Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Am I autistic?

Recently I struck up a Facebook friendship with a guy I'll call Music Doc. We had been classmates in high school, but I don't think we ever exchanged a single word. He seemed very aloof and focused on studying classical piano, and it never occurred to me to talk to him. As he wrote to me, "I was weird in high school (still am....must be an Aspie thing...), you were a little weird, too, if I remember correctly. Why weren't we ever friends back then, again??"

Yes, I was weird, but I think I was a different kind of weird. As I've mentioned before, I wasn't the most popular girl in high school; I guess you could say I was bullied regularly. I had plenty of friends outside of school, but during the school day, I kept my mouth shut.

I asked Music Doc at what point in his life he started identifying himself as an Aspie. He has given me permission to share some of his answer here. When he was 33 he was interviewing for a Music Therapist job at a facility that deals primarily with kids on the spectrum:
Halfway into the meeting, the director asks me, point blank, "Please don't take this the wrong way, but do YOU happen to be autistic?" I was truly taken aback at that moment: by why she would even ask that, or what prompted her to inquire (aside from my mentioning my son having been diagnosed).
"No!" I replied, defensively. I laughed, "Are you joking?" And then, all of a sudden, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. "Holy shit....I thought to myself.....holy, f-cking shit." It was literally not until that moment, not after my son was diagnosed, not when I had started reading up on music therapy and special needs, not at any point in time did I remotely even THINK to consider I might be on the spectrum. That's how out of touch I was with my own perception of myself.
At that moment, a million thoughts started to race through my head: "Why would she ask me that? What is it something I did, said? I mean I've always been a little different, had some OCD, etc., etc.,". Then, all of a sudden, I realized that, while talking to her, I'd been looking down a good deal of the interview. Not making eye contact. I looked up, and (M.S. in Special Ed that she was), I could tell she'd noticed. (I do that a lot, and learned a while back to autocorrect myself and make eye contact with a person when talking with them, but I always struggle with it when nervous.)
I went home that night (after being offered the job), and all the pieces just all fell together. I reread a book on the subject of Asperger's, just to make sure; and, sure enough, my entire life story as a kid was textbook Asperger's. There was an incredible sense of a relief, and, at the same time, disbelief. That I had gone through my entire life, up to the age of 33, not only not being aware I was in the special needs category, but not knowing there was actually a scientific classification in development for what was different about me. I was elated, and furious, and stupefied all at the same time.
And, from that point forward, I began to work my life backwards and repair, understanding and undoing all the damage that had been done to my psyche over the years. You might say I've "found, or, recovered myself" ever since, and have gotten stronger and more confident going through the process. But, son-of-a-bitch....talk about a rude awakening.
I tried to imagine having such a life-changing realization about yourself, to "work your life backwards" and replay your memories through a completely different lens. To have spent your whole life thinking of yourself as an alien and to suddenly be reborn as a member of a new family.

Then, while I was pondering all this, Music Doc asked me if I had Asperger's.

Why would he ask me that? What is it something I did, said? I mean I've always been a little different...

He said he remembers relating to me because I was smart and socially awkward (definitely accurate) and I always avoided direct eye contact (probably true). He said when the Harry Potter films came out, he saw me in the character of Luna Lovegood. Through the allegory of Harry Potter, Music Doc says, "I realized I was truly part of an elite, inner circle of unique, special individuals; and that this was something to be proud of, not ashamed of or embarrassed by."

So then I was forced to ask myself: am I on the spectrum?

I certainly have some atypical traits. I've been dealing with depression since I was 17 - many of my high school eccentricities could probably be chalked up to that. From what I understand, depression can sometimes be considered an ASD. I do have difficulty maintaining eye contact - I find it uncomfortable and I often have to remind myself to do it. I stim by playing with my hair. I have sensory aversions flashing lights, certain smells, and being touched too lightly. Some people are taken aback by my bluntness.

But I do not consider myself autistic. I do not have difficulties communicating. I have never exhibited the kind of repetitive or ritualistic behaviors associated with autism. I can easily interpret facial expressions. I even took one of those online personality tests to make sure I wasn't deluding myself, and my score was well within the non-autistic range.

The exercise of honestly asking myself if I am autistic was a fascinating thought experiment. I considered the question quite carefully, completely open to all possible answers, and I feel confident in my conclusion:

I'm not autistic. I'm just weird.


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