I’m your average college junior theater major who loves to sing, act, dance and get her hands and clothes dirty in the scene shop. I also happen to have Asperger’s syndrome, but that doesn’t keep me off the stage because I love to perform! Here are the 10 things I wish theater people knew about Asperger’s syndrome:
1. There’s more than what you see on the surface.
On the surface, I’m socially awkward, totally out of it and obnoxious. Inside there’s a girl who can understand other people’s wants and needs, never runs out of show tunes to sing and can remember choreography from prior shows even after eight years. If I’m working backstage and other actors have certain requests for things, I can accommodate accordingly. For example, in a production of “Sweeney Todd” I worked on this summer, the girl who played Johanna asked to not have her ears show when I did her hair, and offstage I had two bags of frozen vegetables for her itchy skin.
2. I don’t always look before I leap.
Sometimes I tend to do or say things without even thinking twice, and yes, it may cause embarrassment for you. But trust me, I feel the burn of what I did afterward. It’s just that when I’m so caught up with whatever impulse I act on, I’m not thinking about the direct consequences in the moment.
3. Don’t just give me a fish, teach me to fish.
I’m usually eager learn how to do something you’re doing — a fouette turn, fake punch, a certain dialect. Don’t be afraid to teach me how to do it and give me pointers along the way. Oh, and brace yourself for having to repeat it with me multiple times (or fewer) because it’s a trial and error process for me.
4. Anxiety is a part of the deal.
Sure, there’s stage fright you get before performing, but for me it tends to go deeper than the surface, mainly because of something in a scene that may provoke anxiety for me. But you and I can figure out how to help me navigate it so I can thrive onstage.
5. Some things may not make sense to you as they do to me.
I’ve begun to carry around small stuffed animals backstage with me. Sometimes I need something to hold on to for comfort and to keep my senses in check. It may seem silly for someone in their 20s to carry around a teddy bear backstage, but it’s my way to make sure I won’t lose my mind.
6. Learn how to head off meltdowns before it’s too late.
They happen only if I’m anxious, overwhelmed or easily upset. If you notice that I’m either agitated, going into sensory overload or stressed, please move me out of the room immediately. If you already know what upset me, it’ll be easier to cope. And whatever you do, don’t make fun of me for something I have trouble with from time to time.
7. Be mindful of how you speak to me.
Nothing is worse than being treated like a baby over something I’m perfectly capable of doing or yelling at me because I won’t do something you ask me to do. And neither tone will certainly help me in the midst of a meltdown because that only adds more fuel to the fire. Sometimes, all I need is a little encouragement to get me through a tough situation.
8. Concentrate and feed off of what I can do.
I love to be challenged in musicals and plays, because I know there are certain roles out there I want to be able to portray that will challenge me. I don’t always want to be in the ensemble, so playing a featured or big role every so often is great to show what I’m capable of. If there are killer acro tricks, I want to show off — there can be a way to incorporate it!
9. Pay attention to what I’m trying to tell you, even if I can’t find the words to say it.
Subtle clues on what’s agitating me in a certain situation may give you an idea on how to help me cope. For example, the timeless “thousand-yard stare” and sudden silence only occur when I’m anxious, so in that case, you can put your arm around me to snap me out of it. If I suddenly get quiet and pull away, then it’s a clue that something’s going on and I need help.
10. Acceptance is the way to go.
Embracing the quirks that come with the package can make it successful, no matter if I’m backstage with the crew or onstage taking a bow with the cast!