Michael P.

His name is Michael.

Michael P. is a Direct Support Professional with OPG .

Michael supports his brother 5 days a week.

Michael has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, sometimes referred to as Asperger’s syndrome. 

Michael has told a close group of friends and family about his diagnosis, no one else.  No one else until today.  Now, he’s telling the world. 

This is his story:

“I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, sometimes called Asperger’s, in my early 20s (I’m now 36).  I’m still coming to terms with this.  I was previously accustomed to thinking of myself as if my depression and social anxiety were closer to the core of my identity, and it took me about a decade to become more comfortable with thinking of those mainly as indirect consequences of my life with autism, and the way it has impacted my social experience.”

Michael and I sat down for 2 beautiful hours together over coffee on Monday, April 18th. The first time Michael has talked about his diagnosis with a stranger.  We exchanged a few emails before meeting, that’s all.  You want to know what I learned about Michael?  As much as I could imagine in 2 hours.  Michael and I have the same taste in heavy metal music, Michael has been a vegetarian for 15 years, he loves his brother as much as anyone I’ve ever seen love a sibling.  He has dreams of writing and loves reading.  He cannot be defined by his diagnosis. 

Image Description: Jacob and Michael are standing in front of a coffee shop with a brick front. Michael is a white male with a shaved head and stubble facial hair. He is smiling wearing a green zip up sweater. Jacob is a white male with dark blonde hair and facial hair. Jacob is wearing a black and white striped polo shirt with red accents.

“My autism is an invisible condition for the most part.  In a way, it’s invisible even to me.  I know next to nothing of the neurology or psychology of it.  I just am who I am, with my strengths and weaknesses, my idiosyncrasies.  I’ve ‘come out’ to a handful of people, and a typical response has been to say, ‘Your diagnosis is just a word to me, and it doesn’t change how I see you.’  But occasionally someone will seem surprised or skeptical and tell me about a strange or negative stereotype that I do not fit.”

Michael told me that he has seen people online use the words “Asperger’s” and “autistic” in demeaning, insulting ways.  Michael told me that he wonders about putting his face on that, and has tried to reduce his social media presence. 

“I think people usually don’t see me as neurodivergent; they probably see me as ‘odd’ or ‘offbeat’ or peculiar, in ways that are hard to pin down.  I’ve had people (children and rude adults) basically ask me point blank to explain why my voice and mannerisms are what they are: I seem a little flat and emotionless, or nervously self-concsious, or depressed and disengaged.  And although these impressions of me are sometimes accurate, they also leave out something important, which I haven’t completely figured out- but it’s probably where my autism comes in. I sense that I’m on a slightly different wavelength from most people, and have to struggle more to fit in, to seem comfortable with and attentive to the same things [as others].”

Here is how Michael describes his experience with OPG: “In 2015, my family and I worked out an arrangement with OPG that allows me to be a paid support person for my brother, while the two of us share our own living space. The arrangement has benefited all of us, and OPG deserves credit for its willingness to try something a bit unconventional. OPG has helped my brother realize his dream of living more independently, and in the process, OPG has helped me along in my pursuit of satisfying work, while simultaneously bringing greater peace of mind to our family. I consider myself extremely fortunate.”

He sums up our conversations this way: “If I could somehow trade perspectives with a neurotypical person, so that they think and feel as I do, and vice-versa, I’m sure that each of us would find the experience freeing and illuminating in some ways but cramping and painful in others.  But this can be said of any two human beings. ‘Different’ doesn’t have to mean worse or better in some absolute way.”

If I could sum up our conversations, I would echo “different doesn’t have to mean worse or better in some absolute way.”

His name is Michael. 

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