So I'm Autistic

So now that you know I'm an autistic ADHDer with PTSD, you might be wondering what that means. I'm going to use my next few blogs to help explain in layman's terms what these mean. Starting with my autism spectrum disorder. 

I'd like to start by saying, that medical professionals refer to autism as a "disorder" implying that there is something to be "cured" or "fixed". However, I want to start by saying that I personally, and much of the autistic community don't have this view. In other words, there is nothing to be fixed or cured. I would like to replace the D in ASD with "Difference" because it's just a difference. And after all, it's ok to be different. 

My only goal in this blog is to eliminate the stigma, of "but you don't look autistic". Many aspects of autism are not visible or you may not be aware of them if you don't live with me.

So in medical speak, autism is a developmental disorder where symptoms start within the first three years of life and have symptoms in two main categories (according to the DSM IV a medical book of diagnosis codes.)
  • Deficits in social communication and interaction
  • Restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities
So I'll take these two points and boil them down to my own lived experience. 

Deficits in social communication and interaction 
I struggle with making friends for a lot of reasons. I expend a lot of energy to look and act "normal", which might actually look more strange to some people. I struggle to make eye contact with people and making small talk feels unnatural and unnecessary to me. So often times I skip that part and might make a neurotypical person feel that I lack empathy or interest in a person. I am learning that I have about a two-hour limit with large social interactions. So if you see me disappear for some quiet time, don't take it personally. Sometimes I need to get some spoons back...but I'll save spoon theory for another day. When I greet people I often skip the formalities and get right to the point. It's not that I'm not interested in your name, but I'm likely to forget it and again struggle with making eye contact so it feels awkward. When I do make eye contact I have a tendency to stare which might be awkward for the on-looker, but I'm not likely to notice your discomfort. Recognizing emotions in others is very difficult for me, again likely partially due to the fact I just don't look, and second, because I experience my own emotions differently and often struggle to recognize my own emotions. If I've ever made a face at you, don't take it personally, I likely don't even know that I'm making a face. And the face I make might not match the emotion you would assign to that face. I'm ok with a good firm handshake, but a light touch is difficult for me. Especially if it's unexpected. While I appreciate a good bear hug, it's generally only ok if it's from a few people that I'm really familiar with. More often than not, hugs feel awkward and maybe awful even. An unsolicited hug is almost certainly stealing a spoon or three. 

Now this might leave you confused and thinking "but you seem so outgoing and you are a pretty good public speaker", so how does that work with deficits in social communication and interaction. While I would certainly describe myself as an extrovert, I want so badly to make friends, but as I've described above, it's difficult for me. But as for public speaking, I think this is directly related to two things, I always speak about my "special interest" and second is I don't make eye contact so I am generally unaware of my audience. When I was training in the classroom interacting with students worked because they would raise their hands and I could call on people with a visual queue.

Restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities
I have a number of what I would put into the category of restricted behaviors, but people around me are not likely to notice many of these. For example, I wear clothes with specific textures. Finding undergarments that don't make me insane is a chore, but luckily more and more companies are making this process easier. Another thing that I struggle with and avoid like a plague is showers and rain. I'd rather you dump a bucket of nails on me. Now I have found alternative ways to clean myself but hygiene has always been a struggle for me. For example, I struggle to brush my teeth without vomiting. I have some unwritten rules with my husband to avoid touching the nape of my neck due to sensory overload. I also avoid foods with squishy textures. There are probably other things I avoid or restrict, but they aren't coming to me at the moment.

Now for repetitive behaviors. I've talked about a few of my stims in past blogs, but these are likely the behaviors you might notice. I stim and pick at my knuckle. The same knuckle has a tendon that I like to move over the knuckle bone. I also pick at my eyebrow and twiddle my fingers around my eye. When I was very young, I sucked my thumb and would pet my eyebrow and smell the crook of my elbow. I did this well into my teenage years until I replaced this behavior with knuckle and eyebrow picking. When I was young I had a lot of echolalia habits. Which basically means repeating words, phrases, or sounds. For example, I used to make the "whooing" noise of a pigeon, and I'm finding it difficult not to right now. I still participate in a lot of echolalia in my head. This is one of my masked features I may work to unmask more in the future. But if you've ever heard me say "there's a song for everything" you may have experienced this repetitive behavior. I hear a word, and immediately associate it with a song and begin singing the song or a short phrase of the song. While I have learned to do this mostly in my head, those close to me have likely heard this out loud. 

While this list is not a comprehensive list of my symptoms or struggles, it is likely a huge contribution to my diagnosis. My next blog will be a continuation of this topic, but instead of explaining all the bad things, I am going to explain all the good things. So be sure to like and follow if you are not already.

To keep this blog from becoming a novel of my autistic symptoms, I want to conclude with a graphic from to show my own self-interpretation of where I am at on the Autism spectrum. Good chance this diagram has lots of words that you may not understand, and that's ok. I'll be exploring these categories more in future blogs. The black dots I have added are my self-interpretation of where I "stand" in each category. Dots closer to the inside are areas where I experience the skill or are "hyper" sensitive. Dots closer to the outside are areas where I don't experience, lack the skill, or are "hypo" sensitive. 

A picture of a color wheel that reads the Autism Spectrum. With lots of text around the image describing symptoms related to the autism spectrum. I have placed black dots on the color wheel where I identify.
The Autism Spectrum with my interpretation in the black dots

Bottom line, if you've got specific questions, I encourage you to ask questions or reach out. And remember that because I identify in one color range, doesn't mean the next autistic person you meet will identify in the same colors. Also remember, that not all symptoms or characteristics of autism are visible. So, please eliminate the phrase "but you don't look autistic" or "but you don't seem autistic" from your vocabulary. 


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