Alex Olinkiewicz, whose YouTube video “In My Mind” shares what it’s like to have Asperger’s syndrome. Olinkiewicz, 21, has just published “In My Mind: A Journey Through My Life With Asperger’s/Autism” a book written through recorded interviews in collaboration with Dr. Richard O’Connell, Ed.D. Olinkiewicz will be at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor Saturday, September 1 from 10 a.m. to noon to sign copies of his new book.
At age 16, you made “In My Mind,” a video which has had a million-plus views since its posting five years ago. What was your goal when you made it?
It’s just a simple answer. I wanted to help people understand what was inside my head. In the end I got much bigger feed back from the video than I thought.
Did that surprise you?
I was very surprised. When I first made the video, I thought this is not going to help anyone. I thought maybe I’d get a few thank yous. I got 1,000 views, then one day someone from YouTube said “I like it and want to do something special to help spread the word.” The next day in school, I looked at my computer and was running around yelling. I had something like 250 emails — all comments on “In My Mind.”
Do you think the video’s success is related to your ability to talk so effectively about your Asperger’s?
I think that’s probably the case. It does appear I’m one of the rarest of Asperger’s cases — not only am I able to speak in good sentences, I’m able to craft the ideas and explanations in a way to help people understand it.
So what was it that people did not understand about you in school?
In some ways I couldn’t understand them. I didn’t know I was a real outcast. I was just wondering why everyone else was behaving so oddly. Growing up, I was the only one with Asperger’s. Now the number of people diagnosed with autism is one out of 88 — in the past it was one out of 150. Being at Shelter Island School with only 250 people, you can guess the odds of who’s autistic. It was the toughest thing about school. When people were giving me odd looks, I finally assumed the problem was coming from me. Obviously the thing I do is strange. Once I learned the diagnosis, the problem with me had a name and everything came together.
What’s the one thing you would like others to understand about autism and the people who have it?
Autism or Asperger’s is not a disease, it’s not an illness that needs to be wiped clean from the earth. It’s a gift. The real issue is when people see us behave oddly and do things so different they give us a name, Asperger’s, and say there’s something wrong with him. That’s not the case. You’re judging him because he’s so different. It shows society has labeled how people are supposed to be and how the world is supposed to be. This society was not built for people with autism and Asperger’s. When we have trouble with things people find easy, they think it’s us, but it’s how we’ve built society. People who are blind couldn’t get around before braille, or the handicapped without elevators and wheelchair ramps. That’s just what has to be done with society — so it accepts a broader list of people instead of those who are just average. Considering more people are being diagnosed with autism, we have to.
To purchase a copy of Alex Olinkiewicz’s book online, visit www.createspace.com/3899100.