As a child, Gabriel Borg preferred sitting in a corner alone, reading a book, while the rest of his classmates ran around the playground during their lunch break.
His reserved attitude sometimes made him a target of bullies but still, he could not understand why the other children preferred playing football rather than learn something interesting and new.
His mother Nathalie, struggled to understand him. Why did he freak out whenever there was a loud noise or whenever something did not go as planned? Why didn’t he play with other children?
She finally made sense of it all when her son was 13 years old and was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome – a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders.
Asperger’s is characterised by poor social interactions among other things.
Gabriel, who is now 24, has learnt how to cope with his condition. “I have Asperger’s. I talk freely about it. I was always the type of child who would stay alone… But the older I grow the easier it’s becoming to develop relationships with other people,” he says.
When I was open with some companies about being Asperger’s I feel they rejected me
He shared his experience to raise awareness about Asperger’s on the occasion of Autism Awareness Month.
His mother recalls the rough journey that led her son to where he is today.
Faith and her will to support him helped her through it. She noticed there was something different about him when he was only three months old.
“When the kettle was boiling or there was a strange, unfamiliar sound he used to clench his fists and get all red,” she recalls.
When she had her second son she started noticing the behavioural differences even more.
“Gabriel liked to stay alone. When people came home he’d end up under the table or go to his room,” she says adding that people around her – including school teachers – insisted he was fine and would grow out of it.
But, deep down, she knew it was not the case.
“I didn’t want to accept it and felt guilty, but deep down I felt there was something.
“I blamed myself. I felt I was not raising him properly. Why couldn’t he understand that things could not always go his way? People thought I was spoiling him.
“Once, when he was about three, I started to shake him – I could not understand what was going on. I wanted to shake that ‘something’ out of him. It happened near the bedside table of my bedroom. Till today when I look at it I remember that day. I never forgave myself,” she says.
Then, one day, she took him on a bus and he started crying because there were people on it. That’s when she decided she had to get him diagnosed.
“I felt that diagnosis would help him lead a better life. Finally I knew the name of his condition and could explain his behaviour,” she recalls.
From that point on, things started to improve. Gabriel started emerging from his own world.
“He was like a butterfly who needed help coming out of the cocoon,” his mother says adding that children with Asperger’s needed to be supported and understood.
Gabriel attributes a lot of his progress to starting Taekwondo lessons.
“Taekwondo was the greatest thing that happened in my life. You can work on yourself and don’t need a team. The coach focused a lot on me. Now I’m black belt,” he says proudly, adding that he learnt how to socialise and make friends.
Since then Gabriel, who always did very well at school, has joined the writer’s club, writes screen plays and also plays the guitar.
He is still working on his empathy skills but is doing well. Last November he graduated in Communications from the University of Malta and is now looking for a job.
“I want to be employed. I hate doing nothing and I want a routine. The thing is that when I was open with some companies about being Asperger’s I feel they rejected me. I worry about that. They have to try me,” he says.
Gabriel lives in a “logical world” and is straightforward about his views. This has been mistaken as presumptuousness.
“It sometimes upsets me as that is the first impression some people get but I’m not like that… I’m going to be cliché but, when it comes to people with Asperger’s, accept them the way they are and listen to what we need.
“This is like politics… sometimes you have to listen to what the people say… because we make valid points. In fact I think Asperger’s has been shaping society lately. The way things work – economies – is very Asperger-based – organised and structured,” he says.