The Aspergian Sense of Style

Nikola Tesla

I am very much a lone-wolf and an intrepid one at that. I venture into hot pot restaurants most white people would consider too foreign or too edgy, I read the menus in their original Chinese and order my food in either Mandarin or Cantonese which I’ve taught myself.

By Tom Clements

Aspergians are natural iconoclasts. It’s rare that we fit into subcultural norms or into the wider society in general, which is what makes us such a unique tribe of individuals. I think many of us have a very sophisticated, and much underappreciated, sense of style. Nikola Tesla, the inventor who is strongly suspected to have had Asperger Syndrome, was an example of how downright cool Aspergians can be. He ignored conventional attitudes and pursued his own interests religiously, unencumbered by what others thought and without ulterior motive. His relentless pursuits in science led him to become one of humanity’s greatest ever contributors.

Often Aspergians become so obsessive about a certain subject that we become Zen masters of it, often to the envy of others. The petty fears and apprehensions of what others might think are quite irrelevant when we’re consumed by our special interest, sometimes to the detriment of other things. Tesla had no girlfriend, no sex life and very few activities outside of his interest in science and invention. His ability to focus on one thing and one thing only for extended periods of time made him the great person he was, but also an icon for maverick thinkers.

On a Saturday, my only day off work, when others around me are planning shopping trips with their families or cinema outings with their friends, I am up early doing cool stuff on my own. I pursue my special interest which is the culture of East Asia. I am very much a lone-wolf and an intrepid one at that. I venture into hot pot restaurants most white people would consider too foreign or too edgy, I read the menus in their original Chinese and order my food in either Mandarin or Cantonese which I’ve taught myself. Being an egotist at heart, I receive enormous satisfaction knowing I’m one of the few English people out there who is brave enough to do this sort of stuff. In my case, I feel at one with East Asian culture, more at home eating youtiao and cheung fan with chopsticks than I am doing something ‘normal’ like going to the pub with mates.

On the way to Chinatown, I stop off sometimes at Brick Lane where all the hipsters are, usually to pick up some Bengali sweets like burfi or gulab jamun for the train ride home. I really feel sorry for those guys. They come across as so phony, so self-conscious, it’s painful. I bet they secretly wish they were as free as me, the Aspergian adventurer with an iconoclastic bent. While they eat over-priced soughdough made by tattooed bakers, I am eating the best dim sum outside of Hong Kong for a fraction of the price. While they wear jeans so tight they look as their legs are suffocating underneath, I am totally free and at ease in my typically eccentric mix of tracksuit bottoms, suede boots, plain black t-shirt and a battered Red Sox cap.

In Chinatown, I am a blue-eyed, brown-haired boy in a sea of straight black hair and olive faces. While Mando-pop blares from nearby shops, I sing along, having spent much of my free time during the week learning the lyrics to Wang Lee Hom and Jay Chou. Finally, I sit alone at the Peace Pagoda with other Chinese, baozi in one hand, bubble tea in the other. I’m pretty bloody cool and having Asperger Syndrome makes me pretty bloody cool.

Cover image: Nikola Tesla

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Tom Clements

Tom is a 27-year-old writer from the UK. He grew up on the outskirts of London and was diagnosed in his early twenties with Asperger Syndrome. His younger brother Jack has severe autism and has limited language. After two years teaching English in China, Tom now plans to work in education in his native Britain. He is seeking a publisher for his memoir The Autistic Buddha: An Unconventional Path to Enlightenment.

Other blogs you may like:

The Autistic Buddha – my unconventional path to enlightenment
Historical figures who may be on the autism spectrum

3 Comments

  • You are totally cool! I envy your special interest. It is one of my mild interests. I decided years ago to try to learn to distinguish different Asian languages so I could tell which one I was hearing. Still working on it! It is so interesting to try to distinguish the sounds that are common to each one. I could listen to them for hours. I can’t think of anyone who shares this interest of mine so it’s nice to read about how far you have taken it! Good for you, for teaching yourself Mandarin and Cantonese! And for enjoying and learning about the entire cultures, too. Have fun – I know you will!

  • Cheryl Dennison says:

    Aspergians can explore special interests without feeling too self conscious, it’s interesting you mention that because I have found this to be the case. People can think you’re is over-the-top, and not being ‘socially appropriate’ for not mixing. Well if people have a better way, let them present it. What is offered? People wasting their money chasing after ‘fashion’ (i.e. whatever the greedy conglomerates and flauncy ‘super stars’ basically say to wear). Or getting sloshed in a pub. Mind you, booze seems to be quite a worldwide problem e.g. in Thailand there’s a problem with it.

  • Theresa Braganza-JonesS says:

    Hello Tom , I am a British Grand mother living in Spain and subscribed to the asperger site while back , mainly because i suspect my friends son has aspergers and also wondered if my 14 year old Grand-daughter is an aspergian. I was blessed to read of your experiences and inspired. It isn’t easy to be the ‘odd’ (societys label’) one out. BUT, what a great freedom to just be yourself and not run with the pack . Carry on and discover new things , use your talents and gifts to enhance the lives of others and educate the ignorant about aspergers. I hope that you find a publisher for your book, don’t give up, be determined to see it through. Best regards from Theresa.

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