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


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

7 replies on “The Aspergian Sense of Style”
  1. 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!

  2. says: Cheryl Dennison

    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.

  3. says: Theresa Braganza-JonesS

    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.

  4. says: Michael Burns

    ” 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.”

    Your a bit too arrogant, I would say in your language. Maybe that’s a deficit you have nor overcome as yet. Maybe you haven’t quite found that personal language as yet — but self-styled segregation is not the answer…

    One must able to floats between two worlds, or a hundred — and be comfortable in all. Which you fail at from your own descriptors.

    You know that Asian restaurants are famous for excitotoxins which are not good for all to ingest, especially an Aspie? And sourdough has a pre-biotic.

    How do you deal with the gluten factor of Asian food, the artificial dyes and flavours enhancers so famously used by them?

    Arrogance is not a virtue for an autist.

    1. says: Nobody

      Asian food has excitoxins? You mean monosodium glutamate… MSG, which is scientifically proven to be safe for human consumption after one bogus claim. Its not toxic at all apart from the liberal use of racism and misinformation attached to it.

      1. says: michael burns

        No, the artificial dyes used in colouring, the huge amount of fake flavours with addictive qualities. The additives that are manufactured in China and that cannot be trusted in there food quality.
        MSG is a problem, as it causes me to swell and bloat, I can actually tell if it is in the food from the weird reaction I get.
        I have to ask when I enter an Asian restaurant.

        MSG is found naturally in foods and in the body, but, MSG is a super load, an overdose of what naturally occurs, and in that is the rub…inflammation of neurons can cause severe reactions.

        MSG, aka Chinese salt, aka Flavour Enhancer E61 is…

        “Glutamic acid (symbol Glu or E)[4] is an α-amino acid that is used by almost all living beings in the biosynthesis of proteins. It is non-essential in humans, meaning the body can synthesize it. It is also an excitatory neurotransmitter, in fact the most abundant one, in the vertebrate nervous system. It serves as the precursor for the synthesis of the inhibitory gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in GABA-ergic neurons.”

        Excitotoxins are dangerous things as they over-stimulate neurons till they suicide, they literally wear right out and so… as far as taste goes they are highly addicting to the particular food.

        The process of making it has not changed in well over a hundred years…

        “Although they occur naturally in many foods, the flavour contributions made by glutamic acid and other amino acids were only scientifically identified early in the twentieth century. The substance was discovered and identified in [the year 1866, by the German chemist Karl Heinrich Ritthausen who treated wheat gluten (for which it was named) with sulfuric acid.]”

        I also have great difficulty with gluten, actually moreso with gluten, it will punish my body for days if I eat it, high quality predigested breads, like some ancient forms of 14 day sour doughs I can sometimes handle depending on the quality, but gluten intolerance is a common food allergy of many Asperger Syndrome individuals. And if not checked can lead to dangerous long term reaction of the immunity and gut and bowel biomes.
        Crohn’s and Irritable bowel inflation are some

  5. says: Dawn Prince-Hughes

    It’s so interesting, because there’s been so much synchronicity in my life lately, and I just came across this and read it. The synchronicity is that just a few hours ago I was thinking back on my youth and young adult hood with different eyes and realizing I was *extraordinarily* cool. Even in high school I made my own personal fashion line, was reading Kant and Buddhist scriptures, I had a lot of confidence in myself, even though I was uncertain and awkward in situations. I think I put a lot of people at ease being at home and myself. After I moved out of my parents, I wrote a motorcycle in my hair was absolutely fy-ah. Then, after I started studying the gorillas in my twenties, that added a whole new level of cool. I was not aware of that at the time, because it just seemed normal to me but looking back from this distance I think “wow …that was pretty cool!

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