Posted in Growing Up with Autism

Can I be Autistic and not know it?

I know that title sounds like I am out to make Autism sound like some “bug” you can catch and now I think it has crossed my path and I have become infected… right!  But seriously, I don’t know if I am or not.  I am not a young child and as far as I know, I never exhibited any signs back then or …did I?

Does your child…

  • Not speak as well as his or her peers?
  • Have poor eye contact?
  • Not respond selectively to his or her name?
  • Act as if he or she is in his or her own world?
  • Seem to “tune others out?”
  • Not have a social smile?
  • Seem unable to tell you what he or she wants, preferring to lead you by the hand or get desired objects on his or her own, even at risk of danger?
  • Have difficulty following simple commands?
  • Not bring things to you simply to “show” you?
  • Not point to interesting objects to direct your attention to objects or events of interest?
  • Have unusually long and severe temper tantrums?
  • Have repetitive, odd, or stereotypic behaviors?
  • Show an unusual attachment to inanimate objects, especially hard ones (e.g., flashlight or a chain vs. teddy bear or blanket)?
  • Prefer to play alone?
  • Demonstrate an inability to play with toys in the typical way?
  • Not engage in pretend play (if older than 2 years)

These four signs sound familiar to me as a child growing up:

  • Have poor eye contact?
  • Seem to “tune others out?”
  • Show an unusual attachment to inanimate objects, especially hard ones (e.g., flashlight or a chain vs. teddy bear or blanket)?
  • Prefer to play alone?

As a child,  I remember that people that I first came into contact with made me nervous.  If I had to shake someone’s hand my own would get all clammy! Upon meeting someone for the first time,  I would usually stare at that point on their forehead slightly above the space between the eyebrows.  I wanted to give the appearance that I was attentive but, I lacked the confidence to make direct eye contact.  I do a pretty good job of making direct eye contact now.  I had to practice to get over that fear though.  I have always had a vivid imagination and have personified inanimate objects.  I recall thinking that all of the stuffed animals or inanimate objects in my bedroom were just waiting for my siblings and I to fall asleep (I shared a room with my brother and sister) so that they could come to life!  It never caused me fear because, I just thought it was their turn to wake up and play.   I just hoped that one day I would catch them in the act!  I never did.  I had this way of ignoring my younger brother and making him angry by dismissing his presence  when I was annoyed or didn’t want to be bothered by him.  Seriously, I tuned him out so well that I had him believing that no one could see or hear him! That was cruel of me.

I look to the quote below in search of additional avenues that may help to clarify this issue for me:

“I struggled with eye contact during that time, and this is very much apparent now. I struggled speaking to waiters/waitresses, to teachers, to family members. Speaking to members of the opposite sex was a near-impossible task. I never understood social groups. I went through all of high school in the same fashion. However, my family felt that everything was OK. I still had a mid-90 GPA, and I had made numerous friends. Unfortunately, my GPA had dropped by about 15-plus points by my senior year.” (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/03/27/471600733/when-an-autism-diagnosis-comes-in-adulthood)

Autistic people are often described as being anxious, detailed-oriented,  and focused to the point of not seeing the big picture.  That sort of sounds like me.   I want everything to have a place and a solid structure.  Nothing should be out of its place…ever because, everything has a home.   I feel a great deal of anxiety when I am surrounded by clutter.   I want my surroundings to be minimal, clean, and clutter-free.  I often obsess with the details and miss the overall big picture.  I believe that I am a perfectionist with a mild form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).   My color profile states that I am a GOLD.  That means that I am highly organized and thrive in structured environments.  When I was in the second grade, I was enrolled in a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program called Major Work.  I stayed in that type of structured program until Eighth Grade when I auditioned to get into the Cleveland School of the Arts as an actress and was accepted. I graduated as the Class Valedictorian.

 

Sometimes students who are labeled as gifted are also autistic.  My heightened  vocabulary was more of a byproduct of a systematic spelling practice activity I was taught for better retention and comprehension.  I do love the English language and respect the unique origin or words though.  Now the technical piece of the puzzle does not fit me at all.  I have never been good with technical endeavors.  I don’t naturally make the right connections.  I could get lost going around the block!  I personally know what it means to be “all thumbs” and to have “two left feet.”  I lack coordination and finesse.  I used to try and make an excuse for myself by saying, “I have a depth perception problem and I have worn glasses since Pre-School.” As if that should explain it all away!

The author of my reference material, Laura James, explains her personal discovery better than I can so, let’s hear it from her:

“I was functioning, earning money, employing people and looking, to all intents and purposes, as if I knew what I was doing and had it all…Beneath the surface, however, I was exhausted by my inability to feel and behave like others. No one saw the me that would spend 14 hours straight, focused on a project, forgetting to dress. The me that felt an overwhelming terror at the idea of travelling on the tube or getting into a lift.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/why-i-love-knowing-i-have-high-functioning-autism/)

Between the ages of 20 to 30, she had developed the coping mechanisms and had rationalized that she was ‘normal yet, different.’

 

 

I can completely identify with a resistance to change and the need to be alone.  I have never felt the odd feelings that I have heard from other people, when they have had to do activities by themselves.  I love going to lunch, shopping, or to a movie, all by my lonely.  I am choosing to be alone and because of that I don’t feel lonely.  Other people seem more put off by my solo appearance than I am! Waitresses have given me that “oh I am so sorry that you don’t have any girlfriends to keep you company” look at several restaurants.  I adore not having to confer with someone about the movie choice  I am making or have my husband give me that “I am tired of shopping now and I would like to go” look that rushes you out of a store that you just barely got into…But, I haven’t answered this question have I?  I took a test that I found on the Internet and I needed to score at least160 points to have concerns that I might be autistic.  I scored 110 points.  That doesn’t definitively say that I am not autistic.  The irony is that I have two children that I feel are autistic and they have never been formally diagnosed.  So, I think we all will have to be evaluated at some point and I will have to get back to you about the findings so stay tuned!

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