A person on the Autism spectrum is usually pretty good at spotting patterns. In fact, it’s kind of required.
But for a person who doesn’t have an Autism diagnosis, always seeing patterns becomes a problem for others. It might mean picking up on a seemingly random pattern of clues and making some wild claim. Maybe it means thinking that your liver is failing, or that the neighbors are drug dealers, or that everyone in your family is a little bit Aspie. Now for someone without a formal diagnosis, this person sounds like a nutcase.
But what if they thought they might have Autism? Would it just be another case of, “She’s not getting enough attention”? Or could it mean that self-diagnosing is actually another sign, another trait of the Autistic personality?
From what I have learned so far about Autism, Aspergers, and adult/self-diagnosis is that, in the ASD community, self-diagnosis is pretty widely accepted just as quickly as a diagnosis made by a professional. They already understand. They know you’ve been seeing patterns your whole life. They understand that it is a talent that can be a blessing and a curse. They understand that picking up on patterns can mean seeing connections in things that nobody else can see, but it can also mean seeing connections that aren’t really there.
Imagine if every time your mom made you wear your rubber boots, the lady across the street carried an umbrella. That doesn’t mean that wearing your boots makes the umbrella come out. It doesn’t mean that seeing the umbrella meant you had to wear your boots, even if that’s exactly what your mom said. Sometimes we can’t make sense of the connections. We can’t make sense of a pattern, so we try to understand the best way we can. And sometimes that means having an all-out fight against wearing the rubber shoes, just to see if the lady still has her umbrella when you wear your sandals.
If your child had a meltdown like that, for seemingly no good reason, you might think they had lost their mind. But if they had been diagnosed with Autism, or formerly, Aspergers, then at least you would understand that their take on the world might be a little different than your own.
But what do we do when we are an adult, stumbling through life, trying like hell to amount to something, and barely making it day to day? What do we do when we have never had a diagnosis (or have some other diagnosis), and yet we see all the signs? We can pick up on the pattern, even if others can’t. Our family and friends don’t know enough about ASD to be able to form an adequate opinion on the subject, and we can’t quite express all of the pieces of the puzzle to the doctor for them to make a diagnosis.
Being diagnosed isn’t about the label, even though it kind of is. It is about being able to put a name with all the little problems that add up in your life to something that keeps you from ever feeling like a normal, functioning adult. It’s about understanding. It’s about being able to show people that you aren’t just a selfish, lazy, no-good, stuck-up, pedantic. . . . Well, you get the idea. It’s about giving them something substantial, something recognizable, a lens that they can use to look back on all of your failures, and all of your obscure talents, and all your quirks, and to realize that maybe you really have been doing the best you can. Maybe when you withdraw to another room, it’s not because you don’t like company, it’s just because sometimes you need a break.
Sometimes you just need a break.
Sometimes I see patterns like that in myself. Sometimes I see the patterns in others. There are a handful of old classmates and coworkers that I have decided must be on the spectrum. Partly, I feel like that’s why we related so well. But within my family, both in my home and extended family on my mom’s side, I see a lot of Asperger traits.
I have four kids. The youngest is in developmental therapy. There is something going on, and Autism is definitely a possibility. He’s nine months old. The next youngest is two and a half. She lines her toys up. She walks on her toes and is learning how to read. She loves other kids, but mostly because they have toys she hasn’t played with yet. She clicks her tongue, talks about herself in the third person, has never had separation anxiety, and has never met a puzzle she couldn’t master. She will be three in a few months and refuses to potty train. But hey, she’s two.
My oldest didn’t talk until he was two and a half. He didn’t point at things until he was over a year old. At five, he couldn’t figure out how to pedal a bike. He hates getting water in his face, so learning to swim was a challenge. He’s fifteen now, and I see him drumming, tapping, wiggling his fingers, and biting his nails. He has always hated brushing his teeth because it tickles his mouth. But he’s fifteen, so that’s to be expected.
My second oldest is ADHD incarnate. She never stops moving. She initiates conflict constantly. She makes straight A’s but cannot figure out how to clean her room. Just the idea stresses her out and throws her into a meltdown. Everything revolves around her. She could sing songs before she was two, and she was fully potty trained before two. She screamed for the first three months of her life, and I could never figure out why. At one and a half, she started waking with night terrors. At the same age, she used to bring me my cordless phone before it started ringing. It was like ESP, but I think she was picking up on some sound that it made that no one else could hear. She never met a stranger. She’s a handful. But she’s twelve, so, you know.
My husband. He has OCD. Not in an actual “disability” capacity, but enough for me to pick up on. He fixates (we all fixate) on things. He’ll notice something in the middle of eating dinner, and the next thing I know he’s digging a hole in the backyard (or something else totally random) while his dinner sits and gets cold. He’s dyslexic. He obsesses over rules. The entrance and exit doors at the grocery store, and the one-way lanes in the parking lot, are both a huge source of stress when we go shopping. He can’t let things go. The school zone sign that doesn’t flash, and only says “when children are present” always sets him off on a rant.
But hey, he’s a man, so. . . .
I have a terrible time expressing all my concerns when someone asks me straight out. From here on out, I have to keep a list for each of us. I have to make a note of every sign I see, so that no one can tell me I’m overreacting, or that I’m exaggerating. My youngest may be the first to be diagnosed, but I’m starting to think that he will be far from the last.
Am I overreacting? Possibly. I won’t deny that it’s possible. But is it possible that something that is genetically linked can show up in a group of people who are genetically related? Sure. Is it likely that two undiagnosed Aspies fell in love and stared a family? Sure. So am I crazy? Probably. But I might also be a tad Autistic as well.