A couple of years ago, at the age of 57, after a year-long journey of discovery, I was looking at an official report. Buried in lots of other words was:
DSM 299.0 Autism Spectrum Disorder
Obviously in the course of that preceding year I had accumulated enough evidence to seek out a professional opinion.
So there I was.
Somewhere I read
“If you know an autistic person, you know one autistic person.”
I’m inclined to think that is true. Though there are obviously common characteristics (which define the diagnostic criteria) and there are stereotypes, the simple fact is we don’t yet know anything about autism except that it defines a series of non-typical responses to social and intellectual situations.
For me, though, in that moment I felt three things.
- Relief. I have something to embrace, and I can (sometimes) step back and just chuckle at my weirdness vs. wondering why I feel so different.
- Self-consciousness. My work requires me to interact with people and read their responses very quickly. I know I miss some really obvious stuff. Being “on stage” all day, or for weeks at a time, is stressful. At least now I now why. I have to be hyper-vigilant to pick up on cues that most people collect and process sub-consciously.
- Sadness. Not for the present, but for the 6 year old kid who hung out by himself during recess in 1962. Nobody was looking for those kids back then, so I don’t blame anyone. This isn’t sadness about me in the hear and now. That little kid might have been me at the time, but I can separate my hear-and-now from his experience of the world 50+ years ago and wish I could go hold his hand and reach out to him.
I’m not alone. In my (characteristically) obsessive research, I found a lot of late-in-life adults who had recently been diagnosed, and more who at least suspected that they would get a diagnosis if they sought one out.
So here I am. Have good weeks and not-so-good weeks. I can’t sort out a single conversation in a room full of people all talking. Sometimes background music in stores really pushes my stomach in. I get into gridlock trying to write stuff like this. I brush people’s fur backwards without realizing it, by blurting out the truth. I have an edge when I talk, even if I don’t mean to (unless I am trying not to, then I speak so softly nobody can hear me.)
I will pick up the cadence and accent of people I am talking to and mirror it back. After three days in Canada, I sound like someone who was raised there, eh?
I am pretty good at the eye contact thing when I remember to do it. But sometimes I just don’t bother because I’m trying to process too much other stuff.
If I am interested in something, I have to know how it works.
I love puns, have a dry sense of humor that many don’t “get.” But sometimes I am slow on the uptake with a metaphor or expression I haven’t heard before. I don’t “get” a joke when I’m tired or stressed, and hate practical jokes with victims with a passion.
I am not Rainman. I am not a math prodigy by a long shot. I am verbally articulate, sometimes to a fault.
When I finally told my mother why I asked her to talk to this therapist on the phone, I said autism is something you “are” not something you “have.” That’s my feeling about it, others may disagree.
So this little brain-dump is just to maybe reboot this long-idle blog, and maybe I’ll find interesting things to write about.
Thanks for reading this.