on exchange get homesick, but I didn’t. I've developed an understanding of that, I just have different bubbles. So, at the moment I'm in my own time bubble, if I go to work today I'll be in a work bubble and then I'll have a shooting bubble and then I've got my family bubble back in Victoria. They're all separate, that's just how I operate and I think that's why I don’t get homesick, because at the moment I'm not here, I'm not there. When I get home I realise, this bubble's been here the whole time and I think for other people the bubbles overlap and people do get homesick and miss their family and friends, but for me, that's how I operate.
Disclosing my diagnosis
I have told my workplace about my diagnosis, but I don’t think they believe it. I've had some really interesting comments. I'll explain the Aspergers sort of thing and I'll get feedback of ‘how did you even get into the police force, should you even still be in the police force?’. I'm not even upset by it because that’s just them not understanding what it's all about, people can be a bit closed-minded like that.
I think that having a diagnosis will close doors for me. In the Northern Territory, it's very much a boy's club so to speak, everybody knows everybody, and I believe it would affect me just because people aren’t aware of what it's all about. I do disclose my diagnosis but I don’t readily share it in general, I'd be selective. If I meet someone and I'm going to be in contact with this person a lot, whether it's at work or through shooting or the dog training or whatever, I'll tell them ‘I've got some quirks, I'm passionate about this, not so much about that, if in any way there's a misunderstanding, please have a chat with me about it. If you don’t feel comfortable having a chat with me about it, say if it's at work, speak to the supervisor and we'll work something out’. But if it's just somebody in passing, I don’t tell everybody that I meet.
Connecting with others on the spectrum
I do connect with groups like Autism NT to link with other people in the spectrum. I've done that a couple of times and it's been really good. I met a guy that would've been 16 or 17 years old, and he was just the spitting image of me when I was younger. He was into his reptiles and that’s all he was interested in. He was wearing boots, long explorer socks, cargo-type shorts and a green t-shirt all which I used to wear. For me, the reason I used to wear those sorts of things were: because the boots were durable, the socks were comfortable and the colour scheme being dark green, it fits in with the environment, so you can get closer to the creatures you want to look at.
The guy is high-functioning, but much more focused on his passion. He needs to understand that he has got to spread that passion out to other people as well because if he is too focussed it'll close opportunities. I can see that now, even though it might be challenging to deal with other people that have different opinions and ideas, it's essential if I want to follow what I want to do. Because they might know someone who has a problem with snakes and they need someone to go out and pick them up and put them somewhere else, but he didn’t quite see that. So, it was interesting having a chat with him.
I saw a reflection of myself in him. I would like to work with younger people on the spectrum as a mentor because I would’ve appreciated some mentoring when I was younger. I’ve gotten some mentoring from other people, but it wasn’t from an Asperger's point of view, it was more of a life view, ‘this is what you should be doing, or go this direction or that direction and these are the reasons why’.
The best part about having Asperger's
For me the best part about having Aspergers is that whatever I put my mind to, I generally achieve it. I worked pretty hard in the school holidays to go to America on a student exchange, I achieved that. I joined the police and I wanted to be the best shot on the course, I'm not good at exams or studying, but I can shoot well. I was the best shot on the course and in Victoria. I wanted to join the force response unit in Victoria, which is halfway between general duties and the special operations group and I knew my weaknesses and my strengths. My strengths were firearm handling and following procedures and orders, so for room clearances, I can do that really well but I knew my limit was that I wasn’t really fit at the time. So, the special operations group was out because they require a high level of fitness, but also, they do put you under a lot of stress, to push you to see how far you could go. At the time I knew I couldn't be pushed too far because I could break down.
I chose clay target shooting instead. I wanted to be really good at that and I've done really well. I think the only thing holding me back now is sponsorship, if I had some money I could be world champion. But it's an expensive sport, I just can't fund it. In regard to dog training, I'm one of the best, I wanted to have a super obedient dog and I've got that. I wanted to buy a parachute, I bought that and flew that around, so I've done pretty much everything, achieved everything that I've wanted to achieve. And yes, everything I aim at I normally hit.
Facebook is a good medium to check out other people and see how they deal with problems and issues. I watch a lot of motivational videos and that helps me to push along. I might have had a bad day at work or not looking forward to going to work, and I'll flick through Facebook to find a good motivational picture or video. Usually it’s someone who's been in a lot worse position than me. And it's like, ‘well, if they can do it, I can just get through this’. It is inspiring to see other people on the spectrum who have done really well in their lives, like: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Darryl Hannah, Einstein, lots of people including celebrities. It's like you can make it in life, you've just got to be focussed and it's just a matter of people finding that focus and understanding themselves.
I find that people are a lot braver on Facebook and they'll say things that are quite racist or derogatory or just something that they wouldn't normally say face-to-face. If I've said something they don’t necessarily agree with, where I get upset or angry about it and they'll use words to try and upset me. I'll say ‘well, how about we catch up and have a meal together and talk about it?’. That exact thing happened once and it actually worried them. When they found out that I was a cop, they called 000 and reported me for threatening them by inviting them to a lunch. To most people that just sounds ridiculous, but the problem is my employer entertained it and I got interviewed for it. It's like, ‘I asked them to lunch, what else could I do?’. I could've sworn back at them, but that doesn't achieve anything. If people communicated more we’d all be a lot better, you know.
