Growing Pains: Dealing with Asperger's as an Adult

By: Michelle Varinata

 Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan -

Illustrated by: Jessica Vaughan -

My name is Michelle (or if you are my friend/sister/cousin, I go by Missy) and I am 23 years old. My favorite wardrobe staples are my vintage cheetah faux fur coat, a pair of white Miista ankle boots, houndstooth Vivienne Westwood backpack, custom-made PVC leggings and worn-in vintage gray Motley Crue shirt. You’ll never catch me without a pair of John Lennon style sunglasses, lashings of red lipstick, topknot or rings. Optional accessory: a cup of piping hot matcha latte with almond milk. While I may look like “one of those girls who works in fashion”, you’d never suspect that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. 

So, what exactly is Asperger’s? It’s a mild form of autism where one is blessed with intellectual capabilities and talents, but cursed with bad social skills. Alongside my Asperger’s diagnosis I also struggled with ADD. I had a hard time staying still, talk too fast and/or get easily distracted. These things might be a boy’s problem, but it’s girls like myself who also get affected by it too.

When I was a little girl my mom sent me to see a therapist for almost everything. While going to therapy seemed like it was an after-school activity, I also had to see one mid-day whether it be once or three times per week. A special schedule was created for me, which involved me having to skip portions of class. The teachers knew that it was something that they had to accommodate, but my peers kind of looked at me as if I had a disease. If going to therapy was a deal-breaker for everyone, the biggest problem I had was the struggle to express myself. 

When you think of someone with this condition it is always that A) they’re obsessed with science like Sheldon and co. in Big Bang Theory, B) talk like they’re writing an SAT, C) go on a Kanye-style rant when mad, or D) have a deep understanding of abstract concepts like the circumference of Pi. The biggest misrepresentation, to me, is the fact that regardless of any gender Aspies are always poorly dressed. Fashion may not be a subject that Aspies dig but the reason I fell in love with it was to hide my diagnosis. 

In middle school, I had a hard time making friends due to my shyness. Even when I said a word in class my peers thought that I was weird. One male classmate went as far to take away my monkey pencil case (which I dubbed “Anakin Skywalker”) and hid it - thankfully, I was able to retrieve it! Girls taunted me for having short hair and if they were kind enough, few wanted to befriend me for sympathy points. No one really understood what the hell I had but if there was any way to silence my haters without saying anything, it was to dress up. 

Growing up, I dug my nose into pages of Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Between the covers I couldn’t get my eyes away from seeing mouth-watering designer names, beautiful clothes and bold hairstyles. Given that both magazines had a totally different way of marketing what I always looked forward to were the celebrity fashions. If a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan wore a pair of liquid leggings with ballet flats I’d go out and get a pair too. If Mary-Kate Olsen or Nicole Richie had a pair of oversized sunglasses, I’d purchase some. Seeing a public figure dress up in the streets was an inspiration since I saw that as a way for them to deal with being seen without saying anything to hungry tabloid reporters. From then on I decided that the best way to silence my haters was to make them like my outfits - but to like my outfits I had to make sure that each one was better than the previous, to make the bullies forget about my social awkwardness. 

Packed with “Best Dressed” nominations, a fashion/beauty blog, an Instagram account and countless articles, the one thing I felt shy to dish out was my diagnosis. No longer do I feel the need to hide myself. Today I stand taller, braver and stronger.