I have always known there was something a bit different about me and I have long suspected I have autism, but no one actually sent me for testing till I was thirty one. I had to actually ask for it and then wait over a year for the appointment at the clinic. It took three appointments, two of testing and one for the results. I had to take a close family member with me, in my case my mum and she also had to answer a load of questions about me and my childhood. (Not so easy to remember everything over twenty years later!) I am now officially diagnosed as high functioning autistic or what used to be known as Asperger’s, but they changed it to reflect the fact that high functioning covers more types of people with it. They asked me how I felt about the diagnosis, so I said relieved, it helps explain a lot about me. It also helps me explain myself to others at times and I am hoping in future will help with things like benefit claims or getting job seekers support.
Not long after my diagnosis I found a fantastic book in the library called Freaks, Geeks and Asperger’s Syndrome by Luke Jackson. He wrote it when he was thirteen and it is a brilliant insight into what it is like to have high functioning autism. I can relate to a lot of what he says and he helps me to explain things better to others. I will use some quotes from the book as jumping off points for me to discuss my autism.
‘AS (Asperger’s Syndrome) is usually described as a mild form of autism, but believe me, though the good outweighs the bad, there are some bits that are most certainly not mild.’ You try telling the parent of a screaming child far too old to be having a temper tantrum in the middle of the street that it is mild! I remember wishing it was less mild sometimes then at least they may have taken my problems more seriously in school, but of course I am glad it is not any worse.
‘When we didn’t know and didn’t have a diagnosis (or were not told about it) it was a million times worse than you can imagine.’ ‘You may think that if the child or person you are seeing has lots of AS traits, but you can’t fit them neatly into your checklist of criteria, you are doing them a favour by saying that they haven’t got it. In fact this doesn’t make them not have AS, it just muddles them up more and makes them and all around them think they are even more ‘freakish’.’ Quite a few people have asked me if I really needed a diagnosis, would it not better just to be happy with myself as I am. I get where they are coming from, but knowing is better than not knowing, as it means you can understand yourself a lot better and so can others. I remember being bullied as the class freak and weirdo. I was the odd child that did not quite fit in and I never had any way to explain myself. If I had been diagnosed it may have helped school to help me and it might have helped me to feel like at least I was not a total looser and freak.
‘To be on the autistic spectrum is not the same as being on death row- it is not a death sentence, it is not terminal, it is merely a name for a lifelong set of behaviours’. So if you suspect you child has autism push for them to get tested for it and do not ignore it. It is not the worst thing that they could be diagnosed with and it may even help them to know they have it. It could help them find support and maybe even get taught in school in a way that is more useful to them.
‘I can imagine how adults have gone all their lives confused and misunderstood would seem as if they had a severe mental illness. I am sure it would cause depression too.’ I have suffered from depression in the past and have anxiety issues which I am sure are not helped by my autism. I think that if I had been diagnosed and helped at a younger age it might have helped me to not develop such bad mental health issues. Not knowing what was wrong with me as a child did cause me to feel very isolated and frightened at times, which I know made me more of an anxious person and depressed.
‘I just have to talk about it and the irritation at being stopped can easily develop into raging fury.’ I have always been known as a chatterbox, but for me not talking as a child just seemed wrong, if I had a thought I had to express it out loud. To not be able to express my thoughts was very upsetting and I felt like if I did not express them they would get louder and louder in my head till they were too much to handle. I used to get very angry if I was interrupted or prevented from talking to the point I would scream and shout just to be heard. Although I still talk a lot, I no longer feel I have to express every single thought that comes into my head and have learnt to be quieter in some situations.
‘Seem to speak rather differently and have difficulties understanding a lot of other forms of communication such as facial expressions and body language. These can be learned to a certain extent I think.’ I now think I am quite good at recognising facial cues and reading body language, but it took years of practise to get this far. I sometimes struggled to understand people when they were not being literal. People seemed to make jokes about things that I did not find funny at all. I understood that it was sarcasm, but I often found I did not like the joke. I think my performing arts and drama studies have helped me a lot in understanding body language, expression and emotion in others.
‘It seems as if the taste buds are over or under developed.’ It is to do with the presentation, the texture and the smell of food as well as them needing sameness.’ I had a huge thing about the texture of my food as a child, I hated any lumps or bits at all, I even hated bread with seeds in. I wanted all my food smooth like a paste when I was very young. Bits felt very wrong in my mouth and hard to swallow. Now however I love texture in my food and adore seedy bread.
‘Most AS kids genuinely have a really hard time with games.’ I hated PE in school, sometimes for me it was like a form of torture. I had one teacher who accused me of being lazy, but it was not that at all. It was the fact I would have to change, and then change back again, which with my OCD was one of the hardest tasks they could set me to do by myself as a child. The whole changing into a PE kit thing seemed pointless to me anyway as I could barely catch the ball, let alone do much with it, so I never broke into a sweat. I was unable to keep up with team sports and my coordination for catching and throwing is woeful. It was not helped by the fact that I had no friends whatsoever in my first secondary school and whoever ended up with me on their team resented me for it.
‘It is very unfair of the media to portray us all as people who talk continually about train timetables or constantly talk about dates or facts, or computers. We are called freaks and nerds enough anyway.’ ‘Despite the film Rain Man, we don’t all have these amazing mathematical skills- I wish!’ ‘Savant autistic is very rare- I seem to have got the nerdiness and freakishness, but none of the genius. These programs seem to make Joe Public think we should all have some seemingly supernatural ability and that is not at all helpful.’ I have in fact got terrible maths skills; one teacher even suggested I might have a maths learning disability. I am now able to use enough maths to be able to function in everyday life, but as for fractions and algebra I never understood them. I find train timetables very useful for catching trains, but dull as ditch water to discuss at any length. I can be very nerdy at times, but I really do lack the genius part, I actually had to work very hard to get to the degree I now have and was never a child prodigy at anything.
‘I just don’t want to run with the pack. I don’t see the point in pretending to like things when I don’t.’ I never seemed to like the same things at school as everyone else and I most definitely did not fit in with the social life my friends had at college. I could never understand why they wanted to go out drinking heavily and end up in some nightclub listening to awful music. I never saw the point in pretending to like things just so people would be my friend as they would not have been true friends anyway. I was bullied for being different in school and was actually quite depressed for some of my teenage years, but I never saw why I should have to fit in just to please them. Both at university and now I have made real friends who actually have some of the same interests as me and we enjoy spending time together.