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The eternal teenager

I freely admit to being stuck in my teens. Depending on the day, I can be anything from 13 to 15. On a good day I make it all the way to 17 and if it's a bad day I feel as old as 19, with the whole world to worry over.

The thing about teenagers is, in a normal family situation, they are just getting ready to be fully fledged adults. They can take care of themselves in a lot of ways. They won't starve if you leave them alone, they know to lock the doors at night and feed the cat if it meows. They can do a job of work and be pretty much reliable.

They are emotionally volatile at times, ready to fly off the handle at a perceived wrong and also ready to support their friends no matter what. Your average teen can spin through a range of emotions in the same hour and come out the other end smiling.

They are creative and interested in doing fun things with their time. They know the value of free time, you see and are not yet tied to the world of work and responsibility. They plan and hope and dream and understand that the world is an infinite place, made finite only by the adults who claim ownership over it.

Does any or all of this sound familiar? The aspie at large can identify with many teenage traits, not least of which is the belief that responsibility is a limited thing, not a constant companion and something to be treated with disdain if it gets too close.

When all's said and done, the emotions of the aspie which are close to the teenage world of feelings can be written off as being moody, or difficult, or hyper, or over-sensitive. Lots of adults are capable of fulfilling these labels and more. But what brings the aspie closer to the teenager is that these emotions feel very natural, as if that's the way it's meant to be.

Proper grown up adults know, in moments of calm, that they shouldn't be moody, difficult, hyper and so on. Aspies look back and accept that those feelings were felt and believed in at the time and cannot be wished away.

When someone calls an aspie childish or melodramatic, besides it causing more arguments, it changes nothing. The aspie often knows when they're being this way, but that doesn't mean they can stop it. Like a teenager, they have greater self-awareness than a child but a limited ability to control their emotions and behaviour.

The attachment to friends is a very real aspect of the aspie as an eternal teenager. Teens will often do just about anything for their friends. At this stage in life, friends can become like family, understanding you in a way no one has before. It is now you realise there are other people in the world who you can choose to spend time with, and who make what you are seem like a glorious thing.

Your friends don't tell you off, they don't want you to behave or change. They accept you as you are and celebrate you as a person. They are friends with you simply because they like you, not as an accident of genetics or because they have to share a house with you.

Friends choose you and an aspie who has been chosen is someone who knows the value of another person seeing them as they really are and actively seeking their company.

In other words, aspies are eternal teens when it comes to friends because the whole element of friendship in the aspie world is often more intense than in a non-aspie relationship. Friends are needed on different levels and offer the kind of support that can't be found in other people.

As responsibility to the silly things in life, like work and money, are shunned by the eternal teen, so are the responsibilities of friendship appreciated and respected. If the boss needs you on your day off it is a physical pain to go in and not be able to relax at home or do what you had planned. If your boss needs you on a proper work day, but your friend also needs you, then you call in sick or flake off and go to your friend instead.

Teenagers are often seen as rabble rousers who need to grow up and learn how to live in the real, adult world. The aspie eternal teen never really made this step. They saw the value of the world they discovered growing up, the one where they were finally left alone to do their own thing and realised the joy of obsessions and interests which would carry them through life.

Aspies know that the final step to being a grown up, someone who will live fully in the real world and accept everything that goes with that, is a hard one to take and fraught with danger. Aspies often try to take that extra step and find themselves tripping along an unknown path, with no way off the road and the feeling that they need to walk faster and faster just to get where they're going before the darkness comes.

Better to live as a teenager instead, with limited resources, not enough money and a shaky grip on responsibility, than to try to survive as an adult and see yourself fail at crucial moments. Aspies know there are things that need to be done, things which require an adult to do them. Sometimes it works and they can operate all the way up to their real age. Mostly it seems as if the trials of life are sent as a test of how successfully the aspie can avoid and hide from the nasties of a grown up world.

Being an eternal teenager is not ideal - far from it on many occasions! But it beats trying to live a lie, trying to succeed in a life that doesn't belong to you and which will never fully make sense. Sometimes, accepting who you are is a matter of also accepting where you are, in life and within yourself.

For me, I live as an eternal teenager, hopeful for the future and with the kind of self knowledge that suggests, while anything is possible, I only have to do what is right for me. Of course, this isn't always true, but like a real teenager I prefer to ignore that reality and make one of my own.

Living in your own reality is not a very grown up thing to do but it is surprisingly liberating. And readers, if it works, even for most of the time and not all, then why not do it your way? If people try to tell you to do it differently and to grow up, you can always flounce out the door and hide in your room until they give in or you forget you were angry.


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