When I was working in communications as a call taker supervisor, I was always having miscommunications. I would follow a procedure on how to deal with people who had trouble over the phone, but sometimes people, no matter what you say to them, won’t accept the fact of the situation. So, I'll tell them, ‘I hear what you're telling me, what you're saying is you want ABC to happen. I understand that, it must be frustrating, but I can't help you do that because it's against the law (or this or that reason)’. If they're not satisfied, they'd want to speak to my supervisor and they'd say that I sounded condescending on the phone. But, out of the 1000 or 2000 people I've dealt with in the past it hasn’t been a problem, but that one person thought it was a problem. I would then get questioned about why I sounded so robotic on the phone. But that’s how I dealt with 2000 other people and it's worked 2000 times before. So there have been a lot of miscommunications.
Support wise, I'm seeing a girl at the moment; she's fairly good to have a chat with. I guess if I was in a real drama I'd call a friend in Alice Springs and have a chat with him. I've got another friend who I think's on the spectrum, he's down in Melbourne, and I'll also talk with him. But I don’t need that personal interaction to feel support, I can just make a call and bounce things off them to make sure I'm on the right track and if they say ‘whoa, don’t do that’, I'll take notice of what they say.
What I like the most about myself
What I like the most about myself is the confidence in my ability in the things that I become focused on. Recently I was in a clay target shooting competition, there was a bit of confusion on one of the rules that was broken by the competitor before me and that put me in the running for first or second with another guy. All I had to do was shoot one target, and for the entire earlier part of that competition I broke the target with the first shot every time. Now if I missed the target I'd have to continue on shooting with this guy until one of us missed a target. A world champion came up to me (who was the shoot marshal) and he said ‘Nathan, you've got to go out there and shoot another target, I'm sorry for the disruption’. I said ‘well, let's go out and shoot another target’. I did it with confidence and with that much confidence in myself that it was as easy as buttering a piece of bread.
Sure enough, I called pull, first shot I missed the target, but that didn’t matter, I'm knew that I would hit it with the next shot and I smashed it. Other people see that and they admire it because they can't do it. A lot of people would fail because they'd be under too much pressure, but for me at that time, it was easy and I guess that’s what I like about myself.
What I wish that other people knew about me
I wish that people knew that I only want the best for everybody else. I'm not going to push other people down to get ahead; I'm not the type of person to do that. My opinions and my actions are not based to harm or to upset anybody else. I just want to help people. I don’t think people feel that in the moment. I think they can get a bit confused.
Because I get fairly passionate about how I approach my job, people may feel that I am trying to buck the trend, that I am not like them, or my that belief system isn't the same as theirs. Sometimes I feel that they are trying to push me to the side. People have tried talking to me about these things and they struggle with the different belief systems. I think my attitude is a lot more positive than theirs. But if I could, what I like to get across is that I just want to help people.
Dreams for the future
Ideally, I would have an occupation or a business where I can help people to find enjoyment and happiness, whether that's through dog training or firearm development. There's a lot of people out there that go to work and their one bit of enjoyment is the weekend when they go out for a bit of a shoot whether it be targets or hunting. If I can help them achieve their dreams by having a good time doing that, whether it's through: the products I'm developing or my mind-set for clay target shooting, the system that I run to hit more targets than anybody else or my dog training system, that's ideally what I would like to do. I think just my dream for the future would be happiness for everybody.
I have had bit of whirlwind relationship with the girl I met recently. We've talked about marriage and children, but I guess we've met at the wrong side of 30 and all these different things come into play. She's travelled all around the world with a high paying job, but she's got no assets, I've got assets but just barely covering the bills. We've got to talk about where we're at and what we're doing and where we're going from here. I'm pretty confident she's on the spectrum, she's sort of denying it but knows it. I think it'll be a long-term relationship. It's good and it's easy to communicate. The relationship side of it is easy, if I do something that’s a bit odd or different she won't just lash out and me and say, ‘how can you do that, it's outrageous’. She will talk to me about it and I'll give her reasons and it’s all good from there. In past if I've done something different, girlfriends I've had would be really upset.
For an adult, I would say read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, that will be your manual to the world.
Not everybody is going to be as intelligent, aware and as knowledgeable as you. If someone is saying something that you know is 100% wrong and you've got the facts to prove it, unless it's directly going to affect you, just let them have that. Don’t even entertain the fact of having a debate about it, there's no winners in that. Especially when somebody else has a passion about what they're saying. If they're proven wrong in front of other people, it's so demoralising for them they will hate you for a very long time.
The third tip would be follow your passion, as long as it's not damaging to anybody else or any other thing, just do what makes you happy. At the same time understand there will be responsibilities as an adult, like your bills and your rates and your house repayments etc. It’s all very well having a passion about collecting flowers, but unless that's paying the bills you've got to find an occupation that'll pay your bills and then collect your flowers in your off time. If you can make money out of collecting your flowers, then go ahead and do it.