Grand Falls-Windsor — When 21-year-old Travis Walsh was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome a year ago, he decided he’d use it to his advantage.
The syndrome, also called Asperger disorder, is a form of autism that affects five of every 10,000 Canadians. People who have it may have mild to severe difficulties with social interaction, communication deficits, and be interested in restricted and repetitive activities.
As Walsh, who’s from Grand Falls-Windsor, puts it: “People with Asperger syndrome, they do not have interests, we have obsessions.”
He says that can be a benefit because it fuels his passion to do the things he likes well.
One of his interests is professional wrestling.
“Everybody told me that I would never be able to break into it and, thankfully, I became a professional wrestling-ring announcer and a commentator with sheer luck of will.”
With Asperger’s, a person’s senses can be intensified.
“Basically, it means for me that my sense of sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell — basically all of my human bodily functions — are all heightened (compared) to that of the everyday person,” Walsh said.
He said if someone without the disorder walked into a room and found it warm, it would feel much hotter to him, and he smells food cooking when no one else does.
“Things like a concert or something like that is very difficult for me to stand because my sense of hearing is extremely heightened and it can be somewhat painful at times,” Walsh said.
“One of the things that is really hard for me, and I do take medication for it, is sometimes I will say something offensive — not on purpose — but if somebody was mad at me for an hour, I would not (necessarily) know what I said until it was too late.”
Walsh said he was tested for the syndrome in 2002 and the test came back negative. He was tested again in 2010 and was diagnosed.
He said it’s something people are born with, but the symptoms can be mild.
“I was 20 years old before I was diagnosed, so I had to face a lot of things growing up that a lot of people would crack under the pressure (of) having to go through when it came to social acceptance — understanding things from my family, my lack of popularity when it came to having friends, and how I would have such amazing interests.”
Those interests include acting, history, the Canadian Legion and professional darts.
“One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed with Asperger syndrome,” Walsh said, “there are two extremes — some people can be very quiet … also, people can be very loud and outspoken and not shy at all, like myself.”
He’s using his outspoken personality to try to reach as many people as possible, speaking publically about Asperger’s through Autism Society Canada with assistance from Kim McDonald, a local representative.
Walsh said since he’s been on the front lines of the disorder, he hopes he’ll be able to help and inspire others who are dealing with it and increase awareness among people who don’t have the disorder of what people with Asperger’s go though on a daily basis.
“I said, ‘I can do this,’” Walsh said. “For the people who told me I can’t do this, they were the inspiration for me to go on and say, ‘I can do it.’ I have a great family, I have a great faith.”
He’s taking bookings for speaking engagements and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone (709) 489-8484.
“I want to be the guy who says, ‘I can do it, so can you …,’” Walsh said.
“To the kids who just recently got diagnosed who are at a later age like myself, I say go ahead, live your life, don’t be ashamed of what you have. You just have to go out there and do it.”